Top 5 Animated Antagonists Who Aren’t Really Villains

Anton Ego

Animated films are often just as remembered for their villains as hey are their heroes. Disney alone has created so many colorful personalities with their villains that they’ve made an entire franchise out of them. Animated villains can be scary and wicked, which prevents a good deal of animated films from being too sugar-coated. But oftentimes, the best animated villains are the ones who aren’t evil, and are instead more emotionally complex, misunderstood, or are simply people with conflicting interests to the heroes’. Sometimes, the best villains aren’t ‘villains’ at all. But, due to their role in their respective film’s narrative, they can still be considered antagonists.

 

The following animated villains fall into such a category. They aren’t evil, but they are antagonists in one way or another, and they create obstacles that the heroes must overcome. Be warned, there will be some spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Top 5 Animated Antagonists Who Aren’t Really Villains”

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In Defense of The Hobbit Films

The Hobbit

With The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies having been released, The Hobbit film trilogy has officially come to a close. As was the case with the first two Hobbit installments, the reception to the film has been somewhat mixed (to put it lightly). Some hail it as a fitting end to the series, while others continue to cry foul at the film’s deviations from the source material, among other complaints.

Sadly, while the Hobbit trilogy’s box office numbers are on the positive side, it seems the overall outlook of this trilogy will be less positive, with some even negatively comparing them to the Star Wars prequels (which is grossly unfair. Even with their missteps The Hobbit films never created gaping plot holes in their mythology like the Star Wars prequels did). This is a crying shame, because while The Hobbit films do have their flaws, and are not on the same level as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations, they are much better than they get credit for.

Yes, the Hobbit films do have an abundance of CG, which makes them look more artificial than the Lord of the Rings films. And yes, there are some unnecessary fan service moments. And yes, the first two Hobbit films had some pacing issues (something I think the third film ironed out). But none of these issues are hardly as film-breaking as they’re made out to be.

 

Besides, don’t the much-beloved Marvel movies of today have an abundance of CG? They certainly cake-on the fan service, and don’t seem to get any flak for it. And they haven’t exactly been consistent, either (for every Guardians of the Galaxy there was a Thor: The Dark World). So why do the Marvel films get a free pass? It may be easy to say that The Hobbit has the unavoidable comparison to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which case it falls short. Though “not being as good” as a previous work doesn’t really justify the level of criticisms The Hobbit films have received, and it’s not exactly like The Lord of the Rings films would be an easy act to follow.

The HobbitMore importantly, The Hobbit trilogy isn’t The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s The Hobbit trilogy. The Hobbit was always more lighthearted and simplistic than Lord of the Rings. So if The Hobbit films are more blockbuster-y (more action, humor and some cartoony moments), well then it just makes sense given the source material. The Hobbit trilogy didn’t need to be The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it only needed to be The Hobbit trilogy.

Of course, there lies another source of contempt for The Hobbit’s detractors: The Hobbit was a shorter novel than any one of the Lord of the Rings books, so did it need to be a trilogy? Admittedly, no. It didn’t. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s innately a problem that it did become three films. After the three Lord of the Rings films, a single-film follow-up may have been underwhelming to audiences. The original two-part adaptation made sense, but three films, while maybe stretching the material, works for the kind of adaptation the films ended up being.

 

TaurielOne thing that’s important for people to remember is that these are adaptations. They were never going to be identical to the books. Just like The Lord of the Rings weren’t identical to the books. Changes were bound to be made. But if you’re a purist, you can at least say that all the added material in the Hobbit films still comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s various writings, whereas the changes made to Lord of the Rings were mainly made up by Peter Jackson and company. The only notable addition Peter Jackson made to The Hobbit that I can think of is Tauriel, and while her love story in the films may be a tad forced (though ultimately harmless) at times, at least she brings some much-needed femininity to the series.

 

But the rest of the added material is all taken from Tolkien’s works in one way or another. Although Tolkien himself only lightly touched on most of the side stories that were brought into the films, it made sense for the filmmakers to shed more light on them. The whole side story with the Necromancer, for example, is only mentioned in passing in the original book, but had strong connections to the bigger goings-on in Middle-Earth involving the “War of the Ring.” After already having brought The Lord of the Rings to life on the screen, it makes sense that the filmmakers would put a stronger emphasis on that connection between stories.

 

There’s plenty to be justified within the aspects of the Hobbit films that people seem so ready to write-off. But even more so, it seems that people outright ignore all the good the Hobbit films have going for them.

First and foremost is the world building. Very few fantasy films have so much love for the world they depict, the story they’re telling and the characters within them. It helps that Tolkien put so much attention to even the most minute details, but just as much credit goes to Peter Jackson and company, who clearly love this world as much as anyone. The Hobbit films, like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, feel just as much like a love letter to their source material as they do an adaptation of it. Even with the added humor of The Hobbit films, they never have that snarky, tongue-in-cheek self-awareness that downgrades the fantasy/sci-fi elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the like.

The HobbitJust as important, the performances in the Hobbit films are memorable, and make the fantasy world of Middle-Earth a very believable place. It’s probably one of the best cast fantasy franchises out there, with the likes of Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage bringing life to the characters. Even the smaller roles like Stephen Fry’s Master of Lake-Town prove memorable.

It also doesn’t hurt that The Hobbit films are fun. Though the first film gets off to a slow start, after Bilbo leaves Bag End and the flashbacks become less frequent, the films become a series of spectacles. From visual effects to action scenarios to the dedication of their world, the Hobbit movies do ‘spectacle’ better than most blockbusters. They may not stack up to The Lord of the Rings from an overall filmmaking perspective, but (sans the aforementioned opener) the Hobbit movies are always fun. The third film even adds a good dose of emotion to the series, and tops the book as far as fleshed-out characters are concerned.

In the end, The Hobbit trilogy is flawed, but much better than a good deal of its reputation suggests. No, the Hobbit films don’t reach the heights of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but when compared to the majority of today’s blockbusters – which often amount to little more than noise and explosions – The Hobbit trilogy is in a unique place among fantasy films where things like world-building and character actually mean something.

Kirby Triple Deluxe Review

Kirby Triple Deluxe

Kirby’s 3DS debut is one of the best displays of the 3DS hardware. Kirby can traverse between the foreground and background – with enemies and obstacles often switching between spaces – which makes for some of the best 3D effects on the system. Motion controls also come into play, leaving the player to tilt and rotate the system to solve Kirby’s more difficult puzzles. In terms of what Kirby Triple Deluxe does with the 3DS’ capabilities, it may just be the best showcase of the system since Super Mario 3D Land.

But Triple Deluxe isn’t just a display of the 3DS’ bag of tricks, it’s also one of the most fun Kirby games in years. Many argue that Kirby is at his best when he deviates from his own formula (Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Kirby Canvas Curse), but Triple Deluxe proves that, when he wants to, Kirby’s more traditional adventures are just as good.Kirby Triple Deluxe

Kirby once again eats enemies and gains their powers – including returning mainstays like sword and fire, with a couple of new powers such as Circus and Bell joining the lineup – but now Kirby has an extra trick up his sleeve: Hypernova Kirby. Besides sounding like a Digimon’s special attack, Hypernova provides a unique twist on traditional Kirby mechanics.

Hypernova Kirby sees the pink hero turned into a super-powered version of himself, where his inhaling ability turns into an all-out vortex. Kirby can eat enemies by the dozens, suck up trees and other chunks of the environment, and can even manipulate the stages themselves. Hypernova Kirby only appears on a handful of stages, but each instance is used intelligently, making these segments among the highlights of the game.

The stage design, although lacking in the intricacy and challenge of Mario or Donkey Kong, is a step up from some of Kirby’s more recent offerings. Finding hidden ‘Sun Stones’ helps Kirby progress further into the adventure, while collectible keychains give the game an obsessive-compulsive replayability.kirby Triple Deluxe

Aside from the primary story mode, two additional mini-games are included: Kirby Fighters works like a simplified, Kirby-centric Super Smash Bros., where players can select different copy abilities and duke it out with other Kirbys. Meanwhile, King Dedede’s Drum Dash works as a rhythm-based platformer where players take control of King Dedede, where they jump on drums, collect coins and avoid enemies to the beat of classic Kirby music.

Both of the side games are fun, but they do have a few drawbacks. Kirby Fighters is fun in small doses, and even gives the game a multiplayer option, but Kirby’s copy abilities are not as refined as the fighters of Super Smash Bros. Some powers have a lot more to offer than others, meaning that it isn’t exactly a balanced fighter. It’s definitely a fun concept – and the stages play off Kirby’s history, including retro music and some forgotten characters making a comeback in some levels – but hopefully one that can be better elaborated in future Kirby titles.

King Dedede’s Drum Dash, while certainly an entertaining diversion from the main adventure, only has a handful of stages, and they can be surprisingly difficult, especially considering the more easygoing nature of the main game.

But none of these complaints are so strong as to take away from the whole package. Kirby Triple Deluxe is brimming with the series’ trademark charm and sense of fun. It’s packed with content, and it understands its hardware better than the majority of its 3DS brethren.

 

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Super Smash Bros. for Wii U Review

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS was a fine addition to the series, though its main goal was transitioning the series to handhelds, not pushing the series forward. It was great, but it also felt a bit restrained. Consider the 3DS version the warm up, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the main event. It lives up to the hype, and then some.

Super Smash Bros. Wii UThe character roster and general gameplay remain the same as they were on 3DS. It’s tight and polished, and more balanced than the Smash Bros. of yesteryear. The character roster is varied and full of personality: The likes of Little Mac, Duck Hunt and Pac-Man bring the nostalgic charms, while characters such as Rosalina, Wii Fit Trainer, and Villager represent Nintendo’s contemporary appeal. Then there’s Mii Fighters, who add a personal touch to battles. They join the majority of Brawl’s roster and a host of other newcomers to ensure there’s never a shortage in play styles (Though I still question why Kid Icarus is more represented than Metroid or Donkey Kong).

But while the characters and gameplay may be identical to that of the 3DS Smash Bros., what the Wii U version does with them is entirely its own.

There are a plethora of new modes: Smash Tour sees players face off in a Mario Party-style game board, collecting fighters and power-ups as they go, and ending in a battle where said collectibles are put into action. Trophy Rush works as Smash Bros’ take on Tetris, and lets players break falling blocks and collect trophies and character customizing items. Master Orders throws players into battles of their choosing, with more difficult challenges bringing better rewards. Crazy Orders is an intensified version of this, with players fighting battle after battle, accumulating rewards with every victory, but a single defeat means losing most of your prize.

These are just a few of Smash Bros. for Wii U’s new modes. They join many returning favorites, from Classic and All-Star to Break the Targets and Home Run Contests. A fan favorite mode from Melee, Events, makes a comeback, and includes some of the game’s most difficult challenges. The Stage Builder from Brawl also returns, better than ever due to having a few more tools at display, and the Gamepad opens up more creative possibilities with your stage designs.

To top it all off, there are hundreds of trophies to collect, Challenges to complete, and character customizations to unlock. Said character customizations add a whole new level of depth to the series. I’m not sure I’ve ever played a game with quite as much content as Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. There’s always something to do.

Of course, what will have you coming back the most is multiplayer. Super Smash Bros. has always specialized in multiplayer, and that’s truer here than ever.

Super Smash Bros. Wii ULocal play allows up to eight players, eight players, to partake in the mayhem. And mayhem it is. Having eight characters all at once can be a little overwhelming, and you may lose yourself amidst all the chaos. But in the end it’s great to have as an option. At the very least, having five or six players still feels grounded while also allowing more players than past entries in the series.

Online multiplayer is also a treat. Though it lacks the 8-player option, it does, like the 3DS version, include modes of play that cater to casual audiences as well as the more hardcore crowd. For Fun includes four-player free-for-alls as well as team matches, where all the items, Final Smashes and stage gimmicks are left intact. Meanwhile, For Glory includes free-for-alls, team matches, and one-on-one bouts where stages are leveled, no items allowed, and wins and losses are recorded, making these matches all about player skill and bragging rights.Super Smash Bros. Wii U

The online modes are a huge improvement over Brawl. It’s much easier to find other players, and now players are penalized for being inactive or quitting mid-match, which encourages more fun battles.

However, with the online modes comes Super Smash Bros. for Wii U’s one notable flaw: The game runs smoothly for the most part, and it certainly feels more together than Brawl’s online capabilities. But when it does encounter problems, it does so with a vengeance. You may go through a dozen matches with no problems whatsoever, and then suddenly you find yourself in a battle that seems to be moving in slow motion, with the characters reacting a few seconds after button presses, if at all. At its worst, I encountered what should have been a two-minute bout that was slowed down to ten minutes of freeze frames. Most matches should work fine, and there are few things in gaming as addictive as playing Smash Bros. with people around the globe, but in those matches where the game can’t keep up with itself, it can be unbearable.

Some may cry foul that they can’t use their customized characters when facing off against online opponents (this includes Mii Fighters in their entirety), but it’s forgivable when taking into account it’s due to maintaining balance between fighters. And you can always use your customized fighters when facing off against friends online.

Super Smash Bros. Wii UThe series’ jump to Wii U also means this is the first time Super Smash Bros. has been presented in HD, and it’s absolutely beautiful. The stitches on Mario’s overalls, the scales on Bowser’s arms, the sheen of Samus’ armor. Nintendo’s characters have never looked more detailed, and the animations are fluid and lively. The stages are downright eye-popping, and boast just what the Wii U hardware is capable of.

The musical score is the best in the series. It retains the majority of Brawl’s tracks, while introducing far more original and remixed themes than the 3DS version. The score is one of the best in Nintendo’s history, and is every bit as much a love letter to the heritage of Nintendo as the characters themselves.Super Smash Bros. Wii U

If Super Smash Bros. for 3DS was the appetizer, consider Super Smash Bros. for Wii U to be the main course. It’s everything we love about Super Smash Bros. made bigger and better than ever. It relishes in any idea it deems fun, no matter how big or how small (you can even take screenshots, and then scribble on those screenshots with the Gamepad). The game boasts a multitude of controller options – all of which I’ve played feel well integrated – meaning you can play however you like. The replay value is nearly endless, and it’s more creative, balanced and fun than any Smash Bros. before it.

Whether you’re old enough to get all the references or the Wii U is your first foray into the worlds of Nintendo, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has something for everybody.

 

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Toy Story That Time Forgot Review

TSTTF

Toy Story That Time Forgot is Toy Story’s take on the annual Christmas special. The end result, much like the Halloween special Toy Story of Terror, is a fun little adventure, but doesn’t capture the same heights as the Toy Story feature films. That is to be expected, I suppose. At only a half-hour, it doesn’t exactly have the time to develop the same kind of story as its theatrical predecessors.

The story takes place a few days after Christmas morning, and Bonnie is out on a play date with her friend Mason. Bonnie brings some of her favorite toys, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Trixie (Kristen Schaal), and Rex (Wallace Shawn). But upon arrival, Bonnie and Mason get distracted by Mason’s new video game console, leaving the toys to explore the house on their own.

Toy Story That Time ForgotThe Toy Story gang soon meets up with the Battlesaurs – an army of colorful dinosaur warriors modeled after 80s action figures – who have been opened but not yet played with. The Battlesaurs fall under the Toy Story tradition of not knowing that they’re toys, which works for the story at hand, though the concept is starting to feel a bit overused by this point.

Trixie is the star of this Toy Story short, being embraced into the Battlesaurs tribe as one of their own. At first she loves the idea (whenever Bonnie plays with her, Trixie is depicted as anything but a dinosaur, so she welcomes the change), but after she finds out that the Battlesaurs spend their time destroying other toys in gladiatorial arenas, she sets out to teach the Battlesaurs of their true identities and the importance of playtime.

It’s a fun story, and it has a good sense of humor (the 80s action figure parodies are spot on), but don’t expect the same heart-swelling moments as Pixar’s feature films. It does what it can with its running time, but you kind of wish Buzz, Woody or Jessie had the starring role again. Being more fleshed-out characters, the primary Toy Story cast may have better carried the short, since Trixie isn’t exactly given the time for character development anyway.

Toy Story That Time ForgotSome might argue that it’s a Christmas special, so it doesn’t need the same oomph of other Pixar works. That might be true, but the short also kind of forgets that it’s a Christmas special, with any mention of holiday festivities only showing up in the opening and closing moments. So the Christmas holiday seems kind of like an excuse to introduce the Battlesaurs more than anything.

But while Christmas may get lost in all of the Battlesaur-ness, Toy Story That Time Forgot is still an entertaining short that adds another fun chapter to the Toy Story series. The animation is lovely, and the character designs for the Battlesaurs are among the most creative Pixar has made. It may not exactly be the Christmas tradition it wants to be, but it is a short worth revisiting from time to time. And don’t you forget that.

 

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Super Mario Bros. 2 Review

SMB2

Today, Super Mario Bros. 2 is often seen as a “black sheep” in the Mario series, neither as revolutionary as its predecessor nor as excellent as its successor. But truth be told, if Super Mario Bros. 2 is a lesser entry in the Mario canon, then let that speak to the overall quality of the series. Super Mario Bros. 2 is still a great game.

It’s true, the game we know as Super Mario Bros. 2 is just the Japan-only Nintendo title Doki Doki Panic retooled with Mario characters in it. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that the game was among the best platformers of its era, not to mention the impact it had on the Mario universe.

Birdos, Bob-ombs, Shy Guys, many elements that are common place in Mario games today got their start here. This even includes the attributes of the main characters.

Players have the option of selecting four characters: Mario is well-rounded, Luigi has the highest jumping and descends slower, Peach can temporarily float in the air, and Toad lifts objects the fastest and throws them farthest.

The gameplay is unique among Mario games in that jumping on enemies doesn’t defeat them. Instead, you can jump on an enemy’s head and lift them up, and then toss them at other enemies. Additionally, vegetables are abundant in the ground, and can similarly be plucked and tossed at foes. It’s a fun gameplay hook that still stands out in the Mario series.

One downside is that the usual Mario power-ups are nowhere to be found (aside from an occasional Starman). Instead, players gain extra health by finding mushrooms in warp zones (temporary bonus rooms accessed through hidden doors). It’s just a shame the added bonuses found in warp zones don’t continue through subsequent levels, as it could have added an interesting RPG element to the Mario formula. But it works for the game at hand.

Super Mario Bros. 2Mario and company will of course venture to various themed worlds, each with a handful of stages and ending with memorable boss fights (boss fights which, I must admit, are more varied than those in the more popular Super Mario Bros. 3). It’s not as expansive as Mario’s later ventures, but it provides the same sense of fun.

The graphics are colorful 8-bit sprites, but not as detailed as those found in Mario 3. The music is a highlight, featuring some iconic pieces from the NES era that are still remembered and remixed today.

Super Mario Bros. 2 has a whole lot going for it, and it has aged more elegantly than the brunt of NES titles. Yes, it’s shaky origins mean it deviates from many loved elements of the Mario series (no Fire Flowers), and some might even say it feels slower when compared to other entries in the series, but Super Mario Bros. 2 is still a blast to play. Whether you’re firing up the old NES or playing it through the Wii U Virtual Console, Super Mario Bros. 2 proves that being a black sheep doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

 

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F-Zero Review

F-Zero

F-Zero has never had it easy. It was an SNES launch title alongside Super Mario World, and we all know which game became synonymous with the console. F-Zero’s innovative “Mode 7” graphics were a revelation at the time, and made racing games feel more immersive. But Mode 7 would soon be used for a little game called Super Mario Kart, and we all know which game is considered the more influential.

So while F-Zero may have been in the shadows of more prolific SNES games, on its own merits it’s a more than capable racer.

Players choose between four vehicles, each with their own statistics, and race through various futuristic tracks. You can choose between different cups and difficulty levels, even the easiest of which provides a good challenge.

F-ZeroThe races are fast-paced, turns are sharp, and not only do you have to worry about falling behind the other races, but about your vehicle being destroyed as well. Your health bar depletes every time you run into a wall or bump into other racers. Should it deplete entirely, your car explodes, and you have to start the entire cup over. Health can be replenished by driving on certain pits near the starting point of each lap.The added game over element makes what is already a challenging racer all the more difficult. It may not be for everyone’s liking, but it rewards those seeking a challenge.

The graphics are mostly pleasant, with the aforementioned Mode 7 allowing for scaling and rotation effects that still hold up. There are admittedly some areas where the graphics don’t hold up so well, but given that F-Zero was pushing racing games into new territory at the time, the shortcomings are forgivable.

A huge, retrospective drawback is the lack of multiplayer or any additional modes. F-Zero holds up in a lot of ways, but the complete absence of multiplayer takes a lot away from the experience. The racing available is tight and precise, but with very little else to offer takes away replay value. And without being able to share the experience with a friend, it’s no wonder that Super Mario Kart stole F-Zero’s thunder.

Still, you can’t take too much away from F-Zero. It was novel back in its day for its graphics and fast-paced racing, and everything it has to offer has held up well, but it lacks the substance of other SNES games. There is certainly fun and challenge to be had with F-Zero. But you may find that, just as was the case back in the day, your racing skills will most likely drift back to Super Mario Kart.

 

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