Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Women in games

Holy shit! I'm actually writing something here??? This year (2014) at E3 Nintendo pretty much won by default. They didn't do anything that impressive or announce anything that surprising, they just seemed to actually care about making games that looked fun while everyone else was trying to be as AAA as possible. That's not to say that there aren't a lot of non-Nintendo games I'm looking forward to, but Nintendo was the only one that actually seemed to take E3 as an opportunity to make their games look like things that would be fun to play.

Nintendo also won with female representation in their games but once again this was by default. While Nintendo had a bunch of games where you could play as Women, almost no one else had anything. Microsoft showed Tomb Raider and Sony showed a DLC for Infamous but that's really about it. Meanwhile Nintendo had a new character in Smash Bros (to add to the many that are already there), Bayonetta, more playable women in Hyrule Warriors than men, random characters in Xenoblade and random characters in that ink game. The thing is none of these are really great but the fact that it's SOMETHING is still better than the whole lot of nothing that everyone else was giving.

The thing is, I would argue this works out better for Nintendo right now because all the games that were shown that had women have the choice to NOT play women. They were all games that weren't centralized around a central character so they don't really risk alienating idiots, just bringing in more people. The other companies tended to show really plot driven, single player stuff and they can really only focus on the one character. In the game industry if given the option, they will usually go with a man. Why? Because gamers are awful.

For many gamers, they are trying to feel like they are the character they are playing. They are putting themselves in the characters shoes and therefore don't really want to be forced to do stuff they wouldn't do. Gamers get really mad at Mass Effect because in the end there was no option to do what they wanted. Making your only character a woman is like this but instead of not letting you just kill the Reapers, they're making you kiss a boy.

This is not what some gamers want at all. They want to go in the role of a strong dude that women love. They don't want to be a woman. Who says they want to be a woman? Are you calling them gay? Well maybe you're gay!

...Sorry, where was I? Some people play games to live through a fantasy world and no part of that involves playing some girl.

There are exceptions of course. Take a game like Tomb Raider. They get around it by just sexualizing the crap out of the character. They replace one fantasy with another. They sacrifice putting themselves in the game for watching the game jiggle. Even in the latest Tomb Raider, while they tried to improve things in many ways, the game was still full of really male gazey camera angles and alot of comments I heard about the game talked about "protecting" Lara rather than playing as her. People still found the way to be the big strong man in the game where they played a woman. Lara is also pretty sexless. Like sure she has massive breasts and wears ridiculous outfits, but she never really shows interest in the opposite sex (they even changed a scene from the original when they remade it). They make it so there's no one in the game to get between the player and Lara.

Then there's games like Saint's Row which in many ways seem pretty progressive (no one cares if you get a sex change!) but they're really just an example of women as an optional character. It's fine to have women if you have the option to NOT be a woman. That way you can put that aspect in the game and people that have a problem with it can just ignore it. While some things come off as really progressive with the boss in Saint's Row, alot of it is just them being kind of lazy because it's much harder to write new dialogue. In it you still can't have a male love interest and hell you still pimp and get lap dances from only women no matter what gender you play.

Male is just the default in the industry because they know women will put up with playing men, but some men won't put up with playing women. I mean even in shitty mobile games you'll start with a dude and if you want to play a girl, you have to earn some currency first.

The thing is I don't think the percentage of gamers that care is actually that large but it's enough that they're still catered to. Today someone from Ubisoft said making a female character would take way more time and there's either two things he meant. He either meant it would take more time because there are certain plot things they'd have to work around because they need to keep in mind their audience or they meant it would take more time because they could only really put it in as an option rather than the sole character. Either way they're doing this because they think their audience is made up of pretty horrible people.

[side note: or he could have meant that it would take more time to animate all the pretty dresses said character would wear and if that's the case, that just makes me want a female protagonist more]

Really though the obvious elephant in the room is still just misogyny in gamers. The fact that people care about this is just sort of ridiculous and the fact that the industry caters to these people is even more ridiculous. It's hard to know what to do about it though. You could buy games with female protagonists but I mean the whole problem is that those are few and far between and sometimes those games are just bad anyways (oh Remember Me...). Even if you buy these games it's hard to really know if you're message is getting through. Talking with your wallet is hard because it never really sends a clear message as to why you did it). Still, short of actually getting into the industry and getting trusted with money to do with what you want, it's all we really got.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cool Dog (film)

The following will contain spoilers for the movie Cool Dog. If you think you might want to experience the Coolness of this Dog for yourself, you have been warned. Also, for those that are reading this and have not seen Cool Dog (ie most of you), I swear I am not making any of this up.

Before getting into this dog and his coolness, I want you to picture this movie in your head. Right now, just stop and imagine what a movie called Cool Dog would consist of. Have you done it? Good. That movie you just pictured is probably better than this movie. No matter how many wacky and/or extreme activities that dogs normally don't do that the dog in the movie in your head was doing, this movie probably has you beat by a good dozen activities. The other advantage your imaginary movie has is that it's a movie, which is a title I am a bit reluctant to bestow onto Cool Dog.

For all intents and purposes Cool Dog follows the formal structure of a movie but that's about it. The plot is about as straight forward as it gets: Boy (names Jimmy) loves dog (named Rainy). Boy is forced to move from small town to big city where he can't bring dog. This is because landlord hates dogs (*gasp*) and also hates kids (*doublegasp*). Dog manages to find way to city and reunites with boy and together they foil the landlord who is selling animals illegally or something. I’m leaving a lot out but nothing you couldn’t guess. This is all pretty standard kid's movie fair (even the animal selling part really). However, it all has this bizarre feeling of a movie that was made by some sort of alien that had the concept of what a film is like described to him and then tried to recreate it. Calling this movie bad would be entirely inaccurate. It’s kind of in a category of it’s own. The whole thing is just bizarre.

It's hard to articulate exactly what is off, but I will try. It goes without saying that this, being a movie about a cool dog, features said dog driving many a vehicle. To get to New York Rainy drives a train and a boat. Later in the movie he steals a car and drives it around while everyone applauds. This turns out to be a dream that Jimmy is having. What is off about this is:

Rainy driving a boat and a train= perfectly reasonable things within this films universe.

Rainy driving a car=a wacky thing that would only happen in a dream.

I guess I'm saying that one is a dream for no apparent reason. Nothing happened in the dream sequence that topped anything that had already happened in the movie. There’s no logic behind making "dog driving car" something that happens in a dream. There's no reason for the dream sequence at all. It's just thrown in there for no apparent reason. The whole script is like this. It’s just a series of things happening with no logic or structure.

Also, while I’m on the topic of dogs operating vehicles, it is mentioned that Rainy can ride a skateboard, but it is never shown. It’s like they thought that it wouldn’t be a legit cool dog movie if the dog didn’t skateboard, but they couldn’t train the dog to skateboard nor could they accomplish it with their awful effects (which are used to make Rainy play the piano and at one point (I’m not making this up) to make him cry). So they figured it would be enough to just mention the dog could skateboard, and leave it at that. I probably find this funnier than I should.

Another example of the films oddness is the opening, in which Rainy walks down the street of a small town. He does his standard routine of things a non-cool dog wouldn't do including ringing the town bell (making multiple realize that there clocks were off), delivering mail for a mailman (who for some reason unwilling to walk the two feet from the curb to the door) and winking at a hat wearing poodle while bad 50s style music plays. This is how most of the film plays out, in montages of Rainy just sorta doing “Cool Dog” stuff. There are two scenes where he has to escape something (a zoo where his owners chose to leave him behind for some reason and a dog catcher) and these sequences are nothing more than “threat walks in one direction and then something bad happens to them”. It’s almost like they’re just on a conveyer where occasionally they stop and a dog drops something on them. This is limited to chase sequences though. Just about every scene with Rainy is just a montage of Rainy doing “cool” things. There’s a scene where he jumps a train and meets some hobos. He then plays checkers, plays the harmonica and the banjo and the scene wraps up with him driving the train. It’s just stuff that’s there for the sake of being there. It’s a movie that believes that showing dogs doing things that dogs shouldn’t be able to do is all that’s required of it. It’s a lolcat (dog?) in movie form. Still, what did I expect?

Going back to the opening, throughout it, people come up to Rainy and pet him really enthusiastically, like he is the best dog in the whole wide world. When they are not petting him they are remarking to themselves and others about what an awesome dog Rainy is. This leads me to one of my favorite things about the movie: this is the closest I've seen to anything taking Homer Simpson's advice regarding Poochie.

Let me explain: in one episode of The Simpsons, Homer is hired to voice a cartoon dog names Poochie. This character is not popular and Homer comes up with some ideas how to improve the character. One of his suggestions is that every time Poochie isn't on screen the other characters should ask "where's Poochie?" Now this movie doesn't actually do that but it comes close. I swear whenever this movie doesn't consist of the Dog doing something "cool", it consists of characters talking about how cool the dog is. Every background character in the entire movie only exists to talk about just how cool this Dog is. If they aren't talking about how cool the dog is, then they're probably a villain. One of my favorite examples of this comes when an old woman (whom Rainy had saved from a purse snatcher) brings Rainy to Jimmy's new apartment building (Jimmy had put the address in Rainy's collar so he can find him, which would be silly but I'm pretty sure Cool Dogs can read). Outside there is a random child who magically knows that the owners of the building don't like dogs and, he remarks, “Probably not even a dog as cool as this one”. Now this child has not seen Rainy do anything cool but he just knows that he is a cool dog and he just has to say it. It is like this movie is insecure about just how cool its dog actually is, so just in case the dog’s coolness isn’t apparent, all characters must remind the audience that the dog is cool at all times.

This goes doubly so for Jimmy. Oh god how I hate Jimmy. He is the main character so we have to spend a lot of time with hem and 90% of his dialogue consists of talking about how awesome Rainy is, how much he loves Rainy and how much he misses Rainy. He literally loves Rainy more than anyone else, including his parents. This is proven early in the movie when he is saying grace and thanks God for all those that he loves but especially Rainy. Come on kid. You’re parents are sitting right there! This might explain why his Step Mom (wouldn’t be a kid’s movie without a dead mom) seems to just have zero patience about the whole dog issue in the movie. The movie tries half-heartedly to make her a villain (it just kind of stops at one point though) because she just doesn’t seem to care about the dog but really if your stepchild openly talked about how much more he loved the dog than you, you’d grow some contempt too.

The Step Mother is probably the most reasonable character in the film. The Movie tries to show her as being mean when she’s just acting like a reasonable human being. For example, all the way to New York Jimmy is moping and whining about the dog. When they get to apartment they find it doesn’t have an elevator to which Jimmy says something to the effect “Well looks like we’ll have to find a new apartment, maybe one that allows dogs”. The Step Mother then snaps at him and tells him to just drop it because they aren’t giving up a free apartment for a dog. It’s pretty clear that we are supposed to not approve of the Step Mother’s tone here, but I couldn’t help but agree. Seriously, shut up about the dog Jimmy. She certainly doesn’t have a strong husband to back her up. The father just kind of sits there not wanting to do anything that will disappoint his son. Hell, he doesn’t tell Jimmy that they’re moving until the week that it’s happening because of how hard it’ll be for him.

In general, I just liked the villains more than anyone else. Sure they’re just cartoon cut outs but they are played so over the top, I couldn’t help but smile every time they were on screen. How can you not like a big fat woman with a thick Brooklyn accent who’s eating a big sloppy sandwich while telling her new tenants how much she hates children? Her husband is also played as the over the top as the meek, scrawny nerdy guy who does what his wife tells him. Sure it’s a horrible cliché but in this movie, you take what you can get.

I also love how senseless their evil scheme is. They’re selling animals illegally, but the movie did not have the budget to actually get many exotic animals. I couldn’t help but laugh when a goat is let out of a cage and the villain yells how it’s worth thousands of dollars. Really, I don’t even understand why they’re selling animals in a shady way at all. Why are people willing to pay such top dollar for them? Why are they doing this if they hate animals? What kind of child knows instantly that selling animals without the proper permits is illegal? I know I’m probably expecting too much coherence out of a movie like this but sometimes it gets hard to ignore. Still, I’m trying not to nit-pick to much. There are just much bigger things to talk about.

On that note, I cannot finish this review up without talking about the ending. It’s sort of incredible. So Jimmy gets kidnapped by the villains and Cool Dog leads the police to his rescue. The police arrive, save Jimmy, the villains try to get Jimmy to pretend like this is all a misunderstanding and then they are taken away. All pretty standard stuff. Then it is revealed that Rainy appears to be dead at the bottom of a long drop. This happened off screen. Last time we saw Rainy, he was attacking one of the villains. Now he is somehow dead. So they go to check on him and a paramedic confirms that Rainy is in fact dead. Jimmy then prays to God for Rainy to be okay and then asks his dad why God would take Rainy away. Then, Rainy magically comes back to life and catches the one villain that almost got away. Then he gets the key to the city.

Okay, let’s somehow ignore what a travesty of storytelling this is and focus on the important thing: Rainy is Jesus Christ. This is a Christian film. It’s subtle and not that in your face about it with a grace here and a prayer there but it is definitely present. The film is just more open about characters praying and talking about God than you would normally see in a children’s movie. Taking this into consideration, I will not sit idly by and pretend that the filmmakers had no idea what they were doing when they had it’s main character come back from the dead. It all fits too. The movie opens on Mardi Gras. That night it is revealed that Rainy will have to be left behind. He is then left on his own where he travels the land performing miracles and is forced to overcome many trials. He then gets caught up in trouble revolving around the faults of the humans around him and in solving them he dies and it resurrected. Throughout the movie character can’t help but spreading the word about how cool this dog is and in the end he is granted a key that will let him go where ever he works. It all works man!

Or maybe not. I watched a movie called Cool Dog. What the hell do you want from me? Is this a good film? No. Is this and amusingly bad film? No. Is that dog cool? Cool enough I guess.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Catechism Cataclysm (film)

Some movies leave you speechless. Sometimes this happens because a movie it so good that you feel that your words would taint the feeling the film has left you with. At much more rare times you are simply left speechless because you’re not exactly sure what you just watched. The Catechism Cataclysm is the latter. I am honestly still processing what this movie means or if it means anything at all and I will be for some time.

The movie opens with a Priest names Father Billy (played by Steve Little). Billy is a bad priest. I don’t mean bad as in evil, I mean bad as in incompetent. He tells his bible studies group wacky stories he heard on the internet rather than actually discussing the bible, he uses the church computers to watch Youtube and he generally doesn’t seem to actually be into this whole “God” thing. To get rid of Billy, the head of his parish suggests he go on a vacation. Billy contacts a man named Robbie Shoemaker (played by Robert Longstreet) who used to date his sister. When Billy was a teenager he idolized Robbie and hopes to go on a canoe trip with him. Robbie seems to be barely able to stand Billy but agrees to go on the canoe trip anyways. They go down the river and they talk, they get lost and then things get weird in ways I won’t spoil here.

The Catechism Cataclysm is a comedy at it’s heart but I didn’t really find it to be all that funny. I was amused by plenty of it but very little of it actually made my laugh out loud. I will admit that this movie just isn’t really my type of sense of humor. Most of the comedy comes from just how irritating Billy is and how Robbie reacts to him. The problem is that I ended up just being irritated by Billy far more than I was amused. There are also some moments that just kind of fall flat. Early on Billy and Robbie are at a diner and Billy orders far too much crappy diner food, and that’s it. That’s the joke, or at least I think that was supposed to be a joke. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to laugh and it was just a pointless little moment. I just don’t know. There’s also some toilet humor in there but it’s so brief that I can just let that slide. Still, and this might sound kind of bad, but, in the end the comedy not entirely working for me might have helped me like the movie more. When the movie gets surreal and strange, the tonal shift wasn’t as bad as it might have been.

Still, despite the broad comedy, it’s two leads are quite believable. Billy might be irritating but I believed that he seemed real enough. While he can be pretty over the top sometimes, he’s never a caricature. The movie pretty well establishes why he is the way he is. The writing for Robbie somehow makes sense as to why he’d go on a canoe trip with someone he clearly can’t stand. In many films getting the two in canoe would be a convoluted affair but here I never questioned it. In general Robbie is well written as what is essentially the straight man of the picture and he too has some depth to him. The actors themselves also help a great deal in selling the characters and the movie as a whole.

I’m still not sure what they were selling though. This movie has so many things going on in it’s plot that I’m not quite sure where to start in regards to what it all means, but maybe that’s the point. There are some things that are clear to me. Billy’s relationship with Robbie is basically his relationship with God. Robbie essentially influenced every part of who Billy currently is. There is clear meaning in how little Robbie is actually aware of this fact and how little he actually even cares about Billy. There are all these things that Billy believes about Robbie that just aren’t true. Some have some truth to them and some are complete misunderstandings on Billy’s part. The idea of a movie like this is that the wayward priest would find out the truth to his relationship to God, and on the river everything is set up for Billy to learn some sort of truth. However, Part of the thing that confounds me about this film is I’m not sure what Billy actually learns. The trip changes him but not in a way that actually makes sense. There is so much here that I feel like there’s something I must be missing. The films direction doesn’t help. It’s not bad or anything but it’s just kind of there. Even when the movie gets weird, the director doesn’t really pull any tricks. The music is predominantly metal (with a notable exception towards the end) but I’m not even sure if that choice has meaning beyond the fact that Billy likes Metal. There is satanic imagery everywhere (including on Robbie’s shirt) but I’m not sure how or to what capacity Satan comes in here. While this movie suggests an almost uncaring God, other parts make it clear that God will fuck you up. There is a God present in this film but where he is remains a mystery.

However this all might be the point. There are two places in the film where Robbie tells a story. Both stories end abruptly leaving their audiences aggravated. After one Billy suggests that the story have a happy ending involving an amazing boner. Robbie replies, “This isn’t an amazing boner story”. Looking for God is not going to yield a clear and amusing little ending. That is not the way it works. While some other-worldly stuff happens here, none of it answers a thing and really every bizarre event raises even more questions. The last shot alone raises so many questions that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. This is the very nature of looking for answers about God and maybe that’s what the film is trying to say. Or maybe it’s just a strange little comedy that goes off the rails at one point. I don’t know. I will never know. Just like at the end of the film Billy still is struggling to understand Robbie’s story, after the film I still am not sure what just happened. There’s even scene that indicates that this might have been the intended response.

So, do I recommend this movie? I guess so. It’s strange enough that I think it’s worth a shot. You might see it and think I’m just crazy. Maybe it will all click together for you better then it did for me. Either way, for better or worse, you’ll remember it.

Ip Man (film)

Synopsis: Ip Man is a semi-autobiographical look at Ip Man, the grand master of the Wing Chun kung fu style, and his life under the Japanese occupation of China.

Ip Man is somewhere between a good film and a great film, depending on how deeply your willing to read into it. It seems propagandistic, even for a film coming out of China these days, but I think that might be part of the point.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. On the most basic level, Ip Man, is a fun movie. The kung fu might be some of the best I've ever seen. Donnie Yen (who plays Ip Man) does things that I just simply haven't really seen in a Kung Fu film. His movement is truly a sight to behold. His moves are so elegant, yet so fast and brutal. If you look at kung fu movies like the dances they really are, this is some spectacular choreography mixed with moment that almost doesn't seem human .

It is also well shot. The first part of the story is bright and beautiful with varied settings in a city that really seems alive. When things go to hell, the atmosphere feels very genuine of a war torn city and the visuals take a beautiful and darker turn. It really does a good job of creating two setting that are the same but also very different. Even the fights change. In the first half the fights are all in good fun and the violence seems bright and consequence free. Later the violence seems very real and fighting actually results in blood, broken limbs and death.

The acting gets the job done I suppose but I didn't really notice it. It never seems bad or anything but it wasn't elevating the material or anything. On that note, the writing is nothing special either. The dialogue mostly serves to push the plot forward and not much else. Once again it's not bad and it exceeds the low standard I have for writing in Kung Fu movies, but it really just takes a back seat to the fighting. I should note I don't really have a problem with that.

The story itself is pretty standard, but not entirely standard for the genre. In my Rango review I talked about how most modern westerns tend to be about the death of the western. This movie is kind of about the death of the Kung Fu movie. The movie starts out very standard for the genre. There are a bunch of Kung Fu schools and there are people challenging others to prove that their kung fu is better. That is literally all the first part of the film really is. Then war breaks out and China is occupied. Kung Fu is no longer important, and in fact it seems silly in this new world. This isn't to say the movie isn't still very much a Kung Fu movie after the change (the plot still involves fighting to the usual convoluted degree) but it shows the transition from a world where kung fu is everything, to one where it's antiquated and frivolous.

In the movie kung fu isn't just kung fu, it is the traditional Chinese way of life and it is being crushed. More specifically it's being crushed by the Japanese. On the surface it seems like pure propaganda. This really isn't even that unusual for the genre. Most movies can't even get made in China if they are seen as being subversive in any way. As a result of this propaganda in kung fu movies isn't that unusual. For example, while Hero is one of my favorite kung fu movies but the message of the film is pretty much "totalitarianism is good". Going back to Ip Man, the Japanese are portrayed as cartoonishly evil. The main villain seems straight out of a fighting game and his main subordinate looks like a caricature straight out of World War II propaganda. The Chinese for the most part are good and pure and are only evil when they work with the Japanese or work against their fellow countrymen. It honestly gets a little grating and the directness of the writing doesn't help. This is a film where characters seem to directly state the point to the audience. I pretty much took it all as pure propaganda for most of the movie and barely tolerated it. The movie was well made but it was getting a little to heavy handed in many places. My view changed when this was said by Ip Man towards the end (bear with me here because this is where I get weird):

Although martial arts involve armed forces, Chinese Martial arts is Confucius in spirit. The virtue of Martial Arts is benevolence. You Japanese will never understand the principle of treating others as you would yourself because you abuse military power. You turn it into violence and oppress others. You don't deserve to learn Chinese Martial arts."

Is it just me, or could you replace "Japanese" with "People's republic of China" pretty easily in that quote. Are you honestly going to tell me that someone could be so unself-aware that they would put this in without realizing how well it applies to the current state of their own country? I have a really hard time buying that. In this movie the Japanese represent the People's republic of China. It's the perfect crime. Who would use the Japanese of all people to represent the Chinese? What government censor would see this and suspect it? It just works so well and makes so much more sense than what the movie presents to us.

I mean, while the Japanese occupation was horrible, it did not lead to the death of the traditional Chinese culture. This is not what this movie tells you. In this film traditional Chinese culture is thriving and then the antagonist comes and crushes it. Historically the group that would fit that description would probably be the People's Republic.

It just all works so well. Take the main villain. The main villain is a man who claims to respect the Chinese and their culture but represses them and tries to just use that culture to further his own agenda. The sub-villain doesn't even pretend to care about these things and thinks fear tactics will do just fine. The factories in the film are allowed to thrive but are left unprotected by the powers from foreigners that want to exploit the workers. There is constant pressure on one character to inform on his fellow country men. There is a character who dies that could have been easily spared if he just stayed down and shut up but after his refusal and example is made of him. It all just fits so perfectly. Not a scene in the film I can think of goes against this reading.

There's no way I can ever confirm if it was deliberate but part of me refuses to believe I'm not right. This is one of the most subversive films to come out of Japan in a long time and the brilliance of it is that it's disguised as a propaganda film about a beloved Chinese martial artist. It's just too perfect and I'd much rather live in the world where I'm right about this.

7/10 if you don't buy my interpretation.
9.5/10 if you do.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sonic Colors (game) (wii)

Note: My video game review are going to be structured differently then my movie reviews. I'm going the more traditional route and breaking it up into categories, if only because I do feel video games can be defined on more basic terms. I'm not saying that I won't be looking for depth it's just that I think games can be enjoyed on more simple levels

I also will use this space to say that I will never review a game I haven't beaten.


It has been so long since there was an actual good console Sonic game that I was beginning to think that it would never happen. As soon as Sonic stepped into 3D and tried to have "plot" it went downhill fast. The Dreamcast games were standable for their time, but became dated quickly. Every game that followed basically took all that was wrong with the Dreamcast games and went with it, somehow making those things worse. Unleashed was a step in the right direction but it might have been one of the most painful experiences I've ever had attempting to beat a game. So I had given up hope...then out of no where comes a Wii game with a name that's hard to take seriously and I am 10 years old again. I never thought this day would come but finally, a Sonic game that feels like a logical progression of the series.

One of the biggest mistakes Sonic games have made is how they've handled the story. There's nothing wrong with trying to give a plotless game a real story but the series has had such a an awful combination of anime nonsense, flat characters, fan service, furry subtext and just plain painful writing that it made every game a painful ordeal to sit through if you didn't skip the plot (which unfortunately just isn't an option for me).

The plot in Sonic Colors isn't great but it's what it should be. It's a silly little nothing. Eggman has an evil plan. You are trying to stop it. There are aliens and a theme park involved. You won't care what's going on, but that's okay because the game take it all very lightly. The plot never get's convoluted or strange or serious nor does it get in the way. It's all just there to move the game forward, which is fine.

The dialogue is actually above average, which is actually pretty surprising. All the characters just come across as downright likable. Sure they're all still pretty one-dimensional, but I actually don't want that much more from a Sonic game. While some of it falls flat, there are some okay jokes in the mix and this is the first Sonic game with an attempt at a plot where I didn't end up hating all the character. Yes this is weak praise but really this is the best plot a Sonic game has ever had.

The gameplay in Sonic Colors is truly good. It is the best it has been since Sonic and Knuckles. I like the portable ones but they were their own style of game. This feels like a classic Sonic game. Not just that, it feels like a truly modern take on the classic Sonic gameplay. One of the false ideas most Sonic games have is that the series is only about speed. This has never actually been true. Sure speed has always been a major factor but so has platforming. Even in the early levels of the first Sonic game there were moments where you had to wait and bide your time. Sonic Colors is the first Sonic game in years to remember this.

Sure there's still speed (in fact there is lots of it) but there also moments of clever platforming that require you to be careful and think about what your doing. Many of these sections introduce ideas I hadn't really seen done before. For example there's an elevator segment where there are three buttons on the floor that cause it to rise. You have to basically navigate a maze of lasers switching from button to button to find the best route up. Is it fast? No, but it was interesting and showed some creativity.

These platforming sections are mainly in 2D. The 3D segments tend to be the fast ones. Sonic has had trouble with autorunning sections because you're just going so fast that it's hard to control. Sonic Colors solves this by making it more limited. When you're running fast you pretty much just move between preset lanes. It might sound constricting but it works so well and the other version of it were so bad that it's hard to complain. In the end it's not that much different then how it normally is anyways. There are still a few sections where you have complete control while free running, but these actually control pretty badly. However, for better or worse, these sections tend to not really have any consequences for doing them badly, so it doesn't matter.

It's odd that after Sonic failed in 3D so many times they finally get it right...by essentially making a 2D Sonic game. The section never have you controlling more than two plains. Sometimes the game looks 3D but it's an illusion. I don't have a problem with this, but it's funny that, as good good as this game is, they still haven't figured out this whole "making a 3D Sonic game" thing.

The level design and themes in general are kind of awesome and there seems to be a real sense of joy going on in them. I mean one level is a combination missile silo/cake factory. Another is a rollercoaster in an asteroid belt. There's just such purely fun ideas going on. I couldn't help but smile when I did something like run full speed over a collapsing bridge, right into a spring that launched me onto an already moving roller-coaster which then lead me to an asteroid field which I then navigated by bouncing from asteroid to asteroid until I found solid ground. How can anyone not just feel a little bit of joy at that?

The bosses are a mixed bag. On the one hand, they're all pretty fun, on the other, except for the boss of the game, they all repeat once. There is essentially three bosses in the game that later you fight a harder version of. It could be worse but it's hard to deny how lazy it is. I will say that the boss of the game is pretty awesome though.

There are also a bunch of abilities that Sonic can get and, for the most part, they're all fun to use. These abilities all turn you into an unstoppable force of some sort, ranging from a simple drill to a beast that devours all in it's path. There's even one which is Sonic at it's purest, which turns you into an ultra fast, wall clinging ball of death. They're not all winners (the rocket one, blah), but none are really that bad either.

The abilities are activated by shaking the Wii remote and thankfully that's the only Wii specific thing you have to do in the game. The game controls pretty well overall. Unlike previous Sonic games, deaths felt like they were my own fault most of the time. In general there was not much BS going on (aside from one part in a very late level). The controls were tight and thankfully can be used just as easily without a wii remote.

Graphics and Sound
This is a very pretty game, especially for the wii. Honestly, this was one of the rare times in playing a Wii game where the graphics didn't feel like a majot downgrade from whatever I was also playing on my PS3. It's all bright and colorful with some extremely creative and awesome things going on. There's one level in particular where you're racing across a light bridge through a giant battle armada which is just jaw dropping. The cut scenes are nice, but are honestly not as interesting as the levels.

As with all Sonic Games (except 4) the music is fantastic. I still really hate the cheesy rock anthems but as long as the song doesn't have lyrics, it is assured to be good. The voice acting isn't great, but it gets the job done and didn't get on my nerves. I will say that this is the best Tails has ever been voiced.

As I've mentioned, Sonic Colors is the Sonic game I've been waiting years for. It's not perfect but the things it does wrong are far outweighed by the things it does right. Maybe my standards have just been set to low after years of disappointment but I did find this to be a truly good game. If you used to like Sonic, you should give this one a try. It won't win over anyone that never even liked the originals, but it's the closest this series has come to greatness since the 16 bit days.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Rango (film)

Since this is my first review here I'll mention that for plot synopsis I'm just going to copy paste it from somewhere else (probably imdb). Plot synopsis just mess with the flow of how I like to write so I'm just gonna keep them separate. I don't think explaining the movies setup really adds that much , but I feel that some people kind of expect it, so here:

Synopsis: Rango is an ordinary chameleon who accidentally winds up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost in the Wild West that is facing a water crisis and is in desperate need of a new sheriff.

Rango just kinda came out of nowhere and blew me away. When I first saw the trailer for it before True Grit, it looked like a typical animated movie set in a western setting starring Johnny Depp playing Johnny Depp in lizard form. It had potential but I say that for most trailers. If you were to tell me that I would wind up liking it considerably more than True Grit, I would have laughed in your face but here we are.

On a simple level I'll compare Rango to another animated film that surprised me: Kung Fu Panda. What made that movie so great was it was a celebration of Kung Fu movies. You could really feel the love from the creators of the film towards the genre. Sure the plot was basic but it didn't matter. Every other element was so solid that is was hard to care. Rango is like that but for westerns instead of kung fu movies. The thing is, I don't love westerns a like I like Kung Fu Movies, yet I think I enjoyed Rango more. Why is that?

Well, Kung Fu Panda, despite all it's awesomeness, was still a kids movie at it's core. As devoted as it was to kung fu movies, it still could not really pass for one. On the other hand Rango could pass as a western surprisingly well. Frankly, This is barely a kid's movie. It might wear the skin of one, but at it's core, it's a western. There is a rarely a moment where it feels like it's holding back. Now to be fair, this wasn't true for Kung Fu Panda either, but during that I never felt it was fulfilling the full potential of it's genre. Rango kind of does. It is a western with animals instead of people. Maybe because I'm not as familiar with westerns I don't see how it gets it wrong, but as far as I can tell, it seems pretty genuine.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a blood bath or anything but characters do die, which just doesn't seem to happen in kid's movies anymore. Sure alot of kid's movies have the threat of death but it's always kind of abstract. It's something that propels the plot but no one takes seriously. In this you actually see a dead body. Hell the movie opens with it's version of a Greek chorus (mariachi owls) telling the audience the main character is going to die. This adds something that most kid's movies seem to lack: an actual sense of danger. While it's unlikely a beloved character will die, it might happen. It's not a sure thing like in most movies aimed at kids. The villains are also pretty intimidating. Rattlesnake Jake in particular is quite frankly terrifying in every shot he's in, with his unreal movements and eyes that look straight from Sauron.

This movie also has some of the ugliest characters you'll ever see in an animated film and I mean that in a good way. This is a hard bitten, though as nails western town. The characters look like they belong here. There fur looks matted, they have teeth missing, they're dusty and generally they're just plain ugly. They also don't really have any of the typical cartoon exaggeration. Their eyes all seem to be the size they would be in nature. There are still some cute character, but they're cute in the way the actual animal would be cute.

This is not to say the movie is ugly. Honestly this might be one of the best look animated films I've ever seen. There are shots of staggering beauty in this film. The beauty ranges from simple desert landscapes to elaborate and trippy dreams. It all looks so real too. Rango doesn't really try for cartoon exaggeration. This is true with the characters and the world the inhabit. While you can tell things are animated, nothing is really rendered in a way to accentuate this. It's funny that this movie shows the kind of realism mocap always hopes to get without resorting to it (as far as I know). The camera work is also quite nice. Most of the time it sticks to western staples: extreme close ups or wide shots. However, because it's a cartoon it occasionally does the impossible. There is on shot where it goes through the tip of a rolling bottle and out the other side. The movie also has the most amazing water. I suggest you see this movie thirsty. It will actually enhance the movie. The water will look like mana from the Gods.

That leads me into the plot, which is the weakest part. This isn't to say that it's bad but it's not anything that hasn't been done before. Also while the humor is good, it falls flat a little more than it probably should. This can be attributed to the jokes being aimed at kids. It's the only way I can see that the movie tries to appeal to kids at all and it just doesn't always work. Still, when a joke falls flat it is not lingered on you're quickly move along. Also, I'm not saying they ALL fall flat. In fact most work. There are some really hilarious moments.

That being said it does handle it's plot about as well as it possible can. This is mainly due to the characters being well written. Even characters with one line seem like they have some real depth actual them. The cast is made up of various westerns stereotypes, but thanks to the writing they don't usually play out like stereotypes. Not all characters are equally well developed mind you but even the most minor character doesn't come off as flat. Sure characters have their quirks but they aren't defined by them. They just seem kind of genuine (even with some of the more wacky ones). The plot is helped by this because as typical as it can be all the action seems to be driven logically by the characters action. There are moments that most movies try and pull off so badly and this movie seems to do effortlessly. One example of this is the reveal towards the end. Every movie where the main character is living some sort of lie needs to have that reveal of where everyone find out who he truly is. In most films this is feels forced as do the consequences. Not here. The romance plot, which is almost always badly handled in kid's movies, also feels genuine and flow from the characters.

The voice work is also solid. Johnny Depp does a great job. Sometimes it's easy to forget how talented he is when he has some sort of direction other than "be Johnny Depp".He doesn't need carry the move though. Everyone does a great job. Isla Fisher is especially good as beans. In general the film is greatly enriched by some truly rich performances by the likes of Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Ray Winstone and others. Really every one is quite good.

In general what makes this movie so odd in the realm of kid's movies though is that it essentially a series of references to movies that no one in it's target it audience will understand. Really it's almost like a Tarantino movie in that it's like a well put together series of homages that form a coherent story. Some of them are obvious but other are less so. Rango is not the main characters real name. His real name is never given. He remains a lizard with no name the entire movie if you see what I'm getting at. Hell, Rango's design is a reference to the famous poster for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

There are also deeper themes running under the film. Like most modern westerns this is a film about the death of the west and the coming of the modern age. It's a film about identity and what it means (it's no coincidence that Rango is a chameleon). There are themes of the romantic myth going against the reality (and not just in the obvious way) and there are themes of faith and the heartbreak that it can lead to. If you dig there is plenty you can find in here to keep you thinking.

So if you like westerns check out Rango. If you like animation, check out Rango. If you good characters, check out Rango. Hell if you like good movies, check out Rango. I honestly can't think of anything about it that's actually bad. I know it's early in the year, but I don't expect a better animated film this year.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

What this is...

Hello all, this is like my third attempt of getting a serious review blog going. I really like reviewing stuff, but it takes alot of effort and I am laaaaaazy. Hopefully this will go better.

In previous attempts at doing this I have done only movies. With this blog I'm going to review games as well. With neither don't expect any new released. You might get them from time to time but mostly this will be the games I've finally gotten around to or movies from my Netflix instant.

I really want any comments you'd be willing to give. I'm always looking to improve my writings and try and be as good as I can possibly be. Also if I actually manage to get this running (and only if I manage to get this running) spread the word. Hopefully you'll find my writings worth reading.