RAD Closed Beta Review

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the closed beta for RAD by Double Fine Productions. The first time I heard about this game was when it was teased for the Nintendo Switch in the Nindies Showcase back in March. But this closed beta was actually for PC. I wanted to give my thoughts on this current build of the game for those thinking about buying it.

The first thing I’ll say about RAD is that if I was going to buy it I would certainly choose the Nintendo Switch version, assuming they don’t add an online multiplayer component, which I actually really think they should for this particular game. The game is much more suited to a controller and mobile play than desktop gaming. It’s a roguelike dungeon crawler with perma-death mechanics. It actually reminded me a lot of Let it Die. I tried it with both a Dualshock 4 and a Wii U Pro controller. I have to say that I liked the Wii U Pro a lot better than the Dualshock 4 for this game, but a big part of that was because I couldn’t remap the buttons. The game says you can remap the buttons but the feature wouldn’t work for me with either of the two controllers I tried. While this didn’t make the game unplayable, it certainly was inconvenient. The default button map isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just not ideal for me. Being able to remap the buttons on my controller would improve my gameplay performance considerably, in my opinion. To clarify, I was able to remap my primary mutations between three specified buttons in game, but not remap the entire control scheme like I wanted to.

20190526150545_1

The main selling point of RAD’s gameplay is the mutation, or “RAD”, system.  Each time you play the game you start as a normal kid with limited abilities. All you can do is walk around, swing a weapon, the default being a baseball bat, jump, ground pound from the air, and dodge roll. That’s the basic essence of the game. You move through procedurally generated areas that work just like floors in any roguelike swinging a bat until you die. I say procedurally generated because that’s what’s being reported, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see a lot of repeated areas. Not entire floor layout, but specific sections of maps seemed to be repeats. Maybe it’s procedurally generating a set of fixed islands, as all the levels are made up of disconnected island structures that are reached via bridges and warp points.

Your goal is to survive as long as you can and get past as many floors as possible, with each floor ending with a boss fight of some sort. There is an endpoint that you can reach, but I’m not sure if it’s a fixed or random number of stages that have to be beaten to reach it. I only reached the end once during the beta. It showed me one of multiple endings. You can also find and consume items to refill health or boost performance. Pretty standard roguelike fare. What makes the gameplay interesting is the leveling system. You do not level up in the traditional way where you get more HP and stronger attacks. Instead you gain mutations that grant you special abilities. These can be anything. I don’t for sure know the total number of possible mutations but according to the compendium in the game’s pause screen there are a total of 87.

20190526190146_1

Primary mutations are active abilities that you use. Secondary mutations are passive buffs. Both are key to surviving. Your XP bar fills as you kill enemies. Every time it fills, you get another primary mutation. You can have a maximum of three primary mutations at one time. Each primary mutation is linked to a single button press. Once you’ve acquired three primary mutations filling up the XP bar causes them to develop further. The gain additional characteristics that enhance their usefulness. For instance, there’s a mutation that gives you ranged physical attack. When you level it up again the range increases by a considerable amount. Each time you level up after acquiring three primary mutations, a single mutation develops at a time going in order from left to right. Meaning that if your first mutation is at+1 and your second and third are at +0 then your second mutation will develop to +1 the next time you fill the XP bar again.

These mutations can be anything. I was very surprised at the variety of different capabilities players can get, and according to the compendium I’ve barely scratched the surface. Some of the things I gained the ability to do were short term flight, spawn mutant clone babies to fight enemies for me, throw my arm like a boomerang, enslave enemies for short periods of time, and protrude spikes from my body causing a lot of damage. The mutations were interesting, highly different from one another, and for the most part, easy to use. According to the compendium, there appears to be 56 total primary mutations. Though there are quite a few mutations available, I’ve already seen mutations repeated multiple times, having not yet gotten them all. In fact, there was one time where I got two of the same three mutations that I had gotten the round right before. There are also special landmarks in the game that replace one of your primary mutations with a random new one. You do not have to interact with these if you don’t want to and you can’t choose which of your mutations is changed.

20190526094238_1Secondary mutations may actually be more important than primary ones. These are not acquired through filling the XP bar. You get these by finding special mutation landmarks that automatically grant you an additional secondary mutation. The most I got at one time was eight, with all being constantly active for the duration of the round. I don’t know what the maximum number of active secondary mutations is or if there even is one. These buffs are just as varied as the primary mutations. Some of the ones I got were immunity to fire, longer range projectile attacks, an extra shield against toxic attacks, and increased movement speed. If you can find enough secondary mutations and manage to get the right primary mutations, all of which appear to be random, you can get some really strong builds. There appears to be 31 secondary mutations. These I did see repeat between playthroughs and they weren’t always useful or at least not at the time they were acquired. For instance, there’s a secondary mutation for improved range attacks. But often I’d get this when I didn’t have any ranged attack mutations active so it was a useless buff.

What’s very interesting is the fact that some secondary mutations are negative. I got one that made it so you couldn’t see where you’ve already been on the map. While this was annoying in practical terms, I like the fact that you can get negative mutations. Plot wise that makes perfect sense because it’s ridiculous to think that all mutations would be beneficial. While mutations of both types are meant to be considered and used individually, it’s the art of using them together that makes for truly effective play. Without a doubt the best run I’ve had was only possible because I was able to use my mutations as a collective. This includes both primary and secondary mutations. I had one primary mutation that gave me drastically higher and longer jumps, one that gave me a charge attack, and one that extended spike out of my body in mulitple directions for massive damage. By using the charge attack while jumping I was able to jump over groups of enemies. While directly above enemies I would use the spike mutation and damage them as I sailed right past them, inflicting damage and quickly escaping the line of fire. I was able to use this on pretty much ever type of enemy including bosses. When coupled with the various secondary mutations I had such as ground fire immunity, toxic pool immunity, and faster movement, I was able to inflict continuous combos and avoid pretty much all damage in most cases.

20190526160926_1

The gameplay is very smooth. While I wanted to remap the controls, they were fairly accessible and easy to understand. It’s really just learning to use the mutations effectively that has any sort of learning curve, and it’s not a big one. While RAD is perma-death for mutations, it does have a few long term unlockable upgrades. Your main weapon can be changed every time you go back to the base, which you can do between levels and at the beginning of every new round. New weapons can be unlocked as a reward for certain achievements. I was only able to unlock two additional weapons so far but both were noticeably stronger than the previous one I was using. You can also unlock quirks. These are permanent buffs that you equip from the character selection screen at the beginning of each round. You can only equip one at a time. The only one I’ve unlocked so far grants a fire shield for one of your hearts. Another important long term mechanic is money. Money can be used to purchase a variety of things each round such as health restoring items, keys, and access to special mutations. These items disappear when you die. But you can bank money between levels so that if you don’t want to spend it at that moment you can bank it and then access it again later at the base. Vendors appear all over the levels but they all sell different things from round to round and don’t appear in the same locations.

20190526190949_1

There are quite a few items in this game with many different uses. This is where the luck component of the game comes in. In my best round I just happened to find multiple instant mutation items in the first level. This allowed me to develop a full set of attacks much earlier than you normally can. This increased combat ability so early in the round allowed me to accomplish so much more than I had in previous rounds. Up until that round I’d never beaten one of the main bosses. In that round I easily brought down two before getting tired and saving the game to continue later.

I’d say the gameplay works rather well overall, but I did encounter a number of bugs. While it’s not a genre I tend to favor, I did find RAD enjoyable in small doses. Thankfully you can save and continue games later. Rounds can be long if you can survive, but they can also be short. My longest round so far lasted more than two hours and was the only one where I reached an ending. I encountered two serious bugs that affected gameplay. The first was that I wasn’t able to claim the heart extension reward after the second major boss I defeated. While this wasn’t game breaking, it was very annoying and got me really angry. Like with Zelda games, defeating a boss fight nets you a heart extension. The place where it dropped when I beat the second boss was under his corpse, which never disappeared unlike with previous enemies, including the first boss I defeated. The game would not let me pick it up no matter how hard I tried. The second was that the game completely crashed on me once. I don’t know what caused it, but thankfully the game let me continue on the stage where the game crashed. I assume it’s an autosave feature.

20190526095022_1Visually, RAD is about what I’d expect from a top down roguelike. The camera is above and at a slight angle from the player. It’s about the same view as that in Bastion or Hyper Light Drifter. While it’s certainly not AAA quality graphics, it’s fairly decent looking for a roguelike game. It’s not trying to look realistic and thus uses a very animated style but with a large amount of detail. Lots of little things come together to make something fun and child friendly, but certainly not childish. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia filled with debris from multiple past civilizations, a number of highly differentiated enemies, and lots of plant fauna. But the real depth is in the small details. The rust on burned out cars. Tufts of grass scattered throughout a sandy wasteland or cracked roads and abandoned construction zones. Wooden planks placed over gaps as makeshift bridges. It’s these little things that set the tone of the world and they do an excellent job.

What I really appreciated most about the graphics was the mutations. As your character mutates, his/her physical form can change drastically in a plethora of ways. This is important for the tone and gameplay. Your physical appearance changes based on the mutations you unlock, ultimately connecting the player with each specific round on a more personal level than in many other roguelikes I’ve played. Enemies too come in mutated forms. You can find more than one version of an enemy as you progress forward. Obvious details like size and color differ between different versions of enemies. But also finer details like spikes can differ between different versions of the same creature. I also think it’s important to note that I never made it past the third level so I actually expect a great deal more in variation between enemies and types of enemies than I was able to access during the beta. But to be fair, the compendium only lists a total of 38 enemies, of which I’ve already found 17, and seven bosses, of which I’ve only faced one so far. So maybe there’s not as much variation as I hope as far as enemies are concerned.

20190526094256_1The HUD is simple, intuitive, and spacious. Across the top of the screen you will find the XP bar with HP, in the form of sectioned hearts, directly under it on the left side of the screen. On the right side of the screen under the XP bar, you will find the current level map and your counts for money and keys. I’m really happy with the map. It’s simple yet effective. It shows the nearby surrounding area and moves around the map as you do. But what works best with this map is how it tracks your past movements. The map is dark gray by default. As you walk in any direction, light gray is added to the map, exemplifying your specific movements. This makes keeping track of how much of the current level, or even just current room, you’ve already explored so much easier to manage and cuts the time to find the next place to go down considerably. The map also shows any items currently waiting to be picked up, since they never disappear, which is a good thing. You can only carry one item at a time as a default and then at least one more as a benefit from a secondary mutation. Currently carried items are shown below the HP meter. The bottom of the screen shows your mutations with primary mutations being in the bottom left and secondary mutations being in the bottom middle. I also really like that the HUD shows you which button to push for each mutation and items at all times without looking cluttered or ugly.

While I’d never say that RAD is worth buying just because of the graphics, they are absolutely not a hindrance. Double Fine has certainly made better looking games in the past, but this project looks exactly the way it should for what it is.

20190526003003_1The audio is solid in this game. It’s clear and quite detailed. Steps make a sound that changes based on the material you’re walking on for example. All effects are laid onto the gameplay perfectly. There’s no lag between the audio and the action. And each action has a matching effect. That includes the abilities gained from mutations. The overall mix of sound is great at default with everything set to 100. But you can control master volume, music volume, sound effects volume, voice volume, and ambient volume all separately and customize their mix levels from 1 to 100. I don’t know if I’ve played another game with five separate audio channels available to the player for mix customization. The one thing I did notice was that sometimes the music stops playing during normal activity. I don’t know if this was a bug or intentional, but I’ve seen it in numerous other games so I don’t assume it wasn’t supposed to happen.

RAD actually does have quite a bit of writing, both plot and dialog wise, as well as a ton of narrative commentary. The beta gives a lot of plot information right from the start. In my experience, roguelikes can go one of two ways when it comes to writing. Sometimes the plot is super important but delivered subtly once you’ve seen the opening sequence. Other times there’s a really flashy opening that makes you think the game is plot heavy but really it’s just for foundational reasons and then basically disappears once the game actually starts. I want to say this is the former, but really it’s a combination of both. This is kind of the issue with roguelikes though. When you can’t continue from where you died but the plot is contingent on getting farther into the game, there’s a good chance the player may never reach the end of the plot. Thankfully I was able to see one of the nine endings, but honestly the only plot given is the opening and the post final boss closing. Everything in between is just lore and world building, which is fine but it’s not necessarily accurate to call this a plot focused game.

20190526151414_1The game starts off by establishing that the world has suffered not one but two apocalypses and that you’re one of the few remaining survivors. As with most post-apocalyptic dungeon crawlers, you’re tasked with journeying into the wastelands for resources to aid your community. That’s the general plot, but it’s not lazily done. The game starts off with an opening cutscene to establish the setting, as well as an additional cutscene to specifically explain how you were chosen and how things work/will work in the game, as well as why. As you make your way through levels, you find artifacts that are accompanied by narrators, both a male and female used randomly, giving more details about the history of the world. In this way you get a lot of story, but not much development of the current plot. The game doesn’t do much in the way of discussing the future other than the initial establishing cutscene and the ending(s). The game’s compendium says eight possible endings are available but when I got one it said 1/9. At this point I can’t say for sure one way or the other. I don’t know how each of the endings compare, but the ending I got was kind of inconclusive. I was able to reach the ending after defeating three major bosses.

RAD has a lot of lore and written info in the compendium. This guidebook expands as you find and unlock more things. It gives you the ability to read about pretty much everything in the game including mutations, enemies, weapons, artifacts, and the endings you’ve seen. It will even replay narrations for you. It’s nice to see this level of documentation provided for interested players in a roguelike of this kind.

20190526094243_1There are also NPCs that talk to you. Many can be found in the base. Some of them say things that actually affect the game, but mostly it’s just décor. Most of them are scattered throughout the levels though. Some of these won’t talk to you, but many will. There are shop keepers, treasure hunters looking after chests, and random communities just hanging out. I found a hidden community of mutants just trying to avoid being ridiculed by normal looking people. I also found a cult waiting for their god to send them message through a projector screen hooked to an antenna. Some of the NPCs will even ask you to do small tasks that net money.

Some of the best writing in the game is the narrative commentary. The male narrator comments on what’s happening in the game sparingly. When you get a new mutation, he says it in a celebratory Halo style “Double Kill” voice. But that’s just one of the moments when commentary occurs. My favorite piece of commentary was when I switched to the stronger weapon I unlocked. The narrator screamed out “Chicken shit!” and it was subtitled on screen. This made me laugh really hard. Overall, the writing I witnessed was fairly good for a roguelike. But I’d have to reach later levels before I can accurately quantify its value and impact on the gameplay experience as a whole.

20190526101228_1As this is a roguelike, it’s inherently built for replay. But there are also a number of features that add legitimate replay value. As mentioned, there are several mutations, all of which have been quite interesting to try out so far. There’s also the fact that the mix of mutations you get is always different from previous plays. There are also a lot of things to unlock. Additional mutations, additional playable characters, and additional weapons are all available to unlock. There seems to be a total of eight playable characters. In the beta I’ve only managed to unlock four so far. I have yet to notice any performance based differences between them. There appears to be six unlockable weapons but I’ve only gotten one of them at this point. There are also 37 achievements for RAD on Steam and eight possible endings. The game also has daily challenges with special completion conditions tied to an online leaderboard. There’s a fair amount of stuff to do and reasons to keep playing the game. And with the procedurally generated levels, it will take quite a while before you get bored with the levels. I don’t know what the release price will be yet but if they manage to keep it to no more than $15 then I think RAD could absolutely be considered worth buying.

As this is a beta review, feedback to the developer is just as important as presenting the project to gamers considering buying the final release version. So let me clearly define what I’d like to see changed/added in the final version of RAD.

20190526161253_11. Continue by Stage

As this is a procedurally generated roguelike dungeon crawler, perma-death is kind of a given for the genre. Personally I’ve never liked that. I understand it, but I think it’s unnecessary. The important difference here though is that when you play a game like Overture, there’s no story. So it doesn’t really matter if you have to start over every time because you’re not really building towards anything. But when a game has a plot, which RAD does, albeit a small one, then being able to finish that story needs to be at least in the realm of possibility for a majority of normal players. Now I only had to clear like six levels to reach an ending. But that’s still six levels that not everyone will be able to beat consecutively. My point is that there needs to be an efficient way for bottom to mid-tier players to reach all the endings without having to take the time to get Dark Souls good. For me, the simplest solution is that you should be able to continue a new round at the farthest stage you’ve reached or at least at milestone stages such as after main bosses.

2. Button Mapping for Controllers

As with all games in 2019, you should be able to customize the button map to suit your needs on any controller you choose to play with. This should be the standard for any game released today. As I said, RAD appears to have this function, but it wasn’t working properly for me in the beta on either a DualShock 4 or a Wii U Pro Controller.

20190526150552_13. Primary Mutations Replay

The game appears to have 56 primary mutations. I’ve unlocked just a small sample of those so far. Some of them I really liked and others not so much. I found all of them to be quite creative though. At some point, the player should be able to gain some control over the mutations they’re getting in a round. Like once you’ve unlocked so many mutations it should give you the ability to start with a certain mutation of your choice or at least prioritize which ones you get. The randomness is part of the game’s shtick and that’s fine but once the player has put in enough hours to unlock all the mutations, they’ll then have a number of them they’ll want to avoid and others they prefer. And since the game requires you to start from scratch every time, getting to the ending will require you to get the right set of mutations to suit your style of play. But at random that won’t happen very often. Granting some level of control to the player would make a huge difference both for progress and enjoyment. This should not be made available to the player early on in the game though.

4. Cooperative Play

It’s very rare that I ask for multiplayer in a game. But RAD just makes sense to have a coop mode. Whether it’s local or online, I think this game would be so much fun to play with other people. In a way it kind of works like ToeJam & Earl, which absolutely doesn’t require other players to enjoy, but is enhanced by the ability to do so. As I was playing it, I was reminded a lot of games like Gauntlet and Metal Slug. The ability to play this cooperatively with friends could be really fun.

20190526153251_15. Lock-On Feature

This is your standard roguelike design where you’re looking at the game from a top down third person view. Enemies can come at you from any direction and you often face many at once. Currently you just attack in a direction by either looking in that direction for close range attacks and/or using the right stick to aim in that direction for ranged attacks. As with any multiple enemy scenario, prioritizing enemies in a specific order is key. But all this has to be done manually in RAD because you can’t lock on to enemies. There should be some way to lock on to a specific enemy to help you keep track of them in group scenarios and make aiming ranged attacks more effective.

6. Full Store in Base

Within the levels there are stores scattered about that carry random items. This system works fine. But the store in the base, which you can potentially visit every time you complete a level, is trash. When you first start the game, it only sells one lousy key which you don’t even really need because you can find them or buy them from most vendors in the levels. The base store should carry all available items in the game. Or at least the ones you’ve already found during play. There are key items that can totally change the outcome, such as an extra life item that I’ve only seen in one store and couldn’t afford at the time. The base store should carry everything, or at least more than just a single, fairly useless key. The game does imply that the store will grow as certain conditions are met but how and to what extent I haven’t figured out yet. By the time I finished playing the beta, two additional items were added to the store. It seems to me that you expand the store by making purchases.

20190526100709_17. Dynamic Item Consumption

You can hold one item at a time as a default and gain the ability to hold an additional item with a secondary mutation. But you can’t control the order in which you use those items. You have to consume the first item you picked up before you can consume the second one. This is super inconvenient and comes up very often because the second item slot mutation comes up a decent amount of the time. Different items do different things, as per usual. The most common difference is the amount of health restored by healing items. Some items restore a full heart while others restore more than that. So if you have an item that restores one heart in your first slot, an item that restores two hearts in your second slot, and you’re missing two hearts from your HP you have to waste the first item to fully restore your health. Because you wouldn’t be able to use the item that restore two hearts until you’ve used the item that only restores one. Now yes you could just wait until you’ve lost that heart again, but there’s a delay to use items when not standing still so if you need to restore health during combat this could be the death of you. You should be able to use whichever item you’re carrying in whatever order you want. Even a rotate slots system would be better than the current system.

 

In general, I was very happy with this beta. I found RAD to be much more enjoyable than I thought I would after seeing the announcement trailer. It’s not the next big thing or Cuphead class indie, but it is a fun little roguelike that actually has some long term goals and reasons to keep playing. There seems to be an actual plot to discover, which matters to players like me. The gameplay is accessible but constantly changing based on the mutations you unlock in a particular round. While it wasn’t a perfect game, this beta build is pretty far along. While I did have a few issues it ran well for the most part. No lagging or other game breaking problems other than the one crash which cost me just a few minutes because I was able to continue the round from the main menu when I reloaded the game. The game has a few bugs, as I mentioned, and can still be improved but it already works quite well and it’s fun to play. I need to see a release price before I can make a final judgement but I could see RAD doing well for what it’s trying to be.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devotion Review – 6.9/10 (But definitely worth playing.)

Red Candle Games is a small Taiwanese studio that focuses specifically on producing games that present realistic depictions of Taiwanese culture and beliefs in a narrative focused structure while applying elements of horror. What is so interesting about their games though is that the horror aspects, like everything else in them, are not original concepts. They are realistic depictions of actual Taiwanese beliefs. That’s one of the main reasons their games are so interesting to play and why they appeal to such a diverse audience within Taiwan. Their first game, Detention, appealed to people of all walks of life and ages in Taiwan. It was an excellent 2D point and click that also managed to be quite scary. Now they’ve released their second game, Devotion, and it’s being met with similar appeal. Already there are reviews and videos of the game all over the Taiwanese internet not just from gamers but from a completely random assortment of Taiwanese citizens. This is because once again they have managed to capture an eerily realistic snapshot of Taiwanese life and culture. Even as an African American living in Taiwan and ultimately experiencing the culture as an outsider, I was extremely impressed with how well the game depicts Taiwan. So before getting into the real meat and potatoes of the game review, know that as cultural snapshots of Taiwan both Detention and Devotion are top notch experiences that are informative, entertaining (for horror fans), and highly accurate.

Tile
Gameplay (Left) – My actual tile (Right)

Devotion is a first person walking simulator style game that takes place in a single apartment building located in, I believe, Taipei. The bulk of the game takes place in a single two bedroom apartment but there are a few sequences that have the player explore other parts of the building as well as fantasy locales for sequences taking place in the spirit realm. The graphics are an incredible step up from their previous game. This is a highly detailed 3D environment that takes place across multiple time periods and realms of reality. While it is still an indie game, the visual quality rivals that of some low to mid-tier AAA titles. The atmosphere is a mixture of vibrant hues and gloomy shadows. As the story takes place across several years of a family’s life, there are many ups and downs depicted in the same 3D space. Some moments are happy and inviting while others are scary and induce paranoia within the player. What’s truly impressive about the graphics is just how realistic they are.

Doorbell
Gameplay (Left) – My actual door (Right)

As someone who actually lives in an apartment in Taiwan, playing Devotion is a very unique experience. I wasn’t aware of just how similar most apartments are in Taiwan before I played this game, but apparently they’re all pretty much the same, otherwise Red Candle Games must have snuck into my apartment for inspiration. So many small details about the game’s setting are pulled right out of my apartment. The entire time I was playing the game, my girlfriend kept commenting on all the objects that look exactly the same. From the floor tiles, to the doorbell, to the doors, to the kitchen, it’s all a bit too real. This is especially stressful when playing a horror game because it’s just too easy to place yourself within the game when it looks almost exactly like the place you actually live in. I think this is one of the main reasons so many people in Taiwan are taken with the game. It would probably be too uncomfortable of an experience to play this game in VR for me because I might end up trapped in an Inception like state of confusion about reality.

Gameplay wise, it’s a slow paced walking simulator that focuses on developing the story and atmosphere rather than on exciting gameplay mechanics. You move, look around, and click on things to interact with them. Occasionally you are required to use a few other buttons to do specific things like pull up your item menu or complete a specific active task for effect, but mostly it’s just looking around and discovering things. There is a single chase sequence that requires you to quickly run through a maze of hallways. This is the only part of the game where you can die, which I did several times. The game quickly reloads to the start of that sequence and has you try again until you’ve finally succeeded. Though this one sequence is different from the entire rest of the game’s gameplay it works just fine and requires little to no adjustment from normal play. Honestly I could have used a few more sequences of this nature to make the overall experience more exciting and increase the fear factor.

20190223210106_1

A large part of the gameplay involves reading. There are 33 different documents to find, many of which contain clues that help you figure out how to progress forward. I don’t believe you need to find all of them to complete the game, because there is a trophy/achievement for doing so and not all of them reference specific actions you need to complete. The bulk of them provide you with background information about the narrative as well as culturally specific traditions and legends. As this is a point and click, reading and interpreting clues is paramount to reaching the end. Chances are you will get stuck and have to look over things more than one time before you realize what the game expects you to do. I ran into this situation about midway through the game. This was not an issue of language limitations, as all the text is in English and the dialog, though in Chinese, is all subtitled in English. The roadblock I ran into was cultural. You had to complete a ritual that was probably fairly obvious to most traditional Taiwanese citizens, but as an African American I knew nothing about it. It was only after reading through all the documents I collected along the way that I found the clue I needed to solve the puzzle. Though it can be frustrating while playing, I really like this type of system because it really forces you to use your skills of observation and interpretation to solve puzzles rather than just handing you the answers to move forward. Chances are you will end returning to each of the available time periods more than once before you find and figure out everything you need to finish the game.

While the gameplay is fairly basic at a mechanical level, I highly recommend that you use a keyboard and mouse if playing on PC, which I was. The game supports multiple controller types but the amount of lag when using a controller with the default settings is unbearable. I tried both a Dualshock 4 and a Wii U Pro Controller and both performed unacceptably. The walking movement is laggy and looking around is extremely inconsistent as well. But as soon as I switched to a keyboard and mouse the controls were flawless. Movement is smooth and quick to respond. Commands are highly responsive with pretty much no input lag. You do have the ability to try to change the sensitivity of the controller to make it run better, but not to the standard that it should be running at. I was able to clean up the movement considerably but there was still quite a bit of lag and the movement kept stopping abruptly after raising the sensitivity to account for the lag. You just need to use a keyboard and mouse to play this on PC. At least until some patches are added. Really the only performance problem I had once I gave up on using a controller was that the game crashed once near the end. A simple restart of the application solved the problem and no other ones ever occurred. And with the game’s auto-saving function I lost a maximum of maybe 2 minutes of progress with the restart. The game is also broken up into chapters so you can easily backtrack without having to lose too much progress. You can also use this function post-game to replay specific sequences.

20190225223407_1

There are only a few sequences where the gameplay is slightly different from the general experience. The chase scene that I mentioned previously, a few mini-game style moments involving some puzzles, and a storybook fantasy sequence that plays like a platformer. All in all, the gameplay was exactly what it needed to be, but I do feel like there could have been more sequences outside of the traditional point and click mechanics of the normal gameplay.

As with Detention, the writing in Devotion is very personal and culturally specific. The game follows a family, mostly through the eyes of the father but sometimes from the daughter’s perspective as well. The story mixes elements of horror, mystery, and drama to touch on serious themes including parenting, religion, financial insecurity, marriage, and ultimately guilt. Much of the plot is steeped in metaphors and cultural references that don’t all necessarily translate to the larger world. I was lucky enough to be able to play through the whole game alongside a Taiwanese person to explain things to me. While this lack of cultural understanding will absolutely not hinder your ability to complete the game, there are definitely some parts of the narrative that you most likely won’t understand or be able to relate to directly depending on your cultural and religious background. The ending is a good example of this. It’s sort of abrupt and not clear what actually happened. But my girlfriend explained to me that if you read the Chinese text of the game that it’s much more obvious what actually occurred. I won’t spoil that here though. In a way it’s not necessarily a problem for the ending to be vague as the game touches on supernatural themes anyway that can be left up to interpretation by each individual player.

20190223234413_1

I was happy with the way the story was presented, but ultimately it was a hollow overall experience for me compared to Detention. The buildup is really good and the atmosphere is very scary. Within the first 10 minutes of the game my girlfriend and I literally jumped out of our seats and yelled because of a specific occurrence. This, along with much of the marketing materials pre-release, led me to believe that this was going to be a true horror game. Sadly it wasn’t. There are a few horror sequences, and they are done fairly well, but the bulk of the game is not scary. Instead the atmosphere is used to make the player expect something scary to happen but that rarely happens throughout the course of the game. The rest of the game is more sad and introspective than terrifying. And that’s not a problem, or at least it wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t been misled into believing I was about to play a horror game. So while the writing was in no way bad, it also lacked the impact I wanted it to have. It was very similar to playing Gone Home (2013), where the game comes off like a haunted house horror game but is really just an emotional journey about the main character’s family problems and learning to accept reality. I would love to see these same visual assets reused to make a proper horror game.

Because I was much more focused on reading subtitles and documents as well as searching for clues, I feel like the sound didn’t have the impact on me it probably could have had while I was playing. There are some great sound effects at times such as the use of knocking on doors to clue you in on where you should be going next. The sound quality of the voice acting was quite good, even if I couldn’t understand it directly. The music, though few and far between, was effective and really helped bring the daughter character to life.  Overall, the sound quality was quite good, but my need to focus on reading detracted from my ability to focus on and ultimately appreciate it. It’s important to note that you could technically play through the whole game with the sound off but you would lose out on the full impact of the voice acting, the music used as part of the narrative, and some of the of the better sound effects.

20190224003344_1

I can’t really say that there’s any reason to replay Devotion more than once. You can easily get 100% completion in the first playthrough and if you miss anything it’s easy to load one of the chapters and backtrack to the achievement(s) you missed. This is ultimately how I got the only achievement I missed during my first playthrough. And the chapter load took me right to where I needed to get to complete that achievement. So while the first playthrough is quite good, I really can’t say that there is any real replay value in this game. I have already heard rumors that extra content will be added though. The whole game can be beaten in under 4 hours so I gotta say that the $17 price tag is a bit too steep. It’s definitely worth playing and can be beaten to a 100% completion in one sitting, which I did. But my advice is to wait for a price drop.

While I liked Detention more overall, Devotion was a great step up quality wise for Red Candle Games. The jump in graphics between the two games was mind blowing. The writing, though not as scary, was just as culturally significant and impactful while remaining a personal narrative about specific characters in the world. And the narrative is totally believable. The supernatural stuff is of course open for interpretation but the real life events could be about pretty much any Taiwanese family. The gameplay works, but they really need get the controller performance up to snuff. I’m kind of curious to see how the game will perform on other platforms when it’s inevitably ported like Detention was. While I gave it a 6.9, let me be clear in saying that this score is not because the game isn’t good. It’s because it has issues with controller play, no replay value, and a fairly high opening price point for the amount of actual gameplay. The score is in no way meant to present the game as a bad gameplay experience. I simply can’t in good conscience score it higher with those issues. If the game was at say $5, had more achievements, and no controller issues, we’re looking at something around an 8/10 rating. At the end of the day, I encourage you to try Devotion. It’s an interesting experience that’s much different from the walking simulators and point and clicks you see from Western developers. It’s a solid second installment for the company and certainly worth your time.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

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.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Spider-Man (PS4) Platinum Review – 8.4/10

I think this might be the first game I ever reviewed after I had already achieved the platinum trophy. Not the first game where I’ve finished the campaign, but specifically getting the full completion. Certainly the first open world game. For the record, I got the game day one and had acquired the platinum less than two weeks after it released. It just took me an extra week to get the review prepared. That’s short for any platinum. Much less an open world game. But length is not the only important factor when it comes to judging a game so while this is an important detail to consider, there’s a heck of a lot more to say about Marvel’s Spider-Man by Insomniac Games.

I was not actually planning on pre-ordering Spider-Man. I literally made the purchase just two days before it released and the only reason I did was because I happened to roll into some extra money that day and I wanted the collector’s pin for preordering the digital deluxe edition. Otherwise I would have absolutely waited for a price drop. And after having gotten the platinum, I would still recommend waiting for a price drop. Mostly because of how short it is. That being said, it was quite the entertaining experience, short or not.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-18 23-06-34

Spider-Man is a beautiful game. Not Naughty Dog beautiful, but for a comic book game, it looks very good. What I really liked about it was the character renders. I could see the real actors in the characters and because I recognized a number of them, that impressed me. At the same time, the filler NPCs are kind of low quality. They aren’t generic, which is nice. They do look, dress, and sound different. You can even interact with them on a minor level as individuals. Because it is a comic book game, it looks like what a game based on a comic book should look like rather than actually looking like a comic book or trying too hard to look like real life. It hits that visual balance almost perfectly. The world looks great as well. I’m not from New York, but I have been there and I was very impressed with all the landmarks the game has. I have heard a number of New Yorkers complain that things are missing or flat out removed from the map. But I guess that’s to be expected. What’s really cool is that they’ve also layered in a bunch of Marvel Easter Egg locations. This includes places like the Embassy of Wakanda, the Sanctum Solarium, and the Murdock & Nelson Attorneys at Law Office. If I have to explain to you what any of those are then you’re not a Marvel Fan and it will be lost on you anyway. It is a very nice map, but it’s also very small. The whole thing is made up of only nine Infamous: Second Son style districts, none of which are particularly big.

This is a very fast paced game. Think Arkham City on steroids. You’re moving quickly with just about everything you do. Fighting is fast paced and often includes 15 or more enemies on the screen at one time. Swinging, probably one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game, is extremely fast, free roaming, and variable. By all rights it should be a blur, but no such issues occur. The game truly handles like a dream. Even playing on an original PS4, I experienced no lag or other graphics related performance issues. The loading is a little slow, but not ridiculously so. The menus look really nice as well. They’re very simple. Not overly stylized or extremely detailed. But they present everything you need in a clean and clear manner that’s very accessible at a glance.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-17 20-35-11
Created in Photo Mode

The Spidey suits are without a doubt the most impressive visual aspect of the game. The level of detail is unreal for some of the 28 costumes available. The tips of the fingers. The fabric threads. The metal plating. It’s immaculate. The costumes look so good you can almost feel the fabric on some of them. But there are also a number of little things that really bring this game to life. Pedestrians in the streets. Planes flying over the city. The sunlight beaming on the water at dusk. Overall it’s a beautiful looking game.

The sound is expertly done in Spider-Man. It’s cartoony but practical. You hear the whooshes of his webs firing. You hear every punch and kick landed. The only thing that would have made it better was if little comic book style onomatopoeia appeared during fights. The voice acting is quite good. Each character was distinct. Many were played by actors you’re familiar with which really helped bring the audio visual experience to life. The music was good, albeit a bit repetitive, as is the case in most open world games. All in all, I was very happy with how the sound was handled in this game.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-18 22-24-08
Created in Photo Mode

The gameplay excels in a number of places but falls way short in others. The swinging is phenomenal. The best I’ve seen in any Spider-Man game, though I haven’t played them all. What’s good about it, albeit annoying at times, is that Insomniac Games really tried to create a realistic swinging experience. You have to take into account things like distance. You can’t just swing wherever you want. If you’re above the buildings, you have to wait till you fall beneath them so you have something to web to. You can swing upward but your speed will decrease due to drag and loss of momentum. Swinging and traversal is truly an art form. But at the same time they added a number of fail safes to make the experience more manageable for amateurs.   You can move in and out of swinging to parkour and wall running instantly. Spider-Man will automatically pass through, under, or between things like fire escapes and water towers when you swing into such confined spaces. It was made to be fun, not unruly. At the same time, this game sadly has terrible wall crawling mechanics. Wall running outside is great. It’s smooth and easy to control. But climbing around the inside of a room is just trash in this game. Simple maneuvers like crawling from wall to wall or wall to ceiling are so difficult. Spider-Man will do everything in his power to avoid changing between adjacent services. It’s easier just to jump off a wall and climb up the other one than to crawl between them. This was really depressing for me because what’s Spider-Man without wall crawling?

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-17 19-24-00
Created in Photo Mode

 

Fighting is real smooth. The pacing is fast but manageable. You have an arsenal of eight gadgets to choose from by the end of the game and they all do something quite different. What I also really liked was that when you run out of stock of a specific gadget the game will automatically revert back to basic web shooting. This is very crucial for a smooth gameplay experience. Chaining combos is really smooth and easy to do in this game, and that’s what makes it so fun. Combining gadgets in different ways makes it an experience all your own. One thing I really appreciated was that the game never stops moving. If you’re in the middle of a fight and you go to change gadgets, a gadget wheel pops up in true Insomniac Games style. But you can still get hit while it’s up. Time slows down while the wheel is up to give you time to think, but you can’t just stand there indefinitely. This balance between Dark Souls where you have no time and Ratchet & Clank where you have unlimited time worked really well for a Spider-Man game and felt very appropriate. But aiming certain gadgets and special techniques can be a real pain. You have auto aim but it mostly focuses on the nearest enemy in sight. Sometimes that’s not who you want to hit. In general though, the game plays and controls very smoothly.

Probably the worst aspect of the gameplay is its repetitive nature. The gameplay is really solid, but so much of the game is just busy work to level up your stats and gear. The game’s development system is dually based on XP and tokens. XP is gained through basically everything. Fighting, hitting milestones like distance running on walls, completing objectives, and locating special items. You can hit a maximum level of 50 and then continue to level up in a prestige way where you remain at level 50 but your stats continue to go up every time you earn a certain amount of points. Leveling is automatic as far as stats are concerned but you do have to spend skill points to learn new skills and techniques. Some skills are extremely useful and will become the cornerstone of your gameplay style. Others you’ll mostly ignore. By the time you hit max level, you can learn all the skills and still have five points to spare. The other means of development comes from tokens. There are six types you can earn. Tokens try to be more variable than XP but in the long run they just seem more repetitive. Crime tokens are a good example of this.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-20 19-10-19

In each of the nine districts on the map, random crimes can happen at any time that you’re not in a mission/challenge. Dealing with crimes is optional and successfully stopping them nets you one to three crimes tokens. These tokens, when used in combination with other types, can be used to unlock suits and develop/unlock gadgets. Each district has you stop 20 crimes to get 100% completion. There are only a few types of crimes committed by four separate groups of criminals. You have to stop five of each. Almost all the crimes are the same. You fight a group of enemies without dying and you get your tokens. Occasionally you have to take out some snipers, locate a missing person, or stop runaway vehicles, but mostly it’s just win a fight. That’s nearly 180 random fights to deal with for a full completion. Plus chasing them down when they randomly appear on the map. It gets old. All the types of tokens work similarly. You do the same things over and over in order to unlock gear. There are little bonus objectives in each of these token missions/challenges, most of which you ultimately need to complete to get enough tokens to unlock everything, but after a while it all becomes a grind. It’s artificial additional playtime and many of the challenges aren’t even fun. Especially the challenge token missions. Some of them are just terrible and you’ll replay them over and over to try to get the gold completion for the additional tokens.

The story missions are great. I’d say 90% of the main campaign missions are absolute gold. Sometimes you have to play as people other than Spider-Man or Peter Parker and that can be boring and annoying at times, but all the story Spider-Man stuff was great. The boss fights. The stealth missions. The chase scenes. I was happy with all of it. Even the photography missions were pretty fun once I got used to them. The side missions are pretty good too. Really if the game wasn’t padded so much and was priced around Insomniac Games usual stuff, it would be a shorter but ultimately stronger game overall. The gameplay is great for the most part at a mechanical level, but the full completion gets old. The fact that you can hit level 50 (max level) well before the end of the game without mindlessly grinding says a lot about how much padding is in such a small map.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-18 21-02-30

This was one the best written comic book games I ever played. The writing is the way a comic book game should be. The villains are justified while also being over the top. There are multiple villains that show up over the course of the story and they all make sense. They aren’t just popping up to give you something to do. The story weaves them all together very well. The way they wrote Otto Octavius was just amazing. If you know the characters you know he’s going to become a problem later on, but the way they developed him over the course of the game was MCU quality writing. I was so impressed by the campaign narrative in this game. But it’s not just the plot that’s well written. This is a Spider-Man game. That means dialog is everything and the dialog is strong. The quips are funny and cheesy. JJ Jameson is a radio host who randomly appears on your feed while swinging around the city and he’s hilarious. Modernizing him away from newspapers and into podcasting was the right touch.

What’s really important to note is that this game isn’t just about Spider-Man. It’s also about Peter Parker, Miles Morals, and Mary Jane Watson. All of them play major roles in the plot of the game and act as playable characters at some point in the narrative. It’s not just a story about heroes and villains. It’s a story about people. And even some of the villains get some real character development, which is a good thing. The relationships and interactions the characters have with each other, including the villains, is what really makes this a great comic book experience. Probably the best game Insomniac Games ever wrote.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-15 13-02-36

Defining the replay value is a bit tough with this one. Especially having gotten the platinum in a single playthrough that took only 30-ish hours, which as I’ve said is short for an open world game in my opinion. The truth is that if you get 100% completion there are still some things you can do, like try to get golds in all the Task Master challenges and finish all the base challenge objectives, but you don’t gain anything from doing it. You do continue to get stronger by collecting XP even after you hit max level, but you don’t really need it by that point. Now of course the difficulty you play on will also play a factor here. The game has no difficulty based trophies and lets you change the difficulty level mid-game whenever you want. I played through the whole game on the hardest difficulty so there’s no reason for me to play it again. But if you didn’t play it on hard, maybe you’d want to do that in a second playthrough. But honestly, having unlocked and completed everything, I don’t really have any interest in playing through the game again. It was a great one and done experience with nothing left that I feel the need to do. Especially since I unlocked all the costumes and gadgets already. There will be a New Game Plus mode added soon, but I really don’t see any reason to play it after having gotten the platinum. DLC is on the way, so there’s that, but that doesn’t factor into replay value and probably won’t add enough content to justify the $80 price tag for the deluxe edition.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-20 00-57-35

On the other hand, this game has without a doubt the best, most addictive photo mode I’ve ever seen. It’s an amazing experience. It’s not perfect. There are definitely limitations with it that shouldn’t be there. But it’s genuinely one of the most entertaining parts of the game. You have so many filters, frames, and stickers at your disposal. You can take pictures anywhere, including cutscenes. And they can be manipulated in so many ways. I almost took the time to make my own comic book with screenshots created in the photo mode. And you really could. I took literally more than 3,000 pictures over the course of the game. Which I’m still not finished sorting as I write this, by the way. That does add quite a bit of value and length to the overall experience. Especially when you consider the 28 costumes you can take pictures in.

Overall I’m very happy with how Spider-Man turned out. Insomniac Games did a great job. It’s not a flawless game and I think it was a bit overhyped with all the 9’s it received, but it’s definitely one of the top games I’ve played in 2018. I would absolutely recommend playing this game but I will also say you can stand to wait for a price drop.

cropped-blog-logo.png
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Detroit: Become Human Review – 8.3/10

It’s hard to say whether or not I’m a fan of Quantic Dream. More appropriately known as David Cage’s interactive movie workshop, Quantic Dream is the game development studio that created Detroit: Become Human. It is their fifth game. I’ve played three games by David Cage: Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human. I’ve also heard only good things about Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) over the years, but I’ve never gotten to play it myself. Of the three games of his I’ve played, I liked one, absolutely hated one, and absolutely loved one. So while I’d say Quantic Dream doesn’t have a negative record with me, I also wouldn’t go as far as declaring myself a committed fan of the studio. All I can honestly say is that after playing Detroit, I would be happy to play the next game Cage puts out.

I was reluctant to play Detroit: Become Human when I first heard about it. Part of this came from the fact that I found the idea of setting a game about high technology and opulent wealth (to buy said technology) in Detroit to be laughable. It’s Detroit not San Francisco. The city isn’t known for its wealth or its high minded tech culture. But what I was more worried about was the fact that this game was coming from the same studio that sold me Beyond: Two Souls. I think Beyond is absolute trash. When I first heard about it I was really excited, and I did like Heavy Rain so I had confidence in the studio bringing out another hit. But Beyond is just the worst. It is so unbelievably bad as far as both gameplay and writing. So I was not excited to play another David Cage game after that. Luckily I was able to borrow a copy so I didn’t have to pay for Detroit, otherwise I might never have played it. Boy was my fears about the next Quantic Dream title wrong.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-08-26 22-39-50

I am happy to admit that I was wrong about Detroit. Not only is it an excellent game, it’s the best game Quantic Dream has ever made. (I’m assuming it’s better than Fahrenheit based on what I’ve seen of that game.) It more than made up for the travesty that was Beyond. It’s the first game they ever made that I’ll actually do a full replay of. In their past games, I’ve taken the time to replay certain sequences to see different outcomes but never the entire game. I will replay Detroit all the way through, making different decisions, and take the time to get the platinum. That’s how much better this game is compared to its predecessors.

Visually it’s great. It’s not the best PS4 game ever made, but it looks very good. Specifically how real the characters look. The character models are based on the real actors, some of which are notable personalities you’re probably familiar with like Clancy Brown and Lance Henriksen. This brings the game to life in ways that many games can’t because you already have a visual point of reference for many of the characters in the story. And the acting, I say acting here instead of just voice acting, is phenomenal. Jesse Williams, who I had only previously seen in Cabin in the Woods (2012) gives such a powerful performance that I wanted to see other stuff he’s in after I finished the game. I can’t remember saying that about any other character/actor in any other game I’ve ever played. The delivery of his lines and the emotion of his character model, Markus, were masterful. I truly saw the humanity in the android characters. I felt for them. I wanted them to be granted freedom and equal rights.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-08-30 01-02-41

It’s not just the characters that look good though. The landscapes, the neighborhoods, the graffiti, and everything else all comes together nicely to create a Detroit that I found believable in the world of the game. It’s probably the best looking game I’ve played this year set in a real world environment. Spider-Man comes in at a very close second for reference.

The sound is real good in this game. The sound track works well, the effects work well enough for what it is, and the voice acting is perfectly balanced. You feel like you’re actually in a world of other people. Conversations aren’t unrealistically loud to make sure you hear them. You can miss lots of stuff throughout the game if you aren’t listening and looking. Interactions can be completely missed because you didn’t notice the conversation going on low in the background. It’s a nice touch of realism, even while being kind of annoying when you miss something.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-08-31 23-46-41

Gameplay wise, this was much better than past games from Quantic Dream. There are still camera issues, but overall it’s a much cleaner gameplay experience than the other titles by them I’ve played.  Gameplay, specifically controls, was my biggest complaint about Beyond so it was nice to see them clean it up by a noticeable degree in Detroit. I didn’t have any control issues with QTEs. A lot of games in this genre often misread commands and end up making you fail where you know you shouldn’t have. This happens a lot when I play TellTale Games titles. Surprisingly, I only missed two action sequence QTE commands over the entire course of my first playthrough. Part of that may just be that I’m a lot more familiar with the genre now, but I think those results are very telling about how well the game responds. I had no such luck when I played Heavy Rain back on PS3.

What’s really nice about the gameplay in this one is that your decisions really do matter and for once the game directly and clearly shows you that and in what way they affect the overall story. At the end of each chapter you are shown an events flowchart that plots all the decisions and outcomes you made and where those led to. But what’s even more useful is the fact that it shows you how much you didn’t do. In most cases the game doesn’t reveal what other outcomes you could have gotten, but it does show you how many other outcomes were available with each decision/occurrence along the plot of each individual chapter. It also shows you how decisions and outcomes from previous chapters affected the chapter you just played as well as that they might possibly affect future chapters. A good example of this was early on when you are given the choice of whether or not to allow an android to join your resistance. It’s early on in the game and you don’t know who you can trust yet. You can choose to take him with you or leave him. If you chose to take him with you, several chapters later that same android sacrifices his life to save yours. Characters can permanently die in the story and without that android’s sacrifice one of my characters would have died at that moment, ruining my perfect survival first playthrough. I think this transparency of outcomes really makes the game better because then you really do feel like your decisions matter where most games make you feel like the outcomes are fixed even if the road to them has a few branches. Detroit doesn’t do that at all because it proves it to you every step of the way.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-08-29 02-05-51

Without a doubt, as with most games in this genre, it’s the writing that makes Detroit amazing. Much like Beyond, this story is grounded in science fiction, but what it does right is use science fiction that’s actually believable and grounded at least part in actual science. It may be about sentient robots, but it gives you a story that you can actually believe and connect with on a personal level, more akin to Heavy Rain. Not to mention we already have tons of other fiction about sentient machines trying to obtain their freedom. Detroit plays mostly the same bits from the singularity playbook, but it puts you, the player, into the role of the android instead of the humans fighting against them. This makes the experience so much more personal and in many ways introspective. You empathize with the androids and start thinking about what you would do in a world where people had to choose whether or not to recognize them as living, intelligent beings.

For me, through Markus, the story was very personal because of the racial undertones Cage was clearly drawing upon. The fact that I’m a lighter skinned African American, especially living in the current political climate, made me identify a lot with Markus who, at least in my playthrough, leads the android revolution. The game draws direct comparisons between the struggle of the androids and racial minorities in the real world. There is even a scene where an African American human character helps the androids and when asked why says it’s because her people experienced similar challenges in the past and were only able to achieve the position they had because of help from members of the ruling class/race.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-02 23-45-33

The game lets you make key decisions about the type of revolution you want to have and it affects the story greatly. It was an interesting experience to be able to choose what type of revolutionary you wanted to be. You can be completely peaceful. You can be violent. You can be a bit of both. And the game makes you take public opinion into account. I took advantage of this and got the outcome I wanted, but that often meant intentionally making decisions that I didn’t personally want to make, for the good of the android cause. In a way, that’s the most realistic gameplay scenario ever because politics, especially when it comes to civil rights, actually does work that way. It’s not whether or not the cause is right or wrong, but how the people in power perceive the cause that matters. The writing, and more specifically multiple possibilities within the writing, in pretty much every chapter is why I’ll be replaying this game from start to finish with different choices. I want to see everything this game has to offer.

I think I’ve already made it clear that Detroit has a decent amount of replay value. It’s certainly worth two complete playthroughs and possibly even more after that to experience every possible outcome. I will probably just rerun specific sequences to fill in the holes after my second playthrough rather than doing a full third. But the game is certainly good for 14+ hours of play. I wouldn’t have dropped $60 for it but at $20, the price I paid for Beyond, I would have been very happy with my purchase if I hadn’t of gotten to borrow a copy.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-07 02-10-46

I hope I’ve made it clear that you should definitely play Detroit: Become Human. It’s certainly worthy of being a PlayStation exclusive. I’m just sad that so many people won’t get to play it because for some reason they still don’t own a PS4. It’s well written, well executed, beautiful, and an emotional roller coaster that I haven’t been on in a game in quite some time. Even God of War (PS4) didn’t personally speak to me as much as this game did. Granted I don’t have a son or a great relationship with my father so much of the narrative impact was certainly lost on me with that one. But at the end of the day, you should definitely give Detroit a playthrough. You can clear the game once in less than eight hours.

cropped-blog-logo.png
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Nioh vs Dark Souls

This past weekend, I finally finished the main story of Nioh. It took me just over 70 hours to complete. I am not finished with the game because there are several post-game missions, an entire new class of items you unlock by finishing the main story, a new game plus mode (which I probably don’t have time to play), and a number of DLC missions, which I do plan on completing. I have to say that this was an excellent game. I have some complaints, which is true for every game I’ve ever played, but overall Nioh was quite the positive gaming experience.

I played both the alpha and beta of the game, but didn’t get around to actually playing it till they had already announced the sequel, which was the main reason I finally got my ass in gear with this one. What I find interesting is that many people I’ve spoken to aren’t fans of Nioh because of their relationship with Dark Souls. I understand but don’t agree with this point of view. First, because the games really are quite different in many respects. And second, because Dark Souls I & II (still haven’t gotten around to III) are no more or less flawed than Nioh. All three of these games, and Bloodborne, all have their own issues which are subjective design choices that some people will like and others will hate, while many won’t care one way or the other. So rather than write a straight review of Nioh, I thought it would be more useful to write a comparison of Nioh to Dark Souls with a focus on some key design choices/differences between the two franchises.

Nioh Souls

Combat

People tend to differentiate Dark Souls from Bloodborne because of the combat pacing/style. Dark Souls is seen as the slower more defense focused game that relies heavily on technique and strategy. While Bloodborne is seen as the faster paced more offense focused game that relies more on real time skill and reaction. Having played both games, I can agree with this assessment on some level. I tend to prefer Dark Souls, which is interesting because I hate blocking in games generally. What I like about Nioh is that it allows the player a lot more differentiation while still keeping it really simple, when it comes to combat. Dark Souls offers you 22 different weapon types with various weapons in each category, but they’re all fairly similar, with the exception of magic. It’s one handed short weapons or two handed great weapons, plus bows for ranged attacks. The combat is focused much more on stats than actual weapon performance other than one handed vs two handed. But you do have a fair amount of control over the pacing of combat between those two differentiations, not to mention you have the option to play with or without a shield. You also have to take weight into account when playing Dark Souls and it has a huge effect on gameplay.

Bloodborne is less varied in specific weapon options with only a single version of each type of weapon, but each of the 15 weapon types is fairly different plus there are 11 different secondary weapons to choose from. You are afforded a lot more variation among the Bloodborne weapons, but the pacing of combat is very similar for all weapon types. Add this to the fact that there are no shields in Bloodborne and weight doesn’t have to be accounted for and you have a very fast paced, but less varied gameplay experience than Dark Souls.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-06-16 23-52-51
Tonfa is not available at the start of the game.

The problem with both Dark Souls and Bloodborne, when it comes to combat, is you have a lot of choices, but few options. Ranged attacks and magic aside, Dark Souls really just comes down to one handed vs two handed weapons, shield or no shield in the case of choosing one handed, and weight class, which affects agility. Bloodborne is similar in making you choose between one handed and two handed combat, but it gives the player the option of using any weapon in either way and allows you to change in real time. But with the lack of weight and similar style the weapons carry, you can pretty much commit to a play style early on and ride it out the whole game. For instance, I used two handed axe for probably 85% of the game.

Nioh takes a much different approach to combat differentiation than either Dark Souls or Bloodborne. While those two franchises approach the issue from the style of traditional action games, Nioh is more similar to a JRPG. Rather than bogging you down with tons of weapon types, there are only six: katana, axe, kusarigama, spear, dual-swords, and tonfa. As well as three ranged types: bow, rifle, hand cannon. Each weapon type is wholly different, but true differentiation comes from the fact that there are countless variations of each type of weapon as well as the ability to manipulate, reforge, and evolve them. The speed and style of combat is contingent on numerous factors. You have to account for weapon type, weapon stance (low, mid, high), armor weight, magic and ninja enhancements, natural weapon enhancements/buffs, learned skills/techniques, and you can forge your own buffs into weapons. All while also considering your character’s build. The thing I really like is that the game forces you to take the time to “master” all six weapon types to get maximum character bonuses. This allowed me to find which type of weapon actually works the best for my style of play. You also get to carry two main weapons and two ranged weapons which can be hot swapped at any time. While it’s easy to settle into a specific weapon type, you are still constantly honing and evolving your use of any weapon type as you learn new techniques, magical enhancements, and acquire different/better versions of a weapon type. Combat is never really mastered, so much as it slows down in its evolution.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-08-20 23-27-20

Economy

The Souls franchise, spanning all the way back to the original Demon’s Souls (2009), takes its name from the fact that the one and only currency available in the game is souls. You use them to level up, buy things, and upgrade gear. This system works because it’s simple. With a single currency to do everything, you don’t have to worry about exchange rates, what resource to focus on accumulating, or how to manage and distribute your rewards. You have one thing for everything all the time. The problem with this system is that when you die, and fail to reclaim your souls, you are royally screwed. You lose your progress towards everything you’re working towards all at the same time. That level up, those upgrades, that new weapon. It’s all gone in one foul swoop. Realizing this, Nioh went a different way.

Nioh has two currencies, amrita and gold. Amrita is the equivalent of souls but it can only be used to level up. Its sole purpose is to make you physically more capable. Gold is used for everything else. Buying items, selling items, upgrading gear, forging new gear, and pretty much everything else is done with gold. It’s the currency of the game. Amrita is simply the currency of your character’s development. In most games, xp is permanent while gold can be lost/stolen. In Nioh, it’s the reverse.  Just like with Dark Souls, you can lose your amrita when you die and fail to return to your corpse. But your gold is permanent until you spend it.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-07-07 18-26-42

What’s nice is that you get both gold and amrita from killing enemies, just at different rates. You can also choose to trade gear for either gold or amrita, depending on what you want. This is why I find this system superior. The player is given a choice in how to prioritize their loot. If you don’t want to level up but want better gear, you can choose to focus on amassing gold. If you want to level up, you focus on amassing amrita. And in the late game this becomes key because leveling up becomes way slower than improving your gear with crafting and upgrades.

There is technically a third currency called glory, which you get from fighting revenants, but it’s not as useful and it’s not required to get through the game. I honestly didn’t use it at all except to buy character transformations, which I’ll address in the appearance section.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-07-14 21-24-54

Multiplayer

One of the main selling points of Demon’s Souls, and by extension Dark Souls, was the multiplayer interactions. This includes co-op, PVP, and communication through hints. I have to say that both games franchises/games get a little right and a lot wrong, but in different ways. The worst part about PVP in Dark Souls is that it’s never by choice for the victim of invasion. You can be playing the game with no interest in fighting or even interacting with other players, soon to reach the next bonfire, only to be invaded and often killed by no fault of your own. One of the worst things in the game(s) is that there are invasion hot spots where you literally can’t progress forward because you can be back to back invaded by the same player who’s already proven to be stronger than you. One of the only ways around this is to play offline, but then you lose the ability to summon help, so it leaves you in a catch 22. Nioh doesn’t have this problem.

There is no invasion in Nioh. You never have to fight against anyone you don’t choose to. If you want a PVP match you have to go into the PVP lobby and create/find a match. That’s how it should be. But the regular game is not devoid of special interactions against other players, or at least a version of them. The revenant system is the bridge that connects PVP and PVE. When you die, you leave a corpse. It has your gear, traits, fighting style, and abilities. When other people play through a level, they can see your corpse and choose to challenge it in a duel. If they can defeat it, they get some gear matching the gear you were wearing when you died in that spot. You don’t actually lose any of your gear. What’s great about this system is you can see the level and class of gear of the corpse before battling it so you can decide which fights are worth your time as well as moderate how difficult these opponents are. This allows you to have the PVP experience and rewards without actually having to be bothered by other people or wait for them to be online in order to get rewards from fighting them. And the revenants are different from each other. They have different gear and use different tactics based on the player they’re derived from. Some use magic, some fight more conservatively, some are terribly easy even when they’re a much higher level. It’s a great system that allows everyone to have the encounters they want without negatively affecting those of other players in the process. And just to spice it up a bit, there are moments in the game where revenants are summoned automatically, similar to the bell ringing maidens in Bloodborne. In key areas there are sages playing a Japanese guitar like instrument. This automatically summons any revenant you get too close to within the vicinity of the music. Once you’ve killed the sage, the automatic summoning ceases. What’s really nice is that once the sages are killed they’re dead for good even after you die and respawn.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-07-14 21-32-34

Communication between disconnected players is an important part of both Dark Souls and Nioh, but it’s done in completely different ways. In Dark Souls you can leave messages for other players. This is a nice system, but it’s also annoying for everyone involved. As a person leaving a message you have to choose the best spot to leave it so that people will see it. You have to piece together a message with sentence fragments because you aren’t given the ability to just write whatever you want, which is a good thing. Even after all that work people still might not notice or take the time to read your message. And even if they do read your message, if they don’t up-vote it the message will eventually disappear no matter how useful it actually may have been. The person reading the message has to find it, actively read it, interpret the piecemeal language in the context of the current setting, and up-vote it to make sure it doesn’t disappear for other players. Very few people actually want to go through any of this trouble. Not to mention that it’s extremely difficult to leave helpful messages to players that also have to be located in places they will actually see. In reality, the only information players absolutely need in a Soulslike game is how other players died. Missing a chest sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. And if you really want to find all the items, you’ll use an online walkthrough. The only information that will truly affect players is knowing what’s coming to kill them. So Nioh focuses only on conveying information about deaths between players directly. This is also done through the revenant system and it’s way more convenient than the messaging in Dark Souls. When you die and leave a corpse/revenant, players can also see how you died. It’s easy because there aren’t even any commands needed unless you actually want to fight a revenant. Just walking near their corpses instantly tells players how they died, what level they were when they died, and the gear they were carrying. And that’s really all the information you need. Being able to see how other players died gives you a clear hint about what’s coming up to try and kill you so you can be ready.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-07-14 21-48-58
Clans are similar to Covenants in Dark Souls

I would say neither Nioh nor Dark Souls handles coop matchmaking well. Both do certain things well, but both also have fundamental flaws to their systems which make things terribly inconvenient for the player(s). Dark Souls has the more convenient summoning system in that you can at any time drop a sign in any location and other players can summon you. You can summon up to three people, which is really convenient. It’s a nice system because you can be playing the game and farming while waiting to be summoned. The hitch is that you can only summon people when you’re alive, which requires using an item or helping someone else beat a boss. Overall thissystem makes it so you never have to waste any time while waiting to get summoned by other people. Nioh fails in this regard. To play coop as the summoner, you can only summon people from in level shrines, which are the equivalent of bonfires. There are two to four per a stage. There is no alive or dead system in Nioh, which is a good thing, but summoning requires single use items, which you find as loot from killing enemies. You can carry up to 99 of these at a time, which is nice, but they are not easy to find early on in the game. So you have struggle alone early on if you actually want/need summons to move forward. Personally, I think Nioh is easier than Dark Souls and I didn’t summon anyone to beat the main story. This was not the case for Dark Souls I & II or Bloodborne for me. What’s really annoying about the system in Nioh is that you have to do it at a shrine, meaning you have to reset all the enemies you’ve already cleared to summon someone and you can’t summon from the boss door like you can in Dark Souls. But thankfully you can go back to shrines while a summon is active, refilling all yours and their health and items. Being summoned is even more inconvenient in Nioh. You can’t just drop a sign or ring a bell and go on with your day until summoned. You have to go to a menu on the world map and enter a summoning lobby. You then have to wait until you’re summoned to play in a stage. On the flip side, you can set parameters for summons such as which stage you’d liked to be summoned to and difficulty level. But if no one wants to summon then you just sit and wait rather than farming while you’re waiting. And you can be rejected by players once summoned, which might happen for various reasons.

What I find superior about summoning in Nioh compared to both Dark Souls and Bloodborne is that there are no level caps or level scaling. If you are on the first stage as a level 5 and you want to summon a friend who is level 150 and has already beaten the game, you can do that. If you want to bring in a high level player to stomp the boss for you, the game doesn’t scale them down to your level. It lets them play to the full extent of their power and abilities. And that’s how it should be. If you want to earn it, that should be your choice as the player. If you want your friends to help you, then that should be your choice as well. But you can only summon one player in Nioh as opposed to three in Dark Souls.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-08-19 23-36-42

Level Structure

Dark Souls and Bloodborne are full open world games where you make your way across the land finding bonfires or lanterns along the way, which can then be used as warp points. There isn’t really a right way to go, but you have to figure out where to go to move forward in the story. I find the system inconvenient because you have no real direction. Many people enjoy this style of play because they like feeling in control, but I find it a large waste of my time for games like this. Nioh is broken into missions. There is a world map with clearly defined main missions and sub-missions. Each individual mission is a contained open world that you can freely explore within the confines of, but there is an entrance. The only way out is by completing the mission objective, which is usually but not always to defeat a specific enemy, usually a boss. I prefer this system. The game has the same level of stress as any other Soulslike game while you’re in the thick of it, but you don’t always have to be in the thick of it. There is structure and clearly defined goals. You can skip sub-missions or play them all. You don’t accidentally miss bonus bosses before beating the game. You control everything because it’s all clearly laid out on a world map. This also makes organizing your matchmaking easier, even though the system in general is inferior, because you don’t have to deal with the trying to put your spot down in the right area problem you get in Dark Souls. You can handle all of that from the world map.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-08-19 13-57-46

Character Development

Character development at base level is similar between Dark Souls and Nioh. In Dark Souls you have nine stats that can be advanced one at a time in exchange for souls. In Nioh you have eight. These stats improve certain specific features of your character and make them better able to handle certain weapons, armor, skills, and general performance. It’s the same system. But the gear development and aesthetics systems are much more robust and user friendly in Nioh.

Developing weapons in Dark Souls is done by going to a black smith and trading materials and souls to level up a weapon. You can slightly differentiate the development of weapons by using different materials to take new development paths. The weapon’s performance is based solely on stats depending on the development paths you’ve taken with the specific weapon. In Nioh, you don’t level up weapons until the end game/NG+ when you get divine weapons, but that’s not relevant to a first play through. Weapons are split into five categories based on rarity (color in menu) which kind of translates to potential. The same is true for armor in all respects except familiarity, which I’ll explain. You can get the same piece of gear at any of the five rarity types. The rarity level defines how many natural enhancements it has and its maximum familiarity potential. Familiarity is essentially how much the attack stat on any weapon can increase with use. The highest possible familiarity is 999, but this is only available on divine items after beating the final main story missions. During the first playthrough, 900 is the maximum possible familiarity. So your goal is to get purple, the rarest type, rarity gear for all your items because it offers the highest familiarity bonus for weapons and the most natural enhancements on gear. Natural enhancements can be anything. Sometimes it’s more damage against certain enemy types. Sometimes it’s higher amrita (souls) yields. It can be resistance to certain types of damage or increased damage of a certain type. Even lower weight and blacksmith costs can appear as a gear enhancement. So even when you find a rare item with high starting stats, it might not be the enhancements that work best for you. That’s OK in Nioh though because you have the ability to reforge and evolve items. Gear can be broken down and crafted into new things. Gear can be absorbed into other gear to make it stronger, or weaker if you combine something stupid. You can even forge new stats into gear.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-08-18 20-32-40

In Dark Souls you don’t really have techniques. You have gear of various types and stats. But fighting is focused on the technical aspects of using that gear and applying it to the combat situation you’re in. There are heavy and light attacks and some charge moves, but that about does it for what you can do. Nioh has specialty techniques that you develop with special points in either samurai, ninja, or mage categories. These techniques can be specific combos, buffs, spells, specialty items, and specific moves. Many of them are tied to specific stances within specific weapon types. You can get really technical in this game if you want to and mastering certain techniques can make all the difference.

Appearance

Nioh has one the best appearance systems I’ve seen in any Soulslike game ever, and it doesn’t even have a character creator. Dark Souls lets you create your character, but you are stuck looking like whatever armor you are wearing, regardless of how bad it looks. It the problem of so many RPGs. Your best stuff doesn’t look cool and your cool stuff doesn’t perform the best. Nioh gets around this by letting you refashion gear. Any piece of gear you find can be skinned over to look like any other piece of gear regardless of what it is. Some gear looks awesome and some gear looks like trash. But with refashioning you just spend a modest amount of gold (modest for the end-game anyway) and you can make that awesome piece of gear look like whatever gear set you like. In my case I use the best mid-weight gear I have but I refashioned it to look like the DLC gold set, because I’m a sucker for shiny gold gear. I have the performance I need to succeed, and I shine while doing it. You can refashion weapons as well. Some weapons look so cool with elaborate designs and paint jobs, while others are boring and devoid of color. But appearance has nothing to do with performance. That’s why the refashioning system is so important.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-08-20 23-31-02

Nioh may let you customize your gear to look however you want, but you can’t create your own character. You play as William, a British white man with blonde hair. The only customization you have for him is his hair style. But what is nice is that you can get transformations. As mentioned previously, there is a third currency called glory. You can only get this from killing revenants. It can be used to buy special crafting materials, but what it’s most useful for is buying transformations. You have the ability to transform William into any character you meet in the game. That includes villains you face and female characters. You just buy the transformations with glory and you can change your appearance an unlimited number of times to whatever transformations you own.  Transformations do not affect gameplay or stats. It’s a nice way to let players look the way they want to in case you get tired of being a blonde white man running around killing monsters in Japan. For instance, I like being a Black Samurai, based on a historical character you duel later in the game.

End-Game

Both Nioh and Dark Souls have NG+ modes, but what’s nice about Nioh is that it has actual end-game content that takes place within your first playthrough. Defeating the final story stage unlocks several bonus sub-missions as well as more story that connects into the DLC. You also get a new class of items after you complete the final level, which can be used for this end-game content before you start a NG+ run. I will probably never play NG+ but I still have several hours of play to look forward to in Nioh before I put it on the shelf for good. I have never played past beating the final boss in Dark Souls or Bloodborne, because I simply had no reason to and have no interest in replaying the same game.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-08-19 13-41-06

What’s nice about the NG+ though is that it’s directly connected to your original playthrough. It’s not even called NG+. It’s referred to as “Way of the Strong”. From the world map you can switch between normal play and NG+ play from the same file as often as you like. The NG+ levels are the same stages with higher difficulty and better rewards but you don’t have to have a completely separate playthrough from your original. This is nice because it allows you grind with better yields or in normal difficulty at the same time, taking advantage of either depending on what your goals/needs are. And the DLC content is attached in the same way so you can always jump around to play whatever you want at any time. This is made possible because of the level based structure mentioned previously. So while I don’t see myself finishing NG+, I may very well run a few stages for better gear that I can then use to complete the end-game missions and DLC. It’s the best of all worlds.

I want to be clear in saying that I am not arguing that Nioh is superior to Dark Souls. I am arguing that Nioh is not a clone of Dark Souls. It’s part of the Soulslike genre which started with Demon’s Souls, but it is an original game with considerably different design choices, aesthetic, and gameplay. As with any two franchises or even just individual games, there are both good and bad things about both Nioh and Dark Souls and there’s no reason to ignore one simply because it’s not the other. If you haven’t played Nioh but you do play Dark Souls then I highly encourage you to try it out. Especially with the sequel on the way.

 

cropped-blog-logo.png
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Ant-Man & the Wasp Review – 7/10

I really liked the first Ant-Man (2015). It’s a very small, pun not intended, very personal story about a man just trying to do right by his kid while also trying to do the right thing and be the hero his kid wants him to be. And I think the story is made even stronger by the fact that he, Scott Lang, is ultimately recruited by Hank Pym, because he’s literally in the exact same situation. In a lot of ways it’s a story about fathers trying to give their daughters the lives they deserve. It’s not a huge plot with a super villain that’s threatening the whole world. The antagonist is just a scientist trying to make a name for himself with a technology that if put in the wrong hands could have terrible consequences. And yes it could end up changing the world, but the narrative keeps the story very enclosed within San Francisco to a small number of people. But that’s not what I wanted from the sequel.

ant-man-and-the-wasp-ghost-hannah-john-kamen

Ant-Man & the Wasp is set about two years after Captain America 3: Civil War and at the same time as Avengers: Infinity War, which Ant-Man does not appear in. In fact, it’s not until the very end of Ant-Man & the Wasp that they even make reference to Thanos and it’s very clear that’s it’s already too late for Ant-Man to even consider getting involved with that problem. Ant-Man & the Wasp is also a small scale plot with a limited number of players that again centers on the idea of fathers trying to protect and please their daughters. The difference is that in this film, romance, for both fathers from the first film, plays a larger role in the narrative. In many ways I would say this plot is even smaller than the first film. It’s not about trying to protect the world from a certain technology. There’s no evil scientist. Really there’s not even a proper villain. The film plays a lot more like Snatch (2000) where you have a number of different groups all seeking the same object for their own purposes, but none of them are out to do anything particularly good or bad with said object.

ant_master-2

One character, and his cronies, is out to sell the object for profit, but he’s not a super villain or particularly threatening. He doesn’t even really hurt anyone. He just wants the money. And at the beginning of the film he sincerely offers Team Ant-Man the chance to work together with him for profit, but they say no. The second group, which was sold as the villain in the marketing, is by no means a villain. She has a legitimate problem that is life threatening and she believes that it can only be solved by robbing Team Ant-Man so she’s trying to do that. But she doesn’t have some nefarious end goal and she doesn’t actually want to hurt people. She’s just in a bad situation. Finally, you have Team Ant-Man and they’re just as selfish as everyone else. They have a goal that won’t help anyone outside of Hank and Hope. It’s not going to hurt anyone, but by no means is it heroic or particularly noble. It’s just a self-serving goal that will enrich their personal lives. And it won’t even help Scott. In fact, the entire film is about how Hank and Hope are forcing Scott to help them even though he’s on house arrest with a few days left in his sentence and if he gets caught using the Ant-Man suit or leaving his house he’ll have to go back to prison and lose his daughter. So really the movie isn’t even about Ant-Man being a hero. It’s about Hank and Hope making Ant-Man help them get something they really want.

Ant_Man_Wasp_Luis

The problem with this small, in many ways pointless narrative, is that it takes place after having already seen Captain America 3: Civil War, which is mentioned a number of times, and Avengers: Infinity War. In terms of Ant-Man, I wanted more. This is no longer the ex-convict just trying to get his life back together. This is a man who fought alongside the Avengers, against other Avengers, and lived. This is a man who we believed had escaped with Captain America at the end of Civil War. Not to mention, we’ve already seen Avengers: Infinity War. Who cares about this little vignette about the lives of the Pym family? I expect Ant-Man to be playing at Avengers level now. That doesn’t mean every Ant-Man movie needs to have other Avengers in it, but it does mean that the stories have to really matter. In Thor: Ragnarok, Asgard was destroyed. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the entire universe was saved from a mad celestial trying to replace all life with himself. In Doctor Strange, an infinity stone was revealed and the world was almost plunged into darkness by an evil being from a magical dimension. Ant-Man & the Wasp, which is not a debut film for the main title character, is about the same scale as Spider-Man: Homecoming as far as importance. Except Scott Lang isn’t a high school kid. And even in that Iron Man shows up. This film just under does it in a time where the MCU and the character are way past the kid gloves.

Ant-Man-Wasp

I don’t want it to seem like the film was badly written, because it wasn’t. It was much funnier than the first one. The acting was great, including that of Michael Peña reprising his role as the over talkative friend. And most importantly, they really leaned into technology in this one. In the first movie, shrinking is used sparingly. It’s an origin film where Scott is just learning how to use it and really it’s under-utilized outside of a few fight sequences and sneaking around. In Ant-Man & the Wasp they use shrinking and growing a ton and it’s great. It was used realistically, as in they actually use it for pretty much all the things you would use it for if you had that technology at your fingertips. My only real complaint about the technology aspect was that way too many malfunctions occurred. It’s fair for a malfunction to happen once, especially at a really crucial moment. But there were multiple scenes where Scott’s suit, and only Scott’s suit, was malfunctioning. This was used for comic relief multiple times. But this is the second movie. By now the bugs should have been ironed out. Especially when they’re doing stuff like shrinking entire buildings and growing ants to the size of people. It just felt very lazy to keep playing the suit not working card over and over.

giant man

As per all MCU films, the movie looked great. The shrinking and growing effects were very clean. The cinematography was solid. The costumes looked good. The sound was fine. I was happy with the soundtrack. It’s by every measureable standard a modern day Marvel film. But it was by no means in the top five or probably even top 10 MCU films. In a lot of ways it felt pointless. It introduced the Wasp and possibly a couple other important reoccurring characters, but the film itself didn’t accomplish much. Like they very well could have sent the Wasp with Ant-Man in Civil War, which is brought up in this film, and it would have accomplished exactly the same thing. Unless they really leverage the two other possibly important characters introduced in future films, this was pretty much the same thing we got in Ant-Man except now he has a partner. Ant-Man & the Wasp is not a bad film, but I could literally tell you everything you need to know about it in one sentence. In a lot of ways it’s one of the only films in the MCU where I could say you could really just skip it and it probably won’t affect the rest of the MCU, or your experience of it, that much.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Ready Player One Review – 7.3/10

Let me start off this review by clarifying that I never read the book Ready Player One and I have no contextual understanding of how the movie compares to the book. So I’m going to write this review as if the book doesn’t exist or is not relevant to the discussion.

I went into Ready Player One very reluctantly. As I said, I haven’t read the book so I didn’t know what to expect. There was also a ton of hype, which for me is usually a turn off for IPs that I’m not already familiar with. I then read a review of the film from either Kotaku or IGN. I can’t remember but whichever site it was painted the film in a bad light. Or at least that’s how I read it. So I wasn’t very interested or that excited but I agreed to go see it at the behest of a friend. Before we get into the meat and potatoes, let me state very clearly that it was an enjoyable film that I’m glad I watched, but that’s only because of who I am or more specifically the things I’m interested in.

lead_960_540If I was to describe Ready Player One in a soft pitch, I would say it’s the 80’s pastiche of films like Back to the Future and the cultural outlook that spawned them, the modern cynicism of the current gaming community induced by greedy corporate interests in the gaming industry, and our hopes and dreams for futuristic technology a la Tron, or more appropriately Tron: Legacy, all mixed together into one dystopian landscape. Yes that’s a lot to unpack, so let’s get to it.

Ready Player One is a simple film. Plot wise it’s just any other good vs evil kid’s story with a dash of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The basic idea is that there’s a kid who comes from humble/poor beginnings and he wants to not be poor anymore. And by kid I mean young person who doesn’t have a real job or any actual responsibilities. The age of the main character, Wade Watts (Parzival) is actually 18, or soon to be, and since he doesn’t seem to be in school, legally speaking that makes him an adult. There’s a contest that can only have one winner, who will be made rich and put in charge of everything the kid cares about. There’s an evil entity (corporation in this case) trying to win the contest and take the prize for themselves. The kid teams up with other kids and they stop the evil corporation and win the contest. It’s Stranger Things. It’s It. It’s Star Wars. You’ve seen it all before. The plot isn’t really why you’re here. Yes this is a Spielberg film, but no it’s not a SPIELBERG film. Outside of effects and costume design, this movie will not be winning any Oscars. And that’s fine. But to be clear, this is no high minded plot about the future of technology. It’s just a kid’s fantasy story set to the backdrop of VR gaming in a world that actually looks like it’s on the horizon with the way things are going politically in the United States currently.

 

READY PLAYER ONE

The film was clearly written by a team of nerds who play video games today, but also played them yesterday. This is apparent because the film makes tons of references to games and pop culture going all the way back to the Atari 2600 and all the way to today with references like Overwatch. What I liked a lot about the movie was that it discusses and criticizes the direction the gaming industry has taken/is taking today. There are covert digs at companies like EA, Activision, and Microsoft for their predatory pricing and distribution practices. The movie mentions and complains about practices like in game ads, microtransactions, predatory pricing practices that turn people into gaming addicts and plunge them into debt, pay to play subscription schemes with cost based player rankings, paywalls, and other such modern industry bullshit. In many ways the movie is about an old schooler who created a video game that he thought was perfect, complaining about all the modern practices that turned his video game and gaming culture as a whole into the trashy money pit that it is today. This is very apparent in the fact that the villains aren’t actually evil in the traditional sense. They’re just a corporation trying to maximize profits at the expense of the public’s wellbeing and enjoyment. And while yes they are doing things that are extremely unethical, in most cases, just about everything they do is entirely legal by the standards of the world of the universe they’re located in. And sadly legal by our real life standards as well, for the most part. It’s not until way late into the movie when the stakes get super high that the “bad” CEO finally approves something blatantly evil and illegal. But even that was very believable by today’s standards.

As previously stated, there are tons of references to gaming culture of all types, but there are also tons of references to 80’s culture. This for me was kind of problematic. Now as a person who was born in 89, I enjoyed and appreciated literally every reference. I can say confidently that I probably got at least 90% of all references in the movie. And not just the gaming ones. There’s all kinds of stuff mentioned or shown in this film. Batman, Mortal Kombat, The Shining, Back to the Future, King Kong, Gundam, Godzilla, and the list goes on and on and on. But here’s the weird part. The gaming references span basically all of gaming history from the Atari 2600 all the way to today. You see tons of gaming stuff and you will know at least some of it. They even mention Twitch. But all the pop culture references outside of gaming seem to only span from about 1979 – 1999, with the latest overt reference being The Iron Giant (1999).

scoreboard

Understand that this is a world set in 2045 where there’s a fully functioning VR world where you can literally create anything you want and be anything you want. As you can imagine, most people would not be original. They would just be copying things they know from their favorite IPs. The movie actually goes out of its way to pretend that this wouldn’t be the case. There are lots of avatars that are pulled right out of other stuff like people walking around looking like Arkham Harley Quinn, Tracer, Master Chief, and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, admittedly the newer versions. But for the most part people are pretty original. The bulk of the Avatars you see aren’t from other stuff. We all know that’s not how things would actually be because most people lack originality. I assume part of this was licensing issues and part of it was just that it would be boring if everything was something you’d already seen even if that’s how it would actually end up being. But my point is the scope of history referenced outside of gaming is extremely limited. It’s 2018. The main character was born in 2027. The movie starts in 2045. Why doesn’t the film reference anything past 1999? It’s odd. It’s made even more odd by the fact that the kid was born in 2027 because he knows way too much about the 80’s while also being an active member of his current society at only 18 years old.

Now the movie tries to justify this by saying that in his research to win the contest he had to study the 80’s intimately because the creator of the contest loved 80’s stuff. But the creator of the contest lived into the 2020’s or later. So the idea that he didn’t like or care about anything after 1999 is odd. It’s as if pop culture history stopped existing outside of video games for 30 straight years. Since we’re in 2018 now, we know this not to be true. Where are the Marvel references? Where are the 30 years of film history references? Where are all the anime references past the original Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)? Where’s Harry Potter? It’s weird that these kids seem to only like 80’s stuff as if literally nothing past the year 2000 outside of video games was interesting to a group of kids born after the year 2020. Even most kids today don’t know what an Atari 2600 is. Yet this kid somehow had time to learn intimate knowledge of all 470 (including homebrews) Atari 2600 games while keeping up with his own contemporary pop culture, but literally nothing else? That seems unrealistic.

The Race

Now of course part of this comes from the fact that the book was written in 2011 by an author who was born in 1972. But we’re talking about a movie released in 2018. I would expect producers to have taken the time to fill in some history for the purposes of film making and reaching a larger audience. You know, to make money. For me, this closed bubble of history was fun because again, I was born in 89 and I like 80’s stuff. So I got and appreciated all the references. But a kid born in say 2002, who today would be about 16, won’t get most of it. Sadly they might not even recognize the car, which is the DeLorean. But that’s not their fault. They were born 12 years after the last time the DeLorean mattered (Back to the Future III) and 19 years after the original DeLorean went out of production. Of course they wouldn’t know what a DeLorean is. My point, which I’ve gone on for too long to make, is that the writing in this movie overall is just ok, that is to say at the caliber of 80’s mainstream film making. Things are done lazily when it comes to plot. There are inconsistencies in how history works. The main character falls in love way too fast, which I was glad the film took the time to address in the dialog. It’s just not a movie you should go see for plot. Unless of course you enjoy campy 80’s style plots. Then by all means.

Visually speaking, Ready Player One was phenomenal. That is the only word that can be used to describe The Oasis, the VR world that the bulk of the film takes place in. The idea is that the real world is so shitty that everyone, and I mean everyone, spends the bulk of their time in The Oasis. Again, very realistic based on the current trajectory of the United States. The whole of the movie takes place in a dystopian Columbus, Ohio. Even by today’s standards most people wouldn’t want to watch a move that takes place in Columbus, Ohio. People from Columbus, Ohio don’t even want to watch a movie that takes place in Columbus, Ohio. So it made all the sense in the world to set the movie there because then you wouldn’t think to yourself “Why don’t they spend more time showing me the real world?” Not once do you think that while watching this movie. In fact, the 20 or so real world minutes of this 2 hour and 19 minute film was probably too much time spent in real world Columbus, Ohio. But The Oasis was the most amazing thing ever, visually speaking.

RP1-ColumbusI almost went to see this movie in IMAX and I’m glad I didn’t because I think my head would have exploded. The race scene, which was probably my favorite scene in the whole movie, was insane. It was the way racing games will hopefully work one day. I would say the same thing for the FPS world scene. I hate online PVP games. I would absolutely play them if they looked and played like they do in this movie. When you watch this movie as a gamer, it almost brings tears to your eyes because you realize what we don’t have yet and that you might not live long enough to see it happen but know full well that one day it will. I was so overcome with disappointment when I got home from the theater and turned on my PS4. Because it just doesn’t compare. Our VR today is crap. I’ve said that so many times before I ever even heard about Ready Player One. And they actually do make an HTC VIVE reference in the movie, which I thought was cute. But once you watch the movie you start to really think about just how crappy current VR is . . . and make no mistake, it is crappy. It is a gorgeous movie. There’s tons of stuff happening on screen at the same time and it’s hard to keep track of it all, but it’s beautiful. And the war scene towards the end will break a gamer’s heart. Not because it looks cool, even though it does. But because as a gamer, you know that the community today is too greedy, toxic, and narcissistic to actually pull off something like what happens in that scene. The movie basically shows you the fantasy of every true gamer, but you know it would never happen that way in real life. I’m speaking vaguely here because I don’t want to spoil it.

The sound was also really good. I actually could see this movie winning an Oscar for sound editing. My girlfriend said the movie was too loud for her because of all the explosions and crazy stuff happening on screen at the same time. I thought it was awesome.

 

War

Overall I really enjoyed the movie. I didn’t think I would going in, but it was just a really fun time. My girlfriend said she didn’t get more than a third of the references but she really enjoyed it too. It’s not a movie to go watch for expert film making and award winning acting. It’s just a playful homage to gaming culture and history written for actual gamers who grew up playing proper games and are now having to deal with the fact that things have gotten rather disappointing and expensive in exchange for considerably better graphics, but actually not that great by comparison to future VR prospects. If you’re a gamer and you started before the XBOX, you’ll love the movie. If you’re not a gamer and you didn’t grow up in the 80’s or 90’s, you probably won’t like it or even totally understand why anything happening is important.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Star Fox 2: The Soft Review

In 1993, one of the greatest and most influential flying based rail shooters ever made was released. This was of course Star Fox for the SNES. I’ve always had a love hate relationship with the game. As a kid, I poured many hours into it, but never was able to beat it. In fact, I’m fairly confident I never passed the third level as a child. I struggled consistently with level two, the asteroid field. It was too fast paced and difficult for me to play it confidently as a boy. But I kept playing the game anyway. And I kept losing. But I never stopped liking the game. Some years later the N64 was released and in 1997 my favorite of the Star Fox games, still to this day, was released. Star Fox 64, like every other core Star Fox game, is just a fancier recreation of the original SNES game. It doesn’t matter which version of the core game you’re playing on whatever platform. You’re always playing the same general game. The graphics, controls, and available vehicles change and improve over time, but it’s always the same story, levels, and characters in the same basic order and the same awesome looking map. For a different Star Fox experience you have to go to one of the few alternative titles like Star Fox Adventures (2002) or Star Fox Assault (2005), both for the GameCube. Both excellent games, in my opinion, because they are so different from the core games. They are also made by different teams than the core games.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-03-14 19-43-53

While most people have probably played at least one core Star Fox game, very few have had the pleasure of playing Star Fox 2 (2017). This game has an odd and colorful story. It was originally developed for the SNES to be released in 1996 but was cancelled with the impending release of the N64. It wasn’t until 2017 with the release of the SNES Classic console, and much pleading/begging from fans, that the public was finally given access to this game. This is the main reason I bought that console. As a diehard Star Fox fan, I absolutely had to play this game. I was fortunate enough to find a store that had imported the American version of the console to Taiwan, because I can’t read Japanese . . . After first finally beating the original Star Fox on the SNES Classic, I immediately played Star Fox 2.

StarFox 2

I want to talk about this game, and honestly I meant to weeks ago, but haven’t had the time to do a proper write up before now. But I don’t want to do a formal review. Let me be perfectly clear. If you are given the opportunity, and don’t already run emulators, you should buy the SNES Classic. This is one of the best gaming purchases I’ve made in a long time. If you grew up in the SNES era, this is a must buy console whether you’re a Star Fox fan or not. This console has given me the ability to go back and play some of the best games from my childhood and I’m actually beating them finally. Of the 22 games provided on the console, I had actually only completed one of them (Donkey Kong Country) on the original SNES. To be fair, I only owned four of the games provided on the SNES Classic, but this console has just about all the must play titles. And I am so happy that I’m finally getting to beat them. So again, even if you don’t give two shits about Star Fox 2 you should still buy an SNES Classic if you have the chance. But I want to take the time to discuss Star Fox 2 specifically in greater detail.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from Star Fox 2 going in. It could have been just another rails shooter or a completely different genre altogether. I didn’t know what the story would be or who the villain was. Assuming it was directly connected to the original Star Fox, Andross was supposedly dead already. So really I had no idea what the game was going to be.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-03-14 19-41-08

Star Fox 2 is a completely different animal from Star Fox, but it, like all the core sequels assumes no prior games have taken place. You go up against Andross like in all the other core games, and have a very similar all range mode fight against his head. But that’s pretty much the only similarity other than recurring characters and the Lylat System setting. For starters, the game is not on rails. Every level is in all range mode. The levels are different. You do not follow a strict pre-mapped path and the levels on the new map aren’t the same as those from the original game. The map is open, meaning you can travel around it freely and complete levels in whatever order you want, with a few caveats. Also very notable, you don’t have to play as Fox McCloud. There are six playable characters, two of which are never before seen female characters. You choose two of the six at the beginning of the game and can complete the entire game with just those two. There are also three difficulty levels, one of which is locked at the start of the game. This game plays more like a real time strategy shooter than a mission based rail shooter. You are given the ultimate goal of reaching and defeating Andross but to do that you have to accomplish certain key tasks on the map as well as prevent enemy forces from destroying Corneria. The game keeps you active even in the map portion of the game. You have to take into account shield levels, enemy locations, incoming missile strikes, and there’s a timer. It’s like no other game I can remember playing in that era.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-03-14 19-42-15

Visually speaking, it’s on the same level as Star Fox. But because of the smaller all range mode levels, there’s a lot less detail in specific stages. Much of the game is played in first person view for your space flying missions and the planetary missions have you switch between Arwing and Walker modes in real time. It does have a much more advanced HUD though, including a mini-map. Plot wise there’s not as much going on as the first game, but that’s because the game is active the whole way through. You’re kind of writing the plot as you go. There is dialog though. The game controls fairly well for the SNES era. I would say it’s on par with Star Fox but also calls for finer movements in a number of indoor missions that require but don’t force you to use the Walker mode. All in all, I think it’s very different but actually a really solid game for the time.

Monster Hunter World Beta Screenshot 2017-12-28 21-57-41

The true shame of Star Fox 2 is that it wasn’t released as planned in 1996. In my honest opinion, it was very revolutionary for the time. For instance, the Walker is a key part of the gameplay. In the core games the Walker was only just made available in the latest version, Star Fox Zero (2016), for the Wii U. I was shocked to discover that they had this vehicle playable all the way back in 1996. Looking back, I think of all the great games that never were because this game didn’t get released to inspire them. Playing it today, there’s really nothing new here, except for maybe two playable female characters in a Nintendo game that’s not Smash Bros or Mario Kart . . . You’ve seen all the stuff this game has to offer by 2017 if you’ve been gaming since the original Star Fox. But you really hadn’t seen it all in 1996. Even Star Fox 64 didn’t have everything Star Fox 2 has to offer. Certainly no vehicle morphing and multiple space based levels in all range mode. I feel like this game would have inspired a ton of games that we never got to play and it could have easily influenced the Star Fox franchise more than it already did. Imagine if there was an entire second branch of Star Fox games based on Star Fox 2 that released in each gen along with the core games. Or they could have eventually merged the two into one bigger, more versatile game. As a big Star Fox fan, I feel kind of like I was cheated out of some great games all because this game was never released in its heyday.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-03-14 19-41-22

Ultimately I’m glad that I got the opportunity to play Star Fox 2. I’m glad they released it and I’m glad I got to experience it. I hope they do make another game inspired directly by this one. In reality it’s not very long and can be completed in less than 40 minutes so technically they could just add a mode to the next core Star Fox game. If you get the opportunity, I definitely recommend you give it a shot.

If you’re curious about seeing the game in part or its entirety, I published the entire Normal Mode playthrough on my YouTube channel.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Black Panther – More a Social Commentary than a Review

Three days ago I saw Black Panther. It surprised me in many ways. It took me about a day to really mull over the film before I felt comfortable putting my thoughts about the film to text.

Let me start by saying that, like the title clearly states, this isn’t really a traditional film review. If you want to know whether or not you should go see the movie, that’s an easy question to answer. Yes, you should absolutely go see Black Panther. It’s a well-made film worthy of the Marvel name. It is not the best installment within the MCU ever made, nor is it the worst. I’d place it somewhere in the top half but I’d have to do a thorough ranking review before I could give it a specific placement within the Marvel hierarchy. It’s a beautiful, well written, excellently acted, great sounding movie and there is no reason any MCU fan shouldn’t see this film. And really, because of the way it was written, even if you’re not a committed MCU fan, this movie is still very good and very watchable. Similar to Ant-Man, the plot is very small and enclosed within the world of a specific character, in this case Black Panther and Wakanda, without really spilling into the rest of the MCU, save for the post credits sequence, which honestly gives you no information that the Avengers: Infinity War trailer hadn’t already given us. There are a total of two characters, not including T’Challa or any other Wakandans, with speaking roles that you’ve seen in past films plus one more in the after credits short. Both of these two have only been seen in one previous MCU film, don’t have special powers, and are of little consequence to the overall plot of the film, though they do have some important impacts on the events that take place. Even placing Black Panther on the MCU time line is very negotiable because of the way it was written. The only thing we know for absolute certainty is that it takes place after Captain America 3: Civil War, and with the inclusion of the after credits sequence, most likely but not necessarily before Avengers: Infinity War if we disregard the traditional notice at the very end that says “Black Panther will return in Avengers: Infinity War”.

Wakanda
The majority of the film takes place in Wakanda.

From a neutral film-making/viewing standpoint, with no bias towards race or specific characters, I only had two minor complaints about the film. The first was that it felt short. Not under written, but short. This is strange because the film has a 135 minute runtime. I think most people would agree that when you leave a film wanting more and also don’t feel like the plot left unanswered holes that should have been addressed, it’s the mark of a good film. That’s exactly how I felt leaving Black Panther. The second, which I don’t actually believe has any real bearing on the film, is that the soundtrack was too limited. The trailers sold this film as if it was going to be the Black equivalent of Tron: Legacy (2010). As in, even if the movie sucks, which I’m not saying about either Black Panther or Tron: Legacy, you’ll still get a movie chock-full of amazing music from amazing music artists. In the case of Tron: Legacy that meant Daft Punk and they absolutely delivered on the music front. In Black Panther that means Kendrick Lamar among, or at least that’s what I was led to believe, a number of other music artists. That’s not what I got from Black Panther. Or if I did it was done in a very covert way and most of the music, which at many times I was actively listening for when viewing the film, was undercut too heavily by the movie’s sound effects. The only song I was genuinely moved by was the end credits song by Kendrick Lamar. And that’s mostly because the rest of the music just didn’t stand out to me during the movie. I don’t feel that the movie provided the audience bad music. In fact I’d say that what I actually heard was really good music. But it was few and far between as far as number of tracks that stood out. Which again, I only cared about and even noticed because of the way the film was packaged in the trailers and music, specifically “Black music”, was a big part of that marketing.

Though I don’t personally subscribe to the number based review system, because of how detrimental it is to both the overall image of films and because it prevents many people from taking the time to actually read reviews, I always play along because it’s a standard entertainment media review norm. I would rate this film an 8.4/10, which in my book is a very good score for a film, video game, or any other form of entertainment media. I would absolutely watch any movie scored a 7 or higher from someone with my level of experience reviewing entertainment media and my educational background (B.A. in Cinema Studies) so I don’t feel like my giving this movie an 8.4 should be considered a put off in any way. But I’m sure at least one person will take that score as low, not actually read the rest of my “review”, and move on with their day. But ultimately my point, which again is not the actual intention of this post which is far from being over, is that you should definitely go watch Black Panther from a purely film making and comic book movie viewing standpoint.

cast

From here on out there will be a great many SPOILERS and an in depth analysis of the plot, or at least important portions of it so if you have not seen the movie and you actually care, you have been given fair warning.

I want to discuss Black Panther speaking/viewing specifically as an African American. So obviously we’re about to talk about the racial politics of the film both on and off screen. If you’re not prepared for that then you may want to stop reading now. You’ve been warned. That’s not to imply in any way that only African Americans or Black people should read and/or comment on the rest of this post. All people are invited to read and discuss the opinions laid out here and I hope you take the time to do so. I’m merely stating my perspective and inherent bias when viewing and discussing the film from a social/political standpoint.

The first thing I want to say is that the plot of Black Panther very much surprised me. I went in not exactly sure what I was going to get because no other live action Black Panther film has ever been made to the best of my knowledge. This meant that unless you watched the animated stuff, of which there are only a few options, at least one of which I find/found very stereotypical and offensive, or actively read (about) or at least researched the character then you really had no background information on him outside of what was shown in Captain America 3: Civil War. So I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a traditional origin story or a day in the life plot that assumes knowledge the viewer may or may not have. I was actually very happy with the way the film wrapped up the character’s (Black Panther not specifically T’Challa) origin myth very early and actively used that explanation throughout the film to inform the viewer about certain plot occurrences such as the involvement but ultimate lack of inclusion concerning the Jabari Tribe and their leader M’Baku, who is a reference to Man-Ape and the White Gorilla Cult. The one thing I can say for sure is that I went into the film expecting this to be a very straight forward good versus evil plot with a hero and villain and as the hero in this film is ethnically Black, and more specifically African, I of course expected the villain to be White.

mbaku
M’Baku and the Jabari Tribe

Black Panther starts off by pretending to confirm my bias induced plot expectations. The first 30 – 40 minutes of the film make it come off as if this is going to be a movie about T’Challa, a Black African leading a country of exclusively Black people, fighting against Klaw (Ulysses Klaue), a literal Nazi who in at least one timeline was personally sent by Adolf Hitler to Wakanda to steal their secrets. In fact, early on in the film we’re told that 30 years prior to the modern day events of the film Klaw snuck into Wakanda, stole a ton of Vibranium, and killed several people including the parents of T’Challa’s best friend and the leader of possibly the strongest military tribe within Wakanda with the debatable exception of the Dora Milaje, the badass, super tall, bald personal security squad of the King of Wakanda. This is all set up early on in the film very well to lead the viewer to believe that they’re about to get a normal and mostly predictable Black person/people versus White person/people plot. And as a Black person living in 2018, I’ll be completely honest and say that I would have been completely ok with that. Is it interesting writing? No. Is it out of the box plot development? No. Do Black people both need and appreciate straight forward forms of entertainment like that right now? I think it’s fair to say yes. That’s not to say that all our entertainment should be that way or even most of it but as a race we definitely need those easy wins at least some of the time. But to my great surprise, Black Panther is not that film . . . and ultimately that’s a good thing but the reasons for that when viewed in the context of the world and industry outside of the film can be read in a number of different ways ranging anywhere from introspective to pessimistic and sinister.

dora-milaje
The Dora Milaje

Klaw, played by the great Andy Serkis, is setup as the epitome of evil and antithesis of Black people, literally referring to Wakandans, arguably the most technologically advanced society on the planet within the world of the film, as savages on multiple occasions knowing full well that they are the most technologically advanced society on the planet. The viewer is led to believe that he’s a powerfully troublesome villain with Mark Hamill Joker level psychopathy, a Heath Ledger Joker level strategic mind, and technologically advanced firepower. A big part of this character is due to the excellent, but ultimately short lived performance by Andy Serkis. Though as a Black person I’m not supposed to say it in reference to a film like this, he, yes a White man, gave the best performance in the movie. Granted his character was the only one that isn’t traditionally written as stoic and emotionally controlled within this particular story. And any experienced, socially aware Black film viewer knows exactly why that is. Black people are often presented as overly emotional, comedic, and illogical in their film characterizations so presenting the Wakandans as such not only would have broken canon, but also done a disservice to the image of Black people in cinema, which we should all be able to agree goes against the supposed intention of this particular film. Especially considering that two of the three credited writers for the script are Black. It’s for this reason that Klaw was able to stand out among the rest of the B characters in the movie.

Klaw
Klaw (Ulysses Klaue)

After setting up this very black and white plot, the movie flipped and tossed my expectations out the window. I referred to Andy Serkis’ performance of Klaw as “short lived” because literally minutes after he escapes capture from both T’Challa and the CIA, with the help of two Black people mind you, he gets killed. And by killed I mean shot point blank, by a Black guy, from Oakland, in an almost gang style execution. It’s a very cathartic scene . . . after you’ve already seen the movie. The first time you watch this scene, you’re very surprised, but you don’t get to experience any of the emotional, social, and political overtones of the scene because of the sequence of events leading up to the killing and the person pulling the trigger. What you don’t know till the end of the movie is that Klaw’s executioner, Eric Stevens aka Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan, is a highly educated (I believe MIT), extremely well trained (US SPEC OPS), very socially and historically conscious, direct descendant of the Wakandan throne that had to live his entire life as a lower class African American orphan whose father was murdered by the previous Black Panther and King of Wakanda, who also happens to be his uncle. At this point in the film you also have pretty much zero knowledge of his motivations. All you really know is he’s Wakandan, he has murdered or assisted in the murder of several innocent people on screen, betrayed Klaw, who he was working for up until this moment, and literally in the same scene murdered his supposed girlfriend who also happens to be Black. So when you see this execution happen, you don’t get to experience all that cathartic goodness of seeing a well-educated African American/Wakandan Black man take down a murdering Nazi psychopath that very well may have murdered, not necessarily intentionally, members of his extended family in Wakanda three decades earlier. It’s made clear later in the film that this was all part of Killmonger’s grand scheme. His motivations are two fold because the only thing he seems to hate more than White racists and oppressors is Wakanda for their apathy towards other Black people suffering at the hands of White people around the world. So it was all intentional that he would use Wakanda’s greatest enemy to hurt them only to then turn around and betray him with a shot at point blank. And that’s really what makes this movie so interesting to watch for Black people. It’s a multi-layered web of social and political questions that occur in moral grey areas for the Black community.

killmonger vs black panther
Killmonger vs Black Panther

This film is difficult to watch as a Black person because it externalizes a longstanding internal debate that pretty much all non-upper class African Americans and presumably many Black people around the world have been thinking about for centuries. Killmonger is not a villain. He’s an anti-hero. He just happens to cause problems for T’Challa and Wakandan tradition, which paints a negative picture of him in the eyes of Black Panther for much of the film. But it’s important to note that even T’Challa feels guilty about Killmonger for most of the movie. It doesn’t help that they are actually cousins that had grown up not knowing each other. By the end of the film it’s safe to say that T’Challa not only sympathizes with Killmonger but actually puts his ideals into practice in a peaceful manner. But we’ll get to that later. Killmonger is one half of this internal debate and T’Challa is the other. By the end of the film we’re asked what the right answer is/was but really it’s impossible to say for sure what the right answer is when you’re a Black person with even a high school level of knowledge about the history of Black peoples around the world and how they have been affected/treated by White peoples. I use the term peoples here rather than people because there is not one homogenous group of White people responsible for all the atrocities against Blacks throughout history nor is their one homogenous group of Black people that have incurred all the suffering of these atrocities directly.

cousins

Wakanda is a literal Black utopia. It’s an idealized realization of Afrofuturism, a term that I don’t personally like using, that places Black people in the best of circumstances. It’s a society that is 100% pure blooded Black with no history of slavery, internal prejudice, unfair class divides, poverty, or even drug trafficking and/or addiction. The key premise of this society is that it has always existed, always been ahead of not just the Black curve but the entire Earth curve, and has always remained hidden in plain sight. It’s a culture steeped in ancient tradition that they have adhered to into the modern times even while advancing technologically and socially. This is seen in the fact that they have technologies that make Iron Man look like a kid playing with LEGOs and their entire research and development structure is run by a girl of no more than 20 years old (portrayed by Letitia Wright who is actually 24 in real life). They have advanced well beyond the rest of the world in every facet of technology including but not limited to medicine, weapons development, stealth technology, transportation, clothing production, mining, and even animal husbandry (loved that rhino scene). It is the ideal society of just about every Black person. Even the ones doing well would like to live in Wakanda. The most important tenant of Wakandan tradition is non-involvement with the rest of the world. They do not interfere, they do not give aid, they do not conquer, and they do not wage war even though they are very good at it. Though they do have spies hidden all over the world, their position is that it’s all simply not their problem. They believe, and have pretty much always believed, that in order to preserve their society they must remain hidden and uninvolved with the rest of the world. Publically they present themselves as a third world farming nation with sovereign borders and a functioning monarchist government. They are often referred to as third world within the film and refuse all trade and aid from all countries. They pretty much want everyone to think they’re a poor nation of uneducated farmers that have so little value as a country both economically and in natural resources that no one would even take the time to try to invade, conquer, or even visit their lands.

wakanda airship
Wakanda is possibly the most technologically advanced country on Earth.

The key reason for Wakanda’s seclusion is best expressed with a quote from T’Challa’s best friend W’Kabi, played by Daniel Kaluuya (the guy from Get Out). “If we let them in, they’ll bring their problems with them,” he says to T’Challa when asked his opinion about opening their borders and sharing their knowledge with the world. This is not a new idea. It’s not even an original one. We are currently dealing with this very debate right now in reference to Syrian refugees, illegal immigrants from South America, Muslim influence in the West, and a host of other immigration issues around the world. In general, many if not most people believe that foreign influence changes the way a country or culture works and often don’t see that as being a good thing. This is even more apparent when the country in question sees itself as being vastly superior to the country the immigrants come from. It’s the reason our President says things like “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?,” in reference to countries with predominantly Black and Latino populations and favors predominantly White countries like Norway. And if the supportive responses to his comments are any indication, he is clearly not alone in that opinion. This makes even more sense when we’re talking about a country like Wakanda where other people of any race could offer them literally zero benefits technologically, “steal” their technological advancements for their own countries, and in the case of White people, from a historical standpoint, would absolutely attempt to screw up their system of government and racial hierarchy. And many Black people agree with this position coming from the Wakandans. When I was watching the film, I didn’t feel angry or unsympathetic to their position. I understood it completely and had to really struggle over whether or not their position was acceptable. As a Christian, I was raised that when you can help people you should. But as an African American with a minor in history, I was/am very reluctant to support the idea of the Black utopia being ruined, and yes that is the correct word here, by outside influence, especially that of White people. Just look at something small like the history of gentrification in the United States to understand why an African American might feel this way. And let’s also remember that there are no actual laws saying any country has to help any other country fix their problems. Especially when we’re talking about a country with no actual treaties in place. Though Wakanda does appear at United Nations talks both in Black Panther and Captain America 3: Civil War, it’s never clearly stated that they’re even a member of the UN coalition. They have zero obligations to help struggling Black people in other countries or anyone for that matter. It would be nice, of course speaking as an African American, if Wakanda chose to help Black people around the world, because I would stand to gain in a such a scenario. But that’s a clear bias that clouds my objective judgement of the situation or would if it was actually happening and I was for whatever reason asked to give my opinion on the issue. And I feel the feelings I’ve expressed on this specific issue make sense to most people of all colors and are shared by many Black people.

w'kabi
“If we let them in, they’ll bring their problems with them.” -W’Kabi

Killmonger’s position is the exact opposite of T’Challa and most of, but not all of, Wakanda. He speaks as the lowest of the low African American. He was born and raised in Oakland until the age of, I believe, nine when his father was murdered, by the Wakandan King and contemporary Black Panther. His mother isn’t actually mentioned in the film but it’s assumed that she was already dead. His position, which is of course formed by his experiences and education, both of which are well expressed in the film, is that White people have and continue to mistreat and oppress Black people all over the world and Wakanda’s refusal to use their superior resources to help Black people throw off the chains of these White oppressors makes them complicit in the continued subjugation of all Black people. He is the physical manifestation of what Black people refer to as “The Revolution”. This is a half joking, half serious ideal that one day all Black people will collectively organize, rise up, and overthrow White oppression through the most extreme and historically relevant measures. Essentially imagine if tomorrow all Black people as a homogenized group picked up the same detailed history book, read all the ways that White people had hurt Black people in the past physically, emotionally, socially, and economically and then reapplied those same practices back towards White people en masse. So basically that means murder, enslavement, denial of education, denial of rights, physical abuse, and if we’re going to be completely honest with ourselves about how people actually behave one has to admit that there would be a large presence of rape and sexual abuse as well. That’s not to say that I’m personally advocating for any of that behavior, and to be clear I’m not. But it’s foolish to pretend like in this revolutionary scenario that Black people would magically apply their form of oppression with some sort of higher moral standing than literally every other application of oppression in any region in the history of the world. If it happened, it would the same way. The only difference would be that Black people would justify the behavior by referencing historical occurrences of the same behaviors in order to dilute the issue from being a serious problem. Killmonger’s position is that the only way to fix the world is to conquer it with Wakandan resources and advanced weaponry and then rule the world with an iron fist that places Black people on top and Whites at the bottom. He’s not seeking or advocating for peace. He’s arguing for revenge. But again, he feels justified in this positon because of his own personal experiences growing up as a lower class African American and because of his knowledge of history. And just like when thinking about Wakanda’s choice to remain uninvolved, Black people as a whole can definitely sympathize with Killmonger’s position. That’s not to say that all, or even most, Blacks support his position as the correct way to approach this issue. It’s just to be honest in saying that we fully understand and have no problem considering this position as one of multiple possible ways to fix our problems as a race.

the revolution
“The Revolution”

This is why Black Panther is so hard to watch for Black people. It’s not a straight forward good and evil plot. Once Klaw dies, there’s no real villain. There are simply two opposing opinions, both of which are valid because they’re advocating to help/protect Black people. The only difference is which Black people fall under that umbrella of protection and what’s the best way to do that. And it’s important to note that even before Killmonger shows up, T’Challa and his girlfriend, and presumably the future queen of Wakanda, Nakia already felt an obligation to try to help Black people outside of Wakanda. They didn’t agree on how to do that, but they both agreed that because they could do something they needed to try to do something. So this film tasks the Black viewer with having to choose between preserving the Black utopia or possibly destroying it by trying to help Black people around the world. And it does this by creating a Black versus Black plot that pretty much removes White people from the equation because it’s never assumed that White people couldn’t easily be defeated. Just that war with them may or may not be the correct course of action. Even now I still can’t say with absolute certainty which side of the argument I would side with in a real life scenario. And I know that many people who aren’t Black will take offense to that statement. They will accuse me of supporting racism for not vehemently opposing Killmonger’s position, while totally ignoring the fact that they make the same decision every day by having voted for and continually supporting the current President and administration of the United States, advocating against public healthcare, and fighting to essentially cease all immigration, legal or otherwise if we’re really being honest, of non-Whites. It’s the exact same thing. The only difference is I’m discussing theoretical fantasy scenarios shown in a Disney movie (See what I did there?) and they’re literally advocating to destroy and/or ruin actual people’s lives every day. So no I don’t feel guilty about my fence sitting on this issue. And I can say that as a person who not only has many close White friends and colleagues, but also as someone whose father is a White immigrant to the United States. I of course did not get to benefit from that because of my complexion, but my mixed blood heritage does factor into my opinions on such issues, even though I have always, not always by choice, identified as Black.

ritual combat

Now ultimately the film climaxes with a split decision on the issue. Killmonger takes the throne and begins his plot for benevolent, for specifically Black people at the expense of Whites, world domination, after believing that he had killed T’Challa in ritual combat, as was his right as a member of the royal bloodline. T’Challa had actually lived and returns to retake the throne after an epic battle sequence and the death of his cousin, Killmonger, at his hands. And he takes no joy in that killing. He even tries to save Killmonger’s life, but he refuses help because he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison, stating that death is superior to bondage by referencing slaves that chose to jump off the slave ships in the Middle Passage rather than accept their lives as slaves. Also a very powerful scene. T’Challa’s response to this whole sequence of events and his deceased cousin’s worldview is to agree to tell the world about Wakandan technology and help improve life for Black people through peaceful aid and cultural diffusion. Now personally I didn’t like this ending because I felt like it was too soft because it’s a fence sitting position. But for a Disney film that exists as part of a much larger (and profitable), predominantly White franchise this ending absolutely made sense and I saw it coming a mile away once I knew for certain that T’Challa was going to get the throne back by the end of this movie. You can’t intentionally undercut your franchise target audience in order to make one really powerful film for a specific micro-audience within the market. That’s just bad business. I also think it’s fitting that like me, the two Black writers also were unable to make a hard decision in support of either side of the issue so they chose conclude the film on the fence as well.

black-panther-imdb-vote
The Black Panther IMDB public rating scores in the 1st 24 hours of release.

I personally think Disney’s decision to greenlight this plot was more calculated than many others might read into it. I think it’s intentional that the film is ultimately a Black versus Black narrative rather than a Black versus White one. In the latter scenario Black people would obviously be the hero and by extension win because the movie is called Black Panther after all. It would be odd if the character’s debut standalone film ended with him losing. Not to mention it would be a PR nightmare. But at the same time making a film about an evil White man trying to destroy Black culture and people only to be defeated and presumably killed in the end would not sit well with the White target audience the MCU is geared towards. This movie had PR problems from certain groups before it was even released. There was even a campaign to destroy its IMDB score on opening day. And this is with the film as a Black versus Black conflict as the central focus. A White main villain would have brought racists out of the woodwork calling the film an anti-White SJW pandering film with pro-immigration undertones. Disney isn’t stupid. They know exactly what they’re doing. They may not be able to stop 100% of blatant racists from trying to destroy the film but they can and did definitely take steps to ensure that the bulk of White viewers would see the film as mostly innocuous from their point of view, which it is. And because of the film’s lack of direct ties to the other MCU heroes and films, people don’t even technically need to see the film to keep track of the rest of the MCU. White people can completely ignore it with little to no consequences. Or they can watch it and see a film about Black people fighting other Black people, ultimately confirming their racial bias about Black communities being violent, disorganized, and self-afflicting. It’s a genius tactic that will ultimately work very well in the grand scheme of things. Black people get a hero and movie for themselves and White people are left unaffected by it. Yet for those who do watch it, they still get Martin Freeman essentially playing the same slapstick sidekick he portrays in Sherlock as a bit of inclusionary comic relief. Plus the presence of not one but two credited Black writers makes it all seem benevolent and inclusionary rather than calculated.

black-panther

It’s not as if Marvel/Disney doesn’t do traditional, straight forward good versus evil plots in the MCU. Iron Man 2, Thor 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 1, Captain America 1, Doctor Strange, and Avengers all have plots like this. It would have been very easy and justifiable to do it with Black Panther as well. The fact that they didn’t as the first film for the character says a lot, in my opinion. That’s why I truly believe that Black Panther was written the way it was intentionally and for PR reasons.

Ultimately Black Panther is an important film. It marks the first non-White featured hero in the MCU to get their own film as well as the first Black hero to get his own film since like Blade. And thankfully it doesn’t suck. But this was an easy film to get made and sell. Minorities of all colors have been waiting for a non-White focused MCU film since at least Iron Man 3. The film doesn’t directly attack White viewers either overtly or covertly. Whites and Blacks can both watch the film without changing their biases about Black people whether they’re racist viewers or not. What I’m truly curious about is what Black Panther 2, assuming there is one, will look like because eventually Black Panther will have to face a White main villain.

Thoughts?

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Gaming Photography – Star Fox Zero

The final game I’ll be playing on the Wii U is Star Fox Zero + Guard. I thought it was appropriate to do this as my first Gaming Photography post of 2018.

Sadly this wasn’t the game it should have been. I’ve been playing Star Fox games since the original 1993 version and I’ve beaten every one to be released on home console, including Star Fox 2 on the SNES Classic. It’s a franchise I hold very dearly. I had high hopes for Zero, but it just doesn’t measure up. The truly sad part is that the only real problem with the game is the terrible motion controls. The graphics are quite good. The level design is true to the franchise. The narrative is the same rehashed Star Fox plot you get every time, and that’s fine. There’s new vehicles, new characters, new bosses, and the classic multi-path map that allows you to tailor your campaign experience differently every time. It’ s a sound Star Fox game. But the controls make it nearly unplayable. I could not fly with the precision necessary to beat the special bosses and challenges. I went into the game wanted to get a gold completion on every mission. I quit playing before I even made it through a second playthrough because I could tell I wasn’t going to make any noticeable progress in a manageable amount of time. I would absolutely play a remastered version of the game on the Switch if they did away with the motion controls completely and just let me play it as a traditional single screen Star Fox game with a pro controller and adjusted the targeting and controls accordingly for that gameplay scheme. But unless you’re a die hard Star Fox fan like I am, then I absolutely cannot recommend you to play this game. That however did not stop me from getting some nice pictures though.

I only took 327 total pictures over the course of this game, which is extremely low for me. But the lackluster gameplay cut my time with the game short. I was also very annoyed by the HUD and dialog text ruining many of my pictures but that is standard for this franchise so I’m not mad. So now I’d like to present my top 10 photos from Star Fox Zero. I take my photos through my PC with an Elgato Game Capture HD60 Pro in the case of console games. I also post them on my Twitter and Instagram often.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*If you’d like to see the full resolution image please right click and press “view image”.

Please let me know what you think of my shots. Any feedback is appreciated because I would like to improve my gaming photography skills.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Star Wars Battlefront II Beta Review on Gaming Rebellion

Last week EA DICE closed the Star Wars Battlefront II beta. I gave it a try and thought it was appropriate and useful to write a review of my experience. I published this piece on Gaming Rebellion, but here’s an excerpt for a preview:

Paper Mario Color Splash Screenshot 2017-10-11 23-07-24

From the announcement, EA DICE has gone out of its way to promise us that Battlefront II is an objectively better game than I. For starters, it has a single player campaign, and this campaign takes place in an era of Star Wars that current fans of the film franchise actually care about right now. Also, you get to play as the Empire. Something very different from traditional Star Wars games. The multiplayer portion crosses various eras of Star Wars lore, making it fun and relevant to fans of any age group. These are strong selling points, yet not strong enough to convince me to throw away more money on this franchise.

You can read the rest right here. Please check out my Author’s Archive for other articles by me on Gaming Rebellion.

cropped-blog-logo.png
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.