Tuesday, December 8, 2015

On the Cutting Room Floor: MinionsMania is Running Mild

Comic relief is an integral part of most narratives. It relieves tension and gives the audience a break to soak in important plot points and information. Sometimes, comic relief can take the form of a character, or in this case characters. As par for the course, these comic relief characters often become the standout stars of their respective movies. The Penguins from Madagascar, Shrek's Puss in Boots and the Minions of Despicable Me are just a few of these standouts that come to mind.

Since movie studios equate these characters' popularity to the success of their respective movies, standalone movies are made for them in order to capitalize on this supposed market. Sadly, the truth is these comic-relief characters just don't have the depth to hold people's attention for the length of a featured film. While the charming denim-wearing yellow Minions from the Despicable Me films may have the marketability, they fall under the same shortcomings.

Minions follows these titular creatures on their quest to find the evilest being on Earth to be their boss. Unfortunately, the Minions are unable keep one because their oblivious stupidity results in their boss' death. Sounds great, right? In actuality, only a small fraction of Minions is spent on the humourous dispatching of former bosses (much of which is already given away in the trailers).

The majority of Minions is spent jumping from one set piece to another without any intention on telling a satisfying story or developing the Minions as anything more than incompetent. Even the antagonists of the movie, Scarlet and Herb Overkill (Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm respectively), are an afterthought since they never amount to anything other than being the wacky psychopaths that are somehow more incompetent than the Minions.

How you enjoy the comedy of Minions will make or break the film for you. For me personally, there are some legitimate laughs in this movie; they just were few and far between. The kids in the screening with me ate up every word of gibberish and fart joke in the movie. For me, much of the comedy felt too childish to keep all ages laughing throughout.

Although it seems like I have been picking on Minions a whole lot, I believe it would have been better suited as a short film or weekly television series. There is some good material hidden in the movie; it is just stretched too thin in order to fill 90 minutes. Unfortunately, a movie will generate more money than a short film or TV show ever would.

As it stands, Minions doesn't have the heart or depth to stand on its own. While I don't recommend going out of your way to see it, Minions is a fine movie if you have nothing else to watch on Netflix.

Monday, December 7, 2015

On the Cutting Room Floor: Great Things Come in Small Packages

Welcome to the first edition of On the Cutting Room Floor. 

Sadly, not everything you write will be put into publication. Sometimes, extenuating circumstances can lead to some articles being left on the cutting room floor. Instead of having these articles sit on a hard drive to never see the light of day, I want to share them here for all to enjoy. 

This review was originally written late July, early August 2015 for the theatrical release of Ant Man. Unfortunately, I took too long writing and missed my opportunity to be timely. Considering the DVD comes out very soon, it seems like the right time to post it.
To say Ant Man had a troubled production is an understatement. Director Edgar Wright, best known for his work on cult hits like Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, left the film due to creative differences mid-2014 causing Marvel to scramble for a new director and rewrite the script. This tumultuous development has caused many fans and critics alike to fear the worst. Could Ant Man be the first flop for Marvel Studios?

No, quite the opposite. Ant Man exceeds all expectations despite being smaller in scale than recent Marvel movies. In taking a step back from the grander events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), this movie centres around an emotional core that establishes a brand new cast of lovable characters while perfectly planting seeds for upcoming movies, namely Captain America: Civil War.

Ant Man centres around Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an ex-convict looking to fix his life after prison. When Scott comes across a peculiar-looking motorcycle suit during a break-and-enter, he will get the most unusual second-chance ever. With the help of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Scott is entrusted to become the new Ant Man and stop Hank's former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from using the super-shrinking Yellowjacket suit for militaristic purposes.

Forewarning: Ant Man starts off slow. Slower than most superhero/action films, in fact. Once you get past the plodding first 40 minutes, the movie moves at a wonderful pace that never lets up. In particular, the climax of Ant Man is nothing short of spectacular. The fight between Ant Man and Yellowjacket may happen on such a miniscule scale, but it is literally unlike anything ever seen on the silver screen. Thomas the Tank Engine and all.

Michael Douglas' performance as Hank Pym steals the show. Both Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are good in their roles, but it takes a while to establish them as likable characters. From the moment Douglas steps on screen, he looks comfortable in the role of Hank Pym—like it was made for him.

Unlike Age of Ultron's scenes of forced set-up, Ant Man naturally weaves its story with characters, events and themes from the broader MCU. The inclusion of the MCU is not a side-story that has no impact on the plot, it is a integral part of it. One pivotal exchange between Ant Man and a certain Avenger halfway through the movie perfectly encapsulates the MCU's importance to the plot.

For all that Ant Man does right, there is one glaring problem with it: Darren Cross. A villain doesn't get anymore one-note and generic than him—even his name sounds generic. In all seriousness, all the scenes setting Cross up as the villain are just painful to watch. Instead of coming off as threatening and unstable, Cross is wacky and cartoonish. Good thing the movie stops focusing on his development about a quarter into it.

Although the events of Ant Man may seem microscopic in comparison to the world and even universe-spanning adventures of recent Marvel movies like Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, it stands among the best movies Marvel has ever produced. While it doesn't have the big names or explosive spectacles that make most summer blockbusters, Ant Man is a movie that you shouldn't overlook.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Passing on the Season Pass

It's surprising that the concept of downloadable content (DLC) has been around for 10 years now. Starting with the launch titles for the Xbox 360, DLC has become a major part of the industry as it gives the player more things to do in the game and keeps them from trading it in for something else. This need to keep gamers from trading in their old games has forced every major AAA title nowadays to have a plan for DLC or risk fading away into obscurity. With the industry's dependence on DLC, packaging all the DLC together in one purchase called a season pass has become a standard practice for every game big and small. What first started as a great deal has more commonly become a money gouging strategy by publishers.

The two most recent season pass offenders are Star Wars: Battlefront and Rainbow Six: Siege.

It has become common knowledge that Battlefront has great gameplay, but DICE clearly skimped out when it came to the content. Looking to make up for the short-sight, or what I like to call, "We need to get this game out now, better add this stuff later," DICE has provided 20 weapons, 16 maps, four playable heroes and villains, four new game modes, and an exclusive emote that players can buy in a season pass. The content seems reasonable until you look at its 70 dollar price tag. Seriously, 70 dollars! What does EA think they will achieve? They're scaring people away, rather than enticing them to pay for extra content. EA may be arrogant enough to believe severely overpricing their season passes is an acceptable practice, but it will come back to haunt them when gamers skip on the initial release of their games to wait for the inevitable Game of the Year version.

If you though Battlefront's season pass is bad, well the season pass for Rainbow Six: Siege is on a new level of exploitation. Spending 30 dollars on this season pass nets you seven day early access and instant unlock of eight new operators (which you can unlock free of charge by playing the game), weapon skins, 600 credits for additional in-game purchases, five per cent Renown boost, and two more challenges a day. I can't think of a worse way to spend 30 dollars. Outside of the minor boosts and cosmetic additions, everything contained in this season pass can be unlocked through regular play, meaning this pass only exists to gouge money out of Rainbow Six fans. Is Siege a AAA title or a freemium game, Ubisoft? Because how you treating it with this abomination of a season pass and the addition of unnecessary microtransactions are telling me otherwise.

Not all season passes are bad. Witcher III's expansion pass and the Mario Kart 8 DLC bundle price are two examples of great season passes. Just most of the recent offerings have been giving this option to buying DLC in bulk a bad name. Making new content for a game, no matter its size, can be costly especially with the ever-rising price of video game development, but that doesn't give publishers justification to gouge money out of the consumer that already pays close to 100 dollars for one title. Instead of enticing more people to buy more content for their games, these underhanded practices are good ways to keep people from buying DLC altogether.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bit by Bit: October 2015

Sometimes, you can't think of anything interesting to write as a lead for an article. This is one of those times.

I've been trying to put together this edition of Bit by Bit for a couple weeks now, but I blank every time I sit down to write an introduction. A lot happened during October; sadly I can't seem to find a way to put it into a cohesive thought. Maybe that's how the working life goes: everything just blurs together.

Well, enough of my introspective look at introductions. Let's get to what you read Bit by Bit for: the video games!

Game of the Month
If a game's quality was solely based on its graphics, Yoshi's Woolly World would easily be one of the best titles of 2015. Good thing it plays just as well as it looks. Yoshi's Woolly World is the closest Mario's dinosaur companion has come to reaching the quality of its first solo outing in Super Mario World 2.

Although Yoshi games have never been known for their challenging gameplay, Woolly World challenges the player in different way. Each level has tons of collectibles for you to find and the process of tracking down everything in one run can be very difficult. The great thing about the collectibles are the rewards. Collecting all the wonder wool in a level gives you a brand new Yoshi to play with. Also collecting all the flowers in a world opens up a secret level, which are easily the most difficult levels in the game.

Speaking of Woolly World's levels, the level design in the game is superb. From directing a Monty Mole through a maze of traps to transforming into various vehicles, each level in Woolly World has a different hook to keep you engaged. It also helps that the controls feel spot-on. They are easy enough to learn for beginners, but offer enough depth and nuance that seasoned players can pull off some great feats of platforming.

In all honesty, Yoshi's Woolly World is one of the best platformers of the year and yet another great title for the Wii U. Don't let the cute exterior fool you, Woolly World isn't a game just for children. It offers entertainment and challenge for all ages.

Most Anticipated Movie of the Month
I may be the only person on the planet that isn't excited for any of the huge AAA titles coming out this holiday season. I will admit that Fallout 4 and Star Wars Battlefront look phenomenal, but I don't need to pick them up for myself right away. That's what siblings are for, right?

But when it comes to movies, I am stuck on the Star Wars Episode VII hype train with no way of getting off. Everything Disney and Lucasfilm has shown for The Force Awakens looks absolutely incredible without giving away too many plot details. I haven't been this excited for a movie in a long time.

Just watch the final trailer! It was worth enduring a few painful minutes of Monday Night Football to see live.

Video of the Month
Kids born in the '90s may remember the slew of cartoon shows based on your favourite video game characters. Mario, Sonic, Earthworm Jim and Mega Man are just a few of the video game cartoons that people may have watched during the '90s. One cartoon I remember was Donkey Kong Country, a CG-animated show based off of Nintendo's tie-wearing gorilla, which aired on Teletoon here in Canada. All I can remember about the show is its catchy theme song, but a show with a catchy theme must be good. Right? Right?!

No, Donkey Kong Country is, for lack of a better term, bat-shit crazy and not in a good way. While I may not be able to remember the finer details of the show's insanity, ProJared's newest video does a great job of capturing Donkey Kong Country in all its glory. Watch the video to see DK at his worst.

Monday, November 2, 2015

First Byte: Yo-Kai Watch

Back in 1998, a small portable called Pokemon hit the gaming scene and ignited a phenomenon. Who knew catching, trading, and fighting adorable pocket monsters would become and stay popular among children and young adults for over 15 years? Many titles have tried their hand at usurping Pokemon off of its throne, but most have failed. Well, until recently.

Yo-Kai Watch, a multimedia franchise similar to Pokemon just replace monsters with ghosts, has blown up in Japan. Created by the well-respected Japanese game developer Level-5, Yo-Kai Watch has gone on the spawn games, toys, manga, anime, other forms of merchandise. Considering Yo-Kai Watch is such a hit in their home country of Japan, Nintendo and Level-5 are looking to recreate that success here in North America with the simultaneous launch of the toys, anime, and game.

To entice gamers to pick up the Yo-Kai Watch game upon release, Nintendo has a demo up on the eShop for all to enjoy. Funny enough, it had the adverse effect on me.

The demo gives the player one quest to complete: defeat three mischievous yo-kai and report back to the quest giver. Spoiler alert: turns out the quest giver is a yo-kai as well, and it's up to you to beat it or fight until the demo ending cutscene triggers. Outside of the quest, you are given a small section of Springdale to explore where you can talk to NPCs, find and fight wild yo-kai, and pick up random items (even though the demo doesn't allow you to use them).

Coming out of Fan Expo, I had a few reservations with Yo-Kai Watch, but was mostly pleased with the 10 minutes I played. The game has some unique systems in place when it comes to tracking down and fighting wild yo-kai that differentiate it from Pokemon, although not enough to stop comparisons from being made. After playing through the demo twice now, Yo-Kai Watch feels too shallow for my liking. While it may be easy to get into the game, there isn't anything beyond the surface. Simply, it lacks depth.

My problems with Yo-Kai Watch's lack of depth stems from its combat. Fights take place in real time, which means you have no direct control over what your party does. You only have control over switching your party mid-battle, who they target, and whether to unleash a special move or cure an afflicted party member. Using special moves and curing party members triggers one of three touch screen minigames: tapping the screen, rubbing the screen, or tracing lines. Thanks to the touch controls and minigames, I spent the majority of fights staring bottom screen. There were times I wouldn't even notice that a battle ended until I was booted back to the overworld.

This lack of agency during battles soured my impression of Yo-Kai Watch as a whole. I'm not going to spend 20 to 40 hours with a game, especially a RPG, if it's combat is this shallow. I might be wrong and Yo-Kai Watch adds plenty of depth the farther you get in the game, but I'm not spending 50 dollars just to find that out.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Game Avalache 2015: Guide to the Fall Game Rush

In a few short weeks, we enter the craziest time of the year—the avalanche known as the fall game releases. The sheer amount of games releasing in the period of one month is unbelievable. Most of them of huge AAA titles, like Halo 5, Black Ops III, Fallout 4, and Star Wars Battlefront, that will easily make a big dent in your wallet. With all these great games permeating store shelves the world over, the temptation of buying them all is definitely there. Unless you have a whole lot of disposable money, you sadly can't afford buying every game outright. For those money conscientious people out there, I'm here with some tips and tricks to help you through this trying time.

Pick and Choose
With new games selling for 70 to 80 dollars a piece, it's just too expensive to be buying every major release nowadays. Add in the nearly 20 hour plus campaigns and/or extensive multiplayer suites of modern titles, there is no way one person can beat each game in time for the next big release. There is too much coming out and not enough time or money to play them all right now. With all that in mind, best to stick with one or two new titles this holiday season and get the most out of them rather than trying to cram them all in.

Use Alternative Funding
Money can be an issue, especially for students and those dealing with debt. While it is important to budget your money in order to afford the necessities of life, the urge to get the latest and greatest game can be hard to overcome. If you need to pick up a game at launch with limited funds, it might be best to look at your backlog and see if there are any games you are willing to part with. Since most retailers nowadays accept games and other pieces of media for trade-in credit, trading in older titles is a viable solution for funding new game purchases.

Forewarning: don't go in expecting to get more than five dollars a game. Video game prices are in constant flux, so a title's trade-in value can change weekly based on factors such as rarity, popularity, or age. Unless a game's rarity or popularity trumps its age, the older the title is, the lower its resell value will be. Also the resell price of yearly releases, especially sports games, plummets once the newest entry hits store shelves. So it's best to trade those titles in before the new game comes out. Plus, keep an eye out for trade promotions because they will get you more money for the games you're looking to trade.

Play the Waiting Game
Good things come for those who wait. This adage is especially true when it comes to video game shopping during the holiday season. If you don't feel like buying a game within the first week of release, it's better to just wait. Sales happen regularly over the course of the last two months of the year. You might just find the game you're thinking of buying for 10 to 20 dollars off (sometimes more on Black Friday or Boxing Day) or somebody may give it to you for Christmas. Holding off your money spending urges might lead to the best rewards during this expensive season.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bit by Bit: September 2015

September was an eventful month. I went to Fan Expo, spent three days powering through Mario Maker for a review, started classes for another year, and ended my post-secondary career in the span of 30 days. The last one might seem drastic and surprising, but it has been surprisingly refreshing. A great weight lifted off my shoulders when I handed in the withdrawal form. School took up every facet of life for the past five years, so to finally be done is surreal. Now, I got more time to play games!

Enough about me, we got games to talk about especially with the fall game rush in full effect. For the uninitiated, the fall game rush is the incredible amount of games that release from September to November each year. And I bet if you're a self-respecting gamer, you picking up at least one brand new title in the next few months. I know I'm buying quite a few.

Game of the Month
Super Mario Maker would be the easy choice for Game of the Month with its robust level editor and insane amount of user-created content, but I haven't spent as much time with the game that I originally thought I would. Mario Maker is one of the best games on the Wii U; it just hasn't grabbed me in the way I wanted it to. Outside of the first weekend owning the game, I've only picked it up a handful of times over the last few weeks. Let's just say seeing little reaction to your uploaded levels can be disheartening.

While Mario Maker didn't grab all my free time, Yacht Club Games' free expansion for Shovel Knight sure did.

In Plague of Shadows, you take control of Plague Knight as he collects the essence of his fellow knights in order to create the ultimate potion. Instead of relying on a shovel to bounce off enemies like a pogo stick, Plague Knight must use bombs, spells and his charge launch ability to reach the chambers of his former comrades. Although you play through the same levels that are in the main campaign, using Plague Knight's unique abilities makes each level play in a whole new way. Plus as an added bonus, each level has special area that only Plague Knight can get through. Plague Knight may be tricky to control at first, but you will definitely get the hang of his arsenal after the first few levels. In addition to the brand new campaign, Plague of Shadows adds a challenge mode with over 40 challenges to complete as Shovel or Plague Knight.

As an expansion, Plague of Shadows offers more content than most game expansions or DLC. Plus, it's all free for anybody who buys or already owns Shovel Knight! If the other planned expansions for the game are just as good as Plague of Shadows, Shovel Knight may be one of the top games for years to come.

Most Anticipated Games of the Month
I can't nail down my most anticipated game of September since I have three big game purchases during the first three weeks of October. Very similar to those picking up all the big AAA releases in November, October is my big rush of games. Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash drops Friday, October 9th followed by Yoshi's Wooly World a week after that and The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes just a week later. With all those games, I'm going to have quite a bit to talk about this upcoming month. No promises, but maybe I will get around to posting some reviews for them in the near future.

In all seriousness, I am really looking forward to playing all these new Nintendo games. Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is going to be to closet thing to a new Castlevania until Bloodstained comes out in 2017, Yoshi's Wooly World might just be the best Yoshi solo outing in decades, and The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes takes the fun of multiplayer Zelda and melds it with the expert dungeon design of traditional 2D Zeldas. Also two out of the three games come with adorable amiibos, which is always a plus in my books.

Video of the Month
Words will not do this video justice. Just sit back and enjoy the spectacle that is the Japanese launch trailer for Tearaway Unfolded. I promise you, it's one hell of an acid trip.