Month: December 2012

“Spyro: Year of the Dragon” review

Image

The original Playstation was that new student at school that became very popular. It’s always difficult having to start from scratch in a new environment. While Mr. PSOne was doing very well with the mature crowd, a few of its peers felt it needed a mascot to identify itself with. While Mario and Sonic had done very well with fellow classmates Nintendo and Sega respectively, there was a friendly rivalry between Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon to be Sony’s top dog.  Well, Naughty Dog had helped Crash dog Spyro in this dog eat dog world of dog fighting that is video games, although they remained friends.

In short, Crash and Spyro were the mascots of the original Playstation. Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft was more of an icon than a mascot, as she was a character of more realistic proportions, (the same can’t be said for her chest). I didn’t own a Playstation, but I knew heaps that had one, giving me a chance to play some of the most popular titles. I’m pretty sure all these Playstation households had a Crash Bandicoot title because that’s what I mostly remember playing. Crash was obviously the more popular of the two because I remember only one occasion where I played a Spyro game on the Ps1. Although I had properly played one Spyro game before, and that was from the pair of Game Boy Advance crossovers with Crash called Spyro Orange: The Cortex Conspiracy and Crash Bandicoot Purple: Ripto’s Revenge. They were essentially mini-game collections with 2D Spyro/Crash gameplay tacked on. It was mildly fun I guess, but not enough for me to bother linking the games together, which seemed to be a selling point.

Image

As you all would be aware, 2012 was the year the world was supposed to end. It didn’t as we all know, and I like think I may have had something to do with it. You see, 2012 is also the Chinese year of the dragon, Spyro: Year of the Dragon was released in 2000, the last Chinese year of the dragon. It’s obvious why they chose that title, as it prevented Y2K. So I figured that I didn’t want to just sit down and let the world end, I wanted to sit down, play this bringer of good luck and save the world from the film 2012 becoming historically significant. Luckily a kind friend of mine who’s the other hero in this story lent me his entire Playstation collection, as Ps1 games work on the Slim Playstation 3 (but Ps2 games won’t for some reason).

Spyro: Year of the Dragon is the third title in the original Spyro the Dragon series and the last to be developed by Insomniac Games. They went on to develop Ratchet & Clank for the Playstation 2. Unfortunately, Sony lost grip on Spyro, and all his future games became multiplatform. Hang on this sounds a bit familiar…After making a few Crash Bandicoot games, didn’t Naughty Dog ditch the series to develop Jak & Daxter? Crash was a Sony mascot no more and appeared on other consoles. Sony had two mascots, but then they disappeared. That must be why they aren’t in Playstation All-Stars. It’s strange because Crash and Spyro are completely different franchises created by different developers, but they seem to go well together (hence the aforementioned crossover games), and Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank also seem to go well together. Were these guys in competition to see who could create the best animal mascot and then the best Banjo-Kazooie rip-off? Both these developers even have main characters in their new series called Nathan in Uncharted and Resistance.

Ok it’s taken me nearly 600 words to talk about the game, so better get cracking.

The Review

 

Spyro and the his friends are celebrating the “Year of the Dragon”, when a rabbit girl named Bianca and an army of rhinoceros creatures called Rhynocs steals all the dragon eggs on behalf of the Sorceress who scatters them throughout the worlds. Spyro, Sparx and Hunter set off to defeat their new adversaries and find all the dragon eggs. The story did its job and that’s all it needed to do. Being a family friendly game, the whole story is fairly predictable but the game presents it nicely with cut scenes featuring surprisingly good voice acting. I liked the characters too. Spyro didn’t have much of a personality, but all the other characters were interesting enough to further engage me in the game.

Year of the Dragon is a 3D platformer. Crash Bandicoot was 3D levels played like 2D platformers, where the goal was to reach the end of each linear level. Spyro on the other hand, is structurally similar to Super Mario 64; you wonder about free roaming worlds collecting dragon eggs, which can be hidden or given as rewards for completing objectives as levels. There are four hub worlds in which the many game worlds (over 30) can be accessed. Collecting eggs allows you to unlock more levels in the hub. Each world has a character that once you encounter or complete their objective, they reward you with an egg and exit the world to aid you reaching the next hub. Finding the character in each world is what allows Spyro to go to the next hub. Scattered all over the game are gems which act as a currency to bribe an annoying bear named Moneybags to do stuff to aid your quest. You also pay him to release captured characters that become playable in the game. Each hub world has a boss you must defeat before you can access the next hub. It is possible to complete the main portion of the game without collecting all the eggs. In fact I didn’t need to enter most of the worlds in the last hub as I had enough eggs to fight the end boss. The true final boss battle and ending is only unlocked after collecting every egg and gem in the game.

Spyro has a number of abilities; he can breathe fire, glide, body slam, headbutt and swim. There are also “powerup gates” which grant Spyro extra abilities such as invincibility and flight for a limited time. The majority of the game is spent using these abilities to break stuff, defeat enemies and progress through each level to find eggs and gems. Some enemies can only be defeated by certain moves. As mentioned before, there are other playable characters to add more variety to the game. There are also hidden mini-games and challenges in each world, which upon completion reward the player with an egg. Each hub has a world where you only play as one of the other characters, and a world that only consists of racing and time attack challenges.

Image

I found that the other playable characters, mini-games and special levels added a welcome variety to the game and never overstayed their welcome. Not all of these sections were great, but there were no bad ones. The other playable characters were Hunter the Cheetah, a friend of Spyro who helps him throughout the game and hosts sporting challenges; Sheila the Kangaroo who can double jump; Sargeant Bryd the penguin who can fly and shoot rockets; Bentley the Yeti who can smash stuff; Agent 9 the space monkey; and bonus top-down levels featuring Spyro’s companion Sparx, the dragonfly. The mini-games included sports challenges, puzzles and mini-boss fights.

Year of the Dragon is a very well made game and has charm to boot. The difficulty curve is very good, with the first hub being very easy and the Game Over screens began to appear once I reached the third hub. The level designs are also great, with none of them feeling either too big or too small. They are also very varied with settings in many different environments. It’s not at all daunting to explore these levels and immediately start having fun in them and find eggs. Just wondering around will often lead to finding eggs easily, while others you find you have much more to do. Some eggs you can’t get until you return later in the game. I feel as if the game developers took their time to make sure that progressing through the game is a smooth and flowing experience. You start to get the swing of things; enter the world, find some eggs and make sure you find the helpful character before you leave. It’s unlikely you will get stuck as not all eggs are required, meaning that if you can’t complete a challenge you can just try another. As mentioned before, I had more than enough eggs to battle the end boss straight away when the game gave me the opportunity. Don’t get me wrong as the game becomes quite hard later on. The length is also quite good, the game didn’t feel too short nor did it feel like the game had run out of steam by the end.

The music of the game I didn’t like very much. I think Stewart Copeland (drummer for The Police) tried to make the music feel subtle in the game worlds. In the end I just found the music to be bland; even the boss battles don’t have exciting tunes. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t add to the experience.

As said before, the game requires all gems and eggs to be collected to unlock the true final world, boss and ending. I have mixed feelings about this as a concept as it restricts players to discovering the real end of the game until they collect everything, but on the other hand, at least the reward for 100% completion is worth it. I’m not 8 years old anymore, so I no longer have the time or the patience to 100% complete games like I used to. In saying that, Year of the Dragon isn’t very hard to 100% and it wouldn’t take too much time to do so, but I’m still a busy fellow these days with a ton of other games to play, so I just watched the ending on YouTube.

Besides Spyro Orange, I haven’t played any other Spyro games. I did some research and by the looks of it, the original trilogy on the Playstation seems to be the most critically acclaimed, with Year of the Dragon having the highest score in the series on Game Rankings (a site that that takes all review scores and creates a percentage). On Game Rankings it is the 14th highest rated Playstation game of all time, with a 91% rating. My research indicates the general consensus is that Year of the Dragon didn’t change the series formula very much, but it added new playable characters, more variety in the mini-games and excellent level-design. So while I can’t definitely say Year of the Dragon is better than the other two as I haven’t played them, the reviews I’ve read had indicated that it is. If you want to play all three, go for it, but if you only want to play one, I recommend Year of the Dragon over the others for the above reasons, but of course without me playing the others this wouldn’t be the most reliable recommendation. However what is reliable is my recommendation on the game on its own. It’s a great game!

Judging this game on its own and not by its predecessors, Spyro: Year of the Dragon is very well made with a ton of variety in the gameplay. It’s easy to see why Spyro the Dragon was popular as Year of the Dragon is a lot of fun. At times it did feel a little dated, such as the life system and the music was a bit too boring for my liking, but the game is incredibly fun to play. You can download all three games together or separately on the Playstation Network Store or track down copies, but either way Spyro provided great gameplay for all. I’m giving Spyro: Year of the Dragon 4/5.

“Family Guy” Season 10 DVD review

Image

My problem with the last season or two of Family Guy is that they’ve stopped making the show enjoyable. No-one would call Family Guy the most original or the smartest show on television, but almost everyone agreed that it’s one of the funniest around. Well, that was before, nowadays I say it used to be one of the funniest shows on television. Jokes miss the mark, go too far and/or just jump out of nowhere with no relevance to the plot whatsoever. To this season’s credit, it was an improvement on the last DVD which I remember only having 3 good episodes; this was one had 5. 5 episodes out of 15 isn’t a good thing and barely an improvement. Note that this review will contain spoilers.

This is a review of the Australian DVD, which is different to the American one. This one’s the tenth “season”, even though it should be called Volume Ten like the American DVDs, which have different episodes in them. That sounded less confusing in my head, but go type “Family Guy DVDs” on Wikipedia and that will explain things. On the Australian Season 10 DVD, it contains the latter 12 episodes of the actual Season 8 and the first 3 episodes of the actual Season 9. I don’t know why they don’t just release them in the proper seasons, it makes things really difficult.

The episodes that worked this season had a good story, giving us a good reason to keep watching and reminding us that we are watching an animated sitcom, rather than a skit show. I remember being pleasantly surprised during one episode when each cutaway gag seemed natural and relevant rather than a joke they were desperately trying to put in. The majority of them weren’t like this however, like the writers take the show for granted and just write it as fast as they can so they can go home, eat dinner, go to sleep, wake up, smell the roses and spend all that money. In fact I distinctly remember listening to the commentary on the last DVD on one of the episodes that has further imprinted this idea in my head. During an obvious movie reference, if I remember correctly, the crew “joked” (sad part is I believe them), that movie references like this is the only reason that these episodes are written. That doesn’t surprise me as it seems like a lot of the cutaway gags reflect this. So there you go, that’s why Family Guy sucks nowadays.

Early on one of the better episodes, “Dial Meg for Murder”, demonstrated why we watch this show. It had a good story, where Meg goes to prison after hiding her boyfriend who had escaped from prison. When she gets out she becomes a completely different person. The ending of the episode is both heart-warming and calls back to something from the beginning of the episode that started the whole plot, which was quite clever. It also had a funny subplot, with Peter becoming a bull’s bitch after trying out the rodeo, which is definitely something that would happen to him.

Another episode worth talking about was “Brian & Stewie”. This episode was a drastic departure from the usual Family Guy episode. Brian and Stewie get trapped in a bank vault over a weekend. They are the only main characters featured, obviously there are no sub-plots and this is the only episode without any cutaway gags. I’ve been reading things saying “if you wanted to know what Family Guy is like without cutaway gags, this episode is it”. My response to that is that if they wanted to know what it was like, well…  American Dad has been on the air for years. The significance of the episode is the moments between the two characters. They almost ruined it, by having one of the most disgusting scenes I have ever seen. Brian eating Stewie’s poo fails to be funny, but I know there are some odd people that will love it. On the good side, Brian and Stewie got the chance to express their feelings about each other and life in general, and end on a positive and dramatic note. I applaud the Family Guy crew for trying something new, even though the poo parts were a bit much.

There is a murder-mystery episode on this DVD. It will definitely become a classic. Many of the show’s characters are invited to James Wood’s mansion, and then the murders begin. Several characters are killed off and the ending was well played. This double episode was well-written, engaging and funny; most importantly the plot wasn’t all over the place. That’s all I’m going to say as I don’t want to spoil this one.

Overall, while a stronger season (or volume) than the last, it wasn’t significantly better. Most episodes weren’t that good and will just make you mourn for what the show once was. Family Guy is neither original nor intelligent, but at least in the past it was consistently funny and that was all we needed. Now it’s just getting tired and far too random. I honestly wouldn’t be sad if Seth McFarlene put this show to rest permanently, unless he and his crew make an effort to write more than 5 good scripts a season. The few episodes that were good just don’t justify spending money on the DVD, which is why I give this DVD 2/5.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” film review

Image

Every once in a while some friends drag you to a see a film in the cinemas that you knew nothing about and had no interest in. The only thing I knew about The Perks of Being a Wallflower the night before I saw was that Emma Watson was in it. I was pleasantly surprised as I ended up loving this film.

Set in the early ‘90s, a teenager named Charlie nervously begins his first year of high school. He is a very shy guy with a troubled past, and struggles to make connections with the other first years. Things change after he befriends two senior students, Patrick and his stepsister Sam. After they invite Charlie to a house party, he becomes a part of their friendship group.

There is a lot I love about this movie. For a start, almost everything I expected to happen didn’t happen (such as reducing itself to high school movie clichés or becoming chicky flicky), and that’s always a good sign. The three leads put on strong and believable performances, as did the supporting cast. It also had some great alternative rock songs! The major revelation revealed at the end is exactly how a great revelation should be handled; you didn’t expect it but in hindsight you feel you should’ve seen it coming as it fills the missing pieces of a puzzle.

This film is very, very character based, which makes sense considering this film is adapted from a novel of the same name by Stephen Chbosky, who actually directed it. I’d imagine this would make it really true to the book, but also means that the original meanings of the novel are not lost in adaptation. Charlie is a very developed character, and his narrations and flashbacks really get you inside his head. By the end of the film I was very emotionally attached to his troubles. Sam’s past is touched upon and you appreciate her attempts to change what she once was when she started high school. Patrick is the character we feel comfortable with, as he begins as the funny one, but he has a tragic story hiding behind closed doors.

Some of the best film viewing experiences are when you watch a movie that had not a care in the world for and end up absolutely loving it. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a really, really good movie and I highly recommend everyone to see it. It’s not a chick flick and it doesn’t suck so everyone should see it. At first glance, it didn’t seem like my type of movie, but I was definitely wrong. The cast is great, the character arcs are well developed, the story takes some unexpected turns and it doesn’t need to demand your attention as it will likely have it anyway.

Once of the best movies I’ve seen this year, I’m giving The Perks of Being a Wallflower a well deserved 4.5/5.

I have a feeling this post is going to get a lot of views by people Googling Emma Watson, and after seeing this film, I certainly understand why.

“Skyfall” review

Image

Brace yourselves Bond fans, for I sure have a bombshell to unleash on you. I have never watched a James Bond movie in full with my complete undivided attention. In the gaming world, I would imagine to be like someone who has never played a Mario game. Actually, that’s not a very good example, but it’s all I got so I’ll stick with it. Despite not seeing a Bond film, it’s not hard for me to be incredibly familiar with the franchise, as its impact on popular culture is hard to miss. Skyfall has received strong critical reviews, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to finally get on board for this film series, as it is celebrating its 50th year!

Secret agent 007 tries to recover a stolen hard drive, with the plot eventually shifting to Bond investigating an attack on MIS. That’s pretty much all I’m going to say about the story, as there’s a lot to spoil. There was one thing early on in the movie that annoyed me quite a bit. James Bond fans know that these movies aren’t meant to be 100% realistic, as there’s no way any human being could possibly pull off these stunts in real life. However, what happened at the end of the cold opening was not given a proper explanation and seemed too unbelievable for me to accept. Those who have seen the movie will know what I mean, and this bothered me for the entirety of the film, but wasn’t enough to completely ruin the otherwise great experience on screen. However, it was a much unexpected outcome that was extremely bold of the writers to incorporate and that I can appreciate.

Speaking of the cold open, Adele’s theme song plays during the lengthy title sequence. I hadn’t heard the song before, so I’m not sure if the entire track was played. Regardless, I found that the song worked really well. Adele is an artist I originally never envisioned as fit for a Bond theme song, but what do I know (that’s exactly right I just heard you say in your head, not much)?

The characters were a great bunch. I haven’t seen the other Bond films as I mentioned earlier, so I can’t compare Daniel Craig’s Bond to the other ones, but regardless I felt he was right at home in this role. I also was quite fascinated by M and her story arc throughout the film. You truly get the feeling that she’s not quitting until the job is completely done. I found the villain, while rather menacing, also quite odd. In saying that, you truly get to understand his motives behind his plan.

The film’s action is typical Bond (I would imagine). Fighting on trains, riding motorbikes everywhere you shouldn’t, even a cold underwater struggle is present. “Skyfall” refers to a residence, where a lot of breathtaking action takes place. You know what you want and you know what to expect when you see a Bond movie, and this instalment is no exception.

From the looks of things, I guess I was right. Skyfall is a great way to enter this series and the filmmakers should be proud that they made a fantastic film to celebrate 50 years of James Bond movies. The main cast is great, the story filled with twists and turns, and the action so thrilling. Even with that nitpick I had early on the film, I couldn’t resist the action, the characters, the plot, the soundtrack and the James Bond experience as a whole. Only those who don’t like James Bond films should steer away, everyone else reading this should go ahead and see it.

Rating: 4/5