Monthly Archives: March 2015

NHL 15

NHL® 15_20150205001905Sometimes a game can be disliked even though it’s competent because it lacks features that we’ve come to expect. NHL 15 is one of those games. The latest installment of EA’s series of hockey games and the first to arrive on the current generation of consoles, it lacks some modes of play that it predecessors had. However, the gameplay is still excellent, and in my book, that’s what really counts. Don’t see how they expect you to play so many games in a season, though.

Plot: N/A

Graphics: 9 out of 10

A couple months ago, I reviewed the latest Madden. My biggest complaint was that the graphics, while serviceable, certainly weren’t great. That’s definitely not the case here. Everything looks almost photo-realistic. In particular, they did a great job on the crowds. Some sports games overlook this sort of thing. This is a mistake. We, the viewers, make pro sports. Without us, there would be no big leagues. It’s nice when one of these games recognizes us.

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At least the suck-i-canes have many fans who cheer in vain.

Sound: 7 out of 10

I like the sounds as well. There’s some great intro and game menu music. Sound effects of puck shots, hits, and fighting also work well. Can’t say the same about the commentary, though. Color commentator Eddie Olczyk does a good job, but play-by-play commentator Mike Emrick is kind of annoying and monotone. Like a dentist. Also, while you can make a custom-made player a woman (no doubt because of statistics showing that the NHL has the least male fanbase of the sports leagues and that an underrated number of gamers are women, the announcers will still refer to that player as “he” and “him.” C’mon, EA, fix this!

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

The big disappointment for fans was the lack of features. Whereas NHL 14 even included a NHL ’94 mode (complete with a blue rink), 15 has only generic season modes and Hockey Ultimate Team, which uses a point system based on performance and any add-ons you bought (as if the $40-$60 you spent on this game wasn’t enough) for team advancement. So, yeah, this is very much a bare bones game.

Yes, it's just like a dance... until someone gets slammed against the barricade.

Yes, it’s just like a dance… until someone gets slammed against the barricade.

But how much does that truly hurt it? The game still plays very well. There’s smooth controls, an accurate depiction of the NHL’s rules, and a very hockey feel. These are what really count. Although I certainly hope EA beefs up the features for NHL 16, it’s enough that this game plays well. If good gameplay doesn’t make up for the lack of features to you, than I fear that you’re missing much of the whole point of video games.

Challenge: 6 out of 10

Comically enough, the goalies are suckers for skating to the side and shooting once you get out of alignment. But I suppose they make up for the that with how well-coordinated the other opponents are on defense. They will form horizontal lines that can make it difficult to move in close. All said, the difficulty is decent.

Touch me there and this game's injury will be yours!

Hands off me or the next injured player will be you!

My biggest gripe isn’t the difficulty but how many games there are in over a hundred games in a season. I know that real teams do play that much, but really, who has the patience to play multiple seasons, each with that many games? I had to reduce the time to five minutes a period for this to be realistic, and I still skimmed through a lot of games.

Overall: 7 out of 10

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Nice view.

NHL 15 is not a great game, but it is a good one. It may be very basic, but as a pure hockey game, it excels. Just don’t expect more than that.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights

RobinTightsTItleCary Elwes as Robin Hood
Dave Chappelle as Ahchoo
Amy Yasbeck as Maid Marian of Bagel
Richard Lewis as Prince John
Roger Rees as the Sheriff of Rottingham
Eric Allan Kramer as Little John
Mark Blankfield as Blinkin
Matthew Porretta as Will Scarlet O’Hara
Tracey Ullman as Latrine the Witch
Mel Brooks as Rabbi Tuckman
Patrick Stewart as King Richard

Mel Brooks is one of the most endeared directors in the history of cinema and, yet, he weakened over time. I wouldn’t say he ever became a bad director, but he may have eventually run short of ideas. Robin Hood: Men In Tights is a evidence that he did. It’s not a bad movie. In fact, it’s a fairly good one, actually. It’s just not one of Brooks’ classics.

Spoofing Robin Hood: Prince of ThievesMen in Tights basically reenacts scenes from the former movie. Cary Elwes makes a great Robin with his flair for the dramatic and comedic timing (plus, “unlike some other Robin Hoods, [he] can speak with an English accent”). As per the movie that is being spoofed, this movie more or less has the Sheriff as the main villain. He’s of Rottingham, which I must admit to finding funnier than I probably should. Not that there isn’t a Prince John. But he seems to be a nepotist who doesn’t even fully understand what’s going on. It’s even implied that the Sheriff talked him into turning England into an evil dictatorship while the… good dictator is away. And Richard Lewis is a real scene burglar with how he plays a greenhorn king who doesn’t know what he’s doing.

I had no idea The Merry Men had a rap band.

I had no idea The Merry Men had a rap band.

You can also find a number of other recognizable actors including Patrick Stewart,  Dom DeLuise, a young Dave Chappelle, and in a surprisingly limited capacity, Mel Brooks himself.

If the performances are good, what’s wrong? Well, I couldn’t help but notice all the jokes that Brooks derives from his past movies. There’s the line “it’s good to be the king” in a sneaky context (from History Of the World, Part I), the overprotective servant of Maid Marion, who annoys her and Robin with the tenacious insistence that there be no sex outside of marriage (similar to a gag in Spaceballs), and Rottingham saying, “walk this way,” followed by a line of people walking as he does (which had been done in numerous movies, including Brooks’ own History Of the World). And I’m only pointing out those I noticed. Again, Brooks was clearly running out of material.

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That’s Dom DeLuise crying about how downhill his career went.

The other problem is that the jokes are of mixed quality. I always thought that the mildly named Blinkin, Brooks’ answer to the blind Duncan of Prince of Thieves was hilarious. Other stuff like Little John thinking he’s drowning in inch-high water are lacking in wit.

If it were up to the writing, Men in Tights would be mediocre, maybe worse than mediocre. Luckily, it has great performances that make it quite watchable. Much better that that lousy Robin Hood movie with Russell Crowe five years ago.

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Fans of the Atlanta Braves or a rival team will get this Chop joke. 65% of Americans and all foreigners…

Despite still getting great actors, I can’t consider this one of Brooks’ great accomplishments. He wasn’t making regular movies for too long after this. Given that his films would have likely continued to deteriorate, perhaps it’s for the best.

Overall: 7 out of 10

Dragon Ball Z: Legend of the Super Saiya-Jin

LegendSaiyanTitleSometimes even a reasonably well-crafted game can be ruined by one major flaw. Dragon Ball Z: Legend of the Super Saiya-Jin is such a game.

Plot: 8 out of 10

This game probably does the best of any I’ve played at telling the story of DBZ from the first episode to the battle with the galactic emperor, Frieza. As this is an RPG, dialogue boxes move the story along when the situation calls for them. The programmers seem to get this anime as everything fits. But as will be noted later this game is perhaps too true to the anime, hurting the gameplay.

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I once thought that having a weight problem would hamper my ability to get super powers. I am relieved.

There are a few major changes, though, as follows:

1.) So that your party doesn’t go from several characters to just two, only Piccolo necessarily dies in the battle with Vegeta.

2.) Vegeta doesn’t kill Cui and Dodoria. Gohan, Krillin, Tien, Yamcha, and Chiaotzu do.

3.) Goku’s landing on Namek happens a bit later than in the anime.

4.) If Vegeta is still alive when Frieza is killed and Goku becomes a super saiya-jin, Vegeta’s intense anger and jealousy make him a super saiya-jin, as well, and he attacks, setting up a bonus boss fight that doesn’t happen in the anime but gets fans wanking.

Graphics: 4 out of 10

For the Super Nin… sorry, since this wasn’t commercially released in America, I should say, “Super Famicom.” At any rate, its mugshots of the characters are excellent. They look just like promotional art. Same with the “mode 7” bits that sometimes show a character ramming an opponent during battle. Sadly, this is the only aspect of the graphics that impressed me.

While the landscape of the overworld, indoor areas, and battle backgrounds are fine, the character designs, save the mugshots, are very weak. The faces particularly leave something to be desired.

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Notice the contrast between these two Piccolos.

Sound: 8 out of 10

This game may not look very good, but it sounds great! There are not that many songs, but what songs there are sound fantastic! They project a feeling of excitement that fits the anime well.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

This is not your conventional RPG. There are no weapons or armor. There are Battle Power (BP) ratings and battle cards. You can attack with up to five characters at a time (when you have more, you’ve gotta choose who fights and who doesn’t every round). Each of those five active characters picks a card from a randomly arranged set, each individual card having one of several symbols and up to six dots or a maximal “Z” for attack and defense rating. Each character has a favorite card that enables him to attack all enemies if he’s lucky enough to get it. Also, one of the symbols allows its user to use a ki attack (spell). As always, the attack rating partially determines the ki attack’s effectiveness.

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Why do they call their moves out? I think they do it so their opponents will know what will kill them (even though it often doesn’t).

BP determines a character’s attack and defense power. This is a major factor as the available characters vary widely in BP. Goku usually has the highest BP and Chiaotzu the lowest. And the gap is huge. Fortunately, of the three powerhouses most of game is without Goku or Piccolo, and Vegeta refuses to do anything 40% of the time to counterbalance his high BP, so character imbalance isn’t as big a problem as it ought to be. Plus, some of the weaker characters have special kinds of ki attacks that give them value beyond brute strength. For instance, Chiaotzu has a paralyzing attack that is more reliable than its Final Fantasy counterpart.

The unique, strategic battle system serves this game well and has a very DBZ feel to it. We’ve got ourselves a winner until…

Challenge: 1 out of 10

The first mission is remarkably difficult. At first, it’s possible to be killed even by the standard enemies. So you assume you need to level grind. Except that after a certain amount of experience, you automatically fight the first boss, Raditz. It gets better: if you didn’t find the place where Mr. Popo is under attack and rescue him, you won’t get the item you need to beat Raditz. So you may have to start a new game. The difficulty goes down quite a bit after that, except that you often have to look around to find shops and inn equivalents. They’re also often spread far apart. I realize that RPGs are partially puzzle games, but at least make the rest stops and stores easy to find!

But these are teeny complaints. To fully capture the show’s action that crosses Superman with karate, each action in battle has a demonstration lasting many seconds, making fights exponentially longer and more tedious than they should be. You’re not even allowed to skip them. So the battles are very, very long. And once the novelty wears off, they become extremely boring as the same lengthy sequences play out over and over again. The thrill is therefore sapped in a hurry.

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And it only took half an hour!

I honestly don’t see how anyone could have the patience for this game without an emulator’s fast forward function. If you’re a Japanese person who (presumably) used Google’s translate function to read this review and played through the real version, I don’t know whether to admire or feel sorry for you.

Overall: 4 out of 10

And the amazing thing is that of the 16-bit DBZ games, that makes it like the second best. Talk about a low standard. I’m not in any hurry to torture myself with those so I’ll just say that they’re fighting games in which it’s actually hard to connect with your jumping attacks because everybody just flies all over the place!

Back to Dragon Ball Z: Legend of the Super Saiya-Jin, I have to admit that there’s potential. The battle system works, the story is translated well to this game, and the music is great, but the one little problem: the battles stall and stall and stall. After putting up with this for the entire game, you really never want to play it again. And even that may be too presumptuous of how much a gamer can take.

Hercules (2014)

HerculesTitleDwayne Johnson as Hercules
Ian McShane as Amphiaraus
Rufus Sewell as Autolycus
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Atalanta
Reece Ritchie as Iolaus
John Hurt as King Cotys
Rebecca Ferguson as Ergenia
Karolina Szymczak as Alcmene
Isaac Andrews as Arius

Hercules is a mythical figure who, like James Bond and Batman, is used so much by Hollywood that it is a guarantee that every generation from now until the end of time will have its own. Mine was the Kevin Sorbo version from twenty years ago. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the one for this era. Or Legend of Hercules if you prefer. It’s got a bad reputation, but it can’t be much worse than this… can it?

Hercules1

High def? That’s quite a boast for 2007. Oh wait, it was 2014? My bad.

You know the stories about the Twelve Labors, the hydra, those sorts of things? They’re not in this movie. Hercules leads a band of mercenaries for hire who don’t seem to care about anything but the job, but have a change of heart when their employer, King Cotys, turns out to have hired them to help further his Carsaresque dreams of ruling all of Greece and presumably everything else after that. Disloyalty to the story aside, this isn’t a bad concept, but the sheer incompetence of this film ruins its potential.

I believe I will begin with what is the worst acting I’ve seen in years! As far as wrestlers turned actors go, Johnson is way better than Hulk Hogan ever was, meaning what? I’ll tell you what it means: jack shit! Should a 5/10 actor pat himself on the back for being much better than a negative score anti-thespian? And yet, we have him trying to appropriately pull off an ancient accent. Frankly, that is a task for which The Rock is disqualified. Forced to deviate from his usual style, Johnson descends below his usual standard into Steven Seagal territory, but for the big nothing that it’s worth, still nothing like the Hulkster. The rest of the cast is pretty bad as well. Their horrendous attempts at accents show that there are some casts for fantasy films and shows that should go with generic performances. It costs you some credibility, but not as much as deplorable performances would.

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The half-naked action chick. Where would bad action flicks be without her?

I mentioned that they dropped the ball on the plot. Again, the concept of mercenaries with hearts could work, despite how unoriginal it is, but awful dialogue and an unconvincing setup ruin it. “Today’s lesson: how not to stab yourselves.” No joke, someone thought that line was cool. The ultimate payoff is how they attempt to leave doubt in our minds as to whether or not Hercules is really the son of Zeus. Kinda hard to not believe that herc’s divine when we saw him fling a horse and rider into the air.

But what about action? Well, they screwed up that as well, as the fights are illogical. For example, when Hercules’ team is fighting a big battle alongside a small army, the protagonists abandon their posts so they can charge in. This despite the army being untrained. Hercules blames his boss for giving him a lousy army. Needless to say, this came off as passing the buck to me.

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I know, but… Herc throws a HORSE!!!

Perhaps a better title would be “Unscrupules.” Because there appears to be almost no thought put into this, because there appears to be almost no thought put into this film. What thought there is goes kinda like this: “holy shit, look at that money The Hunger Games, The Hobbit, and Game of Thrones are making! Gimme some of that!” And without true heart, Hercules strongly resembles a Steven Seagal movie; bad acting, lousy plotting, even its last asset, action, is utterly illogical. Steer clear.

Overall: 2 out of 10