Review of Castlevania (Season Two)

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A year ago I signed up for a seven-day Netflix trial, in order to watch the Castlevania animated series. Fast forward to present day were the second season has just been released. Eager to check out the next installment of Trevor Belmont’s adventures, I went to the Netflix site with credit card in hand. Time to reactivate my account I thought. For some reason however Netflix informed me that there is no account on their database registered under my email address (even though by inbox contains receipts stating otherwise.) Long story short, instead of paying for a subscription I am now on a one month free trial. Looks like I get to watch some shows for nowt and then deactivate the service before they bill me.

OVERVIEW

The first season of Castlevania left most viewers wanting more, as it was only four episodes long. Netflix, emboldened by the success of series one, have thankfully doubled the episode count this time round. The series continues from where it left off. Vampire hunter Trevor Belmont has teamed up with Dracula son’s Alucard and a sorceresses named Sypha in order to prevent the bloodthirsty count from carrying out a genocide of the human race. I expected this season of Castlevania to be an action packed affair, were the heroic trio would journey to Dracula’s mobile fortress slaying any creatures that get in their way. The show subverted my expectations by instead dedicating its opener to the villains. In fact, writer Warren Ellis focuses so much attention on the antagonists that they end up getting more screen time than Trevor and chums.

Dracula’s army is led by various generals, including a viking named Godbrand who lives just to drink blood and to fornicate. He is easy to read, unlike the ambitious seductress Carmilla who is adept in the art of manipulation. Dracula’s minions are mostly made up of fellow vampires, but his ranks also contain two humans who are tasked with gathering the deceased and forging them into demonic soldiers. Just like in season one, Castlevania’s script takes the time to explore the motivations of these characters. No one is evil just for the sake of it. In the case of the aforementioned humans, they both turned their backs on the living due to tragic pasts. Isaac for example is a former slave who was abused by the clergy. Hector meanwhile was exiled and despised by his mother due to his necromancy research. Turns out that mommy doesn’t approve of kids that reanimate dead pets.

VERDICT

My rating for Castlevania (Season Two) is four stars. Netflix have once again proven that video games can be successfully adapted into other forms of entertainment. Fans of the console titles should however be made aware that the cartoon is slower paced than the Konami titles it is based off. Much of the series revolves around vampire politics, as Dracula’s lieutenants squabble over how best to enact their lord’s wishes. Meanwhile the heroes spend a good chunk of time at the library rather than kicking butt. I didn’t mind the dialogue heavy episodes, as the story is well written. Ellis knows how to keep things interesting via character development and by using the more duplicitous characters’ schemes to build up anticipation for the inevitable conflict that is to follow. When the action finally kicks off it is well worth the wait. Episode seven sees Belmont and co finally storm the castle. His battle with the vampire generals is excellent, as is the confrontation between Alucard and his father.

In terms of performances I think that most of the voice actors did an adequate job. My first impression of the bloke who played Godbrand wasn’t great. He grew on me though, as the series ticked along. Visually the show resembles a lower budget Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. The creature designs were generic and lacked detail. More impressive was the artwork depicting picturesque scenery, such as the shots of Dracula’s castle. On the animation front there were times when I felt a few extra frames here and there would have made things look better. I have no complaints however about the flashy episode seven showdown. Overall I was very pleased with how Castlevania panned out. Season two wraps up the story in a satisfactory manner and also lays down the groundwork for future tales. Whenever season three sees the light of day I will be sure to renew my Netflix subscription to watch it. In the meantime I have a few more weeks of free Netflix access to enjoy. Are there any other Netflix exclusives I should check out? Leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

Angels of Death Review

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A more organized blogger would have posted this Switch review a week ago and called it a Halloween special. I am however not known for planning out site content in advance. Opportunity missed! Instead of reviewing a horror game, on the 31st of October, I ended up writing about a horror-ible Fantastic Four movie instead. Angels of Death has a handicap, when it comes to instilling terror, as it was developed on RPG Maker. Scaring people is far easier with realistic graphics, rather than sixteen-bit pixels. With the right atmosphere it is still possible though, as Corpse Party has proven in the past. To be honest I am a coward at heart, so a horror game that is low on frights is fine with me. Heck, the only reason I braved this six-hour adventure was because some folks, who I follow, have praised the anime adaptation that recently aired.

OVERVIEW

Rachel Gardner is an emotionless thirteen-year old who has been sent to counselling after the death of her parents. When the game begins she awakens in a mysterious building with no knowledge of how she got there. Ray explores her surroundings and soon encounters a bandaged man who wields a scythe. Said mummy look-alike is a serial killer who answers to the name Zack Foster. He chases after Rachel, with the intentions of adding her to his murder tally. The pursuit doesn’t go as planned however. Rather than culminating in homicide, the pair’s meeting ends with them forming a temporary truce. With the aims of escaping the skyscraper that holds them prisoner, Rachel and Zack elect to team up. Can the partnership’s mix of brains and brawn overcome the dangers that await them? Probably. The game isn’t very hard.

Over the course of four episodes Rachel and Zack descend down the edifice. Each floor is littered with traps and is guarded by bloodthirsty lunatics. Despite being coded in a role-playing-game engine, Angels of Death features no turn based combat. Players cannot fight off their assailants and must instead flee from attackers. Getting caught will result in an instant game over, which can be frustrating. Thankfully the game auto saves whenever Rachel is in immediate peril. No significant progress is therefore lost should the heroine perish. Bypassing traps on the other hand requires some basic puzzle solving. Like adventure games of yore, the brainteasers involve using an item in the right location. The inventory Rachel carries is never large so sussing out what object needs to be picked is usually pretty obvious.

VERDICT

My rating for Angels of Death is three stars. The game doesn’t make a good first impression. I was underwhelmed by the rough looking artwork and the early gameplay. Episode one started with me dying multiple times, during a sequence were you are given seconds to evade a fast moving enemy. I suck when put under pressure and fare even worse when a game hasn’t explained that it’s possible to dash by pressing B. Thankfully things improved after that. As the story progressed I got more invested in the game. I dug the colourful cast of characters that Rachel meets and the mystery, of the building she’s trapped in, piqued my interest. Binding it all together is her relationship with Zack. Prior to buying the game who would have known that I would end up shipping a thirteen-year old girl with a guy who slices up people with bladed weapons?

Those seeking horror may leave Angels of Death feeling a tad disappointed. It lacks the creepiness of Corpse Party and is devoid of jump scares. Players, like myself, who appreciate dark humour should however enjoy their time with the game. The cartoon visuals and silly dialogue counterbalance the plot’s more disturbing moments. Episode four’s reveal, in particular, is not for the faint of heart. Speaking of dialogue, keep an “eye” out for a character named Danny should you decide to purchase the game. I challenge anyone to take a sip of their favourite alcoholic beverage whenever he utters the word “peepers.” I guarantee you won’t reach the end credits before your liver gives out. Maybe I’ll give said drinking game a “shot” whenever I get round to watching the anime.

Review of Fantastic Four (2015)

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The Fantastic Four have been anything but fantastic, when it comes to live action movies. Out of the three films distributed by 20th Century Fox the feature released in 2015 is arguably the weakest. That’s a surprise, given that the movie was directed by Josh Trank, who has previously worked on Chronicle (one of the few found footage films that I have managed to enjoy.) Perhaps studio interference is to blame for the debacle, as Trank’s vision for the project was a sci-fi body horror story. Fox were initially onboard with the idea, eager to distance themselves from past FF films, which have been heavy on camp. Midway through filming however they got cold feet and demanded that changes be made. After seeing light-hearted Marvel dominate the more serious DC, I can only speculate that they changed their mind on the script’s dark tone.

OVERVIEW

Reed Richards is a young genius who, with the aid of pal Ben Grimm, has managed to design an interdimensional teleporter. During his school’s science fair he reveals a prototype constructed out of materials salvaged from the scrapyard Ben’s family owns. At the event he showcases how the device can send toy models to an unexplored alien land. Reed’s teachers dismiss the invention, as a cheap magic trick. Dr Franklin Storm, who is in attendance, however recognises Richard’s talent. He immediately recruits the teen and has him put to work at the world renowned Baxter Institute. Storm hopes that with greater resources Reed will be able to construct a larger machine, capable of sending humans to the aforementioned extraterrestrial planet. Like the Ninja Turtles character Baxter Stockman, the Baxter Institute soon learns that travelling to another dimension carries risks.

Assisting Reed in his scientific venture are Franklin’s son Johnny and his adoptive daughter Sue. I have to stress that blonde haired Sue is adopted because, unlike his comic book counterpart, this version of Johnny is black. Although his race has changed, this iteration of Johnny remains a hot-head (rather ironic given that he later acquires flame based powers). He is portrayed as a capable engineer who has no respect for authority. Rather than build advanced tech he prefers to assemble cars, for the purposes of street racing. Supervising the group is fellow intellectual Victor Von Doom. With a name like that it should come as no surprise that Victor is the movie’s antagonist. Some people are just fated to become their surnames. Did you know that my country’s former minister for tourism is called Joe Holliday?

VERDICT

My rating for Fantastic Four is a two out of five. I imagine many viewers despised the movie because they have been conditioned to expect non stop action and humour from superhero films. Fantastic Four on the other hand is slow paced and sterile. I didn’t actually mind the more realistic approach taken in retelling the Fantastic Four’s origins. The movie starts well enough and did some interesting things later on, when the above mentioned characters are mutated during their maiden voyage across dimensions. Rather than willingly become warriors of justice they are strong armed into serving the military. Unlike other superheroes, who consider their newly acquired superhuman abilities to be a boon, the titular four are traumatized by the changes their bodies undergo. Their distressed reactions mirror the time I realized that my scalp is beginning to bald.

Sadly any nuggets of creativity that Fantastic Four tries to inject into the superhero genre cannot overcome a weak script. The dialogue is so stale that it robs the characters of any personalty and makes a cast of otherwise accomplished actors look very ordinary. What really brought the thing down, in my eyes, was the final act. The studio interference, which amounted to reshoots filmed without the director’s approval, is there for all to see. In the blink of an eye we witness a sombre science fiction tale morph into a below par superhero flick. The closing scene makes a half hearted attempt to introduce humour via a cheesy skit revolving around the team’s name. Preceding that is a showdown with Doom that is marred by awful CGI and uninspired fight choreography. The end result is a box office flop, which played a factor in Trank losing the opportunity to direct Star Wars. Fair enough, although I doubt he would have done a worse job than Rian Johnson.

Review of Venom

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It’s weird seeing a Venom origin story that does not feature Spider-Man. Readers of the Marvel comic books will be aware that Venom started life as Peter Parker’s black organic suit. The couple eventually broke up, as Venom became too clingy. Spidey doesn’t appear at all in this two-hour live action flick. The reason? Sony has currently loaned him out to Marvel Studios. That’s disappointing, but on the plus side the film can boast having the very talented Tom Hardy in the lead role. Ruben Fleischer is the movie’s director. His past work includes Zombieland, a cartoon about undead pop idol singers.

OVERVIEW

Eddie Brock is an award-winning investigative reporter. No idea how he won a prize for journalism, given that the movie presents him as a buffoon. In the opening act, Eddie has the gall to accuse entrepreneur Carlton Drake of running a company that conducts inhumane experiments. Eddie’s claims are not backed by a shred of evidence, so it’s no surprise when he is subsequently fired by the news station he works for. Only when he is in the unemployment line does Eddie decide to search for proof. Under the cover of dusk, he infiltrates a research lab affiliated with Drake’s Life Foundation.

There he finds a trio of alien parasites that the group seized from a wandering comet. One of the creatures ends up bonding with Eddie, transforming him into the titular anti-hero. Venom possesses the looks of Spawn and the tongue of Gene Simmons. For the remainder of the film Eddie battles against mercenaries, who have been hired by Drake to retrieve the specimen he unwittingly stole. A second foe appears late on in the movie. Said antagonist is a fellow Symbiote named Riot, who landed on Earth a few months prior, and has since been murdering anyone who gets in his way.

VERDICT

My rating for Venom is a three out of five. In my opinion, the movie doesn’t deserve all the hate that most professional critics have heaped upon it. That said, Venom is merely entertaining. It’s not on the level of what Marvel Studios usually puts out. Even when compared to other third-party superhero releases, it is a grade below Deadpool, Logan and the first two Raimi directed Spider-Man films. Audiences may be caught off guard by the script’s tone. Venom’s creepy design and appetite for human heads seems perfect for an R-Rated horror. What we get however is a standard PG-13 superhero tale that is heavy on slapstick.

For some, that will be a missed opportunity and potential deal breaker. I personally didn’t mind the more light-hearted direction taken by the creators. The best scenes were not the moments of violence, but rather the times when Venom and his human host engaged in humorous banter. On the visual side of things, it’s good to see a bulky Venom onscreen. The character design is more faithful to the source material than Venom’s appearance in Spider-Man 3. I found the quality of the CG effects to be a mixed bag. At times it looked cool. The final battle was a bit of a mess though. Akin to a Transformers fight, it’s hard to follow as it features two similar looking characters tangling with each other.

Venom isn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it. The credits tease a potential sequel that I would be up for watching. Sony could have a hit on their hands, if the follow-up manages to inject a bit more action to the mix and beefs up the writing in terms of characterisation. Hardy’s performance carries the movie, as no one else stood out. Riz Ahmed and Michelle Williams play the villain and love interest respectively. Both are decent actors but struggled to make an impression due to the lack of material they had to work with. Don’t expect either of them to get Venom-inated for an Oscar.

 

 

Review of Valkyria Chronicles 4

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It’s been ages since the west was able to enjoy a proper Valkyria Chronicles game. The third instalment was never localized and the recently released Valkyria Revolution was an unpopular spin-off, which abandoned the franchise’s trademark tactical elements. Valkyria Chronicles 4 thankfully returns to its roots. Both the combat system and setting are identical to the first game. For those unacquainted with the series, Valkyria Chronicles takes place on a continent that suspiciously resembles World War II Europe. Players lead a squad of Federation soldiers who are battling against Empire invaders. The Empire started the conflict to secure stockpiles of Ragnite – a magical mineral that can power machinery, heal the sick and turn well-endowed babes into super humans.

CHARCTERS

Valkyria Chronicles 4 recounts the adventures of Squad E, throughout a 35-hour campaign that sees the battalion venture deep into Empire territory. The plot is both straightforward and well written. Players experience first hand the brutal tragedies of war. Balancing out the drama are moments of romance and comedy that wouldn’t look out of place in an anime. There’s even a hot springs episode and DLC that takes place at the beach. Claude Wallace is the game’s protagonist. He begins the story with a reputation of being a coward, but as events unfold he develops into a courageous commander. His subordinates include childhood sweetheart Riley, a reckless trooper named Raz and Deadeye Kai. The latter is a sniper who possesses an irresistible heinie. Did you know that German soldiers, who the Empire’s conscripts are modelled after, were once nicknamed heinie? Perhaps Kai’s ass is a reference to that. Nah, it’s just eye candy.

Apart from the main cast there are over fifty unique characters to command. Picking whom to take on a mission is akin to assembling an army in Fire Emblem. There’s even a private named Odin who acts like his Fire Emblem namesake! When selecting a team I suspect most players will choose soldiers based on looks/personalities they find appealing. The supporting cast don’t play a major part in story cut scenes, but they do at least feature in optional chapters that flesh out their origins

COMBAT

Gameplay wise Valkyria Chronicles is a hybrid of strategy and action. Each level has an objective to complete. The missions range from capturing a base, to defeating all the enemies or protecting a zone for a specified number of rounds. Levels are laid out on a map, where players spend command points to issue orders and move their troops. If this was a fantasy game orders would be magic. By issuing an order it’s possible to heal allies, apply buffs and replenish ammo. Hey rookie I command you to stop being poisoned and um… cease being dead. What distinguishes Valkyria Chronicles from other strategy games is that when repositioning a soldier the action switches to a third person view. From this vantage point players assume direct control of the soldier in real time. To keep things tactical, characters can only attack once during their movement phase.

A character’s stamina limits how much terrain they can cover during a turn. Different classes have varying amounts of stamina. A nimble scout can therefore take more steps than a heavily armoured Lancer. I love Valkyria Chronicles’ battles, as they are more interactive than simply moving pieces on a chessboard. Possessing a soldier means you have to dodge bullets yourself and watch where they go, due to the ever-present danger of landmines. Mercifully, the enemies will seize fire whenever you line up a shot. Great news for me, as I have terrible aim when under pressure. Maybe instead of the Federation I should be fighting for the Empire. I do after all hit targets less often than a Storm Trooper.

CONCLUSION

My rating for Valkyria Chronicles 4 is five stars. Easily one of the best games I have played in 2018. Valkyria Chronicles 4 might be too similar to the original, for some folks, but I personally didn’t mind. It’s been almost a decade since the west got a mainline VC title, so the combat system still feels fresh to me. One new addition to Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the introduction of grenadiers. These soldiers can blast foes from afar with a mortar. I thought the grenadiers were overpowered during the early missions, but used them less in the later chapters. Sega might have added the class to benefit the enemy AI forces, more than the player. Their inclusion, on certain maps, does somewhat discourage players from making a beeline for the objective. You have to plan out movements or else Squad E will get an unwelcome explosive surprise when navigating choke points. Stop pelting me with grenades – that’s “bang” out of order.

I highly recommend Valkyria Chronicles 4. The game is fun and very pretty to look at. I like how the cell shaded graphics have a watercolour tinge to them. Anyone who was frustrated by the original’s difficulty spikes will be pleased to learn that Valkyria Chronicles 4 is much less challenging. The only level that took me a while to clear was the final showdown. It wasn’t hard per say, but a bit ponderous due to the amount of damage the last boss could soak up. Then again that was due to my bad planning rather than poor level design. After besting Valkyria Chronicles 4 I looked online and found clips of people beating that mission quickly, via the creative use of orders. Man, I really suck at making orders. Perhaps that is why it takes me so long to pick a main course.

Review of Black Panther

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The time has come for another B-list hero to get a feature film, as Marvel has already released movies based on their more iconic characters. Not that I am complaining though. Ant-Man for example showed that Marvel is capable of producing enjoyable flicks based on their more obscure properties. Black Panther’s kick ass display in Civil War impressed me a lot, so it’s good to see him get his own solo adventure. Shame that not everyone gets the opportunity to headline a blockbuster. I feel bad for the likes of Black Widow and Hawkeye. They have been around since the first phase of Marvel movies and are still awaiting their own motion picture.

OVERVIEW

Many moons ago a meteorite, rich in Vibranium, crashed on the fictional nation of Wakanda. The inhabitants used the indestructible metal to develop advanced weaponry, and a mixture that turns anyone who consumes it into a superhuman. Said concoction is fed to the land’s incumbent ruler. Along with enhanced strength and agility, Wakanda’s monarch inherits the mantle of Black Panther. I don’t understand why a mineral alone would cause Wakanda to prosper technologically. The country’s African neighbours also possess valuable resources and it hasn’t helped them develop past third world poverty. Plot wise I think an advanced alien craft crashing on Wakanda, rather than a meteor, would have made more sense. Oh well, who cares. When it comes to superpower origins Vibranium is still more plausible than an eradiated arachnid bite.

Over the course of 134 minutes the newly crowned king T’Challa has to contend with two villains. The first of these is a Vibranium smuggler named Ulysses Klaue, who is played by Andy Serkis. A strong performance from the English actor proves that he is capable of more than simply doing motion capture for CGI characters. At one point in the story T’Challa travels to South Korea, with the aims of capturing Klaue himself. What an odd thing for a head of state to do. Isn’t that a job better left for one of his minions? Black Panther isn’t exactly short on capable soldiers who are up to the task. Perhaps if T’Challa focused more on local matters he wouldn’t have to worry about losing the throne later on in the movie.

“Black” Ops soldier Erik Killmonger is the challenger who attempts to usurp control of Wakanda away from “Black” Panther. Yep, there is a lot of black in this movie. Killmonger’s crusade against Wakanda’s royal family is fuelled by vengeance, as T’Challa’s pop is the man responsible for his father’s assassination. He also plans to become commander of Wakanda’s army, so he can wage war against anyone who dares to oppress his race. I sympathise with his motivations, but not his methods. Killmonger has no respect for tradition and treats allies as disposable commodities. Michael B. Jordan, who is no stranger to the superhero genre, plays the character. Previously he was cast for the role of Johnny Strorm in 2015’s flop Fantastic Four.

VERDICT

My rating for Black Panther is a three out of five. It’s a worthy addition to Marvel Studio’s impressive live action library. Unlike other Marvel releases, Black Panther uses comedy sparingly and it doesn’t feel like a traditional superhero tale. The sequence in South Korea resembles a secret agent film, as it features spies and gadgets that wouldn’t look out of place in James Bond. For the most part the script concerns itself with politics rather than crime fighting. Will the people of Wakanda offer foreign aid or keep out immigrants with their holographic barrier? I wonder how much that cost to build. Trump cannot even secure funding to erect a regular wall at the frontier.

Despite my positive opinion of the film I must say that Black Panther is overrated. Back when the movie premiered I recall critics being very generous with their assessments. If those early write ups are to be believed Black Panther is one of the greatest movies of all time. In reality however it is good, but wouldn’t crack my personal Marvel top five. Those who champion diversity will find a lot to like in Black Panther. Apart from a cast list dominated by minorities, the final battle sees female warriors trounce their misguided male counterparts. In your face patriarchy they will cheer. Expect similar praise from that crowd when heroine Captain Marvel debuts next year. I predict said movie will put a smile on their faces… even if Brie Larson is incapable of grinning in the trailers.

Thirty Day Anime Challenge – Days 11 to 12

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Time to answer some more anime questions, as it has been seven days since I last wrote a blog post. What a week it has been by the way. The Internet has gone gaga over Bowsette – a female version of Bowser who, via the power of the recently revealed Star Crown, is able to morph into a sexy Peach lookalike. If you ask me Mario should dump the Mushroom Kingdom’s ungrateful monarch (players who completed Odyssey will know what I am talking about) and hook up with someone else. I have always been a fan of Rosalina and Pauline, but if neither are interested in dating a plumber perhaps Mario should consider patching things up with his unexpectedly attractive arch nemesis.

Another thing that has happened since my last blog post is that Cells at Work has finished airing. The thirteen-episode anime, based on Akane Shimizu’s manga, reminds me a little of Once Upon a Time… Life. Who says that cartoons cannot be educational? By watching this series viewers can learn about the human body’s inner workings. Even those employed in the medical profession have been impressed by the show’s content. Below is a video, uploaded by a doctor, who reacts positively to the anime’s premier episode. If you don’t care about biology fear not because there are other things to enjoy including visceral action, cute Platelets and two main characters that will have you shipping haemocytes.

Okay, enough with turtle and cell romance. Let’s answer some questions…

DAY ELEVEN: Favourite mech anime

I have a soft spot for the mecha genre, as it played a part in moulding me into an anime fan. Nowadays I indulge in anime that feature mechs sparingly, but years ago I grew up watching loads of giant robot shows. My favourite mech series would have to be Code Geass. The show offers more than just exciting bot battles and cool Knightmare Frame designs. A smartly written political plot, likable characters on both sides of the conflict, drama mixed with comical moments and many cute waifus make Code Geass one of my favourite anime of all time. Fingers crossed that the upcoming movie and third season don’t tarnish the legacy of a franchise that is perfect as is.

DAY TWELVE: Saddest anime death

Caution. This response is a spoiler for Trigun. You have been warned! The saddest death I have witnessed in anime would have to be the demise of Nicholas D. Wolfwood. His passing sucked because he is arguably the best character from that series. The manner in which he goes out makes his death all the more painful. It wasn’t quick or your typical heroic sacrifice. Wolfwood’s chapel confession makes it clear that he doesn’t want to die. He leaves the world full of regrets. Raised to be a killer, he feels like his life has been a mistake. Cruelly he is mortally wounded just after finding companions who have shown him a better way to live. Milly and Vash’s reaction to the news makes the scene all the more heart wrenching.

Man, what a depressing note to conclude this post on. It will take many Platelets clips and gender-bending King Koopa artwork to improve my mood.