Thursday 26 November 2015

Mobile Game Reviews

I've been a busy bee recently, with not much time for blogging....so, to fill in the gap, I've compiled these short mini reviews of some mobile games I've been playing over and over again to make the days fly by quicker until Christmas...

...because I have no life.


Perhaps one of the most simple yet addictive portable games I've ever played, 1010 is a puzzler that takes place on an appropriate 10 x 10 square grid and has gamers line up different shapes of blocks to make them disappear. The player is given three patterns of blocks - and must place these onto the grid in any way they like. When all three are used, another three appear, and so on. The aim is to line up a row full of blocks, which will then disappear, giving you 10 points - you'll also get points for each block you successfully place onto the grid. When there is no longer any room on the grid for your next type of block, the game is over - there is no end, it's just about racking up a high score.

The game gets more and more ruthless as it goes on, giving you blocks that aren't the easiest to use in your current situation, which can be frustrating but it equally presents an addictive challenge that keeps you coming back for more to increase those numbers. It's a simple yet extremely engrossing experience, testing your strategic abilities and constantly keeping you on your toes more so than many other modern puzzle games.

8 Ball Pool by Miniclip

8 Ball Pool's title pretty much sums it up - based on the original Flash game, this little package allows you to play pool on the go, made easy with highly refined touch screen controls, polished physics, and useful targeting reticules. This makes it beyond easy to get to grips with, even for those not so good at pool in reality. The online community is massive, so finding a game is never a problem; and thankfully, you can compete in leagues that cater to your skillset, so you'll never be unfairly pitted against a stronger opponent. A shop system allows you to customise your cues and unlock new tournaments and game modes, expanding and adding further depth to the gameplay, even if the fact that everything seems to cost in-game money feels a bit absurd at times.

These coins can be earned via giveaways, winning games, and betting in higher leagues; but it can be difficult to rack up enough to afford certain upgrades, and the only way to get more in a quicker manner is to actually pay for it - as in, with your own money. It's not as bad as it sounds (bar that last bit), but still a bit frustrating - equally so when there's not even a free single player mode to practice against an AI opponent, meaning you can lose a lot of coins by merely trying to practice online as a newcomer. However, with a rich online community and a polished overall feel, this is still an addictive mobile experience that's consistently fun and offers plenty of replay value.

Temple Run 1 & 2

One of the most popular mobile games to date, Temple Run has you playing as a danger-loving explorer who must run from a band of monstrous apes (a large gorilla in the second one) after stealing a sacred artefact from their temple. You tilt your phone side to side to steer your character, with swipes to the touch screen allowing you to jump, slide, and turn down different pathways. The course is randomly generated as it goes on, so it's different every single time you play. Once you fall off the walkways, crash into a wall, or come forced to a halt in any way, you must restart - it's all about garnering a high score based on how far you can run and how many coins you can collect along the way.

The first game is simple compared to it's successor, which boasts a number of new elements including mine carts, waterfalls, and ziplines, which present a number of new challenges, particularly once the pace picks up further into the game. What's most fun about these is the randomized course design, making the gameplay experience different each time and so it never feels too repetitive. There's a nice level of customization implemented, allowing you to play as various characters with different perks and weaknesses to see which can yield the best results. It's also one of the most impressive mobile games on a visual scale, and so if anyone hasn't yet given it a go after so long, now is the time to change that.

Thanks for reading!

Monday 16 November 2015

Worst to Best - Super Smash Bros.

Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. franchise is arguably one of their most successful - with every installment selling well over a million copies and earning critical and audience acclaim alike. The series is known for a creative new take on the fighting formula, and for bringing all of Nintendo's classic franchises into one package for the first time.

Since it's inception in 1999, there are currently four games in the franchise across four different platforms; here, we I will rank them in terms of preference. Let's begin!

#4 - Super Smash Bros. (N64, 1999)

The original Super Smash Bros. is enjoyable and certainly likeable, but it's not aged well for me personally, especially when you consider how much further it's sequels refined the formula. Those who are used to the large character and stage rosters, as well as the expansive single and multiplayer modes of the sequels may not find much left to relish in this first title.

That's not to say it's bad though - far from it. It remains a fast paced fighter that is good fun with friends. Again, it's successors have improved the formula so much that it's slightly dated, but it's still a fun and nostalgic charmer that wins points for innovating fighting game conventions and kickstarting this amazing series.

#4 - Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (2014)

I never really got stuck into the 3DS version of Smash Bros. as much as it's Wii U counterpart - Nintendo did an superb job with converting the formula to a handheld device, which was surely not an easy task. The sharp, outlined visual style and slightly simplified game design make it more ideal for playing on the go in your own time, but the chaotic nature of the gameplay is still tricky to get to grips with for those used to the home console format.

This is because it can be easy to damage your 3DS Circle Pad if you get too stuck into the relentless pace of hectic battles, and it can be tough to keep track of the characters when the camera is so zoomed out during multiplayer modes. Latency issues can also be a concern here and there - but, ignoring those flaws, this 3DS installment still offers an engrossing experience that fans will adore without a doubt, and is an extremely impressive effort to bring one of the best console games to a portable device.

#3 - Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii, 2008)

Upon launch, Brawl received critical acclaim but also some criticism, mainly aimed at it's different physics and pacing compared to Melee, it's predecessor. Whilst this all expanded into a ridiculous debate, there's still some truth behind these arguments - Brawl takes some time to get used to for players adjusted to Melee's gameplay style, but that doesn't detract from it's quality whatsoever. Brawl boasts a surprisingly engrossing single player mode, dubbed the Subspace Emissary, which features a full scale narrative that brings together every character across the Nintendo universe. It does get a tad boring as it goes on, but it's still an ambitious and unique effort to stir up the one player experience.

The expanded lineup of characters, stages, and various multiplayer modes make playing with friends all the more compelling, and while the laggy online mode was a bitter disappointment, Brawl is still a fine entry to the series that, as is usual, ranks as one of the best games for it's system.

#2 - Super Smash Bros. Melee (NGC, 2001)

Melee remains a personal favourite of mine thanks to a relentless pace during battles - I really do hate the whole 'physics' debate as you may have guessed, but Melee's faster and more fluid gameplay style when compared to Brawl is noticeable after so long. It doesn't make it better or worse from a critical standpoint - simply comes down to personal preference, and that is where Melee shines in spite of it's shortcomings.

The single player Classic and All Star modes offer the standard exciting action, but the Adventure mode is too long and often boring, and the fact that it needs to be completed with all 25 characters just makes it all the more tedious. The multiplayer is of course where things truly shine - Melee's 64 player tournament mode is one of it's best features, and while the AI is pretty unbalanced, they still present a unique challenge, making the game as equally fun in single player fights as it is in multiplayer. Definitely one of the Gamecube's finest without question.

#1 - Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (2014)

The Wii U installment disposed of many of the lengthy single player modes from previous instalments, and stuck with a simple Classic and All Star setup much like the N64 original. However, thanks to a slightly updated gameplay style that makes brilliant use of the GamePad as well as Nintendo Network's expanded features, Smash Bros. for Wii U becomes a much more addictive experience than any previous installment and one that will keep gamers occupied for years to come. The character roster is expanded even further, and some fighters are completely revamped to freshen things up; the visual style is also refined into something more colourful and vibrant than the previous games, which is a refreshing change.

The eight player fights are a little too busy and forced into the game without much thought as to whether or not they truly work - and in my eyes, they're really not as fun as the simple 2-4 player style. But with that said, the Wii U installment remains a masterful experience without question - all of it's features including the more flexible stage builder, diverse character roster, rich online modes, tons of gripping multiplayer offerings, and the aforementioned simplified yet engrossing single player modes certainly help it to become the Wii U's finest title and the best iteration of the franchise to date.

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 7 November 2015

Not Quite Disney

Back in Disney's prime in the 1990s, numerous other studios attempted to mimic their formula in order to leech off of their fame - pretty much all of them backfired and ended up financial failures, but that doesn't always reflect on the quality. Well, it usually does, but let's take a closer look as some key examples and see how they hold up...

The Pagemaster (1993)

The Pagemaster features Macauly Culkin as protagonist Richard Tyler, a young boy who is sucked into an animated realm upon entering a seemingly abandone dlibrary during a heavy storm. There he encounters all sorts of literary characters ranging from Dr Jeklyy to Long John Silver, all governed by the Pagemaster (Christopher Lloyd); the guardian of the written word. Joined by three books Fantasy (Whoopi Goldberg), Adventure (Patrick Stewart), and Horror (Frank Welker), Richard faces the task of confronting his inner fears and making it to the exit to return to the real world once again.

As you may have guessed, The Pagemaster blends both live action and animation; though the majority of is the latter. It works in a creative way, even if the live action segments do tend to drag once the film begins. Once the animated sections begin, it shows itself to be very nicely drawn and vibrantly animated, but the key weakness here is the plot - clocking in at just 68 minutes excluding the credits, and with the entire animated section only lasting about 45 minutes, the film can't help but feel rushed when it comes to portraying and developing this vast array of literary icons. The pacing is poor and the characters a bit weak; however, underneath the flaws, there's still a charming, harmless film that has a creative core, a brilliant cast, and some excellent visuals.

The Swan Princess (1994)

Directed by former Disney animator Richard Rich, The Swan Princess sought to mimic the romantic vibe from classic Disney fairy tales, but just ended up creating something that's shallow and painfully lazy. The main character is Prince Derek (Howard McGillin), whose mother tries to raise him to love Odette (Michelle Nicastro), a princess from a neighbouring land, so they can eventually marry and join the kingdoms together. Despite hating each other for their entire childhood, Derek and Odette suddenly fall in love at first glance when adults. Derek arranges a marriage, but Odette shuns him - she is then kidnapped by the bitter sorcerer Rothbart (Jack Palance), and turned into a swan (though only at night) until she agrees to marry him. This is where Derek embarks on a quest to save her, and now she suddenly loves him and awaits his eventual arrival. It makes no sense.

I had to sum it up but provide some more detail to get my point across for newcomers - the film's animation, voice acting, and general sense of humour show some potential, but this a story that needs to focus on it's romantic leads, and they simply have no chemistry. It feels as if the writers gave up halfway through production in order to avoid putting any thought into character development or genuine storytelling. The villain is flat, the narrative generally nonsensical, and John Cleese's French accent is bloody awful, and so this is a film with little appeal that doesn't even come close to rivalling Disney's efforts.

Rover Dangerfield (1991)

Rodney Dangerfield was an acclaimed stand-up comedian back in 1980s, known for his catchphrase of "No respect" and his ability to spout out rude yet witty one liners with minimal effort. There's no clear reason as to why he decided to write and produce a kid's film featuring him as a dog, and the final product is just as strange as it sounds. Rover Dangerfield is mainly criticised for it's dull plot and nonstop barrage of cheesy one liners - said 'plot' is just there as a basic backdrop to justify Dangerfield spouting a number of bizarre jokes referencing his dog persona. A few of them work, but most of them do not.

But Rover Dangerfield has it's charms, and a few funny gags here and there. Dangerfield is no professional singer, and while the songs are badly written and pretty meaningless, some of them still have a catchy beat to make them guilty pleasures. The animation is also decent, as is some of the voice acting, and so this is a film that's not as bad as it's made out to be (for me anyway), but it's certainly nothing exceptional either.

FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)

FernGully is a usually referenced when criticising James Cameron's Avatar, which is commonly branded a sci-fi rehash of this film's general story and morals. It's an effort to promote environmentalism and demonstrate the value of the forests that we continuously destroy for our own needs - told in a way to appeal to children; the main character is Crysta (Samantha Mathis), a young fairy living in a colony of fairies that seek to protect the forest. Upon witnessing a human named Zak (Jonathan Ward) and his colleagues take part in deforestation, she shrinks him to her size and begins to reveal to him the beauty of the world around him, and this leads to a mission to stop the pollutant monster known as Hexxus (Tim Curry) from destroying the forest and it's beauty for good.

It's neither great not bad - just an average animated film with a typical rushed love story and predictable ending. The songs are pretty dull, aside from Toxic Love, and the only real things that stand out are the pleasing visuals and Tim Curry's surprisingly devoted performance as the cool albeit underdeveloped villain. Robin Williams finds himself in a supporting role as Batty, a deranged bat driven crazy by human experimentation. He was a talented man, but here he's simply not funny; just ungodly annoying, which gets worse and worse as the film goes on. Not an awful movie, but not something I'd immediately recommend.

Thumbelina (1994)

This is just messed up.
Former Disney animator Don Bluth directed famed classics such as The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail - he also directed a number of stinkers including The Pebble and the Penguin, A Troll in Central Park, and this here Thumbelina. Much like The Swan Princess, Thumbelina is a painfully obvious attempt to mimic the formula of Disney fairy tales in order to leech off of their success. It even features Jodi Benson as the title character, and Kenneth Mars in a supporting role - both of whom appeared in The Little Mermaid five years prior. For some reason, even acclaimed actors John Hurt and Gilbert Gottfried also decided to get involved in this nonsense.

This film offers very little outside of a ridiculously underwritten love story and a forgettable, often painful, lineup of songs. Famously, Marry the Mole was awarded the first Razzie for Worst Original Song, though I'm surprised that accolade didn't go to On the Road - sung by a toad with a sexualised female body (seen above). Said toad appears in the film for over 5 minutes - and just one second of film has 24 frames, all of which need to be hand drawn in this instance. This means this toad was drawn over 5000 times in order to be animated. Did the artists never get a bit disturbed with this?

Sorry. But aside from that, Thumbelina is actually well drawn, as Bluth has always been incapable of creating bad animation. That aside, it's just a lazy Disney imitation, and ended up being another nail in Bluth's coffin that just further lead to his eventual demise.

The Iron Giant (1999)

Directed by animation star Brad Bird, who eventually went on to make Pixar's The Incredibles and Ratatouille, The Iron Giant was a film that exemplified his desire to bring a political message into a simple animated story, and adapt it into something more complex for older audiences. The story features Hogarth (Eli Marienthal), a lonely boy living with his widowed mother Annie (Jennifer Aniston). His dull life is turned upside down when he encounters and befriends a mysterious giant robot who crashed onto Earth just days prior; from there begins a touching story between two unlikely friends that deftly blends comedy, emotion, and genuine thrills.

The animation is particularly impressive, with the titular character constructed entirely through cel shaded CGI, which is seamlessly integrated into the lush hand drawn visuals. The supporting voice cast consisting of Christopher McDonald, Harry Connick, and Vin Diesel bring a host of likeable characters to life, complimented nicely by Brad Bird's confident direction. It's certainly a fantastic piece of work that did not deserve to be such a box office failure.

Don Bluth has made numerous other failures that we've not covered, so maybe that will come another time...

Thanks for reading!

Sunday 1 November 2015

Movie Review - Spectre

After Skyfall grossed over $1 billion worldwide following it's late 2012 release, the hype for the next installment was all but enormous - which means this year's Spectre, strangely the second most expensive film ever made, is going to be a huge win without a doubt. Not all expectations are met, but that doesn't stop this from being one of the better entries to the franchise.

Following the attacks on MI6 by Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), James Bond (Daniel Craig) engages in a personal mission to locate a mysterious assassin and unveil the truth behind a criminal organisation known only as Spectre. His actions drive him across the globe as he encounters old and new acquaintances alike - and eventually meets an old foe who brings even more of his dark past to fruition once again.

Much as in Skyfall, Spectre is an attempt to bring more of the renowned characters and concepts from past Bond films into Daniel Craig's rebooted phase of the series. This time, the titular organizaition debuts in it's first film appearance in over 40 years, featuring the always masterful Christoph Waltz in the lead villainous role that yields more surprises than initially thought. He delivers a rich performance with minimal effort, being the star he is, although it is slightly disappointing to see the villain underused in several key areas, and his relationship with Bond is not as compelling as it may initially seem.

But Waltz is the not the only star - Léa Seydoux is brilliant as the latest Bond girl Madeleine Swan, and Craig delivers his fourth gritty, exceptional performance as Bond himself; his characterization is better than in Skyfall which, amazing as it is, made him slightly too goofy in segue areas. He maintains a dry sense of humour, but you can still admire him as an unrestrained badass who demonstrates the ability to magnificently claw his way out of unbeatable situations in superb, and I mean superb, action sequences. The rest of the supporting cast also make a return, including Ralph Fiennes as the new fresh take on M, and Ben Wishaw as the techie sidekick Q. They are joined by Andrew Scott, whose role is an interesting portrayal of a villain seeking to do what seems to be the right thing.

Spectre is also unique in how it links all of Craig's films into a surprising new plot twist, dating back to the villains in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. This retcon of sorts is actually extremely effective, and the end result is carefully thought out and very nicely executed. It comes very close to matching Casino Royale and Skyfall, and is certainly superior to Quantum of Solace, and so we have another winner from director Sam Mendes and another example of why Daniel Craig is perhaps the best 007 in a very long time.