Saturday, August 30, 2014

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 12

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"It was pretty cool... I guess.. if you're into that sort of Medieval thing..."

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Rings of Saturn Review #3: Virtua Fighter

History: Only going through the history of the Saturn version would be an injustice seeing as this helped kickstart the revolutionary 3D fighter back in the mid-90s.
Originally released in arcades in arcades in 1993 this game followed in the footsteps of other 3D Sega games like Virtua Racing (released a year earlier also in arcades.) It was a massive success, guaranteeing sequels in the near future. Only problem was this game was released when the Sega Genesis was Sega's home console. A little later when the Saturn was released it was still not considered a powerful enough machine to do an arcade perfect port, or at least there wasn't the ability to at the time. Because of this there is no true home version of the original game. Only lesser ports. I don't know how true this is for the game's sequels but apparently it's true here.
Virtua Fighter was a launch game for the Saturn. Like I stated in my Dancing Across the Rings of Saturn post it was because of this game the console did so well at first. Nearly every single Saturn owner had a copy of this game day one in Japan. Despite it's popularity it was seen as a rushed port. And by the time it hit the states months later it especially looked poor since games like Battle Arena Toshinden had seen the light of day since. In response Sega released Virtua Fighter Remix. An enhanced version of the original that addressed many of the complaints of the home version.
Anything else said about the franchise right now would tread on the territory of the sequels. Something I'll save for those reviews.

Availability: While it kick started a big franchise, this version of the game received limited ports. The most popular being the Sega Saturn port. The only other port would be to the 32X, the failed Genesis 32 bit add on hardware. The sequel Virtua Fighter 2 is on modern consoles for digital download. But alas the original, original has very, very few ports and can only be played a limited number of ways. Not that you'd want to.

Personal History: I played the sequel Virtua Fighter 2 way more than the original. I did have this version back then as well but I definitely played more of the 'Remix' version. So this original, original I have little experience with compared to the sequels.

Version I Played: American release for the Sega Saturn.

Review: Like plenty of other Saturn owners back in the day I played a ton of Virtua Fighter. More so Virtua Fighter 2, though. It was easily the more popular title in the long run since the American launch of the Saturn poo-pooed all over itself whereas almost literally every single Saturn owner had Virtua Fighter at launch in Japan. I did pick up the original and the Remix version of the original in time, but my head was solidified with the mechanics of Virtua Fighter 2.
Just like another one of my favorite fighting franchises, Tekken, I started with a sequel and backtracked to the original. In a way I'm doing that again with rebuilding my Saturn collection. The most recent Virtua Fighter I played before this was the most recent one. VF5 for PS3. While I found it lacking and too easy (on standard difficulties, not counting insane options) it was still a fun experience and am glad I have it. But it made me desire the originals. It made me think the franchise had not grown too far from it's roots which is both a good and bad thing.

Games these days are so massive and offer so much I can't believe we once went through times when games didn't offer 40-80 hours of gameplay each (slight exaggeration.) Even many fighting games now have this feature. Mortal Kombat 2011 has so much to offer it's incredible. I wanted to like VF5 more because of my love of the franchise, but in context of the modern era it didn't have enough going for it. Which is a good way to look at the review for the original game, with context. Without context the original would look like a game in it's pre-pre-alpha stages from the Dreamcast or Playstation 2 era at best and not a complete game. I would love to talk to a game obsessed kid half my age and say, "You know that fighting game you like so much? Well here's how some of them used to look."

Kids these days just don't get it do they?

They would probably be horrified or assume it was a patch to Minecraft. Strange when you think about it. How in 1993 this is something people had shit their pants over. They couldn't believe how games were going into this new dimension of 3D and this was at the forefront. People didn't care that their games went from vibrant and detailed 2D to blocky and dull 3D for a while in order to embrace this innovation. Besides, while there were a fair chunk of games that looked like this (some worse) it didn't last long. Especially since the reworked 'Remix' version came out less than two years after the original arcade release where it looked like this...

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's not as nice as Virtua Fighter 2 but at least it's an improvement.

I don't like being the type who is close minded about older things. When I see something older that may be considered laughable these days I try to think of the context of the time. Unfortunately context can only go so far. At some point poor aging comes into play which makes certain art, opinions,  ans whatever else unbearable to many modern eyes. Sadly I feel the first Virtua Fighter is one of those cases. Playing it today is not as fun as it could be. It has not aged well at all.

Just to get it out of the way let's talk about the visuals.
I already pointed out how weird the characters look to modern eyes. It was the early 3D so it was pretty apparent Sega wanted to get the mechanics down before the visuals. Hence why everyone looks like they're made out of Lego pieces. In a way I like it and it has stood the test of time in a way Sega likely didn't intend. I like their blocky look because it lends itself to it's name of Virtua. Derived from virtual (duh), or virtual reality. It's got that old school VR look to it making it feel more like a scene from The Lawnmower Man instead of Enter the Dragon. Know what I mean? What if I said the holodeck from Star Trek, would that work better for you?
However that's just one man's opinion. I can't possibly see the rest of the world look at it that way unless they went with the "it's so retro!" approach but not take it seriously in context of it's time.

Putting visuals aside I want to jump straight past control, variety, and everything to get to the main point. This game is tough.
Going back to the Tekken comparison. I remember picking up Tekken 1 after playing tons of Tekken 2. Imagine my surprise when I went from an approachable but not too easy fighter to one that would beat me into next week. I was shocked at how difficult Tekken 1 was on the easiest difficulty, infinite time, and one round wins. I experienced something similar when revisiting Virtua Fighter. I don't know if it's because it's been so long, if I was a lot better back then, or if it's just so old and outdated I can't even approach it anymore. Whatever it may be I found myself getting my ass kicked left and right just a few stages in. Getting so angry I turned it off.
It wasn't for a lack of trying. I was putting my all into it. I even adjusted the difficulty settings just so I could get to the final boss and see the credits. Knowing there's basically no ending I don't feel the need to put myself through the annoyance of that. This isn't like Tekken where each character has a short ending unique to their story.
While I'm not saying there has to be a reward at the end of the tunnel it would be a nice incentive. Even if it was the ten to fifteen second endings other fighting games have that would be something. Otherwise this game is more about the journey, of which I did not enjoy as much now as I once did.

A part of it definitely is the controls. An element that has always held me back from calling this my favorite fighting franchise, leaving Tekken to reign. If you've ever played the first couple Virtua Fighters you're pretty familiar with the 'moon jump.' While in many fighting games characters jump much higher than they ever should. In Virtua Fighter they jump super high but then hang in the air for a couple seconds like they're bouncing around the moon. It's not a game breaking mechanic but it can be annoying and difficult to handle. Not that that's the only negative aspect of the controls. Just an obvious example.
The deep rooted issue in the controls in this first installment is that floating transfers to the controls overall. When I'm moving, grooving, punching and kicking with the... greatest of ease? I feel like nothing is solid and floats around way more than it should. Because of this I never feel like I'm in full control. I feel like I'm trying to fight underwater.
The approach to the fighting in this franchise has always been realism. Again, hence 'Virtua.' While I feel it succeeds to a point all the problems I just stated with the controls are what held this first game back.

Not that it's all bad. Despite the complaints the game is still very well put together all things considered. For being one of the first games in it's genre (3D fighters) the game has a lot of variety. There are eight characters to choose from with one hidden character accessed through a code. All of which have very unique fighting styles that even the most casual player will notice. In comparison the first Mortal Kombat came out in arcades the year before Virtua Fighter did, had seven characters that all played very samey, and it was in an already established genre (2D fighters.) So Virtua Fighter did do a great job of standing out and not just in visuals but technique.
That being said, when you do get used to the controls and are actually able to stand up against the unfair difficulty it can be a blast. Having the 3D movement adds another element games like Street Fighter just don't have. While still in it's infancy here it at least did do it pretty well on it's first try.
Going even further into that. If you're looking at one on one against a friend this may be a better title to start with regardless of skill set. This game only has a three button set up of punch, kick, block. For comparison games like Street Fighter have a six button setup to make way for high punch, low punch, high kick, etc. So in Virtua Fighter your moves are limited. Even in the manual there's only a handful of special moves and most of them require very short combinations. This certainly isn't a competition level fighter. So even if you're playing against a friend who has a higher fighting game skill set you've got a better chance against them than otherwise.

Fighting games are something I've always been interested in but was never that great at. I love their pickup and play approach. I love their variety. I love how every franchise is really unique when other genres can't lay claim to that. I love about every aspect except the time, attention, and dedication it takes to be any good at them. If I were to spend as much time perfecting my skill in a fighting game as others do I'd probably consider it a waste of time and wished I became a real fighter in real life instead.
But that's the nature of the beast. Fighting games are competitive. As they should be. That's why Street Fighter IV is one of the hardest games to Platinum on PS3 (and I'm sure for achievements for on 360 as well.) The genre knows it's audience and they know it well. I'm just thankful not all franchises are like that. Which is why I've always enjoyed Virtua Fighter. They are competitive but far more approachable for the most part.
Despite it's challenges and outdated controls I still enjoy these games. I just wish I was better at them. Although, to be honest, I don't know how much I'll be playing this version from here on out. It was a rough and tough experience that I didn't enjoy as much as I once did. I look forward to picking up Virtua Fighter 2 and Fighters Megamix again. And once that time comes I can pretty much guarantee this disc will be collecting dust for a while. Until I pull it out to show a curious friend or to see if I can actually play through it after playing the improved sequels more.

Seriously. If you're interested in the Saturn get one of the sequels. Even the 'Remix' version of this is better. Don't feel the need to chase this one down unless you're a completionist collector. That's about the only reason.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Clover Reviews! Volume 1 -> Episode 11

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"The plot is worse than the last two but the action is just as exciting... if not better than ever!"

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Review: Into the Storm

Version I Watched: Theatrical version as it is still in theatres.

History: There are some details about the production but little of it is actually interesting. Basically it was a spec script that went around for a little while, it jumped from one name to another, one director to another, blah blah blah, not much else around it besides that.
The movie was made with a budget of $50 million and has so far made a worldwide gross of $53 million. So while the studios haven't lost anything they certainly won't make a major profit off it, either. As expected the movie received generally negative reviews. However all the positive comments are on the special effect, with quotes even as glowing as, "The special effects work is basically flawless, and you absolutely get what you arguably came to see... Into The Storm gives you plenty of rock-solid disaster porn."
It currently holds a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Personal History: First viewing but have been interested in intense storms since I was a kid. So in a way I have a history with movies like these. But I knew nothing about this title outside of what we saw in the trailer.

Review: Believe it or not I have a lot to say about this movie. I went in thinking it would be mindless tornado insanity for an hour an a half and I left with... like I said... quite a bit to say.

Despite how much I like to talk in depth with movies it is still a ton of fun to be straight up entertained. I think I let off some vibe that I'm always being critical or I'm pretentious when it comes to this stuff. I disagree. I feel I'm simply passionate and know a lot about the subject and that a lot of my favorites tend to be more obscure. Although if you look in my Top 10 Movies list you'll see most of them are highly rated by others, and at least half of them are very popular. Still despite that intense interest I still enjoy goofy fun movies.
Take this one for example.
When I first saw the trailer I thought it looked stupid. The more I saw that trailer or seeing it promoted online I saw it as stupid looking fun! Believe it or not I was getting pretty excited for this. Not overly excited. Simply a "this may not be so bad" excited. Of course when it came out I ignored the bad reviews I knew it would get. A couple weeks later I get around to seeing it.

And you know what? This movie definitely had potential. It just had a ton of problems I couldn't get around.

The style they went for was found footage ala Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, and you know what I'm talking about. A style I'm definitely okay with because you can make a great movie on the cheap and still be effective. However this is where my first problem comes in. It calls itself a found footage movie but it doesn't actually try to be.
Over and over the movie can't decide whether or not it wants to be said found footage or to be a big budget storm themed blockbuster. That's because the style of the movie switches between those two without reason and you can't always tell. Especially since a lot of modern movies use the shaky, no tripod style it's hard to tell if it is doing it found footage style or not unless it's painfully obvious. Like when they flat out say they're filming, or a ridiculously well put together shot of the storms comes up like a lot of them toward the end.
This jumping back and forth for no reason makes the whole movie feel indecisive. Not to mention a jumbled mess.

Now I could comment on the script writing but that's not what I came to see. I came to see some twisters tear shit up! While it's true the script was very forgettable it is also true the twisters themselves provide some worthwhile excitement.
The best way to describe the approach to these tornadoes is they're the Michael Bay of tornadoes. Whenever they come on screen it is balls to the wall nuts. Starting with the baseball sized hail when the storms first start. Beyond this there's tornadoes literally ripping the town apart with the explosive intensity of an action movie. Hell, there's a tornado that catches fire and another that is so massive it picks up an entire airport without a problem! Not spoiling anything here by the way. What I just talked about is in, quite frankly, the pretty well put together teaser I first saw a few months ago.
Speaking of the teaser trailer... you can watch it here.
Looks pretty intense, right? And it is when the tornadoes actually hit. Only problem is this movie commits a sin too many movies like it do. It takes way too long to get to the action to focus on forgettable characters. Then when the action hits way too much of it is way too short. All because of it's inconsistent approach that proves the movie wasn't sure what it wanted to be.

In my experience I saw this movie could have been vastly improved if it went one of two ways:
First, this could have been to natural disaster movies what Crank was to action movies. Not a smart plot but pure adrenaline insanity plays out for an hour and a half. Sure it wouldn't be the most successful but it wouldn't have to be that expensive. Just make majority of it a special effects demo reel with slightly likable characters and the pure spectacle could sell it. Did you forget that Crank was successful enough to get a sequel?
The other direction could have made this the Paranormal Activity of natural disaster movies. If they stuck with the found footage style the whole time it could have been a tense experience. Just about everyone knows that terrified feeling of hiding in the basement during a bad storm. Hearing the sirens, wondering if this will be the day YOUR house is hit. It could work so well and be way more realistic and effective than any other movie like this. Show little of the tornadoes so it can keep the tension up, have a slow buildup with some intense scares at the end. Heck it could have been the same basic story rewritten then shot differently (cut out the rednecks) and there you have it.

While it may seem like a lot of this was bad it really wasn't. While the plot outside of "oh shit we gotta get to safety" was pretty stupid the action was intense and exciting. Seeing the tornadoes rip the town apart felt worth the wait. The storm gets so bad it can only be described as Biblical! But this was mostly a basic level of excitement. While it was cool to see what they did (like the fire tornado!) they didn't have a lot of weight and terror to them.
The only comparison I can make, really, is Twister. Somehow an eighteen year old movie with more primitive technology (but a bigger budget, mind you) made a more terrifying and convincing tornado experience. And this isn't just based on memory. I actually re-watched Twister not that long ago. As corny as it is it provides a lot of tension and excitement that still grabs a hold of me. Not in the same was when I was a kid but a positive experience none the less. Still I can't help but feel that's my nostalgia speaking and not my critical side.

Into The Storm is definitely a fun experience but only for a portion of the time. It doesn't have the weight of a more realistic disaster movie and it doesn't have as much intensity as a more action packed, over the top disaster movies. It's stuck somewhere in the middle which makes it an awkward experience. If you're into this sort of thing I'd say still check it out for the spectacle alone. Maybe get it from Redbox instead of theatres so you don't feel you wasted your money. But even that's hard to recommend because seeing it in theatres did make it exciting because of the environment. Again going back to Twister, seeing that cow fly across the big screen was amazing! On the small screen not as much.
I'll leave it up to you. What I can tell you is if you're on the fence then don't bother cause you'll probably not like it. But if you need to kill time and you have a rent one, get one free from Redbox you can do worse. Plenty of fun, plenty of excitement, just bummed it wasn't what it could have been.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Rings of Saturn Review #2: Sonic 3D Blast

History: Developed not for the Saturn but for the Genesis back in the mid-90s late in the Genesis' life. There's not much to say about the development itself. The intrigue is in the ports, of which this game had money but only one has a good story behind it.
The infamous Sonic X-treme, Sega's intended Sonic exclusive for the Saturn, was going through development hell. Since it was not ready (eventually cancelled) for the 1996 holiday season Sega released an updated port of Sonic 3D Blast to the Saturn instead. The game was ported in a mere seven weeks while the Genesis version was finishing up. Both versions were released November 1996 in America.
In Japan, surprisingly, the game wasn't released until 1999 for the Saturn no Genesis release. Matter of fact it was the same day as Sonic Adventure International. A Japan re-release that fixed bugs and other issues and was based on the US version of the game, but more on that in 'I Have A Dream(cast)' when I get to the Sonic Adventure review. The Genesis version of Sonic 3D Blast wouldn't hit Japan until the Gamecube days when it showed up in a compilation with other Sonic games.

Availability: As stated already it was first released for the Sega Genesis. But this game has been ported and re-released as much as more popular Sonic games. Odd considering not a lot of people seem to like it. It has been released on PC (multiple times) and modern consoles via collections/digital download for the Gamecube, Playstation 2 and 3, Xbox and 360, and the Wii's Virtual Console. All of which were the Genesis original. Meaning the Saturn port stands out being the only one of it's kind on console (the PC had the Saturn version I believe.) As well as the most expensive version to pick up, technically, at an average price of $20+ complete with box and manual.

Personal History: I was a big fan of this as a kid playing it for endless hours when it first came out. Of course it was victim to my 'buy/sell/trade' phase I went through so I am not playing my original copy. I am very excited to have it again.

Version I Played: It wouldn't be a 'Rings of Saturn' review if I didn't play the Saturn version. More specifically, the American release.

Review: When I picked up a Saturn again I had a short list of games I knew I had to pick up right away. Only problem was that a good portion of them were somewhat expensive. A lot in the price range of $40-$60 especially if I wanted the case and manual complete (I do!) Since I just dropped a bunch of cash on the console itself and my resources are limited I decided on one of the less expensive/still somewhat valuable games on that list. That game was Sonic 3D Blast. The least expensive Sonic game on the Sega Saturn. The most expensive being Sonic Jam that had a common price tag of $60+. So until I save up more cash to get more of those 'essential' games I'll just play this and some of the cheaper titles I picked up when I got the console (that I'll be reviewing here in time).

Sonic 3D Blast was a game for years I only experienced on the Sega Saturn. Seriously, I don't think I played the Genesis version until years later and it was a modern console port. Come to think of it, I didn't know there was a Genesis version at first. I really though this was a pure Sega Saturn exclusive. So when I saw the Genesis version I thought it was a backwards port or something. Little did I realize it was the other way around.
But you know what? Whatever! I really liked this game and I still do. Even looking at the box art brings back a lot of good memories. Not just of this game but my entire Sonic and Saturn experience. Not sure why it's this one over the others but it is. Go back to the top of this page and look at that cover. It may mean nothing to you but if I could I'd display that shit on my wall. Actually, I used to have a poster that was a similar design. It was printed in the red/blue 3D and came with 3D glasses.
This game is definitely one of many games I point to when I talk about my Saturn experience and why I love the console so much. But how does it hold up?

Before 3D Blast we had almost entirely 2D sidescrolling platformers with few exceptions (Sonic Drift, Sonic Spinball, and a Tails educational game all came out before this) but this one featured 3D gameplay. Faux 3D. The game is presented in an isometric view, or 3/4 angle, giving Sonic full 360 degree movement instead of just left and right. Sonic also got a 3D upgrade now being presented using pre-rendered 3D graphics turned into a sprite.
Strangely this wasn't the first time Sonic was presented this way. The Japanese arcade game SegaSonic the Hedgehog did this back in 1993.

As you can see here.

With that new approach to the console games also came a new gameplay objective. Instead of the traditional 'run right to win' gameplay Sonic now saves little birds called flickies trapped in Robotnik's robot minions (before America got his real name. Dr Eggman.) Meaning every enemy you fight has one of these guys and you have to save them all to progress. Not as hard as it sounds.
Each act of each level has multiple sections. Each section has a whopping five enemies to find. But there's no wiggle room. It's either all the flickies are saved or you can't advance. Thankfully the flickies can't die. You just have to re-collect them if you're hit. In the later stages they can get hard to hold onto while avoiding obstacles and other dangers. Making for annoyances and stupid deaths.
Despite these changes the game is setup in a familiar way. Each level is split into 3 acts. The first two acts are separate stages in and of themselves with the third act as the boss act. Like the older games Robotnik tries to kill you using various flawed and vulnerable inventions. Rinse and repeat til you win the game.

Also like traditional Sonic games there are special stages. But unlike the other games the special stages feel more like a secret. Unlike the first game when a giant ring shows up at the end of the stage, or in Sonic 2 when you get the portal at the checkpoint, you have to track down the special stage in 3D Blast. You need to find either Tails or Knuckles, give them 50 rings, and they'll take you there. The special stage is familiar like many other things. You run down a set path collecting rings until you reach the chaos emerald. Rinse, repeat until you get all 7.
The major difference in the Saturn version is the stage is full polygon 3D instead of the faux 3D like the main game or Genesis version. This was really cool to see back in the day because it was one of the first times the world saw Sonic like this. A similar 3D model would be used later in Sonic Jam.

And that's about it. It's a traditional Sonic game done in a non-traditional way. Despite the 'traditional' method of presentation the game has plenty of ups and downs.

Lets shit on it first.

The biggest downer is the perspective as it is the reason for most of the flaws in the game.
While a neat trick for the time on the Genesis this is a perspective that does not work for this kind of game. 3/4 angle perspectives work best for PC games I feel. Even then usually in adventure, strategy, or action role playing games. Not a fast paced platformer like Sonic.
This is entirely because of control. This angle works best with a mouse where you can point where you want to go. When you're using a D-pad it's much more difficult because you're taking an 'up, down, left, right' type of control and forcing the player to do something the controller isn't built for. Sure this is somewhat fixed when using a joystick for than 360 degree motion. But it doesn't help a ton because...
The camera blows. It never changes angles (a good thing) and it always stays focused on Sonic (also a good thing) but it is zoomed in too far, causing problems. Many of these problems include not seeing enemies and obstacles soon enough to react well.
You'll be blazing through a level with the greatest of ease until suddenly a wild enemy pops up out of nowhere. You try to react quickly but can't because of the floaty controls. So next thing you know you've lost your rings, power up, flickies, maybe a life because the camera couldn't be bothered to tell you something was coming before it was too late. Not that you'll be blazing through this game quickly like the 2D entries anyway. The design choices drops the game to a slower than comfortable pace for a Sonic game.

Remember how the old Sonic games had an average two, maybe four minute run through a level? Here you'll be taking at least five or more minutes per level and for many reasons. You'll play it safe because of the camera and controls. When fighting an enemy you'll some time to get the depth perception down. If you actually blaze through it's because you got lucky or had the levels memorized. Worst of all you'll get lost. The camera and pacing make it very easy to get lost. Shocklingly easy.
Don't get me wrong I like the visual style and design of the game. I think the 3D look (even if it's faux 3D) looks great. I also like the level design as they are varied, challenging, yet fair. However with their maze-like design mixed with the 3/4 angle and the zoomed in camera it is stupidly difficult. It's like trying to find the bathroom at your friends house by staring at your feet. Instead of thinking, "Oh I turn right at the tree because that's where the statue of a giant bird was hanging above me" you'll be thinking, "I turn right here because that's where the broken tile was. The broken tile that looks like every other broken tile." Even the Microsoft Windows maze screensaver was less confusing than this game and that maze was randomized.
All of the above are made worse as the game progresses because the levels get bigger and wilder. You even find transporters that kick you around with little to no control. So that confusion can and will be amplified. Mix that in with the difficult controls and confusing depth perception and you've got some intense, frustrating moments late in the game.

Here's a pulled back image of a small portion of a stage.

And here's the perception you get in game. Imagine how this would be in a complex stage with lots of obstacles.

Despite the issues I still really enjoy this game. To me it's a (very) flawed experience but shouldn't get as much hate as it does. For all it's problems the game is still functional. It's not like the bizarre departure the franchise took with Sonic '06 and wound up being in story and being buggy as hell. Feeling more like a beta than a finished game. No, Sonic 3D Blast is not like that. It's an experiment on the franchise that failed in many areas but not for lack of trying. Think of it as the Zelda II or Halloween III of the franchise. Something very different but never done again making it awkwardly stand out. That doesn't mean it's bad. Just different.
So while the level design may get confusing that makes it more challenging. Technically while this game took a lot away from the Sonic franchise it did make it more in depth. You had to think more than ever in a Sonic game. That's not a terrible thing. Sure you had to do some back tracking if even one enemy is missed, but I feel this game gets better with repeat playthroughs. Much like other Sonic games there are secrets that are fun to find. Although the payoff isn't so great since you don't get to be Super Sonic. You just fight an additional "true" final boss. Giving the ending a slightly different outcome.
I'm definitely in the minority here as I am a Sonic 3D Blast advocate. While far from being high in the ranks of Sonic games it definitely does a few things right. Even though I spent most of this review bad mouthing it I still liked it. I still had fun and that's what matters in the end. Certainly a better experience than Sonic '06 and some of the Wii titles.

If you have the option go for the Saturn version. It's far superior in many ways. I did play through a portion of the Genesis version (via a port on PS3 in Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection) and it left a bad taste in my mouth knowing how good I can have it otherwise.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

Version I Watched: Theatrical English dubbed version.

History: Originally released theatrically in Japan on March 30th 2013. This marks the eighteenth theatrical Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z anime movie, but the first to be released since 1996. It was also the first Japanese film ever to be released in IMAX. Something that honestly surprised me. It hit other regions later that year and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray just about everywhere outside the states. The time I saw it was during a very limited theatrical run. In my area it's running once a day for less than a week as it has in other parts of the country. So far it has grossed approx $48 Million. Outside of America that's not bad mind you. Especially in a small country like Japan.
This is also the first Dragon Ball movie to be within the continuity of the series and manga. Taking place during a ten year time chunk late in the Z story. All other Dragon Ball and Z movies have been alternate universe or side-stories that don't fit in (with slight exception to Garlic Jr who made his way into the TV show.) This production also had the franchises creator, Akira Toriyama, heavily involved. Toriyama himself said he wanted to it partly as vengeance for the 2009 live action movie Dragonball: Evolution, which was a critical, financial, and all around failure especially to the franchise as a whole.

Personal History: Although there are ways of seeing this before it's brought to the states this is my first viewing. I do have an extensive personal history with the genre, though. Something I'll cover in the review section.

Review: Dragon Ball and I go back a long ways. Way back to middle school days. Can't say when I first got into it but it was at a time when we still had dial up internet, I had to be driven to school, and I didn't know what 'subtitled' meant yet. It became one of my biggest obsessions as a kid. I went nuts buying the tapes at absurdly high prices back when anime cost an arm and a leg just to get three episodes. Beyond that I went so far as to ordering bootleg tapes online of the movies and final episodes long before they were localized in America. Could talk forever about how obsessed I was with Dragon Ball.
With that said I have not kept up over the years. I have little to no knowledge of what the franchise has been up to if anything at all. I didn't even see all of GT but I hear that's okay to miss. I've seen the games show up here and there in the states. All I've seen since the glory days was a little of Dragon Ball Z Kai, aka DBZ abridged, so technically nothing new. Outside of that the only interest I've had in the franchise recently is to collect the original TV series on DVD (although I'm considering Blu-ray) now that it's actually affordable.
So this experience was set to be a fun return to the franchise for me. I can also be more open minded now that I'm not heavily invested in everything. At the same time that could be the downfall. Seeing as how Dragon Ball knows it's audience it will definitely play to that audience. I imagined everything I knew, loved and hated about the TV show would show up in the movie in a more condensed, eighty five minute version. Is that a good thing? Was hard to say going in. What I will say is I was incredibly excited going in while worried I was keeping my expectations too high with how much I'd enjoy it.
Well... I was not disappointed.

Before I continue I feel I should point out the obvious. This is definitely a movie made specifically with fans in mind. There's not just tons of references and callbacks to the series but there's also a lot of that knowledge incorporated into the story and how it plays out. This is definitely not entry-level Dragon Ball. It expects you to know a thing or two and doesn't care if you didn't do your homework.
But that's the great thing about this new movie. It takes the old and gives us that with a great mixture of new. Most of which is quite good.

Now I don't get to see animation on the big screen too often. Going beyond that I see 2D hand drawn animation even less often on the big screen. Adding on top of that it's an animation style and design I'm so used to seeing at home strictly for TV, done in a style that fits for TV. Bringing that to the big screen has always offered a unique experience that I find hard to explain. Like seeing something so familiar in an unfamiliar format.
That transition went incredibly well here. The vibrant colors and character design work well on the big screen. Not to mention the bigger budget offered supremely better animation than what would be seen on the show. You may find it odd I'm pointing that out but some of the previous movies had almost identical animation quality to the show. So not horrible, just not pulling off what it could. Thankfully Battle of Gods is likely one of the best looking of any Dragon Ball show or movie.
I say "likely" because the animation has one major downfall. While the traditional drawings look incredibly with a high quality, high definition reworking the animators also decided to include some 3D animation into the mix. I realize other countries aren't as advanced in their 3D technology as we are but this was still pretty rough for a 2013 movie. It just didn't blend well with the 2D animation winding up looking good only about half the time.

Thankfully it isn't present too long and doesn't break the immersion too often. After all this movie is very unique for a Dragon Ball storyline and the best part of it all is the antagonist. Lord Beerus isn't the same song and dance enemy like pretty much every single one before him. Something that's bugged me about Dragon Ball is how every new enemy is "THE MOST POWERFUL FOE WE'VE EVER FACED!" and said foe (like Frieza, Cell, Buu) is usually overly evil with the motivation of either killing all Saiyans or destroying the world. Beerus had different motivation.
Beerus, for context, is an actual god in the Dragon Ball universe. Not god-like. Multiple times he's straight up refereed to as a deity. His visual concept sure shows it, too, as they went as old school as possible by basing him off Egyptian gods going so far as making him look like a cat dressed in Egyptian-style clothing.

The story here is that Beerus has been asleep for the last thirty-nine years, waking early from what was supposed to be a fifty year sleep. He woke because of the prophecy of a worthy opponent known as a Super Saiyan God. So he travels to the only place Saiyans are left. Earth. Which may sound like a pretty standard Dragon Ball Z plot but the way it's handled is what makes it unique.
Right from the start Beerus is presented as the not so serious type. Going in I knew nothing about the character, assuming it would be standard protocol or at least kicked up a notch because this was looking to be a big movie. Imagine my surprise when the introduction of Beerus was a Warner Brothers style of "get out of bed!" humor. Matter of fact he carried himself so casually I didn't like it at first. I found it hard to believe this was the antagonist. Not only not feeling the threat, but when he gets in a sparring match with Goku near the begging and takes him out with two simple blows I found it hard to believe our heroes would find a way to beat him in the next hour.
But as the movie went on I started to really like him. He turned out to be a really cool villain because his presentation almost transcended him as a villain into something else. I started to remember that this guy is, in this universe, the literal god of destruction. If he really wanted to he could have wiped out the entire planet without even thinking about it. With that power means his life needs some excitement, which is why he went to earth in the first place.
Not because he was angry, not because he wanted to take over, he was simply looking for a challenger since he hasn't had a worthy one in so long. And the way he handles his threat to destroy earth is so simple it's kind of genius. His perspective goes beyond what a human or other mortals comprehend so it may seem silly to destroy a world because he was slightly annoyed. But that's the type of creature he is. He's a god after all. Destroying earth would be like us taking out a bee hive. A bee doesn't even have to sting us. It can just be annoying and we take it out.

So how does the movie play out? With big epic battles? Long power up sequences? Sometimes it does. For the most part it doesn't which is what makes it so unique.
Berrus' intentions are simply to find the Super Saiyan God for a challenge. He has no immediate issue with anyone on earth and has no real anger related issues connected with destroying earth unless he gets annoyed. So what happens throughout the second act of the movie? Berrus is enjoying a birthday party. No joke. Matter of fact a lot of this movie is very humorous. Definitely no joke.
Not sure if it was the crowd at the theatre or if it was really this funny but I found myself laughing at quite a bit of the movie. There were either humorous situation, funny dialogue, or all around silliness. Granted this is anime so there's a lot of anime trope humor. If you watch anime chances are you'll know what I'm talking about. If not, then I'll explain by saying anime humor tends to have the subtlety and cleverness of a frying pan to the face. Not saying that's always a bad thing, anime just doesn't know how to swing it most of the time.
Not Dragon Ball. I feel it has a better sense of how silly it is and it embraces it. Going through the franchise you'll find a lot of serious situations but rarely done straight faced. There's always been a lot of humor regardless of the situation. Making Dragon Ball pretty self aware but done surprisingly well for the genre it's a part of. And that's present in this movie.
Granted there are a lot of cringe-worthy jokes but that's to be expected. Partly because I felt the localization was pretty poor here and there... or that's the original writers trying too hard to be funny and relevant. Despite well executed scenarios and situations it still had piss poor dialogue in many spots.

When it's not being funny the movie is kicking a lot of ass. The final battle was pretty hardcore, albeit brief. Nothing too out of the ordinary for Dragon Ball. Flying all over the place, tons of blasts and screaming, they even wind up in damn near outer space which is where the fight has it's climax. With the higher production value it felt stronger than what you'd see on TV. And even though it is tons shorter than what we'd see on TV (obviously) I was not disappointed by how exciting it was.
Simply put, even when it's all said and done this new movie delivers in the same way the show did if not better. It's like it never went off the air it was so well done!
This finishes off with a fantastic ending where (SPOILERS!) Berris finds Goku to be such a worthy opponent that he lets him go with no hard feelings, leaving as friends, and decides not to destroy the earth. Later it is revealed Berrus didn't use his full power. Not even seventy percent. (SPOILERS END!)
Come to think of it. This was so much like Dragon Ball yet unlike Dragon Ball that it felt more like a character study than "another exciting adventure!" Since there wasn't a lot of fighting we got to know Berrus more in eighty five minutes more than other villains in a season's length of episodes. Even if it meant having some stupidly written exposition.

Which was one of my few problems with the movie along with the other stuff I mentioned much earlier.
I know I already mentioned this as well but there was some bad writing in an otherwise really well done movie for this franchise. Sure you can laugh off most of it but not all of it. Heck, even some parts had repeated dialogue that reminded me of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Still this is hardly a complaint because it's part of the charm. I don't (and I don't think many) watch Dragon Ball to take it seriously. It's hilariously fun because it knows it's corny, which doesn't mean it's bad, either. Kinda like Star Wars. Campy as hell and when it tries to take itself too seriously it suffers.
The only other thing I didn't like was when it tried too hard to deliver fan services. I'm specifically talking about the Emperor Pilaf side-story. Too much of the middle of this movie was taken up by Emperor Pilaf and his minions Mai and Shu trying to get the dragon balls. They previously wished to be young again but were turned into children and now regret it as they try to get another wish out. This call back all the way back to the original Dragon Ball franchise (pre-Z) did bring a lot of funny bits but was completely unnecessary. If it was the show then it would feel fine cause it's filler. But when your movie is already a short eighty five minutes I don't want filler. I want what needs to be there.

While not brilliant or an anime game changer this new movie was definitely a surprise that's easy to recommend. If you love Dragon Ball then you'll love this movie. If you hate Dragon Ball this won't change your mind. If you're on the fence or haven't watched in a long time this is definitely worth a shot. You may be surprised how strong some characters come off instead of stupid or one dimensional. Yes, I just described a Dragon Ball movie that way. That's how good this was!
...just as long as you're already a Dragon Ball fan or open minded.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Clover Reviews! Volume 1 -> Episode 10

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"It embraces the original while expanding on the story as a whole and gives you a reason to come back for the next one. I'm excited!"

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Rings of Saturn Review #1: Daytona USA

History: Originally released in arcades in 1994, the game was ported to the Sega Saturn in the spring of 1995 making it a launch title for the console in the states (in Japan the Saturn came out the previous fall/winter). Much like the arcade version the game received a lot of praise despite not playing as strong or looking as good in the arcades. An extended edition (of sorts) was released in late 1996 known as 'Daytona USA: Championship Circuit Edition' and it included more tracks, better visuals, and even online play!

Availability: Was released exclusively for the Sega Saturn with no ports or sequels until years later. Daytona USA 2 was released exclusively in arcades in 1998 with no home ports. Then a remake of the original was released in 2000/2001 (depending on your region) for the Dreamcast. An HD upgrade closer to the original game is really easy to find for modern systems. You can buy it on the Playstation Store or XBox Live Arcade. I have not played it but I'm sure it's fine and dandy. To my understanding it is faithful to the arcade, non-remake edition but with improved graphics and multiplayer options.

Personal History: I remember having this game as part of a three-pack that either came with my Saturn or I picked up second hand. The three-pack included this, Virtua Fighter 2, and Virtua Cop. I never owned a proper, original boxed copy until now come to think of it.

Version I Played: US version, non-Championship Circuit Edition release both then and now. Using standard controller as I don't have the driving controller yet.

Review: I finally did it! I finally picked up a Sega Saturn again. And this time it's for keeps. No more of this buy/sell/trade crap. I am so happy to have it again and I plan on embracing it much like I've been embracing my Dreamcast. I plan on building my collection for this over the less interesting modern consoles, not to mention doing plenty of importing. Until I build up the cash to make my collection a strong standing one I'll start with a more common title. Less expensive for sure, but still a classic.

Racing games have never really been my cup of tea, and when they are they're not the realistic kind. I love Cruisin' USA, Crash Team Racing, Mario Kart 64, Burnout 3: Takedown, and of course the Saturn exclusive Sonic R (didn't see that coming I bet.) I have tried to get into games like Gran Turismo multiple times but it's never done it for me. I could never get used to the way it controlled, or at the very least I never had the patience or interest to get better at it. Whatever, when the game becomes work and I'm not invested it's not fun anymore. Maybe that's why it's been so hard for me to get into the Ultima games (conversation for another day.) There are of course few exceptions and Daytona USA is one of them.

The reason being? Daytona USA is just good old fashioned video game fun!
Come to think of it Daytona USA is a rarity. Typically game genres have a very clear presence in the market rarely crossing over. This is especially true with sports games. While you may see first person shooter games that play out like a role playing game or a sidescroller with some puzzle-like twists you don't see sports games in the mix. And no, games like Mario Kart do not count. While racing is technically a sport that is so disconnected from the sport it's not even in the same universe.
What makes Daytona USA standout is it can appeal to both the casual observer while pleasing fans of actual racing at least on a casual level.

First it gets it right visually. There are elements of realism to the design of the cars and tracks without them being licensed. I don't know about you but the moment something goes into the world of licensed property my thoughts and attitude toward said game changes. If Sega produced a NASCAR game I would have likely looked at it differently until it proved to be better than the typical garbage that comes out. But Daytona, while referencing a very real speedway in Florida, never presents itself like a licensed product.
There's also no reference to real racers. This may not please NASCAR-like fans but the way Sega interprets their original ideas make them feel like real race cars. It's a unique experience from Sega instead of a digital interpretation of what real racers are driving that, again, can please real life racing fans and general video game fans.
I'm not aware of any sort of accuracy with the tracks but I imagine those are like everything else in the game. Referencing something real but not a direct interpretation. Because of this originality in their execution I'd say, in the gaming world, more people recognize Daytona as a racing game than an actual race track. Unlike other sports games where even gamers will recognize the real people or real sport over the game.
Daytona USA became so iconic to the gaming market the Hornet (the car in all the advertisements) is practically it's own character. Constantly being referenced in later Sega games including Fighters Megamix where it was a playable character.

This is a real screenshot from a real game developed by Sega, not a hack.

Really the visual concept is top notch and very appealing. As is the actual gameplay.
The whole reason Daytona USA is so loved is because it has that nice middle ground approach more games need. Meaning it's easy enough to pick up and play (as it was originally an arcade game) and while you may not get first place every time you can do well enough to keep moving onto new tracks or replaying old ones. At the same time it has the ability to be incredibly challenging depending on the track you chose or if you play via manual or automatic driving. Like I talked about in my Nights into Dreams review, easy to pick up and difficult to master. The perfect combination for an arcade game of any kind.
Believe it or not the driving mechanics are what make this game what it is. Adding to the widespread appeal it has this very approachable yet slightly realistic mechanic. When driving you feel a sense of weight to your vehicle. Unlike other raters like, let's say, Cruisin' USA/World/Exotica where you are bouncing all over the place with little to no consequence Daytona makes you think about each turn but not as much as more realistic driving games like Gran Turismo. Still enough to make you think about each turn instead of flinging the wheel all over the place.
Besides, there are consequences for poor driving.

Thank you to whoever photoshopped this and put it on Google.

Depending on what generation of games you date back to you may find it hard to believe that Daytona's cars were affected by the damage done by slamming into other cars or into walls. So if you're bashing all over and you notice your car isn't doing so well it may be a good idea to stop into the pit stop where they'll do a quick fix up on your car. While not entirely realistic in how quickly and easily they fix up your car it adds a sense of realism seen in actual races. Definitely more realistic than when you crash into walls and your car literally flips into the air only to land safely and keep driving like nothing happened.

Gratuitous pit stop screenshot.

I really have very few complaints about the experience Daytona USA offers. It definitely holds up for me and I can't wait to get a steering wheel to play it properly. Despite being a visually less appealing experience than the arcade it's still a great port, especially since I've read reports it was a rushed port to get it to the Saturn market. Which is likely why there was a second edition released outside of simply adding online features. And while the draw distance is far from pretty (especially with all the clipping) it doesn't really bother me because I'm so engrossed in the race itself.

Really my only complaints are petty and have to take the times and context into consideration. For example, there are only three tracks. Easy, medium, and expert. They are all very well done tracks for sure but it may leave you craving for more. Also while the Saturn version lets you play as a couple other cars unlike the arcade version that lets you play as one with either manual or automatic transmission, the difference in the cars isn't that significant. Meaning you'll likely just pick the care you like the most and stick to that.
This will probably come off as absurd from my modern perspective but the lack of options is what I don't like about this game. Which, like I said, is petty for a number of reasons. Since this is a port of an arcade game I can't expect there to be a ton of options. Especially from the early days of 3D. Still the lack of content does make this a game that only offers me short play sessions unless I were in competition with friends. Something I can't even do proper with this version because it only offers single player play. Until I get a second controller and a copy of the Championship Circuit Edition I'll be doing this solo.
I guess I'm a bit too used to my games being longer and with a story. As much as I like arcade games in concept this is definitely a wake up call that they don't appeal to me as much at home as they used to. Which is the most unfortunate part of this otherwise positive review. That this game will likely collect dust while I'm trying to get to the next disc in Enemy Zero also on Saturn, level up in Phantasy Star Online on Dreamcast, or whatever I've got going on, on PS3 right now.

While I haven't played the enhanced Championship Circuit Edition I imagine it's better than this original version. Same goes for the Dreamcast version and digital re-release on modern consoles yet I still think this original has value. If you're looking to jump into Saturn collecting this is still a good game to pick up. I've found it's less expensive than the enhanced version. Also you'll likely find the old three-pack I mentioned way, way back at the beginning of this post that also includes Virtua Fighter 2 and Virtua Cop. Still this is a very common game to find and you can find it cheap. I got mine complete with case and manual for $5. It may not have as many bells and whistles as other editions but it's not a bad choice. If you don't have a Saturn or the interest in picking up one you can always get it on PS3 or XBox 360.
Can't wait to pick up the enhanced version and so a review comparing and contrasting. Minus the online play of course...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Review: Boyhood

Version I Watched: Theatrical cause it FINALLY made it here!

History: This ambitious project's inception dates all the way back to 2002 despite coming out just this year. Richard Linklater assembled a cast and crew and shot little by little over the course of twelve years to watch the story's lead, Mason, grow as the actor grew in real life. Played by Ellar Coltrane he was cast at the age of seven and filming finished at eighteen. Making this the most literal coming of age story in film history.
Production was done in a very non-traditional way outside of the twelve year schedule. The first being they could not sign contracts for this project, because it's illegal to do something for more than seven years contractually. Branching off that I am assuming signing and re-signing had it's own complications as well. In addition to this Ethan Hawke, who plays Mason's father, was so involved in the project that Richard Linklater said if he died during production that Hawke would have to finish it.
While Richard Linklater is credited as writing the film he didn't have a full script done when they started. Instead it was written throughout the twelve years they filmed it, even getting the cast involved in the writing process. The film also didn't have a title until everything was wrapping up. At first it was going to be titled 12 Years. A title that was changed quickly to avoid confusion with 12 Years A Slave, which was released the year before Boyhood.
The film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival where it received a lot of praise. It also played at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival where Richard Linklater won best director. It eventually received a limited release in July this year, slowly opening to more and more screens as the weeks went on, currently still considered a limited release film as you will likely not find this at any old cinema. So far it's only made a little over $10 million which is still good for how limited a release it's gotten. Even better is it only cost around $2.5-$4 million to make.
Lastly, it currently holds a staggeringly high 99% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Personal History: First viewing of a film I've literally waited years to see. I remember stumbling across this in early college. Meaning it wasn't even halfway done when I first hear about it. And back then it was simply labelled as 'Untitled 12-Year Project' or something like that. I knew little to nothing about it and wondered if it would even be completed. Beyond that... if it would ever be seen by the masses. Thankfully it was finished and it has made it's limited release.

Review: I am so happy this film exists.
In an industry full of people who are jumping on the gravy trains of what's HOT AND NEW all for the sake of a cash grab it's always good to know there are artists out there with the patience and dedication to not just tell a story, but to make groundbreaking art. Never before has something been done to this level. And I guarantee it'll be a long time before it's done again.
Seriously, even if this totally blew. Even if it was a big letdown I would have still respected it for what it did. Thankfully that wasn't the case. Cause this experience was so unlike what I've experienced before. I'm hesitant to simplify it by saying it was one of the best of the year. While not necessarily in my top ten, I could see this jumping very high into one of my top films of all time.

I'll do my best to keep this spoiler free by only talking in detail about the first half while only hinting or glossing over the second half. Then again since this is the life story of a boy's life from first to twelfth grade it's hard not to spoil it cause I'm sure you can predict what will happen at certain points.

The opening is simple. We are dropped into the world of a seven year old boy first shown laying in the grass staring into the sky just like on the poster. He's picked up by his mom where they have a cute chat about his day. We quickly learn he has a big sister and are living in a broken home. His dad isn't around and his mom has a knack of making bad mistakes. With that we're given the setup to the next twelve years of this boys life as he tries to survive it all.
Survive his mom's new men, meaning new dads. Survive not seeing his real dad very often. Survive moving around and going to new schools being forced to make new friends. Just surviving life which gets especially difficult in his teen years as it did for all of us. While not having the literal exact same experiences I did, I did find a lot of moments and elements of Mason's life and his experiences very familiar.
Which is easily one of the best parts of this story. Almost anyone seeing this movie as it's released can have a personal experience connected to it in a way I've never seen before. He shared some of my same interests, had similar fumbling experiences talking to girls, and had moments of trying to look cool around peers or older kids. Girls can even relate through Mason's sister, Samantha, by seeing themselves in her or recognizing their own brother's traits in Mason. Then there's the parental aspect. If you're a parent of a child born within the last twenty to thirty years, maybe even beyond, I know you'll find something familiar in this world. Even if you're not divorced from your spouse like Mason's parent's were.
This was such a relatable experience. Even though Mason is seven years younger than I am I still felt a strong connection considering we grew up in similar eras. The early 2000's weren't that much different from the mid-late 90's. It's just the cultural references had a different form of reminiscing to me. Like when they mention the Bush v Kerry election when he was still in elementary school but I was in high school, or talking about movies like The Dark Knight when he was in late middle school and I was in college. None the less it's not the references but the experiences he went through.

Speaking of cultural references. I can't think of a single moment where this movie felt dated. Richard Linklater did an amazing job of making the film feel like it was done all at once instead of over a long period of time. An incompetent filmmaker may not have been able to stay so consistent with the film's look and feel.
Best part of all it never had the need to make it clear what year it was.
Unlike period pieces set in, let's say, the 1970's where an entire decade is boiled down to some cliches Boyhood was done in and of the moment so how would they know what was the cliche? How would they know what would last? Because of that all the design choices feel stupendously organic solely because it was filmed in and of the moment. And the more I think about it there are lots of older films done in and of the moment that didn't realize they were being a cliche. So bravo to Linklater for keeping things neutral where the most out of date stuff are references to the Iraq war or Mason playing a Game Boy Advance SP.

This organic feeling transfers into the pacing of the film. If you were unaware the movie is fifteen minutes short of three hours. Not something you'd see often for a coming of age story like this. But every minute matters here. There is so much story to tell that I can't think of a single moment that should have been cut. If anything I wanted it to be longer! A few extra minutes in each year of his life. This movie could have been four hours and I wouldn't have cared.
It really never drags. There's always something going on and it's never predictable outside of knowing next year he'll be in high school or something like that. Not like the characters know what will come next as you shouldn't either and it was written that way. As I mentioned in the 'History' section this movie was written year by year with the cast heavily involved. It was a part of their life, too, as they lived the characters so it only makes sense to do it that way. As I said before the film is unpredictable because life is unpredictable. You may anticipate living the rest of your life with a new dad and new siblings. What you may not predict is this new dad is a drunken jerk and your mom would leave him within two years anyway. But what happens and how it happens isn't a matter of how predictable it is. It's how realistic it feels.
Can I say this had to be one of the most realistic movies I've ever seen? The sibling relationship between Mason and his sister Samantha feels so natural, as if they were real siblings. Not to mention Mason's parents, while separated, radiate this love for their children I don't even see in some real parents in real life. Both of which were brilliantly portrayed by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. The two most famous faces in the movie. Something that does not damage the film especially since everyone else is an unknown. It's in that lack of familiarity in the actors that keeps this story alive for such a long screen time. It makes them feel far more real.

There were a few times when I felt some performances or execution of acting styles weren't up to snuff. Including the alcoholic Mason's mom marries early on and Mason's photography teacher in high school. Both these characters and a few of the other 'elder' characters will have these words of wisdom or are trying to teach Mason a lesson and sometimes in an overbearing way. In these speeches and anecdotes they come off as pompous and overblown in a way that seems too much to be truly realistic.
Then as the story moved I thought about it more. Rarely are there scenes without Mason, and while it chronicles Mason's life for so long I also feel we see the world through his eyes. When we see his photography in high school they are all or are mostly beautiful images or meaningful images. We see the highlights that he thinks are best. We don't really see a series of crap (and this movie had enough time to show it.) So if we see the world from his eyes it would only make sense we'd see the adults who give him a good talking to in a cartoonish light.
Don't you remember getting a good talking to by a parent, guardian, supervisor, teacher, when you were younger and feeling like they're standing on a soapbox? Well that's how I anticipate Mason felt in those situations and I feel it transferred into the performance of those characters. It all made much more sense in my mind looking at it that way and I hope you can understand what I mean when you finally see it.

I just can't express enough how much this story feels like a real life experience. Part of which is captured brilliantly by the filming method. A similar story could be told using traditional methods of hiring multiple actors for multiple ages but in no way would it give the same results. Really this is the best way to do a coming of age story because you see the actual actors come of age. An inefficient method but it obviously gives results. It had an aging method like cheese or a fine whiskey. It took a long time to make and it's better for it. Not because of a hellish production. Because it required the time.
The results are breathtaking as it feels like real life. With the length of the movie you spend a lot of time with the characters. But unlike other lengthy movies where you see them grow or develop as characters across a few days, months, maybe a couple years at most you really get a grasp of growing up in a non-cliche way.

In the last half of the movie we see Mason get taller, his hair gets longer, and he eventually has a little awkward facial hair like most guys did at one point. I thought about how much he changed over the last hour and half or more. I started thinking about how he looked at the beginning of the movie, not really noticing how much he had grown until it was a very noticeable change whether in his size or his voice. I then realized that while I remember that version of him I couldn't get out of my head his 'current' image at that time. I saw him change little by little over a long period of time. Next thing you know we have a Mason that looks exactly like and nothing like the little boy he used to be when we first met him...
...just like real life.
It's the same when we look in the mirror. The changes are so minor we don't notice until we look back at what we use to be. Whether in physical appearance or in mental attitude.
Watching Boyhood is like reliving your own childhood and not in the way an old video game or cartoon does. Boyhood doesn't take you back to the fun times you had watching some show or listening to some song. It takes you back to the good and the bad. It makes you remember the hard times and how you're better now because you found a way to survive it. It reminds you, you were never alone even though you felt it. It reminds you of your own life, your sibling's life, your child's life, and in the far future it will help your own child understand your life.

Even though this movie is R rated I think it would be good for younger audiences to see it. How young is up to you but when my future child gets to their teen years I could see this as a great story to show them. It doesn't show them anything they wouldn't be seeing or hearing in school so there's no harm. At least if they watch it with a parent there's a teacher by the side to compare and contrast with their own values in raising a family. Something that would be good to discuss for some families as there are a couple brief scenes that don't exactly make religion look like a good thing. They make it seem more silly while never truly slapping it across the face... strangely.
Still, it could be a good teaching tool. To say "here's an example of what you once experienced and here's something you may experience in your future." Making this one of the most groundbreaking and important films in years. I can see this helping out a lot of young and confused kids trying to find their place in the world. That's the problems Mason experienced as many of us did. Also like a lot of us life had it's ups and downs for Mason. There were good times and bad. He may not have been the all star quarterback or the most popular but he had his friends and his own unique ideas to keep him sane.

This is the least cliche coming of age story you may ever see. If you claim it has a lot of familiar elements and see it as a bad thing then take a look at most people's lives and you'll realize that 'cliche' is simply accurate. At least for middle class suburban America.
Mason may have had a different life than you did. Maybe your parents weren't split up. Maybe you had three brothers and no sister. Maybe you were a girl. Regardless you can find something within this that will take you back and help you grow up again more than any other movie out there.

Screw Star Wars, screw Ninja Turtles, screw Nintendo, if you want to really relive your childhood then see Boyhood.

I'm in love with this song by the way.