Saturday, January 31, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 34

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"This goofy and wild adventure is exactly what I needed after a long day at bunny work."

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.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 33

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"They missed the opportunity to call it Fatter, Sicker & Closer to Death! Hahaha! Hahaha!... this movie made me feel fat."

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.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

2015 in Gaming - My Top 3

I rarely pay full, day one price for video games anymore. It's mostly a budget and interest issue. In collecting older games sometimes I pay $50+ for a game due to rarity. But these days so many of the good games can and likely will get cheaper over time. So paying $60 on day one seems silly, but also I could be paying a ton of money or a game that may not feel worth that amount, especially if I could wait a year and get it at half the price with DLC included.
Over the last 5+ years I've bought day one only a handful of times. Thankfully those have all been fulfilling experiences. But with the great outlook of 2015 gaming there are three games I am highly considering, and likely will, buy on day one as a matter of excitement, support, and I know it will feel worth my time.
Why three? Because there's not enough out there to excite me for day one purchases. And the fact there's three is a little surprising as is. So here they are in alphabetical order...

Grim Fandango: Remastered (Playstation Vita)
In the history of gaming there's been a very short list of games that didn't sell well during their initial release, became a cult classic, and got re-released eventually. Unlike film where re-releasing is easy because of the nature of the medium. But for games many times your old favorites may only work on an old computer with specific settings, or futzing with your current computer. That was the case for Grim Fandango.
This game was first released for Windows computers in 1998. It was a smash critical success but was a commercial failure. Still for many years people sang of it's praise, and now, a little over fifteen years later, fans of the game are treated to a remaster on modern computers, Playstation 4, and my little buddy the Playstation Vita.
I never played the game in it's entirety when it came out in the 90's but I saw what it could be. At the time I wasn't into adventure games. Which makes my interest in this game odd considering I wasn't used to that kind of game, hardly even aware of the genre to be honest. I had interests in PC gaming but never had the cash to play the games because it was the 90's and I was 11 when Grim first came out.
When I found out about this surprising re-release I was through the roof. I could finally play through it to see what the whole experience was about in this adventure, playing as the grim reaper in a film noir-esque story through the Land of the Dead. This could only happen now in the days of digital and the internet and I am thankful for it.
Thing I'm most thankful for? This will probably be a good $15 on day one. No worries having to pay $40-$60 here.

Mario Maker (Wii-U)
I've legitimately tried getting into level editors in games many times before. Most recently was LittleBigPlanet. A game with a great level editor full of possibilities... but I don't know. It really hasn't been my sort of thing. Going even further I've tried games like RPG Maker... on the PS1. I've tried so many times with so many of these things and I just never got into it despite my creative mind and desires.
So what makes Mario Maker different? Why is this the one that has me saying "YES! DAY ONE FOR ME!" Some may say nostalgia, which has a factor. Like many others my age Super Mario Brothers was one of the first games I ever played. What really does it for me are two things... simplicity and the tablet.
The simplicity of Mario Brothers is very appealing to those who haven't done this a lot or at all. It has a very simple set of pieces that can build a world of possibilities. Goombas, pipes, blocks, etc, but the original game, when you think about it, was essentially the same assets used over and over that made a world that felt huge! You can also make levels in the style of the "New" Mario Brothers games, which is nice, I'm just more interested in the older style.
The other is the tablet. The editing tools I've already mentioned were console controller based. Something that requires a lot of time and patience because of the nature of the control. I'm sure the PC dweebs could give me shit, saying to use mouse and keyboard, but even something like that isn't terribly appealing to me. I like to use my hands and using the tablet is the closest thing to an art project, placing cutouts on a sheet to make a level.
Give me the stylis, the tablet, free flowing moment that's better than a mouse, and I can get into it with the Mario Paint style tools.

Persona 5 (Playstation 3)
This one is the creme de la creme for me this year. If you saw my review of Persona 4 Golden or my top 10 games list you'd know I have a burning passion in my heart for this franchise. I'm yet to get through the other games before it, but have at least tried and enjoyed what I've seen so far. But Persona 4 was such a perfect storm of so many things I love about RPGs and gaming, and things I didn't know I liked or wanted. And while the previous games in the franchise haven't hit me on a personal level like Persona 4 did I am still very excited for what Persona 5 can offer.
This franchise has had a consistent increase in quality over all the games. The first was a unique experiment in many ways not just in setting but in mechanics. I haven't played the second game but from what I can tell it took what made Persona so great but even better. Then 3 came along on a new generation and excelled it to a whole new level of greatness. Then Persona 4 was even BETTER! So with Persona 5 coming out on yet another new console generation it gives a lot of possibility to what will come next.
Will it be as good as Persona 4? Objectively it could be. I know it won't hit me as hard on a personal level. But if this franchise has proved anything to me it's that it always provides an excellent and engaging gaming experience that can last me over one hundred hours because I let it. One of the best parts about this game right now is how little we know. It means whatever comes next will be exciting and surprising because not too much was hyped or spoiled before release.
Even though I have a heck of a lot of games in my backlog for multiple consoles I plan on letting this game take over when released. I rarely get this excited for a new game so I plan to embrace that excitement by supporting Atlus and paying full price on day one to get this beauty.
I look forward to our time together Persona 5.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 32

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"I think all our lives would be improved if we had our own Emma Stone walking around in cute 1920's outfits all the time."

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.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 - Episode 31

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"Call me an old softie but I really enjoyed this."

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.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Review: The Village (Giving it a second chance)

History: In proper Shyamalan fashion, The Village's production was kept under tight secrecy. This is because he was known for twist endings, so revealing too much ahead of time could spoil the movie before it's release. Despite tight measures the film's script was stolen and leaked a year before release. When the movie came out the ending was different than the one in the script. Whether it was changed because it was stolen or for creative reasons is all speculative of course.

Once released it received mixed reviews, most of which were negative. In recent years it has picked up a more positive look and even has a cult following by Shyamalan fans. Even though it wasn't a critical success it was a financial success raking in $256 million worldwide on a $60 million budget.
After release Shyamalan was accused of plagiarism. There are a striking number of similarities between The Village and the 1995 novel Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix. These key points are connected to the movie's ending so I won't talk about it here. At one point Haddix threatened to sue Shyamalan, but Shyamalan wrote off the similarities as "meritless." As far as I know it didn't go any further than that.

Personal History: Saw this only once before, in college, and I missed the first ten or fifteen minutes cause I walked into that movie night late. I don't remember how I felt but it must have been pretty middle ground. I don't remember loving it and I don't remember hating it. Matter of fact I don't remember it much at all.

Version I Watched: Netflix instant streaming.

Review: Back in Shyamalan's heyday of popularity I was definitely a fan. I really liked The Sixth Sense, loved Unbreakable even more, and even enjoyed Signs for a while (not so much anymore.) Like everyone else I lost interest as his movies got worse and worse. I'm no longer excited when he comes out with movies, though, because of how bad they've become. Like he used up all his good ideas right away and now is trying to get by with the few he has left.
Since The Village was right after Signs I was on board after seeing the trailer, knowing what came before it. It came and went, never saw it in theatres. As I stated in the 'personal history' section I didn't see it til college (about 3 years after it came out) and even then I wouldn't call it a proper screening.

So why now? Well it showed up in my Netflix recommendations recently and I decided to give it another go. Seeing as this was when Shyamalan was on his way downhill... but hadn't hit rock bottom quite yet... I felt it could have some redeeming values.

Before I continue I think it should be said this will be a spoiler filled review. If you haven't seen the movie and want to be surprised then you should probably turn around now.

Let's talk concept first. If there's anything I've always loved about The Village it's the concept.
The story is set in a late 1800's village in a remote area surrounded by woods. In those woods live a group of "those we do not speak of" who they have a truce with. They follow a simple set of rules and the creatures don't bother them. Slowly throughout the story the truce appears to fall apart, causing a scare within the village, especially when a key character is on the edge of death and one of them has to venture through the woods to get medicine.
The unseen evil is one of the scariest things in the world to me. Knowing something out there either wants to hurt you or wants you dead, yet you know so little about them so you have no way of defending yourself, is flat out terrifying. This is somewhat well executed early in the story when we only get brief glimpses of the creatures from around a corner or hear their roars. Makes for a great atmosphere in a world full of the scared and defenseless.

Sadly this element isn't as strong as it could be. As good as Shyamalan is/was at coming up with cool concepts and clever twists, his movies aren't particularly well written, nor do they convey the tone I think he wants them to.
Not only is it the writing but it's the directing he gives and the editing around those scenes. Some scenes he puts together are really engaging, while using some innovative ideas for the time. Everything else, though, can be incredibly clunky, awkward, and sometimes goofy. Best example here is when a young woman of the village (Kitty, played by Judy Greer) expresses her love to the man she wants to marry (Lucius, played by Joaquin Pheonix.) The dialogue is so bad. Like she's rambling. Then the face Joaquin makes when it cuts back to him is very "bwaaaahhh?!?!" and comical. It's a very poorly put together scene and this is not the only example of it.
A shame since many other parts of the movie are quite well done, only to be damaged or ruined by this poor execution of filmmaking.

When Shyamalan isn't screwing up another scene he is setting a good tone with some good chills. Not as scary or over the top spooky the like the trailer implies it would be, but some good tension none the less. Not to mention some nice twists and turns before the actual twist at the end.
The horror of the bell warning the village "those we do not speak of" are coming, almost never seeing these creatures until the end, not knowing what they're capable of, it all conveys a great tone I really enjoyed. And personally I think the tone here is the strongest of all Shyamalan movies. Not something I can 100% accurately rate, but I have re-watched some of his movies in recent months and definitely wasn't as engaged as I was here.

Alright, alright, I think it's time to get to the ending, because that's why most people would be reading this review.

To bring you up to speed/remind you of the context of the ending.
Noah, played by Adrien Brody, with a performance I can't decide is stupid or brilliant, stabs Lucius because he's jealous that Lucius and Ivy (played by the lovely Bryce Dallas Howard) are falling in love. With Noah kept under tight wraps Lucius is on the edge of death and someone needs to travel through the forbidden woods to another town to get medicine.
Now this isn't revealed immediately but before Ivy leaves she's told "those we do not speak of" weren't real monsters, but the leaders of the village dressed up in costumes and used it to inflict fear and keep order. Only part of the twist ending as a whole.
As the movie finishes not only do we find out the monsters are fake, but also that they're not living in the 1800's. The village was made by a group of people tired of the real world so they went to an isolated wooded area to start over in a simpler time and lived their long enough to raise and convince all the young people that it isn't 2000-whatever.
A tradition the older residence plan to pass forward to a select few when they become old enough. Ivy and Lucius being first in line.

My thoughts on this ending are mixed because of how it is handled.

The problem here is I felt Shyamalan was trying to cram too many twists into the ending when there were already elements of a good twist there. It doesn't have to bring the house down every single time, man, something you would poorly learn in The Happening ("There are forces at work beyond our understanding.")
Having the twist be it was a ruse all along would have been fine. Not great, but fine if pretty dark. Like the leaders have a crazy power trip over controlling the village. But to add to that, they mention the creatures were based on legends. What if they said the creatures were a ruse, but then the actual creature they based their's on turned out to be real! That would have been better than the unnecessary addition of Noah escaping and attacking Ivy in the monster suit while she travels through the woods. It almost hints there's some sort of reality to the monsters but falls flat and is uninteresting because we already know the truth.

Then the fact it takes place in modern times. Again, it was kinda cool it turned out this way but was a jumbled mess to get there. It was so clumsily explained, like when Shyamalan makes his cameo and references planes being restricted from going over that wooded area. What I would have liked more is if it was a similar twist, but the leaders of the village didn't know about the 'beasts' when they moved in, giving them their own mystery of it they're real or not, potentially being tricked by an outside force.
In the end even my preferred twist if kept modern is about as convoluted as the actual ending.

At the end of the day the biggest twist was how much I enjoyed it. I was surprised I got as into it as I did when most of Shyamalan's work doesn't age well or is generally seen as crap from the start. I seriously was engaged for the most part. The story, acting, and so forth have problems that stick out like a sore thumb, but the experience as a whole was satisfying.
I can understand why this has a cult following now among Shyamalan fans. Will likely go down as his most underrated movie. I guess it's now time for me to revisit more of his work to see how well it stands up for me. I haven't seen since Unbreakable since college... not sure if I want to break my positive memories of that one, though...

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ignorant American Gaming: Duck Hunt on Wii-U (Quick Review)

History: Inspired by old, non video based gun games from the arcade that have been around for decades. Duck Hunt was released in 1984 for the Famicom in Japan, and in 1985 on the NES in America. Surprisingly Europe didn't get this game til 1987. The game was also released in arcades with some slight changes including 2 player and bonus rounds.
This was one of the few NES games that required the light gun controller, aka the Zapper. Between this fun controller and the addictive, albeit repetitive gameplay it became a mega hit with a legacy that lasts to this day. Ironically, it has not been consistently referenced or remade/sequelized like other beloved titles in the Nintendo catalog.
Then again not a lot of iconic games from that era didn't get that treatment... and if they did it wasn't until many years later, like Excitebike 64.

Personal History: Played Duck Hunt a ton when I was a kid... like many of you I'm sure. In recent years it's been very infrequent I'd play it. Most recently probably being late high school/early college.

Availability: As stated in the 'History' section it was initially released for the NES and arcades. That's where it stayed for 30 years, until Christmas of 2014 when it was released on the Wii-U Virtual Console for digital download.

Version I Played: See title. Wii-U version.

Review: This will be a quick look at the game seeing as there's not a whole lot to say about it, and because this is suppose to give you a quick idea what the port is like. So if you're someone who doesn't read through my super lengthy reviews... this one's for you... I guess.

Duck Hunt on the Wii-U is about as direct a port as a port can get for a game like this. Depending on your knowledge of gaming tech and modern TVs vs older TVs, you may or may not know that the light gun used in the original game wouldn't work on flat screens of these days. So instead we get to use the Wii remote, which makes sense, and makes me wonder why this wasn't released sooner on the original Wii.
My initial impressions of this port were positive. They didn't change a single thing, as they shouldn't, outside of optimizing it for the Wii remote. The only major difference here is you now have a crosshair on the screen to show where you're pointing. Again, makes sense, it's a little harder to tell where you're blindly pointing a remote than a gun. So while you're playing a classic it does constantly remind you you're playing a modern port... you can see here.

And I didn't mind. A lot of the fun of the original is present. You shoot using the B button underneath the remote to simulate the trigger of the gun. Which means if you have one of those stupid plastic holders for the remote you got with Link's Crossbow Training back in 2007 you're in for a more legitimate experience.
While earlier I wondered why this wasn't released for the original Wii, I'm glad it wasn't released until the Wii-U. I hated the Wii remote feedback, even after the Wii Remote Plus feature was added. It was such a flawed tech that worked so infrequently. But on the Wii-U the feedback is SO MUCH better somehow when using those same remotes. Moving and shooting the ducks as they fly across the screen is a smooth and fun experience because of this.

The biggest downside, though, is what makes it great. This may be years of experience speaking but I found the smooth control and crosshairs to make the game way too easy. What made light gun games, this and future games like Area 51 and Time Crisis, so much fun and so challenging was relying on your aiming skills and not always knowing where the bullet will land. Having the crosshair means you can blow ducks out of the sky with a tiny flick of the wrist without much thought instead of the panic you had with the gun.
On my first run through I got to round 20 in single duck, round 14 in double duck, and around that same area in clay pigeons. Was I having fun? You bet! Was it a little too easy. Maybe.

It doesn't mean it's a bad game. It's a different experience with new technology implemented the best and most efficient way possible. It's also very approachable for people who haven't played this before or haven't played light gun games in general. And for $5 you can't go wrong.

In short, might be a little too easy for experienced gamers because of the small changes, but still fun and worth the small amount of cash it requires to buy.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 30

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"I was hoping for "so bad it's good" but all I got was bad... really bad... boring, stupid, and heavy handed bad..."

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.