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Monday, 29 December 2014

Smashing


Super Smash Bros. is one of Nintendo's most acclaimed franchises, with the previous installment on the Wii, Brawl, selling over 12 million copies, the Gamecube edition Melee selling over 7 million, and the very first release back on the N64 selling over 5 million. The most recent instalments for 3DS and Wii U mark the first time a Smash Bros. game has gone multi platform upon release; and no surprise, their sales are slowly rivalling those of their predecessors. The Wii U installment is my game of choice, and I have yet to try out the 3DS version, so in this lengthy blog post I'll cover some of my initial opinions on the Wii U's latest first party title...


For starter's, there's a vast amount of content all packed into this game, far too much for me to cover in this piece, and it's all accessible in a slick menu system that's easy to navigate through and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. From the moment the game begins, things are already promising...

Nintendo have certainly improved the AI over the past iterations. The computer opponents are much less stupid, and more challenging to practice with. Level 9 opponents can often be far too good, for a lack of a better term, thanks to their ability to effortlessly dodge, block, and counter most frontal attacks, even when preoccupied with other opponents in a free for all. It'll be a huge challenge for newcomers and for people used to the inferior AI of the previous games, but with much practice you can conquer them with clever tactics and exploitation of mistakes. With that said, the level 9 computer is still far too calculative and automatic, demonstrating reflexes that are simply beyond human, and so it's much nicer to be fighting slightly lower difficulty levels - or, just real people.


Nintendo knew how ideal the Gamecube controller is for Smash Bros., so an adaptor was created to let gamers bring that control scheme to the Wii U - and as most people know, the adaptor bit the dust almost as soon as it was released and most retailers have not yet been able to replenish their stock. As a result, I have not been able to use a GC controller, and was forced to adjust to the GamePad. Great a controller as it is, it just didn't seem right for Smash Bros at first glance - but, after settling into the new control scheme (which may take a while for GC fans), it becomes just as comfortable as the other methods, and thus it's not the end of the world for those who can't get their hands on the adaptor at the moment.


Some characters have received some nice little improvements; for instance, Luigi's Final Smash now hoovers up opponents and sends them soaring off the stage, and, most notably, Bowser has been completely revamped - he's now heavier, but can run faster, boasts better agility, yet retains his trademark power. A plethora of newcomers also join the fight, including Little Mac, Greninja and Charizard (in the absence of the Pokémon Trainer from Brawl), Duck Hunt Duo, and Villager from Animal Crossing, the latter two of which are ridiculously overpowered. The visuals for these characters are much more attractive than that in Brawl which, like Melee, went for a realistic approach. In contrast, SSB4 adopts a more vibrant and cartoony colour scheme that's more reliable to the games these characters appear in, and one that is far more appealing to look at - especially in HD.

All sorts of masterpieces can be created in the new Stage Builder.
The Stage Builder is vastly different than that in Brawl. Instead of building levels with preset blocks and other features, players are free to draw their own platforms via the GamePad touch screen. You're literally able to create any shapes you wish; even human genitals, a rude word, or any other immature things most older gamers will want to draw. It's addictive to say the least, and whilst the edge detection needs improving, it allows for far more creative freedom. The central flaw is a severe lack of objects to position on the stage, which only consists of springs, cannons, lava fields, and moving platforms. This range is extremely small and disappointing, but hopefully patches or updates may expand it in the future.


The game is not without challenge - whilst the level 9 CPUs may sometimes be unfair, the majority of the games challenge doesn't feel so cheap. You'll be screaming in frustration when tasked with KO'ing numerous opponents in Cruel Smash, or trying to defeat the final boss Master Core on the highest difficult in Classic Mode, but it'll only drive you to be a better player - and make for incredible satisfaction when you've accomplished your goals. With over 700 trophies to collect, a huge increase from Brawl's 544, you'll be preoccupied for god knows how long in trying to gather all the extras and conquer all the challenges and events. Single player is far more enjoyable as a result, with a well structured Classic Mode, tricky yet addictive events, and tons of other activities to enjoy along the way. Nintendo haven't tried to craft an unnecessarily complex adventure mode like they did with the Subspace Emissary, or an extremely repetitive one like they did in Melee. Single player is kept simple, yet is still more fun than it has ever been before.


Multiplayer is as enjoyable as it was in the previous titles, but now we have a new inclusion - eight player battles. It makes for mixed results; while fun and crazily chaotic, the wide camera angle the game is forced to adopt during such fights make it incredibly hard to see who's who, and the constant fighting makes it equally hard to keep track of yourself. It's certainly fun, but on higher difficulties or with more experienced players, it can be a little nauseating. Online play has more to offer than it did in Brawl, with modes that let you fight solo, in teams, and even in one on one matches with no items involved. In spite of this, it's still very disappointing to see the return of hideous lag; sometimes games can be smooth, but many times they're sluggish, with noticeable button delays and dramatic dips in framerate. This is less of an issue in one on one games, but still not acceptable at this point. It most certainly needs fixing in future updates, for online play is something Smash fans will always want to enjoy, and to have it feel a little too unstable is not a good thing whatsoever. It's also a massive shame that the tournament mode - one of my very favourites - seems to be entirely absent in offline multiplayer. Why, Nintendo?

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is too large a game to completely cover in one blog post, but it's time to wrap things up - bottom line, this game is the definitive reason why you should own a Wii U. It's packed with engrossing content, and is a much more colourful and simple, yet still complex, effort than it's predecessors. Nintendo have created the perfect iteration of the franchise by incorporating the best elements of the past titles whilst also learning from their mistakes - and the end result is not only the finest of the series, but easily the Wii U's best game to date.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Movie Review 100 - The Woman in Black: Angel of Death


My 100th movie review since 2011! W00T!

The Woman in Black is my favourite novel of all time, and the 1989 adaptation stands tall as one of my favourite films. The 2012 film had me hyped from the very beginning, years before release, yet failed to be the modern adaptation the book deserved in the end. When a strange and unnecessary sequel was announced, the fear of turning my favourite book into a franchise of cliché horror movies made me bitter to say the least; but now that Angel of Death has finally arrived, I can safely say that I am quite surprised at it's outcome.


During the Blitz at the peak of World War II, schoolteacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox) and her class of schoolchildren must seek refuge in the long abandoned Eel Marsh House, sitting amongst the lonely marshlands at the end of Nine Lives Causeway, with the help of former pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine). The house remains derelict and unsettling; and as time goes on, Eve notices something is not right, and their worst fears come to fruition as the menacing spectre known as The Woman in Black returns once again.

The central issue with the 2012 adaptation was it's lack of a truly chilling vibe, and it was mostly saved by it's stunning production design and solid performances. With Angel of Death, we have a much more unsettling atmosphere and more careful use of jump scares; they're very much in moderation, and less gimmicky than those in it's predecessor. The film also keeps us on edge as things seem to build up to a huge jump, but then we cut away - leaving us unsure as to when the next scare will be, thus making the film less predictable.


It's not all perfect, as there are still several annoying jumps (some of which directly recycle ideas from the first film), and the character development this time round isn't as rich. In spite of good performances across the board, some characters simply fall flat, namely several of the insanely annoying children and Jeremy Irvine in a role that the writers seemed to be indecisive over - is he a main character or not? What's his purpose? His focus? His role is seldom developed and thus he feels shoehorned in from the moment he first appears. It's also a shame the musical score prominently rehashes Marco Beltrami's themes from the original, thus making it extremely repetitive and rather lazy.

But negativity aside, Angel of Death is definitely an improvement over the first film; not by a large margin, and it's certainly not flawless, but this time round the filmmakers knew how to moderate the jump scares and improve the overall atmosphere. It's therefore a much more absorbing experience, and a surprising outcome for something that looked fairly awful at first glance.


Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Best of Disneyland Paris #2


Last year me and my girlfriend flew off to Disneyland Paris for a week, and I came back to list a selection of the best rides it has to offer. We went there again during the same week this year, and with plenty of other superb rides to talk about, I feel it's time for a second list summing up the best of the best...

#5 - Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy


Once you've painstakingly tried to pronounce and understand the French title, you'll find the latest attraction to bless Disneyland Paris is in fact one of their most innovative yet. Combining trackless car technology with 3D visuals, Ratatouille simulates a chase through Gusteau's restaurant, shrinking you to the size of a rat as you flee desperately from the disgusted chefs and diners. We had the worst luck in the queue as the ride broke down for a good 20 minutes soon before we were due to get on, but once we finally did, it definitely proved itself to be a fantastic addition to the theme park.

#4 - Star Tours


Disneyland Paris is the only Disney resort to house the original Star Tours experience, which first debuted at the original Disneyland in 1987. This motion simulator takes guests on a voyage to the moon of Endor on the StarSpeeder 3000 - however, thanks to an incompetent robotic pilot, the trip takes a turn for the worst and leads the ship into a battle against an Imperial Star Destroyer. While it's the same experience each time, the ride has plenty of charm - notably with a pleasant aiport-esque atmosphere in the queue and boarding area, and the immersive technology which flawlessly pulls you into the experience.

The 3D sequel Star Tours: The Adventures Continue has replaced Star Tours at every other Disney resort, and Paris will receive it in 2017 - marking this original rides final closure. It will be missed.

#3 - Crush's Coaster


Despite opening in 2007, Crush's Coaster remains one of the most highly populated attractions in Disneyland Paris, with horribly long queues even during quiet days. The popularity even made a FastPass system impossible, as so many people utilised it that the entire point of jumping a long queue was instantly defeated. So, is this ride worth such a tedious wait?

It definitely is for newcomers. Once you finally board the spinning shell car and traverse round the track, you're treated to some superb scenery and animation featuring the Finding Nemo characters; and then the calmness all changes once you climb a huge lift hill and spiral around a fast paced course in complete darkness. There are no inversions, but that doesn't detract from the thrills - thanks to the sharp turns and immense sense of speed. The queue is unbearable, but you'll be dying to go again when the ride is over.

#2 - Indiana Jones et du Temple de Peril


Disney originally intended their Parisian Indiana Jones attraction to be a huge experience, with numerous attractions in a large themed land. But when budget cuts forced the financially unstable resort to rethink it's larger ambitions, the plan was simplified to an outdoor roller based on an escape from a cursed temple. A good ride for the slightly older crowd, Indiana Jones takes elements from wild mouse coasters but adds it's own intense thrills, with stomach dropping inclines, a 360 degree inversion, and extremely bumpy sharp turns around the temple like structure, which the train speeds through at nearly 40 miles per hour. It's short and simple, but still a fast paced and memorable experience.

#1 - Pirates of the Caribbean


A classic attraction at every Disney resort, Pirates of the Caribbean is not only an engrossing water ride, but also an iconic one - giving birth to the classic Pirates Life for Me folksong and being the inspiration for Disney's mammoth film franchise of the same name. The ride takes you on a journey through a pirate riddled landscape, through the expansive seas, humble towns, and dark grottos. On your journey, you encounter intense battles, drunk hooligans, and caves littered with glorious treasure, crafted through beautiful scenic design and lifelike animatronics. Thankfully you don't get too wet, which would be horrific in the cold French weather, and so it's definitely one of Disney's best rides for all kinds of age groups.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Movie Review - Paddington


The first big screen adaptation of the children's book series, Paddington features the well mannered bear (Ben Wishaw) journeying from darkest Peru to London in search of a home; he is briefly adopted by the Brown family, but they insist his residence is only temporary. As they assist him in his search for a permanent home, Paddington's prospects face trouble as his nature for causing chaos ensues; and as his presence attracts the attention of cruel exotic animal hunter Millicent (Nicole Kidman).


Being the most expensive film by StudioCanal with a budget of $50 million, Paddington no doubt has some spectacular visuals - which effortlessly bring this childhood icon to life on the big screen. With a combination of animatronics and CGI, Paddington is beautifully animated; and the charming voice by Ben Wishaw only helps to convey the warmth of the character. All his traits are there; his obsessive politeness, his habit for accidents, and his love of marmalade - and it's all suitably updated for modern audiences.

Though some feel underdeveloped, the lineup of human characters are just as likeable; particularly main stars Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins, as well as Nicole Kidman as Millicent, the quirky villainess. But even with those members aside, Paddington also boasts a solid supporting cast made up of Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, and the voices of Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton. The script is genuinely funny throughout, with jokes appealing to both adults and children, but none that feel inappropriate; and this dual appeal, as well as the films heartwarming storyline, allows it to be one of this years most endearing family offerings.