Tag Archive | Review

Review: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

This review was originally written for 3DS Blessed, found here.

Videogame sequels walk a tightrope – especially ones in popular series. Developers have to decide if they want to build upon the past experience or forge a new one, and both choices have drawbacks.

A game too rigidly modelled after its predecessor risks stagnation. A game breaking new ground risks alienating an existing fandom.

With over a decade’s worth of games behind it, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate walks this same tightrope. There’s no doubt that it’s a bigger, better version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (like, duh), but does it stand out against the increasing numbers of rival Hunting Action titles out there?

The answer is yes – barely.

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iTunes Festival 2014: Mary J. Blige steals hearts with timeless hits at the Roundhouse

This review was originally written for the Daily Star, found here.

R&B queen Mary J Blige can always be counted on to pack out a concert — and fans both new and from her 90s heyday packed in to see her at this year’s iTunes Festival.

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The stunning singer songwriter has a platinum-covered history of 11 albums since 1992 and she clearly knew that the audience at the Roundhouse in Camden, London craved some soulful nostalgia.

She strutted out in her iconic glam style, massive shades, miles of gold-studded leather and stiletto shoes sharp enough to kill a man.

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Review: Soul Sacrifice Delta (Vita)

Soul Sacrifice, Review

This review was originally written for One Hit Pixel, found here.

The Monster Hunter series sitting in Nintendo’s pocket left a hole in the PlayStation Portable’s heart. Monster Hunter’s style of mission-based multiplayer (often called Hunting Action) was a major draw to the Sony handheld. So when the PlayStation Vita arrived and Monster Hunter wasn’t around to claim its usual spot, a surge of competitors arose to take the throne.

And surprising everyone, Keiji Inafune got involved. Yeah, the Mega Man/Mighty No.9 guy. His entry, Soul Sacrifice, was one of the earliest titles for the Vita and it did… underwhelmingly. As with any new IP, it had teething problems.

The challenge in Monster Hunter is how limited your abilities can be – attacks are slow and leave you open. Running and dodging consumes stamina. You spend as much time chasing your target as you do fighting it.

Soul Sacrifice has its challenges, but they rarely overlap with the Monster Hunter framework. Your attacks are agile and rapid, you can run and roll indefinitely, and quests put you right up in the target’s face with no scouting required.

Ultimately, it wasn’t the exact experience veterans craved and that left it critically lacking.

Soul Sacrifice Delta is the result of a return to the drawing board – taking the base game and tweaking the mechanics but more importantly adding new content. While it didn’t magically become Monster Hunter in the transition, the experience has been polished to a sheen, enjoyable in a context wholly separate from its peers. In fact, the presence of Delta renders the first game thoroughly obsolete, and has, in a way, a second game’s worth of new things to play.

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Review: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (360/PS3)

Final Fantasy, Lightning Returns

This review was written for One Hit Pixel, found here.

At the Yusnaan Colosseum, the crowd roars as I face off against my final opponent. Me: dressed in a dramatically tailored purple suit, hefting a katana twice my size. Him: a 10 foot, ornately armoured dragon.

Child’s play.

I strike hard and fast. I’ve studied his kind in the bestiary, and know just what moves will knock him off kilter. I unleash a flurry of sword slashes, timing them rhythmically and with mounting force.

My foe starts winding up a counter attack, but I’m ready. In the blink of an eye, my outfit changes into an elegant bodysuit and cape that looks like it featured in a Balenciaga fashion show. My weapons switch alongside, and with expert timing I hold up a shield to parry the dragon’s swipe.

The impact is made with such force that the dragon finds himself in a sprawling heap, as I tower over him – sword poised for the final blow. I whisper to it as I plunge the sword into its neck.

“Motherfucker, I’m fabulous.”

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Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies (3DS)

 

Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney, Dual Destinies

This review was originally written for One Hit Pixel, found here.

The Dark Age of the Law. The low point of the nation’s legal system, where the end justifies the means, false arrests and fake evidence run rampant and the line between prosecutor and criminal is heavily blurred.

…According to the Ace Attorney series, at any rate. Capcom’s point-n-click courtroom drama has been a cult favourite in both the East and West; firm proof that this breed of narrative-heavy game still suited the current generation. With the 3DS as fertile ground, the Ace Attorney series has stepped things up. The result is sharp and streamlined – both aesthetically and mechanically.

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Review: Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor: Overclocked (3DS)

Shin Megami Tensei, Devil Survivor Overclocked, SMT, 3DS

This review was originally written for One Hit Pixel, found here.

We face a lot of difficult choices in our lives. Many of you reading this are playing Pokémon X/Y and have had to decide between Chespin, Fennekin or Froakie as your starter Pokémon. It’s something that has kept me awake long into the night, eyes bloodshot and hands trembling. However, even when life’s choices feel overwhelmingly significant on the surface, they may not be all that important beneath; you may not even have to dig that far.

The same is true of video games. A game where every choice was immense and game changing would be seriously bloated. As such, the smarter games out there deftly weave in the big choices with the little ones, complete with enough polish and obfuscation where it’s hard for the player to tell the difference.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked both adheres to and totally ignores this paradigm – which is risky for a game thematically based around choices.

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Review: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (3DS)

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, 3DS

This review was originally posted on One Hit Pixel, and can be found here.

I had fallen out of love with action RPGs. Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance played well, but is obsessed with its own terrible plot, and the less said about what I think of Dark Souls, the better. It was a genre that didn’t feel fun any more; then I played Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. It managed to do something I hadn’t seen in the genre for a few years – not take itself seriously, but remain in top form mechanically.

If you’re a Monster Hunter veteran, you already know this – but this review isn’t so much for you (reinforcing your opinions aside). Those of you who are cautious newcomers, please read on.

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Film Review: Evil Dead

This review can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Despite my passion for the arts, there are gaps in my knowledge. The most salient ones are with film. I became interested in film after a lot of ‘cult status’ films made their rounds, and with my already huge backlog of films to see, a lot of them have gone unwatched.

So, although I know it was a major factor in forming its genre, I have not seen the original 1981 Evil Dead. Nor am I especially well-versed in the ‘slasher’ variant of horror films, aside from a regrettable evening where I was coaxed into watching all the Saw films back to back.

So I was entirely down for watching the 2013 reboot. The director is different – this new film is directed by Fede Alvarez instead of the longer-established Sam Raimi – but if it grabbed my attention, I was prepared to fall in love with a whole new genre.

Still, I hedged my bets; I made sure to not step into the screening alone (or sober). That decision turned out to be for the best, as Evil Dead thrives not on its own merit, but by bringing audiences closer through how shamelessly bloody and silly it is.

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Film Review: Out in the Dark

This review can also be found on Shadowlocked, here.

The BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival is something I truly appreciate. It warms my heart to know that there are actually plenty of films out there that star more than just straight white men as protagonists; and it’s a shame that they end up relegated to a single, yearly event.

There were a huge number of films showing this year, almost guaranteeing a wide range of experiences on offer – but I only got to watch one in particular. Out in the Dark, filmed in 2012 and directed by Michael Mayer.

The plot is something rather simple. Nimer (Nicholas Jacob) is a Palestinian student who, on a risky night out to an Israeli nightclub meets Roy (Michael Aloni), an Israeli lawyer. Their love blossoms rapidly, but severe social standards (and gun-happy police) get in the way. More on the plot later.

From a technical perspective, the film is incredibly solid. Film production norms differ from country to country, so one of the fun things about foreign film is seeing the different stylistic rules they go by.

The cinematography was nothing to hugely fawn over, but the wide shots of the skyline and city streets did wonders for a loser like me who is obsessively urban. The dialogue style definitely stood out – lengthy chats pierced with succinct one word sentences, in a blend of Hebrew and Arabic that’s sadly lost on my monolingual self.

The decision to have the plot heavily focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a harrowing, but well-researched one. It assumes you know the basics of the issue, and although you can understand all of the story without prior knowledge, being aware of the background definitely helps add context.

What it also adds is a marginally fresher angle on what would otherwise be a tired love story. Straight romances in films are rather rote, but gay (male) ones are more so in a slightly different way.

Star crossed lovers, one humble and sexually introverted, the other metropolitan and liberated have their love halted by the grim face of systemic oppression (feel free to imagine those two words in a 72pt font and on fire). It’s a valid story, but it’s one told a little too often.

As such, the racial conflict adds some flavour to the proceedings; juxtaposing cute intimate moments and longing stares with border crossers getting shot in the head.

It’s all a very well-produced reminder of the social injustices in the world, both sexual and racial – but we know this all already. That is, the people who would be inclined to see Out in the Dark in the first place. Dudebro McHomophobe would definitely benefit from watching something so well made (and with such impact, too), but you’d have a better chance of actually ending oppression than getting him into the cinema.

It’s all very ‘preaching to the choir’, really. That’s not the end of the world – we all like to have our political opinions re-enforced, but in the end I ended up not enjoying Out in the Dark as much as I could have done – I was holding out for something more experimental.

I continue to wait for the action blockbuster where Jake Gyllenhaal saves Ben Whishaw from an exploding building, and they make out to the sound of helicopter blades and gunfire. Now that would be progressive.

Film Review: A Late Quartet

This review can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Despite my constant burning need to see pretentious non-mainstream film (if it’s in a different language or about socio-politics, even better), my knowledge of the fine arts is actually not so great.

My initial interest in seeing A Late Quartet was, embarrassingly, because Christopher Walken takes a major role in it. He’s had a myriad of roles and cameos in films since the 60s, many of which ended up being cult hits. He even starred in some terrible video games in the mid 90s.

A large part of his popularity is his notably stilted speech, and since it tends to work best in comedies, I was interested to see how he would fare in something that looked to be so serious.

As it turns out, A Late Quartet is wonderfully human and moving, and Walken does a great performance by… largely not being there. It’s an odd situation.
 
Pete Mitchell (Walken) is the cellist in an internationally famous string quartet called The Fugue. He shares the spotlight with Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir) on Violin I, Robert Gelbart (Philip Seymour Hoffman) on Violin II and Juliette Gelbart (Catherine Keener) on Viola.

Recently Pete’s playing has been affected by his shaking hands. After a doctors appointment, he finds out that it’s Parkinsons, and bows out from The Fugue, asking the other members to find a replacement.

As it turns out, this upset sparks desires for change in the rest of the quartet, and emotional havoc ensues.

It’s all very melodramatic, but the way the script is written makes that not matter. All the narrative points are closely and expertly woven in with the films themes, in a way that you won’t need a degree in media studies to get (though a little knowledge about classical music will help).

The ideas are honestly clever, from the way that the amount of time Pete is on screen is related to how badly he’s suffering from his condition (though he’s arguably the protagonist, Parkinsons is very effective at taking away his agency, both as a disease and in the script), to how the emotional issues of the quartet match up nicely with the musical role they play.

The soundtrack was funnily enough, a mixed bag. There are some elegant and well timed cues of classical string pieces, including the one piece that the film is arguably ‘about’, that I won’t spoil for you. However, it’s matched with a general orchestral score that feels very generic. Although the two musical styles share instruments, the feel is very different. It made some scenes feel notably schmaltzy – though that may just be my jaded heart.

That said, the experience as a whole was touching. It manages to pull you along on an emotionally manipulative ride so well you’d think it was a Hollywood production, if it wasn’t for the quietly middle class subject matter.

Watch It: If you know your way around a string section, If you want to see a cult actor happily make peace with his age on film, if you want a talking point for your film discussion club.

Skip It: If the phrase ‘human drama’ makes you dry heave, if you’re not ready to make peace with your age, if you want something that doesn’t feature the American Middle Class.

Want more? Go and check out some live classical quartets! I promise, it’s a moving experience the first time. If you want to see Walken in something cheerier, he has a great supporting role in Catch Me If You Can.