Ready Player One Movie Review

Ready Player One is a movie adaptation of the novel of the same name written by Ernest Cline. The movie is made by Warner Bros, and directed by Steven Spielberg. The movie was released in March of 2018.

Continue reading “Ready Player One Movie Review”

Advertisements

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

Justice League: Gods and Monsters is a DC superhero film released in 2015. It features an alternate universe, where Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman are grittier than we’ve come to expect.

Synopsis

balls

In this universe, Superman is the son of General Zod. Wonder Woman is a goddess from New Genesis, and Batman survives off of the blood of others. The Justice League, though technically saving the day, leave death and destruction in their wake. The relationship between the trio and the US government is rapidly deteriorating, and the citizens of Metropolis are scared for their lives. The fear and suspicion of the trio comes to a head when the Justice League is framed for the murders of various scientists, forcing the heroes to clear their name, while the government begins to take a stronger anti-hero stance.

Thoughts

die

I really enjoyed this movie. It’s the most adult or mature superhero movie I’ve seen; it’s serious without being pointlessly edgy or dark. The heroes are put into brutal situations, but they still do make small talk and the occasional joke, but not in a way that undermines the gravity of their situation. Just in a way that shows these are characters with feelings and the desire to express themselves. The tone is set by the opening scene, which is absolutely brilliant: the Justice League break into a terrorist hide out and paint the walls red. It becomes immediately apparent that these are not the heroes that we’re used to: Batman kills people and uses a machine gun to kill people, Superman shoots heat vision through people’s heads, and Wonder Woman skewers people through the chest like it’s nothing. But the great thing about the scene is that the heroes are not being sadistic, just completely ruthless. In this way, they are more akin to soldiers than warriors. One small note is that Superman uses the word “orgasmic,” and I think that, again, it really demonstrates that this is not the boy-scout that we’re used to. It’s not that unexpected for the circumstance, but it is unexpected for those that expected the boy-scout, which is a nice cue that we should re-calibrate our expectations.

The opening scene also establishes the strained relationship between the heroes and the US government. The soldiers who were supposed to take out the terrorists are furious that the Justice League went ahead without permission, but there’s no punitive measure the government can take against the trio. It becomes clear that this has happened before: the Justice League have a “yeah, whatever” attitude, and Superman especially is overt in his disrespect for the government. Later, the trio idly discuss the possibilities of overthrowing the government, but again, it’s not done in a supervillain-y kind of way, but rather “we all know we can do the government’s job better” kind of way. Although I guess that’s what all supervillains think, so…

die2

My absolute favorite aspect of the movie is that there’s actually tension. Because this is an alternate universe, and is sort of stand alone, the movie isn’t shy about killing off lots and lots of characters. Children, women, and men are all lambs to the slaughter, suffering horrific deaths like being burned alive or being skewered like shish kabob. The reason this works is that the Justice League is severely underpowered compared to their counterpart in the main DC universe, and that’s a good thing. Superman doesn’t always come to save the day, because he’s not omnipotent or indestructible. Batman’s not omniscient or ten steps ahead of everyone else like usual. When a person is staring down the villain, you don’t know if they’re going to make it out of the room alive.

The tension doesn’t just apply to side characters, either. Like I mentioned, the trio are all nerfed, which means that it’s not obvious that they’re going to be okay. (This is getting into spoiler territory, so be warned for the rest of this paragraph.) For example, in the main DC universe, when Superman is shot with red sun radiation, he gets thrown against the wall, says “oof,” his clothes get a little dirty, and then he’s back up and fighting. Or, Superman states that he’s getting weaker, and then goes on fighting like nothing changed. Meanwhile, in this universe, red sun radiation gives Superman 3rd degree burns, internal bleeding, and a real taste of mortality. It gets so bad that he has to hide behind cover like everyone else until Wonder Woman comes to help him. On the flip side, the US government has received a significant buff. As mentioned, red sun actually is a thread to Superman, and it was the government that developed it. More mindblowing for me, though, is that humans have replicated boom-tube technology, which is completely insane. Boom-tubes are created using motherboxes, which are the most advanced piece of technology in the DC multiverse. If the government is so technologically advanced that it can create one of the most complicated pieces of technology in all of existence, then the US government is nothing to scoff at, even on a galactic level. So yeah, when the government and the JL first butt heads, the winner seems obvious. But then you find out that the government has been pulling its punches the WHOLE time. On a side note, the movie uses boom-tubes in a way I’ve never seen before: during combat, the user keeps zipping in and out of boom-tubes, teleporting all over the place. I thought this was a really cool use of technology that we’re all familiar with.

My main gripe with the story is the origin of Wonder Woman. As mentioned, Wonder Woman is a New God, heiling from the planet of New Genesis. To my understanding, Apokolips and New Genesis exist outside of the multiverse, which means that there is only one Highfather, Darkseid and Wonder Woman, as opposed to there being one in each universe. This means that anything that happens with these characters will have a multiversal impact eg. killing Darkseid in one story will mean Darkseid is dead in all stories, regardless of what universe the story takes place in. I actually don’t have a huge problem with this continuity problem, since getting away from continuity is one of this movie’s greatest strengths, but that was as much as I could complain about before bringing up a minor spoiler (for the rest of this paragraph). In this origin story, Wonder Woman, from New Genesis, is marrying Orion, from Apokolips, to usher in peace between the two warring planets. Darkseid is genuinely excited for this peace, which is completely out of character, since he is the embodiment of evil. Even more ridiculous, the wedding turns out to be a ruse by Highfather, who is the embodiement of good. Highfather and the other gods from New Genesis pull a Red Wedding, killing Darkseid and his underlings. I can maybe believe that Darkseid is looking forward to peace, since after all Darkseid and Highfather exchange sons in the comics to the same effect, but I definitely cannot believe that Darkseid would completely and willingly put his guard down. I don’t know too much about Highfather, but his bloodthirsty and genocidal nature here seems extremely out of character. I get that maybe the movie was going for the evil-good reversal, but that’s not even really the case: none of the main characters can be considered evil, so why the characters in Wonder Woman’s origin have their moral compass reversed is beyond me. Still, this is a minor point in the grand scheme of things, since the origin is brought up only once, and then referenced just at the end of the movie.

Conclusion

Justice League: Gods and Monsters is one of the most refreshing movies I’ve seen in the superhero genre. It’s gets away from the tangled mess of continuity of other movies and the comics to tell a mature and interesting story without being either campy or edgy. The characters are simultaneously familiar and very different, with a twist to their familiar beliefs and morals. The world and its residents are much harder and less forgiving, making the politics of this universe genuinely interesting. The villain is a surprise (at least to me) that is withheld until the very end, though on second watching there are various, really clever hints along the way. I would strongly recommend this movie to any fans of DC comics, but less so for non fans, since you need to know a fair bit about the DC universe to enjoy the movie fully.

Cuphead Game Review

“Are you a cup?”

-My Mom

Cuphead is a game by StudioMDHR in 2017. It has platforming as well as bullet hell type gameplay, with a heavy focus on boss fights. It’s available on Steam for $19.99.

Thoughts

dance

This is a fantastic game – truly one of those games that will stand the test of time. I initially was interested in the game because of it’s amazing visuals, and I think that’s true for almost everyone who bought this game. However, while installing the game, I began to see reviews and comments complaining about how difficult the game was, and that had me pretty worried (admittedly, I should have done more research before buying the game…). One of the main reasons I bought this game was to play co-op with my brother, who is *ahem* not the best at platformers. As it turns out, this was a pretty serious issue – if your co-op partner dies, and you fail to revive him or her, then your partner just sits and watches you until you finish your current mission. This, inevitably, made me feel pretty guilty, as my brother often had to just watch me play.

However, when playing alone, Cuphead is a blast. I cannot emphasize enough how amazing the visuals are: the animation, the art style, the cheerful aesthetic… it’s all absolutely beautiful. The cartoony style doesn’t just start and end with visuals either; Cuphead, Mugman and the bosses often transform into different forms, which wouldn’t make any sense if it weren’t for the art style. Bees become planes, planes become moons, but it all makes as much sense as Bugs Bunny cartoons, so don’t question it. I mean, you’re playing as a guy with a cup for a head; nothing makes sense, and that’s how this world works. However, this is THE main selling point and a very well known fact about the game, so I shan’t dwell on it more than I already have. The two other standouts of the game are the music and the gameplay. The music is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard in a videogame; I would say that it’s even better than Undertale’s soundtrack, though that’s a very subjective statement. You should check out YouTube and see the making of the songs “Floral Fury” and “High Seas Hi-Jinx,” which really showcases the quality and effort that went into making these songs. Every boss, every stage, every occasion has a new song, and they’re all top notch.

Gameplay

hectic

The wonderful world of Cuphead is explored by a hub world, which allows you to access various stages and boss fights. There are three two types of encounters: Run and Gun, which may include a mini-boss, but is otherwise a standard platforming level, and boss fights. The boss fights come in two formats: you’re either platforming, like in the Run and Gun stages, or you’re in an airplane, shooting at them in a bullet-hell type fight, though bullet-hell is a hyperbole. What’s really interesting about Cupehad is that the boss fights significantly outnumber the Run and Gun stages. I remember playing with my brother, and we were both shocked that we fought two different bosses before we encountered our first Run and Gun stage.

The controls are very simple, but also very responsive. During platforming, you can move around, jump, shoot and dash. You can also parry certain attacks, which negates the attack as well as fills up your super meter, which allows you to do stronger attacks as well as a super move. I really like how the parry system works: you jump in the air, and then you press the jump button again in order to parry an attack. This means that you cannot parry an attack while standing on the ground, and it is extremely difficult to parry attacks that are coming down from above you, since your first jump will result in you just taking damage before you can parry it. I think there’s a slight delay between when you jump and when you can parry, but I’m not sure; either way, you should mostly parry attacks coming diagonally rather than directly from above. This detail subtly makes the game noticeably harder, as attacks go from boring to very deadly depending on your position. One last thing I want to mention in the platforming sections is that you have an assortments of weapons you can choose from. You initially start with the pea shooter, but as you find coins throughout the game, you can purchase more situational weapons, which work better for certain play styles as well as certain bosses.

robots

“we’re fighting an army of robots… I have a bow and arrow… none of this makes sense”

The airplane levels are also a lot of fun. You initially start with just a bunch of regular bullets, but you also gain the ability to launch bombs in a trajectory later. The dash button transforms your plane into a smaller one that can move very quickly, which is extremely helpful for dodging projectiles, but your bullet range is severely limited in this mode. My only complaint is that the EX moves (stronger versions of attacks that drains your super meter) are very unsatisfying; they don’t seem to do as much damage as they should. Inversely, when your super meter is completely filled up, you can turn yourself into a bomb and do massive amounts of damage to the bosses, which is always extremely satisfying.

So the difficulty… how bad is it? Well, I was able to beat the game, which I can’t say for games like the original Castlevania on the NES or Darkest Dungeon. The main source of difficulty in this game is the lack of healing: except for one boss fight, you cannot gain health. You can increase the amount of health you start the match with, but that’s about it. If you or your partner dies, you remain dead until the fight ends; there are no revives. Practically, the difficulty just means that you can’t beat the bosses on the first try. All bosses have multiple phases, and you usually die when you get to a new phase, since you’re not familiar with their attack patterns. This forces you to get very familiar with and breeze past the earlier phases, so you have as much health left for the later phases, giving you a margin for error and allowing you to experiment and ultimately improve. By the time you master the last phase, you’ll be surprised by how easy the boss has become: after beating the game, I went back to get A ranks on all the bosses, and I managed to pull that off with only a couple of tries with each boss.

That being said, the game does experience some rather extreme difficulty spikes from time to time. Several bosses are significantly harder than others – for me, Dr. Kahl’s robot  and the dragon were the hardest boss, especially the last stages. Additionally, some bosses have attacks that depend on luck, which is extremely frustrating if you’re trying to get a high rank on all the boss encounters. All in all, I enjoyed the difficulty. It kept the game engaging and challenging without causing frustration or crying. Every challenge seems daunting at first, but as you bash your cuphead against the wall, you start to figure out the patterns, and before you know it, you’ll have conquered that beast.

Please keep in mind that this is just my opinion. From what I’ve read by other people’s reviews online, they seem to complain that the game is way too difficult, and I would understand that this amount of difficulty is not your cup of tea. I think I found the difficulty manageable because I enjoy platformers, memorizing attack patterns, evading attacks that require a quick reaction time, and relying on muscle memory. If you prefer a slower-paced game, or a game that depends more on strategy than split second decision making, then Cuphead is not the game for you.

Lastly, the game has some small bugs. One I encountered recently was on the Phantom Express, where the Super Meter rating would always be 0 no matter how well I did in that level. Similarly, the skill rating, which depends on what difficulty you’re playing on (simple, regular, expert), would be different from what it should be.

One last thing I would like to add about the gameplay is the co-op mode. Besides the problem I mentioned earlier, where you have to feel guilty because your partner has to just watch you play if he or she died, the co-op doens’t really make the game easier, just different. On one hand, your team has double the fire power and can revive each other if you’re quick enough, but you also have much more to keep track of on the screen. You have to watch where your partner is, try to suss out what projectiles you have to dodge when there’s already a million of them on the screen, and the bosses become less predictable, since you don’t know if they’re targeting you or your partner. It’s a lot of fun!

Conclusion

download

In case you can’t tell, I love this game. The style, the gameplay, the music, and even the story behind its development all make it a shining example of what games can do and what they should strive for. I think one of the best aspects of this game is its simplicity: even if I don’t play this game for a year or two, I can pick it back up and get right into the swing of things, unlike games like Fallout New Vegas or Hollow Knight, which requires you to actually remember what you were working towards. Definitely check it out!

Final Fantasy IV Game Review

Final Fantasy IV is the fourth main installment in the Final Fantasy franchise. For some of you confused, it used to be called Final Fantasy II in US, not to be confused with Final Fantasy II. It was the first FF game on the SNES and it clearly shows what “next” generation of FF games could bring. It was originally released in 1991, then there were a crap ton of re-releases. Most popular of these are PSP’s 2011 Complete Collection, DS’s 3D remake in 2007, and PCs DS port in 2014. I’ve had the chance to play the PSP Complete Collection as well as the PC port of the 3D remake.

 

Continue reading “Final Fantasy IV Game Review”