Monday, August 17, 2015

Top 10: Dumbest Recycled Titles

You know what really grinds my gears?  When a new entry in some serialized form of media comes out, only to use the same title as its first entry with no or negligible changes.  It causes confusion whenever you're trying to talk about one or the other, and it also betrays the lack of creativity our media producers have suffered in recent years.  But some cases stand out more than others, for better or worse... okay, just worse.  Sometimes reusing a name for something doesn't make sense in the context of itself and/or the rest of its series.  Sometimes there's another, more obvious title which for whatever reason got passed up.  And some aren't technically the same title, but are called it anyway by the general public.  In my strike against the system, I'm using those criteria to form the following top-ten list of the dumbest uses of recycled titles.

10) Punch-Out!!
What is it: A 1984 arcade video game.
Not to be confused with: Punch-Out!!, a 2009 video game for the Wii.
Why it's stupid: Another entry in this series, the 1987 NES game Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (a.k.a. Punch-Out!! featuring Mr. Dream) is also commonly referred to as "Punch-Out!!".  It is also one of the most well-known games in the series, arguably more so than the arcade original, and the new one on the Wii.  I don't really have any other excuses, so Punch-Out!! opens this list by virtue (vice?) of having not two, but three entries competing for the same name.
What they should've called it: Punch-Out: WVBA, after the fictional World Video Boxing Association featured in the games.  ...I admit I don't have much to work with here.

9) Seal
What is it: A 1991 album by the British pop singer of the same name.
Not to be confused with: The second and fourth albums by the same person, from 1994 and 2003 respectively.
Why it's stupid: The first two Seal albums were the artist's most successful, both topping the UK's album charts.  They also gave him his biggest hits on both sides of the Atlantic, "Crazy" from the first album and "Kiss From a Rose" from the second.  So we have his only two albums that some of would care about, and they're named the same.  You see the root of the confusion here, don't you?  And if that weren't enough, he made a fourth album in 2003, also called Seal.  Except this time, it actually did get a number on the end, namely Seal IV, although this only happened in Australia.  So why didn't the rest of the world get this title, and for that matter why didn't the second album get the same treatment?  (Just so you can plan ahead, this will be a common complaint throughout this list.)
What they should've called it: Seal II and Seal IV.

8) The Fast and the Furious
What is it: A 2001 film starring Paul Walker and Vin Diesel.
Not to be confused with: Fast & Furious, a 2009 film also starring Walker and Diesel, and the fourth entry in the same series.
Why it's stupid: The Fast & Furious series just couldn't get the hang of sequel titling when it started out.  First there was 2003's 2 Fast 2 Furious, which was ridiculous, and then 2006's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, which ditched the numbering thing altogether.  Which leads us to the fourth movie.  I haven't seen it, but from what I understand, it's not a remake of the first film.  So what's the point?  Perhaps we should be lucky that they didn't use the number 4 as a letter, as in the hypothetical "F4st & Furious", but that argument doesn't hold much weight because we can always imagine things to be worse than they are.  For example, the North Korean government is deplorable, but if you told me to be thankful they don't sic velociraptors on dissident citizens, I wouldn't feel much better about it.  Thankfully the series switched to straight-up numbering from then on (Fast FiveFast & Furious 6Furious 7).
What they should've called it: Fast & Furious 4

7) Ratchet & Clank
What is it: A 2002 video game for the PlayStation 2.
Not to be confused with: Ratchet & Clank, an upcoming PlayStation 4 game scheduled for release in 2016.
Why it's stupid: The upcoming Ratchet & Clank game is a tie-in with the Ratchet & Clank movie, also set for 2016, and both are partial re-imaginings of the first game.  So if it's a reboot, fine.  But why am I disappointed?  One of the game's trailers posted on YouTube included the following description in the title: "The game based on the movie based on the game".  When I watched it for the first time, I thought that was actually part of the title, but that seems not to be the case, which is a shamefully missed opportunity.  A ramblingly long title like that would fall right in line with the series' penchant for humourous subtitles (i.e. "Going Commando", "Up Your Arsenal", "Full Frontal Assault").  Or was it not enough of an innuendo for Insomniac Games to have seriously considered it?
What they should've called it: Ratchet & Clank: The Game Based on the Movie Based on the Game

6) Metal Gear Solid
What it is: A 1998 video game for the PSone.
Not to be confused with: Metal Gear Solid, a 2000 video game for the Game Boy Color.
Why it's stupid: Think about why the original Metal Gear Solid was named the way it was.  The word "solid", apart from referring to main character Solid Snake, referred to it being the first Metal Gear game presented in 3D graphics.  This is obviously not the case for the GBC version.  Furthermore, the Game Boy version was released as Metal Gear: Ghost Babel in Japan.  Its subtitle "Ghost Babel" even shares its initials with the Game Boy itself, a practice which would see relatively wide use once the Nintendo DS rolled onto the scene.  So you could say this game was ahead of its time, not that you'd know from the American release alone.  Again, why wasn't that title good enough for the rest of the world?
What they should've called it: Metal Gear: Ghost Babel

5) The Karate Kid
What is it: A 1984 film starring Ralph Macchio and Noriyuki "Pat" Morita.
Not to be confused with: The Karate Kid, a 2010 film starring Jayden Smith and Jackie Chan.
Why it's stupid: The new The Karate Kid film (Also not to be confused with The Next Karate Kid, a 1994 film starring Hilary Swank alongside Morita) takes place in China, with Jayden Smith's character training for a kung-fu tournament.  As in, not karate.  Of course it would make sense to focus your movie around a local martial art if you're filming in China, but why leave the obsolete title intact?  Sure, there's this one guy who nicknames the main character as "The Karate Kid", but that's pretty flimsy justification in my book.  It turns out, we have to blame for this a mister Jerry Weintraub, producer of both this and the original Karate Kid movies, who vetoed Sony Pictures' attempts to rename it.1  Fortunately, China did not have the same problem, as the movie was titled "Kung Fu Dream" in that market.  Again, why wasn't that good enough for the rest of the world?
What they should've called it: The Kung Fu Kid

4) Dance Dance Revolution
What is it: A 1998 arcade video game.
Not to be confused with: DanceDanceRevolution, a 2010 video game for the Wii, PlayStation 3, and XBox 360, and DanceDanceRevolution, yet another arcade game from 2013.
Why it's stupid: Dance Dance Revolution may potentially hold the record for number of works sharing the same title.  If you want to get technical, as indeed I have, it may also refer to the 1999 arcade version for Asia and North America (based on 2ndMIX) and the 2001 PSone version for North America (based on 3rdMIX).  I'm a bit more forgiving about the new arcade version doing this, though; instead of rolling out brand-new products for each wave of content they deem fit to make, Konami is content with releasing new songs for the game via online updates.  They've also location-tested a version of the game for North America, also titled DanceDanceRevolution and ARGH!
What they should've called it: Dance Dance Revolution New Moves (2010 PS3/360), Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 4 (2010 Wii).

3) XBox
What is it: A 2001 video game console.
Not to be confused with: The XBox One, a 2013 video game console, and the XBox's second successor.
Why it's stupid: After Microsoft launched the XBox 360 in 2005, people started using the term "XBox one" to refer to the first member of the XBox family, similar to how the PlayStation got rebranded as the PSone later in its life.  So now that the third XBox is out and Microsoft decided to call it the XBox One, what are we going to call the first one now?  And you think (as, indeed, I would've hoped) that this confusion would have led to a drop in sales, as in Nintendo's Wii U (sadly), but this seems not to be the case.  Even I'm considering picking up a One, against my better judgement, now that Microsoft have finally laid out a backwards compatibility plan.  ...The name still sucks.
What they should've called it: XBox 3.  Again, not much to work with here.

2) Need for Speed
What is it: Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit, a 1998 video game.
Not to be confused with: Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit II, a 2002 video game, or Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, a 2010 video game.
Why it's stupid: There are other instances of recycled titles within EA's flagship racing game franchise (they've used the name Need For Speed: Most Wanted for two different games in 2005 and 2012), but the Hot Pursuit miniseries takes the dubious prize on this occasion.  Why?  This subtitle was dragged out for three different games.  The third one, 2010's Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, is the closest thing to an actual recycled title, since it lacks any numbers or other embellishments.  But perhaps the most confusing thing about it is that while these three games do feature different numbers, they count down instead of up.  Perhaps we can look forward to a Hot Pursuit Zero in the future, I said sarcastically.
What they should've called it: Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit III, which is not to be confused with the original Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit and AAAARGH!!

1) Sonic the Hedgehog
What is it: A 1991 video game originally released for the Sega Genesis.
Not to be confused with: SONIC THE HEDGEHOG, a 2006 video game for the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Why it's stupid: The newer SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (there's a reason I'm writing it in all caps) is a bad game, I think we can all agree on that.  It's loaded with problems which have gone unsolved since Sonic Adventure whilst piling on additional problems of its own.  But perhaps the most insulting of those problems is that the gave it the same title as the first game, and one of the good ones, at that.  What was the point of doing that?  If Sonic Team meant for this game to be a reboot, to bring the game back to its roots, it failed on that account.  It looks, feels, and plays like an HD rerelease of Sonic Adventure that got beaten to within an inch of its life.  Why not just call it Sonic Adventure 3, as indeed I did before?  And what does this mean for the original Sonic game?  I suppose we could call it Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis, after the game it made its first appearance on, but there are two problems with that.  First, it got ported to many other platforms since then, including consoles which hosted SONIC THE HEDGEHOG.  And second, we already have a game, an execrable remake of the first one, called Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis.  ...AAAAAARGH!!!
What they should've called it: Sonic Adventure 3.  Or better yet, they should never have released it in the first place.

In conclusion, 2006 was a bad, bad year for Sonic fans.  Oh, and can title recycling go the way of the dodo already?

1Horn, John. "'Karate Kid' update breaks down some Chinese walls." Los Angeles Times. May 30, 2012. Retrieved on August 27, 2012.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Game Review: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Kojima Productions
  • Release: PlayStation 3/PlayStation 4/XBox 360/XBox One/PC, 18 March 2014
  • Genre: Action (Third-person, Stealth)
  • Players: 1 (Internet ranking)
Question: What constitutes the true play-time of a video game?  Is it measured in the length of its canonical story campaign?  Or should any supplementary modes be included as well?  And where does multiplayer fit in to all this?  Well, this conversation got a little more heated with the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, billed as a prequel to the upcoming MGSV: The Phantom Pain.  In case you haven't heard, the main story mode and six side missions of Ground Zeroes run, on average, about fifteen minutes apiece.  Oh, did I mention that Ground Zeroes is being sold at US$30?  Yeah, and it was going to be $40 at first.  That may not be as much as the standard price of full-budget video games these days, but for something of this length, I'd expect nothing more costly than a ten-spot, not something treated with the same fanfare and pre-release scrutiny as... well, The Phantom Pain, for example.  By any reckoning, I deem this unacceptable.  So much so, that my original concept for this review was just an empty page, nothing but blank lines, made purely out of protest.  But then I actually played it, and... well, just read on for yourself.

Ground Zeroes takes place in 1975 at a place called Camp Omega, a clandestine American prison-camp in Cuba, which is most certainly "not" inspired by the real-life one at Guantanamo Bay.  The place is being run by a villain named Skullface, so named because most of the skin had been burned off of his face in an earlier time, who is in contact with an offscreen shadowy figure known only as Cipher (a.k.a. Major Zero from MGS3).  It is here that Snake, alternatively named Big Boss or, as I like to call him, "The Artist Formerly Known as Snake", must rescue Chico and Paz, two children* who tagged along for the ride during 2010's MGS: Peace Walker, and have somehow wound up in Camp Omega  Actually, with Ground Zeroes being a direct sequel to Peace Walker, I'd advise playing that game if you want to understand even half of the plot.  No seriously, it's really good.  I recommend picking it up as part of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, which in addition to Peace Walker also includes the special editions of MGS2 and 3, plus the original MSX games.  So go do that.  I'll wait.

*Actually, it turns out that Paz is actually 24 years old by the time of Ground Zeroes.  You see what I mean when I said the Japanese have a [verb]ed-up understanding of age?  Ah well, at least it takes the edge off of what happens to her at the end.
Everybody caught up on their Metal Gear lore now?  Good, let's move on.  You know how I warned you in the first paragraph that each of the game's missions lasts but a fraction of an hour?  Well, that's because Camp Omega represents the entirety of the game's playable real estate.  The camp's large enough; I'm no good with estimating distances, but it could comfortably fit a fair handful of maps from any given multiplayer shooter.  And one of the ending cutscenes is a shootout on Mother Base (the offshore headquarters Snake and company built up during Peace Walker), and the player doesn't get so much as a quick-time event!  Come on guys; I know this cutscene is in-game, so you've already rendered the area just to make that cutscene which was apparently so bloody important!  Why couldn't you have used it for some additional missions to fill out the game with!?

And speaking of ending cutscenes, at some point Snake and company extract a bomb from Paz's guts -- without anesthetic -- only for her to wake up and announce there was another bomb in her body, presumably in her womb.  Dramatic, yes, but what was the point of showing us the ordeal with the first bomb if she's just gonna blow up anyway and send Snake into a coma which lasts him through the start of The Phantom Pain?  And Paz, darling, it's lucky you're over 18 or else this would be even more effed up than it already is, and it is already considerably effed up, if you haven't gathered.  And that's not even considering the stuff that goes on in the collectible cassette tapes, if you ever bother to listen to them.

For the gameplay we do get, Ground Zeroes introduces a new mechanic to its stealth-action gameplay, and by "new", I mean "borrowed from Far Cry 3".  You can tag enemies by looking at them through your binoculars, allowing you to track their movements, even through walls.  I must say, it encourages more careful play, or at least tries to.  And even if you do get spotted, there's another new feature (and by "new", I mean "it might actually be new in how it's used in this game") caled Reflex Mode, wherein time slows down for a few seconds and you have a last chance to kill or knock out the guy who spotted you before the alarm gets triggered.  This last feature is optional, but you get bonus points at the end of your mission if you don't use this feature.  Further new features (and by "new", I mean "recycled from Peace Walker") include a revamped Codec system, which eschews the traditional text-based cutscenes in favour of a few lines of context-sensitive monologue, without breaking the flow of gameplay.  If you ask me, this is how the Codec should have been implemented from the start.

And of course, Ground Zeroes implements "new" features that are being picked up by every triple-A video game with a drop of shooter blood in its body.  Snake's inventory is limited to a maximum of two long guns, a pistol, and four items (such as grenades, C4, and empty magazines), and he regenerates health automatically.  It is possible for him to suffer more serious injuries, thus limiting his healing factor, but you can cure these with a button prompt, and there is no limit to how often you can do this, so what's the point?  Snake also has a sprinting ability, but I actually liked its inclusion here.  Not only does Snake run longer and faster than characters in other games employing the technique, but it's handy for getting out of undesired skirmishes.  And with an open world sandbox to play about in, running away to a different portion of the map is a reliable way to hide when you get spotted.  Although I couldn't help noticing that the timers indicating the duration of the various alert phases have been taken away, and have been replaced by mere captions.

If you need any proof that the eight-generation consoles are totally unnecessary, look to Ground Zeroes.  Both the seventh-generation (PS3 and XBox 360) and eighth-gen (PS4 and XBox One) demonstrate impressive visual details.  Any weapons and items in Snake's arsenal are shown strapped to his body at all times (their excuse for limited weapon slots?), and even jiggle about when he runs or sprints.  In missions with rainy weather, the water sticks to people's clothes, including fluttering ponchos, with suitable realism.  Pretty much the only difference between the two tiers is that the newer platforms run the game at 60 frames per second instead of 30, which is nice, but hardly a dealbreaker, I say.  Or, you could just get the PC version, which is essentially the same as the 8th-gen ones, but for a platform you probably already own (assuming you've upgraded it in the past couple of years).  Yup, it's never been a better time to join the PC Gaming Master Race (unless Origin or uPlay are involved).  Also, the voice of Snake has been swapped from his longtime actor David Hayter to Kiefer Sutherland.  What can I say other than, "if you liked him in 24, you'll like this."

This may sound weird given all the examples I've read of the video games industry screwing over consumers, but Ground Zeroes left a positive impression upon me.  Maybe I'm just positively inclined towards the game since I borrowed it from the library (even getting all the PSN Trophies in doing so) without paying so much as a cent, but I do have other reasons.  Open-world gameplay is a natural fit for the Metal Gear franchise, even if in this case the open-world is smaller than expected.  And that being the case, I'm actually kind of excited for The Phantom Pain.  I might even pick up that game when it comes out... okay, I'll wait for the reviews first.  For now, I can't approve of what Ground Zeroes represents, but if you like it for what it is, I won't hold it against you.  So I'll tell you what I'm going to do: I'm going to give it a base score of 80% (B), but you, the reader, get to subtract 5 percent from that score for every US$5 you spent on the game.

+ The new tagging mechanic makes stealth gameplay more fun and satisfying than ever.
+ There's plenty of stuff to do if you stick around for more than one play-through.
+ Very impressive graphics quality, even on the seventh-gen (PS3/X360) versions.
- Excessively brief first-play length.
- Regenerating health and limited weapon slots.

The Call: 80% (B) minus 5% for every $5 you spent on the game

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Film Review: The Interview

The Interview
  • Publisher: Columbia
  • Studio: Point Grey Pictures
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release: 25 December 2014
  • Directors: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
  • Producers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Weaver
  • Writer: Dan Sterling
Folks, I've been a North Korea watcher for quite a while now, especially since Kim Jong-eun took the reins of the Hermit Kingdom at the end of 2011.  I've got so much to say about the subject that I'd prefer to save it for a separate editorial, but I'll give you this much to start off with: I hate the North Korean regime the most out of all the geopolitical entities in this world.  More than Vladimir Putin's Russia, more than Red China, more than al-Qaeda or The Artist Formerly Known As al-Qaeda.  Possibly combined.  But you already knew that.  So when I heard that a movie, known as The Interview, was in the works which depicted James Franco and Seth Rogen on a mission to assassinate Kim Jong-eun, you can imagine I tuned in.  Sure, I wasn't expecting the movie to be any good, but it was relevant to my interests.

But then Sony Pictures got hacked, and The Interview's Christmas 2014 release was cancelled.  You can bet I was disappointed from it all, and then some.  And for me, this wasn't just about wanting to see the movie.  I am of the strong conviction that North Korea directed, if not orchestrated, the hack attack, and by capitulating to their government's demands to have the film pulled, Sony set a dangerous precedent.  The North Korean government mouthpieces, primarily their news agency and UN ambassadors, have long fallen back on boisterous bluster to the point of, or so I assumed, no one being able to take them seriously.  But for Sony to have taken them seriously, for once, means that this could happen again.  So to speak, the bar has been lowered.  Or raised.  Or... something.  Let me tell you something, if I were in the same position of power, I certainly wouldn't be inclined to take the same action.  Sure, the hackers threatened terrorist actions to theatres that would show the film, and what they already did was unprecedented, but real talk -- did you actually think they would be able to carry out something like that?  Speaking of which, hackers, you don't call yourselves "Guardians of Peace" and then threaten to re-enact 9/11, which is pretty much the opposite of peace.  That is the same kind of [noun] North Korea pulls on a regular basis, so if the shoe fits...

I happened to be out on holiday as this drama unfolded, and was prepared to write an editorial on the subject when I got back.  (Which I'm sort of already doing.)  But on the day I left for home, Christmas Eve in fact, I heard the news that Sony would be releasing the film in question after all!  Primarily to digital stores with a very small physical presence, but it was something!  So you can bet your sweet bippy I bought it when it went online the next day, and I regret nothing (other than not holding out for the special edition DVD).

But lost in the discussion is perhaps the most important question of all:

Is the movie any good?

Well, that's what I'm here to find out.  Our movie starts out with an episode of Skylark Live, a talk show hosted by a mister Dave Skylark (James Franco), and run behind the scenes by his producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen).  Dave is apparently very good at what he does, managing to get Eminem (played by himself) to admit his (assumedly fictional) homosexuality on live television, but focusing so much on soft news has driven Dave into something of a rut.  So as his thousandth episode rolls around, he makes plans to land an interview with Kim Jong-eun (Randall Park), who as it happens is also big fan of Skylark Live.  But then the CIA gets wind of their plans, and under the handling of a miss Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), Dave and Aaron's interview turns into an assassination mission.  Hilarity ensues.

The Interview's wit and intelligence is somewhere along the lines of the Austin Powers sequels.  Sure, there's a lot of lowbrow stuff to dig through.  At one point, for example, Aaron has to run out into a field at night, to pick up a small, CIA drone-launched, package.  And when the guards (and a tiger) close in on his position, Aaron is forced to hide the device rectally.  However, The Interview also takes steps to intelligently portray more aspects of North Korea, contrasting the images the government tries to push upon itself and others against the reality on the ground.  The very first scene in the movie is a little girl singing a "patriotic" song about slaughtering Americans in increasingly gratuitous detail.  In another instance, when Dave and Aaron get the "red-carpet" treatment upon their arrival in Pyongyang, their limousine "happens to" stop next to a well-stocked grocery store, just as they were trying to discuss the country's state of famine.  Dave visits the store later on, only to discover the shelves were just a mural painted on an empty wall.

In this regard, the standout moment of the film, for me, was the titular interview with Dave and Jong-eun.  Both of them make valid points at first, with Dave asking why North Korea doesn't feed its 25-million population, and Jong-eun blaming it on Western sanctions.  (For the record, I consider that argument as bull[noun] on Kim's part.  The inner workings of North Korea's economy are opaque, but to my understanding, nearly all investments into the country has a habit of ending up used for the leader's personal luxuries, weapons of mass destruction, state-sponsored crimes, and perhaps even support of foreign terrorism.  Heck, even food aid gets taken by their soldiers before they let the civilians have the rest, if at all.)  And then Jong-eun soils himself because... funny.

But then, there's the nuclear programme.  I was a little disappointed when the finale involved an attempted nuke launch, for a number of reasons.  One, in terms of the plot it gets dropped upon us by surprise.  Two, I'm not convinced that their ICBM or (not "and") nuclear weapons capability, as it stands as of this writing, is any threat to speak of.  And three, for the aforementioned reason, I wish our own news/media would devote less attention to North Korea's nukes in favour of other issues, for example the concentration camp system.  Of course, the portrayals of North Korea found within this movie may not convey all the subtleties of that society, such as what their everyday citizens actually think of their own leaders or others, but the regime's strictness being what it is, I'd understand if the writers weren't able to capture those opinions in person.  If I got to write the screenplay for this movie, I'd replace the whole nuke-launch ending with some sort of grassroots revolution, where the Korean people are inspired to depose the Kim regime with minimal guidance from Uncle Sam.  But who cares, I asked in sarcasm mode, isn't it more cathartic to see real-life bad guys get blowed up?  ...What?  It is.  Don't try to act like it isn't.

You may have noticed that this review had less to say on the movie itself, and more on its context as a depiction of my most-hated nation of the post-Cold War era.  But, I honestly don't have much to say about it otherwise.  I once said that The Wind Rises had become, to me, less of an actual product and more of a personal icon, but that description could more aptly apply to The Interview.  Maybe I've just taken in so much knowledge from what the West has been able to gleam about North Korea that nothing in that department surprises me anymore.  Maybe I was expecting more to do with the concentration camp system, for example.  But, you know what?  Neither does The Interview go in the opposite direction, cartoonishly portraying the country as just one man and his missiles.  Put it next to Team America: World Police, which is pretty much just that, and it shows how our understanding of North Korea has evolved over the past decade.  At this rate, we might even be able to shift the discussion of North Korea away from the easier, more news-worthy topics to more meaningful ones.  Except that didn't happen, because the Charlie Hebdo shootings happened just weeks afterward, and the capricious news media being what it is, everyone seemed to forget all about North Korea.  But not this blogger.

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

+ Presents a relatively nuanced view of North Korea.
+ Dave's inner struggle as an evolving artist.
+ Kim Jong-eun gets blowed up.
- Occasional lowbrow comedy.
- A (personally) disappointing ending.

The Call: 65% (C)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Anime Review: Totally Spies!

Totally Spies!
  • Studio: Marathon
  • Network: TF1 (FRA), Teletoon (CAN), Cartoon Network (USA)
  • Air Dates: 3 November 2001 - 2014*
  • Episodes: 156*
  • Creators: Vincent Chalvon-Demersay, David Michel
*As of this writing, the 6th season has not yet aired in the United States and may or may not have aired in Canada.  Concrete information on this show, including its recent airdates, is sparse.

Ladies and gentlemen, I've teased this review a number of times when I started this blog, but I've never been able to work up the material to finish it.  But with the Strawberry Dragon Project's 5-year anniversary looming this month, I figure it would be a suitably symbolic time to get it out of the way.  So let's do this: it's time to review Totally Spies!.

Back in the early 2000s, Western culture went through some sort of spy-fiction boom in movies, TV, and video games.  I'm not completely sure why; maybe it had something to do with the James Bond franchise returning from hiatus in 1995, and it took a little more time to set in.  These stories sought to copy the "exciting" surface elements of latter-day Bond, but threw the important stuff like characterisation to the wayside.  This movement gave us options for both grown-up (xXx with Vin Diesel) and younger (Agent Cody Banks with Frankie Muniz) audiences, and few if any were rembered fondly in the long run.  Heck, even the Bond Franchise itself ended up feeling like one of those wannabes at some point.  If you wanted anything with any depth of characters or plot, you'd have to turn to sleeper hits like the Bourne trilogy (i.e. The Bourne Identity with Matt Damon). Thankfully, it was those very sleeper hits which shaped the direction of Bond itself when it came back from yet another hiatus, in 2006's Casino Royale with Daniel Craig. But for the most part, we had to console ourselves with junk like Totally Spies!.

The titular spies are three high-school girls from Beverly Hills.  Their numbers are Sam (EN: Jennifer Hale, FR: Claire Guyot), Clover (EN: Andrea Baker, FR: Fily Keita), and Alex (EN: Katie Leigh / Katie Griffin, FR: Céline Mauge).  Sam is the smart straight-man and unofficial leader of the team, Clover is the most boy- and fashion-crazy out of the three, and Alex is the sporty tomboy who occasionally bridges the gaps during Sam and Clover's arguments.  The girls' personalities do overlap from time to time, as is common among friends (I assume), but for the most part they never evolve past their archetypes, if not stereotypes.  And annoying archetypes, if not stereotypes, at that.  Maybe it's just my educated masculine upbringing talking, but the way these girls blow their civilian-life issues so out of proportion makes it harder for me to sympathise with them.  Clover especially is the worst in this regard -- I'm pretty sure she even complains about breaking a fingernail at some point.  That's what we're dealing with here, peoples.

The many Clover-vs-Mandy arguments
are showdowns of annoying versus annoying.
As is common for this type of "Get up, go to school, save the world" show (see also: the Mystical Ninja anime I reviewed way back when I started this blog), the episodes are framed by B-plots centred around dilemmas in the girls' public lives.  Most of them feature Mandy (EN: Jennifer Hale, FR: Céline Mauge), a girl much like Clover, except snobby and antagonistic.  Also she looks like Rebecca Black, but without the kind personality that made her crimes against music forgivable.  (Man, I really must have mellowed out on "Friday" since then...).  If nothing else, she serves to make Clover and company look good by comparison.  There are also the numerous anonymous hunks whom our girls attempt various degrees of shacking-up with, but a scant few show up in more than one episode.  The most recurring boyfriend prospect is the long/tan/handsome David, but he never gets the chance to have any real character development, and is essentially discarded after the first few seasons.  He's basically this show's answer to Sylvia Trench.  (Remember her?  James Bond's on-again-off-again girlfriend from the first two movies?)

But the "Save the world" part of this "Get up, go to school, save the world" setup is the meat and potatoes of this show.  The girls' civilian troubles must, inevitably take a backseat to actual international crises, delivered by their handler Jerry (EN: Jess Harnell / Adrian Truss, FR: Jean-Claude Dunda) and his organisation.  Said organisation is saddled with the name of World Organization Of Human Protection, commonly pronounced as WOOHP.  *sigh*  ...Yeah, apparently this show's writers have a propensity for painful acronyms.  If you're hoping for anything of the calibre of "Every Villain Is Lemons (EVIL)" from that one SpongeBob episode, don't.  It's even more painfully unfunny then how, EVERY -- SINGLE -- EPISODE, they get summonned into WOOHP headquarters by way of getting sucked into a trap door or some such hidden hole.  If you didn't have the right context on hand, you could imagine that WOOHP is in fact a police state that somehow took over the Los Angeles metropolitan area.  (By the way, do you think Jerry might be a fan of Excel Saga?  This show would be more interesting if our girls took orders from Il Palazzo, I tell you what.)

Furthering the episode-to-episode routine, Jerry follows up just about every mission briefing with a pre-selected array of gadgets; purpose-built devices incorporated into objects which would would look normal on a normal person of their type.  And yes, this also gives them opportunities for more painful acronyms, most egregiously with the dive-helmet called the "UPWATI".  I warned you there'd be more.  First of all, what's the matter, never heard of on-site procurement?  Like they made such a big deal out of in Metal Gear Solid?  I swear, these gals wouldn't last a minute on Shadow Moses Island.  Seriously, I do have some constructive criticism to this setup.  My biggest problem is that it's all so contrived.  Jerry always picks out the gadgets for them, without any input from the spies themselves, and they all serve a coincidentally specific use in furthering their investigation or escaping from a deathtrap.  And yeah, I know James Bond did the same thing too, but he never gave the impression of being helpless without them.  Said impression cannot be made of the titular Totally Spies.  If I had control over this show, I'd let the girls pick their own gadgets, making them think about the situations that would present themselves ahead.  Or is that too dangerously close to character development for this show?  Also, can we address the vivid green, red, and yellow catsuits the spies or their superiors thought would be a suitable uniform?  I guess I know why they get captured so often, then.

They may come through in the end, but our girls are generally
terrible spies, in case those bright catsuits didn't tip you off already.
From then on, episodes generally follow a pattern of investigation, infiltration, discovering the villain-of-the-day, getting caught by the villain-of-the-day, escaping the deathtrap-of-the-day by way of gadgets, and finally catching the villain-of-the-day.  I'm not saying they should tie every episode to one another in an ongoing arc.  And I'm not saying that monster-of-the-day (or in this case, villain-of-the-day) shows can't be good, either.  Neon Genesis Evangelion was at its best when it did the monster-of-the-day thing, as you may recall me saying.  But Totally Spies! just doesn't have the right stuff to pull it off.  Whereas some of these shows have some kind of evil organisation tying the monsters-of-the-day together and providing the promise of some kind of climax to look forward to, Totally Spies! doesn't have this, for the most part.  I say "for the most part" because the later seasons introduce a team of recurring villains known as... LAMOS.  Ladies and gentlemen, you have my permission to facepalm.  Anyway, the villains at least get some sort of backstory, usually in the form of them having been shot down for a job/role/date/whatever, and them exacting excessive revenge via some form of doomsday device, and not practical ones either.  Over the course of the series, the villains use (real?) stage magic, extraterrestrial aliens, and a satellite-mounted freeze ray with intent to freeze the entire Earth over, so yeah, this show plays hard and loose with the idea of reality.  You'd think I shouldn't complain about realism, as I have a webcomic which incorporates magic into an otherwise realistic historical setting.  But some things are beyond my limits of disbelief suspension, like how a gourmet food critic is entitled to complain when served a 200-ounce steak.

For the record, I'm still keeping the "Anime Review" tag in the title of this article despite this show not having been conceived in Japan, but rather the French and/or Canadian studio Marathon.  Coincidentally, French also uses the word "animé" to refer to animated productions as does Japanese (minus the accent on the 'e').  It's furtherly funny I should mention this, because Totally Spies does rely heavily on the Japanese anime aesthetic for its design and art style.  It's "Animesque", if you will.  It's a shame they did it so sloppily though, as not only does the animation lack the fluidity of motion and dynamic scene composition I've come to associate with Japanese anime at its best, but animation and continuity errors are fairly common if you look.  I'm not normally the type to look out for this sort of thing, but the one scene where Clover and Mandy are arguing with their voices accidentally switched (no seriously, this is a thing that happens) is yet another of those goofs which are beyond even my tolerance.  Besides, Marathon forgot the most important lesson they should've taken from Japanese anime, and that is... not to sexualise teenagers.  I mean, to have actual character development.

Between the villains, heroes, and side characters, I'm only steps away from giving this show the "Eight Deadly Words": "I don't care what happens to these people".  So why do I keep watching it?  Because Totally Spies! is a prime example of a guilty pleasure.  If nothing else, the spy girls themselves are pretty, and say what you want about them being materialistic fashionistas, at least the animators gave them more than a handful of outfits!  Plus, there are occasional shake-ups to the formula, and it is those moments which make for the series' more memorable episodes.  But most of the time, it sticks to its formula, to its detriment.  There's nothing that shows the girls are evolving in their spycraft over the course of the show.  Such may be the curse of the monster-of-the-week format, but that's no excuse for not trying.  You could also brush off its shortcomings as the curse of childrens' entertainment, but that's not a good excuse either.  I'd consider Kaleido Star to be kid-friendly, and it has some of the best characterisation I've ever seen in a TV show.  And whilst on the business of comparing Totally Spies! to other cartoons, let me close by reminding you that when this show came out, it competed with the Disney Channel's girl-power spy-fi show, Kim Possible, which was considerably more genre-savvy, gender-inclusive, and didn't use [verb]ing acronyms for everything.  I think that says all you need to know about Totally Spies!: apparently, some of the most telling critiques come not from the work itself, but from the negative space created by other works.

+ The few episodes which shake up the formula shine even brighter for it.
- Little in the way of character development.
- Annoying main and side characters.
- The stories adhere strictly to a formula.
- The animation is barely up to par when it isn't goofing up.

The Call: 50% (D)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Editorial: When Marnie Was There & Silent Hills

This weekend, I took a trip down to Center City Philadelphia to see When Marnie Was There, the latest anime film by Studio Ghibli.  Limited-release films like these tend to be a bit... geographically undesireable how far away I live, but the way I figured, it might be my last chance to ses a Studio Ghibli movie on the big screen, so I took the plunge.  See, as anyone with an interest in Studio Ghibli knows, this is their last movie to be released as the studio shuts down on an "indeterminate hiatus", following the retirement of its star director, Hayao Miyazaki.  Even Marnie's review in the Philadelphia Inquirer discussed it in the context of those circumstances.  So with the knowledge that this may be Ghibli's last impression, my sentiments toward the company might cloud me from giving an objective opinion on Marnie.  Plus, I don't normally indulge in full reviews for films I only saw in theatres once, so I'll do what I did with The Wind Rises the first time around and embellish this here editorial with a mini-review.

The plot follows a pattern shared with a number of Studio Ghibli movies, with occasional variations: A girl moves out to the countryside and then (frequently supernatural) stuff happens.  Off the top of my head, I recognise this framework from My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service (although the girl moves to the city), Spirited Away, The Secret World of Arietty (although the girl is instead a boy), and the film on hand.  But that's not a bad thing per se, as often these movies develop an identity of their own as they move along.  In this case, the girl is a blue-eyed preteen named Anna.  While out one day wandering about her new neighbourhood, her eye catches on a mansion on the other side of a marsh, and on a blonde-haired girl in the upstairs window, the titular Marnie.  One night she sneaks out to meet Marnie in person, and the two strike up a friendship in no time flat.

The film does a great job of establishing how completely broken Anna is on her own, and how Marnie fills in the missing pieces of her psyche.  To make one of my many Evangelion allegories, Anna is like Shinji, and Marnie is like Kaworu Nagisa, the only person in her life willing to provide her with unconditional affection.  And what other connection is there between Marnie and the Shinji/Kaworu episode?  "Both parties are the same gender?"  That's right!  I don't know about you, but when I saw the trailer for this movie, I wondered if the Anna/Marnie relationship would be of a lesbian nature.  And I'd have been alright with that; proud, even, because of how sensibly mature the movie treats their interactions.  But in truth, the nature of their relationship is strictly platonic.  Which is also nice; I mean, can't two people of the same gender have a deep friendship without other people bringing it into homosexual territory?  ...Not that's a bad thing...  Don't worry, I meant less offence than you probably took that as (unless it was zero to start with).

But more than anything, Marnie feels real, supernatural elements notwithstanding.  It touches on a number of real-world troubles in varying capacity, such as adopted children, bullying in the family, and even xenophobia.  Remember when I said Anna had blue eyes?  Yeah, that's a plot point.  Some plot elements are a bit out of place and fail to go anywhere, like when Marnie and one of her peers lash out at each other at the Tanabata festival.  But that's about it.  I even cried while watching this movie!  ...Okay, not really; I don't cry that easily, more like I got misty-eyed.  Yeah, I got misty-eyed.  How many films can I make that boast about?  On more levels than one, When Marnie Was There is one such film.  And for that honour, I shall bestow upon it a tentative grade of 95% (A) and a Dragon Award.

So now that the review is over, let's get back to the topic at hand: When Marnie Was There is potentially the final feature film to be made by Studio Ghibli. This is a worrisome situation because Ghibli has been a heretofore never-ending force of good in the animation world. (Bear in mind, I make that statement not yet having seen Tales of Earthsea.)  Seriously, a great chunk of their works have been nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award since that category was created.  Of course, only one of them actually won, but that's a different crisis altogether.  But with Studio Ghibli gone, who's going to pick up the mantle of making critically acclaimed anime films?  Or does the next big thing in animation even have to be Japanese?  There's this one director I've started following recently, named Tomm Moore, and I've read his output as being likened to an Irish counterpart of Studio Ghibli's.  Although relatively new to the scene, both of his works The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014) are distincly awesome.  They were also nominated for the aforementioned Oscar; of course they didn't win either, because the jurors involve are just fff... Philistines.  (I have to admit that joke works better when you hear rather than read it.  Still, last-second word swaps FTW!)

But looking back on this whole affair brings to mind a certain... other event I've obsessed over lately, involving the cancellation of a certain long-hoped-for video game.  "Gee Kevin", you may be thinking, "how many articles are you gonna write about Mega Man Legends 3?"

No, you idiot, the other one!

I'm talking about Silent Hills, the would-be reboot of the survival-horror franchise Silent Hill, collaborated upon with Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima, film director Guillermo del Toro, and actor Norman Reedus.  Actually, there are a number of similarities between the circumstances of the two games.  Both were being led by a high-profile director (Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune for MML3) before they left their respective companies.  Both stood to revitalise series which hadn't been relevant in years.  Both had a preview or demo version which is not available anymore, if at all (Legends 3 Prototype and P.T.).  And both happened to have been followed up by Kickstarter projects seeking to bring a new games based on their companies' good old days.  (Okay, so Castlevania creator Koji Igarashi wasn't actually involved in Silent Hills, but shut up, I've got a good theme going.)  Is this the future of the games industry?  Or is this all just a coincidence?  Heck if I know.

Now, I didn't have the same emotional investment for Silent Hills as I did for MML3; at the moment I've only played a bit of the first Silent Hill game (PSone, 1999), and I've heard good things about Silent Hill 2 (PS2, 2001).  (Seriously, on the rare occasions when Yahtzee recommends a game, he's never steered me wrong.)  I am aware, however, of how the Silent Hill franchise, as well as the survival-horror genre in macrocosm, have lost sight of the subtleties that made it so effective way back when.  And given the series' track record, maybe Silent Hills would have reversed its course back in a positive direction, or maybe it wouldn't have.  But man, it would've been great if it did.  It might even have brought new fans on board, including yours truly.  As it stands, I may not have been on board with the whole Silent Hills thing, but y'all have my sympathies.

So what was the point of this diversionary anecdote, other than to provide my two cents on the issue?  Well, the moral to draw from both those stories is that we should support independent works of media.  You won't see the big American animation studios doing a hand-drawn character drama, and you won't see the big Japanese video game studios reviving the styles of games which made them famous back in the day.  I mean, even though Mighty No.9 may not be the ideal replacement for Legends 3, I'd still give my money to its independent makers than to Capcom.  And now that the World Wide Web and social media are things, we the people have the power to give these low-profile works the attention they deserve.  I mean it when I say...

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Game Review: GoldenEye (N64)

  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Rare
  • Release: Nintendo 64, 25 August 1997
  • Genre: 3D Action
  • Players: 1-4
  • Save: Battery-backed, 4 files
Previously on the SDP, I put the Call of Duty series through Game Rehab.  Said article also happened to include a section for first-person shooter games in general, seeing as how so many games of the genre have absorbed features from CoD, and Halo before it.  I don't know about you, but I've always held earlier titles as shining examples of what I want the genre to be like again.  And chief among those sacred cows, for me, was 1997's GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64.  (Actually, I'm not sure if the extra "007" was supposed to be part of the title, or the extra capitalisation on the one letter "E", but I'll not dwell on that.)  But, reality check -- Goldeneye, the game, is seventeen years old as of this article, and came out for what is now three-generation-old hardware.  So do I only love Goldeneye now because it does things that new games don't do anymore?  Or is it still worth its salt after all these years?

For the uninitiated, Goldeneye is an adaptation of the James Bond film from two years beforehand.  Don't you just love how we used to have to wait two years between a movie and its video game?  It would have solved a lot of problems during the Atari age, let me tell ya.  The game follows the movie's storyline, involving a set of spacebound EMP weapons stolen by a post-Soviet Russian crime gang.  Pretty much all of the film's key scenes are re-created, from the pre-credits dam jump, to the St. Petersburg tank chase, to the climatic fight atop an antenna cradle.  But the game builds upon the original story, either by extending existing scenes or adding new ones entirely.  You know the level in the missile silo where the Goldeneye sattelites launched from?  It doesn't appear in the movie at all.  But it does help bring certain pieces of the story together, and more than anything, gives us some more game to play in.

There are some characters
whom you're not allowed to kill.
For those of you who weren't into gaming during the mid-to-late 1990s, shooter-action games generally had one goal: get to the end of each level, and mow down anything that gets in your way, maybe stopping here or there to push a switch or pick up a key.  But when such a character as James Bond is involved, you're gonna have to change the standard operating procedure a bit.  Each and every level has certain objectives for you to complete.  And even when you do have to break something, or someone, there's always a reason given.  Goldeneye also places an emphasis on stealth which, while not exactly a new development in this genre, is tastefully done.  Getting spotted or using a non-silenced weapon may attract enemies in your vicinity, but this doesn't automatically trigger an alarm.  Generally, they have to head over to an alarm button on the wall, or you have to get caught by a security camera, for that to happen.  All this contributes to the game's world and proved that serious narrative was possible even in genres of gaming commonly considered to be mindless.

Unfortunately, the objectives you must accomplish on these missions are not always intuitive.  Take the very first level, for example.  On the Secret Agent (medium) and 00 Agent (hard) difficulties, one of the objectives is to attach a covert modem somewhere.  Even if you read the pre-mission briefings, it is totally unclear where you're supposed to attach the thing.  And you only get one of them, so if you throw it someplace you're not supposed to, you can't get it back, and you'll have failed your mission.  (To that end, I'm glad the levels in GoldenEye are a little short, averaging about 5 minutes apiece, which is the stick I will beat Goldeneye: Rogue Agent and 007 Legends with to no end.)  I'll welcome a break from the standard linear string of objective markers any day, but taking things too far the other way is right out as well.  Throw me a frickin' bone here, is what I'm saying.  And another thing, how come we can only equip non-weapon items from the pause menu?  And why can I still get hit, or killed even, during the extra second it takes to run the pause menu transition animation?
Some objectives are hard to find.
GoldenEye was not the first first-person shooter to run on a gaming console, and not even the first one on the Nintendo 64 itself.  To my knowledge, all previous attempts at the genre done on this particular console (for example, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter) used the C-buttons to walk and strafe and the Control stick to aim, which was if nothing else an admirable attempt to duplicate the mouse-and-keyboard setup of PC-based shooters without an actual mouse or keyboard being available.  And while Goldeneye makes this available as an optional controller setup, the default scheme flips this.  The Control Stick walks and turns, and the C Buttons are used for strafing and looking up or down.  "Won't this make aiming clumsy difficult", you might ask?  To that I respond: No, for two reasons.  The game employs a rather generous auto-aim system which can be counted upon for torso hits.  And for situations requiring more precision, Goldeneye also pioneers an aiming mode, where you hold R and move the Control Stick to look about, and the C Buttons to duck or lean.  In lieu of having a twin-stick-based controller, the powers that be made an equally versatile control setup.  There are even options to use two controllers for simulating the aforementioned dual-stick controllers.  It's not all good though; the use of "button chords" for certain actions (namely, holding A and pressing Z to cycle backwards through your weapons) may be cumbersome without practise, but for that one can blame the N64 controller more than the game itself.

Another sore spot one could also blame on the N64 hardware is the graphics.  As I said before, I'm not one to depend on graphical proficiency in order to extract fun from a game.  I do draw the line, however, when drops in the frame rate get in the way, which I'm sad to say happens quite a bit in Goldeneye.  But let's be honest, were any video games out at the same time that much better-looking?  And finally, I'd like to address the multiplayer mode.  I'd like to, but I never had the friends to play it with on a regular basis, and there aren't any AI bots for us solo players to get our jollies with, so my authority's not the greatest on the matter.  Judging from similar experiences in games like Perfect Dark and The World is Not Enough, however, I appreciate the degree of customisation available in setting up multiplayer matches, especially when you throw unlockable cheats into the mix.

So now comes the million-pound question: is Goldeneye still good?  It's certainly playable, if that's what you mean, and potentially fun as well.  Anybody who's been burnt out by the rigid linearity imposed upon us by all those Call of Duty clones should appreciate the relative freedom most missions give you in how you approach your objectives.  (Although maybe too much freedom, as I explained a few paragraphs ago.)  But that's just it: so many of the defences I could whip out for Goldeneye stem from the fact that it's not like today's crop of shooters.  And yet not all shooters are like that; there are still shooters out there which emulate Goldeneye's business model as well like the aforementioned Perfect Dark and Timesplitters, and are technically better for having built on its formula with improved technology and experience.  Not that we'd ever have been blessed with them in the first place without Goldeneye, however.  So yeah, it's still good, but it's not like I wouldn't change anything about it, either.  Let me put it to you this way: if I had all the knowledge and resources to make whatever video game I wanted, and no licensing or trademark restrictions to worry about, I would make an updated HD remake -- not a reboot, a remake -- of Goldeneye.  Actually, that would be my second choice behind making Mega Man Legends 3, but you should have picked up on that by now.

P.S. I am aware of Goldeneye: Source, a free, fan-made Half-Life 2 mod which emulates and expands upon the original's multiplayer mode.  I like it very much, in fact.  But I choose not to count it unless or until they work the single-player campaign in there.

+ The story follows the movie, but takes liberties in all the right places.
+ The level lengths are just short enough to encourage repeated play-throughs.
+ Responsible and then-innovative use of stealth gameplay.
+ Control options make the best use of the N64's controller.
- Some objectives are so poorly-described that you could miss them entirely.
- The frame rate is highly prone to slowdown during intense action.

Control: 4 out of 5
Design: 4 out of 5
Graphics: 2 out of 5
Audio: 4 out of 5
The Call: 75% (B-)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Film Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Previously on the SDP, I reviewed the 2010 movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.  And it was good.  Great, even.  Now, in said review, I mentioned it as one of two movies that took video games culture seriously.  Here is the other one I had in mind.

Wreck-It Ralph
  • Publisher: Disney
  • Studio: Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • Release: 2 November 2012
  • Director: Rich Moore
  • Producer: Clark Spencer:
  • Writers: Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee
Our protagonist, the titular1 Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), is oddly enough the antagonist in his home, the video game Fix-It Felix Jr., starring of course Fix-It Felix, Jnr (Jack McBrayer).  But this movie is not about Felix; rather, the focus is on Ralph, who's going through a sort of mid-life crisis as our story starts.  Specifically, he's grown tired of being the villain in his game.  Repeatedly watching Felix win pies from the townspeople while you get thrown in the mud can do that to you.  So when the other characters throw a party for their game's 30th anniversary, Ralph isn't invited but shows up anyway.  Suffice to say, his appearance is not taken well by the NPC townspeople, so he goes off to drown his sorrows (specifically, at the bar from Root Beer Tapper).

From there, Ralph's quest to earn their acceptance takes him through games like the rail-shooter Hero's Duty and the candy-themed kart-racer Sugar Rush, where most of the film takes place.  In terms of additional characters, Hero's Duty gives us miss Calhoun (Jane Lynch), a no-nonsense sergeant prone to unusual, euphemistic expressions, and Sugar Rush gives us Vanellope von Schweetz (Susan Sarandon), who wants to participate in her game's races but is kept from doing so because of her nasty habit of "glitching".  Calhoun was a lot of fun to watch, due largely to the juxtaposition of her serious attitude against the colourful, quirky backdrop of Sugar Rush.  Also, she is played by Jane Lynch, who is just awesome.  Vanellope, not so much.  Her rude interactions with Ralph are annoying both for him and the viewer, and while she does garner sympathy as the plot moves along, it can't undo all the damage made by her first impression.

I've got to be honest, I was a little slow to experience this film at first.  My major misgiving was that I was afraid they'd misrepresent gaming culture, and nerds are a terrible people to misrepresent.  But the powers involved with Wreck-It Ralph know their stuff.  They licenced many real video-game characters to make cameos, and background sight-gags are plentiful as well, such as graffiti messages stating things like "Aeris lives2" and "Sheng Long was here3".  Furthermore, there's a scene where the villain goes into the internal code of Sugar Rush (by inputting the Konami Code, natch), and makes a slight alteration.  The way the code is depicted, with its visual depictions of entities and attributes, is indeed true to the nature of object-oriented programming, and yet visualised in a manner accessible to the layman.

Apart from that, Wreck-It Ralph plays with the concept of heroic and villainous roles in storytelling.  For starters the main character of the movie is the antagonist of his own world, only to get wrapped up in an even greater plot, thus becoming the protagonist.  They even use this role-reversal for comedy as well.  For example, there's a scene where Felix is locked in prison and tries to break out by smashing the window bars with his magic hammer, only to fix them further instead, like what he does in his own game.  Even the product placement (and there's lots of it, mind you) gets in on the puns, such as the swamo of "Nesquik-sand", or the "Devil Dogs" owned by the police department in Sugar Rush.  Normally I cast a wary eye on product placement, but in this case it's used so cleverly that I'll give it a pass.  Between all the genre-busting, sight gags, and references, I dare say Wreck-It Ralph even comes close to Airplane!'s level of comedy.  It doesn't match up, of course, but what does these days?

Up until now I seem to have given off the impression that I like this film too much.  So let's make this review more fun and run down some plot holes!!
  • If the star of Fix-It Felix, Jr. is Fix-It Felix Junior, shouldn't there be a Fix-It Felix Senior hanging about?
  • What is Zangief doing at the Bad-Anon meeting?  Isn't his role in the Street Fighter series less-than-villainous?
  • For that matter, what about Bowser and Dr. Robotnik?  Their respective franchises aren't associated with the arcade scene.  I mean, sure, there was an arcade port of Super Mario Bros., and I've seen it more than once, so it's not exactly rare.  But Sonic the Hedgehog?  Less so.  Maybe they've got a Genesis hooked up in the back room, but by this point I'm just being nitpicky, so let's move on.
  • If "going turbo" (read: leaving your game) is treated as such a bad thing, then why is Game Central Station (read: the surge protector all the game cabinets are hooked up to) so busy with so many characters going so many places when the arcade is closed for the night?
  • For that matter, shouldn't the arcade owner switch the power off at night?  And what would happen then?  Surely the characters -- even the spatially misplaced ones -- wouldn't die forever, they'd be regenerated in their own games when they boot up again.
  • Ignoring the above point, if Turbo died when he invaded Road Blasters (a real game, by the way) and both it and his game were shut off, then how did he come back as King Candy from Sugar Rush?
  • Ignoring the above point, if Vanellope finishing the qualifying race resets the world of Sugar Rush, even after King Candy gets defeated, wouldn't that regenerate him as well?
  • And why does she still have her glitch ability even after the game was reset and her connections to the code were restored?
  • And how could the citizens of Sugar Rush remember that they lost their memories?
  • Are the Cybugs supposed to eat and delete all the data they come across, within their own game or otherwise?  What kind of sick programmer would do such a thing!?
That's quite the laundry list of questionables, eh?  But before you get the wrong idea, remember I took the same attitude in my review of The Wind Rises.  The only reason I nitpicked it as much as I did was because it captured my interest enough to warrant that kind of further inspection.  They say you only hurt the ones you love, and that being the case I must really love both films.  I may have had fun in seeking out all those plot holes, but I had just as much fun actually watching the film.  It's funny, well-researched, poignant, but most of all, it's innovative, taking the concepts of hero and villain for a new spin.  And shattering conventions is something Disney's been doing a lot lately, as in this, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and to a lesser extent, Frozen.  They're still a hundred years too early to compete with the Japanese anime scene at its best, but one could do far worse than hang out with The Mouse these days.

Acting: 4 out of 5
Writing: 4 out of 5
Design: 5 out of 5
Technical: 5 out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)

Except in Japan, where the film is known as Sugar Rush.
Refers to Aeris/Aerith from Final Fantasy VII, famous for her death scene which one apparently does not need to spoil anymore.
Refers to a victory line from Street Fighter II ("You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance"), which triggered a rumour about a character with that name hidden in the game.  There is no such character; "Sheng Long" is merely the Chinese translation of Ryu's "Shoryuken" or "Dragon Punch" attack.