Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Game Review: Time Crisis: Project Titan

Time Crisis: Project Titan
  • Publisher: Namco
  • Developer: Flying Tiger Development
  • Release: PlayStation, 20 June 2001
  • Genre: 3D Action (Rail Shooter)
  • Players: 1
  • Save: Memory Card, 1 Block
A lot had changed in the Time Crisis franchise between the release of the first game and the Summer of 2001, the general release date of our current subject.  In the arcades, the sequel Time Crisis II made multiple long-lasting changes to the series formula, mostly for the better, and the spin-off Crisis Zone shook things up in its own direction as well.  But neither of these games were given home ports in a timely fashion.  Maybe Namco was just waiting for something better than the PlayStation to run them on, as both games were eventually ported to the PlayStation 2, another development in that aforementioned time frame.  But before those games came to be, Namco and third-party developer Flying Tiger gave PSone owners one more run with the gun, with the console-only sequel Time Crisis: Project Titan.

The story fails to live up to its potential.
Project Titan once again stars Richard Miller, the leather-jacket-clad one-man-army from the first game.  This time around, he has been framed for the assassination of the president of Caruba, a fictional Caribbean island, and has 48 hours to clear his name.  You won't be able to get a handle on the stakes outside of the opening cutscene, however.  Without wishing to spoil, the game has a nasty habit of discarding plot points at the end of each of its four acts, as if this inanimate work of software had somehow come down with a case of ADD.  With wishing to spoil, however, the real assassin (who looks nothing like Miller, by the way) pops up for the boss fight in act 2 and is abruptly killed in the following cutscene, at the end of act 3 we learn the president of not-Aruba was alive all along, and the fourth and final act deals with a titanium-enhanced army led by -- of course, -- Wild Dog, which is plonked upon us with virtually no foreshadowing.

Oh, and the first act takes place on a yacht owned by Kantaris, the villainess arms dealer from the first game's second story, but it neither resolves anything from that past plot, nor does it advance the current plot in any way.  It's just a total waste of a level which could have been better served showing Richard on the run from the not-Cuban authorities, for example.  And no, getting to see Kantaris's low-polygon body in a bikini top does not help matters.  While I'm digressing on the subject of graphics, Project Titan attempts a more detailed look than the first game, and it works for the most part.  One of its nicer touches is that enemies in each of the four acts sport their own sets of costumes, each still retaining the series' trademark colour-coding by rank.

So if the story's a giant waste of time, does the gameplay manage any of the heavy lifting?  Project Titan revives the rules set by the first game, meaning that you have to keep your time limit up lest you suffer death by the clock, and you have to guess when enemies will land direct hits lest you suffer death by loss of hitpoints.  There is a new mechanic added from the original game, where if you can land a combo of 30 hits on enemies without missing, you'll earn an extra life.  It's hard enough to get so that it doesn't break the game by offering you too many lives, but considering that none of the other Time Crisis games offer any methods of restoring player-character life, it's better than nothing.  Another change occurs in the boss fights, where you can switch to different cover positions while hiding.  Mostly, this is used to follow the boss as he, or it, moves from place to place.  Given its limited implementation, this isn't much more than a quick gimmick, although variations on this system were eventually incorporated into later games, namely Time Crisis 4 (Arcade/PlayStation 3, 2005) and 5 (Arcade, 2015).
In boss fights, you have to follow your targets
by switching cover positions.
Project Titan once again supports the GunCon light-gun controller, and once again offers the same degree of button customisation.  Regular controllers are also supported, and oddly enough, it is here that Project Titan offers its greatest improvement.  First of all, it supports the analog sticks on DualShock and other controllers.  But more importantly, there is a new lock-on mechanic where if you move your cursor close to an enemy, it will automatically snap to him.  It can even follow arms, legs, heads, and other body parts as the targeted character moves around.  This system isn't so overpowered that it makes the game feel like it's on autopilot, but it gives anyone the speed to come within shouting distance of the default record times.  Yet it was never implemented into any of the other Time Crisis home ports, and that's a real shame.

The story campaign in Project Titan lasts longer than in the original, adding an extra fourth act on top of the usual three (ironically, you have fewer continues to finish the game with than before), but unlike the home version of Time Crisis, there's no additional campaign to pad out the first-play length.  With that in mind, the game ends up as a niche title for only a certain kind of Time Crisis fan, namely the kind who seeks out more of the challenge of the original.  Anyone weaned on the newer, friendlier entries will get turned off by its tougher conventions, not to mention the relative lack of value.  If you are interested in the unforgiving early years of this franchise, I'd recommend you start out with the original Time Crisis home port first.  But when you're ready to move on, you wouldn't do too wrongly to make your attack on Titan.

(Lame joke is lame.)

+ Retains the challenge of the original.
+ Lock-on system makes the game more playable for controller users.
+ A more detailed graphical style.
- Lousy story, with many dropped plot points.
- Awkward voice acting to match.
- Failed to implement modern conveniences from Time Crisis II.
- Multi-cover system works, but is limited to boss fights.
The Call: 60% (C-)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Game Review: Time Crisis

Time Crisis
  • Publisher: Namco
  • Developer: Namco
  • Release:
    • Arcade: 1995
    • PlayStation: 31 October 1997
  • Genre: 3D Action (Light-gun Shooter)
  • Players: 1
  • Save: Memory Card (1 Block)
Once upon a time, arcade light-gun games followed a strict formula.  Shoot the bad guys, don't shoot the innocent bystanders, and shoot outside the screen to reload.  I've covered a few of those kinds of games already.  But in 1995, one company added a new dimension to the formula.  That company was Namco.  That game was Time Crisis.  And that new dimension was a foot pedal added to the machine, with which the player could hide from enemy fire.  Over the past twenty years since the original's release, the Time Crisis series has been a mainstay in arcades, with a fifth entry (not including spin-offs) recently having been rolled out as of this article.  The series has also carved out a niche for home console gamers, as the premier light-gun game series on the PlayStation family.  So, the question I have to end my introductory paragraph with is, does the first game still hold up?

In this game's story, you are Richard Miller, a leather-jacket-clad operative from the spy agency VSSE, and your mission is to rescue the princess of Sercia from the villainous duopoly of deposed prince Sherudo Garo and mercenary Wild Dog.  Oh, and some ninja with a claw who serves as the first act's boss.  Okay, the story's not that important; it's basically the save-the-princess template updated for the pre-21st century.  But Time Crisis has other selling points to fall back upon anyway.  The arcade machine uses a foot pedal, which you hold down to advance and release to hide behind cover.  You can't just turtle your way through the game, though, since you can't shoot enemies unless you're out of cover.  Also, the game runs on a timer, which is extended by clearing each scene of action, and if either the timer or your stock of lives run out, the game is over.  Upon starting a game, you can also choose an alternate time-attack mode, which limits you to one of the three acts but also gives you infinite lives, which is a suitable choice for beginner players.
In addition to enemy fire,
you have to duck to avoid obstacles.

Time Crisis is not a game for beginners, however, especially if you're used to later, more forgiving games in the series.  Only a few of the enemies' shots will land a direct hit if you don't duck out of the way, but if there is a tell for the hurt-shots, it's very hard to... tell.  Maybe the damaging bullets are coloured red, I don't know.  A rule of thumb is to pay attention to the enemies' uniforms.  The red-clad enemies will almost always fire a hurt-shot when they appear, and thrown weapons (grenades, knives, etc.) will always hit unless you hide or, if you're really good, shoot them out of the air.  Furthermore, on occasions you must duck to avoid larger obstacles, such as cranes, crates, and cars, which would knock you about otherwise.  Fortunately, these obstructions are accompanied by an on-screen warning.  Oh, and be on the lookout for the guys in golden uniforms.  They don't fight back, and disappear if you let them go, but they're good for a few extra seconds of time, which in this game is very valuable.

The PlayStation version instead uses a special light-gun controller, the GunCon, with two buttons which work the same way.  These controls may be customised to the extent possible; not only can you switch which button hides and which pauses the game, but you can even control whether you hide by holding or releasing the button.  You can even use a second controller, preferably a dance pad or the pedal from a steering wheel, as the pedal if you absolutely have to emulate the full arcade experience.  The GunCon itself, however, is a bit more complicated to set up.  In addition to plugging the controller plug into one of the front ports on your PlayStation, there's a second cable which you have to plug in between the video cable and the TV/VCR/etc it's plugged in to.  And then you have to calibrate the gun sights every time you boot up the game.  However, you'll have an even worse time of it if you're using a regular controller.  This game pre-dates the DualShock controller, so analog stick controls are not supported, leaving you with the relative imprecision of the PlayStation D-Pad to move your cursor about.
The Special story mode in the home version offers
branching paths based on your performance.
On the other hand, the PlayStation version offers its own benefits, apart from the obvious one of no longer needing to hunt down an arcade which still has the first game in operation.  This version includes a second story mode on top of the arcade version.  This new story takes place in a hotel run by an arms-dealing villainess named Kantaris.  (Honestly, there's so little character development to be had that, I don't know why I bother giving you everyone's names.)  What's novel about this mode is that the level progression branches off at multiple points, subtly leading you to one area or another based on your performance.  For example, if you clear out a room in the first area before the elevator doors close, you'll go down one path, or down another path if you can't make it in time.  It's a tall order to try and get all four of the possible endings, given the difficulty of acheiving these unique objectives on top of the base difficulty of the game itself.  Honestly, it's a good thing this extra mode was included, because the arcade mode only lasts about fifteen minutes (not including the time lost from re-playing sections of the game after continuing, which is pretty much inevitable), which is short even for the series' already short standard.

The graphical style employed in Time Crisis is typical of the PlayStation era, with low-polygon models and a a hybrid of realism and anime art, allowing for expressive (if unchanging) faces without looking too outlandish.  The enemy character models come with multiple coloured uniforms which tell you, at a glance, what role they serve in their futile quest to stop you, such as the aforementioned accurate red-shirts (pretty much the opposite of you'd expect from Star Trek).  Whilst there are no bonuses for hitting the head or other weak points, the enemies' death animations do react to where you hit them, such as twirling to the ground when you shoot them in the leg, or half-flipping backwards with a headshot.  The music is forgettable and most of the line-reads in the performance are awkward at best, but the gunshot sound effects are impactful and change from room to room, simulating the changing acoustics, and the announcer who tells you "Wait", "Action!", and "Danger!" is just present enough to tell you what you need to know, but not too present as to be annoying.

The impression given by the original Time Crisis was one of trying to find its bearings.  It employs on mechanics which were changed and/or abandoned for subsequent entries, and runs the risk of either alienating or intriguing series fans weaned on later entries.  It's got that old-school NES thing going on, where it compensates for having a shorter duration by making it really tough to beat.  If that's your thing, great.  If not, at least it makes beating this game all the more rewarding.

+ The cover-pedal mechanic puts a fresh spin on the genre.
+ The game's rules offer more challenge than other entries in the series.
+ The bonus campaign in the home version.
+ Little touches like death animations and gun sound effects.
- The difficulty level is the most unforgiving in the series.
- Limited ease of control if you're not using a GunCon.
- Silly voice-acting and bland story.
The Call: 70% (C+)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Music Review: Time of Our Lives vs. GDFR

"Time of Our Lives"
  • Artist: Pitbull & Ne-Yo
  • Album: Globalization (Pitbull) / Non-Fiction (Ne-Yo)
  • Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap, Dance
  • Label: RCA (Sony)
  • Release: 17 November 2014
  • Writers: Armando C. PĂ©rez, Lukasz Gottwald, Henry Walter, Robin Weisse, Shaffer Smith, Vinay Rao, Stephan Taft, Michael "Freakin" Everett
  • Producer: Dr. Luke, Cirkut, Lifted, Michael "Freakin" Everett (melody)
  • Artist: Flo Rida feat. Sage the Gemini and Lookas
  • Album: My House
  • Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap
  • Label: Atlantic (Warner)
  • Release: 21 October 2014
  • Writers: Tramar Dillard, Dominic Woods, Lucas Rego, Mike Caren, Andrew Cedar, Charles W. Miller, Gerald Goldstein, Harold Brown, Howard E. Scott, Justin Frank, Lee Oskar, Leroy L. Jordan, Morris Dickerson, Sylvester Allen
  • Producers: DJ Frank E, Andrew Cedar, Lookas, Miles Beard

2015 has been a good year for Summer songs.  Heck, one of them even had the word "summer" in the title, just to drive the point home.  But some of those songs were holdovers from earlier in the year which happened to have a little more staying power.  For the purposes of this article, I speak of "Time of Our Lives" by Pitbull, and "G.D.F.R" by Flo Rida.  Now, previously on the SDP, I did another joint review of both a Pitbull song and a Flo Rida song.  Since that last review, Pitbull has become more tolerable and Flo Rida hadn't done much of anything.  And now that they've had concurrent hits once again, I thought I'd challenge them to a second round, and see what's changed.

I'll start with Pitbull's song, since he's the guy who draws in all the readers to this blog, apparently.  We begin with the chorus, sung by Ne-Yo.
I knew my rent was gonna be late about a week ago
I worked my ass off, but I still can't pay it though
But I got just enough, to get off in this club
Have me a good time, before my time is up
Well this was unexpected.  Our protagonist is not the usual money-spouting partying machine, but is on the verge of defaulting on his financial obligations.  And sure, if you are struggling to make ends meet financially, the last thing you want to do is waste what little scratch you've managed to save up.  But our protagonist has already come to terms with his destiny of not affording the month's rent, so he's going to make the most of his situation.  Truly, this hook brings across the point that "Give Me Everything" or "Feel This Moment" failed to.

Surprisingly, this song does not use any samples, but non-specifically evokes the house music of the late '90s / early 2000s, such as Daft Punk's Discovery album.  And while I haven't minded Pitbull's (producers') use of sampling in the past, regardless, this approach results in a slick groove.  And having such relatively deep lyrics only sweetens the deal.  Oh, buy you know how it is, the actual verses are just going to be the same partying and drinking routine.  Might as well get this over with.
This is the last twenty dollars I got
But I'mma have a good time ballin' tonight
Tell the bartender, line up some shots
Because I'm gonna get loo-oo-oose tonight
...Eh?  Pitbull actually carried the theme from the chorus into his verses?  What a shocking development!  Please, do go on!
She a freaky girl and I'm a freaky man
She on the rebound, broke up with her ex
And I'm like Rodman, ready on deck
And what's this now?  Pitbull's hitting on a girl who isn't already in a relationship?  What alternate universe have I stumbled upon where the cliches of mainstream rap do not apply?  Because I'm parking myself down there and not leaving!  Okay, so he does get to those cliches anyway, in pretty much all of the lyrics I haven't bothered to showcase for you readers.  But it works this time around, because for once we have some context in which all his party behaviour takes place.  And the clincher, the one moment which cements this song with a good impression, is the last couple of lines Pitbull adds to the end of the middle eight:
This for everybody going through tough times
Believe me, been there, done that
But everyday above ground is a great day, remember that
An inspirational statement encouraging people to stay positive?  From Mr. Worldwide himself!?  I guess anything's possible with the new and improved Pitbull.  Now with 10% less Voli!  Seriously, while the music video had a shot of that particular product placement, but the song itself is completely devoid of brand naming.  And speaking of the music video, even it takes on the whole "party in the face of adversity" theme, depicting the future Mr. Worldwide holding a house party to raise rent money.  All of this goes to show: if you can only write about one thing, then at least come up with a new context to wrap around that thing, and you too can become a master storyteller.

So that was Pitbull, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good that was.  I guess it's time to move on to the Flo Rida song, though.  It's called "G.D.F.R.", as in "Going down for real", as in the chorus sung by Sage the Gemini:
I know what you came here to see
If you're a freak, then you're coming home with me
And I know what you came here to do
Now bust it open let me see you get low
It's going down for real [repeat x1]
Nothing special.  Oh, except for the sample they used in-between the titular lines.  That horn riff comes from the outro to "Low Rider", the 1975 funk-rock hit by the band War.  Well, actually, the sample itself is from a remix of the song done by a DJ called Lookas, which explains his featuring credit.  Flo Rida's done this sort of thing before, sampling a song which sampled another song, in hits like "Good Feeling" and "I Cry".  And believe it or not, I approve.  For one, Avicii got his mainstream breakthrough after being "featured" in "Good Feeling".  And two, they don't use the more familiar parts of the source material, so the sample doesn't distract you with memories of the song it was taken from.  So aesthetically, "G.D.F.R." has pleasantly surprised me, but will the lyrics follow suit?
Your girl just kissed a girl
I do bi (chicks)
Okay, I get the idea that girl-on-girl lovin' is hot.  There's even a Trope for that.  But how come someone said the word "chicks" in a different, toned-down voice?  It's almost like one of those unfinished-simile "hashtag rap" dealies, which I had hoped were dead by now.
Shake for a sheikh
I'm throwing these Emirates in the sky
I see we're experimenting with a Middle Eastern theme with the lyrics.  Not a bad choice; I appreciate any attempt to inject some colour into msinstream rap songs, especially local colour.  And that neck of the woods has some of the richest cities in the world, so you and your baller image would fit right in.  Everyone's a winner!

...Wait a minute, so in that last line when you said "I do bi", you wanted it to sound like "I Dubai", as in the city in the United Arab Emirates?  I do, indeed, see what you did there, and I approve.  Heck, even the "Low Rider" sample, as used in "G.D.F.R.", could pass for middle-eastern music if you stretch your imagination.  Although I'm not sure what you mean by "throwing these Emirates in the sky".  I know that Emirates is the name of an airline from the UAE, but does that mean you took over that company?  Not the last I checked.  Or do you physically launch their planes into the air?  Kinda outside the realm of possibility there, too.
Spending this Assal-ama-laykum
Peace to M.O.N.E.Y
At least we're keeping the theme going, but now it's starting to make less sense.  How are you supposed to spend Arabic greetings as currency?  And has money become such an integral part of your life that now you have to wish peace upon it like it were some religious figure?  (That last part is not outside the realm of possibility for Flo Rida.)
I love my beaches, south beaches
Surfboard and high tide
That's it, huh?  Not even halfway through the verse, and you've already given up on that theme you had going?  I would be disappointed in you, Flo, but I'd have had to have actual expectations in order to say that.  Anything else you'd like to bring up, Flo?  Let me just skim through the rest of this verse for you...  Birthday cakes...  Bugattis...  Anna Kournikovas...?  Yeah, I think we're done here.  Let's move on to the other guy.
And they already know me
Probably not; let me bring you up to speed.  Gemini, and his name is Sage.  Sage the Gemini.  He tried to have a hit a couple of years ago with something called "Gas Pedal", and it sucked.  I can best describe his style of performance as a "monotone baritone".
It's going down further than femursGirls get wetter than Katrina
I'd just like to state for the record that I'm getting over the whole casual references Hurricane Katrina / New Orleans thing.  For one, that was ten years ago, and I don't even personally know anybody who was affected by that disaster.  I know I got mad when Pitbull used it, but that was a different time, a time when "Give Me Everything" was number 1 and I failed to see any potential he could have had up to his sleeve.  Besides, it turns out there have been quite a few of these lines used by many other rappers over the years.  So as long as no one tries something like "Blowing up like Fukushima", I think I can sleep easily for once.
Double entendre, double entendre
Uh-oh, thanks for warning us about the double entendre coming up!  Also, can I address the staccato delivery he used on this line?  Because it's annoying.  It's been annoying for a few years now, and it's not likely to become un-annoying anytime soon.  So anyway, what's this double entendre you've got cooked up for us?
While you're hating I get money
Then I double up tonkers
...I don't get it; where's the double entendre?  Was it supposed to be "double up tonkers"?  I have no idea what that even means, and I certainly can't think of the second meaning required to qualify that phrase as a double entendre.  Were you, by any chance, referring to the lines beforehand?
Put your hands up
It's a stick up, no more makeup
Get that ass on the floor
Ladies put your lipstick up
...Nope, I've got nothing.  I think we're done here.  I would be lying if I said "G.D.F.R." weren't catchy, because way the "Low Rider" sample was used gives it more staying power than most other rap songs.  But strip away the beat and it's just like any other of Flo Rida's songs.

"Time of Our Lives"
+ Slick, non-sampled beat.
+ The chorus sets up a theme and the verses actually follow it.
- Still deals with partying, although we finally have proper context.
The Call: 5 out of 5 (A)
+ Creative sampling.
+ Brief attempts at a lyrical theme.
- Generic lyrics -- that is, when they aren't just awkward.
The Call: 3 out of 5 (C)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Game Review: Shantae and the Pirate's Curse

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse
  • Publisher: WayForward
  • Developer: WayForward / Inti Creates
  • Release:
    • Nintendo 3DS: 23 October 2014
    • Wii U: 25 December 2014
    • PC: 23 April 2015
  • Genre: 2D Action
  • Players: 1
Previously on the SDP, I reviewed the first two Shantae games.  So naturally, me writing a review of the latest sequel was inevitable.  If you'll recall my review of Risky's Revenge, the second game in the series, my greatest complaint was its short length.  However, I did try to give it the benefit of the doubt, assuming that WayForward had so much trouble trying to find a publisher after the commercial failure of the first game.  Well, at the risk of spoiling this review, I'm pleased to report this is no longer the case for the newest entry, Shantae and the Pirate's Curse.  Maybe they've gotten used to this whole digital-distribution thing now, so that they don't have to work their budgets around what a publisher will or won't give them.  Or maybe it's because they collaborated on this game with Inti Creates, a Japanese development team famous for, among other things, the Mega Man Zero series, Azure Striker Gunvolt, and the upcoming Mighty No.9 (with Comcept).  They even made a port for the Wii U, thus beating the crowdfunded Half-Genie Hero to become the series' first console game, later followed by a PC port, just like Risky's Revenge.  So does this new influx of resources, man-hours, and/or will translate to a better game?

New equipment like the Pirate Hat elevate
the gameplay experience, pardon the pun.
(3DS version.)
When a brand-new evil entity known as the Pirate Master threatens the safety of Sequin Land, our heroine, the half-genie Shantae, and her nemesis, the lady pirate Risky Boots, must form an uneasy alliance to take him down.  Shantae's trademarked dance-powered animal transformations are unavailable this time around, due to a run-in with the plot last time around.  So in lieu of those, progress is controlled by the acquiring of various pirate paraphernelia.  There's a pistol to shoot switches and deal light damage, a scimitar to break blocks underfoot, a giant hat to glide with while jumping, and so on.  And unlike the aforementioned transformations, which require you to stop and enter some form of dance mode to activate, each of these new moves has their own button input or inputs.  It's like the developers said, "We've got six buttons to work with on this 3DS thing, and by gum, we're going to use them!"

Control ergonomics aside, this decision was a good one in the interest of making the gameplay feel fresh again.  They don't offer the same abilities as the animal transformations from the first two games, but nonetheless offer new possibilities for exploring the game worlds.  But it's not all different: the series' traditional attack items such as Fire Balls, Pike Balls, and Storm Puffs are back again.  Whereas attack items in Risky's Revenge were fueled by a magic meter, Pirate's Curse switches them back to being consumables.  However, they can be dropped by defeated enemies as well as purchased from the shop, so things even out on that front.  Once again, Heart Squids may be collected to extend Shantae's maximum health, although instead of instantly taking effect as you would expect to see in most video games, you have to bring them to the "squidsmith" in Scuttle Town, who will smash them four at a time to form new heart containers.  Sadistic, yes, but it also clues you in to the level of comedy you'll be dealing with in Pirate's Curse.

Instead of the singular overworld map employed in the first two Shantaes, and indeed most every Metroidvania-type game, the world of Pirate's Curse is laid out across six or so islands, one of them being the main town and the others each containing one of the games dungeon levels, and connected by a hub menu.  This was also a great decision, as it cuts down on travel time quite a bit.  Besides, Dust: An Elysian Tail also did this sort of thing, and that was one of the few video games I gave a perfect score to!  There were still a few fetch quests which had me lost the first time around, and some of the pre-dungeon events drug on just long enough to be not fun.  For example, a mid-game episode on Tan Line Island forces you into a stealth section.  Still, my first play-through clocked in at about 8 hours, and if I may say so, it was 8 hours well-spent.  Beating the game once unlocks the Pirate Mode, where you get all the pirate acccessories from the start of the game.  If nothing else, it lets us laypeople experiment with speed-running through the game.
The character portraits look neat in stereoscopic 3D.
...Take my word for it. (Wii U version.)
The pseudo-16-bit art style of Risky's Revenge has gone largely unchanged for Pirate's Curse, although I suppose it's neat to see more enemies from the first game returning with a visual upgrade.  For a game whose graphics engine relies mainly on 2D sprites, the few times that stereoscopic 3D effects in (the 3DS version of) Pirate's Curse are used are all the more notable, especially on the character portraits during dialogue scenes.  Obviously this doesn't apply to the Wii U and PC ports, where said portraits were re-drawn to take advantage of the higher screen resolutions, but the other art assets were not.  WayForward has done HD graphics before, even on games ported from smaller-screened platforms, so this was a curious oversight.  I don't know, maybe they're saving all that work for Half-Genie Hero.  The soundtrack, once again composed by Jake Kaufman, is also partly recycled from the last game, but it was cool then and is still cool now.  Once again it takes melodies from the first game, along with new ones, and jacking them up with Middle-Eastern and other influences.  Pirate's Curse is also the first Shantae game to introduce voice acting, tastefully limited to a few sound bites in gameplay and cutscenes.  In case you're interested, the leading lady is played by Christina "Vee" Valenzuela, also known for playing Cerebella in Skullgirls, and Sailor Mars from the new Sailor Moon dub.

Still, I must stress that gameplay, not graphics, is nine-tenths of the law.  Apart from the new abilities and streamlined world layout, I like how the little damage point numbers that pop up like from a classic RPG, or the halfway-decent map screen, including maps for dungeons, a glaring omission in the last game.  It's the little details like those which take the experience over the top, although there are other details I wish had been cleaned up.  I wish that I could leave notes on the maps when I find a place to come back to later (maybe I've been spoiled by The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds).  It would certainly help me keep track of the numerous, and often unintuitive, trading-game fetch quests needed to progress through the game, as it's easy to ignore places you'll need to put things later on.  Then there's the smaller stuff, like how the sub-menu automatically switches pages when I find a key item or something.  But smaller stuff aside, Pirate's Curse ranks up there with sequels such as The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Mega Man Legends 2, or Just Cause 2, which don't reinvent too much, but fine-tune the experiences of their predecessor whilst offering far more of it.  Pirate's Curse is clearly the best game in the Shantae series thus far, offering a challengine hurdle for Half-Genie Hero to clear.  But whether or not it does, the SDP and I will be all over that like black on a Tinkerbat.

(...Don't look at me like that.  Risky Boots's minions aren't Arfrican, they're literally black-skinned monster thingies.)

+ More content than the first two games (combined).
+ The pirate tools offer up new abilities for exploration.
+ Tasteful introduction of voice acting.
+ Retains the series' sense of humour.
- Some of the fetch quests can leave you wandering aimlessly to solve them.
- A few sections of the game appear to drag on, if only for being less fun than the rest of the game.
- The lack of upscaled graphics in the Wii U and PC ports seem like a missed opportunity.

The Call: 90% (A-)

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)