Secret of Mana (2018) Review Elemental Enervation

Secret of Mana (2018) Review

Among the myriad games released in the last 30 years, only a comparatively select few have attained the sort of legendary prestige that keeps them a part of the conversation long after their time in the sun has passed. Secret of Mana is one such seminal classic; a fiercely druidic hack-and-slash RPG with a nigh-unparalleled audiovisual legacy, it has long remained in the collective consciousness as one of the greatest games to grace the SNES. I, like many others, held it in such high esteem that I met last year’s announcement of a 3D remake with mixed feelings. Though I was happy to see its flame rekindled, I thought it delivered on its vision and didn’t need to be revisited. But time flows like a river, and history repeats. Thus is Secret of Mana reborn for the 2018 demographic, superficially refreshed and fully faithful to its roots in all the wrong areas.

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Secret of Mana (2018) – image for this review provided by Square Enix.

Of all the ways Secret of Mana differs from its SNES ancestor, its visual overhaul is the most hotly contested. In retooling the game for a modern audience, a move from 2D pixel art to 3D models was a given, and I do think that they faithfully reflect the original game’s aesthetic. Randi, Primm, and Popoi sport clean, attractive designs, with primary colours that make them easy to distinguish in the heat of battle. Less successful are the remake’s environments, which strip away much of the subtlety and mystique of Mana‘s memorable locales. Gone are the shady canopies of Matango that made it feel like a hidden paradise. Gone is the majestic presence of the Mana Tree at the apex of the Pure Lands, replaced with an oversized piece of stretched-texture broccoli. The Moon Palace, one of my favourite locations from the original game, was terrifying and beautiful, hovering in perpetuity above a star-speckled void; here, its atmosphere is cheap and childish, more like a nursery playmat than an endless expanse. These alterations sap Mana‘s one-of-a-kind visual essence, transforming it into by-the-numbers budget title that feels like it’s been lifted straight from the App Store.

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Secret of Mana (2018) – image for this review provided by Square Enix.

Weirder still is the developer’s strict adherence to awkward animations that, as far as I could tell, were always a symptom of the SNES’ limited processing power rather than intentional stylistic choices. Characters still emote distress and injury by throwing themselves on the ground, or falling backwards as the screen flashes white. Whipping across a chasm is still a tremendously odd animation wherein the characters gather on top of one another, barely wrap the whip around a distant object, and then fling themselves over the gap all at once. The developer also made the unusual choice to add voice acting throughout the game without implementing lip flaps on character models. It…doesn’t look good. It is baffling to me that Square Enix would recreate Secret of Mana from the ground up without taking the time to create more sophisticated animations to suit its enhanced fidelity.

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Secret of Mana (2018) – image for this review provided by Square Enix.

When the Secret of Mana remake was first announced, I expected it would get an arranged soundtrack. “Arranged” hardly conveys just how different its musical compositions are from the 1993 original. With contributions from a huge variety of esteemed Japanese musicians, including Tsuyoshi Sekito, Tsutomu Narita, sasakure.UK, Yuzo Koshiro, and original composer Hiroki Kikuta, Secret of Mana‘s soundscape experiments with elements of jazz, electronica, classical, and folk influences. Frankly, not every track is a winner, but I did find all of them to be dynamic and adventurous. Any disparity in tone or quality between the original compositions and these remixes is, at the very least, suited to Secret of Mana‘s new look. I already own the game’s soundtrack twice over (the Original Sound Version and the subtly arranged “Genesis” album released in 2012), so I didn’t want to hear the exact same thing again anyway. Kudos to Square Enix for taking a creative risk. And hey, Secret of Mana includes an option to toggle on its classic soundtrack at any time, so purists can rest easy.

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Secret of Mana (2018) – image for this review provided by Square Enix.

While I would have preferred to see a more transformative reimagining of Secret of Mana, this remake is tremendously reminiscent of the original in terms of gameplay. This is, strangely enough, more of a negative point than I imagined it would be. It turns out that Secret of Mana was always kind of clunky; its combat system is designed around hitting monsters during awkward invincibility frames and navigating menus to cast spells. I’m not entirely sure why the “Ring Command” system was always touted as a standout feature, either. It’s sort of cumbersome, really, and even the new customizable L1 & R1 shortcuts can only alleviate so much drudgery. What bugs me the absolute most is how pitifully inaccurate most attacks are. Late-game enemies are outrageously evasive, and sometimes characters will swing four, five, six, seven times, never hitting their mark. This actively discourages participating in combat, which in turn reduces the amount of incoming experience, making the game progressively more difficult. It doesn’t help that teammate AI is still dumb as a brick, either. It’s all a little too accurately replicated. Some mindful rebalancing that could have made Secret of Mana better than ever.

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Secret of Mana (2018) – image for this review provided by Square Enix.

Square Enix, like any large developer, is composed of several teams working on their own projects concurrently. But even with different cooks in each respective kitchen, how does a single company turn out show-stopping, genre-defining hits like Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age and Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood only to heel-turn and release clunkers like Dissidia Final Fantasy NT and, now, Secret of Mana? While it would be hyperbolic to say that this new take on the SNES classic profaned my memory of the original, it did make me question the love for it I’d held on to for the last 25 years. Was Secret of Mana always like this? By forcing me to confront the image of Secret of Mana I’d constructed internally over decades of fond recollection, the remake helped me realize that time twisted my experience into something unrealistic and infallible. It was no perfect game, and neither is this. But I’d still rather immerse myself in the original’s indelible earthiness, pitfalls and all, than grapple with the remake’s drab interpretation of Mana‘s magical world.

A retail version of the game reviewed was provided by the publisher. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Derek Heemsbergen’s  reviews, such as  Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth and his second look at Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age!

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Shadow of the Beast (PS4) Review

Shadow of the Beast (PS4) Review

Shadow of the Beast, developed by Heavy Spectrum Entertainment exclusively for the PlayStation 4, is a remake of the classic Commodore Amiga game from 1989. Updated for modern gaming audiences, Shadow of the Beast 2016 focuses on improving the boring combat of the original with flashy animations and new mechanics to increase its depth. Unfortunately, the platforming elements of the game did not receive the same treatment.

Shadow of the Beast (PS4) ReviewShadow of the Beast places players in control of the powerful beast, Aarbron, who suffers from being a mind-controlled weapon to evil sorcerers. When Aarbron kills his father in his attempt to steal a chosen newborn, the beast breaks free of the sorcerers’ shackles and seeks revenge on the evil forces that stripped him of his past and turned him into a monstrous warrior.

Shadow of the Beast is a 2-D action platformer. A majority of your time will be spent navigating the levels and climbing set pieces, but the real fun is had during the combat encounters. These encounters pit Aarbron against waves of enemies that try to overpower him with sheer numbers. They feel similar to Arkham style combat as you attack, stun, evade and parry enemies until only you remain standing. When Aarborn gets hit during an encounter you feel like you’ve lost all your built up momentum and the cannon fodder you’ve been completely destroying until now suddenly becomes a deadly force that can quickly drain your health as you try to recover. The combat feels just as vicious as it looks and you acquire a real sense of mastery when you flawlessly kill an entire group of enemies.

As Aarbron kills, he absorbs the blood of his foes and fills up his blood meter. This meter gives players the ability to use powered up moves that can increase Aarbron’s health, score, or when completely filled up, initiates a rhythm based mini-game that instantly kills any type of enemy as long as you remain on beat. The powered up moves that can increase the score or Aarbron’s health don’t feel like they are worth the meter because of their shockingly long start-up time before they are used, which can instantly ruin your momentum if you don’t time them accordingly.

Aarbron’s quest to kill his masters sets him on an insanely bloody and violent journey through six unique nations in the world of Karamoon. Each level has its own unique gimmick to change up the platforming sections along with it’s own set of native enemies to fight. Unfortunately, the levels feel very linear compared to the Amiga original and the few puzzles you’ll encounter are practically spelled out for players to solve. There’s just no difficulty to Shadow of the Beast, even death is just a small progression breaker that resurrects Aarbron in the exact place he died. I was able to breeze through minutes of exploration by simply jumping of certain places in the environment and dying, my only penalty was seeing a game over screen and picking the resurrect option.

After beating a level, you’re scored on how flawless and stylish you were during the combat encounters as well as how many collectibles you acquired. The score is then transformed into a currency that you can use to purchase upgrades, runes and moves for Aarbron to use as the game progresses. This is where the low difficulty becomes a problem again. I only bought a single health upgrade for Aarbron during the whole journey and even that felt like a waste of points in the long run. The majority of my points were spent on unlocking cool concept art, the original game and language decipherers so I could understand what certain races were saying during cutscenes.

Shadow of the Beast (PS4) Review 7Shadow of the Beast suffers from an extremely short run time, which is just about three hours of playtime before the credits roll. While the game promotes replayability through it’s various collectibles and handful of unique endings to unlock, I have no interest in exploring the world of Karamoon any further. The reason for this is because most of the story and lore that I didn’t understand during my playthrough was unlocked in the bestiary, which details the motivations of the many races and how they impact the world. The short number of collectibles I did unlock gave more context to the events happening in the world, but much of the content felt like it was just reworded from bestiary entries.

I was excited for Shadow of the Beast the moment I played it at PlayStation Experience last year. I felt it was rough around the edges, but I thought that the game had some great production values for an indie game and the combat mechanics were genuinely fun. Unfortunately, I thought that Heavy Spectrum was going to treat the platforming mechanics with the same amount of care and the studio would work on fixing the rough parts of the game until its release. Shadow of the Beast still impresses me visually and the combat remains fun, but the game suffers from a number of poor design decisions that greatly impact the experience.

Grasshopper Manufacture Localizing The Silver Case?

Grasshopper Manufacture Localizing The Silver Case?

After attending a game preview at PAX East with CEO of Grasshopper Manufacture, Goichi Suda (Suda51), our Editor-in-Chief was handed a leaflet that showed a decodable message and lead people to the web address believeintheinternet.com. Decoding the message revealed the title, The Silver Case, which is the first game the studio had ever developed in 1999.

Grasshopper Manufacture localizing The Silver Case 2Visiting the site provides very little information currently, only displaying what appears to be shaking shards of glass and development info. It’s from this info though that we can safely say that the game is coming west. Active Gaming Media, a studio attached to the project, is a localization company that translates Japanese games. No confirmation can be made whether this title will be a remake or a remaster.

Grasshopper Manufacture localizing The Silver Case 4The Silver Case was released exclusively in Japan for the PlayStation 1. Its gameplay is very similar to the Ace Attorney games, developed as a visual novel/point-and-click adventure, but without the trials. The game has two scenarios, one where you play as detectives searching for serial killers and one where you play as a freelance journalist looking into cases solo. The Silver Case was supposed to be remade in 2005 for the Nintendo DS, but the remake was ultimately cancelled and never released, despite Suda showing live gameplay footage on the platform.

Resident Evil 2, the Ultimate REmake

Resident Evil 2, the Ultimate REmake

With the recent re-releases of old Resident Evil games, Capcom has been whetting fans’ palates for their upcoming reconstruction of the fan-favourite Resident Evil 2. But besides new players learning what was once great about Resident Evil, Capcom could learn a thing or two about them as well. And by expertly implementing some key ideas, the remake could be the best in the series.

Since the announcement, Capcom has kept mum about any more details other than that it’s going to be a remake from the ground up; not just a shiny fresh coat of paint. What’s troubling is we’re left in the dark about what exactly it is. Is it the classic fixed-camera or is it the new over-the-shoulder camera that Revelations has used to remind us that the series can still be scary? Will we have the clunky tank controls of the past or the new control scheme?

resident evil remake feature insert 3Frankly, they could do both. As neat as it would be to see the old Raccoon Police Department re-rendered with today’s graphics, they could opt to make the environments 3D like in Code Veronica. It would allow players to utilize either the over-the-shoulder camera or fixed viewpoints. Should players choose the fixed camera though, they can’t be forced to use the same aiming system like how RE5 did in that easter egg during Lost in Nightmares. You just can’t accurately aim at anything other than from over the shoulder. With fixed camera angles, we need the old clunky combat. Although, being able to aim down the sights of certain weapons, like what Code Veronica gave us, would be a really cool way to keep things fresh as you played.

This would help to accommodate both fans of the old with a “Classic Mode” and fans of the new with an “Action Mode,” without changing too much about the core mechanics and getting convoluted. Because we’ve seen what happens when Capcom tries to appease everyone—we get Resident Evil 6, a faceless gray sludge of a game that has no recognizable identity.

In this current age of Resident Evil, there’s a staggeringly heavy emphasis on co-op gameplay, and as fun as it is to team up with a buddy to blast zombies, that’s ultimately not what the classic formula calls for. It’s crucial that the Resident Evil 2 remake keep its original single-player campaigns, and while I’m not opposed to mixing things up and adding to them like the first game’s remake, we need them to be single-player experiences first and co-op as a bonus.

Forcing players into those co-op RE games frustrates them as they wrestle with their AI partners and detracts from the experience. They need to be able to focus on puzzle solving and the established atmosphere of the game. While Resident Evil 5 is most definitely a fun game, it lacks much of the series’ charm and traditions.

The 2002 remake introduced us to the use of daggers for protection against zombie bites and I would definitely hope Capcom brings that into 2. It’s a shame we never got to see that again in any other title. It added the little extra bit of strategic edge to playing as Chris since his grenades popped zombie heads, destroying any chance of creating the much more powerful Crimson Head zombies. Speaking of which, Crimson Heads might make an interesting addition to Resident Evil 2, maybe as a difficulty option for players to challenge themselves with.

The emergency weapons given to us in the REmake help to add a layer of strategy and resource management that’s sorely missed in other titles. Crimson Heads add an extra challenge and give more meaning to deciding which zombies to dispatch, otherwise players can just mow down everything that moves. Perhaps we can see them in the “Action Mode,” requiring players to headshot zombies to prevent them from turning, this would reward skilled players for accurate shooting.

resident evil remake feature insert 2It may not seem like it, but properly managing your inventory in these games is critical to success. This is why we need the perfect inventory system for the perfect remake. For example, why not adopt Zero‘s ability to drop items on the ground but also keep item boxes? Because if Zero taught us anything, it’s that item boxes make things so much easier. Also, Zero let us use items as we picked them up, something that makes the game much smoother and less irksome.

As classic as RE2‘s inventory is, take in RE4‘s attaché case system, it was simple to use and brilliant to manage. I’d love to see it show up again in these games and it could be upgraded to increase item capacity. RE2 gave us an extra row of item slots thanks to the side pack which could be used with the attaché case. Obviously we’re not going to see the merchant here to buy our upgrades from and encouraging exploration with rewards like that make for a more engaging experience.

It seems like Capcom is finally getting the hint that gamers actually still enjoy the old classic Resident Evil style, ever since the overwhelming financial success of the remastered version of RE1. While 0 is lukewarm with most fans, it’s still a solid enough title in the franchise with some good ideas, just with poor execution. But RE2 can use those good ideas the right way. RE2 can be the dream game, the complete amalgamation of everything that the series has learned since its inception. It can be the best one possible before we see what the seventh entry has in store for us. Because as it stands, we haven’t seen any news about RE7‘s direction. Capcom has simply been going through its archives and re-releasing oldies but goodies for the past little while. The future of the franchise still has yet to be decided, and while Masachika Kawata, a Resident Evil producer, said that user feedback is changing his opinion on the series, it’s still up in the air. We’ll see where the historic franchise is heading when we finally get some updates on RE2‘s progress.

Original Metal Gear Remake In Development, Will Be Free Upon Release

Original Metal Gear Remake In Development, Will Be Free Upon Release

Thanks to Konami’s approval, a remake of the original Metal Gear game officially has the green light to start development.

A group of modders who go by the name of “Outer Heaven” wanted to remake the original Metal Gear on the MSX. They first reached out to Konami to make sue they wouldn’t face any legal backlash for the remake.

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We can only hope they keep the hilarious mistranslations.

Much to their surprise, Konami approved it, as long as the team don’t use any copyrighted material for promotion of the game, and for it to be completely free upon release.

The team is currently looking for more people with a “C++” level of game design to help with the project.

Seeing as though the team is still looking for members, players won’t see this remake for some time. Still, a remade version of Metal Gear for free is pretty awesome.

Robocop-2014 (Movie) Review

The Robocop remake is not as bad as everyone feared it would be, but that’s also not quite the same thing as the movie being good. Obviously the remake in no way comes close to matching the wacko, blood soaked satirical success of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 masterpiece. However, it’s not as if that little diamond of entertainment has been left untouched since then. There have already been two disappointing Robocop sequels as well as a crappy cartoon and an even worse live action TV series. Robocop’s legacy has already been sullied by projects far worse than this remake. It probably ranks just below Robocop 2 in the franchise (and Robocop 2 isn’t very good either. Robocop 3 is just that bad). But I digress. Fanboy rankings aside, the primary issue here is intent. The original Robocop represented a cockeyed satire of America and Hollywood action movies at a time when such a thing was sorely needed. This Robocop attempts to sneak in a little political satire, but ultimately fails and is dogged by a PG-13 rating that neuters the cartoony ultra violence that is as much a key to the original flick’s appeal as the titular robotic cop. What we have here is a decent sci-fi action movie marred by the fact that it shares a title with one of the all time greatest examples of the genre and never manages to meet, overcome, or even subvert expectations. The remake just is what it is and that’s all that it is… sigh…

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The film opens with a Bill O’Reilly-style bad opinion show hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, discussing how those Ed 209 robots we all loved from the first movie are now being used as drones “protecting” the Middle East. Shockingly, the sequence is laced with the anti-totalitarian humor that defined the original, even if the violence has been toned down to PG-13 levels. From there, the plot follows the original structure very closely. Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is a good cop who is blown up to bits by a big jerk criminal (Patrick Garrow), only this time with a more family friendly car bomb. His destroyed body is given over to a big scary corporation who are trying to get law enforcement drones legalized in the US. Michael Keaton leads this corporation, and he wants to break his crime-busting robots into the America by shoving the brain, face, and nervous system of Murphy into a robot. He hires nice guy super scientist Gary Oldman to do so, and thus Detroit gets a Robocop. The whole human mind thing proves to be less efficient than software, so Keaton and a guilty Oldman mess around with Murphy’s brain matter to the dismay of his family. Soon Robocop is facing a man/machine internal battle, Keaton’s corporation is becoming extra evil. Jackson’s TV show is getting extra satirically silly, and stuff starts blowing up real good. Yep, it’s a Robocop movie.

As sleek cyborg superhero entertainment it’s entirely passable. The trouble is that it’s nothing special and dogged with problems.

That’s the thing about Jose Padilha’s robo-reboot: it’s clearly been made by people who understand the appeal of Paul Verhoeven’s subversive masterpiece. Original screenwriter Edward Neumeier (who also penned Starship Troopers) returns to sneak in social commentary. The man/machine struggle is fairly well played by Kinnaman. The supporting players like Keaton, Oldman, and Jackson act up a storm to give their villains a certain cartoon charm. The action is well staged even if it has to be completely bloodless for the sake of the ratings system. It’s actually a Robocop remake that feels like a Robocop movie for the most part. As sleek cyborg superhero entertainment it’s entirely passable. The trouble is that it’s nothing special and dogged with problems. The biggest problem is tonal. While the original film (and even the ok-ish sequel) masterfully pitched action movie tropes to the point of hysterical self-parody, the filmmakers behind the remake weren’t quite so assured tonally. It feels like at one point this remake was a straight-up Nolan-dark take on Robocop, an overly earnest version of a story that shouldn’t have been told that way. Then at some point during preproduction, someone must have mentioned that Robocop movies are supposed to be funny and some satirical stylization was awkwardly plastered over the cracks. As a result, there’s never enough comedy kicking around for the movie to be consistently funny, but there is enough to undermine any attempt at serious drama that the filmmakers make. So as a result, the film is a bit of a muddled mess.

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So, what we have here is a serviceable Robocop remake that isn’t nearly as bad as it could or should have been and is actually fairly entertaining when taken on its own terms. It’s a passable experience. The trouble is that the flick is based on a great movie and constantly reminds audiences of the brilliant original through winks, nods, and stolen sequences. The biggest problem with Robocop 2.0 is that it has no reason to exist. There already is a great Robocop movie out there that does everything this remake attempts to do better and nothing added to the material makes it feel more contemporarily resonant. It just makes the movie feel like a current blockbuster with a CGI sheen and a screenplay rewritten to the point of exhaustion. The best you can say about this remake is that it isn’t awful. Granted, that’s more than anyone expected from the movie, but not exactly a reason to run out to the theater, now is it? If you know someone young and impressionable enough to want to see this Robocop remake, please do them a big, big favor and buy them a copy of the original film instead. They will be eternally grateful.

 

Oldboy-2013 (Movie )Review: Cult Classic Turned Luke Warm Remake

Oldboy-2013 (Movie )Review: Cult Classic Turned Luke Warm Remake

Before getting into this review, I should probably start out by admitting my bias towards this particular project. Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy was probably my favorite movie of the 2000s. It’s viscerally thrilling, emotionally devastating, visually stunning, impeccably acted, surprisingly intelligent, and most importantly, ridiculously entertaining. Starting with a Japanese manga and filtering it through the distinct flavor of contemporary Korean genre filmmaking, it was both pleasing pulp and challenging art. Simply put, the film is a masterpiece. So, when rumors regarding a Hollywood remake of Old Boy started to surface (at first as a Will Smith/Steven Spielberg flick), I have to admit that I felt sick to my stomach. There was no way to improve on what Park made, and it was impossible that the content that made the film so special could survive a wash through the Hollywood machine. But as the years passed and the failed attempts at remakes piled up, it looked like it would never happen. Then last year Spike Lee of all people pulled the remake together with Josh Brolin in the lead and an evocative New Orleans setting. Despite my reservations about anyone rebooting Oldboy, something about this remake seemed interesting. There was major talent involved that suited the original film’s tone, so perhaps they were smart enough to develop their own take on the evocative story that would feel completely different from the original. Maybe two Oldboys could exist that were just different enough to appreciate on their own merits. Sigh… oh how naive I was in those days….

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Having seen the freshly Americanized Old Boy, I’m sad to report that pretty well all the worst fears anyone had about this remake came true. Spike Lee and co. didn’t have a new take. They merely mounted an almost shot-for-shot remake in the Gus Van Sant Psycho vein that is as pointless as it is disappointing. Well, perhaps that’s a touch too harsh. There are some changes, just nothing that makes this version distinct or even particularly compelling. While Lee has claimed in interviews that he wasn’t particularly a fan of the original film, his remake is hamstrung by debt to Park’s creation. When he isn’t outright lifting sequences from the original (most notably the single take hallway hammer fight that Lee expanded to two levels of action, yet still delivered a clunky bit of choreography that dies on its feet), he’s making useless changes or playing pointless homage to the few scenes and moments that he didn’t copy (a pair of costume angel wings here, an octopus there. All merely set dressing). So what you end up with is a remake that tries to present itself as something new while constantly name checking what came before. The fans of the original won’t be appeased and the folks experiencing the story for the first time will just be confused.

So the story, well it’s essentially the same with minor alterations. Josh Brolin plays the tortured protagonist. While Park’s version dove headfirst into the narrative, here Lee lingers needlessly on Brolin’s alcoholic spiral before the story begins that adds nothing beyond extra running time. Then Brolin is captured and locked in a hotel room for 20 years. Again, the film (which apparently ran 3 hours before hefty rounds studio trimming) lingers here longer, with Brolin’s captors providing him with booze in his daily meals to continue his vice. Eventually Brolin cleans up and uses his prison sentence to focus his mind and body on revenge. Then one day he is released and sent on an adventure carefully plotted by his captor (District 9’s Shalto Copley) to discover why he was imprisoned and released (with a cash prize for success and the murder of his daughter as punishment if he fails). Brolin quickly befriends a Red Cross aid worker (Elizabeth Olsen) who for unknown reasons deeply empathizes with Brolin and insists on helping with his quest. Eventually all roads lead to a twist ending that in the original was one of those WTF moments that spins audiences in their seats and changes the meaning of everything that came before.

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Now, the ending. It’s impossible to discuss either version of Oldboy without mentioning the ending, even though that dips into spoiler territory. So I’ll try to be vague. Spike Lee kept the infamous twist to an extent, but altered it ever so slightly in a way that does nothing beyond add an extra senseless shock value and robs the villain of the powerful tragedy that made him momentarily empathetic last time. It’s a pointless change there simply for the sake of making a change and highlights the major problem of this Oldboy. Lee seems to have wanted to make a grittier and grounded version of the story, which isn’t a bad idea. The trouble is that Oldboy was always stylized pulp that transformed into an equally stylized form of contemporary Greek tragedy. The first film worked because the tone was heightened. Here, the Brolin/Olsen sequences are played for painful reality. Those scenes work in isolation, but make Shalto Copley’s particularly cartoony take on the villain impossible to take seriously. It’s a movie that slingshots for HBO-style realism to Bond villain insanity and that tonal shift never feel comfortable or appropriate. The actors try their damnedest to live up to the shadow of the last film and Lee pulls as many tricks out of his director’s hat as he can, but in the end it’s a whole lotta’ of wasted effort that amounts to an experience about as unsatisfying as a tossed off, generic remake would have whimpered.

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What audiences are left with is the irritating remake they feared, perpetrated by talented people whom they like. In a way, that’s worse. If this remake had turned into a Nic Cage Wicker Man scale disaster, at least there would have been mocking comedy and internet memes to enjoy. Instead, Oldboy 2.0 is just a mess that no one will like. Since everyone involved stuck so close to the source, there’s a chance that unfamiliar audience may get a little shock n’ awe. However, Oldboy is the type of experience that only audiences who would seek out a Korean movie would like in the first place. Mainstream viewers will likely walk out of the theater sickened and confused while cult film fanatics will leave their seats frustrated and furious. The only good news to be taken from the whole mess is that the Oldboy remake was finally made, so now it’s not something we have to fear anymore. We can just move on to forgetting that this thing even existed, and thankfully that should only take a few weeks at the most.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (3DS) Review

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (3DS) Review

Back in 2010, it felt like Nintendo offered me a personal gift by reviving Donkey Kong Country for the Wii in all of its old timey, 2D platformer glory. Now the game has been ported over to the good ol’ 3DS and you know what? It’s just as much fun playing through a second time. There aren’t many changes to the core game beyond a 3D facelift, but that actually works shockingly well and adds a little extra eye-popping pizzaz to an already fantastic experience. Nintendo has tossed in a few new modes, bells, and whistles to ensure anyone who played through this sucker already still has surprises in store. That certainly wasn’t necessary Nintendo, but you won’t hear me complaining. Any extra DK is fine by me and even without the new additions, this is still one of the most addictive and painfully difficult games that Nintendo has cranked out in years and being able to play it on the go without anything lost is pure 3DS bliss.

There’s a plot to Donkey Kong Country Returns…well, kind of. Just when DK thought it was safe to eat up his tasty collection of bananas they get stolen (that’s bad!) only this time not by a King K. Rool (that’s good!), but by a weird tribe of floating heads known as Tikis (that’s bad!) who hypnotize all of the animals on DK’s island paradise and turns them evil (insert frogurt joke here). So yeah, that’s about it. The whole thing is an excuse to send DK and his little hetero life partner Diddy Kong out on another adventure just like their time on the SNES. You’ll jump through jungles and ancient ruins, ride high speed mine carts, and blast around through barrels. Sigh, just like the good ol’ 16-bit days.

Of course, Retro Studios weren’t content simply to trot out past DK Country glories. Oh no, they added their own additions to the mix. The levels are far more animated and interactive, often crumbling around DK as he races to the finish line. There are also entirely new level modes, like flying barrel portions that must be carefully kept in the air during high speed plummets or tidal wave based levels where DK must race between rock shelters to avoid being swept away by a big ol’ powerful wave of water. It’s a pretty diverse adventure over a variety of different worlds with one key thing that ties all the adventures together: punishing difficulty.

Yeppers, while Donkey Kong Country may look like kid stuff to the untrained eye, but this is a classic Nintendo platformer requiring pinpoint controls and timing with little room for error. Sure, they were kind enough to give Donkey Kong a few hearts to allow more than a single hit, but that’s really the only difficulty concession allowed in this 1995 throwback. Later levels and bosses will have you pulling hair out of your head, screeching obscenities, and possibly even causing your eyes to explode into a waterfall of tears. Thankfully, it’s all in good fun. That’s just the type of emotional trauma old school gamers had to face whenever they picked up a controller. Sure there’s a mode that will play through levels for you if you die too many times, but that’s for the weak! The particularly hardcore can also go for 100% completion for hard to find items and blisteringly difficult speed rounds. To anyone who has the time or energy to explore such things, I salute you!

One of the game’s biggest draws are the oh-so pretty visuals that Retro whipped up. The general design in simple and cartoony, but playfully and amusingly so. Every inch is packed with detail and characters, with some levels designed to be particularly beautiful (a sunset level cast in silhouette springs instantly to mind) and each level only seems to get more creative as it goes on. Even when playing this sucker on the Wii with the 3DS only a beautiful dream of the future, I had a feeling it was designed with this little handheld in mind. Considering that this is a 2D platformer, there’s an amazing amount of depth. Barrel blasts and mine cart chases frequently play out over two planes of action, villains often fling stuff from deep in the background, and enemies will fly towards the screen when killed. It was all fun on the Wii, but on the 3DS it literally pops off the screen and adds even more “oooo-ahhhh!” joy to the experience. The controls have also been changed slightly to drop the motion element that irritated many gamers on the Wii version. Now everything is button based and admittedly a little easier, although I never really disliked the motion controls. On top of that there’s a new game mode offering extra health hearts and items to make things slightly easier (but it won’t help you near the end…trust me). Plus, in a spirit of extreme generosity, Nintendo/Retro even whipped up eight all-new unlockable levels that are just as fun and pretty as you’d hope.

Donkey Kong Country Returns was always one of the finest 2D throwback games released during the Wii era and playing through it again on the 3DS proves that the game hasn’t gotten any less enjoyable over the last three years. The added levels, decreased difficulty mode, and simplified controls should make this the version of choice for many gamers while the surprisingly effective 3D facelift offers eye-tingling icing on the cake. If you’re a fan of old school games and consider punishing difficultly to be just as vital a component of that genre and addictive playability, then this just might be the perfect game for you. Sure, there isn’t exactly an engrossing story or characters who have even two detentions to their personality, but there was a time when gamers cared not for such things. With Donkey Kong Country Returns Nintendo and Retro brought back that mid-90s gaming experience one more time and it was so damn good that hopefully everyone involved has plans for a sequel. This thing is simply too good to stand alone and the second round through in 3D and on-the-go was just as enjoyable as the first time I was hypnotized by Donkey Kong Country Returns while tethered to my TV. I’ll take some more of this please Nintendo and I’ll take it now, if you don’t mind.