Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Worst Pokémon Sprites

When Pokémon X and Y were released in 2013, they brought an end to Pokémon sprites; which is how the creatures appeared to us in the games for a whopping 15 years, now being replaced by 3D models. The sprites themselves evolved over the course of the franchise, going from abysmal and clumsily drawn fuckups in Red and Blue Versions to fully animated images in Pokémon Black and White. Back in the heyday, it seems Game Freak were still trying to master the art of the sprite, and so trial and error was a necessity - and let's take a lot at some of the worst errors they have ever produced...

#5 - Ho-Oh in Pokémon Silver Version

Pokémon Gold and Silver Versions were the second paired titles to be released, spearheading the second generation of the franchise in 1999. These are the only two games in the entire series to have different sprites between each version, so this was a very unique and pleasing aesthetic touch.

Both versions have their stinkers and their greats. Ho-Oh, a fire type legendary Pokémon based on a phoenix, had quite an intimidating sprite in Gold Version. Silver Version? It looks like a chicken. Just look at it and go BWWAARRRKK and you'll see how much it fits. The silly stretched tongue is bad enough, and the awkward, congested portrayal makes it look incredibly small and pathetic. As with many sprites in these games, the colour is completely wrong, but this is more forgivable. It just fails to make Ho-Oh look remotely intimidating or majestic, and instead reduces it to a silly piece of poultry. In comparison, here is Ho-Oh's sprite in Gold Version...

Still the wrong colour, but much cooler. Silver Version got majorly screwed over.

There are much worse sprites than this, I admit, but we needed some variety. Otherwise this list would have nothing but Red and Blue in it...

#4 - Rhydon in Pokémon Red and Blue Versions

Spoke too soon.

Rhydon is a monstrous lizard like rhino thing from the very first generation of Pokémon; as seen on the left in the official artwork. On the right sits it's sprite in Pokémon Red and Blue Versions, the very first Pokémon games ever released.

You're probably thinking the same thing as me: what in christ's name is this? The head is ridiculously oversized, or perhaps his body is undersized. Either way, the effort to cram Rhydon's shape into the small screen fails miserably. What's up with his Pinocchio like horn? What's up with his left hand? Is it broken? Has he got some serious bling? Nothing about this sprite captures the character whatsoever. It's like Rhydon's equivalent of Bowser, Jr.

#3 - Blastoise in Pokémon Red and Blue Versions

On the left is the official artwork of Blastoise, the final evolution of Squirtle, a starter Pokémon introduced in the very first generation. On the right, the official sprite in Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue Versions.

Seems odd that Nintendo would approve of such a bizarre design that makes Blastoise look like the leader of some sort of Pokémon mafia gang. Either that or he is perpetually inflating within an undersized shell that's ready to explode. The smug grin also seals the deal, showing that this Blastoise is not one to be toyed with. He may think may think he's a tough bug, but it's unfortunate that his signature weapons - the cannons - are too small to even be aimed at the right angle, and that his killer claws claws have been replaced by three pathetic stubby fingernails. He won't exactly be an intimidating opponent in the long run.

Hell, the sprite in the Japanese Red and Green Versions was more accurate, and if you fancy looking at the entire sprite list of those games, you can see how that's a massive insult.

#2 - Venusaur in Pokémon Red and Green Versions

As per usual, the left is Venusaur's official artwork, and the right is the sprite from Pokémon Red and Green Versions - the original Japanese games, which were dubbed to the more familiar Red and Blue for Western countries.

Alas, this is what happens when you choose to design your Pokémon sprites after having a little too much of the old drink. Rather than being a badass monster with a plant protruding from his back, this Venusaur's plant seems to be crushing him. Maybe his childish smirk is actually a demented expression forced into action as he gurgles and belches whilst his belly is mashed into the ground. He's even reaching out his right paw, begging for someone to pull him out of the spine crushing tree trunk. But then again, his feet look so stubby that it'd be a surprise if he could even walk. This sprite is so horrible that it could get top marks as a parody of the character. It's totally absurd how badly drawn this is, making it one of the most offensive sprites of them all.

#1 - Raikou in Pokémon Gold and Silver Versions

On the left hand side we have the official Ken Sugimori artwork for Raikou, a lightning type legendary Pokémon introduced in the second generation. On the right, we have it's official sprite used in Pokémon Gold and Silver Versions. What happened here?

For starters, he is distinctly lacking the notable cross across his face, which is one of Raikou's signature traits. To add to this, the black crest on his forehead is noticeably smaller and seems to link to a thick mane around the neck, which as we can see is not even remotely present in the original design. The cape is also the wrong colour (though to be fair many of Gold and Silver's sprites had this issue), and there's no sign of Raikou's sabre tooth fangs; instead tiny canines on either side of his mouth beside the strangely terrifying death stare. Game Freak knew they fucked up, for Raikou's sprite was completely redesigned in Crystal Version to match Sugimori's original artwork.

Much better.

Still, the fact that this image was given the get go in the first place is beyond baffling, especially when all the mistakes are pretty much on it's face - the most obvious part. How moronic.

This sprite is actually nicely drawn. It just seems the artists didn't even know what Raikou looked like, but instead received a brief description of it's basis and structure. It takes the top spot easily for it's just so painfully incorrect that it continues to amuse me to this day.

Try not to take this post too seriously.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Movie Review - Selma

The lineup of accolades for Selma is hideously small, and aside from the Golden Globes, most award ceremonies have snubbed a major thing - a Best Actor nomination for David Oyelowo, who portrays Martin Luther King, Jr. in a compelling historical drama regarding the activist's efforts to restore equality in a discriminative America. His performance is exceptional to say the least, making this lack of recognition a massive offence, yet it's far from Selma's only compelling attribute - meant in the best possible way.

As we've established, Selma explores Luther King Jr. and his protestant efforts to allow the black people in America to vote freely without harassment and control. We explore his relationship with President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) as he attempts to cure America of it's racist values, and his large scale protests in Alabama, from Selma to Montogomery; spearheading how his vision changed the world forever.

The first thing that many people will witness is, of course, Oyewolo's performance - and he masters everything: the accent, the annunciating voice, and the protestant nature the character wields. There's not a single thing wrong with it - and he's not the only one. Tom Wilkinson as President Johnson shows us a man who is trapped between societal expectations and his own emotional beliefs, and Tim Roth delivers an intimidating role as George Wallace, the discriminative governor of Alabama. Their performances confidently steer what's already a meaningful narrative, and it doesn't hold back; showing us the true brutality and violence of this time period, and flawlessly conveying the emotional turmoil the character's endure as the story progresses into darker territory.

Selma allows us to stand back and acknowledge an ugly truth - the events of this film were barely fifty years ago, demonstrating how recent America's racist methodology really was, and how we as a species still have a long way to go before Luther King's true goals will ever be met. It's not just entertainment, but a deep political allegory, assessing the human race's biggest flaws in terms of cultural identity; and showing the god complex the White man did indeed feel at the time, and in some cases still feels today. Bold and unrestrained, and beautifully acted, Selma is a film that understands it's underlying messages and political themes without resorting to pretentious cliches.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Most Anticipated Films of 2015

Another year of exciting movies is on the way, and without babbling on, I'm gonna get straight to the point and tell you my five most anticipated films for the next 12 months. So it begins...

#5 - Inside Out

When Inside Out is released this summer, it will mark the first Pixar film in two years - though they seem to be making up for it with two new releases this year, Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur in November. Inside Out takes us into the mind of a 10 year old girl named Riley, who has moved to a new hometown, and struggles to cope with the dramatic changes in her lifestyle. Inside her head, her various personified emotions attempt to keep things together, but their contrasting nature only makes things more difficult. The second trailer premiered just last month, and whilst some people believed it to be extremely sexist (man loves sport, doesn't listen, woman fancies foreign buff men), it certainly looked one of Pixar's most creative and funny films yet, with an outstanding cast to boot. Let's hope it works out in the end...

US Release: June 19
UK Release: July 24

#4 - Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

There is nothing wrong with this lightsaber.
The next entry to the Star Wars franchise arrives exactly one decade after Revenge of the Sith was released in June 2005. With a new batch of characters combined with a few members of the original cast from the 70s, The Force Awakens will set the story out on new path that has yet to be fully unveiled. Many fans may miss this future plot teases due to endless whining over the above lightsaber design, but hey, what can you do. The trailer looks as gripping and action packed as previous installments, and with J.J. Abrams directing after his masterful work on the Star Trek series, the project is in perfect hands and should be as brilliant as the sensible fans hope it will be.

UK + US Release: December 18

#3 - Avengers: Age of Ultron 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an absolute powerhouse of a franchise, and soon will surpass Harry Potter as the highest grossing one in the entire industry - though Potter managed to impressively achieve this goal with eight films, whereas Age of Ultron will be the eleventh addition to the series. The name sounded a bit iffy upon announcement, but when the first trailer was revealed - my opinion swifly changed. Disney incoporated a gleefully creepy and strangely fitting rendition of I've Got No Strings from 1940's Pinocchio, which Ultron references as he walks toward the camera with an absolutely terrifying leer from his robotic red eyes. It looks both epic and extremely dark, as shown by one simple shot of Captain America's invincible shield broken in half in a pile of rubble, and so I'm extremely excited for the direction it will take.

UK Release: April 26
US Release: May 1

#2 - Jurassic World

The fourth entry to the Jurassic Park franchise was trapped in development hell for nearly fifteen years, with the most recent entry to date being the relatively mediocre Jurassic Park III back in 2001. This June, the story will continue in a far more ambitious fashion - because Jurassic Park is no longer an impossible dream, but now a full operational dinosaur theme park dubbed Jurassic World, as John Hammond originally envisioned way back when. Of course something goes wrong as the story progresses, and it's disappointing many trailers and plot summaries have spoiled this concept, but it's still set to be one of the biggest movies of the year and an exciting addition to the franchise. Let's hope it is...

UK + US Release: June 12

#1 - Spectre

The James Bond franchise entered a new level success when Skyfall grossed $1.1 billion back in 2012-2013, and now the 24th entry to the longest running film series in history is set to enter cinema screens this winter. Daniel Craig will reprise his role as Bond yet again, taking on a sinister terrorist organization known as SPECTRE, though as of now we know little else about the plot. Christoph Waltz will play the latest villain, a generic but still ideal choice, and the remainder of Skyfall's superb cast will also return to star in Spectre.

Being a Bond film and a follow up to Skyfall is more than enough to get me overly hyped for this. Let's do it.

UK Release: October 23
US Release: November 6 

Thanks for reading!  

Monday, 12 January 2015

Movie Review - The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything documents Hawking's (Eddie Redmayne) time at Cambridge University in the 1960s, where he excels at Physics in spite of his relatively lax attitude. As time goes, Hawking's life encounters all manner of twists and turns, including his relationship with future wife Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), and his eventual diagnosis with motor neuron disease which gradually deteriorates his physical state - something he refuses to let destroy his ambitions, but one he cannot fight to overcome.

This story is not just an interesting retrospect on Hawking's life, but a rich and charming love story which is fueled by some fantastic direction and excellent performances from Redmayne and Jones. Redmanye faces a tricky role as he slowly develops from a young and perfectly healthy Hawking to his modern paralyzed state, and he carries this challenge effortlessly. It's most certainly one of the film's greatest attributes, and Redmayne's acting conveys all manner of Hawking's important emotions: his witty sense of humour, his sheer intelligence, and his emotional turmoil as his illness progressively takes its toll.

It does seem a bit confused as it nears it's second act, featuring a poorly developed character played by Charlie Cox - whom of course is a real figure in Hawking's life, but a relatively unlikeable one in this film's narrative. Things can drag out, but for the most part, The Theory of Everything is saved by a superb lineup of performances and an interesting in depth look into Hawking's various theories and ideas. The script and Redmayne's performance masterfully replicate Hawking's character, and it's nicely combined with a charming romantic narrative, resulting in a sweet and touching film that succeeds as an engrossing dramatized biography.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Movie Review - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Peter Jackson's controversial Hobbit trilogy has finally come to a close after it's two year duration; the series has not impressed the majority of fans or critics, especially when compared to the original Lord of the Rings films, but can this finale send it off on a high note?

After battling the Dwarves and hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) within the Lonely Mountain, the dragon Smaug (Bennedict Cumberbatch) exacts his revenge on the nearby Lake-town, burning it to ruin. Following his defeat at the hands of Bard, the Lonely Mountain is left in the possession of the Dwarves, lead by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), who begins to succumb to his own greed and god complex. With the knowledge of Smaug's death spreading quickly, all manner of Middle Earth's cultures and creatures head for the mountain, leading to all out war between the five armies driven by a lust for dominance and the riches within.

The entire Hobbit trilogy is hampered by a stretched narrative that includes too many supporting characters, unnecessary sub plots, and some absurd run times. Thankfully, The Battle of the Five Armies is perhaps the installment that makes the best use of these burdens; the story comes together in a far more engrossing manner than the previous films, and some superb action sequences make for a thrilling ride from start to finish. It's slightly overwhelmed with intense battle scenes, but the climax of the war itself makes it all worthwhile.

Things kick off quickly in the story with Smaug's reign over Lake-town; sadly, his badassery is over fairly soon to kick off the next phase of the narrative. In terms of aesthetics, it comes as no surprise that Hobbit is genuinely flawless, boasting some beautiful motion capture animation, superb location shoots, and some gripping battle scenes. The characters are a lot more fleshed out this time round, though it does seem rather strange that Bilbo is placed on the back burner for the majority of the storyline; an unfortunate consequence of the over abundance of supporting characters and occasional lack of focus. None of these three films provide a truly persuasive argument to make this book into such an epic trilogy, but The Battle of the Five Armies does it's best to deliver a thrilling closure to Peter Jackson's expanded plot - and succeeds.

Friday, 2 January 2015

The Best Films of 2014

There was a lot of big movies to enjoy throughout the past year, and many more in the next. Seeing as I didn't see many truly awful films in 2014, it was too hard to compile a list of the worst, so this time we'll skip it - and focus only on the good. Without a further ado, let's begin...

#5 - The Inbetweeners 2

Much like the original series and the 2011 film, The Inbetweeners 2 remains an example of why British humour is so delightful. Set in Australia, the film follows Will, Neil, and Simon following Jay as he claims to be living a luxurious life down under on his gap year; it's no surprise he is lying, but the true reasons for his visit down under are soon unveiled and lead to yet another misadventure for the entire quartet. While it's characterisations are a little less developed than those in the original film, this sequel compensates with some of the best humour the entire franchise has ever seen and an amusing lineup of supporting characters. Seeing as it's the last we'll see of this lot, it sure is a worthy send off.

#4 - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a superb sequel to an already brilliant reboot, and brings a strong emotional focus into a story that's beautifully rendered, with stunning motion capture effects and a number of thrilling set pieces. The story tackles nicely complex themes and perfects the necessary tension and eventual bond between these human and ape characters in a world of ruin. Combine this with a disturbing villain and brisk pace, and you have a film that sets the bar even higher for the future of this new franchise.

#3 - Paddington

Paddington brings a loveable children's character into the modern world with a smartly written comedy flick, appealing to both adult and child audiences, and being as heartfelt as it is funny. It's impressive special effects bring the eponymous hero to life with superb results; and thanks to a wonderful vocal performance by Ben Wishaw, he becomes a loyal yet fresh adaptation of the original character. A quirky line up of supporting characters and well timed jokes also bolster the irresistible sense of fun, so in spite of it's emotional moments, things are never too depressing and it's always a joyful experience from start to finish.

#2 - Edge of Tomorrow

Nobody expected Edge of Tomorrow to be as good as it turned out to be thanks to generic marketing that made it look like nothing but a loud, explosive, and over the top blockbuster; reminiscent of countless Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich films. In reality, it is very different; it has the amazing set pieces we're shown in the trailers, but it's coupled with a clever script, a superb leading performance by Tom Cruise, and a lighthearted tone - it's a fun blockbuster that doesn't go down the gritty, moody route, and instead we can relax and enjoy a film that embraces it's over the top premise and makes clever use of it in the best possible way.

I don't care if they want to rebrand it. It's Edge of Tomorrow to me. Nuff said.

#1 - Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy is a similar deal to Edge of Tomorrow; while it got people interested, many doubted how it could be a huge success due to the obscurity of the superheroes involved, and the fact that this lineup only debuted in the comics six years ago. But, while Edge of Tomorrow failed to financially counter it's initial skepticism, Guardians most certainly did - and is currently the highest grossing 2014 film in North America with $332 million, though it may soon be surpassed by Mockingjay - Part 1 in the coming weeks.

Similarly to Edge, Guardians is a blockbuster that embraces it's fun premise, zany characters, and occasional absurdity of the storyline - but it's still got a loveable tone and plenty of sweet moments to develop these characters successfully. It's never moody, dark, or overly complex - but plenty of fun, incredibly witty, and enriched with fantastic performances from an already exceptional cast. It's not only one of the best films the MCU has to offer, but definitely the best of 2014 by far.

Let's see what 2015 has in store for us. I shall tell you what I want to see the most very soon...

Happy New Year!