Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

What with The Desolation of Smaug coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray soon and There And Back Again coming out in theaters this year, I figured it's about time I reviewed An Unexpected Journey, considering how I promised to do so a long time ago.
Having never seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and indeed never having read the book the trilogy was based on, the only thing I had to compare this to was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, a book that I liked. Having said that, this is a very entertaining and accurate adaptation as far as I can remember. Where and if it strays from the source material, it isn't as noticeable as it was in the later Harry Potter movies, which might as well have been based on the summaries from Wikipedia with how much got changed, left out, or edited. That's not to say that changes aren't good, I liked what The Avengers series has done so far with its changes, and despite the major flaws with X-Men 3, Fox managed to salvage the franchise with The Wolverine, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and probably X-Men: First Class as well, although I haven't seen it. While adhering to the source material isn't necessary on all occasions, it's nice to have something that mostly does. The Hobbit is about a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins who goes on an adventure with a wizard who shows up on his doorstep and a party of dwarves. While some might not find that too interesting, my plot summaries aren't very good, so don't take my word for what the plot's about. I'm also trying to avoid spoilers for those who haven't read the book, because as I know from personal experience, those do exist. The thing about this movie, is that the visuals are astounding. New Zealand is probably the best place in the world they could have shot this movie. And I don't mean just the landscapes are amazing, I also mean that the visual effects are excellent. Everything that had to be done in CGI is done breathtakingly, and I don't know what effects they used to make the hobbits and dwarves seem shorter than Gandalf and the elves, but it's done so well that if I didn't know how tall they were in real life I wouldn't know from watching the movie. The musical numbers from the book are recreated so that they fit the tone of the movie, and they're not like in some musicals where they just break out into song randomly and everyone starts singing along, out of the two songs in the movie sung by the cast, one was a song dedicated to the quest that they were about to embark on, and another one was sung by the jolly dwarves after a meal, so they fit into the tone of the movie well, and finally, during the credits, a great rendition of Misty Mountains Cold plays, which fits the ending perfectly. Now, on to some of the controversial decisions made with the movie: The addition of expanded material from other books concerning things that happened alongside The Hobbit, and the splitting of the movie into three parts. Considering how much material they had to work with, back when I first heard about it, I supported them splitting it into three. Mainly because I saw how badly compressed the adaptations of almost every Harry Potter book after Prisoner of Azkaban became. It also means that the movies are a lot easier to sit through, considering that this one was almost three hours long. I highly doubt I would have been able to sit through a movie that was over nine hours long. Speaking of which, I once heard that The Lord of the Rings was shot all as one movie, but cut into three shorter ones because they didn't think audiences would be able to sit through almost ten hours of movie. Considering that the movies in The Hobbit trilogy released thus far come out to over five hours, I'm glad it wasn't released as all one movie, and given that there's a lot of ground to cover, I'm glad they didn't make it into a single three hour movie, or even two 90 minute movies. On to the added material: There were things from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit that weren't expanded upon as much as they could have been, and while jarring at first, they flowed perfectly into the movie once they converged with the main plot. The thing is, I tend to like things like exposition or expanded storytelling when they're used right, and this uses it right. All in all I was entertained by this movie, and it was a great experience that I enjoyed as a fan of the book it was based on. It definitely makes me want to see The Lord of The Rings movies after this series finishes up, because even though I enjoyed The Hobbit, I wasn't able to get very far in The Fellowship of the Rings, despite my being an avid reader. I guess it just meanders a little too much for my liking, and that Tolkien never uses one word where forty will do. Although considering that gives the filmmakers a lot more to work with and brings the world in the movies to life, it can't be criticized too much considering what it's given us. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey gets a 9.9* rating. Tune in next week (Hopefully) for another review, same bat-day, same bat-site!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

YouTube for 3DS

Okay, so I've been getting a lot of use out of the YouTube app on my 3DS recently, so I figured I might as well give my thoughts on it.

I downloaded the first version of the YouTube app for 3DS a while ago and now I'm starting to wish I hadn't updated. I should probably explain from the beginning. You see, before they updated it the app had a few minor issues, but it's not as bad as it is now. The update fixed the few issues with the first or second version of the app, but over time it's been crashing more and more and more. Which is odd, now isn't it? You see, all I really use this for is comedy videos and watching TV shows on the go. Well, I say on the go. What I mean is that I use it to watch Power Rangers while I wait for my Dungeons and Dragons group to show up. Anyways, it seems like it takes longer every day for a video to load, the app tends to crash a lot, and there seem to be more problems arising each day as it becomes less and less stable, which is a shame because it's a competent port of the YouTube mobile app. While the video looks a little too pixelated even on HQ sometimes, it's workable. At least it exists.
There's no support for 3D videos, but then again that's not a real big problem now is it? I tend to leave my 3D off anyways since I don't particularly care about it. But then again, it'd be cool if it had that option. My main problem with this is that there's an option to not allow people to watch your videos on mobile, which to my knowledge hasn't been enabled on my videos. You see, aside from that there's not really any problem with this other than what's been going on with the crashes. For what it is it's functional.
Since it's free I'd say you should download it if you don't have a more stable mobile version on another device. There's not a lot to say about it, other than that they need to update it and fix the stability issues.

Now, I have a few things that I should have said last week that I forgot to. First thing: I only played as Maverick, so for all I know I'm missing out on all the rest of the game. Second: The helmets are all generic and don't have the likeness of the actors, in addition to the voice clips sounding like they were computer generated or having a voice-actor trying to do an impression of all the actors from Top Gun smashed into one, then had the sound quality smashed down to almost robotic levels, or worse, bitcrushed like the voice-clips on NES games. And third: There's no first-person view. Boom. Yeah, a flying game has no way to change the camera except by accelerating. Good god. So, I'll see you next week with a better review, because I know this was REALLY short and hardly a read that necessitated a week-long wait.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Top Gun.

No, I'm not reviewing Top Gun, a beloved 80s action flick this week, rather the game released around the 20th anniversary of the movie for the Nintendo DS. While I will get around to reviewing Top Gun, the movie eventually, right now I'm going to review one of the games based on it. This game is set after the movie, so it's sorta like the unofficial Top Gun 2 that Tom Cruise has been trying to get made for the last 30 years. I'm going to go into this saying that A) I'm a sucker for games that let you fly at high speeds, and B) Top Gun is one of my favorite movies of all time. And I'm also gonna say that I'm not letting that affect my decision-making process. That being said, the game isn't nearly as big an insult to the movie as the NES one was, but it's also not great either. For one thing, the legendary Top Gun Anthem, one of the most memorable theme-songs in the history of movies, right up there with The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Rocky, is the only piece of music from the movies sound-track that the game uses. No Danger Zone, no Playin' With the Boys, no Hot Summer Nights, no Take My Breath Away, no Mighty Wings, no Destination Unknown, nothing. Just three tracks that try and fail to imitate Cheap Trick's and Kenny Loggins's work because Mastiff was too cheap to license more than one track from Paramount. That might not be so bad if the only song taken from the movie wasn't a lo-fi conversion that pales in comparison to Harold Faltermeyer's and Steve Stevens original work. And even that might not be horrible, but the Top Gun Anthem only plays on the title and menu screens, not during gameplay. That's why I've got the whole Top Gun soundtrack on my MP3 player, so I can listen to the movies awesomeness. Now, onto the gameplay. It's.... Meh. It's not horrible by any means, and it's kinda fun to fly around canyons at high speeds, but the collision detection seems a little bit off. What I mean is, I think the hit-boxes of the planes and the terrain are a little larger than you'd think they were, which leads to a lot of unintentional deaths. That'd be okay if the game wasn't old-school hard and didn't let you have any checkpoints. The most egregious case of this I found was in the unskippable tutorial mission, where I wound up trying to hone my flying skills flying through a pair of balloon-targets but wound up apparently smashing into one of them when my honed piloting skills from years of playing flightsims and other such games had me reckoning that I had given them enough space. The point I was trying to make earlier about the checkpoints is the fact that it starts you back at the beginning of ever mission regardless of where you left off, and doesn't let you skip the dialogue beforehand. I did manage to beat the tutorial, because me dying was mostly just screwing around. The second mission is the one I initially had the most fun with, darting through a canyon like it was the Death Star trench. Taking turns close and shooting obstacles out of the way, all while staying below the canyon walls. After that I moved on to the real missions, and that's about where it started getting less fun (And also started showing signs of corners cut). You see, whenever there's water in a flying game, I always like to try skimming over top of it for the hell of things. Unfortunately the water is just a solid floor scattered with blue confetti. I've seen better water effects in N64 games released almost a decade before this one, not to mention that Mario 64 DS came out two years before this game did. To be perfectly honest, the game is pretty good, but it feels a little rushed, and certainly didn't get enough polish to it. There's some varying levels of graphical distortion, some major disorientation when it comes to open-air missions, and despite Mastiff's best efforts, draw-distance that isn't very well hidden. Another thing that I need to mention is that even though there's a free-flight mode, you still need to complete an objective to continue, which defeats the very purpose of free-flight. Moving on. We all know that the DS can support high-quality audio tracks, just look at The World Ends With You and its crystal-clear sound-track, or..... Looks at The World Ends With You and its crystal clear sound-track. That's not to say the music is bad, the tunes are nice and fairly creative for attempted imitations. Thing is, my ear for music can tell that not only what songs each of the three tunes is trying to imitate, but also that the music was severely smashed down in quality, so that it comes out sounding kind of muted and dull. That in itself isn't the problem with the music, it's that you'll hear the same three tracks so many times that they become boring and tedious. Even if they threw in a few more crushed down original music tracks, say... three to five more, it'd break up the monotony enough to keep me from turning the sound off and firing up my own music. I checked out the developers Wikipedia page and to both my surprise and utter lack of it, I found that they only ever published about five titles of note, Top Gun: Combat Zones on the GBA, Space Raiders, Space Invaders Revolution, the abysmal survival-horror FPS on the DS, Moon, and this game, although after closer inspection, I feel I should probably check out a few of the games they published on the PS2 and PSP. All in all, the game feels like a nearly finished pre-release build that I wouldn't recommend paying more than five or six bucks for. Top Gun for the Nintendo DS gets a 4.2* rating. Tune in soon for another exciting review!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ready Player One.

First thing I'd like to say is that I'm sorry that I wasn't able to post for the last two weeks. Last week I had a major headache and couldn't even conceive of writing that day. The Sunday before that was a different story. That Sunday, I had just finished Ready Player One on Friday and I was still trying to get the words to describe what I experience by the midnight deadline. I'm gonna get down to business and say that is is one of the few must reads I've stumbled across, and I heard about it via word of mouth, which is even rarer these days. This book is as unique as it is strange. I wonder how Ernest Cline came up with  the concept for it? Anyhow, the book is about a teenager named Wade, who leads a rather insane life on future earth. The entire plot is based on a concept similar to The Westing Game, where a wealthy entrepreneur, towards the end of his life, set up a major treasure-hunt. Whoever puts all the pieces together gets his fortune. With a twist. The entire puzzle is taking place in a virtual world that's bigger than anything you could possibly imagine. Throughout the entire book the author kept me on my toes, I never knew what to expect next. If you've got the chance I'd recommend the audiobook, read by none other than Wil Wheaton. While he's not the best voice-actor I've ever heard he does lend a certain atmosphere to the story that would be lacking otherwise. I hope that the movie is as good as the book was, and as I read it I was picturing who I thought the cast should be. I figure that either Wheaton or Andrew Garfield could play Wade, and there are several roles that Freema Agyeman, William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Matt Smith, Bruce Willis, David Tennant, Vin Diesel or Daniel Craig could fill. Since non-gamers would probably not get most of the references, it probably wouldn't be entertaining to people who know nothing about games. I guess you could say that I'm a strange case, since some of the references might not have been gotten by people under a certain age. I guess my knowledge of all things Spider-Man and otherwise finally paid off in the fact that I didn't have to look anything in the book up. That being said, the book references things that I know that people probably wouldn't get. Despite the massive amount of gaming and 70s/80s pop-culture references that someone who didn't spend their childhood watching retro TV wouldn't get the book is still entertaining. It's a massive slice of history, and it could get you interested in gaming culture if you're not. I know that's taking a massive leap of faith, and I know I'm not covering the plot very much, but this book is something that should not be spoiled. Beyond all of the nods towards games and gaming lies a unique journey unlike any other. To be perfectly honest, I loved the book for the story as much as I did for the references to the span of time that produced most of the entertainment I enjoyed as a child and still enjoy today. All in all, Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is a must read for those who enjoy surreal science-fiction, post-apocalypse scenarios, slices of life, personal journies, and all things of the 70's through 90's. It gets and 10.0* rating.