Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming: Sonic the Fighters

Availability: This game was originally released in arcades in May 1996. I am unsure of how wide of a release it had internationally but in America it was very limited. A Sega Saturn version was intended but later scrapped. It wouldn't see a home release until 2005 when it was included on the Sonic Gems Collection released for Playstation 2 and Gamecube. Lastly this game became available on it's own on PSN and XBLA on 11/27/12, and the only reason I know that is because when I logged on to my PSN account to check on the new releases the surprise of the day one release came up on my radar.

Version I Played: PSN download.

Review: I have been waiting to get my hands on this one for a long time. The first time I experienced anything related to this game was in the Sega Saturn fighting game, Fighters Megamix, my favorite fighting game of all time and would buy a Saturn again to get that game alone. Among the many characters that were included it included a couple of the characters featured in Sonic the Fighters. Only partially to my surprise they were secondary characters, not anyone like Sonic, Tails, etc. FM also included a couple of stages from the game. Safe to say my experience with the game and it's elements were very limited. All I knew was essentially a demos worth of material and whatever I could find online. It wasn't until I played the full game on the Sonic Gems Collection at a friend's house that I would see what the rest of it was like. It has been years since I've touched that one, and I would tend to play Sonic R when I went over to his place anyhow because I had a personal attachment to that title.
I have been interested in spending more time on Sonic the Fighters for quite some time now. Part of it is in the novelty because it was unavailable for many years due to a cancelled Sega Saturn release. Also the Sonic Gems Collection is pretty limited and hard to find as well. I was just lucky a buddy of mine had it. So when I found it popping up on the PSN for a reasonable price of $5 I was all over that. On a side note I must say that the PSN has been treating me very well as of late. First there was Tokyo Jungle, then Nights into Dreams came up along with another Sega Saturn classic Daytona USA, now there's this previously unavailable Sonic title (for the most part) as well as a couple more Saturn titles!
Well while I was excited I knew not to keep my excitement too high. I remember this one having a lot of problems. I'm a big fan of being part of the history of a subject or franchise I am fond of. So I am willing to participate in most or all of the installments. However I am also realistic and not a super hardcore fanboy about things. I am able to recognize when something is crap. I have been a Sonic fan for an eternity. I am willing to recognize the horrible track it has been going down for the last few years, though. The 2006 Sonic "next gen" game was garbage but was too stubborn to admit at the time. Lots of the Wii titles have been terrible (Although I have heard Sonic Colors is pretty awesome). Essentially there hasn't been a super high quality, legitimate Sonic game since the first Sonic Adventure on Dreamcast.
That brings me to Sonic the Fighters. Excitement high, expectations low. I feel I should sandwich this title by complimenting it first, tear the piss out of it in the middle, and then finish off with something nice. It's my way of criticizing it as it rightly deserves, but I don't want the gaming companies to stop releasing these hard to grab titles.
So, the good. The fact that a Sonic fighting game exists I think is pretty cool. Something about these cute and cuddly characters beating the crap out of each other is really exciting! You could also finally play as Sonic against Tails so you can destroy him in your fantasies if you were the type to hate on Tails. Also the game's overall design looks great. It knows who the fans are so they want to give the fans their due. The character lineup is just about everyone from the Sonic games up to that point. Keep in mind this was before the Sonic extended universe expanded into the realms equivalent to fan fiction. It of course had Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. But it also had Amy and of course Robotnik (Dr. Eggman) and Metal Sonic, but the later two are only playable in the recent HD re-release. Aside from the main expected characters it also has a couple of lesser known characters like Espio from Chaotix on the 32X. On top of this the stages are based on levels from Sonic the Hedgehog. This means it'll have a forest setting, an industrial setting, casino setting, and at the end the Death Egg. These all give the feeling of the Sonic universe, although only a few really inspire nostalgia. Lastly the concept design is clearly very Sonic if not a bit overdone. Each time you make a hit on another character a ton of rings come flying out of the character understandibly. Also the moves are unique to each character. Sonic spins, Tails does flying moves, Metal Sonic has freaking lasers! But where it may have been a bit overdone is in the cartoony execution. It feels like the concept design was inspired first by the games that came before this and then secondly inspired by the Sonic cartoon, and I'm not talking about the SatAM cartoon that had a more serious tone, I'm talking about the one for really young kids that was really wacky. My prime example for this is that it is possible to land a move that momentarily flattens the other fighter... literally.
Sadly a lot of the good things to say about this game end here. It's not the complete list but there just isn't a lot of good to say about this one. I am not going to complain about the lack of variety in the game. It is essentially a direct port of the arcade game, meaning that there is one and two player modes and that's it. Also it was $5 and I'll probably wind up spending more time on this game that I would on a boxed game whether it's single player or multi-player, whatever comes up I will want to keep playing. I'm also trying to keep this in context. Despite it never coming out on the system this is essentially a Sega Saturn game ported onto a modern console. At it's core that is what it is. Virtua Fighter 2 had the same amount of variety in the selection of what you can do and that game was amazing. I would love to spend many more hours on that game as well despite having all these fancy new games with fancy additional features. You play a fighting game for the fighting.
The fighting. How is the fighting? The core mechanic of the game? Not good. The biggest problem is how sluggish the game feels. The controls are un-responsive and you never really feel like you're in full control either. Many fighting games can warrant button mashing but you still feel like you're in something of control. I was button mashing just to stay alive and I felt like if I wasn't for even a second it would have been disaster. A couple problems with it being unresponsive is the control layout and the animations. I was never sure of what all the buttons did minus the block. I would hit what I think is punch or kick which would sometimes work but other times would do something else. Mostly it would turn into a spin. I would think maybe it's because of the position of the joystick but even that was inconsistent enough for me to doubt that. Secondly, to go along with this confusion on the controller is the confusion on what's going on, on screen. The animations play out too long and feel like they cannot be interrupted. It's like once I do a move it has to go through the full animation before I can move into the next move, making combinations next to impossible. Also a lot of the jumps or jump moves feel pre-determined. I feel like I cannot control where I'm jumping whether it's at a specific angle forward, back, or straight up to avoid an attack. Watch this youtube video to try and grasp what I'm trying to say.
While I consider the game to be visually appealing enough for it's generation, the game as a whole feels stripped down and empty. As what is essentially a cash in game based on the Virtua Fighter franchise it's not supposed to bring the house down. Even with expectations so low it is surprising how poorly executed this one was. This was also before Sonic became so desperate for attention in a game that he would star in anything (I'm looking at you Mario & Sonic at the Olympics). Also with such great source material it really is even more surprising. This was made by the exact same people who made the Virtua Fighter games. An exact clone of Virtua Fighter wouldn't work because it would be too slow. There are much better ways to speed it up and make it more cartoonish. I remember Virtua Fighter Kids which was still a great, legitimate fighting game. That game was super cartoony what with having all the Virtua Fighter characters having gigantic heads. But again, same company, still a great game. Why couldn't this be the same with Sonic the Fighters?
So essentially what this game boils down to is a Virtua Fighter attempt at a fighting game but without the core mechanics that made Virtua Fighter as great as it was. Sure there is the poor game mechanics but it doesn't help there's a real lack of moves. With the animations and handling making it feel like combos aren't even a possibility you're boiled down to simplistic moves by simplistic moves. Ironically some of them are so staggeringly powerful or stunning that if you get hit by the time the 30 minute animation ends you or your opponent will be able to land their move right away. Now, even with these simplistic moves the time it takes to lower the health on either character is way too quick. It feels like even the tiniest of moves can chop off such a large chunk so quickly. It leaves next to no time of tension like in other fighting games. When I first booted the game up I left it at the standard settings. It was at medium difficulty, 2 rounds, 30 seconds a round. Everything through that seemed standard except the time limit. I felt the 30 second time limit was pretty short. It's actually half the standard round time in other fighters. This means that by default it is a lighter fighter than the standard fighter. And all in all it can be lighter but this one is way lighter than it should have been, which brings me to the difficulty.
This game is borderline insultingly easy. Yest I did continue a couple of times but I feel that was due to the poor mechanics of the game. I was able to blaze through the entire arcade mode on my first try in no time at all. Also I was able to obtain all but one of the trophies in that same run through. What blew my mind the most was at the very end of the arcade mode. After fighting the final boss of Metal Sonic on the Death Egg you're treated to a quick bonus stage against Robotnik himself. This is a one round fight that will determine if you get the good or bad ending. You only have one chance and the round time is cut in half to 15 seconds. I won on my first try. So after I play through arcade mode with all the characters I'm wondering what sort of replay value this game will have especially since it's such a pain to play through as is.
And now I feel bad for crapping on this game so hard. I say that because I can't help but feel there were great intentions behind it. This was in an era where there weren't Sonic games being blazed out left and right. Remember that there was never an exclusive, mainline story Sonic game for Sega Saturn. All it had was Sonic 3D Blast (A Genesis port), Sonic R (A racing game) and Sonic Jam (A compilation of older Sonic games with additional special features). So I don't believe this one was just thrown together and kicked out the door. If that was the case it would have gotten a release on Saturn regardless. It's just that Sega wasn't working the way it does now. In that era of Sega you wouldn't see, for example, some of the kinds of games the Wii has released featuring Sonic (I have heard Sonic Colors is pretty awesome, though). It's just so unfortunate that what could have been a great game was such a disappointment, not that people had high expectations in the first place anyway.
I think the best way this game could have been improved would have been with a complete overhaul and approach to the game. The first thing I can think of is if it were more like the Marvel vs. Capcom series. A 2D approach could have worked so much better. Also the MvC games are crazy fast paced, making the speed worthy of it's source material. At this time Virtua Fighter and soon thereafter Tekken were the only ones to do 3D fighting with great success. This game will not be remembered through the ages aside from hardcore fans like myself interested in the history of the character as well as Sega itself... and I find that sad.
As a P.S. to this review I just hope one day that the other arcade game that was released three years earlier, SegaSonic the Hedgehog will be released on PSN or some sort of re-release one day. Unlike Sonic the Fighters, SegaSonic has never seen a release outside of arcades.

If America Made It: I'll put this in context as this game came out more than 15 years ago. At the time America may have taken the approach at a Mortal Kombat clone. I don't feel an American company would have been comfortable enough with taking on a 3D fighter quite yet. I'm just imagining the visual style of MK but with Sonic characters. Pretty freaky. Either that or, dare I say, something in the art direction of Clay Fighter. I don't see much of an expansion or difference with the character list, though. There weren't a lot of characters in the franchise at the time. I wouldn't imagine they would have included a couple of them simply because of their obscurity. And now that I think of it I imagine an American company may have included some of the machines you fight in the original games (i.e. robotic bee, crab, etc). I think the only way this game could have been worse was if an American developer made it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming: Tokyo Jungle

Availability: It was originally released as a boxed game in Japan earlier this year, but is now available in the states as a download title on the PSN exclusively.

Version I played: PSN download.

Review: I think I was a tad too ambitious to promise a review of Persona 3 right off the bat. In order for me to provide a proper review for that one I will need to take some time first as that game has a lot going on in it. It took at least an hour or more for me to get in my first battle. So I will need more time for that one before I can provide a proper review for it. For now I want to focus on a game that had me super excited as of late... Tokyo Jungle!
First, a history. I first heard about this game a little over a year ago and was fascinated right off the bat. The concept of a post-apocalyptic world where animals ruled, there were no humans left, and therefore no ZOMBIES either sounded like an absolute blast! It's a new take on an old idea. The only problem is that it was the type of game that gave the feeling like it would never come out here. So eventually it came out in Japan and listen, I swear, I mean I SWEAR I came really close to importing it cause I wanted it so badly. Luckily my empty wallet forced me not to and it was a good thing. That's because one day I log onto the PSN and there it is. I heard no news about it coming over. It's like it just showed up one day. Safe to say I couldn't hit that download button fast enough. A similar feeling I would get a couple weeks later when the Nights into Dreams port shows up. *Saturn!*
Right off the bat Tokyo Jungle is one of the most uniquely Japanese games I've played in a while. For those keeping score games based on anime, look like anime, or start with Final Fantasy don't typically count as "Uniquely Japanese" cause that's just what most mainstream folks expect as Japanese. Explaining what I mean may be difficult. I think at the core the game isn't pandering to a western audience. It truly feels like the game was made for a specific audience and that audience is of the land of the rising sun.
The first thing that surprised me is that Story mode was not available at the start. Typically this is the only thing available before being able to get to all the juicy extras or free flowing modes. Not this time. This game makes you work for your story. It's like the game wants you to live and survive and actually work yourself up the food chain first before you find out what happened in the first place. You see, that's a great thing about this game, it's the mystery. Slowly you find out more details by exploring Tokyo. Some are newspaper clippings, others are testimonials. It's neat to see it unfold so slowly. Also when it comes down to it, it makes sense. These are animals on the loose that weren't involved (for all we know) in the destruction of man. So do you think they have context? Not a chance. I like not having context cause it keeps me playing to find out more.
Speaking of more, this game has a lot of it. Since the story mode isn't available right off the bat you have to go through survival mode to unlock it. After a quick tutorial stage you're off and running as... a pomeranian? Yep, that's right. An epic, post-apocalyptic, fight for survival game starts off with you playing as a teeny-tiny, yippy-dippy, little dog. I found this to be really charming since it places right in front of you how hard you'll have to work to get to the big dogs... literally. As the food chain goes you're mostly going to be hunting and feeding on smaller animals first. Animals like rabbits, chickens, other farm-like animals, etc, most of which are easy to kill cause they're not as strong or vicious. As you grow and claim land you'll have the option to attract a mate to create the next generation. The further along you play and the more generations you create the more difficult things will get. There's toxicity that will start to get heavier in parts, food will become more scarce, and the other animals will become bigger and meaner. You'll also run into animals you have no shot against until you become a larger animal. With that said it's very satisfying to be playing as a pomeranian and take down a lion cub... but then you get chased by moms and pop lion and that's scary as hell.
As with the animal kingdom there are essentially two types of animals you can play as: Carnivores and Herbivores. For those of you who didn't pay attention in school those are meat eaters and plant eaters. After playing as the pom-pom for a little while you will eventually unlock other animals, typically within the same class as the current animal is. So as a pom-pom you'll unlock a cat and then move up to a beagle, up to a lab, and so on. But then on the plant eater end you'll start off as a cute little deer and eventually get other plan eaters like pigs and sheep.
Once you start playing as a plant eater it's a whole different game (not literally). Same goals, same environment, same almost everything except the food you're looking for. Overall I found playing as one of these animals was far more challenging for multiple reasons. The main being that plants are harder to find than let's say a whole flock of sheep. Also it's harder to defend yourself. So if you want to recreate Bambi in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo you better get your running shoes on cause you can expect to be doing this a lot more than with man's best friend. Now if you're a blood thirsty, COD playing, 12 year old, angry boy you may be wondering why you would want to play as a sheep when you could eventually be an ALLIGATOR tearing other animals apart. First I would be wondering how you found me and secondly let me tell you how it's way more exciting that the first choice.
To give some clarity. This does not mean playing as a plant eater is more fun. Honestly it's way more fun to be playing as a vicious "kill everything" animal, but it's less of a challenge. You only really feel in danger when up against a much larger animal, and even when you're against a slightly more powerful animal (a lab facing a hyena for example) you still have a good chance of winning the fight. When you're a plant eater you can still fight but not as well. You're much more likely to get mauled to death. So this makes it more exciting and intense. It gives off the same feeling as an early Silent Hill character in a way. You're very weak, you can't fight well, and you're probably gonna die if you stick around. It makes your heart run from terror but since it is more difficult the end reward is far more exciting. In a way it's way cooler to play as one of these guys than the vicious ones.
As a matter of fact, take that into account for both types of animals and it's just way more satisfying to play as the little guy. Every other game out there this generation is an overpowered space marine so having an underdog (I'm full of 'em today) fight the big guy is awesome to see. I have been playing many hours of this game but still have not unlocked all the animals yet so I really haven't played as some of the more powerful animals yet. I am imagining that the threat won't be as great once I get there. Maybe after I unlock the elephant and the dinosaur (not kidding) I'll go back to the pom-pom. I can also be fooling myself cause in other games once I've eared the mega powerful character it's usually jarring going back to basics. I guess we'll have to see.
Story mode is something I also haven't completed yet. It actually takes quite a bit of time and repeat playing of survival mode to get new chapters unlocked in story mode. The story in story mode follows different animals as they adjust and fight in the new world they have to live in. Of course once again you start off as a pom-pom. A lot of these stories are about defending their families or defending their land. These are also charming but in a very Disney way. The animals of course don't have dialogue but their feelings are very present. I love how expressive even digital animals can be. Last I checked I'm somewhere between 8-10 chapters in and I have no idea how long they go. But the last chapter I played was as a grown lioness so I must be coming along well. I was given the promise of finding out what wiped the humans out once I complete this. I can probably figure out how it happened, though, with all the horror/science fiction that's out there it's easy to figure.
Tokyo Jungle is incredibly addictive but it certainly isn't flawless. The first issue I have with it is the camera. Since we live in an age where a movable camera is a possibility it really doesn't seem like there's a reason not to have it unless it's a very specific purpose. This game's fixed camera angle looks at you as if you're on a 2D plane but you still move around in every direction *Example*. There are two issues I have with this. First is exploring. It can be hard to explore when you only have one fixed angle in a tight area that's very maze-like. Sure you've got the mini-map and the larger map in the options menu but that makes it cumbersome when it shouldn't be. The reason I don't like it is for combat purposes. On the mini-map it shows how many animals are around you with dots. This is nice especially if you're looking for you but it doesn't distinguish if it's a chick or a hippo. The fixed camera does make it difficult to figure out what sort of danger you'll be in, in just a moment. Too many times have I been frantically running around trying to eat and I look at my mini-map to see some there are some animals coming up. I sure hope it's a rabbit or something small. Oh wait, it's a hippo! I cannot go up against that. Crap! Either now I'm dead from goring or starvation.
My other complaint with the game is the map. It's varied enough for what it is, only it's really small. Here's the complete map minus the sewer area. As you can see from that each area of the game isn't that big. This does make it easier to claim and therefor mate. It also makes it easy enough to go from one end of the game to another if a mission/challenge calls for it. But as you can see this game is no Skyrim when it comes to the map. There is just not enough to go around. Also since you start off in the same spot every time you're going to wind up in the same areas over and over. Which leads me to my next complaint.
The difficulty curve on this game gets substantially high awfully quick. If you expect to make any progress in this game you will want to do the challenges that present themselves to you. This makes you stronger, faster, able to last longer without eating, and so forth. A lot of the early challenges are pretty simple and are generally in the same area (Mostly the southern and central areas of the map) so that's where you'll be running through the same areas over and over again. So you won't see parts of the map in the north western area. But once you have the challenges that bring you to that area the game gets so much more difficult and you're so desperate to stay alive you can't even enjoy or explore the areas. In the hours I've spent playing this game so far I've been in the sewers about five times at best and one of those times was in story mode so that barely counts. If I were to be thrown in there suddenly I wouldn't even know where to go down there or where to look for food. Not to mention the times I've been there it had far more difficult animals to fight so my animal was starving because none of the animals I could stand up against. So until I build up my skills it is still a challenge to get to that area appropriately.
While the game is limited it also has a ton of variety. The list of animals you can play as is massive. Including the downloadable content you're looking at almost 100 animals. A lot are similar cause it's multiple breeds of the same type (Multiple cats for example) and so those all play the same. In that sense I would look at it like the alternate costumes in fighting games. Still provides a variety. Now speaking of costumes, there is an element of costumes within the game. Slowly you also unlock different items to wear to increase your health and other stats until the item is destroyed in battle. The best part of this? They're fun items! I would list some examples but I'd rather give you a visual example. Also because of this variety and slow progression it gives the player plenty of reason to keep playing. You always want to see what the next animal will do or what animal you'll get next. It's also fun to read through and play through the story items/missions. This is definitely one of those cheaper titles that will give you more satisfaction and time played than a full priced box game.
If you have a PS3 go download this game now. Unless you're a member of PETA I would recommend this game to anyone cause I can see the appeal all across the board. It's simple enough to please the casual gamer but provides enough to keep the hardcore ones satisfied. Also it's a great game to get for your girlfriend to watch you play. Cute animals.

If America Made It: Well it may have still taken place in Tokyo but probably a bizarre view of Tokyo. Other than that for locations I imagine it would have focused on a worldwide perspective instead of one city. Also the story mode would have been available from the start with a survival mode as a bonus feature, severely cutting down the potential for longer hours of play and exploration. Also your default character would have been bulkier. Not jumping straight to a lion but I have a feeling you wouldn't start off as a pom pom. Maybe at least the lab. Lastly, movable camera. Americans love their movable camera unless it's intentionally 2D.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming

As I teased in a previous post I decided to start up a new segment entirely devoted to gaming. The theme to this specifically won't be gaming in general. As the title suggests I will focus more on titles that are foreign to the average American audience. Basically this means I will be talking about a hell of a lot of Japanese games that range from the bizarre to unique to the unlikely.
So as you're reading this you may be thinking to yourself, "Hmmmm, another white guy with an adoration for Japan reviewing video games, what could he do that hasn't been done before? What makes him unique?" I'll be honest with you.... not a whole lot. I will admit I used to be a lot "worse" with this whole Japanese thing. I was into it in a big bad way. I was the type to crank through hours of anime while chomping on Pocky with my Rhyo-oki plush in my arms surrounded by Dragonball Z and Final Fantasy 7 posters. Also I was overweight so that didn't help either. I was a living cliche. Thankfully I got out of that before high school ended. Now there are a few things that did retain in my interests since then. A love for Japan in general is still very present but I'd like to think my interests in the subject has expanded and is no longer the center of my entire existence.
Going back to the title once again, I feel it's very fitting not only with my approach but also with my perspective. There are other internet bloggers and vloggers out there who are way more informed and obsessed on the subject that I am. The first one that comes to mind is Gaijin Goomba. Now I do not want to bring Gaijin Goomba down as I really like his videos. He is really good at what he does with bringing Japanese culture in with his gaming discussions and reviews. But this is because he has an actual education on the subject. He knows the language, he lived there, he has credibility I cannot compete with. I can accept the fact a lot of the bl/vloggers out there I can't compete with because of their extensive knowlege and game collection. I've seen the backdrops to the AVGN, Pat the NES Punk, and Clan of the Gray Wolf videos. I've also seen what the touch on and I only wish I had the collections they had.
Two paragraphs later, what does set me apart? While I don't physically have the collections that some of the other guys do I still have the knowledge and interest. I've gone in and out of many phases like anyone has and jumped on the bandwagon with other things later on in life, but there are three things that have been in my love and interests for as long as I can remember: Couches (I'm not kidding), Bagels, and Video Games. I have been playing video games as long as I can remember. I don't have the ability to remember before I started playing. That doesn't set me apart. All of these bl/vloggers have been doing that. What sets me apart specifically with the subject matter this segment will touch on is the perspective.
Unlike other bl/vloggers, I don't know Japanese. I never lived in the country teaching English. I've never even visited the country. I have always had an interest in the games. Not just the style of game but the literal version that would come out in Japan. Since I've owned and did the whole buy/sell/trade on most consoles I did for a little while dive into the import scene. I certainly wasn't on the up and up cause those games are sure expensive. I did have a few that were unique to country or wouldn't be released in America until some time later. The two consoles I did this with were the Dreamcast and first Playstation.
Why would I do this? Why would I need to go through all the effort of importing a game when there are either versions of said game in America already, will eventually come out in America or there are much better games that could be played that are available much more easily in America and are in a language I understand. Well, I'm a sucker for a unique experience. When I would play an American game they all felt about the same. When I would play an import it felt like something from another world. It was a unique epxerience and while similar to American games they would feel different enough to warrant an extra effort toward them. Maybe it's the different language, maybe it's the themes or style in their execution, but it's something I'm either not getting in America or from American gaming. In short I like experiencing the romantics around it. Think of it like visiting another country without having to travel.

What my new segment will be about are Japanese games that fall under at least one of the three criterias:
-They are exclusive to Japan.
-Are the Japanese version of a game that was also released in America.
-Are an American release of a game very uniquely Japanese.

I decided I wanted to get back into imports with my recent re-purchase of a Dreamcast (I have missed it so much!) which has a really weak region lock. Super easy to play imports. I will slowly be building up my import collection from there with the hopes of picking up a Japanese Sega Saturn one day waaaaaaaay down the line. Aside from that my resources and budget for imports are limited. I do want to also import some games for my original Game Boy and PS3, as well as download the PSN imports for the original Playstation. So I will mostly be talking about Dreamcast games with this segment I imagine.

To start things off, though, I will go with something uniquely Japanese: Persona 3.

Keep an open eye for my post on this in the near future. I just got the game and will need to put a lot of time into it before I can give a full review, but still keep watching for it.
Hope you all look forward and/or enjoy this coming segment!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Exorcism Double Feature

Feature 1: The Last Exorcism

History: The Last Exorcism was released in theatres on August 27th 2010. It wound up grossing just under $68 million worldwide making it a smashing success at being produced with a budget of only $1.8 million. A sequel was announced to be in the works as of late 2011 but with no updates since then. The film's director Daniel Stamm previously had experience in found footage films with A Necessary Death only a couple years earlier. The brother of a crew member was an actual exorcist and would work along side the director advising him. In the UK the film's poster depicting Nell, the girl possessed, bent over backwards with a cross hanging directly above her caused a lot of controversy. It was deemed offensive and eventually removed from public viewing.

Edition I Watched: Standard widescreen DVD.

Review: Found footage flicks date back farther than you may realize. One key example is The Blair Witch Project. Even earlier than that was The Last Broadcast which did something similar. But if you want to trail back even farther I would say to look toward Cannibal Holocaust. But it wasn't until Paranormal Activity that it was reinvented for the horror genre and brought it back in a big bad way (and I mean bad in many different ways). So it feels like part of the reason this one even exists is because of Paranormal Activity.
So what? It's not a big deal if a film isn't original, as long as it executes in a good way. As I displayed in the previous paragraph many films before Paranormal Activity did the whole found footage gimmick. What set them apart was their execution. As a hardcore horror fan I'm de-sensitized to a lot of the elements. So when Paranormal Activity hit me the way it did I knew it was something special, something fresh. Now that doesn't mean I went into The Last Exorcism with the same expectations. I know how easy it is to get shafted by an imitator. With that in mind I went into this one with lowered expectations. I was at least looking to get my money's worth of $1 as that's how much I bought the DVD for.
The one thing that bugs me more than anything else with the found footage type of film is the logic it uses with the camera. Sometimes the choices in where it's point at what times in certain context doesn't always make sense. The element is easy to get a person drawn in because of how it feels more grounded in reality than other films. However it's also easy to get pulled out wondering what the cameraman is up to or why he is point at what he is pointing at. This happens really easy cause if this were REAL found footage we may not see half of what is seen in these flicks because the actual cameraman would sooner forget about what they can get on camera and try instead to protect themselves from the terror they're recording. Usually these get a pass because it's about a film crew taping a documentary or something similar (such as documented evidence of a haunting ala Paranormal Activity) so usually the cameraman has intentions of capturing everything they can. This flick is certainly no exception, if anything they're more guilty than others of having a weird logic in what they shoot. Sure the first half was shot well because of the style of film they were going for. It included interviews and footage of church services the priest was performing as we get to know him better. It made sense to be put together the way it did. Even the scene when they first show up to Nell's home and do lots of on the fly shooting it looked good for what they were going for.
So far so good then. In a way that is the case. Sure it looks good for what they're trying to do but the problem right off the bat is that it's an okay story with some pretty poor writing and even worse acting. To put it right in the forefront I did not like Cotton, the priest who eventually performs the exorcism(s) in this story. He came off as really unlikable. A bit of a dick to be honest. He had what I felt like a pretty negative view of his profession, his congregation, and his faith as well. I realize the point of his documentary is to capture on tape a supposed exorcism but to expose it as a fraud "once and for all" he says. The way he goes about doing it, though feels so negative and demeaning. It's like he barely cares about his religion anymore but doesn't handle it respectively. Especially when you have an entire congregation following you depending on what you say and do to guide them.
Time to get to the brass tax, the possession, the exorcism, etc. This one takes waaaaaay too long to get to anything good when it comes to the exorcisms. The first exorcism was a fake one the priest put on to try and prove his point (I really don't like this guy) to be followed up by more talk and talk and talk. Talk is fine. I'm okay with talk. But I'm okay with talk when it's interesting. Like many exorcism tales before (and after) this one there comes in the doubt of whether or not it's all in the girls head. the crazy thing is that it pushes hard in both directions making the audience believe it really could be either of them. It's not in the way it's told, it's more confusing because details conflict and don't make sense. This is especially apparent toward the end of the story when it feels like the flick was going to end where it all was in her head the whole time. Spoilers, it doesn't turn out that way, but I'm sure you could have figured that one out.
What's ultimately wrong with this one is that it doesn't have a lot of scares and those scares aren't scary. I do like the parts late in the flick when it's the middle of the night, there's freaky symbols painted all over the walls, Nell has that dead look in her eyes while haunting the film crew, etc. That was pretty cool. But that's all it was, it was cool. It wasn't scary. This is a pretty poor example of horror with a few peaks here and there. Even the end when the shit REALLY hits the fan it wasn't that great. Not to mention that the end is a twist that was both expected but doesn't make sense. It felt like the ending was written in because that's what people do with this type of story. It was there because it was obligated to.
Not horrendous, it has it's moments, mostly Nell's creepy bending when the possession really takes over. It's just not great which makes this dollar purchase a less than mediocre attempt at a found footage style of horror.

Feature 2: The Devil Inside

History: The Devil Inside was released in threatres on January 6th 2012. I grossed $101 million worldwide and much like the previous film reviewed it was a huge success because of the small budget. However this one was produced with a mere $1 million. Outside of the hopes of mirroring the success of Paranormal Activity this film doesn't have much history behind it. The story was thought up by the writer and director after reading how the Vatican started a school for exorcisms. In the end this film was almost universally panned by critics.

Version I Watched: Rental copy from Redbox.

Review: I apologize in advance if this review has a lot of comparisons to the last one I reviewed, but it was hard to watch this without thinking of the other since I watched one, one day and the other the next day. The Last Exorcism was fresh in my mind. Very fresh. I also apologize for the lack of some details as I am unable to review my review since I don't actually own this one.
My expectations for this exorcism flick were even lower than they were for The Last Exorcism. The Devil Inside has received such incredibly harsh reviews from critics as well as the mass public. At the time of writing this review, it holds a 7% rating on rotten tomatoes. I think it's prime material for one of my favorite podcasts Yeah It's That Bad based on that number alone. I remember reading reviews, hearing buzz, almost all of it screamed this would be terrible. Yet something kept drawing me to it. Call it curiosity, I say it's that look in the nun's eyes on the other poster. So here I am finally getting to it. I would like to thank the redbox text club for letting me rent this one for free by the way. The only thing I had to lose was my time.
Right from the start this one is way more interesting. I love it when a film uses different film styles to properly execute the tone they want to convey. The pulled together TV reports and police records video looked so good and genuine. I was having flashbacks to the period the story starts out with the news reports. I also like how it started out with a 911 call to communicate the murders that start out the story. The film starts off with some real creepiness, it sets the tone, it lets you know what you're in for and it hits the ground running. I also liked how it got past the whole "Just letting you know, this is a documentary" portion of the story. It let us know that it's about the daughter of a woman who killed three people back during her own exorcism and is now held in an Asylum in Italy as she was found not guilty on a plea of insanity. So safe to say we're in for some more of the "it's all in her head" talk.
I'd like to take a technical turn here. Like I stated in my last review I like to study the logic of the use of the cameras in the found footage approach. In the first few minutes it already looked great cause of the flashback with the news reports. Then I felt like the cameras were used properly when it needed the focus in the right places. Also additional cameras were used, again logically, to capture what was needed. In their car they install cameras much like what would be seen in an actual documentary. Then in the exorcism scene with the girl's mother roughly halfway through the film there were cameras set up everywhere, many of which were for documenting the medical aspects of her changes, etc. It provided many angles to see it from a different perspective or better view when the standard shaky cam wasn't available. Then there was my favorite use of the camera. It captured important information in such an accidental way. It was late in the film. Throughout everyone was giving testimonials on how they feel about everything that's going on (It's actually a good way to develop the characters). A scene happens when Isabella (The daughter of the possessed woman) is giving a testimonial but is interrupted. Everything happens far in the background and off to the side. It looks excellent in my book. It's being portrayed exactly as found footage would be portrayed. They wouldn't have a crisp shot of everything. They would have awkward shots like this one.
Another thing is that it's pretty exciting. It's constantly moving forward without adding extra fluff to fill the gaps between scenes. This also means that there's more scenes with exorcisms and exorcism-like scenes with fright.
Okay, so the scares. I think this one had more wiggle room with the scares because of it's rating. When you're given the space of an R rating you can do more with scares. That doesn't mean a film has to be R or worse to be considered scary, but it does allow for more disturbing material in the long run. Granted a lot of the scares are more shocking than anything else. Thankfully not the standard jump scares. Just a couple key ones stick out in my mind. A graphic suicide is one of them, which happens right after the demon jumps into the older priest (oh yeah, the demon jumps from person to person). Then just before that when he starts acting strange there's a baptism scene where he attempts to drown the baby he's baptizing. That was easily the most disturbing scene of the film. But again these are both shocking if anything. Not as deeply disturbing as other more prolific horror films, but it'll stick with you for a few days. So while the scares are better than other horror like this, it still feels like something is lacking.
Which gets me to the overall quality. I think it's safe to say there were many ways this one could have a been a lot better. I'm not about to throw out "I don't understand all the hate." I do really think it is underrated, though, and doesn't deserve as much hate as it's getting. It's solid. Not as a rock, but it's solid. What it really could of used is more material within the film. This is a very short one. It comes in at a mere 75 minutes without the credits, and then the credits are 8 minutes in and of themselves. It also ends so short on such an abrupt note, too. Now, it would be okay if that's all the film had to say. If everything they wanted to show and say could fit in that short of a run time, fine, whatever. My problem with it is that this film has an entire website dedicated to expanding on the story. Now tell me this. Why on God's green earth couldn't they include at least SOME of what's on this website, which is advertised at the end of the film (, couldn't be in the film itself. It seems like so much more could have been expanded on within the film itself and still have plenty of material for the website for those curious enough. At least this way the people who are only experiencing what's in the film itself can go away feeling satisfied instead of left wanting more. I know I wanted more. I just don't know if I want to spend as much time, if not more, browsing through the website it told me to find more information on.
A worthy effort. I really did like this one. I liked it a lot more than I would. It's still not great. It has plenty of problems. It certainly won't stand the test of time. I imagine this will be looked at one day the same many people would look at the silly slasher flicks from the 80s. The Devil Inside is not terribly unique. It is a coal with a sparkle of diamond showing through. I only wish more shone through.

BONUS! I wound up watching a third exorcism flick!

Exorcism: The Possession of Gail Bowers!

Review: This is one of many Asylum films that are almost all cheap knock offs of more popular titles. I remember this came out right around the same time as The Exorcism of Emily Rose. I was working at a Blockbuster at the time. I also remember thinking how it looks like a complete knock off of said film, which is the case when it comes to Asylum. Basically all of their knock offs I've seen have had many things in common. One of those things isn't quality. They're cheap, horrendously written, horrendously acted, the direction is horrible, and... you know what. The less said about this one the better. Just watch this:

But what can I say? I have a special place in my heart for cheese of this kind. I have at least 3 other Asylum films like this in my collection at the time of writing this.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Return

I guess it's not too much of a surprise that I fell out of the loop with this whole blogging thing. It could have been a slow lack of interest over time or being distracted by other things (Video games). I also think it may have been the way I was approaching it. I was doing it in a way that limited me and it felt more like work. I like researching and talking about these movies but I wanted to say so much about movies I don't own but was limited from doing so by the approach I took. I still want to have something of a structure so I don't turn people off, I guess I just want to talk about more than the ones I own. So from here on out I won't be doing just the ones I own but whatever I'm interested into going into details on. When it is one I do own I will structure it in the same way I did before but with the change of noting it's one I do own.
So really not much will change.
One thing that will change is the frequency I update my collection list. Since I tend to buy/sell/trade/upgrade frequently it does change quite a bit. This is one of those minor details that makes it more work than anything. I'll make a note when I do decide to update but I won't make any promises how often that will be. I need to re-evaluate what I even still have and gotten over the last few months since I updated. That will take some time.
So in short I'm looking to make a return to this with a slightly different approach. I'm even thinking of bringing in video games into this as well. I also am looking to finish a lot of what I previously started. I look back into my posts and when I compare the drafts to the finished posts they almost even out. Talk about ambition.
So keep an open eye for more reviews coming from the Thirsty Cat!