Month: January 2016

The Finest Hours (Movie) Review 4

The Finest Hours (2016) Review

Here we go again. It’s time for audiences to flock to the theatre to see giant CGI waves crash against tiny boats and marvel at the power of nature. For some, reason sea-bound adventure tales have become regular blockbuster fodder, and the latest entry in this bizarrely growing genre is The Finest Hours. Despite that bold title, it’s neither the best of these movies nor the worst. It falls square in the middle. However, like most modern disaster/survival/heroism tales, it serves up spectacular spectacle well worth the price of a ticket coupled with boring human drama that would feel corny and dated even if the movie had been made in the 50s rather than just being set there. Someday someone is going to make a disaster movie with a human drama as exciting as all the crashing and booming and daring-do. This one isn’t it, so your enjoyment will depend entirely on how much you can block out everything other than the effects reel.

The Finest Hours Insert 1Chris Pine stars as one of the most insecure heroes to ever grace a blockbuster. Despite looking like he was genetically designed to be an action figure, he plays a man so nervous and lacking in confidence that he lets everyone steamroll over him and requires his lady love (Holliday Grainger) to both ask him out and propose marriage. He’s also a captain in the Massachusetts coast guard; a rescue worker, but on the b-team. However, one night there is a vicious storm that rips two tankers in half, requiring him to head out on a rescue mission in a tiny boat facing a record-breaking storm. He’s essentially marching to his death on the orders of an inexperienced Eric Bana who doesn’t realize how bad things are. Casey Affleck also appears as an engineer left in charge of half a ship who gets his surviving crew to take ludicrous risks to stay afloat. The only question is whether the struggling Pine can get to them in time. However, with this being a Disney blockbuster, you can feel pretty safe in betting on the good guys winning against an angry mother nature.

The movie comes from Craig Gillespie, a curious filmmaker who has made some rather wonderful movies (Lars and the Real Girl and the shockingly watchable Fright Night remake) and some total dreck (Mr. Woodcock and Million Dollar Arm). He’s a pretty unpredictable filmmaker who seems to change genres as often as his see-saws in quality. The Finest Hours brings out both the best and worst in the director. On the best side of things, Gillespie delivers some absolutely astounding spectacle. Combining actors being blasted with water against green screens and gorgeous CGI, the action sequences are incredibly intense. He thrusts the audience into the middle of the action, making it almost feel like you’re on a simulator ride with stationary seats. The only time his cameras pull back from the action is to show the scale of the storm and the dangers the character’s face. There are some remarkable set pieces here, well worth experiencing on a big screen (just skip the 3D since the combination of underlit nighttime cinematography, fast edits, and dingy 3D post conversion is a muddled mess).

The Finest Hours (Movie) Review 1
The Finest Hours (Movie) Review

The worst side of Gillespie comes out in the human drama and more specifically, the completely unrelatable nature of it. You can see what he’s going for. The film is done in the golly-gee go-getter style of old-timey adventure movies. However, Gillespie and his screenwriters never find much of a balance between reviving old-fashioned storytelling techniques and playing laughable drama that is absurdly out of date. He’s got a good cast, but they have little to work with since they are playing such cardboard characters. The likes of Ben Foster, Eric Bana, and Casey Affleck are more than capable of disappearing into complicated heroes, but are stuck sighing, grunting, and staring off into the distance here since they have nothing else to play (that is when they aren’t struggling with unfortunately assigned accents that is). Worst of all is Chris Pine, an immensely watchable movie star who can’t play an insecure loser to save his life. It’s painful to watch him mumble, but not as painful as it is whenever Holliday Grainger appears on screen. To be fair to the actress, it’s not her fault. She’s stuck in a thankless love interest role who the filmmakers constantly cut back to in the middle of action scenes, completely spoiling the momentum of the film at its climactic peaks. It’s a real shame and a waste of Grainger’s time and talents.

So, what we have here is a movie that 50% incredibly exciting spectacle and 50% melodramatic hogwash. Thankfully, the spectacle itself is so well done that it just barely makes up for the cornball and irritating storytelling going on between all the excitement. In the slow, painful movie month of January, it’s worth seeking out purely for the special effects joygasms thanks to a complete lack of worthy competition. However, it’s also a film that will make you wish for a fast-forward option in the theatrical experience. Oh well. Most folks go to these sorts of movies for the spectacle anyways, so the target audience should feel satisfied. It’s just a shame that filmmakers seem to struggle with the human element in these sorts of films, because it’s not as if the stories are lacking in life or death drama for actors to play. They just need writers and directors who care enough to give the performers something decent to do in between all of the CGI money shots.

The Finest Hours Insert 2

Bombshell (PC) Review 8

Bombshell (PC) Review

Originally started as a Duke Nukem game, Bombshell is a twin-stick shooter that leaves behind the womanizing objectification and misogyny for an appropriately dressed female lead with a robotic gun arm. Unfortunately, a well-done character alone doesn’t make for a great game.

Shelly, aka Bombshell, is working on her car when her radio cuts out; somehow she gathers from this that she should race to the White House to try to save the president of the United States (also female) from aliens. Upon arrival, it is discovered that Heskel, a mad scientist from Bombshell’s past, has joined forces with the aliens to kidnap the president and has taken her to their planet through a portal. From there on the story is a pretty standard damsel in distress story, with little to no development other than one twist that is not meaningful at all; it comes across as the developers grasping at straws in an attempt at story development.

Bombshell Header

Combat is a fairly straightforward affair; one stick controls character movement, the other aims. Where Bombshell differs from most twin-stick shooters is the jump button, which allows for some minor platforming throughout the game, but nothing too difficult or engaging. All the guns on offer are what one would expect, such as a pistol, a machine gun, a flamethrower, and a missile launcher, amongst others. Some of the guns have female-centric names such as PMS (personal missile system) and the Maxigun for the machine gun, and I’m not sure why they thought that was a good idea. I can’t imagine too many women will find guns named after monthly dealings all that comical, and guys sure as hell don’t want to think about periods. It comes across as the developers not knowing how to develop a female character or female characteristics other than “They have breasts and periods.”

Also, on offer are four abilities: slide, shield, sword, and punch. The punch and slide are fairly similar and unlocked near the start of the game and cause Shelly to dash quickly in the direction she is aiming; the only big difference is that the punch does damage. The shield surrounds Shelly and protects her from damage while also damaging foes who come too close, and the sword lets Shelly dash around slicing up enemies for a short period. An energy meter powers these abilities and quickly recharges after a short cool down. None of the abilities on offer ever felt that useful, other than sliding, as it allows quicker movement around the large levels on offer, as well as dodging enemies.

There are three distinct areas in the game: the alien planet, an icy world, and a Death Star-like weapon. None of the worlds are exactly original or impressive, and they are so large that it just feels like they will never end. On top of that, most levels require some backtracking, either to complete secondary objectives that grant money and XP that can be used to upgrade weapons and abilities, or to complete the primary objectives. At over 12 hours, Bombshell really outstays its welcome—a decision that was surely an attempt to justify it costing a ludicrous $35, but length doesn’t equate to value.

If you only played the first level of Bombshell, you’d think the graphics are impressive, with rain pouring down and trees and grass getting whipped around by the wind, but that kind of impressive foliage is soon lost to the rest of the boring and bland levels that make up the game. Somehow that first level ran smooth as butter, though, unlike the ice levels that would randomly experience massive framerate issues, even when no enemies were on screen. There are a plethora of graphic options available, but no matter which options I selected, the game still continued to excessively drop frames in certain areas as well as having some screen tearing issues. It might be more forgivable if the graphics were anything but mediocre.

Bombshell Insert 1

Bombshell somehow manages to have such awful voice acting for NPCs that they would have been better off just having text on the screen. Characters read off their lines like they were recorded in one take by someone about to fall asleep, or who really didn’t want to be there. Even Bombshell herself doesn’t have much character when delivering lines, which wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t say the same few annoying one-liners repeated to the point that I was sick of them by the second level. No one likes a chatty Cathy. The only voice actor that pulls any weight is Jon St. Jon—best known as the voice of Duke Nukem—as the bad guy, but his lines are few and far between.

The final nail in the coffin for this awful game is the rest of the glitches I experienced during my playthrough, of which there are many. The graphics randomly set themselves to options I’d never used, there were numerous freezes, and, in the final levels, an enemy constantly could be heard saying “shield deployed” over, and over, and over till the point that I just muted the game to save myself some sanity.

The developers included a list of known issues along with our review code saying they are preparing a day one patch to address them, this along with all the glitches I experienced shows they rushed this out. Why? I have no idea, and it is all the more perplexing when you consider the game had already been delayed once. If Bombshell had some more time in the proverbial game development oven, had the best third of it carved out, and cost $10 it could have been a decent game. Whatever you do, don’t shell out your money for this bomb.

Secret Wars #9 (Comic) Review 2

Secret Wars #9 (Comic) Review

It has been a long eight month wait but this week, Marvel’s summer cross-over event, Secret Wars, finally came to a close with the release of its ninth issue. Written by Jonathan Hickman, the event was conceived years before and told through both the Avengers and New Avengers, both of which Hickman authored. What felt like a crossover event aimed at helping Marvel restructure the comic universe was also something much more bitter-sweet. With this final issue of Secret Wars, fans got one last Fantastic Four story. In a series filled with suspense, drama, and action, where the who’s who of Marvel freely paraded through the panels, one thing stood out: the Fantastic Four were divided. While all the characters were mentioned, only Sue Storm and Reed Richards are really seen (Ben Grimm makes a brief cameo appearance in the final pages of this final issue), indicating what fans have known all along: the Fantastic Four is really about family.

Secret Wars 9 Insert 2Jonathan Hickman’s story is refreshing in its complexity. Despite having a massive cast of characters and multiple simultaneous events to keep track of, Hickman manages to keep the focus on the heart of the story, the Fantastic Four. Throughout the length of Secret Wars, Reed Richards has struggled desperately to reunite with his wife and children, and here in the final issue, he faces off with his nemesis Victor Von Doom to reclaim them. With the fate of the universe on the line, stakes are high in the final battle, but ultimately the war is being waged internally and it is love and self-confidence that are greater weapons than Doctor Doom’s newfound infinite power.

Hickman’s fans have come to expect intricately woven epics. Like so many of his other comics, Secret Wars rewards the patient reader with a rich and satisfying story. While the script is captivating, Esad Ribic’s art is mesmerizing. Action and exposition are all equally compelling because the story is rendered in such beautiful images. The jewel of the series is a splash page during the climactic final showdown that consists of a mosaic of Reed Richards and Doctor Doom’s faces. This image is so stunning that it’s impossible not to pause and study its intricacies. Ribic brings vivid life to the massive cast of characters without a single panel looking dull or less detailed than the others. His technique is a perfect pairing to Hickman’s script.

When Hickman began his run writing New Avengers, readers learned that “everything dies”. As incursions destroyed galaxies, fans had to say goodbye to the Marvel universe as they knew it. Worlds 616 and 1610 are no more, but in their place, a new world is emerging. Hickman has given new readers a safe place to jump onboard and has offered many characters the opportunity to explore new possibilities. But most importantly, he has given Marvel’s first family a fitting tribute. While it is likely that the Fantastic Four will re-emerge somewhere down the line, Hickman’s send-off is fitting for their current indefinite hiatus.

Rodea the Sky Soldier (Wii U) Review 7

Rodea the Sky Soldier (Wii U) Review

Rodea the Sky Soldier represents the end of an era. Initially published between Q2 and Q4 of 2015, it was officially the last game released on the Nintendo Wii. But it also represents the end of an era gone by, for in it’s quirky characters, simple yet unique gameplay mechanics and overall simplistic design, it’s quite evocative of games that would have felt right at home on the Dreamcast or Gamecube. Rodea the Sky Soldier perfectly captures that feeling of nostalgia without mimicking the games that came before it like NiGHTS and Sonic Adventure. It’s something Nintendo could really learn a lesson from.

Rodea the Sky Soldier puts the player in control of the titular Rodea; a cyborg who battles evil by flying through the air and attacking it with a variety of guns and even a Sonic-style “Spin Dash.” Actually, comparing Rodea to NiGHTS and Sonic Adventure is quite apt; the game is quite like a combination of those two games and is where Yuji Naka’s influence can really be seen and felt. Players will guide Rodea through the wide world of Garuda as they try to thwart the evil plans for Emperor Geardo and restore peace to the land.

Rodea The Sky Soldier Insert 1Gameplay is interesting, albeit running quite counter to everything we’ve learned to expect from a game like this. Rather than controlling with standard plane controls, players aim a cursor to a piece of land in order to lock onto it and send Rodea in that direction. This also applies to enemies, much in the vein of Sonic Adventure. This can make things very frustrating, and lead to several moments where Rodea either flies straight into the side of a cliff for a minute, or off in some other direction as you were slightly off the centre of an enemy you were trying to aim at.

However, this is balanced by Rodea’s relatively slow pace, and while it doesn’t make for a more fast-paced, action-flying game like Star Fox it does help to give players a better sense of control over Rodea, creating a more technical, methodically fun game.

Rodea The Sky Soldier (Wii U) Review 2
Rodea The Sky Soldier (Wii U) Review

Much like The Wind Waker: HD, this is more than an “HD Remaster” of its Wii counterpart. While the graphics have been cleaned up, whole mechanics and level designs have changed slightly in order to better suit the WiiU controllers. One major alteration from the Wii version is the inclusion of a “flight meter” that limits Rodea’s ability to stay in the air indefinitely, something present in the original version. Also, abilities that were given to the player right from the get-go in the original have now been sectioned off to an upgrade system, giving players much more incentive to collect the various gems and medals scattered around each level.

Like I stated up top, what I love most about this game is how much it felt like I was playing a game from a bygone era. Its interesting yet minimalist design, its two main characters who are very similar to Sonic and Amy Rose without being annoying, a slower pace without sacrificing challenge; all this made me feel like I was 13 years-old again, playing Sonic Adventure 2: Battle on my Gamecube. Unlike a lot of mainstream Nintendo offerings which try to repackage old ideas in an attempt to capture that old familiar feeling, Rodea the Sky Soldier repackages that very feeling and sells it to us in a fresh new IP.

Rodea The Sky Soldier Insert 2Overall, Rodea the Sky Soldier is an interesting game and worth owning for anyone with a Wii or WiiU. While it may be a little clunky and rough around the edges, it remains a piece of gaming history as the final hurrah for Nintendo’s little system that could, and a strong reminder of gaming days gone by.

Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea (Vita) Review 8

Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea (Vita) Review

Publisher Koei Tecmo and developer GUST’s latest entry in the Atelier series, Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea strangely makes me long for the days when I used to work in a government office, because that is literally what you’ll be doing in this game (though there’s a lot more slaying of monsters, completing important errands, concocting and forging new materials in your workshop, and discovering ancient artifacts than you’d normally expect).

In Dusk Sea, players can choose to play as one of two young alchemists, Escha Malier or Logix “Logy” Fiscario, who are appointed to the City of Colseit’s R&D division to improve conditions within the city and the surrounding area following a cataclysmic event called “The Dusk”. The main story remains the same regardless of whether one picks Escha or Logy, and players will utilize both characters’ skills when working in their shared Atelier, but certain events, dialogues and the ending will differ according to the character chosen.

Atelier Escha &Amp; Logy Plus (Vita)_Story06Deliberately more light-hearted than its predecessor, Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk, Dusk Sea’s gameplay and story are centred strongly around Logy and Escha’s day-to-day duties as alchemists on the local government payroll. Amusingly, while there are certainly adventures to be had and monsters to be fought when the pair and their allies venture out to the surrounding lands on errands, the most constant and fearsome adversary players will be battling against is time itself. You see, each chapter of Dusk Sea takes place during a 121-day work term in the City of Colseit office, three taking place per year, and in each term players are assigned a main mission with several sub-missions that must be completed before the term ends. In addition, there will be several additional requests made to the office by local citizens as well as special assignments and odd-jobs that players can choose to undertake. As long as the main quest is completed before the end of term, players can go about tackling any job in almost any order that they like, except of course when one task is a prerequisite for another. But whether the job is crafting a brand new item in the atelier, gathering a key ingredient from a nearby forest, exploring an ancient ruin, or finding and defeating a new species of creature, all of these tasks take precious time, and before long, players will find themselves having to juggle multiple assignments and make tough decisions about which tasks should be prioritized or abandoned.

Atelier Escha &Amp; Logy Plus: Alchemists Of The Dusk Sea (Vita) Review 1
Atelier Escha &Amp; Logy Plus: Alchemists Of The Dusk Sea (Vita) Review

To complicate matters further, at the end of each month players are graded on every aspect of their performance, from how many secondary assignments they’ve already completed to how many items they’ve found, created, synthesized and analyzed. A high completion rate means a good grade, and a good grade means a larger monthly stipend. In short, that’s money that can go towards purchasing rare materials and books needed for alchemic study, which in turn will lead to better weapon, armour, and skill upgrades. But these too take precious time to create, so players must decide how to balance necessary research and development against exploration, combat, resource gathering, and mission completion—all gameplay elements that in most other RPGs normally serve only to complement each other (and not compete for the player’s attention). And just like in real life, if players let their final assignment for the term slip into the next, they’ll end that term in “overtime”, which means they’ll start the new term at a deficit of however many days they pushed the previous one back. Will that cause problems? You betcha! But if you’re a gamer that appreciates the challenges of demanding work, deadlines, and keeping multiple balls in the air, Dusk Sea will quickly become your jam.

The game balances the virtual job stress by keeping the story on a relatively even keel with very few dramatic peaks and valleys, a cast of likable, uncomplicated characters, and a tone which never strays too far into the dark. Gamers new to the Atelier franchise might find the game world itself somewhat claustrophobic, as both the City of Colseit and the explorable world around it confines the player to small, connected areas, but since the majority of the game is meant to be spent in combat with monsters, interacting with other characters, or working studiously in the atelier, players will soon come to appreciate this simplicity. Conversely, the alchemy mechanics in Dusk Sea are extremely dense and players will be subjected to many a tutorial before they can fully appreciate the magnitude of what they can create and how granular they can be when infusing their creations with magical properties. OCD min-maxers rejoice!   Striking a perfect middle-ground is the combat. It’s a bit of a slow burn at the beginning but it truly becomes enjoyable once players have a full party of six plus others in reserve, as its front-line/rear-line system allows for all sorts of interesting teamwork, such as having a character jump in from the rear line to absorb an attack in place of another party member, or daisy-chaining normal and special combo attacks from multiple characters on a powerful enemy.

Atelier Escha &Amp; Logy Plus (Vita)_Story01It’s no secret that the PS Vita is starved for substantial quality games right now, especially JRPGs, so this enhanced port of the PS3 version of Dusk Sea could not come at a better time. Its structured nature and digestible missions make it perfect for playing for short periods on the go, but its deep alchemy mechanics will keep players engrossed for hours when playing at home. If you’re looking for a little bit more 9-5 in your RPG, there’s no reason to not pick this up. Just don’t forget to show up at your real-life job now and again.

Capcom’s Year-End Sales Show Bright Future Ahead

Capcom has posted its yearly financial report and things are looking good thanks to strong consumer business and overseas digital downloads.

Capcom announced that its net sales increased to 57,060 million yen (up 19.3% from the same term last year) in the 9 months of fiscal year ending March 31, 2016. Operating income increased to 10,604 million yen (up 9.0 % from the same term last year), and ordinary income increased to 10,640 million yen (up 5.2%). Net income for the current period increased to 7,006 million yen, increasing by 7.1 %.

During the 9 months, ending on December 31

st

, 2015, Monster Hunter X was a major contributor to significant sales of more than 3 million units, surpassing the initially-planned 2.5 million units. In addition, sales of repeat titles and digital download contents were firm, particularly in overseas markets, in the Digital Contents business.

Capcom’s plan moving forward is to focus on sales of new titles including a forecasted two million units of Street Fighter V worldwide in 2016.

Capcom’s updated sales list includes:

  • Monster Hunter X (Cross) – 3,200,000 (NEW)
  • Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate – 200,000 (4,100,000 LTD)
  • Resident Evil 5 – 100,000 (7,000,000 LTD)
  • Resident Evil 6 – 100,000 (6,400,000 LTD)
  • Street Fighter IV – 100,000 (3,400,000 LTD)
  • Resident Evil Revelations 2 – 100,000 (1,600,000 LTD)
  • Resident Evil Revelations – 100,000 (1,500,000 LTD)
  • Resident Evil (HD Remastered) – 100,000 (1,200,000 LTD)


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