Frozen Fever Mini-Review

Frozen Fever

Frozen Fever, the seven-minute short film that accompanies Disney’s new live-action Cinderella, is an absolute delight. It returns audiences to the world of Frozen for a brief, but incredibly fun little ride through the kingdom of Arendelle.

The story is appropriately simple for its short running time, but nonetheless sweet. It’s Princess Anna’s (Kristen Bell) birthday, and her sister Queen Elsa (Idena Menzel) wants to make it the best birthday ever, to compensate for all the birthdays lost when she shut herself away from her sister. The problem is that Elsa is feeling under the weather, and her illness is making her ice magic run amok.

Frozen FeverObviously, this simple plot and short running time mean that Frozen Fever doesn’t share the more complex character elements of the feature length original, but it still manages to produce some sweet moments between the sisters. But Frozen Fever is aiming more for fun anyway, and it succeeds greatly at just that.

A new song “Making Today a Perfect Day” is as fun as it is catchy, and the short is filled with good humor and plenty of fan service (as Elsa begins to catch the sniffles she proclaims “a cold never bothered me anyway”), there’s even a quick nod to a running gag from the Back to the Future sequels.

Frozen FeverIt’s a testament to how immensely likable the Frozen characters are that at a mere seven minutes, this short film is more charming and fun than the feature film that follows it. Frozen Fever only gives audiences a quick taste of a Frozen follow-up, but there’s so much fun to be had that you’ll savor every minute of it.

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Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition Review

Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition

Given how far the 3DS has come, and how impressive its library has grown, it can be hard to remember that during the system’s first few months on the market, its sole highlight was a port of Super Street Fighter IV. It had to satisfy 3DS owners while they waited for Super Mario 3D Land and Pokemon. Thankfully, Super Street Fighter IV is a hefty enough game to have helped the 3DS in its bleak beginnings. Unfortunately, hindsight also shows that this 3D Edition is probably the title’s weakest iteration.

 

The fighting mechanics don’t always translate well on the handheld. The joystick and button layout all work well enough, but pulling off some of the more advanced combos can be a little more difficult than they should be. The characters don’t move as fluidly with the control stick as they do in the game’s home console counterparts, which makes chaining together button presses and movements feel less responsive.

Super Street Fighter IV 3D EditionCapcom seemed to address this by adding buttons on the touchscreen which perform characters’ special moves without the need to perform more extravagant combos. This comes as a bit of a double-edged sword, however. While the touch screen specials do make the game more accessible on the 3DS, they are also easily exploited, leaving many multiplayer matches to feel one-sided in favor of whoever hits the first move. Perhaps brief cool down times on the touch screen could have prevented this move-spamming.

Visually, the game still holds up. 3D Edition looks nearly as impressive as its HD home console counterparts. Better still, the 3D effects, while among the first to hit the 3DS, are still impressive. The 3D is especially noticeable during the character’s more extravagant animations in their special moves.

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition is still a solid gameplay experience, but some of the game’s finer aspects were a little lost in the transition to its handheld form. You can still find a complex fighter if you dig deep enough, but some of the tweaks that attempt accessibility only end up making 3D Edition feel considerably more hollow than its refined home console editions.

 

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Why Frozen 2 Must Deliver the Goods

*Caution: Some spoilers ahead!*

Frozen

Frozen 2 has officially been announced to be in the early planning stages by Walt Disney Animation Studios. While animated sequels come in by the droves these days, this is one animated sequel whose announcement comes as a huge deal for a number of reasons.

The most obvious of such reasons being that Frozen is the most successful animated film of all time, yet it’s taken well over a year for this sequel to be announced (compare that to other animated films of today, where multiple sequels are announced after the opening weekend). Another reason this is interesting is that it’s a sequel to a Disney animated film. Sure, the 90s Disney films were tainted with straight-to-video sequels, but Disney was well aware of their “less-than favorable” quality. Not only has Disney long-since discontinued the entire concept of straight-to-video sequels, but those that they made are not counted as official movies in the Disney canon. The only ‘true’ Disney sequels are The Rescuers Down Under, Fantasia 2000 and Winnie the Pooh, the latter two of which aren’t necessarily continuations of their predecessors, either. Pixar and Dreamworks seem to have a heyday with sequels these days, but a true Disney sequel is a rarity.

So while it may seem obvious that a film as successful as Frozen would get a sequel, the circumstances of time and its lineage are something to note.

But one thing is certain: Frozen 2 must deliver.

On a personal level, Frozen is my favorite Disney movie of all time. I had gotten to a point where I still enjoyed Disney films, but thought that the studio was merely capable of making entertaining movies, not artistic ones. Then Frozen came along and was not only the most fun Disney movie I’d seen (and I’ve seen every Disney animated film), but also one that, finally, had deeper meanings, thematics and character development to it (a trait that carried over, to a lesser degree, to Big Hero 6). It proved me wrong so beautifully and I enjoyed it so immensely that I’m not afraid to admit it’s one of my favorite films, animated or otherwise.

Outside of personal interest, Frozen is also the animated film that has seemingly taken over the world. It’s not simply a movie that made a lot of money, it’s a genuinely beloved phenomenon. Yes, I will even say it’s on Star Wars levels of movie mania, and it has gained an international appeal that few movies can claim (it ranks as the third highest grossing film in Japan, where it topped the box office for sixteen straight weeks).

Suffice to say, there are a lot of people who will want this sequel to deliver. And deliver it must.

Frozen

First and foremost, Frozen 2 must tell a story as meaningful as the first, but it shouldn’t simply rehash the same themes. It can expand on them and introduce new thematics, but simply having Elsa become fearful again would only feel like someone hit a reset button. It would undo Frozen’s ending, and that’s a no no.

Then there’s the villain scenario. Simply having Prince Hans return for revenge would be too simple. Hans can still make an appearance, but he’s served his thematic purposes, and no longer needs to be the villain. Either introduce a new villain who can also serve a purpose for the movie’s themes, or just leave out the villain concept altogether and center the story’s conflicts around the heroes (which Frozen also did to great success).

Introducing new characters almost seems inevitable, and that’s fine, provided they don’t take the spotlight away from the main characters. Olaf and Sven don’t need a third member of their comedic troupe, and Elsa most certainly doesn’t need a romantic interest (a large part of the character’s appeal has been her independence). Frozen strayed from Disney norms by focusing its primary relationship on sisterhood, putting romance in the background when it wasn’t tossing it aside entirely. Frozen 2 would be wise to do the same. It can’t be just another Disney movie. It has to live up to the uniqueness of the original.

Given Frozen’s predominantly girl power attitude, it wouldn’t be too surprising if a third female character is introduced. Once again, this is fine, so long as any such character doesn’t overshadow Anna and Elsa, or get shoehorned into the plot (no long-lost third sister, please).

Then there’s the songs. Good heavens, how does one follow-up Let It Go? But they’re going to have to give it a try. With how wonderfully infectious the songs in Frozen were, the sequel can’t have anything less than that. These songs must etch their way into my brain and – ironically enough – never let go. Frozen

 

Of course, I have great faith in Frozen 2. Disney has not set a release date, meaning they’ve more or less given the filmmakers the time they need to get it right. Disney has also given the filmmakers full creative control, another great sign. Best of all, those filmmakers are Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, who masterminded the original Frozen and shaped what was originally going to be another Disney princess movie into something truly special.

So I do have faith in Frozen 2 (more so than I do Toy Story 4 or Finding Dory). I believe Disney knows they have awoken a sleeping giant with Frozen, and they’ll want to make sure the sequel to their most popular movie isn’t just a mere cash-in (this isn’t the Michael Eisner era anymore). But Frozen 2 must be a sequel of Toy Story 2-like quality. One that takes what you loved about the original, and adds to it while also creating an identity of its own. Frozen 2 is already guaranteed to win over the box office. But if it wants to live up to the original Frozen, it must win over our hearts as well. I think it can do just that.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D Review

DKCR3D

Donkey Kong Country Returns was one of the best games to grace the Wii’s library. The platforming was great, the visuals and music were pleasing to the eyes and ears, it had some of the best level design in years, and it was tough as nails. If there were any notable faults to be had, it was that the Wii version kind of shoehorned some motion-controls to certain game mechanics (rolling, ground-slapping, and the admittedly superfluous blowing mechanics), and they didn’t mesh into the rest of the game.

Luckily, that’s no longer a problem on the 3DS port, as any previously motion-controlled actions are now dictated by the X and Y buttons on the handheld (along with the appropriate directional presses on the control pad), which better translates with the rest of the gameplay.

The 3DS version of DKCR is, for the most part, a faithful recreation of the Wii original, but it does have some new features to boast of its own. The game now includes a “New Mode,” which is essentially an easy mode for those who would find the original version of the game too difficult. The levels retain their edge, but the player is given a few additional means to help them progress through the levels easier.

DKCR3DIn New Mode, Donkey Kong and Diddy both have an additional heart than in the original mode. Cranky Kong also supplies new items in his shop to give players a little boost: Green Balloons can bring DK back from a fall into a bottomless pit, DK Barrels allow Donkey Kong to summon Diddy at any time (even on levels where he normally doesn’t appear), and the Crash Guard grants a limited-use shield in the mine cart and rocket barrel stages. Additionally, DK can bring up to three of Cranky’s items into a level at a time, as opposed to the one item per level nature of the original mode.

The New Mode will certainly come recommended to those who may not have the best platforming skills, but the original mode still gets my vote as the better way to play the game.

Another new addition in this 3DS version are eight brand new secret levels that can be played in either the original or new mode of the game. These new levels keep true to the spirit of the original game and bring their own inventive challenges to the mix.

DKCR3DOne unfortunate setback of the 3DS version are the visuals. While the environments and animations are still vibrant, at times (primarily when DK is further in the background), the game can get a little blurry, which makes things a little more difficult than they need to be. The 3D effects also seem to be a little bit of a missed opportunity. DKCR had a strong emphasis on the depth of the foregrounds and backgrounds back on the Wii, but that never seems to reflect in any additional way in the 3D capabilities of the 3DS.

The minor gripes of the original remain: The bonus stages are a bit too repetitive, Rambi the rhinoceros is an underutilized gameplay element, and the music, while solid, is a bit of a disappointment given the precedent of the series. The soundtrack relies too heavily on remixes from the original Donkey Kong Country, and the remixes don’t match up to the originals.

With this said, Donkey Kong Country Returns is still one of the most fun sidescrollers in years. It has since been bettered by its successor, Tropical Freeze, but Donkey Kong Country Returns still boasts some ingenious level design, fun gameplay and a strong challenge. Donkey Kong Country Returns was one of the best games on the Wii, and despite a few elements being lost in translation in the jump to a handheld console, it can boast a similar claim for the 3DS.

 

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The Boxtrolls Review

The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls is another offbeat stop-motion endeavor from Laika Studios, who previously created Coraline and ParaNorman. Boxtrolls is a bit more charming and less dark than its predecessors, but it retains their expert craftsmanship.

In case the title of “The Boxtrolls” wasn’t offbeat enough, the hero of the movie is named Eggs. Eggs is a human boy raised by the Boxtrolls after he was orphaned. The Boxtrolls are strange little creatures that take up names based on the cardboard boxes they wear (Eggs wears a box labeled ‘eggs’ hence his name). They sleep underground during the day, and dig through garbage for metal trinkets at night. They are harmless creatures, and too cowardly to fight back should anyone try to do them harm (hiding in their boxes is their only method of self-defense).

Despite their simple nature, the people of the town of Cheesebridge all fear Boxtrolls, believing that they kidnapped and ate the orphaned boy years earlier. A ruthless exterminator, Archibald Snatcher, claims that he can rid the town of the creatures. In return, Snatcher wishes for the town’s mayor to grant him membership into the White Hats, the town’s council of aristocratic cheese connoisseurs (despite Snatcher having a cheese allergy). One by one Snatcher and his team of thugs begin to exterminate the Boxtrolls, until only a few of them (and Eggs) remain. It’s then up to Eggs and the mayor’s daughter Winnie to find a way to save the defenseless creatures.

The BoxtrollsIt’s a simple storyline that packs a fair bit of charm due to its sillier aspects and some fun humor (the scenes where Eggs attempts to fit into human society – only for his trollish upbringing to get in the way – are among the film’s highlights), but it’s the animation that’s the real star.

The character models are wonderfully realized caricatures, and they move with a liveliness to match that of a CG animation. Oftentimes there’s so much going on all at once that you really do wonder how the film was made. Stop-motion animation is always a work of painstaking patience and attention to detail, and The Boxtrolls is one of the best examples of how well it can all payoff.

Unfortunately, The Boxtrolls isn’t always so wonderful as its animation. Too often it falls back on gross-out gags (namely those relating to Snatcher’s cheese allergy), which never mesh with the movie’s otherwise good nature. And as has been the case with Laika’s past films, the message, while telling simple truths, becomes a bit loud. Being kind and understanding to those who are different than oneself is definitely a good message, but it’s also recycled from ParaNorman, and both films seem to have a need to bluntly reinforce it, which can make things feel a tad contrived at times.

The BoxtrollsStill, the good ultimately outweighs the bad, and it would be hard for someone to be completely bored with a movie that looks so alive. The Boxtrolls boasts some of the most detailed stop-motion I’ve seen, and makes it look effortless. And when it’s wise enough to  leave the gross-outs behind it, it can be a funny and smartly-written film (another highlight are snatcher’s minions, a group of simpletons who think they’re doing the right thing, but slowly begin to realize they are little more than evil henchmen).

The Boxtrolls may not always work, but it would be impossible to not be won over to some degree by the work that went into it.

 

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Animal Crossing: New Leaf Review

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Although the original Animal Crossing remains an engaging and addicting gaming experience, it’s DS and Wii sequels, while solid enough, lacked any meaningful changes to the series. It became a wonder if Animal Crossing was doomed to complete repetition. Then along came Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the 3DS, and suddenly the series once again became one of Nintendo’s secret weapons.

Rest assured that the “New” in the game’s title is appropriate. New Leaf represents the first leap forward for the series, after the the previous entries seemed content with merely replicating the original. It isn’t necessarily a complete reinvention of the series, but New Leaf adds enough meaningful changes to the formula to make it a memorable and engrossing experience that demands replayability.

Yes, you still collect bugs, fish and fossils. You still greet your absurd animal neighbors, and you still scrounge around town looking for enough bells (the game’s currency) to pay off your house to Tom Nook. But now you do so with a more personal control of your town. As soon as you name your character and town, you become the new mayor of the place. As such, you can now help shape the town itself, instead of merely being a part of it.

Animal Crossing: New LeafIn a more literal sense you can commence construction on various public work projects (bridges, police stations, etc.), which can be placed pretty much anywhere you choose. And in a more figurative sense, you can commission ordinances for how your town operates. Maybe you want your shops to open extra early, or perhaps you want them to stay open into the wee hours of the night? Or you just want to be able to sell things for a higher price? New Leaf provides plenty of options for you to run your town.

Additional changes include the ability to swim and scuba dive (meaning there’s all new kinds of undersea life to catch), more character customization options, various new events that occur around town (quite frequently), and you can now visit your tropical island at any time starting early in the game (no attached gimmicks to gaining access to the island this time around). Said island now features a range of mini-games for a bit of added variety.

It may not sound like much, but the thing that makes New Leaf such a standout is that these little touches just keep coming at you. One day your entire town will be scavenging for bugs, the next day you’ll be invited to one of your resident’s homes for a little get-together. You’ll commission a cleanup of the town’s litter one minute, then take part in a game of hide-and-seek after that.

Animal Crossing: New LeafThe best part is you do things however you want. Whatever the game throws at you, whether it be a festival or a town get-together, you can just go about things at your own pace. There’s no pressure to do any one thing. You can even go to the beach and catch some fish, avoiding the hustle and bustle of the town’s goings-on altogether. Animal Crossing has always been a rare stress-free experience in gaming, and the new additions to New Leaf make at an even greater “play it your own way” type of game. You can literally play for fifteen minutes or five hours if you want, and you’ll get a lot done either way. The simple sense of accomplishment that is so often found in this game becomes an accomplishment in itself.

New Leaf, more than any Animal Crossing before it, is also built with multiplayer in mind. You can visit your friends’ towns (or they could visit yours. Just keep your place nice and tidy) and do whatever you want. You can trade items, share your customized t-shirt designs, plant trees to make the local fruits of your town a new local fruit of your friend’s, or just go to a cafe for a cup of joe. The 3DS’ smoother online capabilities over those of the DS and Wii versions make this the most enjoyable Animal Crossing to play with a friend.

If you’re an Animal Crossing fan but felt that the sequels were too derivative, New Leaf brings enough newness to the table to make you remember why you love the series to begin with. If you’re new to Animal Crossing, New Leaf is a great way to introduce you to the series (not that this is a series that would overwhelm anyone very easily), and it retains everything that made the series so addicting to begin with.Animal Crossing: New Leaf

There are some small quibbles that have continued since the series’ beginnings: the game is insistent on making you collect furniture and trinkets for your house, yet most of such trinkets aren’t interactive in themselves, leaving you to wonder why you spent so much money on them to begin with. And Tom Nook’s demands for your Bells can get quite hefty, which can leave you spending entire play sessions scrounging for Bells, should you wish to pay the conniving raccoon and improve your house.

But these really are small complaints when the overall package is so delightful. You may just find yourself checking into your town on a daily basis for no other reason than to just check in on its progress. It’s an addictive game, but in a rare case where it’s addicting for being inviting, not demanding. There’s always something to see and do, the experience itself is a reward.

 

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Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon Review

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

It may have took twelve years, but Luigi’s Mansion did eventually receive a sequel. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon served as Luigi’s return to the spotlight, in the sequel to the game that removed the green-clad plumber from Mario’s shadow. This time Luigi tackled the 3DS, giving the handheld another highlight in its impressive library.

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon follows the same fundamentals as its predecessor. Luigi traverses haunted mansions, and uses a vacuum cleaner to rid the houses of the many ghosts that inhabit them. Luigi’s flashlight now has a strobe ability, an mechanic performed by holding the action button down before releasing, with the resulting strobe light stunning ghosts. This ‘stun’ is required before Luigi can capture the game’s many spooks. The flashlight also includes a new “Darklight” device, which reveals hidden objects and exposes invisible foes.

The biggest difference between the original game and this sequel isn’t in any particular gameplay feature, but the structure of the game itself. The GameCube original had Luigi searching through his own mansion to rid it of ghosts while in search of a missing Mario. It was a short, explorative experience. In Dark Moon, a returning Professor E. Gadd sends Luigi to five different mansions, each of which are split into various missions.Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

The new structure of the game allows for a greater sense of variety in level design, with the different mansions having their own little motif (greenhouse, clock factory, and so forth), and each mission housing a variety of puzzles that require more robust thinking on the many uses of Luigi’s Poltergust 5000 vacuum. Some puzzles can get a little head-scratching, but that only means they provide a bigger sense of accomplishment when completed.

The new structure ensures that Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is considerably lengthier than its predecessor, but at the same time, it also creates one of the game’s drawbacks. The first Luigi’s Mansion had a great sense of exploration, you wanted to search every nook and cranny of the mansion in the original (and you could, if you so chose). But within Dark Moon’s missions is a set objective, with many of the rooms in any given mansion being sealed off, lest the current objective requires them. There are hidden treasures that require some thorough inspecting to find, but it’s a small little sidequest that can’t quite bring back the freedom of exploration the original game had. Despite popular belief to the contrary, a game having a more linear structure isn’t an innate problem, but the fact that Luigi is whisked out of a mansion every time you complete your current mission does create a longing for the original game’s pacing.

Fans of the GameCube original will also miss said game’s atmosphere. The portrait ghosts of Luigi’s Mansion were always on the cartoony side, yet they helped build a personality and presence to the original game that gave the titular mansion a strong sense of place. The portrait ghosts of old (or any other of the original game’s spectres, other than Boos) are nowhere to be found. While many of the enemies, sub-bosses, and big bosses of Dark Moon certainly do provide their own puzzles and challenges to overcome, they fail to capture that same sense of personality and atmosphere that the original game was abundant in.

With all this said, these are quibbles in an otherwise well-constructed title. Dark Moon takes many elements that made the original Luigi’s Mansion memorable, makes the quest lengthier, and creates a new layer of depth to the gameplay. To add a cherry on top, Dark Moon even includes a multiplayer option.

Luigi's Mansion: Dark MoonThe “Scarescraper” serves as Dark Moon’s cooperative multiplayer mode, which can be played online and includes three different modes of play: Hunter mode sees each player (all of whom play as variously-colored Luigi’s) ascend further up the mansion by clearing each individual floor of all its ghosts. Rush mode gives the Luigi’s a limited amount of time to find each floor’s exit, with clocks strewn about – or rewarded for taking out ghosts – to give the team a little more time. Lastly, Polterpup has players scurrying about the mansion to find the titular ghostly dogs by using the Darklight.

Although the number of multiplayer modes are limited, the challenge and replayability they provide are among the game’s strongest assets. Long after you finish the story mode, you’ll be coming back to the Scarescraper to see just how far you can get.

Developed by Next Level games (Mario Strikers, Wii’s Punch-Out!!), Nintendo permitted this long-awaited sequel to very capable hands. The end result is both fun and nostalgic, with tight gameplay, solid structure and pacing, and a surprisingly engaging multiplayer option. It may not evoke the same experience as the GameCube original, but Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon remains a wonderful piece of game design nonetheless.

There may have been a twelve-year gap between the original Luigi’s Mansion and Dark Moon, but time hasn’t slowed Luigi down one bit when it comes to pure fun.

 

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