Review of Pyre

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Every nation has different ways of punishing criminals. Some countries send lawbreakers to the electric chair, others try to rehabilitate their prisoners and in some places committing a felony only incurs a fine. In the Commonwealth crooks are banished to a land known as Downside. Those who are exiled there can only return home by participating in a fantasy sport tournament dubbed the Rite. In Pyre, the third title from indie developer Supergiant Games, players assume the role of a Downside inhabitant named the Reader. As a member of the Nightwings faction he is expected to guide his team in contest that is essentially Middle Earth meets the Super Bowl.

OVERVIEW

Some people have described Pyre as a sports RPG, which I don’t think is accurate. Due to the oodles of text you have to wade through, the game feels more like a visual novel than Inazuma Eleven. The title that reminds me the most of Pyre would have to be Banner Saga. Both games possess gorgeous hand painted style graphics and they both revolve around travelling across the kingdom in a wagon. Occasionally you’ll reach a crossroads and need to decide what route to take. Unfortunately for the Nightwings their carriage does not come with GPS installed. To determine what route they should follow, Readers need to rely on instinct and their knowledge of the stars.

A large chunk of my playthrough involved reading, but that’s not a bad thing as both the story and characters are solid. What begins as a generic fantasy yarn gradually develops into a political tale, were convicts seek redemption by using the Rite ceremony to overthrow the Commonwealth’s corrupt government. The Nightwing’s roster contains a colourful bunch of players whose ranks include a flirtatious harpy, a chivalrous fish dude and a weasel who sports a most dashing moustache. Every character is unique and brings their own distinct skills to the field during matches. The aforementioned harpy can fly over opponents for example, whilst the imp who joins later in the story can use Middle Eastern techniques to eliminate adversaries via self-detonation.

VERDICT

My rating for Pyre is a three out of five. The game is decent, but as is the case with other Supergiant releases, I didn’t like it to the extent that other publications have. It’s a pity that Pyre isn’t available to purchase on Vita, because when it comes to text heavy titles I much prefer to play on a portable device. Clasping a handheld close to your face, akin to a book, is more comfortable than reading paragraphs off a TV. The 3v3 gameplay, were you evade enemies whilst trying to ferry an orb into the goal zone, is fun. RPG fans will however be disappointed that the character customization is limited to picking talents off a skill tree and choosing what skill-boosting talismans your players should hold.

In terms of length, Pyre took me twelve hours to complete. There’s some replay value, as I hear that there are different endings to unlock. How the story concludes will depend on your performance during key matches. The computer-controlled opponents aren’t too challenging, although things get slightly tougher the further you advance into the campaign. Not only will you have to face mightier teams, but you also have to contend with losing players every time the Nightwings triumph in the Rite finals. Pyre’s best feature would have to be its stellar musical score. The game’s biggest flaw is that the multiplayer cannot be enjoyed online. For that crime I will sentence Supergiant’s staff to an eternity in the Downside. Parole will only be granted when they patch in PSN matchmaking.

Review of Saban’s Power Rangers

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Millions of years ago Rita Repulsa betrayed Zordon and the rest of her fellow Power Rangers. Driven by a thirst for universal dominance, she battled her former teammates on Earth. At stake was possession of a mighty artefact, dubbed the Zeo Crystal. The conflict ended in a stalemate, with both sides perishing when a comet dropped on their heads. Said blast eradicated the dinosaurs too. How sad. If praying flower girls existed back then perhaps our reptilian ancestors could have been saved from a meteor-instigated extinction? Anyways, fast forward to modern day Angel Grove. Rita is resurrected when a fishing trawler uncovers her corpse. The ex-Green Ranger resumes her plan to acquire the Zeo Crystal, even if it means destroying the globe in the process.

OVERVIEW

I must confess that I never was a big Power Rangers fan. Back in the nineties I would watch the occasional episode, whilst waiting for the latest X-Men cartoon to begin, but that was about it. Many other kids were however obsessed with the show. After the Ninja Turtles craze had died down there was evidently still hunger for martial art superheroes. Given that Hollywood is on a mission to resurrect anything nostalgic it’s no surprise to see a cinematic rebirth of America’s take on Super Sentai. These new Power Rangers have a budget so gone are the cheesy costumes, replaced instead with Iron Man style armour and CG enemies. Political correctness also means that the casting has undergone a shuffle. The yellow ranger is no longer Asian!

What we have here is an origin tale. Five teenagers stumble upon Zordon’s lair, where they locate medallions that morph them into the titular heroes. After assuming the Power Rangers mantle they are tasked with foiling Rita’s scheme, but first they need to train and learn the virtues of friendship. Despite a lack of recognizable names, the actors who were hired to play the Rangers all did a commendable job. These versions of the characters have much more depth than their TV counterparts. Jason is the prankster who is given the responsibility of leadership. Kimberly is dealing with the guilt of hurting friends. Autistic genius Billy is vilified by a “replace the I in his name with a U.” Zack makes wisecracks to mask the pain of living with a terminally ill mother. Trini meanwhile is unable to communicate to her family that she is a lesbian.

VERDICT

My rating for Saban’s Power Rangers is two and a half stars. For the most part the movie was okay, but it began to lose me towards the end of its two-hour running time. I liked the early scenes, which are rich in character development. The finale was too juvenile for my taste though. A golden creature battling against a mech may sound cool on paper; in actuality however it felt like a kid friendly Pacific Rim. That would be fine if the movie was marketed exclusively at children, but it isn’t. Some of the raunchier gags are suitable for teens or older only. Then there is also the small matter of Rita’s violent murders. She kills a cop and also liberates a hobo of his false teeth, in a most gruesome manner. Parents who have offspring that fear the dentist will not approve.

Given that I don’t class myself as a Power Rangers fan it’s tough to evaluate how aficionados of the franchise will regard this movie. Viewers that watched the TV series, back when it aired, are now adults who may well appreciate the film’s more mature tone. On the flip side it could be argued that the movie falls into the 1998 Lost in Space trap. Replacing the campy humour/effects with a more sombre script and lavish CGI removes the essence of what Power Rangers originally was. I for one think that the guys in rubber suits have more charm than the sterile CG monsters found in this flick. Like a teenager with attitude, the Power Rangers have morphed into something different. Whether the change is good or bad will come down to your own personal taste.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

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Talk about a demotion. In their last adventure Drax, Star Lord, Rocket Racoon, Gamora and treant toddler Groot saved the universe. When this sequel begins we see that the titular Guardians of the Galaxy have been reduced to the role of security guards. Hired by a race of walking Academy Award statuettes, called the Sovereign, our quintet of heroes are tasked with protecting some glorified Duracells from a giant tentacle monster. In exchange for their services the Guardians secure custody of Gamora’s cybernetic sis Nebula, who is currently languishing in a Sovereign prison. Things go smoothly until furry bandit Racoon helps himself to some of the batteries he is supposed to be safeguarding.

OVERVIEW

After detecting that some of their energy cells have been pilfered, the Sovereign Empire sends out a fleet of remote controlled craft to destroy the Guardians. Outnumbered and outgunned, it appears that Star Lord and pals are doomed. Thankfully for them, at the very last second, a mysterious ship turns up on the scene and annihilates the Sovereign forces – rescuing the Guardians from certain destruction. One crash landing later, the identity of the Guardians’ saviours is revealed. The pilots of the unidentified spaceship are an antennaed female empath named Mantis and her bearded master Ego, who claims to be Star Lord’s long lost alien daddy!

Furious over the Guardians’ escape, Sovereign leader Priestess Ayesha recruits the Ravager space pirates and orders them to track down Star Lord’s band of misfits. Led by blue skinned whistler Yondu, the Ravagers manage to apprehend Groot and Racoon, who were in midst of repairing their downed ship. The remaining Guardians are elsewhere, visiting Ego’s home planet. Can Star Lord, Drax and Gamora save their chums from Yondu’s clutches? Regrettably that will have to wait, because they have other concerns to deal with. A shocking discovery calls into question whether Ego truly is the benign parent he claims to be. Never trust a pop that has failed to pay child support in thirty years I say.

VERDICT

My rating for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is four stars. I am going to go against the grain by proclaiming that Vol. 2 is slightly better than its predecessor. For me the sequel was funnier, which is saying a lot given that the original was no slouch when it came to comedy. Like the previous movie, Vol. 2 has a soundtrack rich in golden oldies and some top-notch action. I was impressed by the UFO dogfights, laser gun shootouts and a sequence were Yondu fells an entire army with a single arrow. Despite the plentiful hysterics the script isn’t devoid of drama. I thought the father/daughter bond that formed between Drax and Mantis was rather sweet and the movie’s finale succeeded in tugging at the heartstrings.

Like with most modern films the running time could have done with a trim. The fairly straightforward plot didn’t warrant a 136-minute running time. Director James Gunn could have easily reduced the duration by shortening the overly long final battle and lowering the ridiculous number of after credit skits. Exorcising the pointless Star Lord/Gamora romance, which lacked chemistry, would have salvaged a few more minutes too. Their feelings of love felt more artificial than the green screen environments. Shame that the pairing flopped, because the camaraderie between the other characters is one of the movie’s biggest strengths… along with Groot’s cuteness. Disney is going to make a tree-mendous amount of money selling adorable Groot merchandise.

Review of Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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There wasn’t a “ghost” of a chance that this movie would do well at the box office. Live action anime adaptations have a reputation of being crap… and even if they didn’t, living up to the legacy of the 1995 original was always going to be tough. In case those hurdles weren’t insurmountable enough, Paramount also had to contend with a SJW backlash over the casting of the film’s heroine. How dare they change the Major’s nationality from Japanese to Caucasian? Never mind that the Japanese were chuffed that A-List actress Scarlett Johansson was fronting the film, or that anime characters don’t look Asian in the first place. Paramount should have picked a Hispanic lady for the role. SJWs don’t seem to bash Marvel when they change a character’s race to that of a minority.

OVERVIEW

Ghost in the Shell is set in the near future, a time were mankind has began to augment bodies with cybernetic implants. That tech can’t come soon enough for me. Imagine how much faster I could type out these reviews if I could replace my stubby fingers with mechanical hands? Anyways, the story follows counter-terrorist agent Major Mira Killian who possesses an entirely synthetic body. When the movie begins we see Mira use her artificial agility (and a stealth suit that leaves little to the imagination) to foil an armed assault. For the most part the operation was a success, but one hostage did end up perishing in the skirmish. Said victim wasn’t murdered by one of the attackers though. They died at the hands of a robotic servant that happened to be in the vicinity.

One quick investigation later and it is revealed that a hacker named Kuze was controlling the homicidal bot remotely. Mira and the Section Nine anti-terror unit are tasked with apprehending Kuze, before he is able to strike again. What follows is a decent cyberpunk mystery packed with twists and some impressive visual effects. It was cool seeing some of the 1995 animated scenes recreated in live action, such as Mira’s high storey leap (please don’t try that at home) and the limb tearing Spider Tank battle. Although we get an arachnid-armoured vehicle in this movie, the comical Tachikomas of Stand Alone Complex are completely absent from proceedings. What a shame. Their inclusion would have added some much needed levity to a script that is totally humourless.

VERDICT

My rating for Ghost in the Shell is a three out of five. Judged on its own merits, I think the movie is fine. It’s a different beast to the 1995 film, but then again so was Stand Alone Complex and I don’t hear anyone complaining about that series. Some fans have pre-emptively decided that the movie was terrible, based on the trailer, and not given this 2017 remake a chance. Although the story starts off slow it steadily improves as the 106 minute running time ticks by. Perhaps the movie would have been better received if the characters had more personality? Apart from Mira’s sidekick Batou, everyone is sombre and devoid of emotion. GITS isn’t perfect, but at the very least it is no Dragonball Evolution. The makers had respect for the source material and have put effort into the production.

I suspect this movie would have suffered less ire if it weren’t titled Ghost in the Shell. With some alterations the script could have worked as a Robocop sequel, given how part of the plot deals with a law enforcement cyborg that is at odds with the company responsible for resurrecting her. The philosophical question of what a soul is gets explored in the movie, but less extensively than in the cartoon. Hollywood after all has no confidence that cinemagoers have the intelligence required to understand such concepts. Studio execs do however believe that viewers are smart enough to read subtitles. Just as well, because one of the token Asian actors they cast couldn’t be bothered to deliver his lines in English. How lazy. Maybe they should have whitewashed that character too?

 

Review of Miitopia

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I’m not the biggest fan of Nintendo’s design philosophy (friend codes and the Switch’s messy way of connecting online both suck for example) but one thing the company has got right are Miis. Compared to other digital avatars, I am impressed by how charming and customizable they are. Believe it or not, the Mii Maker has more depth than some RPGs when it comes to character creation. Ironic then that Miitopia happens to be a role playing game populated with the big-headed folks who made their debut back when the Wii was all the rage. Ah, memories. It feels like only yesterday that my granddad was thrashing everyone on Wii Sports bowling.

OVERVIEW

The kingdom of Miitopia is in trouble! A wicked spectre, dubbed The Dark Lord, is nabbing everyone’s faces and transplanting them on monsters. In order to save the day, players are tasked with assembling a party of Miis and leading them on a quest for justice. Standard fantasy fare perhaps, but it feels fresh given that the entire cast comprise of adorable Miis. I imagine most people will form a band of heroes made up of family/acquaintances, but since I have no friends my roster contained a rich smattering of celebrities. Watch out Dark Lord! If you don’t cease your theft of facial features a group whose ranks include Batman, Bayonetta, Homer Simpson and Donald Trump will punish you.

When creating Miis players need to select the character’s personality and class. Personality will determine how the adventurer behaves in certain situations. A kind Mii for example will share their healing items with a hurt buddy, whilst an airhead sometimes forgets whom they should be targeting in combat. Classes include DnD staples such as warrior and cleric, along with some less conventional jobs. Those wishing to construct a more unique party could recruit a healer who dresses like a flower or an imp, who encourages allies to attack by stabbing their pals in the posterior. Anime fans that have a fetish for cat girls will be pleased to learn that there is even a feline looking DPS class.

VERDICT

My rating for Miitopia is four stars. It’s funny and casual, so I would recommend it to RPG newbies. The game’s lack of interactivity may however put off hardcore gamers, who like to micromanage strategy. Miitopia’s turn based combat only permits players to directly control one character. The protagonist’s companions act however the AI decrees. You can however influence the flow of battle by buffing the team with sprinkles and transferring injured fighters to a safe spot, where they can recuperate away from danger. Just like combat, exploration is rather simplistic. Players pick where the party should travel and then watch the team traipse through levels that are more linear than a FF 13 dungeon.

Despite the repetitive gameplay and dearth of complexity I had a good time playing through Miitopia’s 30-hour story. The humorous skits kept me invested, as did the character progression. Miis can increase their strength by purchasing new gear, consuming snacks and improving their relationship with others, which unlocks new abilities. One thing that I disliked about the game though was how it prompted me to take a break every fifteen minutes or so. Damn it Nintendo, once again your design philosophy drives me up the wall. I am a grown man who can make my own decisions. Who are you to scold me for partaking in lengthy gaming marathons? It’s not like I can play for many hours anyway, as the 3DS battery life is crap. Evidently those dual screens consume a lot of juice.

Review of Logan

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No one is immune to the effects of old age – not even Wolverine. Thanks to his healing factor, Logan has maintained a youthful appearance for many decades. In the year 2029 he is however starting to look worse for wear. The alloy that coats Logan’s bones is beginning to poison his body and dull the former X-Man’s restorative powers. Injuries no longer regenerate within seconds and even worse his facial hair is starting to turn grey. There’s nothing that reminds one of their impending mortality more than faded follicles. I myself refuse to grow a beard, because the sight of a goatee speckled with white patches depresses me.

OVERVIEW

In the not too distant future, mutants are virtually extinct. Logan has retired from the superhero game and become a limo driver, who chauffeurs douche bags to parties. His income is mostly spent on booze and medication. The pills he purchases are sedatives, used to treat the seizures that afflict Logan’s mentor Charles Xavier. Professor X no longer has control of his telepathic gifts, making him a danger to others. Whenever the bald psychic has a fit everyone in the vicinity is struck with excruciating migraines, which equal the hangover pain I felt that one time I binged on whisky.

Wolverine comes out of retirement, to go on one last adventure, when he is hired to escort a youngster upstate. The destination is Canada, the land of free healthcare and refuge from malevolent conglomerates. Laura, the girl who Logan is tasked with protecting, escaped from a research lab and is now being pursued by cyborg mercenaries who have orders to apprehend her. Comic book readers will be well aware that Laura (aka X-23) is a clone who possesses superhuman healing powers and metal claws. Hmmm, I don’t think we need to administer a DNA test to determine who her biological father is.

VERDICT

My rating for Logan is four stars. It’s easily the best movie from the Wolverine trilogy. Um okay, that’s really not saying much. Let me rephrase that! Logan is one of the better live action X-Men movies to date. If this turns out to be the final time that Hugh Jackman plays the role of Wolverine, it can be said that he bowed out on a high note. One plus that Logan has over other titles in the franchise is its age rating. No longer constrained by a 12 classification, now that Deadpool has popularized R-rated blockbusters, Logan is free to deliver satisfyingly visceral action. Prepare yourself for plentiful scenes were claws impale crania.

Not to be outdone by Jackman’s exceptional performance is Patrick Stewart, as Professor X. He delivers humorous quips and sagely advice with aplomb, in addition to convincingly portraying Xavier’s bouts of dementia. It’s so tragic seeing the once majestic Captain Picard reduced to a wheelchair bound senile coot. Harder to assess is the acting chops of Dafne Keen (Laura) because she is mute for a large portion of the 137-minute running time. At the very least she comes off as vicious, which is no mean feat given her diminutive stature. I would have preferred an older X-23, but must concede that the casting was made to instil the father/daughter relationship she shares with Logan.

Like whisky, Wolverine has improved with age. Given the choice I would recommend watching this feature over drinking said beverage. Take it from me, the hangover will leave you feeling like Logan has sunk his blades into your skull.

Review of Monument Valley

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Ouch! I have just realized that it has been yonks since I last posted a video game review (third of June to be exact). Perhaps the anonymous reader who recently un-followed my blog is a gamer who tired of waiting for new content? Have I given up on gaming? Nope. I play on my consoles and handhelds every day, but I don’t like reviewing a title until I finish it. At the moment I am battling my way through two lengthy RPGs, which will take an age to complete as my current schedule limits me to just sixty minutes of daily gaming goodness.

THE VALLEY “HILLS ARE ALIVE”

To end the video game drought on this site, I decided to play a short but sweet mobile puzzler. Finally I use my tablet for something other than reading comics (if you are looking for graphic novel recommendations I endorse downloading Marvel’s hilarious Gwenpool books.) The brainteaser I decided to purchase (in case you suffer from an ailment that prevents the reading of titles) is Monument Valley. A sequel for this game came out two months ago, but I figured that starting with the original would be best. Like the babe from Sound of Music said – “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”

Speaking of music, one of Monument Valley’s highlights would have to be its audio. The soothing tunes and sound effects are a perfect remedy for the stresses of office life. Now that I have finished the game whatever shall I do to unwind during lunch breaks? Guess I will have to go back to sniffing glue. Kidding! The Otaku Judge does not advocate solvent abuse. Inhaling adhesives may cause mental impairment, which would hinder your progress in Monument Valley. Despite wearing a pointy dunce cap, the protagonist of this adventure has to use her wits to advance past each stage.

M. C. ESCHER SIMULATOR

Princess Ida is the heroine who players must guide through a total of ten stages. The dainty monarch is trapped in the titular Monument Valley – a mysterious place constructed out of sacred geometry. With the aid of touch screen controls, players must find the hidden route leading to the level’s exit. To achieve this Ida will have to stand on panels and manipulate the isometric landscape. You have to think outside the box when forming paths, because the roads Ida travels are akin to Penrose Stairs (click here). When three-dimensional objects are represented in 2D the results sure can be funky.

A solo quest would feel quite sterile, but fear not because Ida encounters several entities during her pilgrimage. Phantoms that haunt the halls reveal titbits of lore about the structure you are navigating. Hostile bipedal avians will sometimes halt Ida’s march with a tirade of squawks. Thankfully not everyone you meet is so mean. A friendly golem makes an appearance, in some of the labyrinths, to assist Ida with overcoming certain obstacles. The golem is nothing more than a one-eyed pillar, but I still got attached to him. Who says that you can’t form bonds with inanimate objects? Rest in peace Weighted Companion Cube.

VERDICT

My rating for Monument Valley is four stars. I can see why this game won awards back in 2014. People often decry the quality of mobile gaming, but if you avoid the free to play garbage there are some real gems waiting to be found in the Apps Store larder. Monument Valley is an accessible puzzler that can be enjoyed regardless of your IQ. I am a complete blockhead and still managed to finish the game with little trouble. The well-crafted levels are designed in such a way that frustration is kept to a minimum. Despite the lack of challenge there is enough thinking involved that I felt satisfaction after sussing every conundrum.

Like I mentioned earlier, Monument Valley is a short but sweet experience. Some critics would say that it’s too short. I estimate that clearing the story took me between two to three hours. That’s fair when you consider that its current retail price is four quid. A fast food meal costs about the same and will last you a lot less, to put things into perspective. Quality over quantity is something we should all herald, especially in this age were everyone’s free time is at a premium. If you can think of other classics, which don’t require a Witcher 3 commitment to beat, let me know in the comments section below. Maybe I’ll check out your suggestion and not deprive the blog of gaming posts for another two months.