Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness Review

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Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is a visual novel based on the critically acclaimed cyberpunk anime. The story occurs sometime during the events of season one, which is just as well because most viewers consider series two to be a tad disappointing. I attribute the downturn in quality to a change of writer. For those of you who are unaware, a scribe who is known for gritty science fiction penned Psycho-Pass’ second instalment. The original Psycho-Pass was however written by a lighthearted chap named Gen Urobuchi, whose past works include a puppet show and cute magical girl cartoons. If you are in need of jolly entertainment I recommend checking out Madoka Magica. From the two episodes I have seen it appears to be just like Sailor Moon, but cuter.

OVERVIEW

If you dislike reading Mandatory Happiness is not the game for you. Makes sense given that visual novels are pretty much “choose your own adventure” books that have been enhanced with graphics and audio. I figure it is worth stating the obvious though, because a few months back I saw a website bash Steins;Gate 0 for having too much text. Insert face palm here. Anyways, upon commencing the game players are given the option of experiencing the story from the perspective of two rookie Public Safety Bureau agents. Inspector Nadeshiko (nicknamed Ms. Droid) is an emotionless amnesiac who tackles cases with logic. Enforcer Tsurugi, who is seeking his missing childhood friend, on the other hand uses his heart to decide what is right.

Mandatory Happiness’ plot spans across a total of four chapters. With the assistance of the Psycho-Pass team players will be expected to rescue kidnap victims, locate a rogue AI and tangle with youths who have barricaded themselves inside a school. How each investigation pans out depends on the choices you make. Decisions also affect your character’s mental hue, which is important because the Sybil System monitors the mood of Japan’s populace. Anyone who becomes emotionally unstable, which can occur when dealing with the stresses of law enforcement, runs the risk of being branded a latent criminal and having their freedoms revoked. Thankfully in game you can combat anxiety by taking supplements. In real life I prefer to unwind with booze or a Snickers.

VERDICT

As a fan of the anime I enjoyed my time with Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness. Interacting with the season one cast and solving mysteries was cool. When compared to other visual novels however I have to say that there are better titles out there for the PS4 and Vita. With that in mind I am awarding the game three stars. My first few playthroughs were enjoyable, but unlocking all fourteen endings was a bit of a chore. Unlike other VNs, which have branching storylines, Psycho-Pass’ narrative is more linear than a Final Fantasy XIII level. The choices you make influence what ending you get, a few key scenes and not a lot else. Replaying the game therefore became a ponderous exercise of skipping previously read dialogue until some new content popped up.

One neat thing about Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is that you are in effect getting two games for the price of one. Hidden in the extras menu is a mini-game that awards points, which can be exchanged for bonus artwork. Said puzzler is pretty much Threes/2048, with the only difference being that the numbered tiles display chibi faces of the Psycho-Pass characters. As someone who missed out on the Threes craze it was nice to finally see why so many people find this tile merging brainteaser to be addictive. I doubt that the development team at Sirvo approves of their game being plagiarised in this manner, but its unlikely to harm their finances as the Apps store is already brimming with unsanctioned clones that you can download for Three… um I mean free.

Captain America: Civil War Review

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Captain America: Civil War? More like Avengers 3 if you ask me. This 2016 flick features virtually every hero from the Marvel cinematic universe, with the only notable omissions being Hulk and Thor. Based on recent Ragnarok photos I have seen, the thunder god has taken time off to get a haircut. Meanwhile Bruce Banner is leading the life of a “lonely man” after ditching Black Widow (insert sad piano tune here.) Instead of battling evil, this time round the Avengers have assembled to brawl amongst them selves. Superheroes squaring off against each other is all the rage these days. Thankfully the billed Civil War is much more satisfying to watch that the underwhelming tussle between DCs two most famous cape wearers.

OVERVIEW

When an Avengers mission in Africa ends with the accidental loss of civilian lives the Sokovia Accords are established. Said accords decree that the Avengers will have to limit their future activities to UN sanctioned assignments. The new law causes the team to fragment into two factions, headed by Captain America and Iron Man respectively. Tony Stark is guilt tripped by a bereaved mother into supporting the new measures whilst Steve Rogers opposes the treaty. Cap isn’t playing ball because the authorities are attempting to assassinate his chum Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier) for crimes he unwillingly committed whilst under the indoctrination of Hydra. The Nazis brainwashed Barnes into hating carriages so much that uttering the line “freight car” turns him into a mindless killer.

How do our heroic role models resolve the impasse? Reach a compromise through diplomacy perhaps? Nah, screw that. Let’s have a battle royale at the airport instead! The ensuing costumed punch-up features the likes of Falcon, War Machine, Hawkeye and a couple of new faces. First up is Wakandan monarch Black Panther who seeks vengeance against Barnes (the man he believes is responsible for killing his dad.) The other debutant is Spider-Man, who swings into a Marvel movie because Fox have accepted they are incapable of making a decent wall crawler film. Based on this showing I am excited for Homecoming. Tom Holland is perfect in the role of geek that can rattle off quips under a mask. His aunt is also sexier than the old ditty I recall from the comics.

VERDICT

My rating for Captain America: Civil War is five stars. If Internet speculation is to be believed that score qualifies me for a cheque from Disney. You know, the fabled bribe critics get for bashing DC movies and praising anything Marvel. The reality however is that Marvel Studios deserve all the plaudits they are getting. Civil War was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. The action was spectacular and thanks to the 147-minute running time the writers had ample time to delve into the motivations of each character. As events unfold audiences are shown why Stark, who has previously had contempt for the military, supports the Sokovia Accords and the reasons that compelled patriotic Steve Rogers to go rogue.

Usually when a movie has a big cast someone gets lost in the shuffle, but I must say that Civil War did an admirable job of sharing out the screen time. Even comic relief Ant-Man is given the opportunity to make a “big” impression. Civil War also fared better than most Marvel movies in the villain department. Helmut Zemo may not possess superpowers or the charisma of Loki, but I was still impressed by the manner in which he engineers the Avengers fallout. Unlike Lex Luthor in Batman vs Superman, Zemo is successful in bringing Earth’s mightiest heroes to their knees through infighting… and he did so without the assistance of Jolly Ranchers or jars filled with urine. No, I am not “taking the piss” that really did happen in Dawn of Justice. Urgh. No wonder that screenplay got a Razzie.

Review of Brave Dungeon

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Right now everyone is going gaga over the Nintendo Switch, but I am too much of a cheapskate to buy new hardware so I’ll continue to play on my 3DS… an old 3DS at that! Given my frugal nature, I often scour the e-shop for good deals. A few days ago my bargain hunt uncovered an inexpensive gem titled Brave Dungeon. For just under a fiver I got my mitts on a game that contains two of my favourite things in the whole world – turn based RPG combat and cute anime girls! The game’s premier waifu is a scythe wielding treasure hunter named Al who players need to guide, as she navigates dungeons in search of precious magical items.

OVERVIEW

Al’s spelunking adventure will see her traverse a total of five dungeons. Like a Megaman boss selection screen, you are able to tackle each level in any order you desire. Be aware however that enemies get progressively tougher each time Al descends down to a dungeon’s lower floor. If your party wipes don’t despair though, because the game has no death penalty. Whenever the player’s group is rendered unconscious Al is whisked back to the safety of town, where she can regroup and select an easier location to level at. How I wish that Dark Souls were this merciful. What do you mean I have lost an hour’s worth of souls just because I stepped on a concealed trap? Damn you Miyazaki!!!

If you detest random encounters you’ll be pleased to hear that Brave Dungeon doesn’t have any. Combat only occurs when Al steps on a monster tile. It’s impossible to bypass battles forever though, as a locked door blocks the stairway leading down to the next level. To unlock the exit Al needs to locate the floor’s key, which predictably is protected by a powerful guardian. Once a floor has been completely mapped out you get the ability to escape from battles, but I seldom took advantage of that option. Why miss out on valuable experience points? Besides, fleeing from a fight is cowardly and like Marty McFly I won’t tolerate anyone calling me a chicken.

VERDICT

My rating for Brave Dungeon is four stars. The game is a fun bite sized dungeon crawler that should appeal to retro gamers. It only takes around seven hours to clear the story, which is a fair length given the game’s low retail price. Best of all additional content gets unlocked once the final boss is vanquished. Not only does a bonus dungeon open up, but you also get access to some mini-games and New Game Plus. In terms of visuals I liked Brave Dungeon’s sixteen-bit pixel art and cute character designs. The foes you come across are so adorable that I almost felt bad about pelting them with offensive magic. For the greater good I was however forced to slaughter a horde of penguin torpedoes, cartoony spectres and muscular snowmen.

Brave Dungeon is a good game for fledgling RPG players because it isn’t too tough. Spending currency, procured via dungeon exploration, on stat boosts turns Al and chums into overpowered mob slayers. Trading loot for restaurant tokens also helps augment your team’s strength. Said eatery cooks meals that raise attack, defence, mind and agility. Which attribute gets increased is a mystery though because, like a McDonalds manned by inept staff, the food you get served is chosen at random. With minimal effort I completed the game using a team comprising of Al, the fairy healer and… a cat girl. Who can resist the allure of feline femmes? I can’t and the same goes for the folks who pledged $900k towards the Nekopara Kickstarter. For the record, I didn’t donate towards that project. As mentioned before, when it comes to spending cash I am a skinflint.

Review of Doctor Strange

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Peter Parker, Steve Rogers, Tony Stark. I am usually quite good at memorizing the secret identities of superheroes, but for some reason I always forget Doctor Strange’s first name. Wow, I guess it is really true that when you’re strange no one remembers your name. Thankfully, for reviewing purposes, I can still recall this film’s premise. Doctor Strange, played by the talented Benedict Cumberbatch, is a gifted surgeon who is forced to retire when his hands get crushed in an automobile crash. The irreparable nerve damage he sustained causes Strange’s fingers to twitch more than me after one too many coffees. When medical science fails to treat his injury Strange decides to research magic in the hopes of uncovering a cure.

OVERVIEW

After receiving a tip off, from a paraplegic who can amazingly walk, Strange travels to Nepal in search of his own miraculous remedy. There he encounters an expert in the mystical arts known as the Ancient One. Under her tutelage he begins to learn astral projection, teleportation and other cool spells. Strange initially struggles to master sorcery, but thanks to his photographic memory he eventually absorbs enough knowledge to become one of the Ancient One’s top students. Man, I really envy Doctor Strange. How I long for a photographic memory, as I can be rather absent minded when it comes to recalling facts. For example, would you believe that I have completely forgotten the lead character’s forename?

Eventually the titular Doctor Strange assumes the mantle of sorcerer supreme and vows to protect Earth from evil using his wizardry skills. The global threats Strange battles in this flick are the Ancient One’s former protégé Kaecilius and a demon from another dimension named Dormammu. As is often the case with Marvel films neither antagonist is particularly compelling. Kaecilius, who desires immortality, is similar to Thor’s nemesis Malekith. They both look menacing and they both lack personality. Dormammu on the other hand is reminiscent of the live action Galactus (Fantastic Four) and Parallax (Green Lantern.) What’s the deal with turning epic villains into a miasma that barely gets any screen time? I can’t get excited about evil clouds.

VERDICT

My rating for Doctor Strange is four and a half stars. Watching this movie was a bit like the time I checked out Thor. I am not a fan of the comics starring Strange or the Norse deity, but I ended up loving both their movies all the same. The two-hour running time whizzed by thanks to the strong acting and comedic moments, which star Strange’s sentient cape and a straight-faced monastery librarian named Wong. Another highlight of note would have to be the action scenes. Given that the movie features conjurers, who can warp the fabric of reality, it should come as no surprise that Strange’s battles draw inspiration from stuff like the Matrix and Inception. Said sequences are creatively shot and very trippy… good thing then that I didn’t munch on any hash brownies during my screening.

I’ll conclude this review by getting on my soapbox and saying that all the hubbub about the Ancient One’s casting was unwarranted. Tilda Swinton kicked ass in this movie and I have no complaints regarding her portrayal of Strange’s wise mentor. Critics grumbling about the character being changed from Asian to Caucasian are hypocrites, because no one chastised the studio for altering the skin colour of Strange’s ally Karl Mordor. Ah whatever, let’s not dwell on negativity. Doctor Strange is excellent and I highly recommend it. Watching this film takes me back to the days when I would pretend to be a superhero. My crime-fighting alias was Goldfish Man. I possessed the power of super forgetfulness. Can you believe that I don’t remember Dr Strange’s first name?

A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV Review

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At long last I played Final Fantasy XV… A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV that is! The slave drivers at work decreed that I should suffer seven successive night shifts, so I haven’t had time to play a lengthy RPG. I did however have the opportunity to complete this ninety-minute freebie, which was originally a Game Stop pre-order bonus. Now available to download off PSN, A King’s Tale is a retro styled 2D brawler chronicling how a young King Regis protected the land from a monster invasion. The game’s narrative is presented as a bedtime story told by Caucasian Regis to his Asian looking son Prince Noctis. There’s something suspicious about that. Is the Queen’s postman Japanese by any chance?

OVERVIEW

This pre-slumber tale begins ironically enough in the capital city of Insomnia, where monarch Regis Lucis Caelum uses his magical powers and swordsmanship to fend off a daemon assault. From there he ventures out to the plains of Duscae where he scraps with hostile flora and fauna, which include dancing cacti. Finally our hero ventures into a nearby cave to vanquish the final boss, who happens to be a hentai tentacle monster. All the stages I have described are brought to life via gorgeous pixel art, a graphic style that seems to be all the rage these days. Doesn’t it feel great to spend hundreds of pounds on a state of the art console just to play stuff that looks like something from the Super Nintendo era?

Combat in A King’s Tale is simplistic, but never dull due to its fast paced nature. Enemies swarm Regis from all sides so you’ll have to quickly decide who to target and what attack to use. Every foe you encounter has a specific weakness that needs to be exploited. Light attacks can reflect projectiles back at creatures for example, whilst heavy swipes are required to breach the defences of Samurai. Those pesky skeletons from Golden Axe are back and if you wish to crack their skulls you’ll first need to stun them with a shield bash, or else they will block your melee combos. Regis can also cast elemental magic to melt the Flans that are resistant to physical damage. Eat fireballs you evil desserts!

VERDICT

My rating for A King’s Tale: Final Fantasy XV is three and a half stars. When compared to other old school looking beat-em-ups I have to say that A King’s Tale was more fun to complete than the recently released Double Dragon 4. The game rewards skilful play by allowing Regis to call upon the aid of allies, should he manage to evade damage long enough to perform an uninterrupted combo. Compare that to Double Dragon 4 were players simply spam hurricane kicks to counter the obnoxiously cheap AI. Thank goodness that Double Dragon 4 isn’t VR compatible, because all that aerial spinning would have caused me to hurl faster than a US president dining at a Japanese banquet.

If you enjoy fighting games from the 16 bit era A King’s Tale is worth a go. You have nothing to lose as the game is gratis and it isn’t a big time investment either, as the story can be cleared in just over an hour. Anyone left wanting more will be happy to learn that besting the main campaign unlocks a new mode, which contains additional stages/challenges to tackle. Overall I had a grand time with A King’s Tale and am happy that it no longer is a Game Stop exclusive. That company doesn’t deserve my patronage, as they are guilty of underhanded practices (such as removing coupons from their Deus Ex stock.) Don’t tamper with the contents of a game without the buyer’s consent! In the words of Adam Jensen – “I never asked for that.”

The Lego Batman Movie Review

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With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, I think we can all agree that dark Batman doesn’t work. Just like DC Comics stalwart Superman, I much prefer a lighter take on the character. Who doesn’t love the sixties charm of Adam West for example? When it comes to cartoons I think you’ll concur that Brave and the Bold is more fun than the grittier The Batman, which ran from 2004 to 2008. If you want a good laugh comedian Joel Schumacher has you covered with Batman & Robin – a hilarious parody featuring ice puns, costumes that have nipples and George Clooney flashing a Bat Credit Card. Now that Christian Bale has retired the cowl the time is rife for the Caped Crusader’s return to comedy, cue The Lego Batman Movie.

OVERVIEW

Set in a Gotham City, constructed out of plastic bricks rather than concrete, The Lego Batman Movie follows the exploits of a Dark Knight voiced by Will Arnett. After losing his family at a young age, Batman has become an anti-social vigilante who prefers to fight crime on his lonesome. Not that he needs help from anyone though. The film’s opening scene has him effortlessly defeating an entire rogue’s gallery of villains all by himself. Whilst singing along to a musical ditty, Batman is able to vanquish a group whose ranks include Catwoman, Bane, Riddler and obscure lackeys such as the Condiment King. Life is good for Bats. At night he basks in the glory of being a hero whilst during the day he relaxes by dining on microwave Lobster Thermidor and watching cheesy rom-coms.

The daily routine of Bruce Wayne is however shattered when he accidently adopts an orphan named Dick Grayson. Reluctantly, Batman is forced into mentoring the enthusiastic dork who eventually assumes the mantle of Robin. Even worse for Batman is that he finds himself with nothing to do after Gotham’s entire criminal population surrender to the custody of new police commissioner Barbara Gordon. Suspicious that the Joker may be plotting something from behind bars, Batman breaks into Arkham Prison with the intentions of exiling his rival to the Phantom Zone. Sending the clown prince of crime to another dimension, where he can do no harm, sounds like a grand plan… but the scheme spectacularly backfires, unleashing a terror that Batman alone cannot handle.

VERDICT

My rating for The Lego Batman Movie is three and a half stars. I dreaded reviewing this film because, despite finding it enjoyable, I didn’t love the flick to the extent that everyone else does. Instead of being a movie that everyone can enjoy, Lego Batman felt like a children’s film filled with gags that also pander to older comic book geeks. In that regard I have to say that I have seen funnier Lego animations on YouTube. Perhaps I would have liked the movie more had it been less heavy handed with its moral about the importance of friends and family. That sort of thing doesn’t resonate with a reclusive introvert like me, especially when I am the sort of person who prefers watching blockbusters alone in the comfort of my home rather than in a cinema packed with noisy kids.

One good thing Lego Batman does is handle its large cast of villains well. Unlike X-Men 3, which was ruined by an oversaturation of baddies, I have to say that the extensive list of evildoer cameos worked. Not content with featuring virtually every Batman criminal in existence, the movie even includes antagonists from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Dr Who. The comedy is gold, resulting in 105 minutes of fun. Social justice warriors may disagree though. Theoretically they should detest Barbara Gordon being cast as an ebony girl. If not they are hypocrites because they previously loathed race changes in Dr Strange. In a similar vein critics of The Killing Joke may disapprove of Batman’s attraction to Barbara, because they have voiced displeasure about that ship in the past.

There isn’t any real romance between the two though. If anything the only sexual chemistry I spotted was between Batman and the Joker. During their exchanges if you substitute the word “hate” with “love” you have all the trimmings of a gay relationship. Holy fabulous couples Batman! Don’t be surprised if conservative Catholics begin to boycott Danish toys for covertly promoting same sex propaganda.

Review of John Wick

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Are you a dog or cat person? I suspect that when it comes to moviegoers most film audiences prefer canines. How else can you explain that when a person dies in a flick no one cares, but if a pooch gets harmed the entire cinema goes mental? The makers of John Wick have tapped into this passion for mutts to divert attention away from how barebones their movie’s plot is. Guy takes on evildoers who have done him wrong? Yawn, how cliché. Huh, what’s that? The bad guys killed a puppy? How heinous! Okay, now I am invested. I can’t wait to see those jerks get their just desserts… and suffer they will because anyone foolish enough to pick on John Wick’s “doggie” is in for a ruff-ruff time.

OVERVIEW

John Wick is a former assassin who gave up the life of a contract killer after he found love and got hitched. Unfortunately for him his missus has since succumbed to the ravages of cancer. John would be alone now were it not for his adorable pet beagle Daisy, who was gifted to him by his departed wife. Some time after the funeral John decides to take his vintage Mustang out for a spin. The vehicle is thirsty for gas, after a cruise through a local airfield, so he decides to stop at a nearby petrol station. There he encounters a Russian mobster who expresses a desire to purchase John’s flashy automobile. Mr Wick declines the offer, but sadly for him the Ruskie gangster just won’t take no for an answer.

When dusk hits the above mentioned Mafioso breaks into John’s house accompanied by a group of henchmen. They proceed to rob John’s car, beating the titular hero to a pulp in the process. During the attack Daisy, who valiantly tries to defend her master, is also slain – tipping John over the edge. After exhuming a stash of firearms John sets off to claim retribution. New York’s most prominent criminal syndicate stands between John and his target, but that doesn’t matter. John is a one-man army who could reputedly take down the Boogeyman. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen that worm-munching wrestler in years. I guess it really is true that the Boogeyman fell to Wick’s badassery.

VERDICT

My rating for John Wick is four stars. Despite being a by the numbers revenge caper it manages to entertain thanks to its thrilling action set pieces. The film is directed by a pair of stuntmen and man does it show. Unlike other blockbusters you can actually follow what is going on and admire the stunning martial arts choreography. The flow of combat is not interrupted with quick cuts or shaky cam, which is a huge relief. Watching stuff like the Hunger Games can induce seasickness, as the director throttles the camera in order to disguise his cast’s lack of fighting prowess. Thankfully those tricks are not required when your movie is fronted by Keanu Reeves. Anyone who has watched the Matrix trilogy is well aware that Keanu is no slouch when it comes to fisticuffs.

Despite a modest twenty million dollar budget John Wick courts the services of several big name stars. Willem Dafoe makes an appearance as a veteran sniper and Ian “Lovejoy” McShane plays an affluent chap who owns establishments frequented by members of the underworld. Out of all the actors I especially liked hotel concierge Lance Reddick, as he made me chuckle on several occasions with his deadpan replies. Really, apart from the anaemic plot, the only thing I can criticize John Wick on would have to be its anticlimactic finale. After giving us spectacular car chases and a bloody nightclub based gunfight the whole thing culminates with Keanu beating up a geriatric guy. Well technically his opponent is only a few years older than John Wick, but Keanu looks a lot younger in comparison. In the words of Bill & Ted, Keanu looks “excellent” for his age.