[FILM REVIEW] Thor (Kenneth Branagh, 2011)

In the year 965 A.D., a fierce battle was waged between Odin, the king of Asgard, and the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. The Frost Giants’ leader, Laufey, would stop at nothing to conquer the nine realms, intending to start with Earth. Before his ambitions came to pass, the Asgardian warriors defeated the Frost Giants in in Tønsberg, Norway. In doing so, they seized the source of the Frost Giants’ power: the Casket of Ancient Winters. It is now the year 2011 and Odin’s son, Thor is prepared to ascend to the throne of Asgard. However, after hearing about the Frost Giants’ desire to reclaim the Casket, he, without Odin’s knowledge, travels to Jotunheim to confront Laufey. Assisting him are his brother, Loki, childhood friend, Sif, and the Warriors Three:  Fandral, Volstagg, and Hogun. Though he is doubtlessly brave for his efforts, Thor may suffer a dire consequence for his rash actions.

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[GAME REVIEW] King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!

Introduction

On the eve of the release of King’s Quest IV, series creator Roberta Williams had many reservations – many of which were shared by her company, Sierra. Their flagship series’ fourth installment was to cast a female character in the lead role in an era when the medium had a predominately male fanbase. Princesses were expected to get captured so they could be saved by the noble hero; giving one an adventure of her own was simply unheard of. On top of that, Sierra had just finished developing their new game engine: the Sierra’s Creative Interpreter. Having been specifically designed for 16-bit little-endian computers, they feared many longtime fans lacked the resources to play it. They could not have anticipated King’s Quest IV to sell 100,000 copies within two weeks of its launch. Many journalists had nothing but praise for the new female lead – a sentiment shared by fans of the series.

With this success, the series had a future after gaining a powerful rival in the form of LucasArts. It was therefore only natural for Sierra to keep up the momentum by developing a sequel. After the significant technological leap from King’s Quest III, the programmers were in the process of refining their newest engine. The second version of the SCI engine, SCI1, was to feature 256 colors. Ms. Williams once again found herself in the director’s chair for the game that was to showcase the engine’s new capabilities.

As was the case with King’s Quest IV, Sierra sought to make the game as accessible as they could. The original version would be released on a floppy disk while owners of top-end computers could utilize a format gaining popularity for its superior storage capabilities: the CD-ROM. Furthermore, it was during this time that PC game developers began taking note of the rapidly growing console market. Thanks to the successful launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the North American console market had recovered from its devastating 1983 crash, and it was soon outpacing the PC in terms of popularity. While PC gaming required a degree of expertise most people simply did not possess at the time, anyone could place a cartridge into NES and commence playing. By the end of the decade, anything released on the NES was guaranteed a significant return on investment for the developers. As a result, Sierra collaborated with the prolific, Tokyo-based developer Konami to create and release a port for the NES.

This installment, King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!, was released in November of 1990. Sierra spared no expense making King’s Quest V, giving Ms. Williams and her team a budget of one-million dollars. The company’s gambit paid off, for the game, like its predecessor, was a commercial success, moving 500,000 copies over the next few years. For a significant length of time, it had been the best-selling PC game of all time until 1995 when Cyan, Inc.’s Myst surpassed it. Many magazines praised it for its exemplary VGA graphics and sound card utilization with critics considering it the single greatest installment in the series thus far. Was King’s Quest V able ensure the popular series had a leg to stand on in the new decade?

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[FILM REVIEW] The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 2008)

General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross once met with Dr. Bruce Banner, the boyfriend of his daughter, Betty, with an interesting proposition. Ross aims to recreate the results of a World War II-era program in order to create an army of super soldiers. Had it been successful, he would’ve found a way to make humans immune to gamma radiation. Unfortunately, the experiment failed, and the radiation caused Banner to transform into a giant, raging beast for brief periods whenever his heart rate exceeds 200 beats per minute. Five years have passed since that day, and Banner now works at a bottling factory in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro. He is determined to seek a cure for his condition, secretly corresponding with an unidentified individual known as Mr. Blue. He has not transformed in five months, but his peaceful existence is not to last.

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April 2019 in Summary: Endings and Beginnings

Boy, Avengers: Endgame was something else wasn’t it? I’m glad I got to see it during its opening weekend. Also, I managed to review all of the mainline Mario games! Between getting all of those Avengers reviews out and rebutting to Paul Schrader’s petulant audience-blaming interview, this has been quite a month. It wasn’t easy, but I managed.

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[FILM REVIEW] Avengers: Endgame (Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, 2019)

WARNING: The very premise of this film contains spoilers for the series thus far. If you intend to watch Avengers: Infinity War blind, do not read any part of this review.

The unthinkable has happened. Thanos the Mad Titan has seized every single one of the six Infinity Stones, thereby completing the Infinity Gauntlet. With a snap of his fingers, half of the universe’s population disintegrated into dust. Countless heroes lost their lives, the Guardians of the Galaxy have fallen, and those who remain face a foe of incalculable power. With the Infinity Stones at their full potential, Thanos has control over all life in the universe, time, and every single mind in existence. Even if they mounted a resistance against him, he could easily stop them before they had a chance to effect their plan. If they were to defy the odds and strike him down, he would simply erase his defeat and respond in kind with a force his assailant couldn’t even dream of standing up to. Even with a powerful reinforcement in the form of Carol Danvers, do the surviving heroes stand a chance against this omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent enemy?

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[FILM REVIEW] Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, 2018)

Thor, Loki, Hulk, and the Asgardians have left their home world following an event known as the Twilight of the Gods – Ragnarok. However, their spaceship has been intercepted by the one who orchestrated Loki’s attack on New York City: Thanos. The Mad Titan has recently acquired the Power Stone from Planet Xandar and will stop at nothing to obtain the remaining five. The Infinity Gauntlet Thanos bears will unlock the Infinity Stones’ true potential. With them all in hand, he intends to kill off half of the universe’s population. With the Avengers divided thanks to the efforts of Colonel Helmut Zemo, Earth’s mightiest heroes will need to do everything they can to prevent Thanos’s unconscionable ambitions from coming to pass.

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Quick Takes: Apollo 11 and They Shall Not Grow Old

I used to write short reviews of films under a single post in a segment called Reel Life. I gave it up when I began writing full reviews instead. With this “Quick Takes” article, you could say I’m bringing it back, but with a different purpose. On occasion, I’ll see something that, for whatever reason, I don’t want to review using my usual metrics. In this case, I’ll be talking briefly about two different documentaries I’ve seen recently: one about the Apollo 11 mission and the other about the First World War. All I’ll say now is that both are worth watching, so if you wish to go into them blind, go ahead and see them first.

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[GAME REVIEW] Wonder Boy

Introduction

Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. proved to be a tour de force when it was released on the Famicom in 1985. After the Famicom was allowed to make its international debut as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo had the honor of single-handedly revitalizing the North American gaming industry, which had been in shambles due to a devastating crash two years prior. Super Mario Bros. fared especially well commercially due to having been frequently bundled with the console itself. In a year, the NES became synonymous with gaming itself and Mario became one of the most recognized characters in the medium after Pac-Man. This presented a problem for any would-be developers. How could they possibly stand up to a company that so thoroughly dominated the market?

In 1986 as Super Mario Bros. took the world by storm, a company named Escape was founded in Sumida, Tokyo. They had teamed up with another up-and-coming developer, Sega, who just entered the console market upon launching their Master System console in 1985. Escape allowed Sega to publish what was to be their inaugural game: Wonder Boy. It was among the first electronic games to bear Sega’s name. As a result, the title character became one of the company’s mascots along Sega’s own Alex Kidd when Wonder Boy proved popular in arcades. The game was then ported to several prominent home consoles, including the Sega Master System.

Despite Sega directly competing against Nintendo at the time, Escape had entered a deal with Hudson Soft to port the game to the NES and the TurboGrafx-16 – domestically known as the PC Engine. When Wonder Boy was ported to the NES and certain other consoles, Hudson replaced the title character with an exaggerated caricature of Takashi Meijin – one of their spokespeople. The likeness even shared the same name in Japan, though he was renamed Master Higgins in the West. Versions of the game that cast Mr. Meijin’s 8-bit doppelgänger were renamed Adventure Island. Though not nearly as well-known as Super Mario Bros., Adventure Island became one of the hallmarks of the NES among Western gamers when it was released internationally in 1988. Whether it was called Wonder Boy or Adventure Island, did Escape manage to leave a good first impression in an increasingly competitive industry?

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[FILM REVIEW] Serpico (Sidney Lumet, 1973)

Frank Serpico is an idealistic young man who has just become the newest member of the New York City Police Department. He dreams of becoming a detective, hoping to qualify for the prestigious gold shield. He joins the Plainclothes Division, dressing like a hippy as part of the job, which is the source of much derision from his coworkers. As he continues his line of work, he will learn the disturbing reason behind their hostility.

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[GAME REVIEW] Super Mario Odyssey

Introduction

With Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel, Yoshiaki Koizumi gave Nintendo’s mascot two unforgettable, interstellar journeys. Players would launch Mario through the reaches of space, often having him jump between planets in an effort to save Princess Peach. Both games were complete successes, selling well over five million units apiece. When playing them, it is clear Nintendo’s Tokyo branch gave it their all; the sheer amount of creativity it took to conceive such games is something that only occurs a scant few times per generation. Given that both games demonstrated Nintendo’s continued relevance going into the 2010s, a sequel would seem inevitable. This was easier said than done. How could anyone possibly go about following up not one, but two of the most monumental titles of its generation?

The year 2012 marked the launch of the Nintendo Wii’s successor: the Wii U. Despite its initially positive reception and launching with the latest installment in their popular New Super Mario Bros. subseries, consumers were slow to adopt this console. There were various reasons why this ended up being the case. Many people assumed the Wii U was a mere upgrade of the Wii rather than being a separate console. A larger strike against it, however, concerned its lackluster library. Although several highly praised games such as Bayonetta 2 and Super Mario 3D World would debut on the Wii U, they weren’t enough to sway the market in Nintendo’s favor. The general consensus among independent critics is that Nintendo jumped the gun in their attempts to release a console before Sony or Microsoft. Damningly, it was the first console to lose money for the venerable company. Compounded with their rivals releasing the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, Nintendo found themselves in a dire situation.

A journalist writing for The New York Times felt Nintendo’s hardware sales were comprised thanks to mobile gaming gaining steam around this time. The president of the company at the time, Satoru Iwata, felt they would cease to be Nintendo if they entered the market, though he eventually relented, securing a business alliance with mobile provider DeNA. Tragically, he would pass away on July 11, 2015 due to complications from cholangiocarcinoma – also known as bile duct cancer. He was 55.

Despite the fact that they retained a devoted fanbase, Nintendo’s fate looked grim with gamers gravitating towards the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and one of their greatest technical wizards dead. Even with the odds stacked against them, Nintendo had no intentions of giving up. As early as 2012, they drafted ideas for a console to follow the Wii U. However, they didn’t want to settle for making this new piece of hardware a mere successor to the Wii U or the portable 3DS. Tatsumi Kimishima, the new president of Nintendo, stated the new console was to provide a “new way to play” that would have a greater impact than the Wii U.

The company had historically always featured one handheld console and one home console in a given generation starting in the fourth. One of the criticisms lodged toward the Wii U concerned its GamePad. While players did enjoy using it, they wished it could be used as a standalone console. As it was, it would stop functioning if moved too far of a distance from the console. Therefore, this new console was to bridge the gap between Nintendo’s two major markets, being a portable home console.

Dubbed the Nintendo Switch, the console was released in March of 2017. Despite market analysts expressing skepticism over the Switch, it quickly became a bestseller, moving more units than the Wii U ever did within a year. Keeping to their strange pattern, a mainline Mario installment akin to Super Mario Sunshine or Super Mario Galaxy was not among the Switch’s launch titles. However, unlike the GameCube or the Wii, gamers wouldn’t have to wait long for Nintendo’s mascot to make a triumphant debut on the Switch.

Immediately after the release of Super Mario 3D World in late 2013, the same team began work on a new Mario installment with a little help from 1-Up Studio. This company was formally known as Brownie Brown – the company best known for having developed Mother 3 alongside Shigesato Itoi. Led by director Kenta Motokura, this new installment was going to revolve around the concept of surprise. Taking note of the surge in popularity of open-world sandbox gaming, Mr. Motokura and his team sought to make next Mario installment appeal to the series’ core audience. Up until that point, they had focused on capturing the attention of causal players.

This game, Super Mario Odyssey, was released in October of 2017. It was notable for having been released in the same year as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This made 2017 the first calendar year in which Nintendo released both a console Zelda installment and a console mainline Mario game since 1986. On top of that, 2017 is popularly considered one of the greatest years in the medium’s history. With no shortage of strong competition, did Super Mario Odyssey stand out from the crowd?

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