Black Friday 2018

Do you hear that? That sound. It’s the sound of war slowly creeping towards us. The war for deals. Each year we commemorate this time of year with a battle. The battle to end all wallets. It’s a violent day. It’s a mad day. A black day. Black Friday!

When I look back at Black Friday 2017, I am not impressed. In fact, I flat out disappointed. I failed myself in battle last year. More accurately, the deals failed me. Of the list of 15 games I wanted to get during Black Friday deals last year, I only managed to get four of them. The deals just weren’t there. To this day, I’ve only managed to acquire six games from that list total. The prices for them simply will not drop by a reasonable amount. So there’s gonna be some repeats on this year’s list as well as new additions.

Black Friday 2017 Aftermath
Black Friday 2017

Last year I only wanted software, which is always my preference because hardware shopping can be even more troublesome than games. But this year I’m not so lucky. Along with a hefty list of games, I need two items of hardware as well. May the deal gods smile upon me in battle this year.

The rules of engagement, for those not aware, have not changed. There is a list of products I want for prices I have set based on a combination of factors. I will not go above my price range for any product. If I cannot find the deal, I simply take the L and continue waiting for that ideal price point. Once again, I recruit you into my deal force. I need you to help me find the deals I seek. If you see something on my list at or below the price I’ve listed available for online purchase, please, please, please take the time to leave a comment with a link or tweet me directly for me to see it even faster. And of course I shall I assist my comrades in arms as well. Link me your lists in the comments and if I see anything I’ll be sure to send you a link. So without further ado, here are my targets for Black Friday 2018.

Black Friday 2018
Black Friday 2018
  1. Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy (Nintendo Switch) – $20
  2. Injustice 2: Legendary Edition (PS4) – $20
  3. Cuphead (PC) – $10
  4. Assassin’s Creed: Origins Gold Edition (PS4 or PC) – $30
  5. Middle-earth: Shadow of War Definitive Edition (PS4 or PC) – $20
  6. South Park: The Fractured But Whole Gold Edition (PS4 or PC) – $30
  7. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4 or PC) – $15
  8. Shaqfu (Nintendo Switch Physical) – $10
  9. Super Mario Party (Nintendo Switch) – $30
  10. Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise (PS4) – $20
  11. Shadow of the Tomb Raider Deluxe/Croft Edition (PS4 or PC) – $20
  12. Just Dance 2019 (Nintendo Switch) – $25
  13. Vampyr (PS4 or PC) – $15
  14. Unravel Two (PS4) – $5
  15. Shenmue 1&2 Bundle (PS4) – $15
  16. Sonic Mania Plus (Nintendo Switch) – $15
  17. Yakuza Kiwami 2 (PS4) – $20
  18. Nintendo Switch Bundle with Any Game – $200
  19. Garmin Vivosmart 4 or HR+ Fitness Watch – $90

Please note that while the platforms aren’t negotiable, the games can be in physical or digital form. They just have to be at or below the prices listed.

Black Friday 2018 Prices
Black Friday 2018 Prices

Probably the most important item on the list this year is the Nintendo Switch. It’s not for me. I already have one that I bought around Black Friday last year and I absolutely love it. It’s for my nephew. He’s 10 and I’d really like to be able to get him a console that he can enjoy with games appropriate for his age that are fun for the whole family. I’d like to be able to give him the best Christmas ever like when I was a kid and my parents got me a Nintendo 64.

As always, I have prepared a convenient graphic with target prices to make my list easier to reference for my comrades in arms. Save it, share, it, reference it, use it for yourself. Thank you in advance for helping your fellow gamer find and capture his prey. And as always, Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers out there. Happy Black Friday, and may the deals be ever in your favor!

 

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Halloween (2018) Review – 8.5/10

I saw the original Halloween (1978) in 2008. I watched it for a class I took on horror films. Even 30 years later, it still stood up as an excellent slasher film. What I like about it is that unlike many other slasher films of that era, it actually looks good as far as conventional film making practices. Many horror films, both in and out of the slasher genre, aren’t shot particularly well. They often have a very low budget look to them which in many ways became the standard and has since the early 80’s been done intentionally, which I personally think is a stupid genre trope. The original Halloween is responsible for creating and/or normalizing many of the slasher/horror tropes we are used to today and it’s within that context that one should watch Halloween (2018), the direct sequel to the original film.

*Please note that from here on whenever I say Halloween I’m referring to the 2018 film unless otherwise stated.

The first thing that needs to be noted about Halloween is the attention to detail and consistency within the timeline of the franchise/story. The original film takes place on Halloween 1978 in Haddonfield, IL. In the original film, it’s stated that the villain, Michael Myers, murdered his sister when he was six years old on Halloween 1963 in Haddonfield, IL. Halloween takes place on Halloween 2018, exactly 40 years to the day later, with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in both films) facing off against Michael Myers in Haddonfield, IL again. It’s a beautiful coupling of history, canon, and aesthetic that many horror franchises have never and will never get to accomplish. And it makes the film way better. I assume this is even more the case if you watched the original in theaters 40 years ago. Note that this film acts as a direct sequel to the original and disregards all the various nonsense shown in the countless campy Halloween sequels and remakes that have been made over the years.

reporters

Halloween is effective in its storytelling because it builds off of the original film’s ideas but modernizes them both in aesthetic and plot. It’s still Haddonfield, IL. It’s still a nice, presumably safe suburb full of happy families, friendly neighbors, and angsty but ultimately harmless teenagers. Though it’s set in 2018, a world full of various issues political, cultural, and otherwise, that’s not part of the film. Though it is commented on near the beginning in a single short conversation, the rest of the world doesn’t really matter here. This isn’t a story about the world or society at large. This is simply the story of maybe 100 people being affected by the actions of one man. You don’t have to read more into it and you shouldn’t. Whether it’s 1978 or 2018, teenagers still go to school, fool around when adults aren’t looking, and live mostly inconsequential, carefree lives. And that’s how it should be. Really that’s what Halloween, in the modern American context, is supposed to be about.

The Haddonfield of today may have some of the modern conveniences that weren’t present in 1978 like cell phones, but really little has changed. It still has a sheriff’s department instead of a police department. People still leave their back doors open. Most people don’t have security systems. It might not be how America is often depicted today in news media, but it’s the America people like to pretend still exists. And in many ways that makes it scarier. The most noticeable change in this film compared to the original and really most horror films of the 70’s and 80’s is that now there are considerably more Black people, with speaking parts, and none of them were the first one to die. #Progress!

Daughter

The film recreates a similar story where Michael has once again escaped custody the day before Halloween and has decided to return to his hometown to murder people at seemingly random for no explained reason. Really that’s my biggest beef with this and the original film. Michael simply is evil. We never get any insight into why he kills people and why he does it on Halloween. He just does. This movie takes the time to argue that some people just are pure evil. That there’s no explanation or justification for it. Michael Myers simply kills. While I may not like this explanation, it does accomplish two things rather well. First, it removes the need for a legitimate backstory and/or explanation. Often these come off cheesy and don’t necessarily make the film any better. I appreciate their presence in movies, but can admit that most of them don’t make any sense. How did the boy who drowned in the lake come back to life? How did the man become an evil spirit that hunts teens down in their dreams? Explanations justify the plot of the current story, but they often also leave the viewer with more questions than answers by the end of the movie.

The second thing a lack of justification accomplishes is that it makes the story even scarier. Films like I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) give you a justification for the actions shown. The victims did something wrong and they are punished for it. Many slasher films work this way. Teenagers get killed because of bad behavior. This allows the viewer to not feel as bad for the victims when they get offed and allows them to remove themselves from the story, ultimately reducing the fear factor. It’s really easy to walk out of a theater after seeing a bunch of kids get murdered for covering up a manslaughter charge. You don’t even necessarily feel sorry for them at the end of the day. But if there is no reason for the violence and no specific justification for the victims chosen then that means everyone is a potential target. There’s nothing the characters and more importantly the viewer(s) can do to avoid being murdered. It’s simply a random case of bad luck where you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a case of weaker writing to achieve a stronger overall experience.

Dr-Sartain-in-Halloween

In the case of specifically Laurie, it’s not even fully apparent that Michael had planned to go after her in this film. What it more seems to be is that he was just on a random killing spree and was maneuvered towards going after her again. Multiple characters go out of their way to try to put the two back together in order to see what will happen. This worked well here because it justified the story focusing on Laurie without giving up the original randomness of Michael’s victims. He kills almost indiscriminately based on who’s in his vicinity when no witnesses are present. By the end of the film a great many people had been killed by Michael, but only two of the murders shown on screen happened with other people present. There are a number of little details like this that make Halloween so much more than the original. Almost to the point where I’d be willing to believe that people had really spent the last 40 years planning this almost perfect sequel. I don’t want to go into too much specific detail about the main plot because it’s so tightly written that mentioning most things directly related to Laurie will spoil her story arc. Suffice it to say that they did a story that I didn’t expect but that I really liked. I found it to be a perfect ending to a 40 year struggle that was true to both the main characters.

The cinematography is excellent. It’s a very well shot film that takes advantage of the experience gained over the last four decades of horror films. The lighting, the angles, the cuts, and even the sound all comes together perfectly to create a very stressful yet entirely believable viewing experience. I also really appreciated that there was only one jump scare in the whole movie and it wasn’t done by Michael. It’s expressed intentionally as a Halloween prank within the movie and for me that’s important. Jump scares are the lazy man’s horror technique. I’m glad we’ve pretty much done away with them in horror movies in exchange for psychological terror. One of my favorite shots in the whole movie was when someone, who I won’t name for spoiler reasons, decides to try to turn the fight back on Michael only to get thrown out a window. But at this point the roles have been reversed and the camera expresses this very well. Michael gets distracted and when he looks back at the body lying outside it’s gone. The sequence proceeds to show Michael moving through the house searching for an intruder the way the prey usually is in this genre. It was a phenomenal sequence that humanized Michael. Many other shots and sequences were just as effective in their own ways at telling a great slasher horror story.

closet

While this is in many ways a higher minded slasher film that isn’t simply using gore to impress the audience, it’s still very graphic. Michael is at peak killing prowess and he’s not just using knives to kill people. Stabbing is just one of many ways he murders his victims this time around, but what’s also well done is the murders they didn’t show on screen. Many sequences cut or angle away from the actual violence and then show you the after math, leaving you to imagine what happened yourself. While this may not be the most visceral way to depict a murder story, it’s much stronger for the overall storytelling. You don’t have to dwell on every murder that takes place which keeps the pacing good. The film never drags on with violence even while showing you a slew of bodies left in Michael’s wake. Again, Halloween really shows itself as a high quality modern movie that just happens to be a slasher film rather than the classic low quality film that stereotypes the genre.

The acting was great. Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance has only gotten better with age. You really believed that she had been struggling with the memories of that night for 40 years. But other actors did a fine job as well. Will Patton as Sheriff Hawkins was exactly what I wanted him to be. This movie actually centers mostly on women of various ages and they all gave great performances. The writing definitely plays a role in this because the story was very realistic, thus making it even more believable. It’s not the cheesy somehow Michael is everywhere scenario. The characters just happen to move into his path and are killed as a consequence of that. There are really only two murders in the whole movie that seem completely intentional as targeted victims and Michael targeting them made perfect sense. I will say though that there are a number of classic dumb horror movie character moments that take place. They’re believable, but they continue the stereotype of people (in this case me) wanting to yell at the screen because why would you run into the woods when a psychopath is trying to murder you when you’re already on a road that cars drive on? The movie isn’t built on these moments, but a number of them occur and as a Black man I had to do everything in my power not to yell at the screen. What was great was that there actually is a Black kid in the movie that basically does this for one sequence. He tells the two older white kids what not to do, they don’t listen, and bad things happen to them. So kudos to you David Gordon Green for acknowledging your audience and for casting a hilarious Black kid.

Door

I’m not going to say there haven’t been other great pure American slasher films in the last 10 years, but I will say that I can’t recall any. It’s not my favorite genre so I haven’t devoted time to actively seeking them out, but in my opinion horror as a genre has moved away from the slasher idea. Halloween does the genre justice. It’s not just an excellent slasher film. It’s an excellent film that I might even argue is better than the original both in how it presents the genre and circumvents many of the tropes of the genre 40 years later. If you enjoyed the original film, this is a must watch. But even if you didn’t see the original and aren’t a fan of the genre, I still think you’ll enjoy this movie quite a bit.

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Titans Season 2?

If you don’t already know, there’s a new TV show that just came out called Titans. It’s a live action series based on the Teen Titans comic book series. Many more people today probably know this IP from one or both of the cartoons: Teen Titans and Teen Titans GO!. This new show is live action and like with the DC movies, appears to have a much darker tone than either of the cartoons. At the time of writing this, not a single episode has officially aired. By the time this is published, according to the release schedule, exactly one episode will have aired. And yet even though not a single member of the unaffiliated public has seen a single episode of the show, I can already say that there will be a Titans season 2. This is not my opinion. This is not a prediction. This is a reported fact by multiple credible sources that Titans has already been greenlighted for a second season.

I don’t want to talk about the show. In fact, I can’t talk about the show, because like everyone else, I haven’t seen it yet. What I want to talk about is the fact that a show that no normal consumers has ever seen, that has already gotten a ton of negative reception just from the trailers, is already guaranteed a second season. This is a big problem for me.

Titans

The public is supposed to shape the direction of entertainment. That’s how pretty much all capitalism is supposed to work. The market demands what it wants and companies produce what the market wants. In some ways it’s the purest form of Democracy. But more importantly, it keeps entertainment media companies in check. It’s a problem when companies can control what the public sees and experiences regardless of the public’s opinion on it. It’s a problem when the people say they want, or more importantly don’t want, something and companies make a profit while completely disregarding or even blatantly going against those demands. It’s a problem when companies are able to operate with no oversight and no repercussions regardless of how bad their decisions are. Let me be clear, I’m not saying Titans is a bad show and shouldn’t get a second season. As I’ve already stated, I haven’t seen it so I can’t make that judgement. But the fact that it’s already guaranteed a second season regardless of how the public feels about it is not a good thing. It indicates that our opinions and demands as consumers are meaningless.

In the American system of television, where shows go on for as long as they can retain value (viewership, high ratings, and advertising sponsorships), getting an additional season used to mean something. It meant a show was good enough for people to want an entire additional year (depending on how the seasons are broken up) of that show. It meant all the actors, producers, directors, and other staff members had earned their paychecks and were being given permission from the public to keep their jobs. Those additional seasons were proof of the value of that show. And the relationship between the studio and the public was symbiotic in nature. But if shows are just gonna get additional seasons regardless of whether or not the public likes them, how are we as consumers supposed to get the content we want?

Teen Titans OG

You see the same thing happening with games and movies now too. They create franchises from the ground up without verifying that people even want the content. No one wants a Suicide Squad 2. The first one was terrible and the public doesn’t want a sequel. I’m glad James Gunn is writing the sequel if it has to happen. But the fact that it’s happening shows the studio’s complete disregard for the public’s opinion. Shitty games are getting sequels all the time now. Standalone games rarely exist anymore. Some studios have even publicly said that they won’t build them any longer. Destiny was bad. Everyone agreed it was bad. It had some good qualities, but ultimately the people were not happy. But they were already making Destiny 2 before the first raid dropped in 1. And that’s after they had already said there was a 10 year lifespan planned for the first game. This is a problem. They’re supposed to make the games the market wants. Not force the market to play subpar games due to a lack of options.

God of War is a perfect example of how the system is supposed to work. The original game on PS2 back in 2005 was made as a standalone game. No sequels were planned. There were no holes in the plot. It was just a solid game. And because it did so well both financially and critically, they made more of them. The game earned the privilege, not right, to become a full-fledged franchise. And then years after the conclusion of the franchise, demand was still so high that they made another game, which was also excellent and has absolutely earned the right to a sequel. Now I will say that clearly they planned a sequel in advance with the latest game, and I do take issue with that, but remember that we’re talking about game seven, not one. It’s fair at that point to create a story driven saga because you already have the existing market data to show demand. But if a new IP drops and the opening game is already assuming several sequels, that’s a problem.

Teen Titans

This sort of project development is especially troublesome in how it allows entertainment production companies to control what the public views with no repercussions. I truly believe entertainers of all types have the right to create whatever type of content they want with whatever inserted messages and politics they want to present. That is the right of the creator. But at the same time, there are supposed to be risks incurred when doing that. The market rewards and/or punishes creators for the content they create. If a company wants to insert a political message or idea into their content and their market doesn’t care for it, that company is supposed to take that feedback and moderate the politics they present accordingly for their next work/installment. If that doesn’t happen, the consumer base will cease to buy their products and they will go out of business. That’s Democracy at work. But if companies no longer have to create at the mercy of their markets they can just say whatever they want. They can subliminally alter the views of large groups of people by presenting ideas with no repercussions. And sure that’s fine when that idea is something along the lines equal rights for minorities. But what happens when it’s something like anti-Muslim propaganda?

Robin

The ability for consumers to control and shape the kind of media that ultimately gets produced keeps media companies in check. Yes the check goes in both directions and often progressive ideas are stomped out as well, but I would argue the potential benefits of unchecked content creation are outweighed by the potential negative repercussions. So in my opinion it’s really problematic when movie studios come out of the gate with a new movie IP and state they’re already planning multiple sequels and spinoffs. Glances at The Mummy (2017). I don’t like hearing that a new show already has multiple seasons and other connected shows in the works before the first season has even aired. And while yes I understand that the MCU is probably the greatest multi-faceted entertainment media project/franchise ever created in the history of the world, I think it’s important to realize Marvel had already been making comics, cartoons, and video games for 69 years before Iron Man (2008) released. They had already earned their right to creative control and did their homework in terms of what kind of content to create and the messages that should be presented. And sure DC may be even older than Marvel, but they’ve shown multiple times that they don’t know how to make successful movies and TV shows that the public is happy with consistently. They keep making them, but the people keep being unhappy with what’s created a majority of the time. If anything, DC is the perfect example of why no company should ever consider itself above the opinions of consumers.

I hope Titans is good. From what I’ve seen of the trailers I doubt it will be, but genuinely don’t like seeing comic book related projects fail. I like seeing them succeed. But I cannot condone the idea that the public’s opinion on entertainment is irrelevant and that companies should just do whatever the hell they want because people will probably just watch anyway out of boredom. That sets a bad precedent which ultimately leads to mediocre or even bad content as well as subliminal messaging shaping the public’s views with no ability for us to push back.

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Venom Review – 6.8/10

I went to see Venom because I watch every Marvel and DC movie in theaters. The only one I’ve missed to date since seeing the original Blade (1998) is Fantastic Four (2015) and that was only because I was in the process of moving and literally did not have time to see the movie in theaters before it was removed. So I was always going to see Venom in theaters even though I had low expectations from the very first trailer. The things I’d heard about the movie since it released just a few days prior to me seeing it did not raise my hopes for the movie either. Now that I’ve seen it myself, I can say honestly that Venom is a bad movie. But it might be the best bad comic book movie I’ve ever seen.

There are two types of bad movies. There are those that are bad and shouldn’t have been made the way they were if at all. Suicide Squad (2016), The Spirit (2003), and Superman Returns (2006) are examples of this. They are not only bad movies in terms of plot and often film making conventions, but they also don’t even really entertain past surface level visuals. They simply aren’t even good enough for hate watching. But there’s another type of bad movie. Some movies are bad, but good. Maybe you’d even say they’re so bad that they’re good. R.I.P.D. (2013), Spider-Man 3 (2007), and Batman & Robin (1997) are all great examples of this type of movie. They aren’t good by any conventional stretch of the word. They’re riddled with questionable film making decisions, lackluster writing, often terrible acting, and sometimes dialog so bad that it becomes iconic. This is where I put Venom.

face

Let’s first remember the reasons why Venom was made and the space it exists in within the larger Marvel and comic book film landscape. Venom, the character, was originally created in 1988. It came to be after a stint as just “the Symbiote” merged with Peter Parker/Spider-Man. When Parker finally separated from it, the Symbiote found Eddie Brock and became Venom. Venom started out as an arch nemesis of Spider-Man and was only that for many years. Down the road he eventually became an anti-hero similar to Frank Castle/The Punisher but that was way later. Even today, most people still think of Venom, and his host Eddie Brock, as a Spider-Man villain. Many would even say the best Spider-Man villain. That’s the character in the world of comic books but that’s only kind of relevant in the real world of business. Venom was made because of an annoying longstanding contract agreement between Sony and Marvel (now owned by Disney). Sony has to make a new Spider-Man universe film every few years or the Spider-Man IP rights will automatically revert back to Marvel. This pretty much guarantees that Spider-Man themed films from Sony will keep being made rather frequently as long as they make money. And since the original Spider-Man (2002) they have. This is also the reason they rebooted the franchise and did The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) so soon after finishing the Tobey Maquire run. Sony literally had to churn out another Spider-Man movie of they would have lost the IP rights. And those rights matter. Not just for that film money but for everything. Toys based on the movies, cartoons, merchandising. Even the recently released Spider-Man game exclusive to PS4 from Insomniac Games falls under the purview of Sony’s contract with Marvel.

symbiote fight

The main problem for Sony now is that they lost the Spider-Man in Spider-Man films. Because Disney really wanted Peter Parker to appear in the MCU, they paid a king’s ransom to get those film rights back “temporally”. But that didn’t actually change the terms of the original contract. This leaves Sony in a very peculiar place. They need to make Spider-Man movies without actually using Spider-Man. And let’s be clear that by without Spider-Man I mean specifically Peter Parker. They could easily put out movies about Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen, or any other Spider-Totem characters. But that’s easier said than done. Making a movie isn’t as simple as writing a script, hiring some actors, and buying a camera. It’s quite expensive and has to be deemed potentially profitable or it could destroy the IP and even the brand. And in the current climate it might not sound like such a great idea to Sony stockholders to put out a movie with a Black or female Spider-Man/Person. Especially when also having to compete with the MCU and the much loved Tom Holland as Peter Parker. And that’s just the stuff we know about. For all we know Disney contracted for control of Miles Morales and Gwen Stacey as well. There are references to Miles Morales in the MCU such as Donald Glover playing a character who is most likely his uncle in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).

When understanding all this background information, it becomes clearer why Sony decided to do something that literally no one asked for and made a movie with Venom as not only the main character but not a Spider-Man villain. And when I say not a Spider-Man villain I mean Spider-Man isn’t even mentioned in the movie. Given all that context, now let’s actually discuss how the movie was.

tongue reduced

Venom is not a good movie, but it sure is an entertaining one. It’s cult film good. There are numerous problems with it, but I don’t for a second regret seeing it. My girlfriend, a diehard Marvel movie fan with a less than even casual background in general comic book lore knowledge, laughed for pretty much the entire duration of the movie. And really this might be the best space for Venom, and Sony Marvel films as a whole, to fill. They can’t compete with the MCU. They don’t have the planning, time, or access to characters that the MCU does. They don’t have the available casting choices that the MCU does because of so many roles already taken by phenomenal actors. So in a lot of ways it might actually make more since for Sony to intentionally try to fill the comic relief niche of comic book filmmaking. Because there’s almost no competition for that spot. It’s pretty much just Dead-Pool at this point. And with Disney’s inevitable absorption of the FOX Marvel universe/characters, that leaves pretty much no real competition for the comedy comic book movie throne. Disney isn’t going to let the MCU collapse in tone and style for one character and the brooding DC film universe simply isn’t playing for comedy, granted Shazam seems like they might be trying to break-in to that genre. My point is that in many ways it was logical for Sony to make the film they did with Venom than the film people think they actually wanted to see.

The acting is bad. Specifically Tom Hardy, who I am generally a fan of, gave a really cheesy performance. Think Nicolas Cage in Kick-Ass (2010). That’s not to say that Tom Hardy is a bad actor. More that his depiction of the character was very different from the Eddie Brock I expected. I’d say he came off a bit too geared towards a modern millennial audience. The Eddie Brock I’m used to is brooding, hot tempered, and narcissistic. This Eddie Brock was very whiny and seemed more like a victim of his circumstances than an active player. What I find interesting is that Hardy also voiced Venom, who is a wholly different character than Eddie Brock. His voice and demeanor are considerably altered. I spent the entire movie thinking Venom was being voiced by a different actor. That being said, this Venom is super campy. He’s essentially the douchebag frat boy to Eddie Brock’s whiny loser. The pairing makes for a hilarious on screen dynamic. I will say though that this Venom’s voice was clearly inspired by the 90’s Amazing Spider-Man cartoon. Some of the other actors in the movie gave stronger performances, but nothing to write home about. Riz Ahmed as Carlton Drake was the most noteworthy for me. He was exactly the way I would have wanted that villain to be. He truly believed in his cause and delivered his lines with authenticity and controlled passion.

drake.jpg

The visual aspects of the film aren’t particularly good either. I took the time to go back and look at Venom in Spider-Man 3 and I have to say that it looks better. The symbiote forms, like the voices, come off super campy in Venom. They look like something from Spawn (1997). What I think it’s important to note is that this Venom is super authentic in how it recreates the source materials, both from the comics and 90’s cartoon, in terms of handling the transformation(s). They do it the way it was originally intended with the Symbiote taking over Brock’s body from behind and completely layering over him. That being said, it looks pretty cheesy in real life. It’s the Wolverine problem. Hugh Jackman would look odd actually running around in yellow spandex with that black blue/black mask and eye holes. Having the Venom suit engulf Brock looks odd in real life. The way they handled this in Spider-Man 3 was by going the werewolf route where Brock literally changes into a Symbiote merged form with actual fangs developing from his teeth. They also made it a point of not showing too many direct shots of his face during transformation. This is not authentic and it’s certainly not cool. But it does look better in live action. At the same time though it’s also quite limiting. Venom does some interesting scenes with Brock and Venom that could only work with them being two separate beings inhabiting the same body as opposed to one fully merged being. So I will give them that.

My bigger complaint about the way Venom looks is that he’s way too big. All the Symbiote human merged forms are too tall and too buff. Riz Ahmed goes from Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner to nearly the Hulk in seconds. That’s not authentic to the source material. The Symbiote makes people stronger, not buffer. Part of Eddie Brock’s development as a character is that he goes from being an average sized dude to a bulky muscle head because he wants to improve his physical prowess to be a more effective Venom. In this, Tom Hardy is a normal looking guy and Venom is huge. It might look more epic but if they’re trying to build a franchise, which they absolutely are according to the credits sequence, that aspect removed a key developmental plot point of Eddie Brock as a character. It also doesn’t help that the one time another character becomes Venom they don’t also get super bulky and muscular, so there’s a real lack of consistency there.

Shop scene

The effects are also noticeably low quality at times. I’ve seen a lot of action movies and I have to say that I rarely spot stunt doubles. In one particular motorcycle scene, I very clearly saw Tom Hardy’s stunt double. It was like that scene in Space Balls. Well maybe not that ridiculous but still quite noticeable. The CGI effects for the unmerged Symbiotes were quite good. They did a fine job of portraying them as living beings even though they were just undulating puddles of goo. Overall the visual quality of the film lands somewhere between Green Lantern (2011) and X2: X-Men United (2003), with the latter of course being the better looking film.

The sound quality, though less noteworthy, outside of voice acting, than in many other comic book films I’ve seen, was quite good. There wasn’t much noticeable in the way of music though. In fact, I can’t recall a single song from the movie other than in a specific scene that was specifically about the song and the end credits song by Eminem, which I’m sorry to say isn’t great. I do think the general lack of external sound was intentional though because sound plays an important role in the film plot wise as well as making sure you can hear the symbiotes talking to their hosts.

half face

The writing is probably the most notable part of the movie as well as the hardest to judge. I spent the whole movie teetering back and forth between cringing and being generally impressed. I will say that I laughed pretty much the whole time though. But my laughter was mostly because the dialog is in your face and often terrible. It’s not authentically funny the way Tony Stark is in the MCU. It’s more like Seth Rogan in The Green Hornet (2011) where it’s bad dialog but it makes you laugh in the way Family Guy does. The dynamic between Eddie Brock and Venom is funny. It reminded me of Star Kid (1997) if the kid and the suit had both grown up to be depressed comedians. Even though the dialog wasn’t written particularly well, the relationship and how it develops between Brock and Venom is quite good. I liked the way they actually became friends and grew to understand each other. At first they’re at odds and both seem to be fighting for control but by the end they’re working together with a genuine desire to help each other. I also really liked that the dialog took the time to explain the symbiotic relationship between host and symbiote casually over time as opposed to just spelling it out in one explanatory conversation. At the same time, there are a lot of inconsistencies about what Venom actually knows from the start. Sometimes he asks questions as if he genuinely wants to learn about something he doesn’t know and other times it seems like he automatically has access to Brock’s knowledge because of their merger. A good example of this is how he magically knows how to drive a motorcycle like a badass presumably the first time he rides one.

motorcycle sceneTo say the film is well written would be a gross misrepresentation of what it actually is. But I also wouldn’t say the writing is absolute trash like I would for The Spirit, which I genuinely hope you’ve never seen because it truly is that bad. What isn’t up for debate though is that the writing is entertaining. You laugh for the bulk of the movie. You care enough about the plot not to check out. Even though Venom is a selfish, immature monster that spends most of the movie complaining that he can’t eat people, you still sympathize with him by the end. Even though Eddie Brock, like Venom, puts his own desires and beliefs before those of everyone else, even to the detriment of both his job and his relationship, you still want to see him win in the end. Venom isn’t written to be a high minded quality film that’s going to change the way we view comic book movies. It’s simply a movie to watch and enjoy and it accomplishes that just fine.

Overall I’d say I enjoyed Venom. But I enjoyed it in the way I enjoy bad films like Zombeavers (2014) and The Pink Panther (2006). It’s not a film you watch to be impressed. It’s a film you watch when you just want to be entertained. And if Sony can maintain that tone through an entire franchise of sans Peter Parker Spider-Man films without them becoming stale and unfunny, then I think that’s OK.

 

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We NEED to Boycott Nintendo Switch Online

If you read my blog regularly then you know that I am very big on consumers taking control of the gaming industry through organized management of our spending practices. I often write pieces calling for people to actively take charge of the industry’s general direction through boycotts and selective support of certain products and practices. I have on more than one occasion been accused of hyperbole and over dramatization of the situations I write about. Part of the reason for this is that I’m usually looking at the big picture which means predicting long term repercussions that can and often do take years and even multiple generations to manifest. All the way back in 2013, when my blog was still hosted on IGN, I wrote a long post where through thorough analyzation and educated guesses based on past events, I predicted that SONY and eventually Nintendo would ultimately do exactly the same bullshit that Microsoft was doing at the time with XBOX. This post was focused mostly on practices surrounding things like paid online multiplayer access, paid DLC content, and the general direction of all three companies. At the time, many people viewed SONY as the player friendly company that had our best interests in mind while Microsoft was the greedy, evil corporation who only cared about profits. Nintendo was the good egg that would never betray us. Now, five years later, SONY is pretty much the equivalent of Microsoft when it comes to management of their platform and Nintendo is steadily following suit with paid DLC, season passes, and literally this week they will be implementing paid online multiplayer subscriptions. I was right on literally 100% of my predictions about the way the industry was going five years ago. They called me a madman. They called me paranoid. But I knew I was right. Sadly the post no longer exists because IGN removed all user blogs from their website, but I probably have the original draft in a Word document somewhere if anyone really wants to read it.

Current Gen

So in that context, we really need to talk about Nintendo Switch Online. Last week, Nintendo published their latest Nintendo Direct. Overall it was pretty solid. But with less than a week prior to going live, they finally gave some actual concrete details about their new subscription based online service. It is in every way a tragedy. It’s insulting to gamers. It’s not offering anything of value that we didn’t already have for free. And it doesn’t even compare to its competitor services in application or value. Similar to when Nintendo replaced Club Nintendo with My Nintendo, it’s a total shit show.

Let me quickly summarize what the service looks like. For $20 a year, or $35 a year for a family plan, which still needs to have more concrete details published, you get cloud saves, online multiplayer, the ability to use your smart phone to talk to other people in the games you’re playing multiplayer with (you know because it’s a phone), access to a supposedly constantly growing library of NES games, most of which you already own in some other form or have already played and don’t care about anymore, and you get access to “special offers”. These offers currently include the “opportunity” to pay $60 plus I assume shipping (and possibly tax) to buy NES themed Joy-Con controllers you don’t actually need to play any of the NES games and a special Splatoon 2 skin representing an e-Sports team you don’t care about or probably even know. New offers will supposedly be added in the future but for now that’s all there are. It’s objectively a bad service. Not to mention it’s on a platform with a very limited library of popular multiplayer games. If you don’t include Splatoon 2, Mario Tennis Aces, and the unreleased Smash Bros. Ultimate there’s almost no reason to even care about multiplayer on the Nintendo Switch. There are a scattering of games here or there that have multiplayer. Like I play Just Dance online all the time. Some people still play Mario Kart Deluxe and even ARMS online. There are some indies like Overcooked 2. But for the most part the Switch is not a multiplayer platform. You’re buying games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Remember that even the upcoming Super Mario Party won’t have full online capabilities. You’ll be able to play a select list of mini-games against other players online and nothing else.

club nintendo

The Switch simply is not a platform that has enough dedicated AAA multiplayer value to warrant charging people for the service. And the other benefits are so minuscule and in some cases downright insulting that charging anything for them is egregious. You can’t even send messages to people directly through the console. You have to use your phone. Who in their right mind thought it was acceptable to charge people a fee to use their phone, which they’re already paying a fee to use, to send messages? That would be like buying a soda from McDonald’s and then being charged an additional fee to drink it inside the McDonald’s. To top it all off, Nintendo has decided that they can get away with this because they’re only charging $20, which is cheaper than PS+ or XBL. That’s not a justification. You don’t get to offer a shitty, totally unwanted service at a lower price than a competitor’s service and expect people to be OK with it. Because as much as I hate paying for PS+ at least it’s a subscription that actually provides me with services. I get free current gen games with the service. I get discounts on new games with the service. I can do things like send messages, send pictures, and create chat lobbies with friends on the console with the service. I can even shareplay with the service. It’s overpriced for sure. The games they’ve been offering in the last few years are much lower in value than in the PS3 era for sure. But it’s still a service that has general value above what I was getting when it wasn’t a mandatory service. Nintendo Switch Online offers none of that except cloud saves, which I don’t need in the first place on a portable console with an SD card memory system. My saves are fine. So we need to fix this.

Switch Online Pricing

Usually when I write posts like this it’s about long term issues concerning specific games or services that will have an effect on the future of gaming. But in this case, we’re literally talking about today. Yes there are long term repercussions for supporting Nintendo Switch Online, but the short term effects are just as noticeable and important. The service goes live tomorrow. I don’t want to be insensitive about the fact that the Direct was postponed because of a natural disaster, but it’s very suspect that we were given actual details about this new online service less than a week before it goes live. By all rights I should have published this post days ago but I didn’t even have enough time to properly analyze the details of the service and get the post prepared until now. Usually I publish my blog posts on Wednesdays but this was too important to delay till after Nintendo Switch Online goes live.

Just like we did with XBOX One when it first announced always online, or with Star Wars: Battlefront II, we need to actively and loudly boycott and publicly declare our disgust with Nintendo Switch Online in its current form. Do not give them the ability to take this service forward in this way. Yes I understand that I’m asking you to not enjoy some of your games that you’ve already purchased to their fullest extent. I too own ARMS and Splatoon 2. I too plan on purchasing Smash Bros. Ultimate day one and realize that the experience will be crippled for many people without the ability to play online. But we need to think long term here. This is a crucial moment because it will shape the way Nintendo handles online service forever. With this platform and all future platforms, this is a watershed moment. A moment that we didn’t properly handle when XBOX Live Gold was first announced. A moment that we didn’t take seriously enough when PlayStation Plus was turned into a mandatory service. We have an opportunity here to tell Nintendo an emphatic NO. That we will not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of simply because the price is lower than what Microsoft and SONY are charging, which are also overpriced services we shouldn’t be paying for in their current form either by the way.

NES Joycon
$60 for the crap after paying for the subscription!

I’m not saying we should never be willing to pay Nintendo for an online service. I don’t want to pay for such things and I genuinely believe we shouldn’t have to pay an additional fee just play the games we already paid for. But I already pay and have paid SONY for online multiplayer for a number of years. So it would be hypocritical for me to deny Nintendo the same privilege. But I’m not going to just hand them money for a subpar service just because they’re charging less for it. I’m calling for a boycott to incite change to the service. Not a permanent decision never to pay them for online multiplayer. What we need is to hold out as a group of concerned and conscientious gamers until we get a service that works for us and compares to the other services we’ve already been paying for. That means the essentials of course such as working online multiplayer with better servers than we were already using when multiplayer was free. It means a working messaging and voice chat system that doesn’t require us to own other forms of hardware that have nothing to do with the console we’re playing our games on. It means cloud saves that aren’t deleted when you unsubscribe or let your service lapse. It means not having to check in every week. You will literally lose your service continuity if say you got married and didn’t take your Switch on your honeymoon. That’s absolutely ridiculous. It means a library of current gen games made available as part of the service at no additional cost. It means noteworthy discounts on new games from the e-Shop. And yes that $20 price tag needs to remain consistent even with these additional aspects of the service. Especially considering the lacking multiplayer library to begin with.

Switch Voice Chat

As a Switch owner myself who uses my console literally every day, I implore you to stand with me on this. Do not sign up for Nintendo Switch Online when it goes live tomorrow (September 18, 2018). Hold out. Demand a better service and refuse to settle for the time being just so you can continue playing Splatoon 2 or Mario Tennis Aces. Make a small sacrifice in the short term for much better results in the long run. Tweet about it. Post about it on Reddit, Facebook, and every other platform you use. Make YouTube videos declaring your decision to boycott and why. Discuss it while you’re streaming on Twitch. Do not give in to Nintendo’s clear betrayal of their values and user base. This is not the service that the late, great Satoru Iwata would have wanted. We NEED to boycott Nintendo Switch Online right now and not let it even start to get a footing. This is not just crucial for Nintendo users, but for all console gamers. If this service is profitable, it will only serve to show Microsoft and SONY that they can lower their service quality, even more, and still get away with it. Now is the time for action. It may only be $20 today but that $20 means a life time of regret for gamers present and future.

Thank you for reading.

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Where My Demos At?

I have spent my life being told lies like “technology will make life better, easier, and more convenient”. Hardware manufacturers have spent years telling me crap like “you have to pay extra for online services so we can provide the best user experience”. Yet looking back through the years, I’m of the opinion that in many ways things are worse now than they were when I was a kid. Rather than spend an eternity looking at every relevant topic in this discussion, let’s just look at the one most relevant this week. I’m of course talking about game demos.

This past week was Gamescom. I like Gamescom. I think it’s a good concept. Much better than E3 in my opinion. It’s open to the public. It’s not nearly as focused on press conferences. Actual gameplay footage and demos are a much bigger focus at this show. I have beef though. My problem isn’t actually with Gamescom. It’s with the fact that I’m expected to travel all the way to Germany just to play a 10 minute game demo for games that are coming out less than a year from now. Back in the day, this was totally unacceptable. If you grew up in the pre-online gaming era, you remember how hard it was to distribute game demos. You had to go to a local store to try games. Or you had to buy a game and they attached a disc with other demos on it. Or stores gave out demo discs. Some magazine subscriptions came with demo discs for you to try. All of these methods were troublesome, inconvenient, and costly for publishers. And yet they did them, a majority of the time. Very few AAA titles were released back in the day without a demo being available somewhere. The prospect of asking people to pay $50+ dollars for a game without them being able to try it first was laughable. No one was that stupid. Now we’re all that stupid and games cost more (when you factor in DLC and special editions).

demo disc ps1

There’s no excuse for every game not to have a playable demo in 2018. Especially every AAA game. We have the technology. They can do timed beta tests that last only a matter of hours all conducted digitally. They can patch your games and change things about them while you’re playing other games. So someone please explain to me why I have to fly all the way to Germany to try out Devil May Cry V. There were countless games shown at Gamescom for multiple platforms with fully playable demos. They could release just what was shown as playable for Cyberpunk 2077 and people would pay for it. That beta footage looked better than many games released this year. So why couldn’t I play it from my house on my PC or PS4? I’m not saying just leave it out there indefinitely. But there’s no legitimate reason why they couldn’t have released a timed beta demo for the length of Gamescom for many of the games shown.

Where we’re at technologically is way ahead of where we’re at logistically. Spider-Man is out less than two weeks from today. It’s been gold since late July. Why isn’t there a demo? We have the technology and have for more than a generation. Yet demos are rarer today than they ever have been. Betas might be more plentiful, but that’s not the same thing and really only applies to online multiplayer games in a majority of cases. There’s no excuse for it. Consumers have a right to try software before they pay $60+ dollars for it. Yet all major platforms no longer provide demos for AAA games most of the time. Steam has the two hour return policy, so you can kind of demo anything, which is great. But that’s not officially a demo. And it doesn’t help console players at all.

spiderman ps4 demo

Now there are of course some valid arguments about why a studio wouldn’t release beta content to the public. But in my book it’s hypocritical to let anyone play demos of a game at that point. Why does being press or having the money to travel to Germany magically make a person more worthy of playing incomplete game demos? Don’t let anyone outside the company play them if they aren’t ready to be played by the public. At least that would be fair. The current system is full of unfair bias while ignoring the technological capabilities we’ve had available for at least two gens of gaming.

I don’t blame studios/publishers though. I mean it’s definitely their fault, but we’re just as much to blame. When it was least convenient to distribute demos, we got them for most games. Now when it’s most convenient to distribute them, and moderate them as well, we get fewer than we’ve gotten since like the SNES. We let that happen. We allowed companies to stop putting out demos. I remember about half way through the PS3 era when I started noticing that AAA demos were becoming noticeably rarer. And very few people were talking about it. The public just let it happen, like we always do with gaming industry bullshit. We should have been more diligent.

dmc v demo

I want to see shows like Gamescom, Tokyo Gameshow, and E3 become more interactive for the public not in attendance. Any demo that’s available for the public to try at these shows should also be made available to the public at home for the duration of the show. I shouldn’t have to watch some asshole at (insert your least or most favorite gaming journalist firm here) play a game in order for me to make a buying decision. Let me test drive the car for myself, like we always did back in the day. It’s time consumers stop complaining about bullshit that doesn’t matter and exercise our power for things that actually make sense to complain about. This is one of those things that actually matters.

Here’s a list of just some of the demos we should have gotten to play last week or earlier, all of which will be released in less than a year.

  1. Darksiders III
  2. Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  3. Kingdom Hearts III
  4. JUMP FORCE (I actually played this at a PlayStation event nearly a month ago.)
  5. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  6. Devil May Cry V
  7. Spider-Man (I actually played this at a PlayStation event nearly a month ago.)
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PlayStation Gaming Festival Taipei 2018 – Demo Reel

This week, I got to attend an event called PlayStation Gaming Festival. I’ve never heard of this event before. I don’t know if it’s an annual thing that happens in Taipei and I’ve just never heard about it before or if this was the first time, but I attended and I’m very happy I did. I don’t want to focus too much on the event itself. Pretty much it was just lots of different PS4 game demos, including some PSVRP titles, a swag shop, and a “Bring Your Own PS4” LAN party, which I took no part in. My one real complaint about the event was that they showed a lot of demos for already released games, which I found very odd. They showed Nioh, which really irritated me because at first I thought they had a demo for Nioh 2, which I really wanted to try. They showed Horizon: Zero Dawn, which is more than a year old. They were featuring Frozen Wilds content, but that’s still almost a year old. They had Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, which is about six months old and Attack on Titan 2, which is about five months old. Both of these demos were featured, and I tried them, this year at Taipei Game Show so they didn’t need to take up space here. And most odd/irritating was that they had Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This was weird because they also had Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which is the soon to be released latest title in the franchise. But rather than having four screens of that setup, they only had two and then two of Origins right next to it. They should have just been running four screens of Odyssey. I waited almost two hours to try Odyssey because of this odd decision. Overall it was a good event though and I did get to try a number of new demos for unreleased games, which is the only reason I went in the first place.

What I want to do here is give a short first impression of each demo I tried. Please note a few important details. All of these demos were in Chinese. Not the in game dialog, but the settings. Dialog language was different for each game depending on the title. Some were in English, some Japanese, and some Chinese. But the HUDs, tutorials, and all non-dialog text was in Chinese, which I do not read. So with certain games I struggled to figure out exactly how the controls worked. I can of course get the gist of most games based on general gaming experience, but for more nuanced controls and special gameplay such as secondary items, I was not able to master any of them because I couldn’t read anything. Along with that, many of the games were set to Japanese standards/settings. What that means is the X button acts like the O button and the O button acts like the X button. Many Western gamers don’t realize this, but in Asia they use an altered control scheme for most games. Each demo session only lasted 10 – 15 minutes. So obviously I wasn’t able to get a full grasp of most of the games I tried. So please take these micro-reviews with a grain of salt and understand that I am giving my account of each game based on very little playtime and less than ideal gameplay conditions. All that being said, I still believe that my insight, due to my general gaming and reviewing experience, can be valuable to people curious about the titles I tried.

PlayStation Festival

I will give one to three paragraph accounts of each demo I tried at the event with as much useful information as I can. Please note that the screenshots featured below were not taken by me. I was not allowed to take pictures of specific games during the event so I just pulled these images from Google for visual reference.

Spider-Man

Spiderman

This game was probably the main reason I wanted to attend the event. It is the hype of all hyped games right now, and SONY is aware of that fact. It was the most featured game at the event both in the number of demo units available and in the banners and advertising for the event as a whole. It was of course the first game I played.

Spider-Man very much was inspired by Arkham City. It’s a full open world filled with people and interactive objects. The combat is very similar to the Arkham games, but it’s been noticeably adapted for Spider-Man’s style of movement and abilities. Fighting is very smooth, but not easy to master. You can get by in earlier fights with button mashing, but technique will play a big role as you progress through the game. One of the things I couldn’t master with a Chinese HUD was the special combat items. You can bring up an item cache and use special objects in combat such as a web bomb. These are in limited supply though and I didn’t get to find out how to refill them. I really liked how your fighting and the HUD were linked. What I mean by this is when you take a hit, say from a stun rod, the HUD gets fuzzy and shakes as if you’ve suffered a temporary injury from the impact. This made you feel the consequences of taking damage a lot more than in the Arkham games because the disorientation can negatively affect your ability to play, thus leading to further damage. It’s a good mechanic. The fights are very showy. There are even moments where the game slows down during special attacks so you can get a perfect screenshot.

The city is a large open world, full of tasks that are indicated by symbols floating in the sky. You can track specific objectives or just free roam. You unlock more of the map by doing the Assassin’s Creed perch thing on top of specific points. The difference is that it’s way easier to traverse buildings as Spider-Man because he can web swing, climb smoother/easier than an assassin, and literally sprint up buildings like Alex Mercer in Prototype. That being said, I was not a huge fan of the web swinging. It works, but it wasn’t as fluid as it could be. Like with the Arkham games, you can’t just latch on to anything with no understanding of what it actually is you’re grappling. Only specific points on buildings and other web capable structures can be latched to. This means you have to actually swing based on the proximity of the buildings around you and even then you have your limits. It’s a very “realistic” system in that you have to actually think about where and how you’re swinging. But it’s not as fun as it could be because you notice the limits of your mobility relative to what you’d like to do. It reminded me a bit of the Attack on Titan game but I actually think that is smoother because you don’t have limits on what you can tether to as long as a structure of a certain height is around. Spider-Man’s swinging system works well enough and is in no way a deal breaker, but I was hoping for something smoother that would let me move through the large city map effortlessly. The world is alive. There are random occurrences happening all the time such as crimes you can choose to stop or just ignore them. I stopped a restaurant robbery and then got involved in a police chase. The problem was I couldn’t figure out what to do once I landed on the car because no button indicators appeared and everything I tried just moved me to different sides of the truck without ever entering it. Ultimately I got thrown off of it and the truck got away. I liked the fact that you could fail at stopping crimes without the game resetting as if you died or failed. Suffice it to say that if you liked the Arkham games, you will definitely like this.

Jump Force

Jump Force

The first thing that needs to be said about Jump Force is that it does exactly what it needed to do. It allows me to pit my favorite anime heroes and villains against each other in a three dimensional field of play with smooth, highly accessible gameplay, really nice graphics, and fairly similar movement and controls for all characters. Let me be clear. This isn’t Injustice or Smash Bros. Each character doesn’t have their own unique weight and movement that severely affects play style from character to character. Or at least that’s not how it was in the mode they had running in the demo. Goku isn’t flying around the stage while Zolo is left on foot trying to jump up and land a few lucky strikes. Luffy can’t hit Sasuke from across the screen with stretchy arms. Everyone feels very similar, and that’s a good thing. The game is about having a fairly balanced anime themed match up that focuses more on the player’s management of their HP, energy level, and use of mobility rather than depicting a truly realistic matchup between characters with different powers from different worlds. Frieza can get beaten by Naruto and Goku doesn’t automatically win every fight. The only noticeable differences between the characters is their special moves. Each character has four special techniques that are specific to them and have different affects and damage levels. This is where they actually differentiate somewhat. The basic combat is very easy to pick up. Even with the Chinese HUD, I was eventually able to figure out how to do specials with all six of the available characters in the demo. This is because they have the same two button commands for special moves. The idea is not for them to be hard to use. The art is in knowing when to use them. They can miss, by the way. My only complaint about the demo was that they clearly had the AI set to easy. I never lost a match. So I can’t really speak to how balanced it is because I was dealing way more damage with my attacks than what I was taking from the PC. I assume this was intentional to make the demo more enjoyable for amateur gamers.

Jump Force looks good. The graphics do the characters justice, even when coming from different shows with different art styles. I will say that Frieza looks super creepy as a 3D model. They stayed true to the drawings from the show. There is something so gratifying about seeing Naruto land a Rasengan on Frieza. Or Luffy a multiple hands punch combo on Sasuke. This game is about having fun. Unless there’s a more complicated mode of play, I don’t see it being taken seriously in e-sports for more than a debut season.

Overcooked 2

Overcooked 2

Overcooked is a super niche indie game that you either love or you hate. I was surprised by the number of people who waited in line to try the demo for the sequel at this event. It plays exactly the same as the first one, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a new set of levels and plot, which is really all it needed. The only added feature I noticed, which I saw another player do but never figured out myself, was that you can use a comment wheel to visually verbalize what you want done. This would be extremely useful for online play without mics because it allows players to communicate non-verbally. I enjoyed the demo, I will be buying it, and anyone who enjoyed the first one will probably do the same. I will be picking it up on Switch though.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed: Origins yet. That means, assuming the combat and movement system for Odyssey is similar to that of Origins, I have not been formally introduced to this new control scheme yet. I struggled immensely to climb, run, and fight because I couldn’t figure out the nuances of things like dodging, countering, and blocking or even just how to run and speed climb. I don’t even know if all these mechanics still exist in the game. And the demo wasn’t helpful, even if it had been in English. It just dropped me into some random far along moment in the game with a bunch of gear. I got my ass handed to me twice by a group of Spartan soldiers. The game was very responsive, and I don’t assume it’s that hard to play once you actually learn the controls through an early on tutorial. The one thing I was able to quickly figure out was the bow, which works well.

The HUD is a bit busy in Odyssey. There is a lot shown on screen while playing in both text and symbols. But I appreciated the wealth of information the game was providing me without having to access menus or press special commands. The graphics are great. The voice acting is very realistic, to a point where I was questioning my own pronunciations of Greek words I thought I knew, like drachmae. Odyssey also has a dialog system similar to Mass Effect. You are given text options and have to pick one. These appeared to affect the story and the missions made available to you. The demo didn’t give me enough about the story, but I got to meet Socrates (Sokrates according to the game) as a younger man and have a debate with him about a rebellion.

Just Dance 2019

Just Dance 2019

This was the first time I ever tried Just Dance with the PS Move. I do not like it. I will be buying Just Dance 2019 on the Switch. Overall, it was pretty much the same thing. The song menu was much different than that of previous games. It’s a scrollable menu of songs similar to when you scroll through a PSN sale as opposed to the usual rotating song reel you see in the previous games. And, assuming this wasn’t Just Dance Unlimited, it seems like they brought back access to some older songs I remember from previous versions of the game.

Sonic Mania Plus

Sonic Mania Plus

Sonic Mania Plus has already been released, but it is fairly new so I guess it made sense to have at this event. Up until now, I hadn’t played it before. It is the same stressful, 2D gameplay I remember from my childhood. I wasn’t interested when I first heard about it, but after playing the demo I might consider it when it goes on sale.

Soul Calibur VI

Soul Calibur vi geralt

Soul Calibur has always been one of my favorite fighter franchises. It’s smooth, has good graphics, individual character styles, and some of the best cameo appearances in all of gaming. In this installment, you get to play as Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series. The game plays like the past ones. The spirit bar is the more traditional Street Fighter style one than the orbs you had in one of the more recent installments. Overall the game plays very well. They didn’t do too much to change the formula other than make the specials slightly easier to use and give you the ability to dodge them. There are also standoff sequences like in Injustice: Gods Among Us, where your spirit bar faces off against your opponents to decide the outcome, but I was not able to implement/initiate this consistently.

It’s still the great looking game it always was, complete with sexy, super revealing Ivy costume. The game looks good and plays well. Certainly a fighter worth buying that has stayed true to the roots of the franchise mechanically and stylistically.

The Legend of Heroes: Thors Military Academy 1204

The Legend of Heroes Thors Military Academy 1204

I randomly tried this game by a Japanese developer called Nihon Falcom. Apparently this is one in a long running franchise of at least 14 games. It was in Japanese and I only sort of understood what was going on, but the gameplay was phenomenal. This is a turn based RPG that has you play with an active squad of four, but it’s not as simple as old Final Fantasy games. The field of combat is a three dimensional space where you location matters. You can’t choose to move to specific locations on the field. Your movements for each character in your team is driven by your attacks. As you attack different enemies on the field, your characters will disperse accordingly. The way they’re grouped affects the effectiveness and reach of enemy attacks. The same goes for your attacks. This comes into play with reference to magic attacks that have to be aimed. Even though I couldn’t read any of it, I was able to pick up how combat works fairly quickly and I found the system to be very satisfying. It’s a system where you walk around the map and enemies appear on the screen, but when you make contact with them a battle mode ensues.

The graphics are solid, but very Japanese. It looks like many 3D JRPGs with an aesthetic that’s both mature and youthful at the same time. Something I thought was really interesting is that you can use any of the members in your party as your on screen avatar when outside of battle and you can change them instantly just by scrolling through them with L1. I’ve never seen this in an RPG before done in such a convenient, efficient way. The game also has a “Hi-Speed Mode” that can be easily toggled on and off just by tapping R1. It speeds up everything including your movement outside of battle. I found it extremely useful since I couldn’t actually understand/read anything the characters were saying. Since I don’t know how connected the stories actually are, I don’t know if this is worth buying as the 14th game in a franchise. But if I only cared about gameplay, I would probably pick this one up.

Code Vein

Code-Vein

I had heard the name before, but I really didn’t know anything about Code Vein. Since the demo was in Japanese, I still don’t know much. The best way to describe it is that it’s Bloodborne with a DmC aesthetic. I don’t know why I was in a series of cliffs tinted to look like Hell. But there sure were a lot of demonic looking creatures that kept respawning every time I died. The game plays like a Souls game but it’s even faster paced than Bloodborne and has a stereotypically JRPG anime art style, which isn’t a bad thing. I enjoyed the faster paced combat but I didn’t feel like there was enough of a balance between attacks and stamina. It feels as limiting as Dark Souls as far as number of consecutive attacks you can pull off before running out of stamina, but with the faster paced movement you feel it a lot more. They need to up the stamina amount to reflect the increase in movement speed or else you always feel too tied down. The game is challenging, like any Souls style game. I don’t think I saw a single person beat the demo boss and I couldn’t even reach the boss. But that’s fine. Thus is the nature of games in this genre. With practice and proper character development, which I assume plays a factor, it should be totally manageable.

While the core gameplay feels like a Souls game, Code Vein has a lot more technical additions. The HUD, which was in Chinese, has eight specialized actions/abilities, and quite possibly the ability to rotate wheels to more actions like in Nioh. That’s a lot of extra stuff to have to keep track of. I’m sure it’s like any other game, where you’ll only use maybe four of them a majority of the time, but it really crowds the screen. The HUD takes up so much of the bottom right corner that if you aren’t using a large monitor, which they were at this event, I could see it being a real problem. While I wouldn’t call it a bad game by any means, this isn’t something I’ll be picking up with all the other Souls style games currently on the market.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow-of-the-Tomb-Raider

The latest installment of the current Tomb Raider franchise looks like another hit. The gameplay is pretty much the same. Seemed to be the same controls mostly, still working against Trinity, and another larger build minority character is there to help Lara with her adventure. This one looks really good visually. There was a scene where I was swimming through a cave and suffocated, but I wasn’t even sure if I was playing or watching a cinematic until after I died the first time, because the graphics blend perfectly now. It seems superfluous to say any more about Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It’s going to be very similar to Rise of the Tomb Raider gameplay wise because the formula works and there’s no need to really change it.  If you played the last two, you should certainly buy this one based on what I experienced in this short demo. I know I’ll be getting it.

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