Saturday, 28 February 2015

Movie Review - Focus

This year's Focus stars Will Smith as con artist Nicky Spurgeon, who encounters an aspiring thief named Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) and trains her into his business. Once he realises his emotions are getting too close, he dismisses her from the team, only to find her again three years later whilst on a new assignment. They steadily approach a similar scam, and are drawn together once more when their secrecy to their foes is at stake.

Focus' first act is beyond exceptional. I love the clever explanation of the psychological crime tactics, and the beautifully constructed scenes that depict these in action. It's got tense moments coupled with humourous ones; all in all, it's a clever, witty, and charming phase of the narrative that keeps you hooked with it's interesting ideas. However, once we move on three years later and enter the middle and final acts, things get a bit (er herm) unfocused. It's very genre confused at times - is this a thriller? A comedy? A romantic drama? It combines elements of them all, which is fine, but not always in the right way; creating jarring tonal shifts at random moments.

While this may be a pet peeve of mine, I also find it to be an extremely dated mechanic to have goofy or eccentric characters dropping F bombs or other swear words in every sentence in an attempt to appear funny. The script didn't really know when to stop with moments like this, nor did it know when to stop in terms of plot twists. The endless amount of twists and turns juggle around certain characters and confuse their motivations, and also make way for tons of plot contrivances.

Will Smith provides a magnetic performance in the lead role, and is definitely one of the film's finest merits. Robbie plays an equally quirky and likeable supporting role as the love interest / femme fatale figure, though her role also seems to sporadically jump between humourous and dramatically serious. The flare of it's star performances give Focus a charismatic vibe, but in the end it wastes a fantastic premise on the wrong genre conventions. The inherent goofiness and confusing romantic themes don't always fit alongside the stylistic crime ones, and when the film seems to be reaching the heights of an intense thriller, it tanks back down into a silly ordeal. When it's good, it's really good, but this level of quality just isn't consistent enough.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

The New Nintendo 3DS

The Nintendo 3DS is Nintendo's latest handheld system, launching worldwide in early 2011. Since then, there have been five models: the original Aqua Blue and other colours model, the XL edition, the 2DS, and now the New Nintendo 3DS, along with it's XL counterpart. The aforementioned 2DS threw away the console's 3D effects to make it more accessible for the younger crowd, leading critics to believe Nintendo was acknolweding it as a fad. However, 3D remains a promising future for this console, as demonstrated by this latest and arugably largest revamp yet...

In a cruel twist of fate, the first two New 3DS consoles I ordered were both damaged - the first had a large imprint down the left side of the upper screen, and the second had a missing screw on it's back plate. It's astonishing how I could have such atrocious luck, but when the third replacement arrived and finally worked with no major problems, my true insight to the system could begin.

The New 3DS has several upgrades. The most important one is the improved CPU, which makes this system substantially more powerful than the original console. As a result, some large scale games like the upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles 3D will only be available for New 3DS systems. The console itself has also been slightly restructured; the game card slot is now on the bottom left beside the headphone port and stylus pen. The volume slider is on the left side of the upper screen, parallel with the 3D depth slider which remains on the the right side of the screen. The select and start buttons are below the ABXY buttons, which have been recoloured in a way that resembles the classic SNES controller. We also have the addition of ZL and ZR secondary shoulder buttons, sitting next to the original L and R ones. The only real issue I have with this new layout is the fact that the power button is now on the front right of the console. It's a little awkward, providing no feedback when pressed and being hard to firmly push down. This aside, the new control setup works perfectly.

The most notable feature on the New 3DS is of course the second analogue nub, dubbed a C Stick. This is essentially a pointing stick that is found on many laptop keyboards, used to the control the mouse cursor. It works by sensing the direction of any applied force; this means it does not move like the circle pad, which may take some getting used to. Essentially, you move your thumb in any direction on the nub, and whatever you control in the game will match that direction. While it may initially feel awkward, it soon becomes an ideal setup that truly works. This, combined with the aforementioned ZL and ZR buttons, could pave the way for a promising future of FPS games. Metroid Prime Hunters, for instance, was a personal DS favourite of mine, but the console's limited control scheme instigated a huge learning curve. With this new setup on the New 3DS, games like Hunters will be right at home.

The New 3DS also has a feature called Super Stable 3D. Many people expressed dissatisfaction at the original 3DS for having a very limited 'sweet spot' for the 3D effect. If your eyes moved one fraction out of this zone, the 3D would become naught but a blurred mess. Using the front facing camera at the top of the system, the New 3DS tracks the players face and manipulates the angle of the 3D automatically - making the sweet spot substantially larger and the 3D more accessible. It's not flawless, but for the most part, it's a fantastic upgrade to the visual presentation. In terms of the exterior shape, the New 3DS is pretty much the same as it's predecessors, but the regular model (not the XL) has a unique feature of customisable faceplates - the front and back plate can be removed and exchanged for all sorts of different designs Nintendo have on offer, which is a nice touch for those wanting to personalise their console.

The regular New 3DS has custom faceplates of all sorts of colours and designs.
The New 3DS is all but excellent, but there is one major flaw I have been eager to discuss.

The use of a Micro SD card. Why is this such a problem? Refer back to the original 3DS. A little flap on the side of the console would house your SD memory card, which could be quickly removed at any time. The New 3DS has it's Micro SD card tucked away underneath the console's back plate - which means you need a screwdriver, and a Micro SD to SD adaptor if you plan to transfer any data via a computer. Not only this, but the back plate screws are so stubborn that you'll continue to worry that you're damaging them, which also makes equipping the custom faceplates all the more awkward. I don't know what made Nintendo think this was a good idea, but I sure feel insecure when having to unscrew anything on my consoles, and so this can be a slightly intimidating process for newcomers. It's also absurd that the console doesn't come with a charger; it uses the same ones as the 3DS and DSi, but Nintendo evidently didn't consider that not every buyer will own one of those. Their official adaptor price is £10, but thankfully you can find third party clones for as little as £2.50.

The New Nintendo 3DS is a fantastic update to the already excellent line of 3DS consoles, and will surely be the definitive version from here onward. I despise the use of a Micro SD, but now that I've fitted my larger 16GB Micro SD and the custom back plate, I'll never have to go through that hassle again and so it's a one time moment of agony. Once sorted, it surely proved to be one my favourite handhelds to date. Maybe it's not worth the upgrade just yet for those content with their current 3DS, but for those who don't already own one, now is the time to change that.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Common Spams of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is damn good game, and online play has never been more fun since Nintendo expanded the range of modes on offer and fixed the god awful lag that plagued Brawl back in 2008. You'll encounter opponents who are new to the game and timid with their attacks, those who are getting better, and those involved in competitive play that will kick your ass if you don't match their skillset. Unfortunately, there's one more category: the spammers. These pests enjoy repeatedly overusing certain attacks while constantly dodging or moving about to result in an unbalanced and irritating fight. Let's take a look at just a few spams, for a lack of a better term, and see how to go about them...

#5 - Shields

This may seem like a strange choice - shields? How can that be an annoyance? The central issue here is that shields have been ridiculously beefed up to the point where they can make you virtually invincible. You may have moments where you deliver an attack which deals a constant string of damage for a few seconds, and all your opponent needs to do is hold the shield button to avoid all effects. Shields take ages to overload, and by the time you inflict some serious damage on the enemy, the shield will still provide a perfect defence. Consequently, much as in Brawl, shield breaks are virtually impossible.

Countering this must be done with grabs and quick thinking. Unfortunately, when you're forced to do the same shielding strategies, some online games just get dull and repetitive. This mechanic simply rewards even the lousiest of players for holding down a button.

This powerful shield is extremely helpful when you fight monstrously hard bosses like Master Core in Classic Mode, but for online play, it can render many of your attacks useless with minimal effort from the opponent.

#4 - Charizard - Flare Blitz

Charizard always seems to get the most love of any starter evolution in Pokémon history, being the first legitimate TCG card to have 120HP (compare that with Venusaur and Blastoise's 100HP in the Base Set) and the first to do 100, 200, and even 300 damage respectively. He has two Mega Evolutions, a stellar reputation, and is undoubtedly seen as the most impressive of the bunch. His role in Smash Bros. replaces the Pokémon Trainer from Brawl. Charizard takes his sheer power into the game and Nintendo still want you to know how big a deal he really is.

Though he's an awesome character despite being slightly overpowered, Charizard has some attacks that you may need to keep an eye on, particularly Flare Blitz. This attack sees him thrust at you in a ball of fire, dealing around 30% worth of damage. As a downside, Charizard will briefly trip up and do some damage to himself, but the knockback rate this attack can have on you makes this a minor consequence. It's not too hard to dodge so you always need to keep an eye out for spammers who embrace this attack; once you realise that they have nothing else up their sleeve, finishing them off is easy as pie. But if you keep getting hit, you're a gonner for sure.

#3 - Zero Suit Samus - Throw, then aerial kick

Zero Suit Samus is one of the most annoying characters in Smash Bros. history. Her appearance in Brawl was integrated with the suited Samus character; once Samus would release a destructive power beam blast as her Final Smash, her suit would break and she would become Zero Suit Samus; using the Final Smash again afterwards would restore her Power Suit. As a standalone character in this game, Zero Suit Samus has some ungodly irritating attacks that you need to keep an eye on; for pretty much everyone who plays as her does this exact attack setup, every time.

This common tactic is for Samus to grab and throw you into the air, then jump and use her upward aerial attack, which will deliver a surprisingly powerful spinning kick. Many players repeat this tactic when you're on a high percentage, so that throwing you to the top of the screen and using the spin kick will send you straight to your demise. Another frustratingly overpowered attack is her blaster, which can paralyse you from a brief moment when hit, leaving you open to attacks constantly. Afterward paralysing the opponent, players like to once again repeat the tactic of throwing you and delivering the spin kick. Air dodging is a necessity, but when playing online, the slight input delay can make this difficult when Samus moves at light speed. Whenever I see Zero Suit Samus, I prefer to just walk off the stage.

#2 - Shulk, Little Mac, Marth, Lucina, Mii Swordfighters - Counters

Ugh, fuck this. This is the cheapest, most unfair, and most irritating mechanic in the entire game. Marth, Lucina, Shulk, Little Mac, and Mii Swordfighters are able to counter attacks from opponents via a very simple method: pressing down and B if using the Gamecube controller. Doing this makes them stand on edge for a second or so, and if attacked, they immediately block and strike back with a vicious smash. If you're on a high percentage, you're dead. You can obviously see the pose they stand in when preparing this counter attack, but as the game moves so quickly at times, it may be too late before you even become aware. Hesitating in case the opponent chooses to do it just isn't any fun.

It is possible to avoid and slip past them, but when you get caught, it's game over.

#1 - Link / Toon Link - Arrows, bombs, boomerangs

He's got the same moveset he's had since the franchise's inception, and so Link is just as spammy as ever when it comes to online play. He shares this trait with Toon Link, due to their similar play style.

I've encountered so many spamming Links that my sanity comes into question after several matches. These irritating players will do everything they can to avoid you, and continue to use Link's arrows, bombs, and boomerangs from a distance, which will steadily rack up damage. Shielding and dodging all this nonsense is a complete nightmare and just results in a tedious fight that won't be fun for anyone.

You've got me up to like 150%, you can come and attack and stop throwing your fucking boomerang now. Okay?

The level of spammers within the online community is a little large, with people making predictable yet extremely fast combo attacks in a robotic manner. But in all honesty, if you allow people to repeat these attacks then you're leaving yourself open. Wouldn't we all spam such moves if the opponent did nothing about it, allowing us to achieve an effortless victory? Yes. Getting to grips with it allows you to understand a predictable attack plan of an enemy, and then fight back at it with some practice. However, some remain cheap either way.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Movie Review - Big Hero 6

The first Disney film to make use of Marvel Comics characters since the house of mouse acquired the company in 2009, Big Hero 6 is another entry in Disney's recent second Renaissance period, with reached dramatic heights last year with Frozen, now the world's highest grossing animated feature. In this latest offering from the renowned studio, we focus on robotics whizz kid Hiro Harmada (Ryan Potter), who lives within the fictional city of San Fransokyo.

Hiro is talked into joining Fransoyko's Institute of Technology by his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), and there he meets the rest of his classmates: Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez), Fred (TJ Miller), Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), and GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung), who all excel in their own fields of science. He is also introduced to Baymax (Scott Adsit), a loveable healthcare robot of Tadashi's own making, who eventually becomes Hiro's sidekick as a strange masked villain begins to emerge in San Fransokyo's darkest corners. With Baymax at his side, Hiro must unite with the rest of his new friends to take on this threat as the eponymous superhero team.

Big Hero 6 gets many things right, and several things wrong. But it's mistakes are crucial to the film's overall narrative, and so it can be slightly bogged down by iffy pacing. In terms of honest emotion, when the film carries out sad scenes, they're exceptional, but sadly they're not always executed at the right time. The villain has a fantastic design and an intimidating presence, but still lacks true development, and appears in a somewhat predictable plot twist. This equal lack of attention applies to the rest of the superhero team, who's debut appearances are too precipitous, and their subsequent relationship with Hiro a little too shallow. Thankfully, this is redeemed by their extremely likeable personalities and interesting lineup of powers and abilities.

But with my negative grudges dealt with, Big Hero 6 excels in many other fields; the animation is beautiful, the characters always charming, the voice acting spot on, and the score by Henry Jackman fast paced and unforgettable. Clearly the star of the show to most audiences, Baymax is of course one of the film's finest characters in terms of comedy and drama, and Adsit's performance is what truly brings this to fruition. There's also no doubt that the film's action sequences are consistently gripping, even if they initially overdo the clumsiness and inferiority of the novice superheroes as the fighting begins.

So it will be a mixed bag to some, but while it's certainly not a masterpiece, Big Hero 6 is an exciting burst of entertainment that still upholds Disney's recent string of quality films.