Sunday, 29 March 2015

Worst to Best - Metroid Prime Series

Typically seen as a side scroller, the Metroid series went down a new route in it's 2002 home console debut: Metroid Prime for the Gamecube. This installment transformed the Metroid gameplay into a first person adventure, whilst still retaining the focus on exploration and non-linear gameplay. It's success lead to a trilogy and a spinoff on the Nintendo DS, and the rest is history. Here, I will explore my worst to bests of the main trilogy and the spinoff Metroid Prime Hunters.

Though, to be fair, that is a fairly strong term, as none of these games are bad. In fact, they're all among my all time favourites for their respective systems. So let's say...least favourite, but still great, to most favourite...

#4 - Metroid Prime Hunters (DS, 2005)

Metroid Prime Hunters was released for the Nintendo DS a whole decade ago now. While it isn't part of the main trilogy and was not developed by Retro, the game still retains many staple trademarks of the series, including the first person perspective and the nature of it's 3D engine. The story features Samus investigating the mysterious Alimbic Cluster within the Tetra Galaxy, rumoured to house the 'ultimate power'. During her journey, she encounters a number of other bounty hunters who seek this power for themselves, and soon realises it's origins are far more dangerous than initially thought.

When you begin, it's evident that Hunters can be cumbersome in terms of it's control scheme - you can either control Samus' arm cannon with the touch screen or with the ABXY buttons to move it in each direction. They both have their benefits and weaknesses; the touch screen allows for better accuracy, but can become extremely uncomfortable, while the latter, more ergonomic option makes it difficult to aim in fast paced firefights.

However, once you've settled into it, Hunters becomes a surprisingly addictive adventure with superb visuals for it's time. It has the same atmosphere you loved from the main trilogy, and a number of challenging stage designs. It definitely needed improving in terms of variety, for there's a few issues with repetitive bosses and gameplay mechanics, but all in all it's a thoroughly impressive transition for the formula onto a handheld device.

#3 - Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (NGC, 2004)

The second installment of the main trilogy was released for the Gamecube back in 2004, and added a much darker tone to the narrative compared to it's predecessor. Echoes features Samus exploring the rogue planet Aether to trace the origins of a Galactic Federation distress signal, but upon learning the dark truths of Aether and it's struggling natives, she is caught up in a mission to rescue the planet from it's corrupted state.

It's most notable factor is the gameplay being split between two dimensions: the regular planet Aether and it's sinister doppelgänger, Dark Aether, with the latter's poisonous atmosphere slowly decreasing Samus' energy each time she steps out of the safe 'light zones'. Jumping between these worlds is done via portals scattered in different locations; this results in puzzles far more complex than those seen in the original. Echoes still retains the superb atmosphere and complex gameplay style the original was known for, combined with some brilliant new environments and an engaging, subtle narrative.

One maddening downside is that during it's final act, Echoes becomes amazingly punishing. This is due to an excessive non-linear structure with minimal hints and enemies/bosses that suddenly become more powerful than ever before. It can make the game very intimidating to newcomers, but once you get used to it's brutality, Echoes is still one of the best games the Gamecube has to offer.

#2 - Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii, 2007)

Metroid Prime 3 used the increased power of the Wii to great advantage, creating a Metroid game with a cinematic scope and a number of larger, graphically diverse environments. The conclusion of the trilogy narrative, Corruption features Samus working alongside the Galactic Federation to restore a number of corrupted organic supercomputers, known as Aurora Units, across various planets, which ultimately leads to a quest to rid the galaxy of Phazon once and for all.

Corruption takes place across multiple planets, each with it's own unique design - Bryyo is filled with jungles and fiery caverns, where as Elysia is a gas giant home to a floating city known as SkyTown. You also visit the Space Pirate Homeworld, a mechanical fortress plagued by acid rain. The game employs voice acting and far more cutscenes than Prime and Echoes; Samus is no longer alone on her quest, but the solitary atmosphere in each level is still perfectly executed. Retro's approach to each planet's art design and structure is absolutely incredible, and this is perhaps the most diverse and beautiful of the trilogy on a visual scale.

It also brings a number of new power ups and gameplay elements to the formula, making sure the core experience is not undone but also not lazily rehashed. One of the most notable additions is the Hypermode, which allows Samus to channel Phazon through her body and unleash it as a deadly attack. As this mode drains your health, and is sometimes wholly necessary, the game never fails to provide some intense challenges. Samus' ship is also far more integral to the gameplay, and you'll be using it often to fly to other worlds, perform air strikes, and carry large objects across each locale.

A central flaw is that Save Stations are far too rare, and the navigation can get confusing, but all in all, this is a fantastic conclusion to the series - a bittersweet accolade, for I want more. Metroid Prime 4 please, Nintendo.

#1 - Metroid Prime (NGC, 2002)

The beginning of this epic trilogy features Samus infiltrating an abandoned Space Pirate frigate to investigate it's inner workings, before crash landing on the nearby planet Tallon VI, which has been poisoned by a devastating meteor impact. There begins the story of Phazon, a toxic, mutagenic substance that begins to spread far beyond the reaches of Tallon VI itself.

Metroid Prime's most impressive factors are it's complex gameplay and high production values. The first person perspective truly pulls gamers into the experience more so than many other games of the genre, and traversing it's diverse environments is deeply engrossing. Retro created a potent and large universe full of unique creatures, architecture, and in depth histories, all available to record data via Samus' Scan Visor, allowing gamers to piece together the narrative themselves as they journey across the planet. You'll also garner a number of unique power ups along the way, which open more paths for you to explore, even in environments you may have already visited.

As is standard for Metroid, the gameplay combines puzzle solving and action in a perfect blend. It really makes you think when it comes to piecing together certain situations and making your way forward; and then, when you're done with that, you may be thrown into an epic firefight with tons of baddies, or one of the game's many thrilling boss battles. Everything is perfectly designed to provide one of the best experiences in a video game.

It is simply one of the best games ever made. Period.

The main trilogy is best played on the Metroid Prime Trilogy compilation for Wii, which incorporates the perfect motion control system from Corruption into Prime and Echoes. The compilation was released in 2009 but has since been discontinued; however, it's now available on the Wii U eShop as a digital download for just £13 ($20)! Seriously, if you don't want to be declared insane, then you need to snap this offer up ASAP.

UPDATE: This blog post has now been adapted into a video for the gaming channel ProjectFalconPunch! Check it out via the link below!

Click here!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Movie Review - The Voices

Ryan Reynolds has demonstrated his complexity and talent as an actor in many ways; but The Voices displays his strangest and most interesting role to date. Reynolds stars as Jerry Hickfang, a psychopath who experiences hallucinations on a regular basis, which causes him to talk to his pet dog Bosco and pet cat Mr. Whiskers. They influence his day to day actions, and soon Jerry's deranged outlook on life takes him down a very dark path.

The Voices definitely likes to produce laughs from the most taboo subjects; this includes murder, disembowelment, torture, and all kinds of violence - if you can take such controversy, then you'll find much to enjoy. There's a bittersweet combination of unsettling scenes and extremely funny ones; a lot of the comedy stems from the dim-witted yet loving Bosco and the conniving Mr. Whiskers, whom Reynolds also voices so superbly.

The Voices also acts as an interesting analysis of a psycho's mindset, showing us how the real world is far more grim than the hallucinated fake one some of these people live within. However, as Jerry enjoys his happy life within his hallucinated utopia, he fails to acknowledge the harm some of his actions have on others. The film conveys this with some brilliant aesthetic design, splitting between bright and happy scenics in Jerry's vibrant hallucinations and dark, frightening imagery when the reality of the world around him comes into place.

Reynolds gives one of the best performances of his career in all of his roles, and he's supported by an equally entertaining (albeit slightly forgettable) supporting cast comprised of Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, and Jacki Weaver. Reynolds leaps between Jerry's light hearted yet disturbing persona and his angered, distressed one flawlessly, creating a character that's both likeable yet extremely intimidating. His voices for Bosco and Mr. Whiskers also demonstrate his ability to flex his voice in a convincing way. It's dark sense of humour won't appeal to everyone, but The Voices still a fine piece of work nonetheless.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Pokémon Movies - Part 2

A week ago I began a list which discussed the Pokémon movies. Here we are in the second and final part, featuring the next few movies I watched before I couldn't stand to go any further. Let's begin...

Pokémon: Jirachi Wishmaker

Ash's face just about sums it up.
Jirachi Wishmaker already sucks because it focuses on Max, one of the central protagonists in the Advanced generation of the anime - and one of the most annoying to ever grace the entire franchise. The story features the legendary Pokémon Jirachi, who has the power to grant any wish, which a greedy magician named Butler wishes to utilise to resurrect the ancient Pokémon Groudon. Or at least a giant nonsensical clone of it. Or something along those lines.

As I said, Max is the star of the show, and forms a close bond to Jirachi that tries and fails to make you care. It also attempts to develop the relationship between May and Max, who are always seen to be bickering siblings, and to it's credit it does a decent job of bringing them together. It's not insultingly terrible as some of the other films, but Jirachi Wishmaker is repetitive and dull, and most of it's attempts at genuine emotion are painfully cringeworthy. All in all, the film falls flat in it's attempts to be funny or exciting, and the voice acting is generally terrible. Nothing else to say.

Pokémon: Destiny Deoxys

Destiny Deoxys focuses on Ash and his friends visiting LaRousse City, a high tech metropolis that's about to kick off an epic Pokémon tournament within it's prestigious Battle Tower. Before this, a strange meteorite had crashed onto Earth, injuring the ozone guardian Rayquaza, and giving birth to an alien Pokémon known as Deoxys. During their time in LaRousse, Ash and the others befriend Tory, a paranoid boy who suffers a phobia towards Pokémon after an incident from his childhood.

This film really sucks. The plot is may be slightly better than the other instalments of this god awful stage of the movie franchise, but the central issues regarding poor animation, lousy voice acting, and ungodly annoying characters are still present. Tory's paranoia of Pokémon is only explored with his irritating shunning of everyone around him, but we never get a deeper insight - his attitude only adds to his unlikeability (is that even a word?). Deoxys and Rayquaza have some fairly cool battle scenes, but when we go back to the main characters, you'll be waiting impatiently to see some proper Pokémon duking it out. That aside, the only enjoyable moments are the brief slapstick scenes with Munchlax.

Also, Sid has a deep voice, insinuating that he is a pubescent adult. May is apparently ten years old. Sid thinks May is cute and fancies her. Gross.

Pokémon: Lucario and the Mystery of Mew

For some reason they felt the need to have Mew back in a new movie, despite already being an ancient, mysterious creature in the first one many years ago. In this film, Ash and the gang arrive at the historical Cameron Palace, which is celebrating the life of Sir Aaron, a legendary hero who stopped a raging war in the past by sacrificing his own life. Sir Aaron wielded the ability of the aura alongside his partner Lucario, which is some magic stuff that I never really got to grips with. But it looks cool.

I forgot half of this film after watching it. Lucario is perhaps one the blandest characters in Pokémon history, thanks to a constant moody tone and a cheesy voice by Sean Schemmel. He and Ash sort of hit it off once their initial quarrels are over, but at this point the film completely fails to generate any emotional resonance. Ash is more arrogant and unlikeable than ever before, and his companions Brock, May, and Max never do anything constructive - they're awkwardly shunted aside, and so fairly useless. The climax is surprisingly good, but otherwise, this film puts me to sleep.

Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea

While the previous films in this list were just relatively bland, this one is truly offensive and absolutely terrible. Temple of the Sea falls flat due to the complete absurdity and cheesiness of it's central storyline, which focuses on a long forgotten undersea temple that holds an ancient valuable treasure known as the Sea Crown. Founded by the people of the water a long time ago, the temple is hidden away in the ocean depths, and now Ash and his useless friends team up with a group of Pokémon Rangers and sailors to unearth this secret using the legendary Pokémon Manaphy. They must also evade capture from the villainous pirate Phantom, who seeks to claim the Sea Crown and all it's riches for himself.

Yeah, it's as stupid as it sounds. The film's main focus is the relationship between Manaphy and May, which develops into an almost maternal bond as the film goes on. It never truly gets the emotional focus going, instead showing us scenes of May crying, generic glowing anime eyes, and countless rehashing of 'love you', a phrase May and Manaphy never seem to stop saying to one another. The cast is the replacement Pokémon USA lineup introduced in the Battle Frontier series, so while we have some improvements, the majority of the voice work is embarrassingly poor (count the amount of times May gasps in the film). The supporting characters are completely uninteresting, and the animation is absolutely putrid - with some horrible CGI shots and rendered vehicles that look completely out of place and unfinished. Bottom line, this is a really crappy movie.

I could not bare to watch anymore movies after this one, so I'll call it quits. Pokémon to me will always be the games, and the original anime seasons - none of this nonsense.

Friday, 6 March 2015

The Pokémon Movies - Part 1

The Pokémon anime began in 1996 as a fairly witty and enjoyable kids show that was faithful to the original games and had some decent voice acting. As time went on, things went steadily downhill, culminating with the miserable piece of Trubbish that we have today.

Alongside the anime, there have been 14 movies, all varying in quality. Let's examine a bunch of them and see how things have changed over the years...

The missing film in this list is Pokémon 4Eever, which I have not seen and cannot be bothered to watch.

Pokémon: The First Movie

The First Movie was so arrogant that it knew the franchise would flourish with tons of sequels, but surely they'd still inject a massive effort into this first motion picture? The effort is there, but it still didn't end up being as good as it should've been. It already annoys me from the get go as we see Ash's Pikachu take out a Venomoth, Golem, and Pinsir with one single Thundershock attack - did the creators every watch the show or play the games? Pikachu is not strong enough to carry out such an attack for a start, but Golem, as a Rock type, would be totally unaffected. At least Billy Crawford's cover of the main theme is awesome.

The central problem with this film is it's extremely confused message - that fighting is bad. No, I'm not saying you can go and beat people up and that would be fine, but Pokémon, you see, are meant to fight. They engage in one to one battles to determine a single victor, using an array of special attacks and abilities. The filmmakers try and cheat their way through this message by saying Pokémon aren't meant to fight like this as they beat each other senseless, but to be honest it's hardly different from the actual methods. Mewtwo has it's badass moments, particularly thanks to a cool voice by Phillip Bartlett (or Jay Goede, whatever his name is), but the film is generally dull effort that'll be hard to appeal to anyone other than really young fans - who will grow up and see sense one day.

Pokémon 2000: The Power of One

Pokémon 2000 had me hyped as all hell when I was a kid due to the fact that it was not only Lugia, but also the legendary Kanto birds, that were making their debut on the big screen. To see them fight in epic battle scenes was a promising concept and it was something my younger self wanted to see just for that reason. The story features villainous Pokémon collector Lawrence III, who seeks to capture the legendary birds Articuno, Moltres, and Zapdos, by enraging and trapping them. In doing so, he also attempts to awaken and detain the legendary Lugia, who is foretold to calm the legendary birds when they erupt into conflict. Ash and his friends stumble into the situation upon visiting the Shamouti island, where it is discovered Ash is the chosen one (ugh god), who must return a series of orbs to their rightful islands to stop the ensuing chaos once and for all.

It's not a horrible film by any means, but like it's predecessor, it suffers from jerky animation that feels no different to the low budget and simple style the TV show adopts - this is a $30 million movie, and you'd expect something dramatically better. What's also a massive annoyance as you may guess is the rehashing of the age old and extremely corny chosen one idea, which Ash takes far too seriously; and initially, we have no clear reason as to why he's this foretold hero, as at first people treat it like a joke, but it slowly morphs into an actual concept with no acknowledgement of these contradicting factors. To it's credit, Lawrence III is a pretty cool villain, the legendary birds are always awesome, and I'm particularly fond of Eric Rath's voice for Lugia, but otherwise, Pokémon 2000 is relatively mediocre.

Pokémon 3: Spell of the Unown

Pokémon 3 is probably the only film in the entire franchise that can be considered good, thanks to a better story than previous entries. It focuses on young girl named Molly, who struggles to cope with barely being able to see her father throughout her childhood. Her troubles worsen when her father mysteriously vanishes on an archeological expedition, having awakened a group of mysterious Pokémon dubbed the Unown, who seek out Molly and encase her home in a giant crystal palace. They fulfil her wish to bring her father back by restoring his essence in the form of Entei, a legendary beast whom Molly and her real father consistently read about in storybooks. The involvement of Ash comes to fruition when his mother is brainwashed and taken into the palace to act as Molly's own, leading him and his friends on a quest to infiltrate the stronghold and bring down the evil powers within.

This film still retains some of the iffy writing and voice acting that the previous films suffered from, but it's still much more enjoyable. Entei has a brilliant voice by Dan Green, and his bond with Molly is relatively touching. While she may come off as a spoilt brat, the film does it's best to help you understand why by showing her lonely lifestyle and troubled past. The animation is much more impressive than before, despite being somewhat stiff at times, and the soundtrack is surprisingly brilliant. It's utterly predictable, but not without charm.

Pokémon 3 was the final film in the series to be shown in UK cinemas, with future releases going straight to video. This also applied to several other territories where the film was unsuccessful, including Finland and Spain.

Pokémon Heroes

Pokémon Heroes takes place after the Master Quest TV series, as demonstrated with a lazy rehasing of the opening theme instead of a newly composed one specifically for the movie. Whatever. This film is the bridge between the Johto and Hoenn stages of the franchises as Gen III had just emerged in Western countries. As a result, the only Gen III characters are Latios and Latias, the legendary roaming Pokémon who debuted in Ruby and Sapphire Versions. The film is set in a town called Altamar, based on Venice, which is home to an all powerful defense system that once protected it from a near apocalypse. As Ash and his friends tour the town, they are caught up in Team Rocket agent Annie and Oakley's attempts to steal the aforementioned defense system, and the unveiling of the legendary Latios and Latias who seek to protect it.

Heroes has it's moments of genuine charm, particularly thanks to Latios and Latias - who are easily the stars of the show. They share a touching bond, demonstrated nicely by Latios protecting his sister with his life, and their playful nature within their secret garden home. But with that said, the film doesn't have much else to offer; featuring a slightly bizarre plot that doesn't make complete sense, and some iffy vocal work. One thing's for sure, the soundtrack is pretty cool. Bland is the best word to sum this up - it's not bad, but just not memorable aside from the characters of Latios and Latias.

With an abysmal $746,000 in domestic earnings, Pokémon Heroes, much like Pokémon 3, marked the series' departure from cinemas; this time in the US. From here on, all future releases went straight to home video. No surprise.

In the next part, we will explore the next few movies in the Hoenn stage of the franchise. Stay tuned...