Super Smash Brothers for Wii U is absolutely stellar

The last Smash Bros. console iteration was released over 6 years ago and the gap before that was 7 years. That’s okay though, because it makes this gathering of the iconic and memorable characters all the more special each time it happens. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U arrives in a context that is in stark contrast compared to 2008’s Brawl release. Nintendo’s latest and first ever HD machine is struggling and the company has to prove the system’s worth with titles two years into the Wii U’s life cycle that could make or break the console’s success. A lot of pressure has been put on Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and it needs to be absolutely stellar to meet the expectations both Nintendo and fans have put on it.

Smash Bros. is an atypical fighting game where bouts between characters are based on whether one person can stay on a board or platform longer than the other. The objective is to attack your opponent to deal more and more damage and the higher damage inflicted on the character means the more susceptible they will become to getting knocked further off the stage. It’s a constant King of the Hill scramble to remain in the game and the last man standing is the victor. Playing a game is chaos especially when considering you have to deal combos, chase after helpful items and be wary of hazards on the stage itself to survive – and I love it. Fighting is also available on many control schemes, including GameCube controller via special adapter, so every player will find their comfort level with this game.

The roster is the biggest the series has ever seen and there is a character for every demographic, taste and preference. Mario, his Nintendo gang and a handful of guests from other publishers, including Pac-Man and Mega-Man, are crammed into this singular game and the amount of epicness is at an all-time high. Each character follows the same template of moves as far as input goes, but plays different enough from each other to require skill and time to master. Link has long range special moves like boomerangs and bombs while the more grounded Little Mac is much more of a close-range fighter. Each character also has attributes to consider while in battle, so you’ll have to take into account Ganondorf’s sluggishness or Pikachu’s aptitude to recover and return to a platform when knocked too far.

Modes are plentiful and all the favorites are back. Classic, All-Star, Home-Run Contest and Target Blast make their return and trophies are yet again collectible. Customization of Mii’s and Smash Bros. characters, which was introduced last month in the 3DS iteration is also back and can be transferred over from the portable version, too. New to Smash for Wii U this time around includes some extra modes and multiplayer features. For the first time ever, routinely single-player experiences like Classic, All-Star and Multi-Man challenges have been opened up to co-op experiences. This is exceptionally great with unlocking trophies in Classic and All-Star mode, because one run through can unlock two trophies at once when playing with a pal. Also, Cruel Smash, which up to this point has been an insanely tough 5 super beefed up Mii’s against you, is a much fairer fight when it’s 4 human players against 4. Also, 8 players playing on a single console arrives here as a first for the series and it is, in simplest terms, madness — the good kind of madness.

An exclusive mode, Smash Tour has some similarities to the 3DS’ Smash Run, but is a totally different beast all on its own. Up to 4 players wander around a party board in a set amount of turns gathering character traits like power, speed and jump and the goal is to collect fighters as you go. Random items can be used before each turn, such as setting up traps to disrupt each other or self-improving power-ups like doubling up the number on a dice roll. You get to play as the characters you collect and battles take place if players cross paths. In the end, the final battle pits all the characters you’ve collected with all the stats gained against each other and the player to get the most KO’s is declared the winner. Smash Tour is a welcomed and fun multiplayer option that I feel is better than Smash Run, which was a much more isolated and lonely experience before the final showdown.

Smash Bros. for Wii U is the first time the series has stepped into HD and it is very, very pretty. The game is a solid 60fps and the only time I noticed it dip was during the credits sequence. Otherwise, it ran smooth even during the most demanding 8-man matches. The music in Smash for Wii U is completely out of this world. The sheer volume of original and remixed tracks is staggering, but the quality of some of the songs is the real kicker. A Super Mario World boss theme with a Latin flair seems a bit strange on paper, but sounded both fitting and appropriate by every stretch of the imagination. And then there are the lesser known themes, like the final boss theme of Bowser’s Inside Story, which is a personal favorite of mine and was included into this soundtrack. This not only shows Nintendo is putting care and attention to their score, they’re also paying close attention to what the fans want.

About half of Smash for Wii U’s stages are from past titles, which, of course, have been bumped up to the visual standards of the rest of the game. As good as the old stages were, new stages introduced here are refreshing like the Metroid: Other M‘s Pyroshere stage and Star Fox: Assault‘s Orbital Gate Assault stage. The game also has stages of future games like Yoshi’s Woolly world which arrives sometime next year. Unlockable stages and music is also available, so the already impressive lot of content continues to grow as you play.

Amiibo is launching alongside with Smash for Wii U and it adds a bit more to the game. This optional purchase will allow you to level up your figure player and learn your playstyle to stand in as a computer controlled fighter. It’s a bit funky and not a perfect science, but gives you a little more for the nice figurine you just bought. It’s a very throwaway feature, but I do like the toys very much. Amiibo can also be used for other games, so it’s not entirely a waste if you find it pointless for Smash Bros.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U plays great, sounds great, looks great, has a robust roster and there’s a ton of modes to keep coming back for more. Also, with Mewtwo as a playable character promised as upcoming free DLC, you can assume there may be more stuff on the way. As far as downsides go, the menus are still confusingly laid out (addressed by many as a flaw in the 3DS version) and the Amiibo functionality isn’t anything grand to write home about. That said, this game gets so much right and gives a lot of play for your buck. Like Melee and Brawl on their respective consoles, Smash for Wii U is a must have for any Wii U owner.

Super Smash Brothers
Genre: Fighting
Platform: Wii U
Developer: Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: November 21, 2014

Rating: 9.5 / 10

Bayonetta 2: A polished and gorgeous adventure that Wii U owners shouldn’t miss

The fact that Nintendo went out of its way to publish and push a sequel to Bayonetta should say a lot about the company’s stance on third-party games. Bayonetta 2 stars a female protagonist of the same name and the game is as hardcore and as obscure as it gets. The original game gets packed in with Bayonetta 2 for one retail price, which could have been easily missed back when it released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This is the gem Nintendo fans have been waiting for and if you’ve been looking for more reasons to pick up a Wii U, Bayonetta 2 makes a big case for it.

The game takes place a few months after the first and Bayonetta and her fellow witch friend, Jeanne are doing some Christmas shopping. Action quickly ensues as they are attacked by angels and the two kick some major butt. However, Jeanne still ends up being taken into the depths of Inferno (hell of sorts) and Bayonetta pursues her. Witches, demons, angels — If you’re into mythical and religious connotations in your video games, this is totally for you.

Bayonetta 2 plays like the best version of your action favorites like Devil May Cry and God of War and takes it as its own with unique style and storytelling. You hack, slash, dodge and perform epic moves just like the other guys, but it’s met by a solid 60 fps, a smart fighting system and takes more liberties with not caring about how weird the Japanese inspired game gets. Witch Time and Umbran Climax also give more flare to each battle as they give bullet-time effects and high-powered summoning attacks respectively. There’s just something super satisfying about timing a perfect dodge and being able to unleash hell in slow-motion.

The flurries of attacks you can dish out on your opponents can become sensory overload, but that’s what makes the game feel grander than your everyday beat-em up. There’s no noticeable slowdown or hiccups during the fluid flowing on-screen action, so the ambitious vision of Bayonetta 2 going bigger and flashier is completely realized. The action is fast, but failure never feels cheap or unjust as it does in so many other games.

Cutscenes are brilliantly casted and the setpieces are quite a sight to see. I would stand around taking in the environments at times just to enjoy the architecture and environments built for this game. Also, when the ground beneath you begins to collapse on itself for whatever reason or a momentary shift of gravity occurs, it really feels like a living, breathing world you’ve become a part of. Some of the storytelling is done through still panels shifting like a Japanese comic or manga, which were effective and actually more enjoyable than your typical photo-realistic FMV cutscenes.

My playthrough of Bayonetta 2 was set to normal difficulty and that proved to be more than enough for me — Hard mode, I’m sure, will satisfy the hardcore. For the first few hours of the game, I was able to get by just through mashing the same combos and dodging attacks at the right time. Eventually, that kind of play caught up with me and I had to learn and execute more elaborate combos and attack strings as the game’s difficulty continued to rise. The payoff is great though and each victory felt more and more rewarding. There’s a scoring system that takes into account lives used and time it took to complete a mission and that should make perfectionists happy.

Bayonetta 2’s 10-12 hour story never lets up and it is a thrill ride through and through. There was never a moment where I felt bored or tired, which is a big contrast to many other beat-em ups that get too repetitious for my tastes. The writing can get a bit cheesy (and they’re thankfully skippable), but the main thing is the gameplay and it certainly delivers. This is a polished and gorgeous adventure Wii U owners cannot miss. Nintendo took a gamble with this one and it paid off big time.

Bayonetta 2
Genre: Action, Hack and Slash
Platform: Wii U
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: October 24, 2014

Rating: 9 / 10

‘Interstellar’ is Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious fantastic voyage

On one hand Interstellar is a post-apocalyptic film, as the landscape of a near futuristic Earth is brushed out onto a dry, barren canvas. Science and the unappreciated efforts of NASA are seen as insignificant wastes of resources, newly marketed as a scam to the public. The state of the planet is at a critical level. Dust storms regularly fan across the globe, showering the land in dirt. Ecosystems have been ravaged and it appears as if humans are the only creatures left on Earth. Agriculture is the last asset and culture in the world, and one-by-one, crops are failing to grow due to blight. It is yet another bleak vision into the future if we stay the course. Interstellar is so much more though, because it is about space exploration, human nature, a healthy debate over proven science vs. other concepts like love, faith, and trust, as well as an encounter with the third kind.

interstellar

Some day our planet will crumble, or reach an irreversible point. What will give us our best chance at survival, science or one of the other less physical motivations? Is there room for both? Surely the reaction to it or any hard-driven science fiction film is expected to be divisive. Interstellar will spark its share of conversations.

Watching Interstellar is like sitting at a Brazilian restaurant with a parade of protein being served at your table. After you’ve had your fifth plate of food, there’s still so much more to consume. Be prepared; Insterstellar is a dense and long film that traverses along many paths. Who doesn’t want a little more for their money? No one questions the length of a novel. It takes as many pages that it needs to tell the story and at this point, a lengthy running time is one of Nolan’s signatures. It requires a full commitment by the viewer, to step onto his carnival, full of both despair and cosmic wonder.

Director and screenwriter Christopher Nolan (along with his brother, co-writer Jonathan) makes puzzles, and in this one, everything you need to solve it rests between the start of the film and the end. It’s true that Nolan’s body of work lack warmth, or the typical Hollywood sprinter’s pace for storytelling, but maybe that’s what makes him the perfect filmmaker of the next great space movie, because there is little out there in the vast universe to give any kind of warm reassurance that a nearby safe haven exists beyond the one beneath our feet. To feel like there is hope, we need one incredible voyage, and Nolan delivers that.

Theoretical physicist, Kip Thorne (who also worked on Contact) was the film’s scientific consultant and one of the executive producers. He made sure that wormholes and relativity were portrayed correctly. It gives the Interstellar the depth and grounding it needs to lift off and take us for a ride. It is an ambitious journey, echoing other influential classics like 2001: A Space Oddyssey, Blade Runner or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but it’s presented in Nolan’s twisting maze-like presentation, done with justice in IMAX, accompanied with a bombastic pipe-organ-filled score composed by Hanz Zimmer.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot and engineer who is forced to become a farmer and master his crops of corn with his son Tom (Timothee Chalamet), daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow). A strange phenomena leads Cooper and Murph to an unknown division of NASA run by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who Cooper remembers from his glory days.

Brand is convinced that they’ve made contact with other beings who have placed a wormhole on the edge of Saturn’s orbit that will get them to inhabitable worlds in new galaxies. Many underground missions have obtained years of research that a small handful of planets exist that can sustain human life. The latest ship, dubbed the Endurance, has a mission is to confirm which of the planets to inhabit, come back to Earth, while Brand finalizes the technology to take Earth’s remaining survivors to the new planet and colonize.

Cooper leaves his family behind, at the protest of Murph, and pilots the spacecraft to find purpose in his life and do his part to preserve the survival of his children. Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley) physicist Romilly (David Gyasi) and two robots TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart) join him. But the real danger in this mission isn’t flying into the wormhole–though, to be honest, it is in its own right, a beautifully terrifying sequence. What’s really scary are the lands Endurance hopes to settle on the other side of the wormhole. Time moves slower due to the gravitational pull of a spiraling black hole nearby. One prolonged event in space could equal many Earth years marched closer towards oblivion. Once out there, the loneliness can be deafening and makes a character reconsider his or her motivations to exercise such bravery and risk. To re-coin one of Jesse Pinkman’s phrases, ‘Science, it’s a bitch!’

One could argue that there a few too many conveniences and a fourth act (yes, I said fourth) that’s too obtuse for mainstream audiences hoping to see a continuation of Gravity, but that kind of nitpicking is missing the beauty of the sum. This film has ambition, a singular vision, to cross-stitch Nolan’s dreams of exploration and survival with all of his cinematic influences, so vividly and powerful with the common thread of love.

With Inception, we watched a heist film in a shared dreaming experience. There, the manipulation of time in the dream world was important to understanding the events of the story. They were made more complex once the concept of dreams within a dream were conveyed, and it was seemingly infinite time that made the impossible possible. In Memento, a black and white story moves forward while we are given 10 minute segments of another story, in color, running in the reverse order of how they played out. Eventually the two stories converge and shows how fragile the truth is. Even in the Dark Knight trilogy, Batman was constantly racing against clock. Time is one of Nolan’s favorite villains and plot devices.

In Interstellar, we are asked to understand how time dilation and at least a surface level understanding of Einstein’s general theory of relativity works as the last bastion of the human race hurtles into one gorgeous-looking black hole. No matter who we are, what it is we can or can’t do, we are all prisoners of time and love, and are up against it. We are all subject to run away while it chases us, even if it’s across the universe.

‘Big Hero 6′ is a bright and bold collaboration between Disney and Marvel

Originality, inspiration, heart, life lessons, and exciting animation, Big Hero 6 has it all as the first big screen collaboration between Marvel Studios and Disney Animation.

bighero6

Welcome to San Fransokyo, where technology and robotics have become part of the nuts and bolts of our culture. Tadashi Hamada (Daniel Henney) is a student at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. He invented and developed Baymax, a personal healthcare robot who is amazing not only for his thorough service, but he is inflatable. But this story is less about them, and more about Hiro (Ryan Potter), Tadashi’s 14-year old brother, who likes to dwell in the underground, back-alley bot fights, hustling for money. He uses his big brains in ways that will get him by, but never ahead. Tadashi takes Hiro under his wing and takes him to his university, to meet his classmates, to introduce him to technology icons, to channel new ways to use his mind, and help facilitate new ways to approach life.

Taking the knowledge he used to create his fighting robot, Hiro develops an invention that could revolutionize the world and shows at the university’s symposium. If successful, Hiro could achieve admission to the university as a prodigy, but his work also draws the interest of Alistair Krei (Allan Tudyk) of Krei Tech who offers to buy the technology for millions. Instead, Hiro takes the advice of Professor Robert Callaghan (James Crowell) and declines Krei’s offer and accepts enrollment at the Institute. But after a fire breaks out at the event, a big explosion kills many, including Tadashi and Callaghan.

In the wake of the tragedy, Hiro shuts himself in, does not return phone calls from Tadashi’s classmates, until he unintentionally deploys Baymax who tries to step Hiro through his depression. By following his protocol, Baymax winds up getting Hiro out of the house to discover his new purpose. It’s like therapy 101 with a big talking balloon.

If it sounds like a comic book, that’s because it is. Big Hero 6 is a dusted-off Marvel comic book that director Don Hall stumbled upon shortly after the Disney acquisition of Marvel Entertainment. Big Hero 6 was created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau, two members of the creative studio Man of Action who have gone on to help create several successful creator-owned comics and TV series including Ben 10, Generator Rex, Bakugan, and Ultimate Spider-Man. Some of the characters have been taken out since they’re part of the X-Men universe and would therefore infringe on Fox Studios’ right to use anything from that specific vault of characters. Baymax got a complete and huggable makeover and some new characters were created to complete the 6. The spirit and concept is still there, but there’s no denying it’s been made over into a much more cuddly package. The compromise also made it a more obscure entity and allows fresh eyes to be brought to the theater before the flood of the all-ages sensibilities come rushing towards you in 3D.

Another big plus was seeing a majority of the cast be diverse both on screen and in voice, especially in the main characters. It’s not stately obvious, but in looking back, what a breath of fresh air it was to see Hiro of mixed Asian and Caucasian descent, (Potter is also of mixed descent) and his inspiration be his brother (Henney was born to a Korean adoptee mother and American-Irish father) raised by their caring though sometimes spacey guardian, Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph). It’s an unconventional family but is such a great representation of the modern American face. Hiro and Tadashi are two of the best Asian-American inspired characters on screen since we were introduced to Russell in Up. Hopefully this approach becomes more and more commonplace in live-action film too.

The rest of the Big Hero 6 roster doesn’t fall through the familiar pitfalls of minority characters that we’ve seen so many times. For one, they all have great scientific minds, so that already bucks the stereotypes of their compartmentalized cultures that typically define them, whether it be their native food, slang, or fashion–that alone is worth commending. GoGo (Jamie Chung), another Asian-American, has a tough exterior and is athletic. Wasabi (Damon Wayans), the team’s African-American, is an overly cautious neat-freak with an equally precise weapon, but he serves as the moral compass. Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) plays to the girls who like to accessorize but is also a lovable and undeniable chemistry nerd. And then there’s Fred (T.J. Miller) who just unfolds his multiple layers through to the very last second of the film (yes, that’s a clue that you have to stay after the credits, because this is after all, a Marvel film, and a fine scene it is). You never feel like the team is a formula, but rather a cross-cut of personalities to help Hiro and Baymax shine.

One never goes hunting for life lessons in children’s movies, but as a parent, I can tell you that it never hurts to see them done so well like they have recently in movies. Kids are invariably going to watch these films on multiple occasions whether it’s in the theaters or once they are home releases. So it does make you feel better when you see ways to spark the interest in the science fields, trusting others for help and teamwork, pushing through life’s failures, or how to channel and cope with the anger and emotions of experiencing personal loss–it’s quite a change from waiting for Prince Charming to come along. How to Train Your Dragon 2 dealt with some similar themes, very powerfully I might add. It’s a sign that we’re in a great period of all-ages films.

Now, I’m not quite as sold on how great Frozen is being perceived to be, but I do understand why it’s popular. Wreck-It Ralph was another modern-day Disney classic that blended all of the things you want to see in an all-ages movie, while pulling in adults with nostalgia. Even though Disney’s Planes was a mess, Planes Fire and Rescue was a pleasant surprise and recovery. We’ve never been shy to show our love for Tron: Uprising at Buzzfocus, even though it never found its audience. Still, it was a risk taken, and Star Wars: Rebels looks like another winner. Now with Big Hero 6, we can see Disney slowly evolving from what they used to be, while still finding their place in the present landscape and still understanding how best to utilize all of the assets acquired throughout the years in fun and imaginative ways. These are exciting times at Disney Animation.

The result of the Marvel-Disney collaboration on Big Hero 6 translates into magic, with plenty of big super hero moments that older audiences have always been drawn to recently, and enough Disney elements to capture the minds of a five or six-year-old without the need to bring in the scarier elements that they’ll surely graduate to in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s no rush though, that world will be around for decades.

San Fransokyo is an awesome and opulent visual delight. It might be hard to pull yourself out of the story and appreciate the level of detail and complexity of this animated world but this is a big and beautiful world the animators have created. There are a few moments that make you stop and gape, like you’re watching a new Hayao Miyazaki world unfold before you, but it’s still very much a Disney film. It certainly strengthens the faith in the Marvel-Disney collaboration and reinforces the team concept of the film, that they can be stronger in this instance, working as a team.

BH6 has the beats of an all-ages superhero film & wonder of a world’s fair wrapped into a fat burrito ready for consumption by today’s hero-hungry world. Baymax is a character who will be–and should be–plastered all over the world. It is funny, inspiring and full of grin-inducing moments that places it immediately amongst Disney’s modern-day successes. Big Hero 6 is a franchise with some seriously long legs.

Costume Quest 2 – a charming, albeit short-lived adventure (Xbox One)

If you’re a fan of Saturday morning cartoons and video games with charming ideas and imagination, Costume Quest 2 is your kind of game. Originally published by the now defunct THQ, the 2010 original finally has a sequel in Costume Quest 2. It returns to remind folks why they loved the first one and to also introduce newcomers to its unique style. It’s lighthearted and basic RPG gameplay isn’t your 60 hour story with 3 hours of cutscenes – Instead, this is game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and if you come into it knowing so, there’s plenty of fun to be had here. Tim Schafer is no slouch when it comes to artistic and creative direction and Costume Quest 2 is no exception.

Costume Quest 2 doesn’t stray too far from the original in terms of ideas and gameplay. Children are dressed in costumes for Halloween and collecting candy yet again. Twin duo Reynold and Wren are back to save the day and this time it’s a fight against a sugar-hating dentist. Basic stuff here, but it totally works for what this is. Unfortunately, voice over isn’t a thing here and it’s a shame, because I’m a huge fan of the voice work from other Double Fine games like The Cave and Psychonauts. The characters all have great personality and some of the dialogue is hilarious, so it feels like a huge missed opportunity.

The battles are more refined this time around as players are more engaged in the turn-based system with well-timed countering and present is a smarter element-based balancing system seen in most other RPG games. Inexplicably absent is a full HP heal after a battle and it’s replaced by the necessity to run back to designated water fountains in order to regain health. This wasn’t much of a problem, but did feel a bit like a chore or synthetic elongating of the actual game, which runs roughly 5-6 hours. I like walking back and forth as much as the next guy, but this was simply too much.

Visually, Costume Quest 2 brings back all the warm and fuzzy feelings of being plopped in front of the television as you sat, ate cereal and watched your favorite weekend morning cartoons. That’s because the game is full of colorful and expressive characters and, well, costumes. Hilarity ensues when you see kids who are dressed as something like candy corn imagining themselves as an actual piece of candy, while other kids take on their more epic costume counterparts like a superhero or wizard. There’s time traveling here too and it brings the team of characters into far out scenarios that are interesting and mix things up. Looking at how some NPCs and characters turn out in an alternate timeline is not unlike Marty’s experience in Back to the Future.

Costume Quest 2 is a short-lived adventure that you wish lasted a bit longer and fleshed out a bit more — There’s definitely room for growth. It’d be cool to see the series branch out to other seasons or holidays to introduce fresh and new ideas. This game will get lost in the shuffle of big name games you already have your eyes on this fall season, but if you happen to have a few bucks lying around and a lazy afternoon to spare, Costume Quest 2 is a solid pick.

Costume Quest 2
Genre: RPG
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox One (Also available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, PC)
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Midnight City
Release Date: October 29, 2014

Rating: 8 / 10

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call Review

Rhythm-based gaming hit a fever pitch about 5 years ago, which eventually collapsed on itself with the over-saturation of Guitar Heroes and Rock Bands. To me, the appeal of rhythm and music games died when the amount of plastic peripherals overflowed my gaming area; did I really need DJ Hero turntables? – Probably not. That said, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is the kind of game I’ve been avoiding for some time now. Although I hadn’t played the previous installment, I did have certain expectations for this sequel to 2012’s hit having played Elite Beat Agents and Guitar Hero on Nintendo’s handhelds before. I’m glad to say Curtain Call squashed those expectations.

In its most basic form, a rhythm-based game plays a track and you have to act according to the music all while being judged on accuracy. Curtain Call has that and builds on it to offer a richer and deeper experience. Your performance after a track isn’t just scored and forgotten about – your characters are leveling up and building up experience points just like the RPG-style gameplay Curtain Call‘s source material. There are three different types of gameplay and they include Battle, Field and Event. Field and Event styles of play are largely similar in that they play the same with slight tweaks in the visuals. Personally, I like playing in the Field just to see Chocobos.

When playing a Battle, what’s happening on-screen is reacting to how well you’re hitting notes and inputting the right commands. When a boss enemy appears, the game does a great job at getting you pumped up to hit all your notes. Leveling up will help build up abilities, including Thundara to deal magic damage after chaining a certain amount of notes or Counter to dish out physical damage after missing a few notes. Multiplayer modes are available too and offers fun for those looking for bragging rights. Can you hit notes better than your friend? You can find out both off and online.

There are multiple control methods to play Curtain Call and they can be changed on the fly during any given song. The ways you can play is through touch-screen, buttons only or one-handed. My preferred way to play was with the touch-screen via stylus, but there were times when I felt that the feedback of pressing buttons felt more comfortable – what can I say? I’m fickle. The one-handed controls I never got into, but I can definitely see the practicality of it during a train ride home during rush hour where I had to use one hand to hold on to something. There were moments where the circle pad didn’t recognize my directional input as much as I would have liked and that can be annoying for a accuracy based game no matter how few times it happened.

Curtain Call is a fan service game more than anything. All the main and side characters represented here are easily recognizable by even the most casual Final Fantasy fan. Curtain Call‘s style is cutesy and miniaturized versions of lots of characters from Final Fantasy lore. Think of all the characters you love, such as Cloud, Titus and Lightning in Funko Pop! Vinyl form. The music chosen is not just from the main Final Fantasy series as Tactics, Dissidia and even the movie, Advent Children finds a place in this game. The tracks are as they were in their original form and discovering new tracks I’ve never heard before was delightful as well. This is truly a treat to your ears, so make sure you invest in some high quality earphones, because the 3DS audio output is unfortunately not the best or the loudest.

Whether you’re here to hear Final Fantasy II music or Final Fantasy XII music, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is an amazing retrospective for any kind of fan. Even if you’ve never played Final Fantasy before or don’t particularly like it to begin with, it’s still a great rhythm-based game with great music in its own right. The possibility of having your Final Fantasy dream team is completely realized here and it’s cool to see Square Enix celebrate its history of lovable and iconic characters into one title. The next and most logical step for the series’ future would be the inclusion of other beloved Square Enix characters like Sora and Chrono.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
Genre: Rhythm
Platform: Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Square Enix 1st Production Department
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: September 16, 2014

Rating: 8 / 10

Review: Super Smash Brothers for Nintendo 3DS

There’s awesome and then there’s mind-blowing. Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS on paper is as mind-blowing as it gets for any gamer. This isn’t just a cross-over or a collaboration of a couple of video game characters; this is a game that represents over 20 well-established and memorable franchises into a single game. Mario, Link, Pikachu and even third-party friends Mega Man and Pac-Man have come together to fight it out for no real reason and frankly, who cares! Smash Bros. for 3DS is the latest installment of a series that comes around with a new release once or twice every decade and all of Nintendo’s marbles are literally put into this one bag. With all the characters from all the different worlds come all of their respective developers and makers — a game with an all-star cast needs an all-star team behind it and that’s exactly what happened here.

Smash Bros. is a unique fighter where damage isn’t as much of a priority as staying on the stages or platform. The goal is to knock off your opponent and there are many strategies to do this. One of the more obvious methods is to attack your opponent and bring up their damage percentage; this will make your opponent more susceptible to being knocked further away. There is also the high risk, high reward way to win where you can put yourself in danger by attacking someone while they’re making their way back to the ledge. Stage control is the name of the game and you can witness videos floating on YouTube between pros to see how intense the gameplay can be. There’s something for everyone here as casual players can enjoy the stimulating four-player modes with items on, while serious gamers can play 1-on-1 games with items turned completely off.

The single-player experience has many options to choose from, though not much seen here is new to the series. Classic and All-Star mode is the meat and potatoes of the experience and will offer a significant challenge, especially for completionists who will be spending quite some time beating the game with the over 35 character roster. Classic mode is like most traditional fighters where you fight a series of enemies until facing off against the end-game boss. Classic is also a bit different in this iteration of Smash Bros. where you can choose your path to the end. With my 15 years of experience, I can safely say Classic mode on the hardest difficulty is by far the most difficult this time around. All-Star mode sees your fighter go through every character in the game with one stock of life and this is also the hardest version of this mode I’ve ever seen, because the roster is bigger than it’s ever been.

Single-player doesn’t just stop there as series staples like Home-Run Contest and Multi-Man Smash return while new additions, Smash Run and Target Blast make their debut. They’re neat bonus modes that allow you to take the core gameplay of Smash Bros. and use them to knock sandbags as far as you can in 10-seconds or blast bombs through walls Angry Birds-style. Smash Run is one of the new and most uniquely thought out modes that allows fighters to explore dungeons and build their stats RPG-style for 5 minutes. Then, a random style of battle ensues where every player’s newly built up characters are pitted against each other. The pay off isn’t as good as it could have been, because some of the battles completely disregard stats or are too short to let you get a good feel of all the hard work you just put in.

Another brand new feature for Smash Bros. is the inclusion of customized fighters. You can create and customize yourself in Mii form as a fighter and mix and match moves and character properties, such as speed and strength. Moves for in-game characters can also be unlocked to build your favorite version of your already favorite characters. Perhaps you want a Mario that can shoot fireballs straight forward instead of bouncing around — that’s entirely possible with the customization options and you’ll spend a lot of time figuring out your preferred set-up.

Online can be played with friends or players around the world through the matchmaking system. Playing with friends features everything you can do with local multiplayer and as long as there’s room, other friends can seamlessly join. Playing with strangers is also possible and it can be done through “For Fun” matches and ranked or “For Glory” matches. All the moving parts needed for an enjoyable multiplayer experience is here except for some online console gaming standards that I wish were included. One is the fact that you can’t mix and match friends and strangers — you can only choose friends only or strangers only. The other is no communication options; it would have been thoroughly impressive if voice chat was possible in any form, even if it’s just during post or pre-game lobbies.

The sights and sounds are top-notch, especially the 60 frame per second gameplay. It’s amazing that this handheld title, jampacked with content can run so smoothly off and online. The themes used while browsing the menus or playing during any given stage is a festival of nostalgic favorites and remakes. Many themes return from Melee and Brawl as well as new themes, such as my favorite, Little Mac’s Jogging Theme. Many stages are also recycled from previous Smash installments and about two-thirds of the total being brand new. Most of the new stages are catered to this handheld version of game that will probably remain exclusive to the 3DS, including a Gameboy Kirby stage and Streetpass’ own Find Mii stage. Also worth mentioning is that every stage has an Omega Version of itself; a bare bones version of a stage for hardcore players to fight it out on while being able to enjoy all the awesome visuals without the gameplay distractions. I thought that the visuals and choatic gameplay of Smash wouldn’t work for a handheld, but it fires on all cylinders wonderfully.

Smash is back, folks and as the first release of this unique dual game effort (Wii U version coming later this year), Smash for 3DS certainly delivers. Minor issues include the screen being too small at times and some long load times, but there’s little to no hiccups that interrupt the fun to be had. Single-player offers a lot and multiplayer brings even more. This isn’t a downsized, compromised version of Super Smash Bros. – This is a fully executed game we all know and love derived from its prestigious console lineage. Whether you’re a veteran or brand new to the series, there’s a ton here with lots of replay-ability.

Super Smash Brothers
Genre: Fighting
Platform: Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: October 3, 2014

Rating: 9 / 10

Hyrule Warriors Review — A game dedicated to the Zelda fans

I haven’t played a Dynasty Warriors game in close to ten years, but my vague memories of the game recall a repetitive hack-and-slash with missions consisting of going from point A to point B. I also remember a steady slew of sequels not being much different from its last iteration, so I knew that the formula established by Koei Tecmo wouldn’t be messed with. That said, Hyrule Warriors didn’t initially appeal to me very much, that is, until I got to play it. A game that makes you feel like a badass with a sword who can take on dozens upon dozens of enemies at once makes perfect sense for the Zelda universe. Call it shallow, vain or whatever, Hyrule Warriors to me is a game that is entirely good because of Link, Sheik, Midna and the cast of delightful Legend of Zelda characters.

Hyrule Warriors pulls its story from the source material and interweaves past Zelda games into this one mash-up. Fans are kept in mind throughout the entire experience, including the use of familiar chimes and 8-bit nods. To elaborate further on the formula, large scale battles are taking place in the Zelda universe and your job as the “game changer” is to fight through hordes of enemies, win back territories and lead your team to victory — The shifting of which side is winning is entirely in your hands. It is a total power trip, because you see tons of enemies on-screen, but you know that they don’t stand a chance against your sword or whatever weapon you’re wielding.

There is little to no challenge here, outside of pattern-based bosses who are easily conquered once you discover the best opportunity to strike. During the majority of my experience, failure only came about when I was too busy annihilating enemies in one area and didn’t make it in time across a large field to aid my troops. But where the gameplay lacks, Hyrule Warriors makes up for with collectibles and extras. There are plenty of materials to gather to build badges, which help you in battle by building stats and adding new combos. Also, weapons can be found that may or may not be stronger than the one you’re wielding, so finding new loot is encouraged if you want to become the stronger and better. The replayability is there, but it’s not as rewarding as you’d hope.

There is no shortage of characters to choose from as there are over 10 characters and more on the way through free and paid DLC. Adding to the variety, each character also has multiple weapons to choose from, which all have varying effects and completely different animations. For example, Link has the Hylian Sword and Magic Rod and choosing one or the other feels like picking completely separate characters, because of the uniqueness each brings to the table. There are also elemental advantage/disadvantages that come to play for each stage, but the effects are so marginal that it doesn’t make much of a difference – most enemies are one-hit killable regardless.

Visually, Hyrule Warriors looks great, especially if you’ve been craving for Link and gang in full HD. The game runs smoothly for the most part until you reach areas where you’re overcome by enemies. Not only does the game slow down, there are also instances where enemies are popping in and out of sight. Usually these would be huge issues, but with a game like this, it’s understandable that some hiccups occur – it certainly doesn’t happen often enough where it becomes a gameplay problem. Multiplayer also suffers from slowdown, but it’s always appreciated when a Wii U game allows each player to have a dedicated screen, one player on the TV and one on the Wii U gamepad.

Hyrule Warriors isn’t a sophisticated, game of the year contender as other Legend of Zelda games, but it fulfills exactly what it aims to do. This is a Dynasty Warriors game with the skin of Zelda characters and that is exactly as it sounds on paper. If you’re not particularly fond of the Dynasty Warriors style of play, then do yourself the favor and pass on this. If you haven’t played any before or are a fan of the Zelda series, this is solid game that will offer hours of fun.

Hyrule Warriors
Genre: Action, Hack and Slash
Platform: Wii U
Developer: Omega Force, Team Ninja
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Sept 26, 2014

Rating: 7.5 / 10

Perceiving the truth and reality in ‘Gone Girl’

gone girl

What do you think of those couples who celebrate the anniversary years by giving traditional gifts to each other. You know what I’m talking about. Paper for year one, cotton for year two, china for 20, silver for 25 and so forth? It’s kind of annoying, right? Gone Girl looks at one of those couples, Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) who are about to celebrate their 5th Anniversary (wood) with scavenger hunts involved no less.

He is a former journalist in New York City who lost his job and relocated them to North Carthage, Missouri when his mother went ill. She comes from a well-to-do family, made wealthy by a trust fund set up by parents who mined her childhood for a series of children’s books. Nick visits his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) at the bar they both run, discussing some lost enthusiasm for what should be a joyous occasion until Nick is summoned home to find Amy missing. It’s a sudden and morbid bump in the road in what seems like an ordinary marriage, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

It’s an awkward and bumbling beginning, but then again, we’re experiencing this personal nightmare through Nick, who is as equally charming as he is aloof. At first suspicion, he calls the authorities and cooperates with them, but something is off; he doesn’t react as one normally would or at least as others expect he should. For example, he forgets to call Amy’s parents about her disappearance and mishandles the protocol of the distressed husband soon after, which makes others suspicious of him.

Because she is missing, we gain Amy’s perspective of the occasion and their marriage through passages in her diary, spliced in with flashbacks to happier memories, then unhappier times. Her view of their marriage is much different than Nick’s. Since Nick isn’t exactly forthcoming with personal information that the investigating detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) asks for, Amy’s side of the story starts to become a more trusted source. Meanwhile, Nick’s repeated missteps mark him in the public as the prime suspect, despite pleading his innocence to Margo, his lone supporter. When Nick seeks the legal help of Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), a celebrity lawyer of high profile sleaze, the story begins to heat up.

Gone Girl is written by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the best-selling novel of the same name and if you’ve flown anywhere in the continental United States over the past two years, I assure you that you’ve seen someone reading that book. One doesn’t need to read the novel to enjoy the film, in fact, it might be a better experience because you’re not constantly nitpicking and comparing the two. I found it significant that David Fincher was directing the film.

This story seemed tailor-made for Fincher, who’s long list of mystery-murder thrillers like Zodiac, Se7en, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are sandwiched between character studies like The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Gone Girl looks at a more intimate subject, while a missing woman lies at the crux of the story. Fincher brought along with him his all-star crew including Kirk Baxter whose editing shines through as the story bounces between the two points of view and through flashbacks. Also the team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross compose another appropriate and ambient score that hits the right notes.

Fincher and Flynn gift us personalities that viewers need to dig beneath the surface to get at the meat. At first meeting, Nick and Amy are two people that are such clichés, yet the marital challenges they encounter grounds them and how they deal with them gives the viewer hope. All of us know people like Nick and Amy, and parts their lives might even be relatable to some, and that makes their dark tale all the scarier. When the story shifts from manhunt to witch hunt – that’s when everyone shows their cards, or do they?

There’s a wonderful commentary on how society handles these issues publicly along with themes of perception vs. reality that hums underneath the fragility of trust we have as consumers of these events. This film succeeds by allowing us to bring our own perceptions of who these people are based on what and when the details that are revealed. Once the modern day media circus bites down with its fangs, all control is lost and the next question comes to mind, why do we trust one source over the other? The theme of trust is explored throughout the film with all of the characters interactions, even to Nick’s last bastion of hope, rests is the confidence of a smart and savvy lawyer. It makes for a wonderful discussion afterwards, especially with your spouse or significant other.

That exploration of trust comes in the form of convincing performances by Affleck who channels bits and pieces of his Holden McNeil performance in Chasing Amy. But the star of the film is Pike, who turned in the performance of her career. She is riveting, playing the most complex of these layered characters in a way that will make some recoil at the sight of the next smiling face they see. So often Pike plays the throwaway supporting actress, the helpless damsel in distress, but here she wipes the slate clean and makes us re-evaluate her potential as a leading lady. Supporting performances by Perry, Dickens, and Coon round off the corners to help make the acute thriller, one worth seeing.

Fincher’s version of the story remains faithful to the written word although the ending is altered slightly, which may or may not be a good thing as it was a controversial down point for many readers. Flynn’s retooling of the ending is sure to get newbies talking too but perhaps not as angrily. The long running time of 149 might be too taxing for some but the first 135 minutes are remarkable storytelling. After that, the bolts holding the wheels start to loosen and everything starts to unhinge. Some moments take the story to exciting places, while others will leave some scratching their head. However, whether or not Gone Girl stuck the landing shouldn’t be the thing you walk away from the film. It should be how Fincher and Flynn’s adaptation sprinkles in the right amount of details at the right times, to toy with our trust in the two protagonists. Nick’s ride through the ordeal is compelling, and Amy’s is too, but where the two converge is equally a point of fascination.

Gone Girl is a true thriller that will cause viewers who buy in to sweat from the billowing cloud of tension, and even though it is teeming with Hollywood staples like scavenger hunts, characters speaking through their diary, and making celebrities of suspected criminals, it never becomes about any of those dressings. It’s more about being confronted with what we bring to the experience, how we respond to what and why, and that is more frightening than any bad marriage.

Arrow Season 2 Blu-ray – This is the Season Smallville Should have had

Warner Bros’ ambitious comic book adapted series, Arrow, took us on a journey of adventure, conspiracy and a crap load of action in its freshman season. In season one, we found security in our heroic vigilante, even if he wasn’t secure in whom he was or the kind of hero he wanted to be. Arrow Season 2 takes all of our comfort zones and squeezes them through the ringer. Deathstroke is in the mix as well as array of other villains. And the Green Arrow has got to put his inhibitions aside and grow his team. That’s right, Smallville fans. Arrow has pushed the story and adrenaline forward in a way we only wished could have happened by Smallville’s fifth season. Plus, the showrunners tossed in enough comic book Easter eggs to make even the staunchest fan giddy with excitement.

What did the producers get right in Season 2? The first thing you’ll notice is that Oliver Queen’s hair doesn’t look like a bad toupee. His hair was painfully distracting in all the season one flashbacks. Thankfully, without the hair waving about in the wind, you get to enjoy all the great action on the island.

This season, the flashbacks actually feel like a self-contained story. We really get a chance to get inside the psyche of Slade Wilson and his inevitable transformation into Deathstroke. His relationship with Oliver becomes as close and strained as Oliver’s tenuous relationship with his mother. By creating this long term, symbiotic relationship between Slade and Arrow, the producers were able to give more weight to their falling out.

While Slade’s story was top notch, Roy Harper’s story was touch and go. After getting injected by what can only be called DC Comics’ version of a super soldier serum, Roy has to learn how to balance his new found strength without taking out the mental stresses of the serum physically on his friends, and especially Oli’s sister, Thea.

But, Roy isn’t the only powered-up ally on Arrow’s team. Sara joins the roster as Black Canary. With all these heroes in the mix, one has to wonder where does Diggle fall into play – especially with Oliver basically having the martial arts skill of Batman (an attribute that was never present in the comic)? Unfortunately, Diggle takes a back seat this season. He’s more there to offer Oli sage advice, whenever Oli gets a little too heroic for his own good or fails to separate his personal life from his vigilante life. However, he does get a few brief moments to shine when Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad starts to take shape.

Quentin Lance is also an oddity this season. At first, it seemed he would become more like Star City’s version of Commissioner Gordon. However, he ends up being more of a needless plot device to create an additional riff between Oliver, the Arrow and Laurel.

Regardless of a few pitfalls in character overload, Arrow continues to pulsate with enough high-velocity tension to keep you glued to the screen week-to-week. This is simply one of the most intense drama and action series on broadcast TV that you need to tune into, if you haven’t already done so.

The Blu-ray release adds several bonus features that you’ll want to dive into. While I do enjoy when studios include special features that involve cast sit-downs, I prefer to see more off-the-cuff interviews with third parties. You get to see the cast in a different light – even if some of the answers are canned responses. However, what I do love are bonus features that show how the magic of a series is executed. Arrow is one of those shows that hinges on cool stunts and special effects. Even though there’s a reality to Star City, there are a few fantastical elements that we tune in every week to see.

There are two great bonus features to check out on this blu-ray release. The first is the visual effects of Arrow. We get to hear from the visual effects team and learn how they helped bring season two to life. The second special feature is the wirework of arrow. This is great since Arrow is basically the Batman of Star City. So you get to see how all these intense stunts are performed so that the talents live to perform another day.

Arrow Season 3 premieres on Oct 8 at 8/7C on the CW.

Arrow: Season 2 [Blu-ray]
Arrow
Starring: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Emily Bett Rickards
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: September 16, 2014

Rating: 8.5 / 10