Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Ridiculous 6

Adam Sandler seems to have a pattern. When he releases two movies in a year, one is usually terrible, and one is usually better, sometimes even good. For every Reign Over Me, he's made at least one I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. This year, Adam Sandler's Hapy Madison Productions has released a total of four movies, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Pixels, Hotel Transylvania 2, and The Ridiculous 6. Only one of those movies is even considered anywhere near good, and The Ridiculous 6 isn't that film.
If you take a look at Sandler's filmography, you'll notice that he's released at least one movie a year ever since 1998, completely uninterrupted. If not for the fact that he didn't release a movie at all in 1997, that streak would reach as far back as 1992! Mel Brooks would have a hard time putting out nothing but good comedies over that length of time! Stanley Kubrick would have a difficult time putting out good movies non-stop if he was working on that kind of schedule! So would Coppola, Jackson, Spielberg, Scorsese, Hitchcock, or Abrams. And Sandler isn't on the level of any of those guys. Even back in his prime, Sandler wouldn't have been able to keep up that kind of momentum. If Bucky Larson and Jack and Jill were the cracks in the facade, Pixels and The Ridiculous 6 are the holes, showing glimpses of the creature that spawned Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg eating whatever's left of Sandler's talent.
At this point, I feel safe in saying that Adam Sandler has become to comedy what Steven Segal became to action movies. They both started out pretty good, then got worse as time went on and they got more successful. After that, their main characters were usually author-insertion Gary-Stus, their movies got predictable, and no matter how much hate they got, they never seemed to go away. Even that's being a little unfair to Steven Segal, since his movies were never quite as disgusting as Sandler's are at their worst.
Sandler's self-inserts are usually the regular schlub with a hot girlfriend and some insane connections. Pixels took that to its extreme, with Sandler's character being best friends with the President, a successful businessman, and a former champion gamer. His character in this movie is different, since he's more of a straight-man to the crazy antics of the other characters, which works slightly better, but as time goes on you can see that he's just written himself another Gary Stu. This all becomes apparent once the character goes from being a guy adopted by Indians with comically good fighting skills, to just being a straight western hero, without any of the funny antics. This happens about twenty minutes into the film, by the way.
The way the movie starts off, it's almost as if it's lambasting ridiculous old westerns, attitudes in the old west, stereotype perpetuated by popular culture, and Sandler's typical bizarre writing style. It's almost as if Sandler was going for a bit of self-parody at first, but then a burro with explosive diarrhea showed up, almost as if to say "Fooled you, this movie's gonna be terrible!"
I almost stopped watching at this point, since I figured there was no way it could get any better. However, Sandler went on to prove me absolutely right by the end of the movie!
Adam Sandler plays Tommy "White Knife" Stockburn, a white guy who was adopted by an Apache tribe after the death of his mother. Right off the bat, you know pretty much everything you need to know about the character. He's white, and he uses knives a lot. In fact, after the opening of the movie, knives are all he uses, despite obviously having tapped into the Speed Force.
Something I noticed about the first ten to twenty minutes of the movie is that everyone seems incredibly wooden. Sandler especially seems like he showed up on set after not sleeping for three days and was then forced to retake the same scene fifty times in a day before being allowed to take a nap. And if that was the case, one has to wonder what the other actors excuses were.
White Knife's dad shows up and tells him that he used to be a bank-robber and that he buried his score around where White Knifes tribe is currently stationed. Then Danny Trejo shows up, kidnaps the dad, and says he's gonna kill him if they don't find the buried treasure. So White Knife goes on a journey to steal fifty grand from "people with no honor."
This is the point where Sandler's character stopped being a wooden caricature and started being an insufferable Clint Eastwood ripoff. He starts talking like Eastwood, he starts acting like Eastwood. Only difference is that Adam Sandler isn't at all convincing as a gritty western hero.
If you looked at the poster, you'd notice Rod Schneider is in this movie, and if you know anything about Rob Schneider, you'd be surprised to know that he's actually not the most annoying person in this movie. That dubious honor goes to Taylor Lautner, mostly due to his characters obnoxious hillbilly accent. Yes, the obviously Native American Taylor Lautner plays a redneck in a world that's comically racist against Indians. A world where the incredibly white Adam Sandler is almost killed because he's mistaken for an Indian, Pete can ride around on his cart with impunity. Did literally nobody involved with this movie think to point out this incredibly obvious flaw in their logic? Or maybe they were setting up an orphaned joke about racial stereotypes. Looking at the poster, you can see that Terry Crews is in this movie as well, and there's a joke at one point about his character revealing to the others that he's black, and them not actually noticing. Do people just not notice your race in this world unless you're dressed as the most obvious of ethnic stereotypes. And even then, you could just say whatever race you want to be and they'll believe you. This could have been a setup for a really funny joke, but considering that this is coming to us by way of Adam Sandler, a three-way studio struggle between Netflix, Paramount, and Warner Bros., and a three year development cycle, it's not at all surprising that there are concepts and plot-threads that come and go without explanation.
White Knife and company keep robbing people and finding more half-brothers until they have six. They get all the money they need, but then it gets stolen by a gang White Knife pissed off in the start of the movie. They then rob a poker-game with only a few days left to save their dad, they then find the gang that robbed them and get all the rest of the money back, White Knife shows off some stupidly good tracking skills, and they manage to track the gang down, but White Knife leaves the Six behind to take on the gang himself, because he figures out that Danny Trejo's character, Cicero killed his mother. Somehow. I don't get it. Apparently that was because of a tattoo Cicero has that Tommy noticed on his mothers killer, but there's really no way he could know any of this.
White Knife shows up at the Singing Windmill, drops off the cash, and for some reason the dad turns out to be evil. No, I don't know why. It's most likely just a really bad attempt at a third act twist, just like the contrived third-act setback from earlier. The brothers set off a bomb in the saddle-bags full of cash, White Knife kills Cicero in the most anti-climactic way possible, and the brothers turn the dad in to the police. Most likely Wyatt Earp, since of course he shows up in this movie.
White Knife's adopted father adopts his five half-brothers, White Knife marries his girlfriend, and everyone lives happily ever after. Until everyone died of dysentery, hepatitis, or the upcoming World War I.
Now that we're done attempting to summarize the incredibly stupid plot, let's go over some of the stupider moments in the movie. The aforementioned diarrhea mule is a good place to start, but the one this that was actually even more distasteful was said mule giving Pete a blowjob. Fortunately it didn't get any worse than that, although it did get less funny. Abner Doubleday shows up, played by John Turturro in an incredibly forced sequence revolving around incredibly stupid baseball jokes. You can't even really call them "Jokes," since they're either stating facts about the game, or saying one thing about the game, and then going on to say the right thing. It's incredibly hard to watch, and it's made even worse by the fact that Abner Doubleday didn't even invent baseball!
Then Lil' Pete irritates the local sheriff into getting him hung to distract the town from the rest of the gang robbing them blind. This pays off something Pete mentioned earlier in the movie, about him having a strong neck. The next few minutes of the movie are based around Pete showing off his incredibly strong neck. It starts out mildly funny, and then they draw the joke out long enough that they kill the humor. They drag it out so long they suck the humor right out of its natural environment and torture it like their name is Jack Bauer.
Later on in the film, while they're staging the robbery of the poker-game, General Armstrong Custer, Mark Twain and Wyatt Earp show up to make a ton of jokes about their future history. I'll admit that some of these jokes are fairly humorous, but for the most part they're just cringeworthy. General Custer is played by David Spade, one of Sandler's former SNL co-stars. Wyatt Earp is played by Country Snoozic star Blake Shelton, and Mark Twain is played by Vanilla Ice. I don't even have to say what he does, you guys already know. Shelton and Spade's characters are played relatively straight, however Mark Twain appears to have been written as a parody of Ice's 90's persona. This whole scenario seems to have been ripped straight from an SNL skit, or possibly an internet web-series, since I wouldn't expect to see anything like this in a film normally. Custer, Earp and a rapping Twain being poker-buddies? That sounds like the right kind of material for a decently funny skit or short series. Unfortunately, this scene has the single most forced attempt at a "joke" by way of reference in the form of Rob Schneider doing the Home Alone face, and Custer mentioning aftershave and being "home alone."
It was at this point in the film that I started drawing more direct comparisons between it and the world of Seltzer and Friedberg. Weird skits that come out of nowhere and then vanish without any explanation, rhyme or reason.
Overall, Terry Crews and Danny Trejo were the best parts of this whole movie, with some mad props to Vanilla Ice for making his stupid character actually kinda funny, but only just. Everything else is either stupid, idiotic, insulting, nonsensical, bizarre, ludicrous, inane, disgusting, or just outright confusing. All in all, this was a terrible western, a terrible comedy, and a terrible film overall. You want to see a funny western? Go watch Blazing Saddles, it's actually good.
While I was writing this review, I realized that an anachronistic western with Danny Trejo and Terry Crews as buddy cops (Or buddy Marshals) would be a great thing to watch. It'd be like A Knight's Tale, but set in the old west. And most importantly, it'd be better than The Ridiculous 6!
With all of the good things coming out of Netflix Studios lately, The Ridiculous 6 is a massive disappointment, although considering Adam Sandler was attached to the project, it's not at all surprising. I can't see how this movie cost sixty million to make, it's not like they had amazing visual effects or anything. Maybe that's what they had to pay to get Nick Nolte, Danny Trejo, Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, and Terry Crews. Or maybe Sandler demanded a huge amount of money for his family to appear in the film for some reason. No matter how you slice it, this movie cost far more than it should have, especially for the level of quality we're dealing with.
In the end, The Ridiculous 6 was a terrible film, and I'm gonna give it a 0.5* rating. I'm wondering how long until Sandler drops all pretense and starts working with The Asylum. Or Seltzerberg. Or both. God, I hope that never happens, that would be the ultimate in terrible films. Hell, let's add Uwe Boll into the mix too.
By the way, since I'm running late on my reviews, I'm going to be delaying the best/worst lists until late January to early February.

Image from

Monday, December 28, 2015

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

A new Star Wars movie came out earlier this month, and I finally saw it over the weekend. I figure I should probably review it. Seeing as it's well on its way to breaking into the top ten highest grossing films of all time. The Force Awakens is already the biggest Star Wars movie of all time, and is currently ranked at number five on the top ten films of 2015. Star Wars has broken records across the board this year, and this is a year that's broken records across the board. Amazing how what started as a little space-opera, with a nightmarish production history became the biggest science-fiction franchise of all time. And if you're wondering what I'm using to gauge that, it's Boxmojo's franchise index. From film alone, Star Wars is bigger than Terminator, Star Trek, and Transformers, and it's set to overtake all of them combined. And The Force Awakens has almost grossed more than the entire original trilogy combined. I certainly hope everyone is in agreement that this movie was good, because there's no stopping Star Wars anymore. The Prequels were really successful, but not very good, and The Clone Wars was really good, but not very successful. Now, after a seven-year gap, without any news on the multitude of Star Wars projects that were supposedly in development, we've finally got a new Star Wars movie. Announced November of 2014 and released in December of 2015, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is here to show everyone that Star Wars is back, and it's here to stay.
For those of you who don't know, Disney said that they were completely discounting the Expanded Universe when making the Sequel Trilogy. Personally, I've got mixed feels about this. On the one hand, some of my favorite novels come from the Star Wars Expanded Universe, but on the other hand, at least we don't have to deal with The New Jedi Order and Legacy of The Force anymore.
However, there are plenty of things in Episode VII which seem to me, as a fan of the EU, to have been inspired by or copied directly from the EU. It's just that they use different names for the characters, technology, and locations. Almost like they realized at the last minute that they'd shot themselves in the foot when they said that they weren't taking anything from the EU and just decided to rename it. Or maybe the crew was working on an EU inspired movie and were then told once the script was finished that they had to remove all references to the Expanded Universe. Even so, there's still plenty of fanservice, for both casual and hardcore fans alike. Personally, there are plenty of things in the movie that I would have called something else, but that's just a petty quibble. On the whole, The Force Awakens is freaking awesome. I'll try to avoid spoilers for the first half of the review. Spoiler territory will be clearly marked.
One of my major gripes with the prequels was the fact that they over-used CGI. Don't get me wrong, it looked really freaking good for the most part, but those weren't animated films, they were live-action. And even if you've got Industrial Light and Magic working on the visual effects, it's hard to make the CGI look like it belongs in the shot with the human actors. Or to make the human actors look like they belong in the shot. But everyone pretty much knows this by now.
The good thing about The Force Awakens is that they've kept the usage of CGI actors and environments to a minimum, and what's there blends in with the rest of the shots extremely well. Episode VII is amazing from a purely technical standpoint, just like most of J .J. Abrams work. If you've seen Abrams' Star Trek movies, then the space scenes in this movie will certainly remind you of those films. Not to say that they're totally unlike space-scenes from Star Wars, they're just slightly different. I don't find them quite as engaging as the space-combat scenes in the original trilogy, but they're more coherent than the space-combat scenes in Episode III. for instance.
Then we get to the planet-based combat in the movie, which feels a lot more engaging. For the most part, it's reminiscent of the combat in the original trilogy, with the best elements of combat from the Prequels. The Lightsaber fights are more like they were in the original trilogy, IE actual sword fighting and not freaking dance-routines like they were in the prequels.
The Lightsaber fights bring me to a rather major issue I had with the cinematography, namely the fact that there are way too many close-ups of the characters during lightsaber fights and not enough wide views of the fighting. By the way, spoiler warning, a Star Wars movie has lightsaber fighting in it. The original cut of The Force Awakens was apparently around four hours long, and I'd love to see extended/alternate takes of the lightsaber combat where they used much wider shots, where the screen isn't filled with the actor's faces. Otherwise, the cinematography is fine. Unless it's the last lightsaber fight, everything pretty much looks clear, and each scene flows into the next very well. The editing is incredibly well-done, and I wasn't left confused by any of the cuts.
Then we get to the story. It might be a little bit simplistic, but it's not predictable, and it's doesn't rely on cliche like some movies do. I'm looking at you, Jupiter Ascending. It's almost an homage to the original Star Wars, but there's enough that's different that I wouldn't call it a direct homage. More like a loving tribute, with its own original spin to put on things.
The characters are good, the acting is good, and I can't really say much else without delving into spoiler territory.
From this point onwards, we'll be discussing potential and outright spoilers, so if you haven't already seen the movie, go out and watch it now. Or wait until April when it comes out on home video to finish reading this review. Whatever you want to do. If you read beyond this and you haven't seen the movie then you've got nobody to blame but yourself. Seriously, you should go watch the movie.

Right off the bat, I wished Disney hadn't shown anything from the film in the run-up to the release, because as soon as I saw the Stormtrooper hesitating in the opening, I knew he was Finn. I didn't even watch the trailer before I'd watched the movie, and I already knew who Finn was thanks to all the hoopla around the film. Fortunately, thanks to my incredibly isolationist attitude when it comes to movies I want to watch, I didn't know much else about it.
There are plenty of minor quibbles I can bring up with the locations. For instance, they introduce way too many new locations that are similar to previously established ones. The planet the movie starts on is called Jakku, but it sure looks like Tatooine, and when I originally saw the stills from the trailer, I would have sworn that it was Tatooine. Really, there's no reason for it not to be Tatooine from a narrative perspective. Jakku wasn't even around in the original trilogy, and it's depicted as having crashed wrecks of Imperial Star Destroyers on it. That implies some kind of space-battle occurred between the Empire and the Rebellion, which means Luke Skywalker would have likely been present for it. But for some reason, Luke Skywalker has become a legend despite the fact that he was the most wanted man in the galaxy for years on end. It's essentially the same issue with the Jedi and The Force being mythological in Episode IV when the Jedi were at the forefront of The Clone Wars. You know, the same Clone Wars that a kid from Tatooine, the single most remote planet in the freaking galaxy, would know about. If it was a major battle in the Rebellion against the Empire, Rogue Squadron was probably involved, and who's the person in charge of Rogue Squadron? Luke freaking Skywalker, Rogue Leader himself.
The next planet they introduce is basically Naboo, but it's called Takodana. Takodana has a bar on it managed by Chewbacca's girlfriend. Personally, I think Takodana could have been cut entirely, since there's nothing unique about it. Like I said, it's essentially Naboo.
Then we get to D'Qar, the site of the Resistance base in Episode VII. I'll get to my issue with "The Resistance" later, but my main gripe with D'Qar is that it's basically Yavin 4, but they don't bother calling it Yavin IV. Like all the other planets they introduced, it doesn't really need to be there, since they have previously established planets they could be using instead.
Really, this all comes back to my complaints about Mos Espa in The Phantom Menace, it wasn't different from Mos Eisley in any significant way, so why bother calling it anything else? Do we need another desert planet? Or another jungle planet? Or another forest planet? Not really. There's already an established galaxy,
Now that we're done complaining about the new planets, let's start talking more about the story.
It's been around thirty years since The Battle of Endor, and Luke Skywalker has gone missing. Princess Leia sends out Poe Dameron to track Luke down, but he gets ambushed by a group of Stormtroopers from The First Order, led by Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma. He gets captured, but he sends his droid off into the desert with the map chip locked inside. The droid's name is BB-8, and he is one of the cutest things in Star Wars. I'm serious, BB-8 is great. His comic-timing is perfect, he's cute as a button, and best of all, he's actually a useful character.
During Poe's capture, the Stormtroopers torch the village he had traveled to, and killed the old man who gave Poe the map to Luke. They then slaughter the entire village. Except for one Stormtrooper, who hesitates, and doesn't shoot anyone.
Kylo Ren brings Poe onboard his ship, tortures him, and then uses The Force to extract the rest of the information from him. The Stormtrooper who didn't shoot anyone in the village rescues Poe and they escape in a Tie-Fighter. Poe asks the troopers name, but he only has a serial-number. So Poe calls him Finn, after the first two letters in his number. Poe explains that he needs to go back to Jakku and get BB-8. They then get shot down and crash-land on Jakku. Finn wakes up in an ejector-seat on the surface of the planet, and only finds Poe's jacket on the Tie-Fighter. Then the Tie-Fighter is swallowed by a sinkhole. Finn strips off his Stormtrooper armor, because it's hot, and he's in the freaking desert, and tries to make his way towards town.
We cut to a girl named Rey scavenging parts out of a crashed Imperial Star Destroyer. She loads up her old cruiser with the scrap, and rides into town to trade the parts for food. On her way, she runs into a fellow scrapper who's captured BB-8. She talks the guy out of it, and takes BB-8 with her into town to find Poe.
In town, she runs into Finn. BB-8 points out to her that Finn is wearing Poe's jacket and thinks he must have stolen it. Rey attacks Finn, but he explains what's going on, telling her that he's with the Resistance, and that BB-8 has the map to Luke inside him. Jakku is then attacked by The First Order, and the three of them flee in a stolen spaceship. Did I mention that it's the fastest ship in the galaxy? Yes. They stole The Millennium Falcon. They escape the Imperial blockade and jet off into lightspeed.
Then The Falcon breaks down like it usually does, and after Finn, Rey, and BB-8 fix it, they get hauled into a Corellian Cruiser. Lo and behold, that Cruiser is commanded by everyone's favorite lovable rogue, Han Solo and his first-mate, Chewbacca. Finn convinces BB-8 to show Han and Rey the map to Luke, and Han explains to Rey and Finn about why Luke left, and that all the old legends about The Force and the old Jedi Order was true. Apparently Kylo Ren betrayed Luke and went over to the Dark Side.
Unfortunately, Han's ship gets boarded by gangs he owes money to, and Rey attempts to seal the gangs inside the ships air-locks, but accidentally lets out the monsters Han was smuggling. It turns out for the best though, since the monsters eat the gangs and buy the gang enough time to get to The Falcon and warp off. Han takes them to Takodana to meet with Maz Kanata, who's basically Guinan from Star Trek: The Next Generation, right down to her being really freaking old. She's able to get BB-8 on a clean ship to Coruscant, so he can get the map to Leia. Rey wants to get back to Jakku so she can keep waiting for her missing parents, and Finn just wants to get as far away from The First Order as possible.
Unfortunately for everyone, The First Order and The Resistance alike have been notified about the presence of BB-8 and the rest of the fugitives on Takodana.
Rey's called to the Lightsaber Luke lost on Bespin (The one Anakin lost on Mustafar), and it gives her some disturbing images. And instead of turning to the Dark-Side, she just leaves the Lightsaber where it is and flees into the forest. Seeeeeeee Anakin? This is the logical reaction to having nightmares like that.
The First Order attacks the planet, and Han, Chewie, Rey, and Finn are forced to fight their way off the planet. Unfortunately, Rey gets captured by Kylo Ren, and The First Order retreats to their mobile battle station, Starkiller Base.
The guy in charge of The First Order, Supreme Leader Snoke, orders the Imperial Commander, General Hux to use Starkiller Base (Called such because it uses stars as fuel) to annihilate The New Republic. He also orders Kylo Ren to kill his father, Han Solo. This was the point in the film where I started to suspect that they were adapting the EU despite their claims to not be doing so.
Princess Leia escorts Han, BB-8, and Finn to their base, and there they meet up with Poe Dameron.
Apparently, Poe was ejected from the Tie-Fighter as well, and he reunites with BB-8, and they show their portion of the map to the New Republic's armed forces. I'm glad to see Admiral Ackbar is still around.
Han and Leia discuss their relationship and history. Apparently they drifted apart after Kylo betrayed Luke, Han went back to smuggling, and Leia went back to leading the military.
Apparently R2-D2 has fallen into a deep depression after Luke left, and hasn't powered on since then.
Starkiller Base fires on the New Republic capital, destroying every single planet in the Hosnian system. Which is a little odd, since I thought The New Republic was housed on Coruscant, and I've never heard of the Hosnian system. It seems like they just invented Hosnian just so they wouldn't have to blow up Coruscant.
Anyways, Kylo Ren interrogates Rey with The Force, but she's able to resist it, and then mind-tricks James Bond into freeing her from her and giving her his gun.
Leia and the rest of the Resistance's military leaders work up a plan to take out Starkiller Base, which involves sending Han, Chewie, and Finn onto Starkiller to take down the shields so what's left of the New Republic Starfleet can try and blow it up. Before departing, Leia urges Han to bring Kylo back to them alive.
They manage to land The Falcon on Starkiller, find Rey, blackmail Phasma into lowering the shields, and set explosives around the armor-plating on the main reactor.
Han confronts his son, Ben Solo, now known as Kylo Ren. This confrontation was amazing, and incredibly powerful. It ends with Kylo killing Han, which is something I wasn't expecting, but it's handled incredibly well, and it actually seems like something that was done for the sake of the story, as opposed to the way Chewbacca's death in Vector Prime was handled, which was purely there for shock-value.
Chewbacca goes crazy when Ben kills Han, and manages to get in a few good shots at Ben, kills a ton of Stormtroopers, and triggers the explosives. This gives Poe's Black Squadron an opening to destroy the base.
Chewbacca, Rey, and Finn flee to the surface of Starkiller and attempt to escape, but Kylo Ben ambushes them. Finn takes up the Lightsaber given to him by Maz, and duels with Kylo. He puts up a good fight, but Kylo manages to gain the upper-hand long enough to injure Finn and disarm him.
Rey then takes up the Lightsaber and duels Kylo to a standstill before they're separated by a canyon formed by the destruction of Starkiller. Chewbacca and Rey load Finn into The Falcon and fly out with the rest of the remaining New Republic's space-fleet.
Captain Phasma, Kylo Ren, and General Hux flee Starkiller as it explodes under the orders of Snoke. I don't know where they go from here, I suppose we're gonna find out in the next movie.
The New Republic mourns the death of one of their heroes, R2 wakes up finally and shows them the rest of the map to Luke's location. Rey joins Chewbacca and R2 on The Falcon, tracking Luke to a distant planet, finding him on an island.
Yes, this was an awesome film. It's freaking amazing, and it's a damn good film. I'm just gonna bring up a few things I noticed though.
"Starkiller Base" is a reference to the original name of the protagonist of Star Wars, Starkiller. Which was later used as the name of one of Darth Vader's many, many secret apprentices in the EU. And the concept of the base itself, as something which can destroy a star and an entire planetary system at once is straight from one of my favorite EU series, the Jedi Academy Trilogy. The Sun Crusher was a secret Imperial project which would destroy a sun to destroy an entire planetary system. There are differences in execution, certainly. Starkiller Base is essentially a glorified Death Star, since it still uses a laser-canon to target and blow up planets directly, while The Sun Crusher dropped torpedoes into stars, turning the star into a literal bomb, which then goes on to annihilate the planets orbiting it. As you can see, the end result is the same, a dead sun and a bunch of vaporized planets.
Then we get to the fact that Ben in essentially Jacen Solo from the EU with a different name. His origin, his personality to a certain extent, it all seems so much like Jacen that I wonder why he's not just called Jacen. Probably to make good on what they said about not adapting the Expanded Universe.
Then there's Luke's quest to find the first Jedi temple, which he actually did in the EU. Except that. You know. That temple was the Rebel base on Yavin 4. This is one of those situations where I hesitate to take the word of the author on what they're contradicting from the EU, since if you look at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant in the Prequels and the Rebel base in Episode IV, they look pretty damn similar. So since there's evidence in canonical material to support what was stated in Lost City of the Jedi, that leaves me to wonder where they're taking this. But this is just my brain on the Expanded Universe, I still haven't completely accepted that it's not canon, due to the fact that they haven't really contradicted much, they've just changed some names around and added some planets.
There's a hypothesis running around that Rey is Luke's daughter, and I'd say there's plenty of evidence to back that up. There's the fact that she's good with machines, like Anakin and Luke. She's an awesome pilot, just like Anakin and Luke. She's drawn to the Lightsaber used by Anakin and Luke. Then there's the fact that her theme-song is essentially identical to Anakin's and Luke's. Plus she's drawn to Han Solo through some pretty weird circumstances, just like Luke was. I'm almost certain at this point that Rey's last name is Skywalker.
So, let's talk about the actors. Harrison Ford is good as Han Solo as he always is, Carrie Fisher is good as Leia, and Mark Hamill is Mark Hamill, he's always good, even though he's barely in the movie. We can skip over all of the returning actors, since everyone already knows who they are, and they're still great.
Let's get to the new actors, starting with John Boyega, who's great as Finn. He portrays a conflicted soldier who winds up turning against his own to do what's right. Finn's character arc is great, and it's nice to see a character who was conditioned from birth to obey orders and kill mindlessly rebel against that conditioning to do the right thing. However, this backs up what I say about the Clone Troopers in the prequels, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to rebel against their orders like Finn did.
Enough tangents, Boyega's performance is great, and his accent is perfect. I couldn't even tell he's British from his voice. If I didn't know better, I'd think he was American.
Then we move on to Adam Driver, who played Kylo Ren. Back in The Original Trilogy, we never saw Darth Vader's face until the very end of Episode VI, which was partially to maintain his intimidating nature. I bring this up because Kylo Ren's mask comes off at multiple points in the film, but that doesn't serve to make him less intimidating at all, and this is down to Driver's performance. His expressionism makes Kylo Ren as intimidated without the mask as he is with it, and sometimes more so.
Then we get to Oscar Isaac, who plays Poe Dameron, who feels like a mostly useless character. Not the same kind of useless as Qui-Gon Jinn, just useless in the fact that he's left out of most of the important events in the film, and the character seems to know that he's being left out of most of the important goings-on.
There's a difference between knowing very little about a character, and them not being interesting. Poe Dameron is a character we don't know much about, and he's not particularly interesting, while characters like Rey, Captain Phasma, or that Stormtrooper Finn was dueling with on Takodana are characters we don't know much about, but are interesting. Phasma due to her voice and armor, the Assault Trooper because he popped out of nowhere and was awesome, and Rey because we've traveled with her from planet to planet, through good circumstances and bad. Rey is played by Daisy Ridley, and while there's not much to go on for the character at the moment, I think that Daisey Ridley did a good job. She's suited to the role, for one thing, and for another, I think she captures the same sort of innocence that Luke Skywalker embodied in Episode IV. This is how Anakin Skywalker should have been written back in the day.
Now we move onto some random thoughts I had while writing this review and watching the movie.
It's funny how Rey's staff is quite obviously a double-bladed Lightsaber, but we never actually see it in action. Maybe the power-source is dead or something. I didn't know you had to recharge Lightsabers, but who knows?
Personally, I thought the movie started out strong, stayed strong in the middle, and then the climax seemed pretty empty. Destroying Starkiller Base in the first film seems like they were just trying to parrot the way A New Hope ended, but forgot that they needed a little more build-up, and a lot more tension to pay it off the way Luke making his shot in the Death Star trench paid off. Part of that might be the fact that we don't know jack about Poe Dameron or any of his team, and therefore have no reason to care about them. I think a much better ending would have been for Starkiller Base to be severely crippled, with it being destroyed in Episode VIII or IX.
I think that Luke needs to spend almost all of Episode VIII training Rey in the ways of the Jedi, but be reluctant to come back to the fight. Over the course of him training Rey, he comes around to the idea of returning to battle. As the tide turns against the New Republic, Rey has to return to the battlefield to confront her cousin Ben, and uses every single technique she learned from Luke in the battle. She almost succeeds, but Ben manages to get in enough good hits to cripple her. Possibly with her losing her right hand in the process. Duel of the Fates should definitely be playing during this fight as well.
As the outlooks seems bleak, and Captain Phasma's army closes in on the Rebel base, in the direst of circumstances, when all hope seems lost, BAM! Right out of hyperspace comes Luke Skywalker, in his X-Wing, with R2-D2 in the navigation pit. He takes command of Rogue Squadron and they turn the tide of the battle. As the Star Wars theme-song swells to a crescendo, Luke flies down to the surface of the planet where Rey and Ben are having their duel, leaps out of the cockpit of his X-Wing, lands between Ben and Rey, igniting his Lightsaber. With the green glow illuminating his face, he out-duels Ben, forcing him to retreat. The battle over, the Rebel Alliance re-forms. The war may not have been won, but the New Republic's greatest hero has returned, and they've dealt The First Order a crippling blow.
After all that wild mass guessing, I figure I should probably wrap this review up, and give you a score.
All in all, I really liked this movie, and I'm oh so happy that Star Wars is back to being the greatest thing on the planet. The cinematography is great, the acting is great, the effects are great, the action is great, the story is good, the comedy is actually funny (Take note, Nickelodeon) and it's just freaking good.
In the end, I give Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens a 9.7* rating. I think this is probably my second favorite Star Wars movie at this point. Possibly third, but it's definitely at the top of the list.

Updated on 7/11/2018 for spelling issues.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Death Note: The Animated Series

Way back in 2013 I reviewed the original Death Note comics if you'll recall. I meant to get around to reviewing the animated series, but I either forgot, or never really had the time. Either way, I didn't get around to it, or any of the five Death Note movies. Then, straight out of nowhere, there was a Death Note Live-Action series that aired earlier this year. I'm not anywhere near being done with The Consuming Shadow or any of the other twenty games I'm trying to get reviewed before the end of the year, and I'd finally finished up all thirty-seven episodes of the animated series, so I figured I'd just sit down and type out a review of the animated series before possibly getting around to watching the five movies and the TV show in between all of my deaths in The Consuming Shadow. Then maybe I'll get around to reviewing the biggest film of the year if I can find the cash, who knows.
So, what is Death Note about? Well, I'm glad I asked that question! Death Note is a story that asks a question. How would good people handle being given the power to kill bad people, and how far would they go when faced with the possibility of being caught?
Death Note is quite possibly one of the greatest drama stories of all time, which is backed up by some amazing artwork. Since I've already covered everything that makes Death Note good in my review of the comics, but I'll try and give a quick rundown.
The characters are incredibly well-written, interesting, and well-developed. The story is paced perfectly, and all of the plots come together perfectly in the end. The art was great, the writing was utterly superb, and Death Note is still one of my favorite series of comics to this very day.
Fortunately all of that carries over into the animated series and more. Among many positives, there's the obvious addition of color, motion and music. The use of color in this show is just astounding, and the general quality of the artwork is leaps and bounds above that of most animated products, either from Japan itself or other places in the world. It's a quality of animation I've rarely seen, and it looks amazing. I'm always irritated by the tendency in certain pieces of animation to make hair almost transparent, leaving eyes, eyeglasses and eyebrows visible beneath what would in real life be totally obscured by locks of hair. Fortunately, Death Note doesn't have that issue. Nor does it have many of the typical issues that tend to affect a lot of animated series. You're not likely to see any re-used animation, miscolored characters or clothing, or sloppy artwork in this show. This is pretty much the series that the term "precision animation" was coined to describe. And as I said before, the use of color is absolutely astounding. The way they shift colors occasionally in some scenes to display contrast is just masterful, and it gets even better towards the end of the series, when the contrast of colors becomes even more vibrant, and somewhat demented to match the tone of the show.
Speaking of tone, the sound design is amazing. The sound-effects, the voice-acting, and the music especially sets the scene to make some of the most awesome moments in the series even better. I cannot give enough praise to the music team, and the music supervisor Fumiko Harada. The other composers listed on IMDd are the bands Nightmare and Maximum The Hormone, who wrote the opening and ending songs for the first and second seasons respectively. Personally, I prefer Nightmare's music as opposed to Maximum The Hormone's. If we can get over Maximum The Hormone's incredibly stupid name for a second, I'll break down the difference. The two opening songs are called "The World" and "What's Up, People?!" composed by Nightmare and Maximum The Hormone respectively. "The World" is made up of intricate metaphors, some awesome guitar riffs, and accompanies some awesome visuals in the opening, which act as visual metaphor for the entire series. It's a really good song accompanying an amazing opening sequence, and it only gets better when you listen to the full-length version, which I still have. Then we come to "What's Up, People?!", which is loud, obnoxious, and seems to be comprised entirely of nonsense lyrics intended to confuse and assault the senses. Then there's the accompanying animation, which doesn't really make any sense. Gone are the subtle depictions of things that are actually from the show with the intricate color direction from the show itself, the second intro just assaults you with splashes of color which don't seem to have much logic to their placement. Sure, the color shifting in the show itself got crazier as time went on, but they were still extremely careful with how they used it. Personally, I just skipped the intros after watching them all the way through once anyways.
That brings us to the ending songs, "Alumina" and "Desperate Billy", by the same bands as before respectively. While "The World" sounds like the song that plays in Light Yagami's head while writing down names, "Alumina" sounds like the kind of song that you expect to play during the decay of a persons soul. It's sad, it's great to listen to, and I freaking loved it.
"Desperate Billy" seems to be yet another nonsense song, but fortunately it's tolerable and coherent, as opposed to "What's Up People?!" which was just a big ball of noise. It's got some good guitar pieces, and when the clean vocals are playing, but the speed-vocals are playing I can't pick out a single word, and they just seem out of place. As I've said before, I don't know a whole lot of Japanese, but it doesn't matter what language the vocalist is speaking in when they're talking that fast, and when they're growling like that. This song is pretty good, but it's brought down by the growling vocals. It's pretty good, but it could be better.
As for the rest of the soundtrack, it's great. It enhances the atmosphere of the show, and it's possibly one of the most memorable soundtracks of all time.
Then we come to the voice-acting, and I'd like to get this out of the way right off the bat. The Japanese voice-acting sucks. I tried watching a few key episodes in Japanese and I couldn't get into it. Mamoru Miyano, the Japanese voice-actor for Light Yagami sounds like he's bored out of his mind throughout his entire performance, even when he's supposed to be sounding demented and crazy, whereas Brad Swaile, the English voice-actor manages to rock the role for all it's worth. He brings across all of Light's demented passion, his wide-eyed innocent persona, and all of the vibrant, disturbing aspects of Light's personality.
Then we get to the voices of Ryuk. Shidô Nakamura is the Japanese voice of Ryuk, and he's got essentially the same problem as Miyano does, he just doesn't seem at all interested in his performance. I get that both of the characters were bored, but neither of them seem to be able to come up with anything else. Nakamura's performance in this show is mostly defined by him sounding slightly confused and attempting to be intimidating. I don't know much about his career outside of Death Note, but I hope this just comes down to an issue of direction, because he sounds like he'd be right for the role otherwise. Fortunately, Brian Drummond nails the role. There's not mush about the English acting which doesn't trump the Japanese acting. If it's not boring, bored, or outright bad, it's usually just bland, and that's when the actors aren't completely mis-cast. That brings us to Noriko Hidaka's performance as Near. Noriko played Akane in Ranma 1/2, which I haven't seen. Kikyo in InuYasha, a franchise that I really like, but have never watched. Reiko Hinamoto in Metal Gear Solid 3, which I've never played in Japanese. Masumi Sera in Case Closed, which I've never seen in Japanese. She also apparently had a recurring role in Ressha Sentai ToQger, a series I've been meaning to watch, but haven't gotten around to yet due to my insane work schedule and the fact that I haven't been able to get into Super Sentai as much as I have Kamen Rider.
It tends to be common practice to cast women in the roles of young boys so that their voices don't change over the course of filming. Under most circumstances, this works perfectly fine, but under some circumstances they either wind up sounding too feminine, too much like little girls, or too much like grown women. An obvious example of the last one would be Masako Nozawa, the Japanese voice of Goku. Noriko seems to fall into fall into the first category, bleeding over into the third a bit. I don't know if she's just not cut out for the role, or if this is yet again another failing of the Japanese voice direction.
Then we get to the Cathy Weseluck, the English voice of Near. She starts out a little shaky, and her voice for Near wasn't one I would have expected, but she just nails it. At first I thought they could have done slightly better, but at the end of the series I wouldn't have replaced her with anyone else. Cathy's other voice credits include Mirai Yashima from Mobile Suit Gundam, Shampoo in Ranma, Chiaotzu, Piiza and Puar in the Ocean and Canadian versions of Dragon Ball Z (Which are really the same version since Ocean never stopped producing the series in Canada, just in America when Funimation wrangled the American rights away) Ayumi and Kagome's mother in InuYasha, and a crapload of voices in My Little Pony over the years.
Wait, Brian Drummond? Cathy Weseluck? Both of them were involved with the Ocean/Canadian dub of Dragon Ball Z. And guess what company produced the English version of Death Note? That's right, Ocean Studios! It's funny how Ocean is mostly known for producing underacted shows these days. I think their current biggest show is probably Cardfight!! Vanguard, a sub-par Yu-Gi-Oh! ripoff with some of the blandest character design I've ever seen. It could just be the material they were working with, since it is admittedly a pretty weak show, but everyone sounds uninvested in their actions. Every. Single. One.
I bring this up because I was genuinely surprised when I saw Ocean Studios listed in the credits, since this show has legitimately some of the best voice-acting I've ever heard.
Unfortunately this brings us to a fairly major issue with the show. It might just be that I was watching this on my massive computer monitor, or the amount of Dragon Ball Z Abridged I watch, but the characters lips almost never match up with their voices. I know what you're thinking, and it doesn't matter which audio track you're listening to, the lip-movements only match up part of the time, if at all. It definitely could have done with someone cueing up the lips to the actual voices in post-production. This seems to be an issue all around in animation, no matter where it comes from, and one that Death Note unfortunately doesn't subvert, which is a shame, since it subverts so many other animation issues. But that doesn't really take away from the experience, since it's usually something only visual-effects and animation nerds like myself would notice.
There's literally only one scene in the show that was actually lesser than its counterpart in the comics, mostly due to the fact that they cut down one of the pivotal scenes of the show. Fans of Death Note (And people who have read the comics) will know what scene I'm talking about. Otherwise, I don't really have any complaints, except for the fact that the last episode ends too quickly, rather than showing the fallout of what happened at the end like the comics did. I liked how the comics showed what effect the actions of the characters had on the world itself. However! I can see why they ended the show where they did, because it's very emotional, and quite possibly one of the greatest moments in any television series. Ever. No, I'm not kidding. Death Note is to animated television what The Godfather is to cinema, and it deserves a 10.1*. I'm hoping to see you next week with a review of The Consuming Shadow, and maybe a midweek review or two of the two Death Note animated films. I'm also tempted to drop a midweek, midseason review of Supergirl at some point, but I'm not sure I want to relive the last eight, miserable Mondays.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Kung Fury

When I originally heard about Kung Fury, I was completely on-board with it. If I'd had the cash to back it on Kickstarter, I probably would have. I thought the premise was cool, I thought the trailer was cool, and I was freaking stoked for this movie. When the theme-song debuted earlier this year, I was even more on-board. But by the time the movie came out, I was working flat-out on reviewing books and games. I wound up forgetting about Kung Fury for a few months until one of my friends mentioned it a little whole ago.
I tracked the video down on YouTube, saw that it was only thirty minutes long, and decided I'd watch it on the weekend, since Power Rangers: Dino Charge was taking a break that week.
What was my reaction? Weeeeelll.... It's not bad. Not totally great, but I'd rather spend thirty minutes watching this than most of what's on TV these days.
Not to say that it didn't deliver on what it promised, it's a welcome homage to the '80s. It's a good comedy movie that has some damn fine jokes in it. It's not as earnest as I'd like, but that's not really what we're here for, we're here for the comedy.
Before we get into the rest of the review, you should click here and watch the movie. It's only a half-hour long, and it's free to watch. Go ahead, I'll wait. No, I'm not being paid by Laser Unicorns, they're far more popular than I am, and they don't need my help to get traffic.
You done? Good. Let's get to that summary shall we?
Kung Fury is about a cop named.... Kung Fury. Kung Fury (No, we're never told if he's got a regular name) is a detective with the Miami-Dade Police Department. He's a lone-wolf because his partner was killed by a ninja back in the day. Before the ninja could kill Kung Fury, he got struck by lightening and bitten by a cobra, fulfilling the ancient Kung-Fury prophecy.
After beating-up an arcade-machine that came to life, Kung Fury is assigned a new partner, Triceracop. Since he doesn't want to lose another partner, he turns in his badge. But then Adolf Hitler starts shooting up the police-station through the phone, and Kung Fury is back on the job, getting sent back in time by his buddy, Hackerman. Hackerman is a computer-hacker who uses an NES Power Glove and some classic computer-hardware to hack Kung Fury back in time to kill Hitler, known as The Kung Fuherer in this film. The Kung Fuherer is here to kill Kung Fury and take command of the Kung Fury powers.
Unfortunately, Kung Fury overshoots the 1940s by a few thousand years, and he winds up in the Viking-age, where he runs into laser-dinosaurs and machine-gun wielding viking women, who take Kung Fury on a giant wolf to go meet Thor, who sends Kung Fury to where he needs to be by quoting MC Hammer at him, and sends him to the right time-period.
We then cut to Nazi Germany, where the Nazi's are having a Hitler lookalike contest. Kung Fury beats them up, busts into the Nazi base, and starts going all Mortal Kombat on the Nazi's. It's all a very wholesome experience.
Unfortunately, Kung Fury gets shot by Hitler, and dies.
Fortunately, Hackerman hacks himself, Thor, the viking women, some laser-dinosaurs, and Triceracop back into the 1940s, and they kill all the Nazi's, and defeat The Kung Fuherer. Then, after Kung Fury almost arrests the angel of death for obstruction of justice, Hackerman hacks away Kung Fury's wounds, and brings him back to life. They then travel back to the 80's, and live happily ever after.
Except that The Kung Fuherer used his time-travelling golden bird robot to transport himself into the 80s in a fork of the Kung Fury timeline to corrupt the criminals of 1980s Miami into being Nazi's, ending on a cliffhanger.
Now that we've gone over the plot, it's time to start on some analysis.
Personally, I thought that the whole Viking section of the movie was completely unnecessary. Aside from making a couple of decent jokes, it doesn't serve any real purpose. Maybe if the movie was longer, I could possibly excuse its presene. Even then, it's still detrimental to the overall pacing. Maybe if they cut out the vikings, the movie could have had a proper climax, rather than sputtering out and leaving us on a cliffhanger until the theatrical Kung Fury movie comes out.
All of the scenes that take place in Miami are all fine, if I'd been making the movie, I would have left all of those in. For the most part, I also like the Nazi-Germany section of the movie, right up until the anticlimax.
See, I'm the kind of guy who likes to see an awesome action-scene accompanied by a piece of kickass rock and roll. Optimus Prime breaking the Decepticon line accompanied by The Touch, Rocky pulling off an awesome victory while Eye of the Tiger plays, Kurt Sloane knocking out Tong-Po as Never Surrender starts up, Goku going Super Saiyan while Bruce Faulconer's awesome score plays in the background, Sonic standing up to fight after being beaten-down while It Doesn't Matter starts up... You know the drill.
So, if you know anything about any of the stuff I just mentioned, you'll notice most of those examples came from the 1980s. Considering that Kung Fury is inspired by the '80s, and has an '80s star performing the theme-song, you'd think that Kung Fury would embrace the rock-anthem action-scene that you tend to think of when you think of really good '80s movies. Which begs the question, why didn't it do that? It had the awesome music, it had the potential for an amazing climax to accompany that music, but it didn't put those two things together.
If I had been making this movie I would have cut out the stuff about the vikings and put all of the effort that went into that sequence into the climax of the film. Have True Survivor kick in as Kung Fury makes a mad dash towards Hitler's podium. Have Kung Fury and Hitler have a massive climactic showdown with giant robots, some awesome hand-to-hand combat, and the best final showdown that the budget could possibly allow.
I'm not saying cut out the jokes, I'm just saying to relocate the effort that was put into the Viking sequence (And yes, I thought their version of Thor was freaking awesome.) into the climax of the film.
But that's just as a short-film. If you added another thirty minutes to the movie, tighten up the comedy and direction in the viking sequence, and then it'd be fine. But you'd still need to fix the ending. You could even leave the cliffhanger in if you wanted, but I'd still personally prefer a stronger ending.
Now, let's talk visuals. Kung Fury is presented as if it's being played on an old VHS tape, and they manage to make it look pretty convincing. The effects are gloriously archaic, while also looking really good as well. I love the use of the dog as a giant wolf, and I generally love the look and feel of the movie. However, at some points in the movie I wonder if the effects were intended to look as they do. For instance, in Germany, Kung Fury picks up a tank to smash Nazi's with, and the effects of him lifting the tank look slightly janky, and not in an '80s way, in more of a Sci-Fi original movie way. Although that doesn't take away from the humor of that scene in my opinion.
All in all, Kung Fury is a good movie, and I look forward to the upcoming full-length movie that they're working on. Unfortunately, I've got a bad feeling about the theatrical movie, since Kung Fury seems like a concept that should stick to shorts on the internet as opposed to a feature-length film. It's an idea that seems fairly easy to corrupt, and the final product could wind up being about as funny as a Seltzerberg movie.
In the end though, Kung Fury was an awesome little short, and it's definitely worth watching if you've got a half an hour of free-time. It's definitely a step in the right direction if they keep up the momentum they've gained. I give it an 8.7* rating. I'll see you next week with The Consuming Shadow, hopefully!

Image from

Monday, December 7, 2015

Rodea The Sky Soldier for 3DS

Rodea The Sky Soldier has got a hell of a legacy behind it. It comes to us from producer Yuji Naka, former head of Sonic Team, and current head of Prope. In case you were wondering, Yuji Naka was the lead programmer for the Sonic games on the Genesis, and the producer of the series until Sonic Rush. He also served as executive producer on Sonic Riders, and producer and lead-programmer on Nights Into Dreams.  If you know anything at all about any of those games, you can see a lot of obvious influence from the other games Naka has made.
This year I've been covering a lot of games that have taken a long time to be released outside of Japan, and I don't intend to stop doing that just yet. I've still got the first two Trails In The Sky games on my schedule if you remember. The difference with this game is that it's taken forever to come out everywhere, not just outside of its home country. Rodea The Sky Soldier started development for the Wii back in 2010, and completed development in 2011, languishing for two years until Prope's publisher, Kadokawa Games officially announced the 3DS version back in 2013 as being nearly completed. During this time-period, our old friends at XSeed were jockying to publish the game in North America, but as you can tell by the box-art above, that didn't happen.
In 2014, they announced that they would be porting the game to Wii U, and packaging the Wii release with the Wii U version. And then finally, back in April of this year, the game saw a release in Japan, with the rest of the world getting a November release, published by Nippon Ichi Systems America.
I don't think I've ever seen a game that has just sat as long as this one did. I've certainly seen games that took a long time to develop, or ones that took a long time to localize, but I've never reviewed a game that was four years old by the time it saw release.
The gameplay basically amounts to Sonic The Hedgehog meets Nights Into Dreams, with a bit of Super Mario Galaxy thrown in for good measure. There are yellow things to collect, which pull you along in a line like the Lightspeed dash from Sonic Adventure, you fly around a bit like you did in Nights Into Dreams, you can pull off a Sonic-like spindash by pressing B, and there's a bit of a focus on manipulating gravity and the camera to your advantage like in Super Mario Galaxy.
The basics of the gameplay function perfectly fine. You jump into the air by pressing A, point your targeting reticle where you want to go, and press A again to go where you want to. You can press B to get there faster, or to attack a target. Whether or not you can stay in the air is determined by the fuel-gauge surrounding the crosshairs. If that runs out, you can burn collected yellow-things (Called Gravitons) to move a little further.You can also collect a hundred of them to get extra lives, which is practically essential in the later levels of the game. You can also rise vertically by pressing Y and descend quickly by pressing Y again. X is the button you use to activate the function of your equipped gear.
Something that irritates me about the equippable gear is that you can't have more than one of them equipped at once. This would be fine, except for the fact that the gear goes onto different parts of Rodea's body. The gear consists of a pair of boots, a DBZ-style targeting scouter, and a rifle that shoots homing-bullets. All of this gear could be worn at the same time without needing to unequip any of it. But that's what happens, the game removes them from Rodea's model. But that's just an issue of aesthetics, and not an actual issue. So, let's talk about the gear itself.
The first piece of gear you get is a rifle, which shoots homing-bullets. Hypothetically, those bullets would either fly towards the nearest enemy, or towards whatever you've targeted. In practice, the bullets usually just fly off in whatever direction they want, and don't hit whatever you're pointing your gun at. That's a fairly large issue when you're faced with an exploding barrier you want to shoot from far away, but your bullets keep veering off in random directions. This would be a larger issue if the rifle was a necessary item in the game beyond the level it's introduced in.
A more useful accessory is the boots, which allow you to use boost-pads on the ground, as well as allowing you to pull off some cool attacks, all of which are hard to accomplish, and tend to get in the way of actual gameplay by burning through your fuel when you're trying to stomp on the ground. This is because of an upgrade I applied which allows you to spindash across the ground like you're a goron from Majora's Mask. That works when you absolutely need to use it, but otherwise it's completely useless, and actually winds up being detrimental to the game as a whole, so I left the boots unequipped most of the time.
Thing is, if the boost-pads worked without the boots, then you wouldn't need them at all. Not like you do anyways, because you can literally walk, fly, or jump towards your destination without using the freaking boost-pads.
We now come the the targeting-system, which allows you to set up a chain of attacks in advance, and sometimes attack the same enemy more than once. The huge problem with the targeting-system is that it doesn't always work properly. Hell, this goes for the default targeting-system as well. Sometimes, when you target more than one enemy at a time (Or the same enemy twice) it just cuts out right after the first hit for some reason. Not always, just on some targets, and only when it's the most inconvenient. And even then, the scouter is practically redundant, since you can chain attacks just by hovering and targeting using the regular reticle. And you can chain attacks on a single enemy just by holding down B and tapping A. So not only is the scouter redundant, it doesn't always work.
And that leads me into an issue with the default targeting system. Sometimes, from any range, if you're boosting towards a moving enemy, Rodea will swerve around them and burn through his fuel, leaving him to fall, flailing to the ground, which is a fairly big problem if the ground happens to be electrified, or covered in acid, or a million miles below you.
I can't count the amount of times when I was just barely off the edge of a platform and I was trying to conserve my gravitons so I could boost straight over to the edge of the platform and get all my fuel back. But if you don't start burning gravitons almost immediately after you run out of fuel when you don't have ground beneath you, Rodea just flops out limp and dies. Even when you have the ability to pull off an awesome recovery, you still get flopped out dead. And sometimes, during the death animation, Rodea will land on the freaking platform! And that's happened at least five times during the course of the game. I'm sorry, that just doesn't make any sense. The worst part about that is it costs you a life. That's right, this game has a lives system. Nice to know that someone is keeping that archaic nonsense alive. Especially in the latter stages of the game when the levels are drawn-out longer with very few lives scattered throughout the area. Sure, there are plenty of checkpoints, but if you lose all your lives, you go back to the beginning of the level. This is especially bad during the last two levels of the game, which are both just multi-stage boss-fights. Level 24 consists of two difficult boss-fights, one right after another, the latter of which comes straight out of nowhere, and doesn't resemble the first boss in any way. I'd gotten eight lives by grinding for them in previous levels, and I'd spent six of them fighting the first boss of Level 24. Then along came the second boss, who took away the last of my lives, forcing me to go back to the beginning of the level. Except I didn't, because I quit the level and got myself ten more lives, and finished it up.
Then I got to the final level, and the final boss, Emperor Geardo. He has three stages, with checkpoints in between them, but if you lose all your lives, you gotta go all the way back to the beginning. And since the game only gives you two lives to start with, you pretty much have to go back to previous levels and harvest lives if you want to stand any decent chance of beating him. The screenshot to the left was taken on my first attempt at the boss, right after I'd completed Level 24. To put this into perspective, I had to try five times before I finally beat him. The three times between the first try and the last try I was just running on the default two lives just to see if I could make it. On the last try, I'd scrounged up fifteen lives, and I used five of them in the final attempt. A good tip for this game is to scrounge up as many lives as you can tolerate before facing a boss.
Unless of course you're fighting the first boss, who's a massive pushover. You can take him down in like three hits, and then he starts talking on his cellphone with his boss.
Generally speaking, the smaller the boss is in this game, the less interesting they are, except for the bosses in Level 24, which are actually pretty cool to fight, if a bit easy once you figure them out.
This brings us to the story, which seems to be pretty lacking compared to the Sonic games. It essentially amounts to Sonic The Hedgehog meets Mega Man, with a bit of Terminator 2, Highlander, and Back To The Future thrown in towards the end for good measure. That description makes it sound a lot more interesting than it is, since I was never entirely sure what was going on, or why we were doing what we were doing. The general gist of the story is as follows: You are Rodea, a robot who works for Princess Cecilia. You're trying to help her escape from Emperor Geardo of Naga and keep the Key of Time out of his hands when she gives you half of the key (Instead of just destroying it for some reason) and transports you to a desert, where Rodea punches the ground, his arm falls off, and he goes into a coma for a thousand years for absolutely no reason. That's all in the prologue to the freaking game. There'are also little tutorial in the beginning, which seems pretty redundant, since there's another tutorial almost immediately after it that tells you almost exactly the same thing. It's almost like the prologue was tacked-on as an afterthought. There are other ways it seems pretty unnecessary which I'll get into later.
A thousand years later, Rodea wakes up, having been repaired by a girl named Ion, who also stuck a gear on his shoulder for some reason. All of his memories are gone, all of his friends and most of his enemies are dead, and nobody remembers the war anymore. That's an incredibly anticlimactic start to the game as far as I'm concerned, since it means that you're fighting an incredibly weakened enemy as opposed to being an insignificant little speck going up against an empire.
God only knows how a robot that was sitting out in the desert for a thousand years is still functioning, you'd think that he'd have eroded away eventually.
Recently, the remnants of the machine army have come back and started attacking citizens of Garuda, the country that Naga was trying to invade a thousand years ago. For some reason, the machine soldiers are still working too, as well as all of Rodea's robot siblings, who are in charge of the new invasion. One of those siblings is the first boss in the game. After you beat him, he answers his phone and flies off. And instead of going after him, Ion forces you to stick around and look for a crying child, named Tonio. And after you find him, you're forced to stick around and harvest herbs that can cure his sick sister! Excuse me Ion, I'm trying to save the world here, maybe you should handle harvesting those herbs while I go after that freaking robot!
Over time, Rodea manages to perform a data recovery on himself to get all his memories back. It's also implied that Ion might have had something to do with his memory being erased, but that little plot-thread is never really resolved.
Rodea and Ion travel around Geruda destroying the Chronos Towers that link Geruda to Naga. Seems a bit late to be doing that, since the machine-soldiers have already invaded. God only knows what they hope to accomplish by killing all the ancient machines and destroying the towers. Maybe there are more soldiers in Naga that haven't arrived yet, or maybe Rodea is just making up for lost time and doing what he should have done a thousand years ago.
While Rodea is doing that, he and Ion stop by her hometown for a little bit. Apparently it's hidden, but there's no reason it needs to be hidden, since there haven't been any incursions by Naga for a thousand years. Ion somehow gets kidnapped, and a few of the townsfolk think to blame it on Rodea and try to beat him up. Completely forgetting that he just beat a giant robot snake beforehand. Or maybe Ion didn't tell them.
Anyways, they wind up teaming-up to go find Ion, and it's at this point that we find out that Tonio's sister just won't shut up. It's nice to know that the characters in the game are just as annoyed with her as the player is, because at one point in the game, Rodea tells her (And by extension the rest of the freaking townsfolk who've tagged along with him) to be quiet.
Anyways, Rodea beats up another one of his siblings, and comes back to town, where they find out how the robots figured out where the hidden town was. It's at this point we find out that Tonio's sister is suffering from a terminal case of stupidity, and not any real illnesses.
Take a look at the screenshot to the left. This isn't something made by a little kid in MS Paint, that's an actual screenshot I took from the game. This was the art-style they decided to use for the flashback sequence to explain that whole little abduction section of the game. This little FMV is supposed to explain how the machine-soldiers found the village, but it doesn't really do that.
Okay, let's explain what happens in that FMV. Tonio's sister sits down on a stump, sees this bird, and tells it about her village. One of the robots throws its voice into the bird and he zooms off to find more robots to invade with. But instead of just taking over the village, they just kidnap Ion. And guess what? Rodea comes after them and beats them up. This actually happened, and it's never brought up again.
After Rodea destroys all the Chronos Towers, he gets ambushed by another robot who's extremely powerful and somehow happens to have the other half of the Key of Time. He beats up Rodea, takes the other half of the key, sticks it into Rodea's chest and turns it for some reason. Then he opens up a portal to a thousand years in the past, tells Rodea that this is his chance to save Cecilia, and goes off to tell Geardo what he needs to know to win the war. This is the point where it turns into Terminator, since we have robots trying to take over the world by going back in time to prevent the resistance from arising.
Rodea and Ion fly through the portal, Rodea forgets that he can fly when he's trying to save Cecilia, and she's never heard from again. No clue as to whether she died right there or not, and the game never actually tells you if she dies or not.
Anyways, Rodea storms through the Naga fortress. And no, this isn't straightforward in the slightest. The last several levels of the game are complicated, well-designed, and fun to play. The problem is that the lives-system gets in the way. Due to the levels being extremely long, the checkpoints are a little too far apart. This is only a minor issue, especially compared to how the lives system affects these final levels. Due to the fact that the game has a lives system, once you lose all of them, you're forced to go back to the beginning of the level. This is the same issue that I mentioned above with the last three bosses in the game. The reason I bring this up again is because it irritated the hell out of me, and I needed to bring across exactly how much it irritated me.
We now come to the final-boss of the game, which is essentially a less interesting take on Chaos from Sonic Adventure. He's got feelers you have to attack, then after you get through all of those, you get sucked up inside those ventilation pipes you see to the left, and kill him from the inside until his chest opens up and you can attack the jewel in the middle. This was a pretty awesome boss-fight, but like I said before, it's hampered by the presence of the lives-system.
Now we come to the actual technical issues with the game as opposed to just game-design issues. For one thing, there's plenty of slowdown during the fight against the final boss. I target the feelers, boost towards it, and the game slows to a freaking crawl. This isn't the kinda slowdown that you could maybe appreciate giving you some extra time to react, this is the kinda slowdown that's outright freaking annoying. There are other issues with slowdown throughout some of the more complex levels, but for the most part it's not that big an issue throughout the rest of the game. I only played it on 3DS, so I don't know if any of the performance issues are solved on New3DS or not. I've heard they were, but I haven't seen it in action myself.
But there are other technical issues which probably wouldn't be solved by more powerful hardware. For instance, there are plenty of times when I've somehow gotten stuck in the ceiling, or whatever surface happened to be above me. Then there's the fact that Rodea has a tough time navigating edges while he's flying, which is a massive pain during the final-boss when you're trying to climb multi-level towers to get above the freaking acid. That's especially annoying when he starts wrapping feelers around the towers and shocking them with electricity. Even more annoying is when he whips out his laser-wave. But the issue in the screenshot above is especially annoying, since that level took place in closed corridors with ceilings everywhere. Hover too high and you got stuck in the ceiling for a little while. Taking a look at the credits, I see that Digital Hearts worked on quality-assurance for this game. Not to disparage them, but they were the QA team who worked on Lord of Magna, and we all know how many bugs that game had.
Finally, we come to the full-motion videos. The screenshot to the left is one of the worst examples in the game that I could find, barring the next screenshot I took. Take a look at their mouths, especially the two on the left, and look at the rest of the stuff in the background. I don't know if it was just the way they compressed the FMV's so they'd fit onto the cartridge, or if this was how they looked in the Wii and Wii U versions of the game. No matter how the source FMV's looked, I can't see much that makes the FMV's look better than the real-time graphics. Partially because the colors look pretty washed-out, and partially because I just can't see the point in using full-motion video in really any of the situations it's used in. The models don't look too much more detailed than the ones in the game, the textures certainly don't look much better, and there's never anything so complex going on that couldn't be accomplished using the assets in the game itself. There's nothing overly cinematic happening that could have necessitated pre-rendered cutscenes. No major panning shots, no complex effects, and not a whole lot is usually being rendered. And there's a fairly massive issue with the FMV's. For some reason they don't fill the whole screen. I don't know why, I don't know how, but they just simply don't. If they had the assets kicking around, they should have just re-rendered them to fit the aspect-ratio of the 3DS. I checked out some footage of the Wii U version for completely unrelated reasons, and for some reason, the cinematics fit the 16:9 aspect ration.
This brings me to another problem I had with the game. There are three kinds of cutscenes. There are the Sonic Rush-style portraits yammering at each other with word-boxes below them, then you have the FMV's, then you have the odd real-time cutscene. This irritates the crap out of me, and I'm not exactly sure why. It's pretty inconsistent, for one thing. Important events don't always happen during FMV's, sometimes they happen during portrait-yammering, and sometimes we see absolutely pointless stuff happening during FMV's.
Then there's the fact that the characters jaws flap up and down during portrait cutscenes, but they don't match the voices in the slightest, which goes for the Japanese voice-track as well as the English voice-track. It looks like they just looped the lip-flaps infinitely until the actors were done speaking.
Which brings us to the voice-acting. The English cast all sound like they're putting on really bad impressions of the cast of Sonic X, which I can't say doesn't make some kind of sense. The odd thing is that I can't even find out who the English cast was. They're not named in the credits, Wikipedia doesn't have a cast entry for them, and imdb doesn't even have a page for the game. It's almost like they didn't want anyone to know who they were. The English voice-acting is pretty bad, but the Japanese voice-acting is better. The problem is that during gameplay, the captions are shown on the bottom screen of the 3DS, which is a bit of a pain to try and watch during high-action parts of the game. That's a pretty bad thing when characters are feeding you important bits of information during combat, and you only know a few words of Japanese. I certainly know enough to be able to tell when the captions are wrong, but not enough to know what they're saying. So I stuck to the English voiceover so I could tell what was going on.
This brings me to an issue with the translation. Every now and again, there are words that seem utterly out of place, almost as if the translator didn't totally know what they were doing. Every now and again it sounds like the kinda translation you sometimes see in Japanese songs which have been re-sung in English, where the words don't totally match up to the concepts they're trying to convey. It doesn't happen all the time, just often enough for me to notice it. It's incredibly strange to see that kind of thing in a game like this, especially since the majority of the translation seems pretty good.
Moving onto the music, it's fine. Okay. Just sorta there. Nothing really jumped out at me in the default soundtrack like music from a Sonic game. There was one song that I listened to that was an optional track that I really liked, but because it's never actually used in the game itself, I don't really count that. There's no epic rock tune playing during the final boss-fight, Rodea doesn't have an awesome theme-song that plays whenever he's doing something cool, the lead bad-guy doesn't have a cool theme-song, and while the music that plays during the individual levels is fine, it might as well have been stock music for all the memorability it has. Think back to Sonic The Hedgehog on the Genesis. You probably remember the title-screen song, Eggman's theme, Green Hill Zone, quite a few tracks from other levels in the game... Now think about Rodea The Sky Soldier, and try to remember any of the music in the game. I'm willing to bet that you can't.
Let's talk camera-controls now. You can rotate the camera while on the ground with the L and R buttons, and that's it. You can't tilt the camera up and down at all while on foot. You can center the camera by holding L or R, but it rotates the camera ninety-degrees before centering, which is a massive pain when you're trying to center the camera by a couple of degrees. There's an option to control the camera with the 3DS's gyroscope, but that only works in the air, and makes targeting a lot harder, so it really doesn't serve any purpose other than making it a lot harder to aim. There's an unlockable first-person mode you can access if you pay fifteen silver coins, but that's just the regular controls from a first-person perspective, and it's incredibly difficult to navigate when your camera is full of wall. I looked it up, and I couldn't find any evidence suggesting that this game has any option to be played with a Circle-Pad Pro, either online, or in the game itself. Most of the 3DS games I've played that let you use the Circle-Pad Pro have some option in the menu that lets you use it, but this game doesn't have that. Then there's the fact that there are two options screens in the game, neither of which are accessible during gameplay. Technically there are three options screens, since the option for the first-person mode is inside the unlock menu, which also has options for controlling the music, and what character you're playing as. The first options menu is solely dedicated to languages (Voiceover and captions), and is only accessible from the title-screen. The second options menu is only accessible by pressing Y on the world-map, and controls the audio-levels, how often your support characters yammer at you, and whether or not you're using gyro-control. That's something I never understood in a lot of games, since if you'd turned on an irritating feature to see what it did, surely you'd want to be able to turn it off as well! Even then, why would you have three options screens in a game? Even with one as an unlockables screen, you could just do what Fire Emblem Awakening did and stick the unlockable music tracks into the regular menu.
Going back to camera-controls, they feel a bit like the ones from Sonic Adventure, but without the same kind of analog precision that game had to its camera. It's strange, especially since Ocarina of Time had much better camera controls back on the N64, and it had even less control over the camera! I'd hope that the Wii and Wii U versions of the game had better camera controls, since both of those have more options.
Finally, we get to the art-style and general design of the game. Personally speaking, aside from Rodea and Geardo's final form, I didn't particularly care for the character-design in this game. The colors are all muted pastels, without the same level of vibrancy that Sonic The Hedgehog games have. The characters don't have the same level of elegant design the cast of Sonic has. Everything has this overcomplicated, angular quality to it, without the same smooth detailing I liked about the Sonic characters. The levels pretty much look fine, but they don't have the same sort of colorful flair to them as ones from say, Sonic Adventure, or Super Mario Galaxy.
All in all, Rodea The Sky Soldier isn't a bad game by any means, but it doesn't grab me the same way my favorite Sonic games do. At its best, Rodea The Sky Soldier is pretty freaking good. At its worst, it's a bit of a glitchy mess, at least on 3DS. On average, it's a decent game with some cool ideas, but it's not as interesting as, say, the other Sonic-inspired game that came out this year. Look forward to my review and Let's Play of that sometime soon.
In the end, I give Rodea The Sky Soldier a 6.7* rating. I'll see you next week, hopefully. I'll be at Geek-O-Nomicon that weekend, so the review might wind up being a bit late.

Game provided for review by Nippon Ichi Systems America. Cover image provided by NIS America. Screenshots taken by me.