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Every now and again the world of videogames throws you a curveball. It’s hard to imagine anyone had predicted a crossover the likes of Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe prior to its unveiling. Its premise was the kind of joke that got thrown around when rival 2D fighting game company Capcom unleashed X-Men Vs. Streetfighter in the 1990s. There was no real demand, even on the internet, to see Batman fight Liu Kang or Superman take a test of strength against Jax and his bionic arms. The 2 sets of characters didn’t seem to sit right together at all, with Mortal Kombat’s pseudo-Oriental mysticism and over the top violence not merging with DC, who are owned by Warner Bros., mainstays like Superman and Wonder Woman. However, it did combine Mortal Kombat, Superheroes and a fighting game, all of which are things I am notably a sucker for, so I decided to give it a shot.
Not only was the game a surprise in terms of subject matter, but also because the Mortal Kombat series had finally seemed to reach its conclusion with Mortal Kombat Armageddon. It was a rehashing of a tired engine that’s only real appeal was its obscenely large roster. I had been a long suffering fan of the series, owning at least one version of every game in the series despite the fact there wasn’t a truly good one since Mortal Kombat 2, and even I wasn’t expecting this utterly bizarre change of direction for the franchise, especially for its first outing on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
The game is, as with the majority of Mortal Kombat games, a 1-on-1 fighting game where the goal is to deplete your opponent’s health bar with a variety of punches, kicks, throws and special moves in a Best out of 3 Rounds contest. The 2 factors that set MK out from its contemporaries were its over the top gore and ‘Fatality’ moves, allowing you to end the fight by performing a lethal attack on your foe (often bringing about the aforementioned over the top gore)
In many respects, MKvsDC is simply a Mortal Kombat game. The gore has been turned down, and the Fatalities are less savage, but it follows the same principles. The game does employ a new engine, but it isn’t a million miles away from the game’s immediate predecessors Armageddon, Deception and Deadly Alliance – this turns out for good and bad. The good is that it features a fairly simple control system, utilising the 4 Face buttons on the pad for 2 punches and 2 kicks each, with blocking achieved by the R trigger and the various special moves performed by pressing buttons in conjunction with directional presses of the D-Pad. The game is, for most of the time, a 2D fighter, but it does have a 3D element in the form of using the Analogue stick to sidestep attacks to get the jump on your foes.
In 2008 Midway were still very much in denial about Super Moves, which became the norm in fighting games in the late 1990s, but they have spiced up the game with the addition of a few new features. The first of which is ‘Close Combat’ which allows you to grab your opponent and duel it out directly, as they try to second-guess what button you will use to attack, the second is ‘transitional combat’ where you can knock an opponent into another area of the level but continue to fight in mid-air and RAGE mode, which makes you able to walk through attacks (if still sustaining damage) and enhances your attacking capabilities. These vary in terms of quality. Close combat is something of a groan inducer, serving no purpose other than killing a fight’s pace, and RAGE mode still just seems like avoiding Super moves for the sake of trying to be different. The ability to fight mid-transition of stage is a nice touch though.
As with most recent Mortal Kombat titles, these gimmicks are basically included to mask the fact that the core engine of the game isn’t that great. That isn’t to say it’s bad, it’s just...Mortal Kombat. Anyone who has played any of the games immediately pre-dating this one will know what I mean. The game is solid enough to enjoy it, and especially have a chuckle on multiplayer, but is clunky and frustrating to the point you can never truly love the game, and will find yourself swearing at the screen quite a bit due to less than perfect hit-detection and sometimes sluggish controls. As with most MK games it is built around an engine that is solid, but really could have done with a bit more work.
The game has 3 single player modes, Kombo Challenge, which tests your ability at the series’ much maligned ‘Canned-Combo’ system, which is ultimately a frustrating test of precision timing that I have little love for, Arcade, which pits you against a host of other characters before taking on 2 bosses, either Shao Kahn or Darkseid before their amalgamated form of ‘Dark Kahn’ and finally Story Mode.
Story mode is where the game actually becomes very interesting, and rather worthwhile. The game actually includes 2 story modes, MK and DC, and each is so much more than the standard Single-Player fighting experience. This mode sees you play as each of the characters for around 4 fights, progressing the game’s plot through cut-scenes. This is really the approach that fighters probably should have taken years ago, and it is easily one of the game’s strongest points.
Speaking of the plot, how do we explain Princess Kitana Vs. Wonder Woman? Well, it turns out that Superman defeats Darkseid in the DC Universe at the exact moment Raiden defeats Shao Kahn in the MK Universe, somehow causing some form of intergalactic incident that sees the 2 villains fuse – and begins the fusing of the 2 realms. Both sets of fighters look to set out to save their universe, initially believing the other party to be to blame.
The plot is about as daft as you would expect, but to be honest, it really works about as well as is possible with such subject matter, and is a great fun for fans of both sets of characters.
On that front, the game’s 20 man roster is pretty solid too. With 10 fighters each (as well as unlockable bosses) there will obviously be some omissions that will leave someone annoyed their favourite is missing, overall there is nothing too obvious in terms of absentees. Scorpion, Sub Zero, Sonya, Liu Kang and Shang Tsung are all there, as are Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash. I’d have liked to see Reptile, Johnny Cage and Hawkman myself, but overall I’m happy with the roster.
Visually the game is decent. I’m looking at a 2008 game with 2014’s eyes, and while it doesn’t exactly push the 360 ala the Dead or Alive games, it still holds up well enough. The character designs from both sides are also pleasing, offering streamlined versions of the characters from both sides that will be instantly recognisable for anyone. Likewise the stages, ranging from a Metropolis engulfed in flame to the Batcave via a Haunted Graveyard and Netherrealm, also reference both franchise’s signature locations well, and are nicely executed.
Likewise the game’s music and voice work is nice enough. The music is more Mortal Kombat, but given that using any music associated with any of DC’s characters would take a hefty royalty payment that is to be expected.
It’s quite tough to look at a game like this 6 years on and gauge its quality. It’s a fun enough little title that will appeal to both sets of fans for how odd it is, but as with most recent MK titles lacks that bit of polish to make it a truly great game. Fans of both sides will enjoy story mode, and getting a few mates around for a multiplayer scrap is at least half of the appeal of any Mortal Kombat title, and this game’s addition of some of pop-culture’s most famous characters makes it pretty good in that respect too. Realistically, the only thing keeping the score on this one down, is that in the subsequent years we have seen follow ups both in terms of a new Mortal Kombat game and Injustice: Gods Among Us a DC fighter from Netherrealm Studios. This should be able to be picked up fairly cheaply now though, and is worth a look from fans looking for a cheap laugh.
When the first Iron Man movie was announced, and while many won’t admit it now, a lot of fans were initially sceptical. There was a lot that could have went wrong with Iron Man, but as it turned out it all went right, and we received arguably the finest superhero movie ever. In an interesting twist of fate, Iron Man’s tie-in videogame, released across all of the major platforms of the time, was actually a source of great interest to fans. Tie-In games are normally frowned upon, as they are usually stuck together last minute to try and cash-in on a movie’s popularity, but Iron Man was different. Iron Man was being put out by Sega, a company responsible for countless great games over the years, and they started work on the game significantly in advance of its release date, all the signs seemed positive. Could Sega’s game come close to Marvel’s Movie? They did actually have form with Superheroes, having crafted 2 fine X-Men games for the Megadrive and a Spider-Man arcade game.
In case you’ve never seen the movie, I’ll give a rough rendition of the plot, as it is there or thereabouts what the game follows. Billionaire playboy Tony Stark has made his money selling weapons, however, his philosophy on warfare changes when he is kidnapped by the terrorist outfit the Ten Rings while doing a display in Afghanistan. With shrapnel close to his heart, Stark is saved by the ingenious thinking of fellow prisoner Yinsen, who attaches a car-battery to Stark’s heart to keep the shrapnel from penetrating it. Stark escapes his captors by building a suit of armour, vowing to never dabble in the art of war again. Upon his return home, his decision does not go down well with business partner Obadiah Stane, but this doesn’t fluster Tony, who sets about crafting a unique power source to keep the shrapnel from penetrating his heart, and works upon a high-tech suit of armour that he dons to fight evil.
The movie’s plot covers the basic origin story of the character, which the videogame spices up by throwing in some necessary detours to pad things out a bit, roping in Iron Man characters Titanium Man and Blacklash amongst others to give Tony some more enemies to tangle with. It follows the movie’s plot well enough, and the majority of the game-only content manages to intermingle with the plot decently (albeit the Titanium Man stage does take place in an arctic setting, one of those cringeworthy videogame levels every developer feels the need to crowbar into a game) There isn’t really a lot more Sega could have done with the plot to be honest, it does its job capably.
In a coup, Sega also managed to rope in Robert Downey Jr. and Terence Howard, who star as Tony Stark and his friend Col. Rhodes respectively, to do voice acting in the game, to give it that authentic feel. Downey Jr. does seem to be phoning it in at points, but Howard buts a good bit of character into his performance as Rhodey, and the rest of the voice actors are passable enough. Compounding the sonic element is a fairly by the numbers score that does its job. Some of it may be from the movie, I honestly couldn’t tell you. The intro sequence does utilise Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’ which is a nice touch.
Visually the game is a mixed bag. The Iron Man character looks and moves good, especially for 2008, and the levels are suitably vast yet detailed to provide a solid setting...sadly the rest of the visuals leave a lot to be desired. The enemy tanks and especially soldiers look terrible, I’m talking proper Nintendo 64 visuals here, and the way soldiers disappear into thin air when punched/shot is almost reminiscent of an 8-Bit game. The cut-scenes that loosely try to tie the game’s plot together are, even for the time, rather lacklustre visually, with Tony and his assistant Pepper Potts, as played by Gwyneth Paltrow, coming off ok but pretty much every one and thing else in the scenes being ‘ok’ at best.
Where the game really falls apart is it’s gameplay. The game is a Third-Person adventure game that sees you step into the Iron Man suit to run, fly, shoot and evade your way through 13 stages of sheer frustration and monotony. The game’s main focus is on Iron Man’s flight capabilities, which is somewhat understandable, given that some of the movie trailer’s most iconic images were of the slick armour soaring through the sky and taking on foes. Sadly the execution of the game’s flight isn’t as impressive as watching Iron Man do it in the movie. While the actual flight itself is shamefully good fun, it only lasts as long as you can fly in a straight line. Attempting to make any form of quick turn, or even looking sideways, is clunky at best. Coupled with the game’s questionable targeting system and flying becomes somewhat of a chore.
Thankfully Iron Man can hover, which is usually a better way to go about your business. This is achieved by holding the L trigger, loosening the grip will lower him, pressing in will send him skywards. This works a bit better, but it somewhat misses the point in that it simply isn’t FUN. At what stage in the Iron Man movie does Tony hover about picking off foes?
In theory, you can also operate on ground level, though there is usually so little to do at this view, and when you do come across the aforementioned soldiers and tanks at ground level they are so embarrassing, that you’ll wonder why you bothered.
Arguably the game’s biggest crime is Iron Man’s attacking options. You have your pulse blasts from your hands, Auxilliary Weapons (Read: Missiles) and your Unibeam to attack from range, and you can punch or grapple foes when it comes to close combat. On paper it may sound decent, and being honest it should be, it’s the execution that leaves it lacking. Your blasts just don’t feel like they have any force behind them. You can barely see them, they make little noise, and while they do damage, it’s in a very understated way visually. It may sound silly but it just doesn’t FEEL like you are firing lasers from your hands, which should feel awesome. Missiles are likewise limp, the saving grace comes in the form of the Unibeam, which you much charge up, which at least triggers an impressive animation and controller vibration. Close combat is somewhat of an afterthought in the game as far as punches go, despite their presence, but the grapple system is pretty neat. Pressing this atop a tank or in proximity to a jet triggers a Quick-Time-Event where you must bash the B button to see Iron Man destroy it in style. One of the game’s saving graces is that rare moment when you rocket towards an opponent and manage to time it perfectly to land into one of these moves.
It’s things like the grapple system that make me think that somewhere in here there actually was a decent game trying to break out. Nothing fits together though. While I can understand the attraction to the air-faring aspect of the Iron Man character, at the same time it somewhat misses the point that what makes this awesome is the fact it is a man doing it, not a fighter jet. The fact that even boss fights are conducted in an airborne manner highlights everything wrong with the game. What is the point in throwing Titanium Man in the game when you can’t even really see him because you aren’t ever close enough. He’s a tiny little model at the other side of the level as we throw (uninspiring) lasers and rockets at each other. Iron Man might be able to fly and shoot rockets, but he is still a Super-Hero, and realistically part of that is his interaction with Super-Villains. This game does not capture this in the slightest.
The worst thing about Iron Man is that it put me in mind of an early release for the original Xbox titled Gunmetal. This was a fairly unheralded little game that put you in the cockpit of a Mecha that could transform into a fighter jet. It featured roughly the same structure as Iron Man, fairly repetitive ‘Destroy all bases’ ‘protect building X’ missions, but it managed to combine the ground based robotic fun with the aerial dogfights so much better than Iron Man. The reason I find this so infuriating as that is all Iron Man had to be. Nobody was expecting something that would revolutionise gaming, just a fun ride in the suit. Would a few ground based levels, or more close-quarters battles with enemies really have been that hard to do? It certainly would have appealed to this fan more than a glorified flight sim.
Outwith the levels is another sign that this game started out with good intentions is the options for your armour. Not only are there a selection of unlockable armours including the Hulkbuster and my personal favourite the Silver Centurion, but you can perform modifications on these to alter the prominence of weapons, defence etc This is a great idea that is sadly not explored to anywhere near the level it should be.
I have 2 trains of thought when it comes to why this game is as uninspiring as it is. The first one is that Sega were simply rushed to complete it to tie-in with the movie’s release, the second one or possibly an extension of the first, is that they purposefully unleashed this uninspired joke of a game as some form of revenge on gamers for shunning the Dreamcast in favour of the Movie-Tie-In heavy PlayStation 2 back in the day. Iron Man isn’t the worst videogame I’ve ever played, to be honest it probably isn’t even the worst Comic Book or Movie Tie-In I’ve played (is it the worst Comic-Movie Tie-In? I’d need to think about that one...) but it still isn’t a game I’d recommend to anyone. Ordinarily these types of game only really appeal to fans of the character/movie, but this is more likely to just frustrate fans of Marvel’s mighty hero.
There are few fictional characters that seem to transcend their source material quite like the Batman. Making his debut back in Detective Comics in 1939, Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s Dark Knight has made the leap from the comic book panel to television, movies and videogames more successfully than any of his comic contemporaries short of perhaps Marvel’s Spiderman. The character’s enduring popularity has seen to it that Batman has not only made a plethora of appearances in games, but he has also had more luck than most of his buddies in the Justice League when it comes to the quality of these games.
This brings us to 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum. Released in the midst of a popularity boom for the character thanks to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of movies, to say Arkham Asylum was well received would be an understatement. It’s appeal reeled in comic book fans, Nolanite movie enthusiasts and video gamers alike, leading to plaudits from critics and fans. I went into the game with relatively high hopes, Batman isn’t my favourite superhero, but his lack of super-powers is actually the thing that has led to him translating so well to the medium over the years. Batman fights crime using a combination of high-tech gadgets, physical prowess and unparalleled detective skills – offering developers a variety of routes to pursue in their depiction of the character. Where Arkham Asylum really appealed to me is that it also seemed to incorporate the stealthy nature of the character.
Arkham Asylum Batman escorting his arch nemesis The Joker to Arkham Island – home to the DC Universe’s most infamous home for the criminally insane. Needless to say this transit does not go smoothly, and it doesn’t take long for the Clown Prince of Crime has not only broken free, but taken control of the entire Island. Trapped in a maximum security facility full of his deadliest enemies, Batman must find a way to bring the Joker to justice and restore order in Arkham.
Played through a Third-Person perspective, Arkham Asylum puts you in control of the Batman, where you must use his combat prowess, equipment – including grappling hooks, Batarangs and explosives , stealth and detective skills to defeat a host of Batman’s most famous foes including Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Bane and Poison Ivy. Arkham Asylum offers one of the most interesting interactive takes on the Dark Knight, with the majority of its predecessors focusing on just one aspect of what makes Batman such an enduring character, with a slew of Beat ‘Em Ups and Platformers comprising most of Batman’s gaming CV. Arkham Asylum on the other hand forces you to use a combination of all of the above; Batman’s hand to hand fighting skills are impressive, but you will need to use more tact when dealing with armed enemies, all the while utilising Batman’s detective skills to solve puzzles to help you on your quest.
It’s an ambitious take on the character, and while I applaud it for the idea, I am sadly not as impressed by the execution of it. While attempting to convey the skills of the Dark Knight, the game’s developers have instead given us a Batman who is something of a jack of all trades, master of none.
The game utilises a combat system that is fairly simple to pick up. Attacks are thrown using the X button, with the Y button activating a counter that lets you turn an enemy’s attempt on your life into an attack of your own if timed correctly. The B Button is used to whip your opponents with your cape, which can be used to either stun foes or break their block and the A button is used for jumps and dodges. Pressing the triggers can also throw a Batarang into proceedings to stun foes. The system is easy to pick up, however for me I find it rather lacking. The game places a lot of emphasis on combo attacks, but with only one true attack button these are somewhat lacklustre and more of a distraction to perform while dealing with a group of foes. You will come up against armed enemies who require you to Cape-Stun them or dodge over their heads to attack them, which to me seems like not only a cheap way at attempting to install some diversity in combat, but also a laughably antiquated one you would have expected in a PSOne 3D Beat ‘Em Up. The system isn’t the worst I’ve ever used, everything responds nicely and there are no complaints regarding hit detection or even button layout, but as someone for whom these sections of games are normally the ones I enjoy the most, Arkham Asylum just left me somewhat cold.
This wouldn’t have been so bad had the game’s deployment of Batman’s stealthy nature worked better. As someone who always enjoyed the Tenchu: Stealth Assassins videogames, the premise of a Batman game where you could swoop down from the shadows and pluck off foes is tremendous. Batman’s stealth attacks are, just like the standard combat, not bad as such, just somewhat undercooked for me. As you sit poised atop a gargoyle and swoop down, stringing up one of the Joker’s goons, it really is fantastic. Sadly 5 minutes later, when you try it again, the command prompt to perform it doesn’t appear. So you press the button anyway. Nothing. This is beyond frustrating. As is a section later in the game, where you are forced to take out a group of armed adversaries in a stealthy manner, where you are given no scope for hiding to pluck these villains off, and I found ducking back into the same vent inbetween attacks the only way to successfully achieve it. This laborious process was not much fun.
One aspect I did enjoy was the deployment of Batman’s many gadgets. Batarangs, Bat-Claws for grappling, Explosive Gel...all of these and more are all vital to your success in the game, and not just the ‘Special Attacks’ they are often reduced to in Bat-Games. One thing I feel the Jury is out on however, is the game’s much touted ‘Detective Mode’. This mode, activated by the press of a button, allows you to see the World in X-Ray style. This is primarily used for locating enemies, and is especially useful when it comes to trying to perform those stealthy takedowns, however it also highlights all interactive aspects of the game, removing any real notion of detective work. The temptation is there to play through the majority of the game in this view, as it makes proceedings far too simple.
One thing that simply cannot be faulted with Arkham Asylum is its presentation though. From the use of voice actor’s Keven Conroy, Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin to reprise their respective roles as Batman, The Joker and Harley Quinn from the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series to the dramatic music and superior, gritty, visuals – Arkham Asylum really does look, sound and above all else FEEL the part. The game feels like a cross between that 90’s cartoon, serious enough for more mature enjoyment without overdoing the adult elements, and the comic books, with plenty of nods to some of Batman’s more obscure villains scattered throughout the game’s World (the most admirable thing about this is that they don’t even feel shoehorned in.
The plot is another of the game’s most endearing traits. ‘The Joker as the main villain, with more of the Rogues Gallery roped in’ may not exactly be re-inventing the wheel, but it is all laid out in a thoroughly pleasing way by comic scribe Paul Dini to ensure it keeps you more than interested in proceedings.
I seem to have spent the majority of this review citing faults with Arkham Asylum, but it really is far from a bad game. On the contrary, I did enjoy playing through it, I just couldn’t help but feel...underwhelmed. The game is set up so beautifully, the atmosphere, music, graphics and story are so spot on, it’s hard to not be frustrated by the gameplay’s shortcomings. It has sold me on its sequels, because there is definitely the foundation of an incredible experience there, for me it just isn’t all there in Arkham Asylum.
Fans of Batman have probably already played this to death, uncovered the many nice ‘Riddler Challenges’ along the way, but for any who haven’t I would recommend it, as it is the first time in a while a Batman game has actually FELT like a Batman game. I’d even go as far as saying it is worth a playthrough to gamers in large, as it is a fairly enjoyable romp, but for me it’s far from the classic it is made out to be.
As someone whose interest in ‘the wrestling’ these days veers between curiosity and apathy with alarming regularity, WWE Allstars represents a rare occasion I have genuinely been excited about the release of a product regarding Vince McMahon’s empire. I’ll openly admit any interest in any WWE related product effectively hinges upon the involvement of my childhood favourite The Ultimate Warrior, who for years would have nothing to do with the WWE and vice versa. He finally made his return to the gaming fold with the rather sub-par Legends of Wrestlemania, but WWE Allstars is overall more fitting of the tone that the Warrior embodies within wrestling for me. The big question would be how does it play?
In case it wasn’t obvious from the off, WWE Allstars is a professional wrestling game. Where Allstars sets itself apart from the yearly ‘WWE’ title is that WWE Allstars makes absolutely no illusions that it is set in the real world. Ridiculously exaggerated character models, performing outrageously overblown moves on one another. In short, it’s the wrestling game I acted out with my Hasbro WWF figures aged 6. The game’s other selling point for me, is that it was built around the principle of legendary WWE wrestlers taking on their present day counterparts. While every annual WWE release allows you to pit the champions of yesteryear against John Cena and Randy Orton, this is the first time a game has seen the roster evenly split between current icons and the wrestlers I grew up with.
Ultimately this is something of a win-loss situation for me if I’m being honest. While I think current/active superstars like Cena, Orton and the Undertaker more than deserve a place in the game, realistically I’d have taken legendary superstars over Sheamus, Drew McIntyre and Kofi Kingston. With that said I’m looking at the game from one of the 2 perspectives this game was aimed at, and for the other, they would probably feel the opposite.
You see, WWE Allstars doesn’t just throwback to the 1980s and 90s in terms of characters, but it’s gameplay probably owes more to the legendary WWE Wrestlefest arcade game than it does any recent title, and as such it instantly become the most accessible WWE wrestling game for younger fans in the process.
This is one of the game’s biggest selling points for me, it’s simplistic system. Realistically, 90% of the game is conducted using just the 4 face buttons on the controller. Anyone can pick this game up and play, regardless of skill or intoxication level. It’s perfect for kids or drunken adults looking for a quick laugh. The one flaw I have in how the game is set up is how it treats pinfalls. You can try to pin an opponent at any time, which works in the conventional manner, however, if your opponent’s health bar is fully depleted and you perform your finishing move, you win the match by Knock Out. I appreciate that the game is aiming for quick and fun matches, but I find this more than a tad frustrating, surely making it almost impossible to kick out following a finisher in this condition would have the same effect with none of the frustrations?
The game’s simplistic nature does not just stretch as far as in-ring action either. One department I do feel Allstars comes up a bit short in is the gameplay modes. Your single player options sees you take on 3 title paths, a legends route that finishes up against the Undertaker, a Superstars option that sees you take on the current stars heading for a showdown with Randy Orton and a Tag-Team path that pits you against D-Generation X. These modes are fairly brief, but ultimately I found them to be good fun, with the short FMV animated clips of your opponents taunting you a nice touch. It’s the lack of match options that left me a bit cold. I’m not calling for Inferno Matches and Hog Pen Matches and the like, but a Hell In The Cell, Royal Rumble or Survivor Series option wouldn’t have gone amiss. It really isn’t the end of the World, but it would have added even more appeal for me. One thing I am irked at the omission of is titles you can wager on multiplayer.
The game also includes an incredibly basic create-a-wrestler option that really could have went a long way to making the game even better. It isn’t the worst Create-A-Wrestler I’ve encountered, but not letting you pick an individual finisher is disappointing.
Arguably the game’s most divisive point is the aforementioned roster. It’s fairly reminiscent of the complaint my friends had with this game’s spiritual predecessor in the fun department, the Dreamcast’s Royal Rumble, is that the roster is just too small. Even with Downloadable characters, and additional costumes available for the original roster, the game led to a lot of “where is...” and “...should be in here” Don’t get me wrong, pretty much all the big hitters are here: Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage and via downloadable content The Legion of Doom and ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted Dibiase. It just would’ve been nice to see Demolition, ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude and Razor Ramone too.
Graphically the game hits the tone it was aiming for right out of the park. Those who grew up with wrestling in ‘The Cartoon Era’ will appreciate it’s comically exaggerated depictions of grapplers, because that is how Hulk Hogan and company appeared to us as kids. The cartoony nature of the visuals also adds a timeless quality to them that will ensure this stands the test of time much better than whatever the main WWE title released around the time does.
The sound quality is also up there, with all of the wrestlers’ entrance themes faithfully present (albeit frustratingly, it uses the wrong Big Boss Man theme tune) and the crowd effects do their job suitably. Commentary from JR and The King is also present, and the nature of the game’s comical bouts actually even helps out the repetitive nature of the game’s commentary, as it can add to the slapstick nature of the bouts.
When all is said and done, WWE Allstars gets one thing right that a lot of licensed games, however good their presentation is, often forget to, and that is it’s enjoyment factor. Allstars is FUN. Arguably the biggest compliment I can pay the game is that the majority of it’s ‘faults’ are things that I think would have made it even more fun. When you aren’t complaining about the controls, or the visuals, but thinking “I wish Diesel was in here too” or “how much fun would a rumble be in this?” a game knows it is at least doing it’s job.
WWE Allstars is a hard game to review, because it never really sets out to do anything grand or great, it just wants to be a pick-up-and-play wrestling game for fans of all ages, which it more than achieves. It’s actually quite sad that it has yet to receive a follow up, as I would recommend it to wrestling fans, lapsed or otherwise, of all ages.
Given that I did enjoy the original, I’m not entirely sure why it took me so long to give Lionhead Studio’s Fable 2 a spin in my Xbox 360. The first game was a somewhat out-of-character playthrough for me, having spent years loathing the Role-Playing-Game genre, but my interest was piqued at the time by the rather exceptional BioWare Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire games, which both employed a similar Good/Evil balancing act to Fable. That and the first game had been in development so long it was almost running joke on par with Duke Nukem Forever and Chinese Democracy. Regardless, when 2008’s Fable 2 did roll out I did mean to play it, but obviously my tastes and priorities lay elsewhere (when I think about it, I was in my final year of University, and living on my own at the time) and so it took until 2014 for me to give it a go.
I’ll prefix this by saying that I enjoyed the original Fable, which I’ve reviewed on here, but did feel somewhat underwhelmed by it. It had been stuck in development hell for so long that by the time it made it out, the game had actually been surpassed by some of its contemporaries. Fable 2 was an interesting prospect though, as it certainly had a good base to build upon.
The game takes places hundreds of years after the original, with it’s Medieval Setting surpassed by a period more akin to that of the Age of Enlightenment. Magic is little seen, the Heroes Guild became corrupt and was disbanded, and guns are replacing swords on the battlefield. Into this World we are thrust into the role of Sparrow. A young orphan who lives with his/her (it is the player’s choice) older sister Rose in the slums of the city of Bowerstone, who looks up longingly at the palace of local nobleman Lord Lucien. This all changes upon the purchase of a magical music box, which grants Rose’s wish of getting to be in Lucien’s Castle, but things there do not go to plan. It turns out Lucien has been scheming to harness the power of the Heroes of old, which you happen to be descendants of, which prompts him to kill you both, with you plummeting from the window. Rescued from death by a stray dog you earlier befriended and a blind seer named Theresa, you are set upon a path to avenge your sister’s death and stop Lord Lucien’s power-trip.
The game carries over the trademark Good/Evil meter that allows you to make decisions that shape your character’s path that affect how people react to you, as well as how you look. Keep making selfish decisions that use your powers for evil and your image will start to reflect this, and locals will fear you. Act selflessly and they will love and admire you. It’s a system that has become something of a staple in the RPG genre these days, and I’ll give Fable 2 it’s due, it has moved on from the very black and white system the first game employed, allowing for a more balanced character.
I found the game’s plot fairly engaging without it ever really hooking me in. It is clearly set in ye olde Britain as with the original game, however it has lost some of its charm over time. A lot of the simple humour that made the first game appeal to me is gone, as are the plot twists that the first game had to keep you interested. Fable 2’s plot isn’t bad as such, but it is rather by-the-numbers fantasy stuff, with the exception being the item that ties the game’s start and finale together, the origins and nature of which are never alluded to in the slightest, which is disappointing.
As with the first game, there is a main plot that holds proceedings together, with a plethora of side quests you can play to progress your character’s skills and abilities. As such you have some missions that you must complete to progress the game’s plot, and other optional ones, albeit you will need to play through some of these to gain the necessary attributes to actually make the key missions possible.
As with most games in the genre, defeating enemies and completing tasks causes your character to ‘level-up’. Well, in a sense. Fable 2 doesn’t do ‘level’s but collecting experience does allow you to buy new abilities and health/strength/combat boosters.
Fable 2 follows the original’s lead in terms of gameplay, adopting a Third-Person perspective. You are placed into the world of Albion, which has now expanded from primitive towns and villages into vast cities. The world is suitably large and offers numerous opportunity to explore and find sidequests. You can buy property and shops, marry and start a family, or families, as you see fit. This aspect of the game is a lot easier to do than in the first game, with money being easier to come by. If you need money topped up you can get a job as a blacksmith or lumberjack, both of which trigger minigames which are moderately amusing the first few times, but reliance on them for money can get very old, very quickly, which prompted me to largely stick to the adventuring side of proceedings.
While adventuring, you will be able to defeat your enemies using Albion’s 3 main powers – Strength, Skill and Will. Strength implies physical combat with swords, axes or warhammers. Skill is your marksmanship, with primitive crossbows or advanced firearms and Will is magical abilities. These represent your 3 attack methods, and are assigned a face button each. The combat system is one of the things that really frustrated me with the game, on the surface it is simple and easy to pick up, but the execution of it I found somewhat lacking. The one button attack combo is fine, if a tad repetitive, however what brings it down for me is the blocking system, achieved by pressing attack and towards the attacking enemy. This works every bit as badly as you would expect. Both Will and Skill projectiles become frustrating through the same means, which is something I complained about in the first game, the targeting system. The left trigger targets enemies, but 9 times out of 10 it will target someone at the back of a group of enemies, and trying to target a specific enemy is a waste of time, as sometimes enemies are inexplicably impossible to target. Defending is even worse, achieved by an evade manoeuvre that is at best unreliable.
Fable 2 carries over the first game’s visual style, a stylised, cartoon-esque depiction of the characters that doesn’t begin to push the console’s visual capabilities, but at the same time is something of a safe bet in that it ensures the visuals never age. Personally, I find the visuals a bit different, and it gives the game a bit of character. The vast landscapes offer an impressive level of detailing, and my only real grip with the visuals is that some of the caves and interiors can be a bit too dark to make out enemies clearly.
Likewise the sonic aspects of the game are solid, and pleasing. The game’s score fits in with the mystical nature of the plot perfectly, and the voice acting, including the talents of Stephen Fry as a flamboyant pirate, does the job without any complaints.
Fable 2 isn’t a bad game as such, and it is worth noting I do have to take into account the time between its release and it’s placement in my Xbox 360, but the game just doesn’t seem to have moved on enough from it’s predecessor for me. I found the game playable, and I’d even say I relatively enjoyed it, but it’s relatively bland story, lack of progression and frustrating combat make it a game I wouldn’t rush to recommend, and doubt I’ll be playing through again any time soon.
As someone who grew up with comic book superheroes, the last 15 years of so have been pretty enjoyable for me watching all my childhood heroes come to the big screen. Years of attempts to bring costumed crime fighters to the big screen had either failed to materialise (James Cameron's Spiderman) or just not have been up to much as movies (Matt Sallinger as Captain America) especially when it came to Marvel Comics characters. Blade was the first strike, X-Men and Spiderman changed the playing field, offering up genuine big budget takes on my favourites with proper actors and everything. Their sequels proved even more successful, and before long all of Marvel's big licenses were taken, and some of the company's more obscure properties were getting big screen adaptations, one of which was 2007's Ghost Rider.
The first Ghost Rider movie was far from a runaway success, financially or artistically. It wasn't totally awful, significantly better than Daredevil if we're being honest, but I have to say I was somewhat surprised when a second Ghost Rider movie emerged. It really looked like the first picture would be the characters sole foray onto the silver screen, at least until Marvel/Disney regained the license. Nicholas Cage was back as the titular character, and directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, of Crank 2 fame, were brought in to address the first film's lack of action sequences.
As it would turn out, Spirit of Vengeance, as this new Ghost Rider movie would be called, would in fact reboot the character. Despite using the same actor in the role. Now, the casting of Cage in the first movie came in for some criticism, mainly down to the perfectly valid reasoning he neither suited the role of a stunt-driver turned demonic vigilante, and was realistically too old for the role, but I wasn't so against it. Cage had spent most of the 1990s, when nobody wanted to make superhero pictures, trying to get Superman and Iron Man projects off the ground, he clearly REALLY wanted to be in at least one superhero movie, and his presence added a bit of panache to what would undoubtedly otherwise be effectively a B-Movie. He didn't exactly make the character his own, so why you would want to re-start the franchise using the same actor as the first movie is beyond me. Secondly, the first movie really served little purpose but to establish the character's origin (always the most tiresome bit of any adaptation) which it did in a suitable fashion. Spirit of Vengeance retcons this plot with a minor and completely unnecessary change that has no bearing on the plot. If you ask me, the truth is they simply couldn't come up with a decent way of writing Eva Mendes character from the first movie out of the plot.
Spirit of Vengeance opens somewhere in 'Eastern Europe'. Eastern Europe. Imagine a film set in 'North America'. Anyway we have a monk named Moreau (Idris Elba) who returns to his monastery/castle, which has a high tech command centre within it, to the news that a prophesised boy has been found. This boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan) is the product of his criminal mother Nadya (Violante Placido) making a deal with a demon named Roarke (Ciaran Hinds) in exchange for a son - a vessel to transfer himself into when the time comes. Needless to say the time has come, and the monks make it their business to try and shelter the boy until the time passes (allegedly in a few days)
Needless to say this does not go to plan, as the castle comes under siege from Carrigan (Johhny Whitworth) and his men. Carrigan is a smuggling gun for hire working for Roarke, and coincidentally also Nadya's ex boyfriend. Nadya and Danny do manage to escape, as Moreau seeks out help in the form of the exiled Johhny Blaze (Nicholas Cage) Blaze is a former stunt biker who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his father's life. As such he is prone to transforming into the legendary Ghost Rider, a leather clad avenger with a flaming skull. Moreau informs Blaze he has the means to lift this curse from him in exchange for his help, and it isn't long before Nadya finds herself part of the team when Carrigan finally gets his hands on Danny. It isn't long before a hidden monastery with ulterior plans for Danny get involved, and Roarke has to transform Carrigan into the demonic Blackout - with the ability to decay with his touch to help combat the Rider as good and evil collide with the fate of the world in the balance!
Seamlessly blending in all the bog standard superhero movie clichés (an attempt to give up the superhero identity being the most tired) with the plot-light, set-piece heavy formulae of the crank movies, Spirit of Vengeance makes significantly more bad decisions than it does good ones. The aspect of the Monks at the hidden monastery is a completely unexplored plot device lobbed in for the sake of offering up sacrificial characters for an action set piece, Moreau is an utterly bizarre addition to the plot who realistically is just there to involve Ghost Rider/Blaze. I don't really get why writers opt to ignore years worth of history and characters that not only do fans know and like, but actually genuinely tie in and compliment the main protagonist.
I don't totally grasp the point of changing the name of the Satanic arch fiend from Mephisto, who is the Marvel Universe's demon in chief, to the fabricated for this movie Roarke, nor making him a fairly clichéd old croaky voiced, leather glove and cheap suit wearing depiction of satan as opposed to the neat touch of having Peter Fonda play a significantly more stylish Beelzebub. I understand Fonda probably didn't want anything to do with this, but Ghost Rider's fairly entertaining take on Mephisto was one of its better aspects.
In fact, this is part of the movie's biggest problem; it doesn't seem to want memorable characters, as that might interfere with getting from one action set piece to the next. Ghost Rider/Blaze has become an absolute mess of a character, delivering self-loathing at what he is and bland attempts at humour in the same tone. Ghost Rider as a character was a particular favourite of mine as a kid, mainly because he looked awesome, but he was one of those rare cases where having 2 characters share a body worked out nicely. Here the Rider itself is described by Blaze as an emotionless, unreasonable machine who will stop at nothing to exact vengeance on wrong doers. This is a fairly shoddy, Poundland representation of the character to begin with, but when you figure in the fact he makes (terrible) wise cracks and acts exactly like Blaze in the final conflict you realise that they just wanted an excuse to make him so boring. Because make no mistake, they in fact do manage to make a demonic superhero who's head is a flaming skull pretty uneventful.
As much as I didn't want to rip into him for the first film, Nicholas Cage really, really fails with his performance here. Snapping from deadpan to hysterical with nothing in-between, I'm genuinely embarrassed for a guy who not too long ago had a respectable acting career. At times he almost seems to be trying to channel Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2 with his madcap facial expressions,
The supporting cast aren't any better. Idris Elba is a fine actor, and deserves every one of these paydays he is now receiving, but his terrible French accent (for the record, there is absolutely no need for his character to be French) and under-written character doesn't give him a lot to work with. Placido is superb eye candy but little else and Hinds depicts the devil himself like a villain on TV's Law & Order. Johnny Whitworth gives a fair crack at trying to give Carrigan/Blackout (he's never actually referred to as such by the way, I just think that's who he's meant to be based on) a bit of panache, but ultimately almost tries TOO hard to make a sneering villain and veers into annoying territory.
Arguably the film's biggest detraction is its direction though. In an attempt to cover up the fairly terrible semblance of a plot tied around the action sequences, the directors have attempted to get 'artistic' with the action sequences to try and excite viewers. As such we are treated to completely illogical (even with suspension of disbelief) scenes where Ghost Rider hovers and spins horizontally in mid air after an explosion, comic book style animated sequences, black and white scenes where you can't really tell what is going on and general odd, shaky cameras. Gentlemen, your protagonist has a flaming skull for a head, what is necessary to make Jason Statham stand out is not really required here, just have him do something cool. Fight scenes are a non event, over in a few punches, or in the final showdown's case shot in such a way it just isn't fun to watch. Ghost Rider also doesn't do a great deal of 'Riding' in Spirit of Vengeance. His motorcycle has undergone a dreadfully lame makeover, instead of being a unique, rather cool design like in the first movie we simply have a motorbike with the wheels on fire. The film does introduce the fun twist that Ghost Rider transforms whatever he rides, but we only see this once and the 'transformation' similarly consists just of a vehicles wheels being on fire.
When all is said and done, there really isn't a great deal of good one can say about Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and this is from a man who actively looks for good in movies like this (I don't even think Green Lantern is a total disaster) It's a poorly written, badly executed film I'm surprised even got green-lighted. It's certainly got to be the final nail in the coffin for the character in the movies, at least until Marvel themselves get their hands back on the rights.
Video games, unlike movies, are a medium where sequels are actually more often than not better than their predecessors. Given that story usually comes second to gameplay, a second game allows the developers to refine aspects of the game to offer an improved experience, and developments in technology can lead to better graphics and more complex interactions. Unfortunately, Ninja Gaiden 3 is one of those games that bucks this trend, and in fact finds itself severely inferior to its prequels.
Perhaps a bit of history is in order. Ninja Gaiden started out life in the 1980s as a side scrolling platform game known for being groundbreaking for its use of cut scenes to progress the story while also being an addictive and challenging game. 2 sequels followed before the series disappeared into the realms of memory. In the mid 1990s, when every company on the planet was churning out a 3D fighting game to cash in on Tekken and Virtua Fighter, Tecmo's Team Ninja, headed by the rather eccentric Mr. Itagaki, gave the world Dead Or Alive. DOA was essentially Virtua Fighter for dummies, its main talking point being the female characters oversized and over-animated breasts. What often got passed over was that one of the male cast was in fact Ninja Gaiden protagonist Ryu Hayabusa.
While the original wasn't that great, Dead or Alive did enough to warrant a sequel, which is where Team Ninja's efforts really bore fruit. Dead or Alive 2 was absolutely incredible in the visuals department, and also played a lot better than the first game. Itagaki and Team Ninja had arrived, and a few more sequels and spin-offs later he unleashed Hayabusa in his own adventure on the Xbox, re-starting the Ninja Gaiden series.
Quite bluntly, the first Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox is one of my favourite games ever. Renowned for its jaw dropping visuals and incredibly challenging gamplay, Ninja Gaiden pushed the play to their limit, really forcing you to immerse yourself of the combat system to get anywhere in the game. A sequel followed on the Xbox 360, and while it lacked the element of surprise over how outstanding it was, it was still an excellent game, one of the few I've ever pre-ordered.
However, at some point afterwards, Itagaki had a falling out with the Tecmo brass and he, and the majority of Team Ninja departed the company. Ninja Gaiden 3 would be the first game in any of Team Ninja's trademark series to be released without the original team, and its release seemed incredibly muted compared to the first 2 games. Quiet to the point it took me a few months to bother picking it up, and when I did, it was on sale in Asda. Not exactly promising signs, but on I persevered.
At its core, NG3 follows the same path as its predecessors. A third person 3D action game placing you squarely in control of Super Ninja Ryu Hayabusa as he uses his trademark sword, shurikens and bow & arrow to eviscerate all enemies that come into his path, all the while utilising his superhuman agility to manoeuvre through stages.
The plot takes a turn away from the first 2 games, which saw Ryu square off against a race of ancient demons known as Fiends. NG3 pits him against genetic terrorists the Lords of Alchemy as they declare war on the world using a combination of genetically engineered monsters and magic, which has drawn some criticism from fans, but it personally isn't one of the aspects that bothers me too much. I actually kind of enjoy the notion of letting us play as Ryu through other adventures, the same way he features in Dead Or Alive but doesn't have anything to do with the Fiends. On the flip-side, the story does bother me in that it simply isn't all that great. Now, neither of the first games may have had an overly gripping plot, but the one that was there made sense, entertained, and more importantly, lent the game some spectacular locales and enemies for Ryu to strut his stuff against. NG3 hops all over the globe, but the plot is almost an afterthought to explain why he's in the jungle one minute and the Antarctic the next. I mean really basic "oh they have another base at another generic videogame setting" stuff we're dealing with here. The first 2 games may not have been award winning for story, but they presented the opportunity to explore the lush fictional city of Vigoor, exploring its catacombs and churches. Here we have generic military base in the jungle, generic aircraft carrier, generic arctic military base and so on. It really deprives the game of any character.
Speaking of characters, this is an aspect NG3 really stumbles around. Ryu is portrayed essentially as he has been for the last 2 games, albeit with a new terribly clichéd 'inner struggle' with his conscience over his constant killing. At least that's what they were hinting at, it never really goes anywhere. We also see cameo's from other members of the Hayabusa ninja clan, including Joe Hayabusa and Momiji, a character from DS spin off Dragon Sword, basically just to say they were there. Likewise Dead Or Alive's Ayane shows up with a sword from Hayate which you only use for one level in one of the most utterly worthless cameos ever seen, topped only perhaps by Muramasa, who crops up for one cutscene near the end of the game. Potentially topping all of the returning case for worst cameo however is Genshin. Genshin was one of the main antagonists in Ninja Gaiden 2, the leader of the Black Spider Ninja clan, the mortal enemies of Ryu's Dragon Ninja clan. Killed at the end of the second game, he is first referenced as Ryu steals his sword from the ninja graveyard to use...and is later presented with the very same sword by Genshin's spirit. This cameo is not only pointless, but completely stupid. On the plus side, Ryu's sidekick from the original Ninja Gaiden II, Robert Sturgeon, makes a welcome little cameo, albeit a blink and you'll miss it one!
New characters include Ryu's obligatory sexy sidekick Mizuki McCloud, a pilot in the Japanese army. I'm sure this tough and sexy female solider thing is becoming quite a cliché in Japan, as I've seen 2 Godzilla movies with the exact same character in them, and she also has the obligatory innocent child who melts Ryu's heart in the form of her adopted daughter/actual niece Canna. She also has a geeky scientist brother in law type called Cliff helping her out. These aren't particularly badly written characters, but nothing about them stands out, and I managed to predict almost every plot development involving them within roughly 2 cutscenes of being introduced to them. New villains the Lords of Alchemy fare even worse. The main footsoldier enemy is known as The Regent of the Mask, a well spoke, English alchemist who places a curse on Ryu and is the LoA's main general on the field of battle. His design stands out in the game, in that it's almost decidedly un-Japanese, with a red robe and opera style mask, but realistically he looks like a standard enemy, and is fairly underwhelming as a boss compared to his predecessor, the aforementioned Genshin. The mastermind behind the LoA is revealed as a fairly standard mad-scientist who only really features for a single cutscene, giving him scant development for good or bad. Altogether, the LoA combine to form a completely odd group of villains with almost no real logic behind them. They want to destroy the world, have mastered magic, as their name alludes, yet are ALSO a genetic engineering menace. They breed dinosaurs, but this is only relevant for one level. Say what you want about some of the more outlandish fiend designs, at least there was a level of consistency in both design and purpose - this lot are almost as bad as the random baddies of NES games.
One of the game's main plot points, somewhat haphazardly tied in to an element of its gameplay is a cursed placed on Ryu leaving his arm looking a right nick and causing him intense pain. This affects the game in that occasionally, I think it's if you take too long to use one of the game's new Ultimate Technique's but I could be totally wrong there as it's never clear if it's caused by something you're doing on at predetermined points, Ryu starts moving in slow motion, the camera distorts and all you can do is lethargically swing your sword. This entire element of the game is a thoroughly odd mess. These slow motion segments are incredibly frustrating, especially if there are a few enemies to kill, but ultimately add nothing to the game in terms of challenge as I couldn't seem to die during them. What is really strange though, is that it also adds absolutely nothing to the plot except for a nonsensical way to have the game's final boss temporarily wield the Dragon Sword.
This odd slow-mo affliction is, in fact, one of the scant things added to the gameplay. The other is potentially even less exciting. The 'Kunai Climb' in which you scale walls by digging in your throwing knives and using the L and R triggers to alternatively scale your way up a surface. This is both incredibly time consuming and frustrating due to the fact the controls are set up in a way that almost purposefully prohibits doing it at any pace. Oddly, the designers were so delighted with this L-R-L-R movement system they also decided to apply it to climbing horizontal ropes, where it is every bit as frustrating. A variant on it also appears now in the process of swinging from horizontal poles, which now involves holding down both triggers, making what was, for 2 games, a fluid and instinctive system of movement a bogged down chore.
Those are just the tip of the iceberg though. Arguably NG3's biggest crime is that it doesn't even just rehash its predecessors...it actually takes genuine steps BACKWARDS. The combat system, involving only 2 buttons, X for light slash and Y for heavy, was famed throughout gamers for its depth; button bashing got you nowhere in Ninja Gaiden and its sequel, players had to learn the game's many combo attacks, master their timing and what would work on specific foes, and were rewarded with a feeling of genuine achievement as you cut a path through hordes of enemies. Ninja Gaiden 3 cuts down not only the number of attacks at your disposal, but also any manner of difficulty in pulling them off, rendering the game no more than an exercise in bashing buttons and hoping for the best, a tactic which works to a worrying degree.
Further limiting Ryu's arsenal of attacks, and in turn the player's variety, is the game's decision to omit the option to choose weapons. The first 2 games gave the player an arsenal of bladed devices to cut through your foes with, each one with different strengths and weaknesses. From Nunchuks to giant scythes, there was truly a weapon to suit every player's style and situation. In Ninja Gaiden 3 you have a sword. Well, technically Ryu wields 3 different swords throughout the game, but they all play identically, meaning the same 2 combos will in fact serve you all the way through the game.
It does have to be said that while I may have sounded completely negative, the game doesn't play bad as such, in fact, as dumbed down as the game is, as far as button mashing slash-fests go it is still quite playable and a decent way to waste some time, in particular a boss battle pitting a Ninja against a Tyrannosaurus Rex really cannot be anything but loved, but when you find a game which manages to find itself a more shallow and hollow experience than its original series entry, released on the previous generation of consoles, it really is hard not to feel exceptionally disappointed. The game is probably about on par with the derivative Ninja Blade game, which I enjoyed more mainly due to the fact it wasn't burdened by the expectations of having 2 incredibly prequels before it.
The aesthetics of the game are good without ever pushing the boundaries. The game looks slick enough, and while it doesn't quite have the 'OOMPH' visuals that Team Ninja became famous for, I find that slightly more forgivable given that absolutely nobody pushed the boundaries graphics wise quite like Itagaki. The sound is likewise passable, with everyone featuring a suitable voice actor and no particularly offensive dialog. The music could perhaps have done with a bit more work, not that it ever seemed out of place, but it didn't ever really strike me for its quality either.
When all is said and done, the best way I can possibly sum up Ninja Gaiden 3 is as follows; imagine an incredible movie, led by an eccentric but brilliant director who goes to painstaking lengths to ensure his movie features dreamy special effects, a sweeping score and incredible action set pieces. Give the film a charismatic star, a beautiful leading lady and an array of nefarious monstrous villains. Then give it a sequel with all of the above, but with the technical aspects upped again. Then imagine another sequel. The director is gone, in his place a hack doing his best to imitate, but with none of the imagination. The star is still there, but he's phoning it in, the female lead is a page 3 girl, and it's release goes Direct to DVD. That is effectively what Ninja Gaiden 3 is, a Direct-to-Video sequel. Bloodsport 2, Robocop 3 - an inferior, soulless continuation of a series that possibly should have went out on top. It isn't a terrible game, but how far it has fallen from its predecessor can, at times make it seem like one. Fans of the series will probably want to at least play it through, but I'd recommend doing so with extremely low expectations. Casual players might be put off by the excessive gore, but if that doesn't bother you it isn't the worst slash 'em up you'll ever play, but you could probably get your hands on the far superior second game for less cost.
Every now and again a movie comes along that bombs SO bad that even those who made it effectively disown it. Gigli, Jaws: The Revenge and Catwoman spring to mind, and every single one of those movies is every bit as bad as their made out to be (well to be fair I've only see half an hour of Gigli, but it was enough) however one of the original box office disaster, and one of the best known, is my topic of the day. George Lucas' Marvel Comics adaptation's failings have been held responsible from everything from the Star Wars prequels taking so long to get made to James Cameron's Spiderman never seeing the light of day. This is the film that bankrupted the man who'd just made Return of the Jedi AND Indiana Jones, this is Howard The Duck.
My feelings going into watching Howard The Duck for the first time in over 20 years were mixed. It's renowned for being awful, legend has it Lucas blocked it's home video release for years he resents it so much. However, the last time I watched it, on a VHS taped off the tv that I accidentally recorded over, I thoroughly enjoyed it. That and, in hindsight, I could really have done without the Star Wars prequels.
Based upon an obscure Marvel Comics character that featured in mainly adult-orientated, satirical stories, it's fairly insane to think Howard managed to beat Spiderman, Wolverine and the Hulk to the big screen, and I've actually heard this film's failings at the box office put studios off Marvel material for over a decade. I'm sceptical of this myself, but what is known as fact is George Lucas was really banking on this film to do big business for him, he was in debt at the time and was convinced this was his way to get back into the black.
The film follows Howard, an 'everyduck' living on a planet almost identical to ours, with the exception of the small detail that the dominant species evolved from ducks. Howard's status quo is ruined forever when he comes in from work to settle down for a beer only to get sucked straight from his living room and find himself somewhere on Earth. OUR Earth.
To be specific, he's in an alleyway in Cleveland. Scared and confused after encountering some of Cleveland's less desirable denizens, he happens upon a damsel in distress in the form of wannabe rockstar Beverley (Lea Thompson) who is getting hassled by some local punks. The pair form an unusual alliance and drive the scumbags off, before Beverley takes Howard in. We learn she's the lead singer of all female rockband Cherry Bomb, currently struggling to make it despite the worst efforts of their sleazy manager.
The following day Beverley takes Howard to see her lab assistant friend Phil (Tim Robbins) who's amazement ends up doing nothing but alienating Howard, leading him to storm off and try to live life without Beverley's help, trying his hardest to seek a decent job. It doesn't take long for him to see the error of his ways and join forces with Beverley again, ridding her off her manager in the process. It also turns out the visit to see Phil wasn't without merit, as he tracks down Dr. Jennings (Jeffrey Jones) who not only knows how Howard got here, but also how to send him home.
It turns out an experimental laser fired into space somehow sucked Howard from his living room to Cleveland, and Jennings figures reversing the process shouldn't be too tough. However, an accident while setting up this transit causes an explosion attracting the police, led by the suspicious Lt. Welker (Paul Guilfoyle) Howard, Beverley and Jennings manage to evade the police, but a bigger problem becomes apparent when Jennings starts to act strangely. It turns out that the laser managed to bring another alien being through, and this one, one of the 'Dark Overlords' is nowhere near as friendly as Howard. In fact, he intends to use the laser to bring all of his race, long imprisoned in a secluded dimension, to Earth, using Beverley as the first host body. Howard, after busting Phil from custody, must now fight to save our world and try to find a way back to his.
Howard The Duck takes a fairly straightforward theme, the unlikely hero thrown into an even more unlikely scenario where he manages to outsmart the disbelieving authorities, defeat his foe and rescue the girl, but it punts it off into an altogether weird new direction. The film's biggest flaw is actually its inability to judge what it wants to be. As I said, the Howard comic was actually aimed at more mature readers, and some of the humour the film throws up, as well more risqué elements such as the implied attraction between Howard and Beverley and a fairly pointless skit in which he gets a job in a sleazy sauna seem at odds with the family fun tone the rest of the movie seems to be aiming for. None of the scenes are THAT bad as in to make the film unsuitable for children, to be honest, all of it with the exception of a pair of feathery duck-girl breasts seen for 2 seconds at the start of the movie (which raised a giggle in 7 year old me) all of it really went over my head as a kid. Given that Lucas was banking on this movie being a phenomenon, I'm guessing the family angle was the one he was aiming for, so perhaps director Willard Huyck was curtailed in any attempts to make it too mature.
This isn't the film's only problem mind you. The bare bones of the plot are fine, but Howard really suffers from a lack of really filling them out, which makes the film's middle, where Howard struggles to find a job and wanders the streets, a tad tiresome. The film really comes to life when the Dark Overlord plot kicks off, because up until this point the plot is just trundling on without a purpose. Incidentally the character of the Dark Overlord is loosely based upon a character from the comics called Thog the Nether-Spawn, a 'Dark Overlord' actually responsible for bringing Howard to Earth. Perhaps they could have tried to implement that into the plot, by having him be the one responsible for bringing Howard to Earth somehow, perhaps by having him come through first and his first attempt at bringing his cohorts through messes up and results in Howard arriving. Having this almost demonic character as the movie's nemesis could also be seen as being another case of the film spitting the face of its family adventure nature, but the Dark Overlord is never portrayed as particularly frightening, and even when he reveals his true form, it turns out to be the kind of monster kids enjoy.
With all this said, as contradictory as this might sound, Howard The Duck still actually manages to be rather good, silly fun. I mean, I've no idea why George Lucas felt this was going to take monster money, because it isn't fantastic, but Howard has enough amusing lines, and the majority of the characters written well enough that it's more than possible to have quite a good time watching it.
Despite being a $2Million dollar special effect, played by numerous actors AND a voice actor, Howard manages to have his show stolen by Jeffrey Jones, particularly post possession. Jones is an absolute blast as the sarcastic villain, particularly during arguably the film's best scene in a roadside cafe. Not just in terms of his vocal delivery but some of his facial expressions are priceless.
The film also reawakened my childish crush on Lea Thompson (Marty's past-mum in Back to the Future) who looks absolute sensational despite the best attempts of the 1980s hair to ruin her. Her Beverley doesn't exactly ooze rockstar, but that's more of a writing issue than her portrayal, which is fine as the big hearted dreamer who takes Howard in. Tim Robbins (Oscar winning Tim Robbins) as the mad lab assistant Phillzy is a blast too. I'm pretty sure nobody saw the Shawshank Redemption coming at this stage.
In fact, arguably the biggest failing the film has in terms of performances is Howard. Now, nothing about Howard is bad as such, neither Chip Zien's voice acting nor the suit or puppetry is the issue, it's more a flaw in how the character has been written. While I understand that the entire point was that it's a twist on the concept of an 'everyman' having to save the day having Howard who is not only out of his depth but with the added issue of being 3 feet shorter than everyone else on an alien planet, very little is done to give Howard a standout character. He's supposed to be a wise-cracking, stiff-upper-beak style character, but memorable lines come in short supply and realistically the character could have benefitted from the middle of the movie being used for something other than seeing him try to fit in the real world. When we eventually see his disgust at duck hunting and subsequent assault on duck hunters, it adds a dash of character that Howard really could have done with more of. He's really what the movie hinges upon, the titular hero, and instead of being an iconic, cult hero, he's a fairly by the numbers movie talking animal hero.
Given that this was the 1980s, and we're pre-dating the now tired, overly glossy CGI, and Howard is achieved via a means similar to all of Lucas Star Wars critters and the cinematic Ninja Turtles, a time when it really was possible to have special effects with character, is all the more shocking. This isn't to say Howard is badly realised, because he really isn't, in fact, he looks great. The Dark Overlord's true form is realised through a stop-motion model, which I absolutely love but I'll gladly admit I'm a complete mark for stop-motion monsters.
Overall, I'm not totally sure where I stand on Howard The Duck. 'Worst Movie Ever' accusations are miles wide of the mark, which my inner child is more than a little glad of, but it is far from a classic. It's the kind of film that's unabashedly odd 1980s-ism is starting to win over fans on DVD, and anyone who enjoys the oddball sort of films this decade spawned will certainly find it an amusing way to spend an afternoon. With a slightly better writing team it could have been a much better picture, but to be totally honest it was never going to be the all-conquering, ranch-paying movie Lucas wanted it to be, and he realistically has nobody to blame for his hatred of it but himself. If it was a payday he wanted, Episode VII, or even Boba Fett the movie would have delivered in that sense. I find it impossible to come away from the movie having not enjoyed it, albeit that could be down to the sensational 80s pop musical number they close upon.
A fairly amusing throwaway bit of trivia is that Howard's original appearance came in the pages of obscure Marvel title Man-Thing (indeed Thog was actually one of Man-Thing's enemies), a character who himself got movie treatment in 2005, to an arguably worse response than Howards.
Sometimes the maths just doesn't add up. Despite having no interest whatsoever in Star Trek, I thoroughly enjoyed the comedy adventure movie Galaxy Quest, which saw the cast of a fictional Trek like show kidnapped from a Sci Fi convention by aliens to help save their universe. It's a fairly fun concept and the crew clearly had a lot of time for the genre they were sending up, but at the same time a bit of self awareness. Likewise, as a Jean Claude Van Damme fan, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing him play (an exaggerated) version of himself in JCVD. Mix in the fact that I'm a huge fan of Bruce Campbell, and a film which comes across as almost a merger of Galaxy Quest and JCVD based around the B-Movie star sounds like a great night's entertainment. Sadly in this case 2+2+1 certainly did not equal 5.
For those wondering exactly who Mr. Campbell is, he is arguably the quintessential B-Movie actor. He is most famous for his leading role in Sam Raimi's breakout Evil Dead trilogy, where he played the unlikely hero Ash. Despite his performances, especially in the third movie Army of Darkness, stealing the show, for one reason or another Campbell has never managed to follow his good friend Mr. Raimi to the heights of Hollywood stardom, a few ventures into TV land with the title role in the short-lived Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and a recurring supporting role in Xena: Warrior Princess are as close to stardom as Campbell has mustered in a career spent largely as the sole draw in Direct-to-Video Horror and Sci Fi movies.
Despite his lack of mainstream success, Campbell has attained a fairly rabid and loyal fanbase, in part due to the fact he is often the best thing about movies he stars in, being a charismatic, quick witted and fairly handsome leading man, but certainly for myself a big part of his appeal is the fact that he doesn't take himself too seriously. It would be easy to see a man with such a career could be bitter, but Campbell seems to take everything with a good dose of humour. His autobiography 'If Chins Could Kill' is a fantastic read that paints him as someone who is more than aware he isn't making high brow movies, but doesn't see why he shouldn't have fun with it.
My Name is Bruce sees 4 standard idiot teenagers unwittingly unleash an ancient Chinese demon while clowning around in a graveyard. The one survivor, Jeff (Taylor Sharpe) happens to be a phenomenal fan of Bruce Campbell, and as the demon, named Guan Di, starts to behead half of the small town of Gold Lick, Jeff comes up with a master plan to stop the demon.
Meanwhile, we find Bruce Campbell on the set of his latest classic 'CaveAlien 2'. After the shoot we discover Campbell is recently divorced, his agent (Ted Raimi) is sleeping with his ex-wife, and he spends his nights flooring bottles of booze in a trailer.
Campbell is dragged from this existence by Jeff, who kidnaps his idol and brings him to Gold Lick, as he believes Bruce is the only one who can stop Guan Di. Believing this is all a set up for a movie, Campbell plays along, but is realistically more interested in sleazing on Jeff's mum Kelly (Grace Thorsen) and soon finds himself out of his depth in his battle with a very real monster.
In general the idea behind the movie, washed up star is mistaken for his most famous character and drafted in to save the day, is workable. Certainly for fans of Campbell, litter it with some in-jokes and plenty of references to his past works and it should be a goer, correct? Sadly, My Name is Bruce manages to spectacularly nose-dive, making a complete waste of Campbell, Thorsen and every fan who has settled down to watch this movie's time.
As I say, the premise of Campbell being kidnapped to save the day, before finding himself out of his depth, is a fun one. It also would have provided an interesting twist on the Evil Dead movies, where Ash is a little different character wise in each movie, but he always follows the path of a reluctant hero who ends up saving the day. Watching Campbell reluctantly become an already reluctant hero could have been a fun, and fairly original, little plot point, yet despite almost all of the film's publicity referring to Campbell being mistaken for Ash, it honestly never actually happens in the film.
The hero status Campbell is thrust into also grates a little. It's never seen how Jeff manages to convince the entire town, except his mother, that Campbell is a potential saviour. It's a ridiculous premise, but not even one that is ever made humorous to the point that you can forgive it. Nobody else in Gold Lick actually seems to have seen a Campbell movie, they just seem to have went on Jeff's word that Bruce will save the day, they aren't portrayed as particularly idiotic, so it just doesn't sit right. I actually think My Name is Bruce would have benefitted from a Galaxy Quest like fan convention setting where it actually is believable a room full of people could see Campbell as their saviour.
The film also manages to completely misfire with any attempt at in-jokes. An early scene sees Jeff try to woo a girl by quoting Campbell pick up lines from various movies, which could have worked had it been deployed better, but instead just comes across cringeworthy. At one point I actually pre-empted, and was looking forward to, a joke that they stunningly never delivered. At one stage the mayor declares that Bruce will know what the best weapon to go monster hunting with so as the locals gather round to hear his answer, it becomes clear Bruce doesn't have a clue about guns. This scene BEGS for him to recall his 'This is my boom-stick...' speech where he highlights the details of his shotgun but instead it opts for a limp joke where he mutters incoherently and picks up the nearest pistol. In a film crafted effectively with the purpose of being an in-joke, one neat line about having made a film in Bulgaria aside, My Name is Bruce never delivers any witty or remotely clever nods to Campbell's filmography or even B-Movies in general. Instead we have utterly lame gags about urinating in beer bottles and tired racial stereotype clichés. There are some out of place musical interludes to try and move the story along, at least that's what they want you to think, to me it simply seems a dull attempt to make the film feel a bit more unique and culty. Realistically it's just lame.
Arguably the film's biggest crime is its astounding misuse of Bruce Campbell. This film could quite easily have been made based around a fictional movie star, because regardless of what his character is called, Campbell is not playing Bruce Campbell. In both his book and any interviews I have seen with Bruce, one of his most endearing features is his ability to not take himself or his work too seriously and actually have a laugh at his own expense. The problem here is that My Name is Bruce is written in such a horrendously infantile manner that it takes advantage of Campbell's self-deprecating humour to put him in scenarios that just aren't funny. Oh look, he's a cocky, sleazy film star his co-stars moan about behind his back - how original, but he's drinking bourbon from a dog bowl because his career is rubbish - incredible! The reason this movie appealed to me was that I wanted to see Bruce Campbell, or at least a somewhat an exaggerated depiction of him, instead he's stuck playing a tired cliché of a washed up movie star. ANY B-Movie actor could have played this role. Hell, when you take the rather out of place Oriental villain I wouldn't be surprised if this was originally planned as American Ninja: The Rebirth until even David Bradley and Michael Dudikoff passed it up.
It should tell you something that with that said Campbell is still essentially the film's only highlight, and even he is far from on form. All in all there were 2 moments Campbell really really shone in, the aforementioned Bulgaria line, and a scene in which he clearly sees a character walking away as the town feel he has disappeared. The facial expressions here as he hopelessly tries to explain what has happened are classic Campbell, realistically about the only time he really gets to show some of the character that has made him a fan favourite.
The only other members of the cast really given anything to work with are Sharpe and Thorsen, the former comes across as far too whiny and irritating, the latter fares slightly better, the lady is easy on the eye, but despite a fairly lacklustre writing job she manages to bring a bit of character and sarcastic humour to the film, doing her best to fill the void left by Campbell portraying a douche.
The film's production values are gutter, however this is the one failing of the film I am actually willing to forgive. I have actually heard a lot of Campbell's more sycophantic fans actually proclaim that the film was intentionally bad, and while I don't believe for a minute anyone actually sets out to write a worthless script, hokey effects can add a bit of character as long as they are employed properly. The Guan Di costume is probably the most expensive effect, and at best I could describe it as a bad early 1990s Power Rangers villain, but it actually serves its purpose, and actually raises more of a smile than any of the jokes in the movie.
I don't normally come down so hard on what is an out and out B-Movie, but I really am this movie's target audience, hell, I'm one of the few people that actually endured the thoroughly diabolical Evil Dead: Hail to the King videogame, and it's an insulting, parasitic trick to suck some more money out of Campbell's loyal fans. It really is without redeeming factor, and is quite easily the worst movie that Campbell has ever made (and that's saying something) and really doesn't offer anything, to anyone. Stick to the Evil Dead trilogy and Bubba Ho-Tep, all this will do is sour Campbell in your eyes.
Belated sequels, a risky game at the best of times, but one made tougher when it's a genre-blurring delight like the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Predator you're trying to follow up. Predator is a film with a special place in my heart, a film I grew up with. While that last phrase may make a few parents baulk in this age, it was a different time, Arnie films, despite the 18 ratings, were often almost cartoonish in their violence and any inclinations it put in kids towards the dark side of their nature were balanced out by the fear they put in you that if you broke the law a 6 foot hulking brute of an Austrian would show up and sort you out.
Needless to say Predators was a film that I both looked forward to, but the standards I would be holding it to were high. Of course this wasn't the first Predator sequel. In 1990 we swapped the Amazon jungle for the vastly underrated Predator 2, and in recent years there have been 2 hugely disappointing attempts to follow in the footsteps of videogames and comics by pitting the Predators against the xenomorphs from the Alien franchise. Predators producer Robert Rodriguez done a fair bit of talking in the build up to its release, going as far as to denounce Predator 2 AND the Vs. movies, claiming this would be the sequel fans wanted to see. I've found Rodriguez movies hit and miss, and can't claim to have seen anything else by director Nimrod Antal's limited repertoire, so did my best to look forward to Predators. It couldn't be any worse than Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem could it?
The film's main protagonist, a British mercenary who we later learn answers to the name of Royce (Adrien Brody)opens the film falling through the sky with a parachute that opens when he reaches a certain height, landing him in the depths of a mysterious jungle. He soon encounters the rest of the cast, a nefarious bunch including a Yakuza hitman (Louis Ozawa), Israeli army sniper (Alice Braga), Russian special forces operative (Oleg Taktarov), Sierra Leone death squad gunner (Mahershali Ali), Mexican gang heavy (Danny Trejo), death row convict (Walton Goggins) and seemingly out of place doctor (Topher Grace) the group form an unlikely alliance when it becomes clear that they are being hunted by an unseen menace equipped with high tech weaponry. It soon becomes clear that they have all been brought here for a reason, for in their respective lives they are all predators, and as such they have been hand-picked as prey in the ultimate hunt.
It's worth getting something right out of the way before I talk about any other aspect of Predators, and that's the fact it is basically a remake of the original. During production Rodriguez was full of talk about how Predators was going to be set in the jungle, because that is where Predator belongs. In hindsight, this seems like an excuse for the film's crass lack of any originality. Perhaps I'm being a tad harsh, there are a few elements Predators throws into the mix to try and distance itself from the original.
There is the 'shocking' plot twist involving Edwin, Topher Grace's character, that realistically anyone over the age of 15 should be able to see coming within 5 minutes of the character's introduction. In case you've seen any of the film's publicity and are wondering when I'd mention Laurence Fishbourne's character, his role, in effect a cameo, is that of a survivor from a previous team of humans who contributes around 95% of the plot exposition in his minute role, effectively his character, Nolan, is there for this and only this purpose, to ensure the film's plot isn't contained entirely on the DVD sleeve.
Despite Rodriguez' insistence that the film was based entirely on Predator, with none of its sequels or spin-offs used for inspiration, Predators also manages to half introduce a plot straight out of the comic/novels about a Predator blood feud pitting the elite breed (the Predators in this film) with the standard chaps like the one dealt with by Arnie. In all reality, this isn't really integral to the plot at all; it's basically an exceptionally lazy way of trying to establish these Predators as exceptionally fearsome. It does lead to a fan-gasm Predator Vs. Predator battle, which is, realistically, pointless, too short and too dark for the desired effect. Ultimately, this attempt at getting these Predators, whom Nolan describes as being "wolves compared to dogs" over with the audience fails miserably, by large due to their rather pathetic performance, both in terms of appearance and actions.
Much work has went into the designs of the 3 'elite' Predators that appear. That's sarcasm by the way, one comes directly from the mid-90s action figure line, and I can't help but think the other 2 were designs that were in the pipeline before the toys got canned. One has over-sized protruding tusks, one has a sharp, almost bird of prey like mask (and has a neat, robot bird style tracker) and one that has a jaw bone attached to the bottom of his mask. All sarcasm aside, I do quite like the attempt at giving the Predators individual character; I just don't think they are particularly great designs. The one with the bird-like mask, I'll call him 'Falcon', is probably my favourite, but to be honest this character is only highlighted, or even expressed in the slightest, in one introductory scene. The jawbone one is the worst, it makes the Predator look like it sports a constant goofy grin. It's also been stated that the jaw bone belongs to an Alien. Which, again, spits in the face of the 'only drawing on Predator' rubbish, and also makes no sense as aliens have long, slender heads. Arguably the most disappointing thing about these predators, despite being referenced as being bigger than the one Arnie fought...they simply aren't.
Why am I spending so much time on the, rarely seen, bad guys? What about our heroes!? Eh, theres a reason I've been avoiding them. Like Fishbourne, Trejo is wasted in what is little more than a glorified cameo, and the rest of the supporting characters do little to capture the attention. Goggins appears to be having fun playing the same character he always plays as the psychotic con Stans, and does bring a bit of life to proceedings, and Taktarov does deserve some credit for making his Russian commando probably the most likable of all the human cast, but doesn't get a great deal to do except lug about a giant chaingun (yeah, exactly the same as Blaine's in Predator...) Ozawa plays a largely silent role, apart from a direct Predator 2 quote, and gets to take part in one of the film's most slaughtered sequences, where he apes Billy and opts to stay behind and duel the Predator armed with just a samurai sword he finds along the way. I didn't think the scene was THAT bad, although one criticism of it certainly stands up, the one about his motives. You see the one dynamic that is different about this team of protagonists from Arnie, Jesse and co. in Predator is that while they were a tightly knit team of commandoes, Predators' protagonists have never met one another, and given the nature of their characters, this could have created for a dynamic that is never really explored. Why would the Yakuza effectively give up his life to buy the other survivors, whom he has no real connection to?
The leading pair of Brody and Braga suffer mixed fates too. To be honest, Braga probably comes out the best, doing well with her portrayal of the proud soldier who is none too keen about teaming up with a mercenary, albeit the fact her character isn't written as a complete idiot helps her. Brody on the other hand...well I'd like to get it out of the way right now that I think Adrien Brody is a fine actor, but he is horrendously miscast here. While promoting the film it was stated that they wanted to avoid a Vin Diesel style muscleman to avoid accusations of just cloning Arnie (evidently the one aspect of Predator they weren't prepared to plagiarise) which actually piqued my interest. Brody could have thrived in the role of the manipulative Edwin or even as the clinical sniper, so imagine my surprise when it turns out he has been case in a generic hardman soldier role. The man deserves his due, he has clearly bulked up for the role, but a scene early on in which he appears to struggle hacking plantlife out of the way with a machete pretty much sums up his portrayal of a character at one stage referred to as 'the tough guy' (a choice of words I feel was more aimed at trying to get this idea over with the audience than actually a descriptive term) Brody simply isn't believable in the Arnie role.
In fact, Brody spearheads one of the film's fundamental problems. It tries to talk a good game, but ultimately when sat next to its predecessor it just looks plain silly. One 'standard' Predator toyed with a special forces team including Arnie, who went over EVERYONE in the 1980s, Apollo Creed, former WWF Superstar Jesse 'The Body' Ventura and Bill Duke (if you've ever seen an action film, you'll know his face) and pushed the Governator to the limit. Predators sees 3 'Elite' Predators bumble around and ultimately lose to a patchwork team of scumbags led by him from The Piano. With home advantage.
Oh yeah, didn't I mention? This film is set on an alien planet, a global open range if you will. Why didn't I mention this? Because it has absolutely no bearing on the plot whatsoever except allowing Royce to moan about "getting off this rock" it sounds like a fairly neat idea to begin with, but then you think about it and it creates even more problems. If these are the top Predators, why do they need to airlift in prey to a set-up hunting ground when one of the scruffy Predators proved more than adept at hunting on Earth, which would surely be a more challenging hunt? Why is the jungle, one reference to an extinct plant aside, never seen to be any different from an Earth jungle? The whole thing seems set up with the sole purpose of creating one of those semi-upbeat, semi-downbeat defiant endings that really please nobody. On the subject of the more challenging hunt, the film also seems to have done away with any form of honour system in the Predator series, else wise I'm fairly confident Nolan would have been REWARDED for surviving 3 seasons.
The actual production values of the movie can't really be faulted. The effects are spot on and the score does its job, albeit mainly due to the huge assist provided by Alan Silvestri's excellent theme tune from the original. It's clear money has been spent, and spent fairly well with regards to the look of the movie, it's just a shame some of it didn't go towards writing a decent script.
So was Predators better than Requiem? It's a tougher call than I expected to be honest. In terms of production values and talent involved it certainly is, and the fact it's plot is so similar to the original movie means it bests it in that respect but at least Requiem did throw some semi-original ideas at the viewer and a few nice nods to the fans. Actually who am I kidding, Predators is bad but at least it doesn't completely contradict the events of one half of the 2 series' it incorporates.
Fans will probably still get a kick out of hearing Silvestri's score while soldier types are being stalked through the jungle, but realistically Predators is a one-watch movie every bit as derivative of its original as the countless rubbish direct-to-video rip-offs it has spawned over the years. If you ever wanted proof that a decent budget and cast doesn't a decent movie make, here's your perfect example.
Oh, and to finish on a suitable note, despite it being their primary source of inspiration, the writers clearly didn't pay much attention to the events of Predator, as its events are at one point referenced, stating that there was only one survivor from the team. I hate to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the original (shame on you) but that simply isn't the case. Idiots.
Given their long-standing popularity in the 8-Bit and 16-Bit eras of video-gaming, the rejuvenation of Ninja-themed videogames seems to have been a short lived one. It was only a few scant years ago there were Tenchus, Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, Nightshade, Red Ninja, Otogi and their ilk clogging up the shelves of your local games retailer like Sho Kosugi had been appointed Prime Minister with Michael Dudikoff his Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yet since the Xbox became the 360 and the PS2 the PS3, those same black-clad, katana-wielding protagonists seem to have found themselves unemployed. Ryu Hayabusa's rise to prominence seems to have been cut-short since Tomonobu Itagaki's fall-out with Tecmo, but on the coat-tails of what may be his swansong in Ninja Gaiden 2 came this little title produced by From Software, introducing the world to Ken Ogawa.
It was indeed while reading up Tecmo's ninja title that Ninja Blade was brought to my attention...and it would be the last time I saw or heard of it until I stumbled over it in a supermarket bargain-bin. Having been a while since I let anything other than a football game grace my 360 I figured I'd give it a bash, after all it was less than a tenner.
The game slides you into the sleek black boots of Ken Ogawa, a modern-day ninja warrior and part of a covert Government strike force aimed at dealing with threats the beyond the capabilities of the military. He is thrust into action when a rogue-strain of hook worms dubbed 'Alpha-Worms', which mutate the bodies of their hosts into monstrous beings capable of inhuman acts, get loose in Tokyo. The only prior case of Alpha-Worms had been in a remote location where the military were able to Ground-Zero the area...naturally doing so to Tokyo would be unheard of so it's up to Ken and his team to stealth into the quarantined city and clean up.
The story certainly isn't going to win any awards, but it's serviceable and acts as a fair point of interest between levels. The game does hark back a lot to games of it's type from the olden-days, and the plot is almost 16-Bit in it's naivety. The characters and their designs are an almost surreal mixed bag - ranging from excellent (the snake-woman hybrid given an usual twist) through thoroughly generic (Ogawa senior...an elderly martial artist in a gi, with a beard) to downright bad (Ken). When the worst designed character in the game is your main one you are off to a pretty bad start it has to say. While it has become clear that a traditional ninja-garb would look pretty silly in a modern-day setting, Tecmo and Sega (to an extent) both succeeded in re-imagining their heroes for modern settings, From Software just don't seem to have grasped the idea. The most amusing thing about this is that if you read up on the game, apparently this was something they went to great lengths to work on. Ken just looks far too clunky, and heavy, almost more like a soldier or superhero than a ninja. His mask adds a feel of the latter, with it not being his mouth covered but quite the opposite. The bizarre metal plate on his forehead almost makes him look like a bottle-opener. The design of the standard enemies also leaves somewhat to be desired, looking more at place in a rubbish Resident Evil-clone (I'm thinking Blue Stinger) than would-be opponents in a martial-arts themed game.
So what of the actual game? Well the crux of the game works along the same lines as all the aforementioned Ninja-reboots. It's a 3D action game with an emphasis placed upon swordplay against multiple foes, many of whom are more equipped for long-ranged combat with you, mixed up with some boss battles against either large, monstrous enemies or other ninja-style characters. In this sense the game is serviceable. You have a decent selection of weapons at your disposal, the usual standard blade, strong but slow one and fast but weak ones, a nice touch is your projectile, which breaks from conventional shurikens and arrows and replaces them with a circular boomerang-styled weapon. This throwing device is also where the game involves the infamous trait of 'Ninja Magic' with Ken being able to charge it with fire, wind of lightning abilities to suit certain situations. This gameplay meat-and-bones isn't too challenging, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't actually rather enjoy it. Sure it doesn't grab the attention and imagination like Ninja Gaiden, but it's certainly a solid imitator and is solidly constructed.
The game's control scheme is easy to pick up and get used to, however there are times when the buttons don't respond as fluidly as you would like them to, which can lead to a great deal of frustration. One of the reasons Ninja Gaiden became such a hit was how magnificently the action flowed from your fingertips to the screen. Messing up a series of wall-jumps when you know you pressed the buttons timely is incredibly infuriating. Unresponsive buttons also brings us nicely to arguably the game's biggest talking point...
Who remembers when Quick-Time-Events (QTEs for brevity) were something of a rarity in games? For those unaware of what I'm talking about, a QTE takes place during the cut-scenes between gameplay stages, where the player is prompted to push a certain button within a very limited space of time. The first time I encountered these was in Sega's Shenmue, where they served a purpose, of keeping the player involved in a very story-driven game, well. As years have went by more and more games have incorporated them into their cut-scenes (most notably Resident Evil 4) However Ninja Blade takes QTEs to a perverse level. There's at least 3 every cut-scene. Now for a start this is incredibly intrusive and irritating to begin with, I mean when you get to a cut scene am I the only one who would actually like to watch some of them without a bloody great 'X' or 'B' or such in the middle of the screen? Couple in the aforementioned somewhat slack controls and you are in for something incredibly frustrating.
Aesthetically the game is, as with it's gameplay, solid if unspectacular. The graphics, when it comes to Ken, the levels and the cut-scenes, are nicely done without ever blowing you away, but the enemies are really rather disappointingly depicted, with flat textures looking decidedly last-generation. The sound consists of stock 'exciting' themes that serve their purpose without living long in the memory. The voice acting is likewise, it keeps things moving without ever really standing out. The game does boast the tones of the sexy Kelly Hu, although bizarrely it's for the fairly minor serpentine Yakuza villainess mentioned earlier in the piece.
When all is said and done...Ninja Blade is a decent game. It'll pass the time on a rainy day for those who really enjoyed Ninja Gaiden 2, but don't expect to find yourself raving about it and considering it one of your favourite games. Personally I don't regret the £9.99 I spent on it, but also had no qualms about trading it in upon completing the game.
Given how much the WWE seems intent on cashing in on it's history with DVD reissues and retrospectives, Classic Superstars action figures and even unlockable legends in their modern day Smackdown Vs. Raw titles, it really is a surprise that WWE Legends of Wrestlemania took so long to actually come to exist. Perhaps THQ, the WWE's licensed videogame maker, were put off by how dismal Acclaim's Legends of Wrestling series of games played, perhaps they just couldn't be bothered trying to negotiate around all the fall-outs the WWE has had with legendary wrestlers...maybe they just didn't have time while trying to get out a new SDvR title every year, whatever the reason, as someone who no longer has any desire to watch wrestling but still holds fond memories of the days when I genuinely thought the Ultimate Warrior was channelling electricity through the ring ropes, I looked forward to the game's release and made it a rare full price purchase not long after it hit the shelves.
First impressions of the game looked good, it had a really good roster of superstars from the 1980s and 90s, when I actually watched wrestling, with most of the big names present : The Ultimate Warrior, The Undertaker, The Hart Foundation, The Legion of Doom, Mr. Perfect, Million Dollar Man, Ravishing Rick Rude, SGT Slaughter, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan...the majority of classic tussles were there to be recreated, or a good few dream matches were there to be made. Sadly there were a handful of really telling omissions that soured things for me. It's a well established fact there is some form of dispute between Macho Man Randy Savage and the WWE, but this I one case where I would have liked to have seen a bit of olive branch extending. Savage was a major figure in the majority of early Wrestlemania's, held the WWF Title and was a contributor to at least a couple of anyone who grew up with wrestling during this time's favourite matches. Key example being his match against Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat, who is himself suspicious in his absence. How a tag team as brilliant as Demolition, 3 times tag champions, managed to get passed by is another source of frustration, and while all of the above can easily be made in Create-A-Legend, it isn't the point. Poor Marty Jannety isn't even that lucky, despite the fact his tag-team, The Rockers, are clearly acknowledged in Shaun Michaels alternate outfit.
Speaking of the alternate outfits...the choices for who gets them, and what they received, are bizarre to say the least. Michaels, Undertaker and Slaughter are all well done, but wouldn't we all liked to have seen an alternate costume for the Warrior, a man who never seemed to wear the same outfit twice? How about Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart getting costumes they wore when solo? Hogan with his latter day trousers? Even the ones who did get alternate costumes don't always get them chosen well. The Rock wouldn't have been a first choice for a 2nd costume from me, given his iconic black trunks look is the one everyone associates with him, but if he had to get one, why not opt for his blue and white get up when he was known as Rocky Maivia?
What further rubs in these sort of omissions is the fact that most of the space on the disc that could have been used for these features has went on a much trumpeted ability to import current day superstars from the latest Smackdown Vs. Raw game. Now this is all well and good, but it raises the question of why someone buying a game purposefully aimed at the old school market would want to play as current day superstars?
So I bet you're wondering when I'm actually going to get to the game as opposed to ranting about who is in it and what they are wearing? Well I'll start by talking about how it actually plays before I get around to talking about the ways you can play it. The game is deliberately set out as more of an arcade-styled venture than the SDvR titles, so there's none of the spirit meter, damage building up on areas of the body or fatigue that characterises those games, instead the wrestlers, for the first time in a WWF/E game since WWF Attitude back on the N64, have health bars. Personally I think there are both pros and cons to this system, Spirit Meters can lead to less one-sided matches, but they can also lead to epic length episodes between the ropes; given that Legends of Wrestlemania is setting itself out as an arcade game the shorter bouts health meters cause fits that bill more.
With regards to finishing moves the game introduces a system you could say is derived from the spirit meter, whereby your wrestler goes up a 'level' upon a bar below your health being filled, the filling of which is naturally accomplished by performing successful moves. When you go up a level more powerful moves become available to you, for example in level one a grapple may lead to an armbar, in level two the same command would execute a suplex and once you hit level three it would lead to a power bomb. Once you fill the bar on the final level, 3, you are able to execute your finisher by pressing A and X in unison to start a chain.
What's a chain you ask? Well this is Legends of Wrestlemania's other gameplay distinction. At certain points during the match, usually caused by grappling with groggy opponents or opponents in specific areas (in the corner, next to the announce tables etc) you will be faced with a chain of Quick Time Events (QTEs for brevity) where it becomes a race between you and your opponent to press a button that flashes up onscreen first. Pull off a few of these in a row to perform a devastating combo of attacks, or as I was saying, your wrestler's finisher. I can see some merit in this system, for example in some of the single player modes it allows you to accurately recreate events from matches that you couldn't do as fluidly in open play, but in general this system is one of Legends of Wrestlemania's biggest flaws. It becomes a case of you playing less of the match than simply watching it and trying to press the correct button first, which needless to say isn't a great deal of fun.
As I mentioned, the game has deliberately set out for a simplistic, arcade feel, but some of the decisions made towards doing so in fact turn out counter-productive. For example, only the 4 face buttons of the controller are used, in theory great, but with multiple commands crammed onto these 4 buttons it becomes more complicated than simply having assigned commands to the shoulder buttons would have been. You end up doing things you don't want to while trying to run or taunt that could easily have been avoided by just using the shoulder buttons.
The worst thing about these irritating flaws is that at it's core the game actually is pretty decent. If you stick to the basic uses of the buttons they all respond well, the wrestlers move fluidly and there is definite potential with the engine.
Sadly the game also manages to let itself down when it comes to ways to play it too. Not so much in terms of the match types on offer; there are a plethora of them, even the Hell in the Cell makes an appearance despite the fact the majority of the wrestlers on offer left the company long before it came into play. Sadly it's the amount of single player options that let the game down. There are 2 main modes of play, Legend Killer and Wrestlemania tour mode. Legend Killer is a highly repetitive mode where you take one a wrestler made in Create-A-Legend mode and pit him in Survival guantlets against a set number of opponents (usually 10) one after the other with only a minor health boost between bouts. This wouldn't be so bad if it mixed up the match types, but it really becomes more a test of your boredom endurance than endurance of your character. The other mode is far more interesting, but far too sparse. Tour mode is separated into 3 sub-categories; Relive, Rewrite and Re-Imagine, in which you take on a classic match and are charged with ensuring it goes to plan, goes the other way, or goes whichever way you choose in a different type of match respectively. This is actually quite a neat mode, as you are given certain objectives to fulfill (make the opponent bleed, perform so many top rope manoeuvres etc) in order to sustain or change the course of history. The matches are prefixed by neat little highlight videos of the matches and their buildup, and really the only complaint I have about this mode is how limited the number of matches in it are. There are numerous ways of speculating how this could have been done better, for example limiting the scope to wrestlemanias, especially without Randy Savage, really limited the options, but maybe a few tag-team matches in there wouldn't have gone amiss. Personally I would like to see a sequel elaborate on this mode.
Aesthetically theres little to complain about the game, the characters appear with more exaggerated physiques than in real life, but that was purposeful to play up the somewhat cartoonish nature of wrestling's characters in those days. Everyone looks sufficiently like who they are meant to though, and all of the Wrestlemania arenas are recreated with wonderful detail. Likewise the sound is excellent, with one of the better commentaries I've heard being provided by Jerry 'The King' Lawler and Jim Ross. The pair have recorded commentary that actually talks about the wrestler's character and achievements as well as the match in hand, which adds an air of realism to the proceedings. The majority of the superstars come complete with their iconic entrance music, which is a big part of setting up the atmosphere of the game, though there are some bizarre flubs. The Big Bossman for example comes out to the music he used during his rather cringe worthy run in the early 2000s as a villain as opposed to the 'Hard Time' tune he used during the time this game bases him on, and the British Bulldog oddly doesn't enter to Rule Britania...at least not the opening of the song that he used in real life.
Overall, it may seem like I've done a whole lot of complaining about WWE Legends of Wrestlemania and very little praising to justify the score I've given it, although that's more due to the nature of such a property than the game itself. When a game like this, trying to capture everything that made a certain property from your childhood, comes along, it's natural that you want it to be perfect, to incorporate everything you loved about it, and when it misses some things out, you can't help but be disappointed. Couple that with the fact THQ did make some genuine mistakes with the gameplay it does make for one incredibly negative sounding review, but be assured this isn't a terrible game by any means, and it's lightyears better than Acclaim's effort at a similar title. It does pick up some life in the multiplayer field, but even then the QTEs do their best to ruin the atmosphere.
When all is said and done, the game isn't a disaster. It does enough right, especially in the Wrestlemania tour mode, that I don't regret buying it, but it is a fact that the THQ really dropped the ball and have made an ok game out of what could quite easily have been an incredible one. Those of you like me, who grew up with the WWF in this era will get a kick out of it, but I'd probably wait until it loses a few pounds off the price.
Based on the incredibly popular Manga and Anime, Fist of the North Star was made in 1995, and was set to be the movie to catapult lower-grade action star Gary Daniels to bigger and better things. Sadly, as with the previous year's Streetfighter and Jean Claude Van Damme, things didn't quite work out that way, and Daniels has been confined to the Straight-to-video wasteland since.
While this may immediately lose a lot of face for me with the anime crowd, I was never really a huge fan of the anime, it got really repetitive, really fast, and the only saving grace was the cool fight scenes, and even they started to get repetitive after a while. A lot of fans of the anime absolutely loathed this movie, basically because it didn't recreate the cartoon scene by scene, lost a few characters and, you know, made a transition from long anime series to live action motion picture.
The movie is set in a post-apocalypse future where water is scarce and the majority of the Earth is a wasteland. The main character is Kenshiro(Gary Daniels), his father Ryuken (Malcolm Macdowell) was killed at the hand of his friend Shin (Costas Mandylor). Ryuken was the 'Fist of the North Star', which means that he was the greatest fighter of his Martial Art, Shin is the 'Master of Southern Cross', and takes it upon himself to rule the world, he cannot fight Ryuken, because the teachings say that North Star and Southern Cross should never fight, so he simply guns down Ryuken, which makes Kenshiro the Fist of the North Star. While this is happening, Kenshiro is with his girlfriend Julia (Isako Washio) and Shin and his men launch a surprise attack, leaving Kenshiro for dead and kidnapping Julia.
Years later, the City of Southern cross rules the land, with Shin watching from the top of his mighty tower with Julia prisoner, while his men, lead by Jackal (Chris Penn) are terrorising the nearby village of Paradise Valley.
Kenshiro happens upon the valley, and encounters a blind girl named Lynn(Nalona Herron) and her wannabe hero brother Bat (Dante Basco). After he cures Lynn's blindness, the pair share some sort of link, because she is charged with opening his eyes to his destiny, which he is in denial of. The locals are trying to fight the 'Crossmen', as Shin's troops are called, but they cannot offer much resistance, and it isn't long before the Southern Cross flies above the Valley.
But Lynn sends Bat to find Kenshiro, and despite his initial reluctance to help, despite the great distance between them, Kenshiro hears Lynn's screams of horror at what is happening clearly, and the pair sneak back into the Valley via the sewers, before launching an attack that leads to the demise of an army of crossmen, but Bat is also killed saving Kenshiro from Jackal, whom Kenshiro instructs to go to Shin, and inform him that his time is up.
Taking one of the crossmen's motorbikes, Ken sets off to the City of Southern Cross to fulfill his destiny, and take back his girlfriend.
Fist of the North Star is part Martial Arts movie, part Post-Apocalypse movie and part love story. It's an incredibly frustrating picture, it looks brilliant, and has a lot of things going for it, but it also falls down at a pretty key element.
Ironically, the thing that most detractors seem to miss, are the actually flaws of the movie itself. Too concerned with running off how it doesn't represent the anime, they miss out on all the good things the movie has to offer, but also hilariously manage to never cite the actual probelms the movie faces. The film suffers from 2 conflicting forces trying to make it. Director Tony Randel, famous for his work on Hellbound:Hellraiser 2, wasn't really keen on the martial arts side of the story. Which is a pretty crappy development for a movie where the two main characters are martial arts masters. Randel wanted the emphasis to be placed firmly on the love story angle of the movie.
Gary Daniels however, a fan of the anime and kickboxing champion, was quite the opposite, and wanted the movie to play up the martial arts element more, which, when you think about it, makes sense.
In easily the best DVD treatment a 'B' picture has ever recieved, the UK DVD of the movie, Fist of the North Star recieved a 2-DVD special edition release, which boasts numerous insights into the movie from Daniels, where he declares that while he was happy with Randel's look of the movie, he was disgusted with his shooting and editing of the fight scenes, which is often noticeabley bad. In an excellent audio commentary, Daniels even highlights the movie's faults, something you rarely hear in an Audio commentary, usually pointless re-tellings of the movie's story full of lots of back patting. This commentary discusses the problems, and Daniels doesn't try to disguise the fact that there was some friction involved with the making of it.
His comments about the fight sequences are completely true. While some of them were changed to have him fighting less opponents(Randel apparently didn't want him to seem too strong), a lot of the fight scenes could have been improved greatly via the simple act of better editing and camera use. Some fights, as Daniels points out, don't show you exactly who or what Kenshiro is up against, and sometimes the camera stays stationary for far too long, and others is too close to be able to tell that Daniels can actually fight. Some of them do allow him to shine and look pretty good, and his showdown with Shin at the end of the movie is better than it has any right to be, given that Mandylor isn't much of a fighter, but on the whole, with better editing, I would have given this film an extra star.
It's a shame, because on the plus side, while the movie has it's share of annoying characters(ie Bat), it's also pretty damn good fun as far as post-apocaylpse movies go. It's heroes are likable, and it's villains suitabley nasty, especially in the scene of them attacking the village, and with the excellent action scenes that Daniels can produce, it could have been very good.
The fights aren't the only problem mind, some of the acting is pretty bad. While I like Daniels, and at times in this movie he comes accross as perfect for the role, in a few scenes...he just seems devoid of all character...like he is trying to be Jet Li or something.
Costas Mandylor really isn't very convincing as the murderous Shin, and Daniels reveals on the DVD that the role was originally intended for Julian Sands(!) who would probably have been more suited, given his villainous turns in the entertaining Warlock and it's sequels.
It's hard to tell if Dante Basco is bringing the annoying element to Bat, or if he is just written that way, and 'Downtown' Julie Brown, who apparently hosted MTV or something should have stuck to it.
On the plus side of the acting, Isako Washio seems to be trying single handedly at times to salvage the film as a serious venture. Her English isn't perfect, which is actually quite sexy, and she is probably the true highlight acting wise. Chris Penn does pretty well with his role also, coming away with the memorable "it ain't easy being sleazy", and generally seeming to love this nasty villainous character.
The film does feature some nice support from Ron Howard as a crazy Crossman and Melvin Van Peebles as a rebel leader to try and bolster some quality.
The special effects in the movie are actually pretty good. The wasteland may not be overly original, but it's well created, and Shin's art deco obsessed city is actually a really nice set, and also realised with some excellent miniatures. The overly gory scenes of violence, such as Kenshiro getting his scars, do something to recall the cartoon, and they are fairly well done. Along with the really awesome and atmospheric sets, the film has a bizarre habit of giving every character some form of leather clothing to wear. Seriously, Leather shop owners need not worry if there is an apocalypse.
Another aspect in which the movie comes off very well is the soundtrack. Christopher L. Stone creates an epic and heroic theme for the movie, and his soundtrack is excellent, and along with the sets and effects goes to show that this movie had the production values to be something very special.
And that's the worst thing about the movie, it had the potential to be great. Had Randel allowed Daniels, or basically anyone with any experience in working with martial arts scenes, authority over the Martial arts based aspects of the film, chances are this would have been a genre classic. Hell, the fight scenes are usually the only bits directors get right in Daniels' movies.
As it stands, Fist of the North Star is either one of the best B-Movie action movies, or a frustratingly mediocre A movie. Personally, while I acknowledge that it's lack of success in a fundamental area of a Martial Arts movie, ie the fight scenes, hinder it quite a bit, personally I still found the movie enjoyable enough to watch it more than once and not regret it.
For fans of Daniels, this is a must see, fans of the anime who are open minded should give it a look, and those looking for a fun Post Apocalypse Martial Arts mix with good production values and a great score should also have a look at the movie. It's pretty entertaining, and it's just a shame it wasn't handled a little better, or it could have been truly great, Sci Fi classic. It's certainly not the horror-show anime purists make it out to be.
It will always cause me a great deal of confusion why some movies hit DVD before others. I know rights will play a part in the issue, but at the same time, am I the only person who thinks a company would be better off, and stand a better chance of making money, shelling out that extra at the start to get the rights to put out a decent film on DVD as opposed to getting a piece of absolute gash cinema and sticking it out at a quid a DVD, likely only to sell 4 copies? Films like Curfew make me think that, and get me quite angry that nobody has put out Monster Squad on Region 2 disk yet.
You see, I usually start a review by talking a bit about the movie in question, generally slaver some trivia about it, however, Curfew is a movie so painfully dull and insignificant that it doesn't deserve it, and even then I doubt anyone has anything interesting to say a bout it. A pitiful late-1980s slasher movie with nothing to distinguish it from the 100s of other painfully unexciting movies released in that genre during the 1980s.
We follow Stephanie Davenport (Kyle Richards), a teenage girl in any town USA, issued a 10pm curfew by her strict father Walter (Frank Miller), which is going to interfere with her date with the school's top football player being her only concern. However, it turns out Walter is a judge, and 2 brothers he sentenced to death named Bob (John Putch and Ray (Wendell Wellman) have escaped from prison and make their way to the Davenport household to exact revenge upon Walter by terrorising the family.
Ok so I could go more in-depth here, but I really don't think the film deserves it, and I don't want to subject myself to thinking about it too long. The film is really a rather by-the-numbers genre entry with nothing at all going for it. The brothers, who are supposed to come across as insane and sadistic, are merely cringe worthy, especially as they attempt to make Bob somewhat sympathetic. It's also never explained how they manage to break out of Death Row, and it's hard to picture 2 such morons managing to pull it off.
Even the killings are unoriginal and dull, as well as mostly taking place offscreen. This really is bottom of the barrel, completely pointless stuff here.
The acting can't salvage anything either. Richards was in the first 2 Halloween movies, and so therefore should have not only known better than to star in such crap (with that said, she is an Aunt of the Hilton sisters...hardly known for good choice in roles) but also have been expected to put in at least a competent performance as opposed to the wooden, emotion free main character we're subjected to. Worse yet are Putch and Wellman, the former, in trying to make Bob somewhat of a misunderstood manchild, just comes across as a klutz, and the latter, in trying to make Ray seem sinister and twisted, bypasses his target and just becomes stupid.
As I mentioned, effectively every death takes place offscreen, eliminating the need for complex effects, and given that the film looks at least 15 years older than it actually is, it's a safe bet to assume they would be rank-rotten anyway. Naturally with a movie as unexceptional as this, the score is naturally incredibly forgettable. In fact, given that so little action actually takes place onscreen, I really doubt it even went as far as to have standard shock numbers, because the film doesn't even pull any cheap-scares on the audience, so the score doesn't even need to sound even pseudo-exciting.
I realise this is a scandalously short review, but Curfew really doesn't give me anything to talk about, it's just so infuriatingly boring that there is nothing else worth saying really, beyond "Don't watch it" it really is just a standard 1980s Slasher with nothing to differentiate itself with, or even an unoriginal idea executed well enough to garner even slight interest. When you hear people complain about how boring and lifeless Jason and Freddy sequels are, ignore them, as they've clearly never been subjected to a truly awful and lifeless slasher in the vein of this nonsense.
Shockingly, somehow director Gary Winick managed to carve out a directorial career after this debacle, and was actually at the helm for the recent cinematic production of Charlotte's Web (!) One has to assume the producers weren't familiar with his earlier work.
Tetsuo is a movie I have meant to get around to seeing for a long time. It's been much touted by generally everyone who has seen it as everything from live action anime, live action Akira to the Japanese Eraserhead. Given my liking for Godzilla and Martial Arts movies, I oft find myself reading about Asian films, and one that always comes for praise is this ultra-low budget Black and White film from director Shinya Tsukamoto.
Trying to talk about the plot of the movie will be tough, generally because their isn't much to talk about. A Japanese Metal Fetishist(Shinya Tsukamoto - Ichi the Killer) inserts a rusty pipe into a gaping leg wound, and while in pain is knocked down by a Taxi Driver(Tomorowo Taguchi - Gamera 2:The Advent of Legion). The taxi driver starts to go through physical changes, as metal parts start to sprout from him and he is chased from the subway by a girl with a clawed metal hand(Nobu Kanaoka - Tokyo Fist).
He is also having odd dreams about his girlfriend(Kei Fujiwara - Organ) sporting a huge drainpipe phallus sodomising him. Their real life relationship takes a turn for the worse as his phallus turns into a huge drill-bit mid intercourse, and he starts to degenerate further into some sort of mechanical monster. Then, the fetishist reappears, more than a little annoyed about being knocked down, and itching for a scrap...
At least thats about as much as I got, the movie is essentially a 65 minute series of peculiar images and situations sort of welded together in a way that makes very little sense. While Im sure the art crowd will love it's off-the wall nature, and a lot of people herald it as a classic. Personally I wasn't much impressed at all by it's flippantly disjointed nature and lack of any attempt at characterisation. There is very little dialogue spoken, but strangely I don't even think that's where the biggest problem lies, it's more with Tsukamoto's constant attempts to (unsucessfully in my case) shock viewers with as many scenes of random outrageousness as possible. While he does make some nice use of Sam Raimi style camera, as he pioneered in the Evil Dead, but on the whole I just found the film boring. There is a message buried in it somewhere, about how society is heading, people turning into machines and such, but its conveyed in such a ridiculous manner that the most positive reaction this movie can even hope to extract from the viewer is laughter. People often make a lot of the gore in the movie, but personally I didn't think it was all that bad. The scene of the fetishist installing the pipe into his leg was pretty gruesome, less due to the visuals of it, and actually more down to the way Tsukamoto plays it.
The climatic battle between the two machine/men is also pretty uninspiring. Lots of sped up first person camera and the same type of sped up movement of the characters while they don't actually move their feet.
The performances, what little there are of them, are generally of a high standard. All the actors generally do well with the tiny scraps of character they are given, which doesn't really say much, but nobody's acting offended me, and on the whole I guess this means their performances were decent, with as little character as their roles had, Im not sure even a collection of the world's best actors could have done anything productive. As Im often blurting out, Im not keen on the whole reviewing subtitled actors performances, but given each character has about 7 lines each, I don't feel so bad about this judgement.
The film is shot to a pounding techno soundtrack that suits the movie perfectly. At least if you listened to the soundtrack and watched the movie sans sound you would feel this, but I feel the music is used at the wrong times. The really pounding stuff should have been used for the dramatic scenes, whereas it occasionally just plays during some of the random scenes. In the few instances that the soundtrack is used wisely, the results are superb.
Considering that the movie was made on a shoestring budget, the special effects in Tetsuo are surprisingly good. All the transformation effects look pretty damn realistic, with the only fault coming from the fact the design of what the characters turn into is garbage. Had a proper design been implemented with these effects, they really could have been on to a winner, instead, all Im left with is a feeling that if Tsukamoto ever gives up on directing, he could do a decent job in special effects.
On the whole, I really do not see where people are drawing all of these glowing recommendations of Tetsuo from. Admittedley, Im not at all a fan of David Lynch, and a lot of people are keen to liken this to his work, but I just don't really see where people were drawing any sort of entertainment from. I once read a review that stated that this was more a superb student film than the cult classic it's made out to be, and I wholley agree with this view. Tsukamoto can clearly make films, his effects,camera work and general production values are superb, especially when the low budget is taken into account, however, this doesn't make for a particularly enjoyable experience, and not a film Im too proud to have paid a decent amount of money for on DVD.
It's the well done production that saves Tetsuo from getting a minimal score, however, it caused me a lot of grief if I should recommend it or not. While I feel the film's qualities are an excellent example to people of how a minimal budget, if used properly, can look very good, the actual content of the film itself really isn't worth it unless maybe David Lynch fans want to check it out in order to see how they feel it compares. So, I don't regret having seen Tetsuo, I just kind of wish I hadn't paid for the privelidge. I settled on dishing out a 'No', basically because I have absolutely no motivation to ever watch Tetsuo again. While I have said this about films and still gave them a recommendation, they all had at least one thing to inspire me to watch them again, Tetsuo simply doesn't.