Howl’s Moving Castle Memories

Howl's Moving Castle

It’s time to feel old! Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle was released in North American theaters ten years ago today. I certainly feel old now.

I was going to celebrate this milestone with a full on review of Howl’s Moving Castle, but I think I’ll get to that another time. I figured I’d just detail some of my personal experience with the film for now.

It’s important to note that Hayao Miyazaki is my favorite filmmaker. I’ve loved My Neighbor Totoro ever since I was a little kid, and have only grown to love it more through the years. It was with Spirited Away though, that I actually found out who Miyazaki was. While Spirited Away and Totoro sit at the peak of my list of Miyazaki films, Spirited Away introduced me to the director’s other work, and I’ve fallen in love with all of them (some more than others of course, but the man never made a movie that wasn’t great).

Leading up to Howl’s June 10, 2005 release, I couldn’t have been more excited. It was the first Miyazaki film to be released theatrically since Spirited Away, and I was counting down the days like a kid and Christmas.

Howl's Moving CastleI remember it was the first movie I saw at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles, and it was awesome! I’ve seen a number of movies there since, and have tried to see every major Disney animation, Pixar film and Studio Ghibli production there when possible. The theater gave a nice, classic movie atmosphere, and the crowd was pretty enthusiastic as well, so that always helps. Then there was the organ player playing classic Disney songs, so that made it all that much cooler. The build up itself was so great that I can forgive the poor assortment of trailers that included the likes of Chicken Little and Valiant (it was a CG movie about pigeons or something).

Then the movie started, with the big Studio Ghibli logo of Totoro’s mug engulfing the entire theater, and it was glorious. I absolutely loved the movie, from its striking imagination, beautiful animation, fun characters and everything in between, it was a great time. I also think that Disney’s dubs of the Ghibli movies are excellent (particularly the theatrically released ones), and Howl was no exception.

Of course, as time has passed I now see Howl’s Moving Castle as one of Miyazaki’s “weakest” films, since Sophie is probably the least interesting Miyazaki heroine by some margin, and the subplot with the whole war thing seems to overtake the main story during the third act. But using the term “weakest” when referring to an unparalleled canon of films like Miyazaki’s is a very relative thing. Despite not being up to par with most of Miyazaki’s other works (I feel it’s on par with Nausicaa, but that’s just me), Howl’s Moving Castle is still a great animated film.

But that’s beside the point. Like I said, I’ll review it another day. The fact of the matter is that that initial screening I had of Howl’s Moving Castle remains one of the most fondly remembered moviegoing experiences of my life. I had a great seat, the place had a great atmosphere, the crowd was great, and most importantly, so was the movie. It’s experiences like that why I love movies so much.

Howl's Moving CastleMiyazaki made two more films after Howl’s Moving Castle and has since retired (though never say never, it’s not the first time Miyazaki has called it a career), and Studio Ghibli itself seems to be on the brink of closure. Whether or not Ghibli has come to an end though, the studio has a peerless legacy in the world of animation. My experience watching Howl’s Moving Castle on that June day ten years ago is but just one of the reasons why they’ve made such an impact on me.

Here’s to Howl’s Moving Castle! Keep on making me feel old.

Advertisements

More On Why Today’s Disney is Better Than 90s Disney

big-hero-6-2

Some spoilers ahead!

I already wrote a blog about why the Disney animated films of today are superior to the Disney animated films of the 1990s, but I realize I mostly talked about how the newer Disney films are more unique, whereas the 90s Disney films were all pretty much the same. One thing I briefly mentioned but feel I should have gone into more detail is the fact that the modern Disney films also trump the 90s Disney movies in terms of thematics. In fact, this is probably one of the areas in which today’s Disney movies best their 90s counterparts the most (this, and better all around scripts and character development).

I know, I’m already the archenemy of every 90s kid from that first paragraph alone. But I’m not trying to stomp all over anyone’s childhood. After all, I grew up with the “Disney Renaissance” myself. But nostalgia, while a beautiful thing, can sometimes be blinding. We often hold our favorite movies and shows from our childhoods on a pedestal, no matter how well they may or may not hold up. We often dismiss newer things – even those made by the same artists who made the things we loved as kids – on the sole grounds that they aren’t those same things we loved as kids. Objectively speaking, I find that Disney’s more recent films tell far more meaningful and beautiful stories than the entertaining but cliched 90s Disney films.

Now, that’s not to say that the Disney Renaissance films didn’t have their messages. Some of them had good themes going for them. But their messages were very simple, and didn’t delve particularly deeply into thematics. Even The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the most thematically rich of the Disney Renaissance films of the 90s, wore its themes on its sleeve. Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King similarly had good intentions, but never really dug deep.

The Little Mermaid

Then there are the Disney Renaissance films whose stories haven’t aged well at all. Case in point: The Little Mermaid.

Yeah, I’m really the bad guy now. Look, The Little Mermaid is still an entertaining movie for the songs, fun characters and colorful animation, but the actual message of the movie has aged like curdled milk. It’s the usual “love conquers all” story found in virtually all of Disney’s older movies, but its idea of love is based solely on the physical attraction between Ariel and Prince Eric. Ariel “falls in love” with Prince Eric based solely on the fact that he’s the best looking guy she sees. She is even willing to abandon her life and family to be with the guy, just because he’s hot. She goes so far as to change her physical appearance to be with him. Do either of them learn a lesson in the end and love each other for who they are? Nope. Ariel ends up changing herself again in the end, and she does in fact abandon the life and family she had all because, once again, Eric is the most handsome guy around. Even though the movie is still fun, I can’t exactly say it has a good message for kids.

Beauty and the Beast had things a bit more figured out, as it actually takes some time and interaction for Belle and the Beast to fall in love. It has the whole “inner beauty over outer beauty” theme going for it, as the Beast only becomes a handsome prince after he manages to earn someone’s love, and love them in return. So it was a big step in the right direction, but it’s still pretty simple. Not that there’s anything wrong with simplicity, but when you consider the deeper layers of the narratives in the contemporary Disney movies, it becomes clear that the Disney filmmakers are now working on a whole other level.

Anna and Elsa

Frozen is the best and most obvious example, and is probably the most allegorical narrative Disney has ever made. It’s been interpreted as having themes about mental illness, coming to terms with one’s sexuality, depression, religious allegory, even about misunderstood artists (think of Elsa like Vincent Van Gogh). When was the last time a Disney film could be interpreted in different ways, let alone about adult subjects like depression?

It’s the subtlety within Frozen’s narrative that gives it such versatile themes for adults as well as children. It still has princesses and singing and romance, but its princesses actually feel like real people (Anna is socially awkward, Elsa is depressed), the songs often have thematic depth of their own and don’t just simply explain the plot, and it understands that romance and physical attraction do not equal love. In fact, Disney’s traditional idea of romance is outright written off as foolish in Frozen, and it’s the love between sisters that is at the heart of the movie.

Another good example is Disney’s most recent film, Big Hero 6, which primarily deals with the hardship of losing a loved one. Now, this is not unfamiliar to Disney, since it seems the studio is always killing off family members of the characters in their movies. But every other Disney movie that dealt with death seemed to do so for either the convenience of plot, the token “sad moment” or to teach that the people we lose aren’t gone so long as we keep their memory in our hearts. Don’t get me wrong, keeping a loved one’s memory in your heart is a great message in its own right, but it doesn’t actually deal with the pain of loss. Big Hero 6 acknowledges this, and Hiro bluntly points out that keeping someone in your heart doesn’t mean that the loss doesn’t hurt.

"There there."

Big Hero 6 is a movie about how Hiro deals with the death of his brother. Hiro at first seems lost, and when he finally seems to rebound and seek justice for his brother’s death (by forming a super hero team, naturally), he’s secretly planning vengeance, as he’s still very much angry and confused about the loss of his brother Tadashi. It’s through the love and support of his friends and family (and his brother’s robot) that he comes to learn to live up to what his brother would have wanted and become a better person. While other Disney movies give the message that simply remembering someone will make everything better, Big Hero 6 understands that how you choose to live your life determines how you handle tragedy. Loss is always devastating, and if you allow it, such tragedy can outright destroy you. You can’t let tragedy define who you are. Big Hero 6 is wise enough to know that remembering someone is only part of the healing process, and Hiro ultimately uses his brother’s memory as inspiration to do good for himself and others.

Some might say that The Lion King told something similar, but it’s really too simple to make a proper comparison. Lion King does have good intentions, with a message about facing responsibility. Though its themes often get lost in misplaced humor and its insistent melodrama. Sure, Simba learns to take his father’s place on the throne, but only after he receives a convenient vision in the clouds telling him to do so. And it overall feels more about Simba defeating Scar and becoming king than it does about him coming to terms with his father’s death. It only deals with the subject in a minimal way, whereas Big Hero 6 thrives on the thematics.

Even Wreck-It Ralph tells a great story about accepting those who are different. The Princess and the Frog and Tangled, while less thematically deep than Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph, still made great attempts at adding more details to the characters, their interactions, and their developments. By comparison, the 90s Disney Renaissance films more or less kept recycling the same character archetypes (rebellious hero rising to the occasion, the villain who’s bad for the sake of bad, etc.) and by extension they basically just retold the same story.

Again, I’m not trying to write off the 90s Disney films entirely. They are entertaining movies. I just feel Disney is finally upping their game and making movies that are more than just entertaining. They are finally feeling grown up and deep while also retaining all their fun qualities. Disney is finally making animated films that can be discussed for their artistic qualities and not just their entertainment value and technical craft. It seems the likes of Pixar and Studio Ghibli have inspired Disney to finally tell stories that are more than what they are on the surface.

Nostalgia can be a beautiful thing. I myself am pretty sentimental when it comes to the subject, but I feel a lot of people, Disney fans in particular, allow it to prevent them from seeing the qualities in newer things. It baffles me when people act upset that Frozen is more popular than their childhood favorites (heaven forbid today’s children enjoy something from their time) or when they dismiss something like Big Hero 6 or Wreck-It Ralph as being “inferior” to the Disney movies of the 90s. They should be happy that Disney is thinking on deeper levels with their narratives and providing children with meaningful stories. That doesn’t take away people’s fond memories of The Little Mermaid or The Lion King, so why act like these newer Disney movies are encroaching on them? Why not be happy that Disney has found a newfound success by providing these new, heartfelt stories?

I know if I ever have kids, I’d much rather they look up to the likes of Anna, Elsa and Hiro than a character like Ariel. That doesn’t mean that movies like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King don’t have their place, but there’s a difference between appreciating the past and being stuck in it. I’m glad that Disney is finally looking forward.

Splatoon Review

Splatoon

Splatoon is a parody of everything Nintendo isn’t. The shooter is the single most oversaturated and self-cannibalizing genre out there, but up until now, Nintendo hasn’t touched it. Splatoon is the team-based shooter reimagined by Nintendo, with bulky space marines and modern warfare replaced with kids who can morph into squids and guns that shoot colored ink. Although it has its issues, Splatoon breathes a new life into a genre that has felt empty for far too long.

SplatoonPlayers take control of an “Inkling” and are thrust into the city of Inkopolis, which serves as the game’s hub area. At the center of Inkopolis is a tower that leads to the game’s online multiplayer modes, letting you know right off the bat that this is a game built around its online modes. To the side of the tower are shops where players can purchase new weapons, shirts, headwear and shoes with the money they gain from winning matches. There’s also a crazy old man named Captain Cuddlefish found in a manhole near the tower, and he’ll lead you to the game’s single player campaign.

The core gameplay works just fine for the most part. Players spread their ink through their various weapons, which come in three categories: Shooters are smaller guns that have shorter range, but can be fired rapidly and don’t use up ink as quickly. Chargers are long-range weapons that – as their name suggests – require a brief charge up time, but they cover more ground in a single shot. Then there are Rollers, which resemble giant paint rollers and brushes that cover ground in ink the quickest and are used as melee weapons against opponents. The Inklings can also transform into squids to swim through their ink to refill their ammo and move faster, and can even swim up walls.Splatoon

Each gun in the game also includes a secondary weapon (such as sprinklers that spread ink in all directions or shower heads that provide a shield of ink) and a special weapon (like the ability to transform into an invincible Kraken for a short time, or the devastating “Ink Strike” missile). The secondary weapons come in handy, but use up a lot of ink, so you need to be strategic with how you use them. In order to use the special weapons, you need to fill up a meter by spreading ink across the ground. If you get “splatted” by an enemy, you lose a good chunk of the meter, which prevents the special weapons from being too frequent.

At first, I was a little disappointed that you couldn’t customize the weapon setup, as every main weapon is automatically set with a fixed secondary and special weapon. But when delving deeper into the game, it ended up being for the best, as it helps balance things out. The weaker main weapons usually get the more powerful secondary and special, and visa verca.

The only downside to the control is that the Gamepad’s motion sensor is used for the camera. I have no qualms with motion-controlled gaming, but using it for the camera control in a game like this can feel a little awkward. Splatoon’s camerawork can get a bit cumbersome in hectic situations. You can set the camera back in place with a press of the Y button, but you’ll find yourself doing this more often than you’d like to. You can also use the right thumbstick to control the camera, but you really have to hold the Gamepad in place for that, since the motion controlled camera is so prominent.

On the upside, the Gamepad provides a really useful mechanic that allows you to instantly jump to one of your teammates just by touching their icon on the touchscreen, which can be a lifesaver.

SplatoonAs for the online multiplayer, it’s really fun and really addicting, though it does have some questionable limitations. Currently, there are two game modes (with more promised to be released in free updates). The first mode is Turf War, in which the goal is to cover more of the stage in your color than the opposing team within a time limit. The other is Splat Zone, which is Splatoon’s version of king of the hill, and requires players to keep one or two designated areas under their team’s color. Each team has a counter that ticks downward as they control these areas, and victory is achieved either when a team’s timer reaches zero, or the map’s overall time runs out, with the team whose counter is closest to zero claiming victory.

Both modes are incredibly fun to play, but for some reason each one can currently only be played under certain circumstances. Turf Wars are relegated to regular battles, which are intended for more casual players, while Splat Zone is only available to ranked battles, which are more competitive as players can rise and fall through ranks (C- to A+) based on consecutive wins and losses. There are times when I wish I could be playing Turf War in ranked battles and Splat Zone in a regular battle, so it begs the question why the limitation is there to begin with.

Another downer is that each mode is only limited to two randomly selected levels at a time (with the two available stages in each mode changing every four hours). The game has some great map design that really takes advantage of the various gameplay mechanics, so there are no complaints with the levels themselves. But you kind of wish there could be more maps available at any given time, and maybe have the option for players to vote on which one they play next.

The game also features a local multiplayer mode, where two players try to pop the most balloons. It will be fun for some, but Splatoon was clearly made with online multiplayer in mind, so it’s tough to say how much lasting power the local play has.

Splatoon’s single player campaign combines the shooter gameplay with platforming stages reminiscent of the 3D Mario games. It provides a good adventure with some fun level design, though it’s never as creative or deep as a Mario title. It does include some incredible boss fights, and you may find yourself pushing further into the single player mode just to experience them.

SplatoonThe game has a very nice look to it. The character designs have a fun and nostalgic sense of 90s attitude, and the Inklings wouldn’t feel out of place as Sega Genesis characters. The world of Inkopolis also has a hipster/skatepark feel to it, which gives it a unique flair among Nintendo’s franchises. It also boasts some catchy music, which also sounds different from Nintendo’s norm with a more rock and roll influence.

Overall, Splatoon does have some drawbacks due to the awkward camera and some odd limitations that Nintendo can hopefully lift as they continue to update the game. But the core gameplay of Splatoon is something wholly original and uniquely fun, and it makes the game absorbing despite the limitations. Add on the fact that there always seem to be new weapons and gear to purchase – with the clothing options not only providing visual differences for your character, but also granting special gameplay bonuses as well, which can gain even more such bonuses as the player levels up – and Splatoon is a game that will have you continuously coming back for more in a similar vein to Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros.

Splatoon may not be perfect, but it is its own little miracle. If imagination in the shooter genre is long-since dead, then Splatoon has brought it back from the grave.

 

 

8

Getting Hyped for E3 2015

E3
“This is from last year…Obviously.”

E3 2015 will be bittersweet for me, since this is the first E3 I won’t be able to attend since I first started going in 2009. I’ve had many fond memories of the past few years, and hope to make a triumphant return to E3 in 2016. Although I’m not able to physically attend this year, I’m looking forward to the show nonetheless.

Bethesda will have their first ever presentation at the show, no doubt to show off more of Fallout 4. Square-Enix will be showcasing the increasingly uninteresting Final Fantasy XV and maybe Kingdom Hearts 3. Who knows, maybe The Last Guardian will finally show up.

Wayne's World

I must be honest though, I always look forward to Nintendo’s presence at the big dance the most. I know, according to the internet, that makes me a fanboy (heaven forbid someone enjoys Nintendo games and isn’t one). But oh well, what can I say, it’s always fun to see what the Big N has in store.

What’s interesting is that, despite having a new console in production, Nintendo won’t be showing it off this year. Instead they’ll be emphasizing new games on the Wii U and 3DS. Some think this is a bad move, since the Wii U hasn’t exactly been a runaway success. But I love Nintendo’s defiance here. It’s like they’re saying “If you have a Wii U, here’s our way of saying thanks. If you don’t have a Wii U, here’s all the more reason why you’re stupid for not yet having one.”

On the downside, Zelda won’t be there. On the upside, it gives other Nintendo franchises a chance to shine. We know Mario Maker will be there, and I have huge hopes for this title, since it’s basically a dream come true. Hopefully E3 will give us a glimpse of how deep the final game will be. The return of Star Fox is also confirmed to make an appearance. Let’s just hope it’s like Star Fox 64 for a new generation and not like…every Star Fox game that isn’t Star Fox 64.

Project Giant RobotLast year, Nintendo surprised the world with Splatoon, their first new IP since Pikmin (well, not really, but don’t tell the internet that). Can we expect a similar surprise from Nintendo this year? I don’t know, but it’d be pretty cool! Perhaps Shigeru Miyamoto’s “Project Giant Robot” from last year’s show will become a new game of its own.

Then there’s Nintendo’s other mainstays franchises, like Kirby and Metroid, who could show up once again. Personally, I would love to see another Donkey Kong Country game to turn the revived series into a trilogy to compliment the original SNES trilogy. But that’s just me.

Of course, we can never rule out another Mario game. The Wii U has already seen Super Mario 3D World, but Nintendo has since announced that another 3D Mario is in the works for the system. If Zelda isn’t going to show up, it’s not too hard to imagine that a new Mario different from Mario Maker could take its place as Nintendo’s centerpiece. A new Mario RPG of some sort would also be great… Just so long as it’s not another Sticker Star.

"Guh-huh!"
“Guh-huh!”

Nintendo isn’t all I’m excited about though. Playtonic Games has already announced that they’ll be at E3 with Yooka-Laylee in tow, and I’m looking forward to any new information on that one. There’s even a rumor that Rare might announce a new Banjo-Kazooie. Considering most of the original minds behind Banjo are now working on Yooka-Laylee, I’ll still probably see that more as the next Banjo follow-up, but I love the Banjo-Kazooie series enough that I could finally invest in an Xbox One just for a new entry… Just so long as it’s not another Nuts & Bolts (curse these disappointing sequels!).

"Remember when you actually knew what was going on in this series?"
“Remember when you actually knew what was going on in this series?”

I’m curious to find out more information on Kingdom Hearts 3, if only because it might have a Frozen level in it. I’m actually not much of a Kingdom Hearts fan. The first one was great. It had some fun gameplay, and seeing all the Disney characters as well as some familiar Final Fantasy faces all lumped together was really cool. But Kingdom Hearts 2 turned the gameplay into button-mashing, the classic Disney villains from our childhoods were replaced with generic anime bad guys, and the story is so convoluted it makes Metal Gear look straightforward by comparison. It also doesn’t help that the small army of handheld spinoff games are actually part of the main story, so if you’ve missed out on those games (like I have), then it makes it hard to care too much. But lord knows I love Frozen, and a level based on the modern Disney classic may actually persuade me to give this game my interest. Of course, I’ll also be the first to pinpoint everything they get wrong with the Frozen level, so it’s a double-edged sword I guess.

Whoa, way off subject there. Anyway, with Capcom recently revealing the Mega Man Legacy Collection (a compilation of the first six Mega Man titles with some modernized bonus content), I can’t help but wonder if Capcom is finally letting Mega Man out of whatever cage they’ve locked him away in these past five years. It would be great if we see a new Mega Man title at E3, but I won’t get my hopes up too much. At least we’ll probably see something from spiritual successor Mighty No. 9 either way.

Of course, there’s so much to look forward to at E3 every year that I can’t cover it all here. Some of the biggest treats will no doubt be the surprise announcements at the show. There are plenty of games we know will be at E3, and I’m hoping we’ll be pleasantly surprised with a host of new announcements at the show.

Whatever E3 2015 has in store, I’ll be counting down the days. Even if I’m viewing from the sidelines, I’m hoping for a great show.

Mega Man 8 Review

Mega Man 8

Mega Man 8 is a terribly underappreciated game. It was originally released in 1997 to celebrate Mega Man’s tenth anniversary, but gaming was changing at that time, and Mega Man 8 was seen as old hat. As the years have gone by its gained a small following, but still remains largely dismissed. Its reputation doesn’t begin to do it justice, as Mega Man 8 – while not perfect – remains one of the series’ best entries.

Mega Man 8 was originally released on the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation, so it goes without saying that this was the biggest leap in visuals for the series yet. Given that its sequels revived the 8-bit visuals of the NES games, Mega Man 8 is still the ‘newest’ looking title in the core series.

While a lot of PSOne and Saturn games have aged for the worse, time has been kind to Mega Man 8. The lovingly animated character sprites and colorful visuals still look lively. It expands on the art direction of Mega Man 7 and makes the series feel like an interactive cartoon.

Mega Man 8The game even featured fully animated cutscenes that have a similar charm to the anime of the late 80s and early 90s. On the downside, the game’s English voice acting is so bad it ranks among the worst in any video game (Dr. Light in particular sounds like Elmer Fudd, but even less eloquent). That’s quite a dubious achievement. But you could also say the bad voice acting gives the cutscenes a campy charm.

Mega Man 8 didn’t just overhaul the presentation however, as it made some meaningful (and largely overlooked) tweaks to gameplay and level design as well.

Similar to Mega Man 7, 8 separates the selectable Robot Master stages into two halves. After an introductory stage, four selectable levels open up, followed by an intermission stage, then four more Robot Master levels, culminating, of course, with Dr. Wily’s castle.

While the setup remains similar to Mega Man 7, Mega Man 8 built on its sense of exploration while also adding some fun variety to the gameplay, making its levels some of the deepest in the series.

Mega Man 8 includes Bolts similar to Mega Man 7, but they are no longer dropped by enemies. Instead they are hidden throughout each stage, with some requiring you to replay levels after gaining new powers in order to reach them. The Bolts are used as currency in Dr. Light’s laboratory, where Mega Man can purchase new upgrades to his Mega Buster, among other fun new power-ups. Finding the Bolts and acquiring these upgrades is completely optional, but those seeking a good challenge and full completion should have a good time tracking them all down.

Mega Man 8It’s in the levels themselves that Mega Man 8 differentiates itself from its predecessors. Although it’s classic Mega Man for the most part, various levels will suddenly throw the Blue Bomber into a rail shooter (where Rush, Beat, Eddie and Auto can help Mega Man blast away enemies) or he’ll be sledding through a stage at increasing speed, with a robot sign informing him of when to jump and when to slide to avoid obstacles. The levels themselves are some of the most fun in the series, but segments like these make Mega Man 8 one of the most versatile gameplay experiences in the franchise.

It’s easy to say that Mega Man 8 has some of the weaker Robot Masters in the series, with the likes of Clown Man and the trademark-infringing Aqua Man being downright goofy. But on the plus side, the powers Mega Man gains from them are among the more unique in the series. Mega Man gains weapons like an electrical grappling hook, an icy shockwave, a miniature tornado that sends Mega Man skyward, and a sword made out of fire. The introductory stage even gives Mega Man a soccer ball power! Not all the powers are great, but they all come in handy throughout the game in either combat or exploration. This is also one of the only instances in which Mega Man 2’s Leaf Shield isn’t reskinned and passed off as a new ability.

The fact that Mega Man 8 separates its Robot Master stages in two halves also means that the first four abilities are really emphasized in the latter four levels (Sword Man’s stage in particular is built around them). Not everyone likes the change of segmenting the levels, but it actually gave Capcom a means to better utilize the Robot Master abilities. It also gave them the opportunity to further emphasize the story.

In Mega Man 8, a strange meteor has crashed onto Earth, emitting a powerful, dark energy. Mega Man goes to investigate, but Dr. Wily has beat him to the punch, and is using this energy to power his new Robot Masters and a returning Bass in a plot to take over the world. Mega Man, true to his nature, sets out to stop Wily’s plans, but also encounters a new figure in Duo, a robot from outer space.

It’s the usual simple plot of Mega Man, but it gets some appreciated extra attention. The aforementioned animated sequences add to the stronger attempt at narrative, but are also undermined by the comically bad voice acting.

Mega Man 8Mega Man 8 ups the difficulty from Mega Man 7, and has one of the better difficulty curves in the series. The first four stages have their challenging moments, but shouldn’t take too many attempts to complete. The latter four stages turn things up a notch with some precise platforming and waves of enemies. Once Mega Man makes his way to Dr. Wily’s newest castle, things become reminiscent of Mega Man’s earliest entries. It’s never as hard as Mega Man 3 or 4, but Mega Man 8 is nonetheless satisfyingly difficult.

Another plus is that Mega Man 8 has one of the best soundtracks in the series, and that’s no small feat considering the quality of Mega Man’s soundtracks. Its techno-inspired tunes are as catchy as the best Mega Man tracks, and they each have a distinct personality to fit their respective stages. Much like the rest of the game, Mega Man 8’s music largely goes underrated, but it should be ranked alongside Mega Mans 2, 3 and 9 as being among the best soundtracks in the series.

As a whole, Mega Man 8 is one of the Blue Bomber’s most polished games. It has creative level design, fun powers, a good sense of depth and challenge, it has a killer soundtrack and the visuals haven’t aged a day. It might not have the same level of excellence as Mega Man 2 or 3, and the voice acting almost seems to be making fun of itself. But Mega Man 8 has always been, secretly, one of Mega Man’s finest.

 

7

Inside Out Review

Inside Out

Pixar has had a reputation for making emotional films, with some of their works being famous for bringing audiences to tears. It shouldn’t be all too surprising then, that Pixar has decided to make a film about emotions themselves.

Inside Out tells the story of an eleven-year old girl named Riley. More accurately, it tells the story of the emotions that live inside her head: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust.

Inside OutJoy, Riley’s first and most prominent emotion, is the leader of the bunch, and makes sure Riley’s core memories are happy ones. Sadness is there whenever Riley needs to shed some tears, but she has to be careful not to tamper with Riley’s emotional state too much. Fear is the voice of reason (and caution), as it’s his job to keep Riley safe. Anger is there to keep things on the defensive, and longs for the day when he can finally allow Riley to use a curse word. It’s Disgust’s job to influence Riley’s likes and dislikes.

These emotions are, as they put it, what make Riley Riley. They use a control panel in the “headquarters” of Riley’s mind to shape her every day life and her memories. The most important of these memories in turn shape the “Islands of Personality” within Riley’s mind.

Things are suddenly thrown into disarray, however, when Riley and her family move from their Minnesota home to San Francisco. Riley’s emotions don’t know how to handle the situation, and Sadness is compelled to tamper with Riley’s memories. Amidst all this chaos, Joy and Sadness accidentally get sent to the further reaches of Riley’s mind (including “Imagination Land” and “Long Term Memory” among others). Joy and Sadness must then work their way back to headquarters, as all five emotions are needed to keep Riley’s personality intact.

If the premise sounds a bit weird, that’s because it is. Inside Out is, quite beautifully, the weirdest movie Pixar has ever made. It’s also their most imaginative and their most visually unique, as its setup allows for its story to think outside the box like no Pixar movie has before. While the likes of Cars may feel creatively limited by their gimmick, and Brave was a missed opportunity to do something wondrous with its fantasy setting, Inside Out is constantly – and fittingly – coming up with new ideas that bring out the most of the concept’s humor and heart.Inside Out

Joy and Sadness befriend Riley’s long-forgotten imaginary friend, for example. He’s a part elephant, part cat, part dolphin made out of cotton candy who’s become something of a vagabond as Riley got older and left him behind. We also learn that Riley’s dreams are her mind’s equivalent of movies, and are put together by a film studio that regularly casts a unicorn in the lead role. We even get to see little peaks into the minds of Riley’s parents, leading to a series of gags of their own.

Inside Out is a movie that’s always looking for new ways to delve deeper into its premise in the most creative ways possible. From simple gags to deeper storytelling elements, Inside Out never lets up with its imagination. It’s one of Pixar’s most ingenious concepts, and it’s used to its fullest. Some concepts work better than others, sure, but even its lesser ideas still boast more creative spirit than most movies. And you can’t fault Inside Out if some of its ideas don’t quite match up to others, considering it has so many great ideas going for it.

Inside OutBest of all is how deep and emotional the story ends up being. Inside Out deals with subjects like depression and the hardship of growing up in ways that you won’t find in most animated films aimed at children. It’s a surprisingly deep movie that really makes you care about the characters. As Riley struggles to adapt to her new life, you can’t help but feel for her. Both Riley’s story and the adventures of her emotions tie together beautifully.

Inside Out is the most heartfelt movie Pixar has made in quite some time. I may sound a bit cynical for saying this, but even Up and Toy Story 3 could feel a bit mechanical at times. As good as they were, there were some moments in those films where the emotion felt a bit contrived. But with Inside Out, it would be difficult to imagine the sentiment could feel more earnest.Inside Out

The quality of Pixar’s films may have waned in recent years, with Cars 2 and Brave – the studio’s two weakest features – being released back-to-back, followed up with the good but ultimately unremarkable Monsters University. But Inside Out shares the spirit of Pixar’s greatest efforts of the past. This is the Pixar that made films like The Incredibles, Wall-E and Toy Story. Whether Inside Out is the beginning of a new Pixar streak or a one-time return to form, it deserves to be ranked favorably alongside any of the studio’s highlights.

Inside Out is a wonderful film. It is a constantly inventive, emotional and visually arresting work that will – appropriately enough – etch its way into your memory. It’s an absolute joy.

 

10

The Good and Bad of The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is now one of the highest-grossing movies all time. That’s not too surprising, since it seems like all a movie needs to do to make such a claim these days is have a lot of super heroes and visual effects. But, Age of Ultron is an enjoyable movie, which is more than you can say about most billion-dollar movies. Age of Ultron is more entertaining than more cynical nerds would want to admit (“I found one tiny flaw so now everything about it sucks and it betrayed the comics!”), but it also has its share of problems. Here are the things I loved about Age of Ultron, followed by the things I, well, didn’t.

*Be warned: spoilers ahead!*

Continue reading “The Good and Bad of The Avengers: Age of Ultron”