[FILM REVIEW] How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Dean DeBlois, 2014)

WARNING: The premise of this film contains unmarked spoilers for the series thus far.

Since the fall of the Red Death, the Vikings of Berk have made peace with the dragons forced to do its bidding, and they live together in harmony.  In just five years, the dragons have radically altered the culture of the village. Every Viking has now bonded with a dragon, and they even stage competitions to see who can capture more sheep. During one such competition, Hiccup, the son of the village chieftain Stoick the Vast, secretly leaves with his own dragon, Toothless, to explore uncharted lands.

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[FILM REVIEW] How to Train Your Dragon (Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois, 2010)

On a remote island is the Viking village of Berk. The weather isn’t exactly ideal, which makes living there quite difficult. While most communities have to deal with wolves or other predatory animals, Berk has a bigger problem: dragons. The island is frequently besieged by dragons that steal their livestock and cause massive amounts of property damage. Under the leadership of Stoick the Vast, the villagers have fared reasonably well against the dragon attacks, though they would stop at nothing to put a permanent end to their raids.

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Post #300! Super Mario Galaxy

Introduction

Originally codenamed the Revolution, the Wii was to be Nintendo’s entry in the seventh console generation. While Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 console focused on providing players with high-definition experiences, Nintendo opted to go in a different direction. Rather than appealing to the existing gaming fanbase, they sought to make their console for everyone, hence why the name sounds like the English first-person, plural pronoun “we”. One of the Wii’s touted features lied in its unique control scheme. In lieu of fashioning a classic controller, the Wii was to employ motion controls, which would be executed by a remote outfitted with an infrared sensor. Though met with a degree of skepticism within the gaming community, the Wii became the best-selling console of its generation. Despite its successful launch, many gamers were wondering why a mainline Mario installment was not among its launch titles. Even the GameCube had the spinoff Luigi’s Mansion, yet when the Wii launched, Nintendo’s mascot was nowhere to be found.

After the release and overwhelming success of Super Mario 64, Nintendo began working on a sequel. One of the first names for this hypothetical game was Super Mario 64-2. It was slated to launch on the 64DD (Dynamic Drive), a peripheral for the Nintendo 64 that would afford players new freedoms such as the ability to create their own content. However, the commercial failure of the 64DD ensured it would never leave its homeland. In response, many 64DD projects were reformatted for the Nintendo 64, saved for future consoles, or cancelled outright. Super Mario 64-2 was one of the projects to suffer the last fate. Despite this, Nintendo wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. With the impending launch of the Nintendo GameCube, they needed something with which to demonstrate its processing power. In 2000, a proposed game entitled Super Mario 128 was showcased at Nintendo Space World. The game was heavily retooled and outfitted with a tropical island theme, hence the 2002 release Super Mario Sunshine. Though stuck in the shadow of its more popular predecessor, Super Mario Sunshine was highly acclaimed in its own right, and became one of the console’s premier titles.

Though many ideas from the Super Mario 128 demonstration were excised by the time it became Super Mario Sunshine, one person continued to see potential in them. That person was none other than the demonstration’s director, Yoshiaki Koizumi. Super Mario Sunshine marked the first instance in which he found himself as the lead director, and though he was satisfied with his work, he wanted to set his sights higher for the inevitable follow-up. One part of the demonstration featured Mario moving freely around a spherical platform. This concept did not make it into Super Mario Sunshine due to it overtaxing the machine’s technical capabilities. Nonetheless, series creator Shigeru Miyamoto remained interested in the concept, and he decided to form a team who would help bring it into reality.

The year 2002 marked the founding of the Nintendo EAD Tokyo Software Development Department. The purpose of this branch was to recruit fresh, new talent from Japan’s capital and most populated city. Their inaugural game was released in 2004 under the name Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. It was among the first titles to star Donkey Kong in the lead role after the revered Rare entered a partnership with Microsoft. The game was praised for the most part, though many critics deemed it inferior to Rare’s Donkey Kong Country trilogy due to its lack of returning characters. Nonetheless, the game stood out from its competition in how characters were controlled with a set of bongos – an aspect that captured the attention of various non-gaming publications. Impressed with their work, Mr. Miyamoto asked EAD Tokyo if they wanted to make a high-profile game starring one of the company’s mainstays. This prompted one member of the staff to suggest they possessed the skills to make a new Mario title. Mr. Koizumi, taking note of the experience the staff developed creating Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, felt they could make the idea involving spherical platforms work and recruited them into this new project. In a bit of a twist, Mr. Koizumi set his attention to the Wii.

With a basic concept in mind, all Mr. Koizumi needed was a central theme, necessitating his team to draft several ideas and find ways to implement them. Co-designer Koichi Hayashida and producer Takeo Shimizu were skeptical about the idea of incorporating a spherical playing field into a 3D platforming game. The latter in particular felt a sense of danger when the plan was approved. Only when he began debugging the game did he realize how fresh the experience felt. Once the team was convinced of the concept’s viability, they quickly settled on setting the game in outer space, believing most players would see the spherical shapes as planets. As an entire region separated EAD Tokyo from Nintendo, a system was put in place so both offices could playtest the game. The development team was pressured to finish their work at or close to the Wii’s launch. However, keeping true to the ethos of Mr. Miyamoto, they deemed a polished Mario game was more important than a rushed one.

The efforts of EAD Tokyo saw their completion in November of 2007 under the name Super Mario Galaxy. It is nearly impossible to overstate just how much praise this game received upon release. Mere days afterwards, Super Mario Galaxy was considered one of the greatest games ever made. Fans declared it the first truly worthy sequel to Super Mario 64, and even those who didn’t care for the Wii were thoroughly impressed. With Super Mario 64 having one of the most profound impacts of any game in history, was Super Mario Galaxy truly able to surpass it?

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King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella

Introduction

Like the two installments before it, King’s Quest III was a great commercial and critical success upon its release. Fans were initially confused as to what its protagonist, Gywdion, had anything to do with the adventures of King Graham. After a few months passed, they answered the questions for themselves, and began seeing King’s Quest III as the best game in the series thus far. Whether or not a sequel would be made was never a question, for Roberta Williams and her team dropped many hints throughout their game that King’s Quest IV lurked just around the corner.

Though the visuals had improved in subtle ways since the inception of Sierra’s Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) engine, it was beginning to show its age. In 1987, LucasArts released Maniac Mansion. This unique take on the adventure game genre ended up being a grand success in its own right, impressing critics with its cast of characters and smart humor. Among those who praised it was acclaimed science-fiction writer Orson Scott Card. In the face of this fierce, new competitor, Sierra needed to step up their game to remain relevant. This led to the creation of the AGI engine’s successor, SCI. Interchangeably referred to as both the Script Code Interpreter and Sierra’s Creative Interpreter, this new engine was designed by programmer Jeff Stephenson

With the outdated engine ready to be replaced, there was no better game Sierra could have chosen to than the latest installment of their flagship King’s Quest series. However, as the engine was designed specifically for 16-bit little-endian computers, they realized longtime fans may not have the specifications required to run a game made with the SCI engine. On top of that, the engine had not yet been proven commercially. Therefore, Ms. Williams and her team opted to develop two versions of the game concurrently: one would be built using the AGI engine and the other upon the SCI engine. The former was intended as a fallback in the event the latter didn’t sell. Fortunately for Sierra, the series’ fourth installment, entitled King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella, ended up moving 100,000 copies within two weeks of its debut in August of 1988. Even better, the SCI version comprised a majority of those sales, eliminating the need for its AGI counterpart, which was discontinued mere months after its release. The commercial success of King’s Quest IV proved beyond any shadow of a doubt the sheer popularity of the series. Was the new SCI engine what the series needed to evolve?

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Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 2019)

Starforce member Vers of the Kree Empire has been suffering from recurring nightmares. Through brief glimpses, she sees an older woman, though the meaning behind these visions eludes her. Her mentor and commanding officer, Yon-Rogg, trains her to control her abilities, reminding her to suppress her emotions in battle. She and the rest of her team are sent on a mission to rescue an undercover operative who has infiltrated a faction of Skrulls. The Skrulls are alien shapeshifters warring with the Kree. Their commander, Talos, captures Vers during the mission. She manages to escape from their ship in an escape pod, but crash-lands on a planet named Earth.

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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)

It is the late 1890s in Wyoming. Butch Cassidy is the charismatic leader of the Wild Bunch, a group of criminals who have pulled off many successful bank and train robberies. His closest companion is the Sundance Kid, a laconic, yet skilled marksman. Returning to their hideout at Hole-in-the-Wall, they learn Butch has been replaced by Harvey Logan as their new leader. Butch quickly reasserts his authority when he defeats his would-be replacement through trickery. They proceed to make plans to rob the Union Pacific Overland Flyer train. By striking the train on both its eastward and westward runs, they will maximize their potential rewards.

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Fighting with My Family (Stephen Merchant, 2019)

Ten-year-old Zak Knight watches the WWF King of the Ring pay-per-view event. Unfortunately for him, his younger sister, Saraya, comes in and switches the channel to Charmed, her favorite television program. Not one to take this indiscretion lying down, he begins wrestling with his sister – the winner chooses what to watch. Their parents, Rick and Julia, then come in and are summarily appalled at their subpar technique and suggest better ones. Over the years, the two of them fight in many local wrestling matches, adopting the names Zak Zodiac and Britani Knight. Partly because Rick and Julia are struggling financially, they have been constantly calling WWE trainer Hutch Morgan about signing Zak and Saraya up so their children may prosper. Morgan agrees to hold a tryout before a SmackDown taping, though he tells Saraya to come up with a different ring name, for they “already have a Britani”. Inspired by the show she loved as a kid, she settles on Paige.

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Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind

Introduction

Video game designer Michael Berlyn got his start in the industry as an implementer working for Polarware. The first game of note he worked on was a piece of interactive fiction entitled Oo-Topos. Released in 1981, it was well-received among PC gamers, and he would continue his work on other adventure titles with Polarware before joining Infocom in 1983. Around this time, a company named Accolade was founded in San Jose, California by Alan Miller and Bob Whitehead. They saw their revenues increase with each passing year after releasing several acclaimed games for Amiga, Apple II, and the PC, including Test Drive, HardBall!, Law of the West, and Psi-5 Trading Company. Mr. Berlyn would join this company by 1990, and the first game he designed for them was Altered Destiny. However, it received a fairly lukewarm response, generally passed over in favor of Sierra’s output.

Shortly after this project saw completion, he became burned out on the adventure game genre and wanted to try something new. The answer came in the form of a game Sega had released in June of 1991 in order to compete with Nintendo: Sonic the Hedgehog. With Nintendo having dominated the console gaming industry for the entire third generation, Sega proved a formidable opponent. Sonic the Hedgehog was the embodiment of the era’s zeitgeist. He had a hip attitude and his gameplay was lightning fast compared to the slow, ostensibly out-of-touch Mario. Mr. Berlyn was so impressed with Sega’s game that he ended up playing it fourteen hours a day for a whole week. Already, he was figuring out how he could implement his own take on this game. Within the next few years, Accolade had created the lead character for Mr. Berlyn’s vision: a bobcat named Bubsy.

The game, named Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, was to be released for both the Sega Genesis and Super NES in 1993. Accolade stopped at nothing to extensively promote their game. Director John Skeel sought to create a game as fast as Sonic the Hedgehog, yet as deep as Super Mario Bros. It would be easy to pick up and play, but difficult to master. He was even intended to be voiced in the game proper. His catchphrase “What could possibly go wrong?” was derived from a quip courtesy of the development team. They even commissioned a pilot for an animated series that aired later in the year, though the show was never picked up for any further episodes.

Nonetheless, as a result of Accolade’s marketing campaign, anticipation for Bubsy reached a fever pitch. The character even won a “Most Hype for a Character of 1993” award in the publication Electronic Gaming Monthly. When Bubsy was released, it received positive reviews from nearly every review outlet at the time. Though not as popular as Sonic the Hedgehog, critics enjoyed the level design, graphics, and the sheer amount of personality possessed by the title character. It was especially enjoyed by those who had a Super NES, as for it would be the closest they could get to playing Sonic the Hedgehog themselves without a Sega Genesis. In an era that saw no shortage of quality 2D platformers, does Bubsy stand to this day as a pinnacle of the genre?

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Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand

Introduction

By the time Nihon Falcom was slated to make a fourth installment in their highly popular Ys series of action RPGs, a significant number of their staff members had quit. Though the team drafted a rough outline for Ys IV, they had no resources with which to develop it. They were then left with no choice but to outsource the project to other companies. Of the developers they approached, only Tonkin House and Alfa Systems saw their interpretations of Ys IV to completion. Both versions, Mask of the Sun and The Dawn of Ys, debuted in late 1993 for the Super Famicom and PC Engine respectively. They received fairly positive reviews, though The Dawn of Ys ended up being the more acclaimed game despite Mask of the Sun eventually being declared the canonical Ys IV.

Shortly after both games were released, Nihon Falcom, having hired new talent, now had the resources with which to continue the series on their own. In December of 1995, they released Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand for the Super Famicom. Although fans were initially ecstatic that the series’ original developers regained creative control, the game was ultimately met with a cold response. Was Ys V worthy of such a backlash or is it a game misunderstood due to differing opinions of what the series should entail?

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The Sting (George Roy Hill, 1973)

The year is 1936. It is the height of the Great Depression and a man named Johnny Hooker is making ends meet as a con man in Joliet, Illinois. He successfully cons an impressive $11,000 out of an unsuspecting victim in a pigeon drop with his partners Luther Coleman and Joe Erie. Luther announces to Hooker his intentions to abandon the life of crime shortly thereafter, and advises him to seek out an old friend by the name of Henry Gondorff, who has knowledge of how to pull “the big con”. Unbeknownst to Hooker and his cohorts, their mark was a numbers racket courier working for nefarious crime boss Doyle Lonnegan. By grabbing the attention of such an influential figure in the criminal underworld, Hooker may have bitten off more than he could chew.

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