Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Looking Forward to E3 2015

Way back in 2010 and 2011 I tried to start a Five-O-Rama tradition to write a yearly post about my expectations for the upcoming Electronics Entertainment Expo. I have clearly failed in that endeavour, but with another E3 just a week away let's give it another try, shall we?

I'll be honest, when I began writing this list I really tried to play it straight and make quality predictions, but you know what? That's boring! Let's make some outlandish guesses this time around.

I have a feeling this E3 is going to be all about "retro". Some of the biggest video games companies of our time are floundering and they see all the potential dollars floating around in the collective pool of nostalgic childhood memories.

5. Battletoads

I don't know if you've noticed, but I may have mentioned Shovel Knight once or twice in the last few months. Since it was released there have been several version-exclusive features for all the different releases. On Wii U, for instance, you could leave messages and clues for other players via Miiverse, kind of like you can in the Dark Souls games. For the Playstation release you can fight one of Sony's most iconic characters, Kratos.

For the Xbox One version of Shovel Knight, released in late-April of this year, Microsoft resurrected the Battletoads as exclusive enemies for Shovel Knight to face. This, of course, stirred up some thoughts that maybe MS was considering bringing the iconic brawlers back.

If you don't know, Microsoft bought out Rare back in 2002 and as such they have become an Xbox first-party developer. Any and all characters and series owned by Rare, excluding the Nintendo titles they've worked on, are now in Microsoft's wealthy hands.

From the moment I heard that the Battletoads were making their way into Shovel Knight, I felt hopeful we'd see a new Battletoads title on Xbox One and PC. Top that off with the fact that Microsoft renewed the Battletoads trademark this year? I think this is definitely happening.

It may be little more than a teaser, but I believe we'll see Battletoads at E3 2015. What kind of game will it be? I think it would amazing if Rare and Microsoft farmed this one out to Yacht Club Games so they could make an awesome 2D side-scrolling brawler, like the series is known for. What will it most likely be? Some sort of ultra-violent 3D affair. Either way, I'm looking forward to see Rash, Zitz, and Pimple making their digital return.

4. Mega Man

This is going to seem highly unlikely, but hear me out. Mega Man was first released in December of 1987. That's 28 years ago, which means that Mega Man is having a big 30th anniversary in the very near future.

I know that Capcom has been offbeat in recent years. Cancelling several high-profile Mega Man games and letting Keiji Inafune leave the company were definite missteps. They've also gone in a questionable direction with one of their other flagship titles, Resident Evil. I think they are starting to see the error in their ways, however.

Inafune has gone out on his own and, after an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, is launching the spiritual successor to the Blue Bomber this September with Mighty No. 9. I think after seeing how well received Inafune-san's idea for a new "Mega Man" game went over, the bigwigs at Capcom must have been having some serious meetings about the future of their own mighty little robot.

With the news that Capcom is producing a new Mega Man cartoon show to launch in 2017, I feel like it's a no-brainer that they'll release a new Mega Man title to coincide with 2017. How could they not!?

What will this game be like? I hope that it is an all new title that builds upon the great game mechanics the series is known for, but with a nice fresh coat of paint. I really feel like Sakurai nailed what a 3D Mega Man should look like in the recent Super Smash Bros. release and that's the way Capcom should go. I hope they don't just re-re-release some old Mega Man games or make another new Mega Man title in the vein of Mega Man 9 and 10. I think it's about time the Blue Bomber made a comeback in a more substantial way!

My timestamp of writing this post.
EDIT: I know this post hasn't even been released yet, so adding an edit seems crazy, but I just finished writing the Mega Man part of this list and Capcom has made a pre-E3 announcement regarding the super fighting robot himself.
Capcom's official announcement.
They are releasing the Mega Man Legacy Collection for PS4, Xbox One, and PC this summer, with a Nintendo 3DS release coming in winter 2016. It will include the first six Mega Man NES titles with some included modes, which appear to be remixes of those six games.

This is exactly the kind of thing I hoped they wouldn't announce and I'm pretty saddened by the news. My only hope is that since it is just a re-release and is dated to come out this summer there's still some chance that Capcom is working on something new for the 30th anniversary, but I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.

3. Resident Evil 2 HD Remaster

Speaking of Resident Evil, what can we expect from the king daddy of all zombie horror games? I think there will be lots of RE-related announcements at this year's E3. It will come as no surprise that Resident Evil 7 will be announced at this year's show. Even after a poor showing for RE6, there have been rumours floating around that Capcom intends to continue with the franchise and hopefully return to the roots of what made the series so great. With the popularity of Resident Evil Revelations and its sequel I think there will definitely be a brand-new RE title of some sort shown this year.

That said, earlier this year Capcom also re-re-released (see a pattern here?) the original RE game as Resident Evil HD Remaster on PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, and PS4. The game is an HD version of the title known by fans as the "REmake", which was a high resolution retooling of the original Resident Evil released for the Nintendo Gamecube and later again on the Wii.

Guess what? The game sold one million copies in no time and they've already announced an HD remake of the Gamecube and Wii-released prequel Resident Evil 0.

If I know Capcom, and I think I do, they are going to be all over this and I think we are going to see an HD remastering of what many consider to be the best game in the series, Resident Evil 2.

It won't be a straight-forward affair, though. RE2 did make an appearance on the Gamecube, but basically as a straight port with some graphical clean up. It was not the complete makeover its predecessor received. Nevertheless, I think that they'll put in the extra effort to get RE2 HD out as soon as possible and that we'll at least see it teased at E3 2015.

Now let me go check the Internet and make sure they didn't announce this while I was writing, as well...

2. Metroid

Every E3 there are two games that gamers, especially Nintendo fans, clamour for and they are Star Fox and Metroid. I can't tell you how many prediction lists I've seen over the years with those two games on them and every single year Nintendo disappoints.

Then at last year's E3, Time Magazine dropped the bombshell that a new Star Fox game was in development by none other than the great Shigeru Miyamoto himself. It was kind of a snafu, actually, because Nintendo hadn't yet teased the game themselves!

Now, it is a fact that we're going to see Star Fox at this year's E3. Miyamoto has confirmed that himself. What I think will shock people is that Nintendo will also finally reveal a new Metroid game at this year's event!

It's no secret that Retro Studios is hard at work on a new Nintendo title. Are they working on a new Metroid game? It would make sense. They successfully rebooted the series with Metroid Prime on the Gamecube back in 2002. Although we can't say for certain that Retro is working on the new Metroid title, I think it is likely.

I'm going to go out on a limb with this one, but I think that we're going to see a new Metroid game released on the Nintendo 3DS. I think that this game will play more like Super Metroid or Metroid Fusion and that it is being developed by Monster Games, the company responsible for the 3DS port of Donkey Kong Country Returns.

It's been a long time since we got a real traditional Metroid experience. Metroid: Other M from Team Ninja left a funny taste in gamers' mouths and I think the best way to continue with the series is to full return to its roots.

Will it be a new Metroid Prime game from Retro Studios? A new 2D side-scroller from Monster Games? Or both? We'll see in a few short days!

1. Final Fantasy VI 3D Remake

This one is a serious reach, and more of a personal wish than anything else, but here goes nothing.

As part of Final Fantasy's 20th anniversary, Square Enix remade Final Fantasy IV in 3D and released it on the Nintendo DS in 2007. The game was successful and saw subsequent releases for PC, iOS and Android in 2012. This was the second 3D remake of a Final Fantasy title on the DS, following Final Fantasy III, which had previously only seen a release on the Famicom in Japan. It was also released on iOS, Android, and PC by 2012.

After the remake of FFIV, the focus was laid squarely (see what I did there) on Final Fantasy VI. Square Enix themselves said that they were looking into doing a remake of FFVI on the DS, but had changed their focus to remakes of FFV and FFVI on the then newly released Nintendo 3DS.

I've laid in wait all these years expecting Square Enix to see the light and realize that they need to produce a 3D remake of what I consider to be their best RPG. It's 25th anniversary came and went, however, and I was starting to think it just wouldn't happen. Square Enix has released a new and highly successful franchise with Bravely Default and with its sequel on the way I just couldn't see them having the resources around to produce a 3D remake of FFVI.

Then just a few weeks ago, Square Enix did something I hadn't expected! In 2008 they also released a sequel to Final Fantasy IV known as FFIV: The After Years. It was released as an episodic mobile title initially, but eventually found its way to WiiWare in North America. It was wildly popular and was finally released as a complete title on the PSP in 2011.

Now, stay with me, I know I've been throwing a lot of dates and releases around here. In 2014 Square Enix ported their 3D remake of Final Fantasy IV to PC with optimized graphics. Then on May 11, 2015 they released a new 3D remake of Final Fantasy IV: The After Years for PC!

That means that they have some resources dedicated to releasing a new 3D remake of a Final Fantasy game and my hope is sparked anew that we could potentially see a 3D remake of Final Fantasy VI hit PC and modern consoles by at least 2016.

I know it's a bit of a pipe dream, but I just can't seem to let this one go, so for my Hail Mary of E3 2015 I'll be sitting and watching Square Enix announcements with the hope that I will finally see FFVI get the love it deserves.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Star Wars Prequel Rumours

When George Lucas first began making Star Wars in the mid-70s there were many scenes that he stated he wished he could film, but due to budgetary concerns, as well as the state of visual effects at the time, they had to be nixed. Nearly 20 years later, after seeing the revolutionary computer generated effects being used in contemporary films, he believed he could update his original series with those missing scenes and imagery and began development of the now infamous Star Wars: Special Editions.

Regardless of what you think of the subsequent updates to the Original Trilogy, in 1997 my teenage self was stunned and awed as he watched Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi on the silver screen in all their glory.

With all the Star Wars hype surrounding the re-release, and fueled by the newly booming Internet, news quickly surfaced that Lucas was to begin filming a brand new Star Wars film that summer for release in 1999! And with that came the inevitable slew of rumours surrounding this new film.

Here we are almost 20 years later and we're seeing history repeat itself, while The Force Awakens looms in the distance. The rumour mill is churning once again and the Internet is awash with what we may or may not see in J.J. Abrams highly anticipated sequel.

What were some of the stories swirling around The Phanom Menace back in the mid- to late-90s? Here are a few of the biggest rumours I remember cropping up before George Lucas brought us back to a galaxy far, far away.

5. "Obi-Wan Kenobi originally owned the Millennium Falcon"

This seems so outlandish when you look at it now, but back around the mid-90s the idea that a Star Wars film could ever be released without the Millennium Falcon in it was even more unbelievable. It didn't take long before forums and message boards were teeming with talk of who the "Han Solo" character would be in the prequels and who would own and pilot the Millennium Falcon.

Lucas was revealed to have been writing the new Star Wars movie as early as '93, so when inklings started surfacing of what would become Shadows of the Empire - an "interquel" story set between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi - there was the belief that Dash Rendar, Shadows' protagonist, would play a "Han Solo"-esque character in the prequels and would be the original owner of the Falcon.

Those rumblings were quickly quashed when Shadows of the Empire hit in '96 and featured Dash Rendar in the continuity of the Original Trilogy. So who would own the Falcon then?

Well Obi-wan Kenobi, of course! As unbelievable as it sounds, Star Wars fans were absolutely certain the Solo void would be filled by none other than ol' Ben. The word on the street was that Obi-wan would end up an exceptional pilot and would be the owner of the Millenium Falcon. He would even have a small Ewok sidekick that would accompany him, which would allude to the Solo-Chewbacca combination that would become famous in the subsequent stories.

What actually happened:

Obi-wan was shown to be a poor pilot that couldn't care less about having his own ship. He left all the piloting to his pupil, Anakin. The Millennium Falcon was basically a no-show in the Prequel Trilogy, briefly making an almost unnoticeable cameo in Revenge of the Sith for the hawk-eyed, avid Star Wars nut.

4. "Boba Fett will be featured in the prequel films"

One of the most popular characters in Star Wars history has always been Boba Fett, which seems surprising considering how little screen time he gets in the Original Trilogy. From the very beginning there was a lot of fascination surrounding Fett as fans learned that originally Lucas had planned on having a group of Supertroopers in the film that wore white armour (much like Storm Troopers), but scrapped the idea, colouring the armour and using it for Boba Fett in Empire Strikes Back.

I, for one, always felt there was so much intrigue surrounding the character and I always wanted to know more about him. I wasn't alone, as the history of Boba Fett, and concept of Mandalorians - a renowned group of warriors - became the focus of many books, comics, and more in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It seemed like a no-brainer that Boba's character would take some part in the prequels and we'd finally learn more about this provocative character.

There was talk that there would be a slew of Mandalorians in the movie and that there would even be a massive war featuring Mandalorian Supercommandos versus a Clone Army. Also, Boba Fett would turn out to be... a woman!

What actually happened:

We got way more than we bargained for. It turns out that Boba Fett is the cloned son of Jango Fett, a Mandalorian Supercommando turned bounty hunter and the specimen chosen as the basis of a Clone Army created in secret by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. That Clone Army would become what we know in the Original Trilogy as Imperial Storm Troopers.

Interestingly in filming The Phantom Menace a female character was created titled "Babe Fett", and appeared in one scene during the Pod Races for all of a second. That character would take on a mythos all of her own and would eventually become Aurra Sing, who is featured heavily in the Clone Wars cartoon series, and shares a history with none other than Boba Fett himself.

We actually learned little to nothing about Boba Fett in the Prequel Trilogy. That however will be rectified in the upcoming film Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One, which is believed to feature Boba Fett in the time between the Clone Wars and the events of Empire Strikes Back.

3. "Liam Neeson will play Anakin's father"

Before filming began for The Phantom Menace it became known to fans that Liam Neeson would have a role in the planned Prequel Trilogy. Once photography started, some scenes from Tunisia surfaced that showed an unnamed character, portrayed by Neeson, and Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker.

So who was this mystery character? What was his relation to the boy that would become Darth Vader?

Very quickly the talk began that Neeson would play Anakin's father, and himself another Jedi in the Skywalker clan. What's interesting is that in most of the versions I've read Neeson's character would die, probably in the second film. He would be murdered by the Emperor so that he would not be able to stop Anakin from joining the Dark Side of the Force and becoming a Dark Jedi (the concept of the Sith wasn't around yet). It was believed that Anakin would see his father die at the hands of another Dark Jedi, would take up his father's lightsaber and fell the murderer, beginning his path toward the dark.

What actually happened:

These rumours weren't really that far from the truth. Of course, no one could foresee that Lucas would make Anakin a Christ-like figure created from the Force itself (by midi-chlorians... ugh), so the idea of a father wasn't that off-base.

Neeson would play Qui-gon Jinn, who actually played a father-figure to Anakin, in a way, and was killed by the Emperor's apprentice. Anakin's relationship with Qui-gon isn't really explored, but Anakin does begin his descent into the dark side after his mother, Shmi, is killed by Tusken Raiders and Anakin slaughters her murderers.

2. "Amphibious Storm Troopers will have a massive underwater battle"

Again, before the prequel films hit the big screen, the concept of a Star Wars film that didn't feature Storm Troopers as the expendable army of whatever evil plot was afoot seemed incredible far-fetched. It was assumed, almost universally, that Storm Troopers would be in all of the prequels.

George Lucas said that he had always wanted an underwater battle in the Original Trilogy, but there was no way to make realistic water and water rippling effects at that time. So when the new prequel films were announced, fans immediately began speculating what this underwater battle might be like.

The story that gained the most traction was that a group of Amphibious Storm Troopers and an army from the Republic would do battle on a water planet known as Sedri. The Republic would pilot V-Wings, which were ships that had the ability to submerge underwater, so they could attack the Storm Troopers in their submarines.

What actually happened:

Technically there were no Storm Troopers in any of the Star Wars prequels! In Attack of the Clones, however, we meet the Clone Army, which would become the Storm Troopers of the Original Trilogy, as I mentioned above.

There was an underwater sequence in The Phantom Menace, however! We follow our heroes as they travel underwater to meet the denizens of Naboo's watery depths, the Gungans. Their race is infamous for Jar Jar Binks, the most reviled character in the Star Wars series.

Was there an underwater battle? Not really, The Gungans attacked a droid army in The Phantom Menace, but it took place on a huge grassy field. There were some underwater action scenes, but not what the fans had been expecting.

Also, no V-Wings made an appearance in the prequels. A V-Wing ship is featured in the Star Wars: Battlefront video games, but it isn't the semi-aquatic ship that was expected, but instead a precursor to the Imperial TIE Fighter as well as the Rebel A-Wing.

1. "R2-D2 is a Jedi Knight"

This is my absolute favourite rumour that was ever associated with the Star Wars prequels. Never in my wildest dreams could I ever fathom this concept, yet the story persisted before the release of The Phantom Menace put it to rest.

There were many outlandish rumours surrounding the beloved droids of Star Wars; R2-D2 will be Anakin's personal droid and C-3P0 will be an interpreter for the Empire, C-3P0 was a con-artist before he became the butler-like robot we all remember, and another wonderful belief that in the Prequel Trilogy R2-D2 would be the protocol droid and C-3P0 would be an astromech! This one, however, takes the cake.

In the third film of the new trilogy a dying Jedi would somehow use the Force to imbue his life force into an inorganic object, in order to preserve it. That inorganic object would be none other than little R2. Why would anyone ever come up with this idea? The belief was that this explained why R2 would have that spirit of adventure that we see in the little astromech droid throughout the Original Trilogy.

It was also generally accepted that R2-D2 and C-3P0 would probably have their minds wiped at the end of the Prequel Trilogy in order to keep continuity with the original films. For this reason it was believed that because R2 would have a Jedi's mind that our favourite little droid's memory couldn't be erased and he would have an "insight" of some of the events that would unfold in the first three films.

What actually happened:

They were right about one thing; R2 and 3P0's memories would be erased after the events of Revenge of the Sith. However, C-3P0 remained C-3P0 and R2, R2.

R2-D2 was initially an astromech for the Naboo forces, but did essentially become Anakin's personal droid for his starfighting scenes. C-3P0 would end up being built by a young, brilliant Anakin Skywalker! That's right, Darth Vader built C-3P0...

Of all the rumours I've listed here, I bet no one saw that coming!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Mellow Video Game Music

I often find the stresses of my job, and day-to-day life, can be soothed almost instantly by the right song. I've created a playlist of music that helps me mellow out and it is entirely comprised of tunes I've picked up over my many years of gaming. I thought I'd share some of those songs, so kick up your feet and get ready to chill!

5. "The Starlit Wilds" - Shovel Knight (Wii U) - Jake Kaufman

I've written about how much I enjoyed last year's retro indie release Shovel Knight in my last list, so check that out for more on the game. I mentioned in that list how much I enjoyed the music in Shovel Knight, but there was always one song in particular that stood out above the rest.

"The Starlit Wilds" was the music that accompanied all of the campfire scenes in the game (you'll have to play it to know what I mean!) and every time I made it to one of those moments I would instantly relax and take in the pseudo 8-bit world of Shovel Knight. It's a really beautiful piece from Jake Kaufman aka virt. I'd never heard of his name before Shovel Knight, but he's been in the business since 2000's remake of Q*Bert.

I don't know if there are plans for a Shovel Knight sequel at Yacht Club Games, but I'd love more retro-inspired games with music from Mr. Kaufman!

4. "Colony 9/Night" - Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) - Yoko Shimomura

Although I loved my Nintendo Wii from the moment I opened it back in 2006, nearing the end of its lifecycle the "Little System That Could" received some serious titles, and none so famous as Xenoblade Chronicles, which many can thank Project Rainfall for having released here in North America.

There is so much to love about Xenoblade Chronicles, but I think anyone playing it for the first time will be gripped by two things: the spanning, gorgeous landscapes and the beautiful orchestral soundtrack that accompanies them.

There are a great many tracks from composer Yoko Shimomura's Xenoblade Chronicles soundtrack that stick out in my mind, but none so beautiful as "Colony 9/Night". It's a moving, calming piece that I typically don't go through my workday without listening to at least once.

Yoko Shimomura has had a mind-blowing career, which includes creating music for such classics as Street Fighter II, Parasite Eve, and the Kingdom Hearts series, but make sure to do yourself a favour and listen to some of the tracks she composed for Xenoblade Chronicles.

3. "Conquest" - Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS) - Hiroki Morishita

Another game to knock my socks off in recent years was 2013's Fire Emblem Awakening on the Nintendo 3DS. I had only played one other Fire Emblem title many years previous on the Gameboy Advance and the time was nigh for a new tactical/strategy RPG experience.

The soundtrack for FE: Awakening has many stand-out titles to choose from, but the moment I heard "Conquest" by composer Hiroki Morishita - whom from what I can tell is a relatively new composer with a handful of Nintendo titles under his belt - I instantly had to search the song out and add it to my aforementioned video game music playlist. In fact, it is the first song I listen to from that playlist daily.

From what I can tell "Conquest" is only played when you take on random encounters with enemies and in some of the DLC battles from FE: Awakening. If you were to play the entire game only battling the story-required fights and didn't play any DLC you might never hear it, which would be a crying shame!

2. "On the Beach of Dreams (Another World)" - Chrono Cross (PSX) - Yasunori Mitsuda 

The first time I played Chrono Cross was with a sense of trepidation. I had a great reverence for Chrono Trigger on the SNES and I knew that this game was not a direct sequel to that, but some sort of spiritual successor and I wasn't sure how to feel about that.

I remember that all those thoughts were dashed away in an instant the first time I booted up that game on my Sony Playstation. The music that plays in the intro of the game is called "Scars of Time" and you are instantly swept up in it. Created by Yasunori Mitsuda, composer of hit games like Xenogears and Chrono Trigger itself, "Scars of Time" takes you on an emotional roller coaster and coupled with the exciting video montage from the game I knew in a matter of moments that I was going to enjoy Chrono Cross.

And I'm not even here to talk about that song! It's far from mellow, but you should most definitely check it out.

It's been about 15 years since I've played Chrono Cross, and the details are a little hazy, but I believe "On the Beach of Dreams" is the main theme for the world map in Another World. If you want to know what I mean, you'll have to play the game!

It's an incredibly soothing piece comprised mostly of guitar and violin, but most definitely captures the feel and beauty of El Nido and the world of Chrono Cross.

1. "Aquatic Ambiance" - Donkey Kong Country (SNES) - David Wise

There are a lot of songs from video games that hold a very dear place in my heart, but I don't know if any hold a candle to "Aquatic Ambiance". The instant I hear it I'm drawn back to another time and place; to my Mom and Dad's house in 1994, a cold, wintry setting outside, the houses on the street lit up with Christmas lights, and my little sister and I warm in my bedroom wiling away the evening playing Donkey Kong Country on my Super Nintendo.

The soundtrack to DKC, by composer David Wise, stood out for me as something I'd never heard before in a video game. He so perfectly captured each setting in the game with a different theme; in the mines everything is industrial, in the cold, mountain settings the music is desolate and foreboding, and in the underwater, swimming stages you have "Aquatic Ambiance", which perfectly captures the quiet of the deeps and its constant ebb and flow.

I have such an attachment to this song that I can often have different reactions upon hearing it, depending on my mood. I listen to it almost every day while I work and it has an instant calming effect, but also some times it can play on my nostalgia and make me very homesick for those old days back at my Mom and Dad's without a care in the world.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cole's Favourite Movies of 2014

I figured I might as well do one of these since seeing Shane's was quite different. Once again, I haven't really seen a ton of releases from the past year so there wasn't a lot for me to choose from. So probably no big surprises here if any at all.

*Note: A lot of people consider Miyazaki's The Wind Rises a 2014 release since, while made and released in 2013 in Japan, it didn't come out in North America till early 2014. That's when I saw it in the theatre but I still consider it a 2013 release, otherwise it'd easily take the #1 spot here.

5. Big Hero 6
Disney's first take on a Marvel property since buying the big M and everything within it basically takes the title and throws everything else out the window. Which was really the best way to go if you ask me. And that they chose such an obscure thing (a limited series from 1998 featuring the X-Men's Sunfire plus some newly-created characters that was basically a sort of tribute to manga and anime) was probably a good move too. As soon as Disney acquired Marvel there was an outcry amongst fans who were concerned they'd start messing with the brand. But they really haven't. They knew Marvel was already awesome and didn't need any "fixing". No one wanted to see "Disney presents Spider-Man" or "Disney's Uncanny X-Force" and thankfully, they knew it. Although that Ultimate Spider-Man show is annoyingly kidsy...but I can live with it.

So Big Hero 6, despite all its changes, still is a superhero movie of sorts. From the same studio that brought us Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, it does also somewhat maintain the Japanese style with its look, some of the character names and its setting, Sanfransokyo - a fictional combination of...well, I think you can probably work that out on your own. It's bright and colourful, fast-paced and quite funny. The robot Baymax is an instant classic character with lots of funny lines and moments and the rest of the cast, while not nearly as memorable, still works quite well.

With all the more serious and complicated superhero movies coming out these days (which naturally, I think is a very good thing), it's still nice to have a more simple and lighthearted option both adults and kids can enjoy.

4. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
I wasn't the biggest fan of taking a three hundred page novel and stretching it into a trilogy of movies two and half hours each but hey, they did pull it off pretty nicely. A lot of content had to be added for this to be achieved and while I was expecting this to annoy me, by the time the third film came along I was actually looking forward to seeing what additions there would be. In a lot of ways, the added stuff helps tie the story together a little better.

A good example of this would be the prominence of the orc leader, Azog. In the novel, he's simply mentioned by Gandalf as having killed Thorin's grandfather, Thror, in a battle in the mines of Moria. Well. In the films he is front and centre as a major antagonist and it really gives a sense of purpose and continuity to the various clashes Thorin's group has with orcs leading up to the huge battle in the third part. In the book, Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves encounter several different groups of orcs but in the films, it's understood that they're being purposely hunted by a group led by Azog, whom they (the dwarves) had believed dead. (Incidentally, in the novel, he was dead by this point, having been killed by the dwarf Dain after Azog had killed Dain's father Nain. Dain also appears in the film, played by Billy Connolly).

Also, Fili and Kili's deaths are given a bit more meaning (they also died in the novel) by having their characters greatly expanded on, up to and including an almost romance between Fili and the elf Tauriel (a character not in the book but invented for the films). Tauriel's inclusion also creates an opening for Legolas, who doesn't appear in the novel either but since he is the son of the king of the Mirkwood elves, Thranduil, who is quite prominently featured, having him appear doesn't seem far-fetched or gratuitous.

The film has great performances and everything has the proper epic feel we've come to expect from the franchise. Even though things can be a bit convoluted at times, it all comes together in this finale. Some critics have dismissed this movie, saying it lacks the feeling of adventure the book conveys and is overly violent. But they're really missing the point since this is the third part of a trilogy and its title is the name of a BATTLE. How could that not be violent? The book itself may not go into as great detail of the final battle as the film does, but isn't that the entire point of having a movie version in the first place? To give us a different perspective?

I feel I'm definitely a Tolkien purist (in case you couldn't tell from all that stuff above) and these movies satisfy me for sure. I think most critics who took the "too violent" angle were really just being lazy because it's so easy to point to other current movies that are full of CGI and violence and try to make the claim The Hobbit trilogy is just following this shallow trend. And what makes this even more offensive to them (or so they claim) is that this is such a break from the great book upon which it's based. But it's clear to me those critics don't remember the book so well or even that some of them have never read it to begin with.

So I went on a bit of a tangent there. All you really need to know is that this movie, while perhaps an easy target for lazy critics, is still one of the best of 2014.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
As with pretty much any film directed by Wes Anderson, I went into this one fully expecting to like it. And - surprise - I did. It features all the hallmarks of an Anderson film: visually striking and memorable locations, quirky and complex characters, charming music that fits each scene perfectly and an unconventional plot.

As of this writing, I've only seen it the once, which was more than a year ago, so I can't remember a lot of details. I plan to watch it again soon. But I do remember that Adrien Brody's performance is probably my favourite of his career so far. He plays one of the film's villains and he's excellent.

I also recall that the narrative doesn't just use one framing device but two. Maybe three? The story unfolds as a flashback which then dives into another flashback. This isn't as confusing as it sounds because the action stays on course and doesn't do any more time-jumping. Actually, when it's wrapping up, it's easy to have forgotten how it started so when we jump back to the "present" and then it happens again, it's kind of weird. But in no way detrimental, I can assure you. The story flows very well.

I can't really delve much further into detail since the movie isn't fresh in my mind at the moment but I still feel confident in giving it this lofty #3 spot. So you KNOW it's good, right?

2. The Raid 2: Berandal
If not for the makers of this movie and its predecessor, The Raid: Redemption (2011), I might have lost all faith in the action genre moving forward. Let's face it, after the bounty that was the eighties and nineties, the 00's were a big letdown in the action department. Sure there were definitely some standout gems to be found but if you ask me, not all that many. Both Raids are simple and straightforward in their plots and brilliant in their execution. As for Berandal, which is the one I'm supposed to be discussing here, it was tough to believe it could top Redemption. Hell, Redemption was so good it was tough to believe Berandal would even measure up. But I believe it does measure up for sure. And while longer and more complex than Redemption, I believe it succeeds by still keeping things simple.

After all, the plot is one of the most used we've seen in the action and crime thriller genres. We've got our hero going deep undercover to infiltrate an extremely dangerous organization. He even gets himself sent to prison to further cement his status as a real criminal. Yeah, we've all seen that once or twice before. But when it comes to the element that matters the most for this movie, that is, the action, I doubt you've seen much before that compares to this film.

Once again we're treated to spectacular fight scenes showcasing multiple styles of martial arts (although still predominantly Silat, but hey, that's a very diverse one) as well as multiple weapons. And where Redemption offered us one comic book-type of bad guy (Mad Dog), Berandal gives us several. This includes a female antagonist (something totally absent in the former) whose weapons are hammers and a guy who gets a lot more out of wielding a simple baseball bat than you'd think possible. I'd say more about that but don't want to spoil it for the uninitiated. But yeah, this movie is violent as all hell and it's awesome.

The character of Rama has been cemented in my mind as one of the all-time great action heroes and if you haven't yet seen his handiwork, do yourself a favour and check it out.

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Hey, check it out: a comic book film in the #1 slot. Who would have guessed? OK, maybe that's not too shocking to some of you. But those who know me and my love of comics are also acutely aware of how said love makes me intensely hard on movies based on them. And sadly, I'm yet to see a movie based on my very favourite Marvel characters that I think does them any justice at all. The second Spider-Man series of films pleases me more than the first but still, not enough. And don't even get me started on my INTENSE SEARING HATRED for most of the X-Men movies. Seriously, don't go there.

Captain America was a character I never appreciated until I actually started reading some comics where he was a main character, that being Brian Bendis's initial run on New Avengers (that being the entirety of Volume One). Before that I'd always been quite disdainful of Cap and the rest of the Avengers. They were Marvel's premiere superhero team and I never could understand why. The X-Men and their related teams were all so much cooler. I still feel that way but I've definitely developed a new appreciation for "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" over the past decade and Cap is probably the character I've gained the most respect for.

But it's time to digress, I think. There is, after all, a movie to talk about.

I loved the first Captain America film and was anticipating its sequel as soon as the credits started rolling. I had to wait a few years but it was worth it as I was presented with the best Marvel movie I've seen so far. I don't just mean Marvel Studios movie either. I mean best movie based on a Marvel property, period. Yes, Avengers is the big one and a lot fun and, for reasons I don't fully understand, everyone lost their minds over last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy. But Winter Soldier tops them both in my mind. It's pretty cool that the top two films on this list are both sequels to movies I adored. Usually sequels just let me down or piss me off.

Anyway, as far as the merits of this movie go, I don't really feel like getting into them too much after such a long-winded introduction. Just see the movie. It really succeeds in bringing some of that secret agent-style feel that Ed Brubaker brought to the comic in the mid 00's. Which makes perfect sense since the whole Winter Soldier arc was his doing. Black Widow and The Falcon are good in supporting roles (which is doubly impressive for a character as lame as Falcon) and you've even got Robert Redford in the mix. It's also just really convenient timing that we currently have a French Canadian martial arts champion branching out into film just in time for this film -  we get to see one of Cap's longer-running villains given life on the big screen and actually made to look cool. In at least his early appearances...um, believe me, this really wasn't the case. Anyway the result is a really strong cold open culminating in a great one-on-one fight scene.

Like most people, I am super excited for the next Avengers movie but to be honest, Cap 3 (which will draw from the "Civil War" storyline in the comics) is what I really can't wait to see. Think about it - a trilogy of comic book movies where ALL of them are good? Has that ever happened?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ryan's Favourite Video Games of 2014

With the addition of a little one to my family there hasn’t been much time for gaming this year, so I barely eked out five new games in 2014. Also, of the list I’d say that I’ve only really finished two of them. I have played an extensive amount of each title, however, so I feel justified in the list. It’s about quality over quantity, right?

5. Mighty Gunvolt (Nintendo 3DS)

This one is a bit of a cheat, but it is a video game and I did play it in 2014. So there.

Mighty Gunvolt started out essentially as an “early adopter” bonus for buying Azure Striker Gunvolt on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. There will be more information on Azure Striker Gunvolt in a moment. If you bought ASG on, or around, its release you would receive a download code for Mighty Gunvolt. Both this title and ASG were developed by Inti Creates, a company best known for developing the Mega Man Zero series on the Gameboy Advance.

It plays like an old school Mega Man game and features Gunvolt - the titular character of Azure Striker Gunvolt - who can perform a double-jump and a charged attack, Ekoro from Gal*Gun - an Inti Creates developed series only released in Japan - who can float in the air and “charm” enemies to fight for her, and Beck - the hero of the yet-to-be-released Mighty No. 9, a joint project from Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune’s new company, Comcept, and Inti Creates - who has the ability to slide and perform a tackle attack. Get it “Mighty Gunvolt”?

The initial game was really short and could easily be beaten by each of the three characters in just a few short hours. It contains four stages with bosses that are found in each of the three games. It has been expanded since its release and can now by purchased on the Nintendo 3DS eShop along with DLC, which adds four more stages and four more bosses.

It’s a fun little title that won’t take you long to finish, but was very enjoyable. I’m not sure it’s worth the current price of $3.99 USD, though.

4. Azure Striker Gunvolt (Nintendo 3DS)

Azure Striker Gunvolt was the first independent project by Inti Creates announced at around the same time that Comcept first started their Kickstarter campaign to fund Mighty No. 9; the spiritual successor to the Mega Man series. It was an apt time to launch ASG, as well, because Inti Creates title is most definitely a spiritual successor to their Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX series, made popular on the GBA and Nintendo DS.

If you’ve played a Mega Man game then you’d be familiar with the gameplay of ASG, as it is a side-scrolling, action platformer. You play as Gunvolt or “GV”, a young boy who is an Adept; an individual who can command “septimal” or psychic powers. In GV’s case he can manipulate electricity in what is called a “Flashfield”.

The main concepts of a Mega Man title are in place: you choose an enemy from a list and whittle them away in whatever order you like. The differences are in the gameplay. In ASG you don’t “shoot” enemies in the typical sense. Instead, you mark them with your gun and then use the Flashfield of electricity to destroy them. Any enemy marked on the screen will be affected by the Flashfield. At first you can only mark two enemies at a time, but as you progress you can upgrade GV, and receive new guns, so that you can mark several enemies on screen.

The gameplay in ASG is very fast-paced, but I personally find it difficult to get out of the mindset of simply shooting the enemies. I don’t usually have such a learning curve with a video game, but Azure Striker Gunvolt definitely had me upside-down and backwards. When you eventually get used to it, it is a very fun and rewarding experience and one I would definitely suggest you try if you are a fan of Inti Creates Mega Man titles.

3. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

If you’ve played video games at any point in the last 20 years or so then you’re probably familiar with the Mario Kart series, as it has become a flagship title for any Nintendo console since the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. There probably isn’t much I can tell you about how Mario Kart 8 plays, so I’ll stick with my experience of the title, thus far.

From the moment it was announced at E3 2013 I was shocked by how great the game looks. It is so colourful and vibrant. Nintendo set up booths at different Best Buy locations around the US and Canada where you could check out demos of some of the games they’d revealed at that E3. I managed to find my way to a Best Buy not long after and checked out a few of the demos. Seeing Mario Kart 8 running at a smooth 60 frames per second just blew me away. It really is a stunning game to look at.

And – most importantly – it plays well! The game handles incredibly on whichever controller scheme you choose. You can play on the Wii U Gamepad, the Wii U Pro Controller, the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and several other input methods as well. I ended up finding that I preferred the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination, because it reminded me most of playing on the Nintendo 64 controller. Mario Kart 64 is my jam.

There are a plethora of characters to choose from in this installment. The core characters of the game remain in the Super Mario Universe, but with the addition of DLC packages that were released a few months ago, now Link from The Legend of Zelda can join in on that Mario Kart fun!

This is one of those games that you never just beat and put away, but you play now and again and savour. No matter if you’ve achieved everything the game has to offer you can always find a challenge and with the addition of DLC – something Nintendo is just starting to get used to – more life could be breathed into this wonderful title in the future.

2. Shovel Knight (Wii U, PC)

Shovel Knight is the freshmen release of Yacht Club Games, which is a company started by Sean Velasco in 2011 after he left Wayforward. Wayforward is responsible for all sorts of games, but are mostly known for their Shantae series on Nintendo’s handhelds, as well as several movie tie-in games, and recently an HD remake of DuckTales, from the Nintendo Entertainment System, on modern consoles.

Yacht Club Games first effort is an odd little title; a game where you play as a renowned knight in a far-off fantasy land, whose weapon of choice is, just as the name suggests, a shovel.

The game is a wonderful throwback to retro classics on the NES. It is a perfect union of the elements of Mega Man, Castlevania, Super Mario Bros. 3, and even the aforementioned DuckTales. The style of the game is in a pseudo 8-bit. Everything is created in sprite work that harkens back to the NES era, but at the same time would be far too technical to ever play on Nintendo’s oldest home console.

Shovel Knight is taking on the Order of No Quarter, a group of evil knights that are up to no good! You traverse the world in a map akin to that in SMB3, and you can take on the Order of No Quarter in any sequence you choose, much like Mega Man. In each stage you can find a relic, which if you purchase it, can help you defeat the boss for that area. Coupled with Shovel Knight’s shovel attacks, including one that is just like ol’ Scrooge McDuck’s pogo stick cane from DuckTales, he is a formidable hero!

Playing this game was a wonderful experience from beginning to end. It has a hilarious script, is perfectly paced, doesn’t take forever to finish, and it also balances its difficulty quite well, although being a little on the easy side. The music is full of beautifully crafted chiptune songs, which may make a future list, so keep your eyes peeled.

Shovel Knight is currently available on the Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PC (via Steam) and has future releases planned for PS3, PS4, and PS Vita, so if you have the means to play it, you should definitely do so.

1. Bravely Default (Nintendo 3DS) 

Bravely Default is a new Square Enix-published JRPG developed by Silicon Studio, known mostly for creating game development software, but also for their only other release, 3D Dot Game Heroes. The game is in many ways a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light, which was released in 2010 for the DS and developed by Matrix Software.

Much like 4 Heroes of Light, the game uses an iteration of the famous Final Fantasy Job System - made popular in games like Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy Tactics - in which players use “asterisks” to give their characters new jobs and abilities.

This game is an odd duck, because it is a completely new title and series from Square Enix, but is in every way a Final Fantasy game. The story line starts off like so many FF titles before it, in which a young man from a small village is thrust into the role of hero to save the world.

Although that sounds really played out, you have to trust me on this: Bravely Default is a breath of fresh air in the world of the RPG. It plays on your nostalgia, giving you the same experience you came to love from the FF titles of yesteryear, but with a new refreshing story, great characters, incredible music, and – most importantly – a new battle system. Bravely Default is not just the same old Final Fantasy game you might be expecting.

Although the game features turn-based combat you won’t get very far if you simply let everyone take their turn. Enter: the Brave/Default system. What an inventive name!

This system allows the characters to pass on taking their turn, instead stockpiling it, which is known as Default. In the Default state your character goes into a defensive stance, which greatly protects you from enemy damage. You can do this up to four times at which point you can take advantage of using Brave. Brave allows you to attack up to four times. If you’ve stored enough moves thanks to Default, you can do so and then still perform another command on your next turn. If you haven’t, however, you’ll have to sit there and let your enemy unleash upon you while you wait for your turn count to replenish.

I’ll admit, I’m a bit of nostalgia junkie and this sort of thing is immediately going to be up my alley, but I assure you there is something special about Bravely Default that makes it worth the playthrough.

I can’t give this recommendation without a serious warning, though: The second half of Bravely Default does something that is pretty stupid. I can admit that. In fact, for many people, it’s enough that they won’t finish the game, nor recommend it to anyone, and I can see where they are coming from.

I don’t want to say any more than that and ruin the storyline, but there is a section of the game that can be a bit of slog to get through. In my personal opinion the game is good enough to play through the second half, even if it is rough. I would also add that a good portion of this “bad section” of the game is not mandatory and can be skipped, so if you hate it you can do the minimum amount necessary and get through it relatively quickly.

Regardless of the general reception of the second half of the game, Bravely Default did incredibly well in Japan and North America, and a sequel is in the works from Silicon Studio entitled Bravely Second: End Layer. I for one can’t wait for more!