Review: Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Hi kiddie-winks,

As you’re all no doubt aware Halloween is just around the corner, barreling down on us like some sort of annual happening and I’ve had the big telly all to my self for a couple of days. I’ve used this time constructively by re-watching the first five Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

The thing about being a fan of a certain type of horror movie which was popular during the 70’s and 80’s is sometimes I have to be slightly apologetic, something along the lines of “Yes I know the script, acting, directing etc are awful but…” One of the exceptions to this rule I believe is Nightmare on Elm Street, part 3: The Dream Warriors, now if you’ve got a minute or two take a seat and I’m going to tell you why.

By way of pre-text, when it comes to Nightmare sequels it’s this “Pretend Part 2 never existed (Like Indie 4, or Star Wars 1 through 3).” It’s a pretty poor movie which ignores a lot of the lore created by the first movie. A discorporated Freddy Krueger possesses teenager Jesse Walsh to kill for him in the waking world rather than doing the killing himself in the dream world. Critics hated it, Wes Craven hated it, fans of the first film were kind of ambivalent, no one seems to like it but it still made a healthy return on it’s budget.

Dream Warriors sees Kristin Parker troubled by dreams of Freddy Krueger, following a dream-world chase through the now derelict house on Elm Street where Freddy was originally defeated by Nancy Thompson in the original movie Freddy catches Kristin and slashes her wrists with his claws. These wounds are mistaken by Kristin’s mother for self-harm and has Kristin committed to Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital where she is placed on a ward with several other teenage patients all suffering from sleep disorders caused by a certain man in a hat. As luck would have it Westin Hills has recently recruited a young psychology who specialises in dreams and sleep disorders, Freddy’s original nemesis Nancy Thompson, she reveals to the patients that they are “The last of the Elm Street kids” and does what she can to assist them in over-coming their dreams and once again defeating Krueger.

Wes Craven returned to take on writing duties of Nightmare on Elm Street 3 after being unhappy with the first sequel. After his original idea of having part 3 act as a meta-film where Krueger invaded the real world was rejected by New Line (Later made as New Nightmare.) Craven’s intention was that this film would be a conclusion to the Nightmare series and end the Franchise (Which he had never wanted in the first place), indeed it brings together and then ties up many of the loose ends from the original movie.

Along with the return of Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon returned as Nancy and Donald Thompson, they are joined by an impressive cast which includes Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne and Emmy-winner Patricia Arquette in her cinematic debut. Robert Englund returns for the second time as series-antagonist Freddy Krueger riding the fine line between menace and dark comedy with evident relish.

Dream Warriors is the first of the Nightmare sequels to move away from the more traditional stalk and slash scares it’s genre in favor of the effect driven set-pieces of the later films although here it is used with some level of restraint unlike abominable scenes from later entries in the series such as “Super Freddy” or “You forgot the Power Glove”. there are some great practical effects on show some memorable death scenes including Freddy emerging from a Television to claim a victim and another victim being used as a living marionette strung up by his ligaments.

Easily dismissed through association with the later Nightmare sequels Dream warriors is my favourite entry in the series and probably my favourite horror movie. It does everything right, in my opinion setting the gold standard for both the Nightmare franchise and the horror movie genre itself. It is well written, thanks to the return of We Craven and later revisions by Frank Darabont with both memorable one liners and good dialogue. The characters are (for an eighties slasher-movie) well developed and believable. The practical and make-up effects are great and with the exception of some of the stop-motion work have aged well. The acting on show is well above par for a movie of this kind with good performances from Arquette and Langenkamp as well as possibly a career best performance from Robert Englund as begins to take Freddy further down the comedic path while still retaining an element of threat.

Unfortunately as the Nightmare series continued the set-pieces became more elaborate but also more slap-stick turning the character of Freddy Krueger into something more akin to an imitation or satire of the original portrayal before Englund’s final appearance as the character to date in Freddy V’s Jason returned some of the menace for one last hurrah.

While I’m the first to admit many films in the horror genre that I like and enjoy tend to be justified with the precursor “I know it’s bad but…” This is not the case with Dream Warriors I believe it is a genuinely good fantasy-horror movie which is since been repeatedly hamstrung by the diminishing quality of it’s own sequals.

By way of a post-script to get the most out of the Nightmare franchise consider watching 1, 3 and Freddy v’s Jason. three as I’ve already mentioned is pretty much a direct sequal to the original and FvJ contains many plot devices which recur from Dream Warriors including the return Westin Hills Psychiatric hospital and the use of dream suppressant Hypnocil, originally advocated in Part 3 by Nancy. Viewing of New Nightmare remains optional, It once again reunites Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund and John Saxon I like it, many don’t.

MAXed out

I went, I saw and I’m here to report back on my IMAX outing.

I’ll start off with an aside but something that may prove of interest to those of you who may wish to follow my tracks to a Cineworld IMAX screen near you. After a little research it became apparent it’s possible to use Orange Wednesday 241 codes for IMAX showings. I must admit I doubted this slightly, but thankfully it worked! We still had to pay two lots of the supplementary fee (in our case £4.50) but only one original ticket price. So this took the admission down from an eye-watering £13.10 to an almost acceptable £8.80.

So, once we’d paid our reduced rate we took our place near the front of the queue to enter the 580 seater venue. We’d deliberately arrived over an hour early as this was the first Wednesday “Prometheus” was out and it was only showing once each day in IMAX. The first surprise came when the 3D glasses were handed out, peculiarly this was done in the queue. On receiving the specs, they felt much more solid and were significantly chunkier than the usual ones, that tend to put me in mind of the free sunglasses McDonald’s gave out in the 1980s. Still impressed by this, we were then ushered into the auditorium and I was immediately struck by the size of the screen. Words can’t describe how huge it is, standing at the bottom then looking up to the top you almost fall over backwards it’s so massive. Now, positively buzzing with excitement, I bounded up to the front row in the top level and held the very centre seats against all comers, so we’d have the best view in the house (only fair if we’re reviewing the thing, right?). After a short wait, the lights went down and show began… well the trailers at any rate but the feature followed soon enough.

There I am and there's most of the screen... (photo courtesy of Sanch)

During the trailers we were initially in 2D and the picture was very impressive, the extreme resolution on the concave screen draws you in beautifully, combine this with the unobstructed view from the stadium style seating and you feel a bit like you’re in your front room but you’ve managed to afford that 70” LED screen and are now sat about 3 feet away from it. The surprising disappointment for me was the sound, it’s just so relentlessly loud, especially in the trailers (where I assume it’s deliberately amped up anyway) the audio was so over the top at points it seemed as if the speakers were giving up and the dialogue became quite tinny. I’d go as far as to say it actually hurt at times, which can’t be a plus in anyone’s book.

We then moved to the 3D trailers and these were horrid, particularly the Spiderman reboot effort. While the players were still, everything was alright, but any kind of fast movement (i.e. Spidey swinging action) it all dissolved into a blur. This was most off-putting but I sat in hope that it may abate when we moved to the feature presentation and I wasn’t disappointed, the image was very clean and the 3D was of a good quality.

Now to my big gripe with the picture, my general opinion is that the extra dimension adds nothing to a film and the best you can possibly say about a 3D movie is that you forget you’re watching it in 3D. My issue is you can never say this about “An IMAX 3D Experience” as whenever you tilt your head slightly, reclining back into your seat or sideways against a loved one, you loose the effect and get a partially blurred image. The reason comes back to the different glasses you’re given on your way into the screening, they’re different for a reason… IMAX 3D works differently to the 3D you’d see in a regular screen, known as RealD 3D. The polarisation that allows the glasses to filter the overlayed images for each eye is linear instead of circular, this basically means that, if your head is not level the polarisation fails and you see the unfiltered image. The tolerance on this is very low and completely unlike RealD 3D, which allows the viewers head to move freely while maintaining the 3D effect. This destroys any sense of immersion because, as you relax into the film you move slightly off level and see the image smudge, pulling you back out of story never mind the effect.

In conclusion, I think I’d have to say IMAX is an OK but ultimately disappointing experience that I wouldn’t recommend or go out of my way to repeat. If you can go to see a 2D feature and get cheaper tickets, then it may be worth a look for a decent action based film. Otherwise I’d save some money, and your hearing, by visiting a modern digital projection screen for your regular movie viewing.

P.S. As for Prometheus, it was alright but made little sense. It was well filmed with good characters and was enough fun to justify watching, but it had nothing to hold the attention of a real Sci-Fi fan, with most of the plot falling over at the mere hint of a closer inspection. Catch it on a mate’s BluRay in six months… 7 out of 12.

‘t i’n’t in’t’ Tintin

Having just returned from watching the new CGI, motion capture, animated movie “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn”, I must say I had a rather fun, if slightly unfulfilling, time. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s certainly a film worth seeing, however it left me feeling a little like the characters on screen, pretty good on the surface but hollow on the inside.

French Live-Action Tintin
At a glance you'd think these were real people, but they're actually French.

As a child I was a fan of the Tintin cartoons and I enjoyed the occasional Hergé comic too, it was the adventure of it all that I loved. Ever since I’d heard of it’s inception I’d been looking forward to this movie. The knowledge that Spielberg and Jackson were on board only served to heighten my anticipation that this could be a classic. The trailers helped too but also made me a little fearful as, it must be said, the characters do look a bit odd. They’re right on the line between real and stylised, sinking to the deepest depths of the Uncanny Valley and freaking the willies out of you at a glance. As a disclaimer I’ll just say; This does fade during the action but every now and then your brain realises and does a little “Urgh!!” in your head to remind you.

I’d also like to state, for the record, that we were forced to watch the movie in 3D*. None of our party wanted to see the movie in any more than the usual two dimensions but the final 2D showing anywhere in driving distance was at 18:30 and that’s just a touch too early for us working folks.

So, with mixed feelings but high hopes (and 3D premium paid), I made my way in and settled down, wearing two pairs of glasses on my face.

The movie starts quickly, with a nice in joke and some incidental crime. We’re then immediately introduced to the plot’s MacGuffin, the titular “Unicorn”, and, seconds later and unmistakably, the villain of the piece. This is a good start and the breathless pace continues throughout the whole movie. Clues are presented, people appear, that piece of the puzzle is put together, action happens and it’s all done extremely slickly, with great style and flare. Some of the “one shot**” action sequences are especially well accomplished, flowing from one set-piece to the next with only the briefest of time to digest what you’ve seen before the next section of  beautifully rendered CGI slaps you around the chops and shouts “Boo!!”. It really is an irreverent adventure movie from start to finish, punctuated with some good jokes and a standout performance from Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock. (When will they give that man an Oscar??)

My only real criticism would be that everything just seems to happen. I realise this is Tintin and, to a point, the only remarkable thing about him is that things just seem to happen to him all the time but we really could have done with a little more explanation or thought on the part of our protagonist before things dawn on him. Simply pointing skyward and connecting A to E without the intermediary steps of B,C and D comes off as far too convenient. Unfortunately this extraordinary instinctive ability to put clues together in an instant and then give the most cursory of explanations persists throughout the film. This does wane as the story progresses, but that’s more because action is thundering along with no need for connecting the dots than any conscious attempt to fill in the blanks.

Another point I’d like to raise before rounding off is that some things did literally just happen. Two examples that immediately spring to mind; The first being when Tintin, for no appreciable reason, goes to a “deserted mansion” that just happens to be the Haddock family home and where the main villain, unbeknown to our hero, is in residence. The second is when a tank chases Tintin, Haddock et al though a Middle Eastern city. It just happens to appear right behind them half way down the hill and, bizarrely, encase in a hotel’s entrance hall. Both of these glaring examples lead me to believe that an extended cut (similar to those of the Lord of The Rings movies) may be on the cards for the DVD/BluRay release. Jackson at least has a history of such things and it might help resolve my earlier criticism too…

In conclusion then, this movie is bags of fun and visually spectacular. Just let the pace of the film to you, don’t think about things too much and you’ll love it. Score = 7/12.

*Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 3D added nothing but a few pounds to the cost of our evening’s entertainment.
**These are presented as “one shot” but, due to the nature of the movie, are simply effects shots without cuts, so don’t really count. They look very nice though…


I’m Still Here

I'm Still Here
I'm Still Here Poster
I’m Still Here is the directorial debut of Casey Affleck, star of the ill-timed Gone, Baby, Gone and controversial The Killer Insisde Me. As a first move from actor to filmmaker, I’m Still Here is both incredibly brave and shockingly misjudged.

The film is ostensibly a cinema verite take on the retirement of Joaquin Phoenix, picking up after the huge success of Walk the Line. We see Phoenix’s hedonistic lifestyle, his failing attempts to start a hip hop career, his alienation from his friends and finally a supposed catharsis.

The film is supposed to be a documentary account of Phoenix’s real life, but after watching the movie it becomes apparent that the whole thing is an act, Albeit one played out on a public stage. A fact confirmed by Affleck soon after the film’s release.

I think I’m Still Here was supposed to be a grand experiment. Phoenix created a character to act as his stand in, and played that role in public throughout the course of the film. As a piece of character acting it’s astounding, even taking his pretend persona onto the Letterman show and press appearances. This approach makes us question the role of actors, as well as taking a swipe at celbrity culture, but falls short of its lofty visions of holding the mirror up to us.

Despite whatever artistic merit it might want to posess, the end result is a hard to watch mess which just seems self indulgent. Rather than setting out to make a film with a point, it feels like the brothers-in-law are playing a joke on you and looking to make a quick buck out of filming it. I can only see two intentions behind making this movie, either as a serious film about actors and their private lives, or as a comedy.

The film fails on both fronts. Phoenix’s assumed persona is little more than an idiot, he plays a role which wouldn’t be outside of the ouvre of Jack Black. There are no moments of humanity to relate to, no tender beats to endear this invented version of Joaquin Phoenix to us. All we are left with is a fool acting up on camera, which would be fine if this was a comedy. It’s not. There are no laughs here, there’s no cringeworthy moments, in fact I can’t think of a time during the film when I felt anything but bewildered and bored.

All this leads to one final scene, without dialogue, of Phoenix walking up a stream until submerged, all the while scored by a lonely piano. At this point I was done with the film, and adding a faux meanignful moment at the end just smacked of a desperation to be taken seriously. We can’t be expected to feel empathy with a character suddenly, just because the film tells us to.

If this film had worked it could have been a game changer, instead it ends up being a character study of an unlikeable twerp, a high-concept Borat. Maybe this film could have had something to say about ‘real-life’ celebrity but it burns that bridge with sheer bloody-minded silliness. Doubtless Phoenix is a great actor, but this project was simply a waste of his time and yours.

-7 R-S

Snack Spectrometer #1: Kinder Joy

On my recent foray into Euro-Land I discovered many things, some new and exciting, some I’d rather forget. One item that fell into the “new and exciting” category was a mysterious treat known as the “Kinder Joy” and it inspired me to conceive of the Snack Spectrometer, the newest digest to grace this web-lication.

The Kinder Joy appears at first to be a European version of the beloved Kinder Surprise*. It is almost identical in size, shape and design as those eggs of inevitable disappointment, but, on closer inspection, the shell is an egg-shaped plastic housing with opening tabs at the bottom.

The exterior reads “Avec Surprise” and, on pulling the tabs, this proves to be the case in the extreme. Where one expects a chocolate egg to be, the Joy simply parts in two, one half covered with a silvery Kinder foil and the other having a film with “?” symbols over it. Attached to the Kinder foil is a small Kinder paddle too, very mysterious…

Opening the “?” section reveals the surprise (read; toy). These seem to be universally standard throughout the international Kinder range, so they’re generally alright but nothing special. Unfortunately, I got a horrible Shrek themed pen top replete with stickers of the rather tired CGI ogre.

The snack itself, however, was much more entertaining than the toy.

Opening the Kinder foil reveals more of a surprise that the “?” section. We are presented with what is best described as two mini Ferrero Rocher** in white chocolate mousse, the reason for the Kinder paddle becomes evident. Scooping a mini Rocher ball up with what turns out to be white and milk chocolate layered mousse proves to be a little difficult as the mousse is very stiff, however the reward is most gratifying. I’m not a fan of Rocher and these are identical in every way, but with the Kinder gunk they are much better. The gunk turns out to be very tasty, but like a half digested Kinder Egg. The texture is ok, but it’s a tad sickly and I think any more than this half egg portion and I’d feel a little ill.

The three stages of Joy (photos stolen from Tweets by Marcus J. Jordan***)

In conclusion I’d have to say I prefer the Kinder Surprise we have over here presently, as the chocolate is nicer than the mousse desert and the toys are the same. However, I’d certainly recommend trying one of these treats if you happen upon one, they are a strange but pleasant experience.

+4 in the full Rjandberg-Smythe Scale (+12 to -12)

+Interesting packaging
+You get a toy
+Nice gunk

-A little sickly
-Inferior to the Surprise

* On further investigation I discovered that the Joy is the summer version of Surprise in mainland Europe, as the Surprise’s egg suffers in the warmer temperatures “over there”.

** Ferrero make both Rocher and the Kinder range. So, most likely, they are precisely mini Rocher.

***Currently starring on the When It Rains blog.

Toy Story 3 Review

When I became a man, I put away childish things. This of course is a quote, as I still play computer games, paint little army men and watch films called Toy Story 3.

Pixar’s latest film returns to the well realised characters from their first feature, released way back in 1995. A subset of the cast from the previous two films find themselves neglected by their owner, Andy, desperately trying to regain his attention. We learn that Andy is going to college and must decide what to do with his old toys. Through various mishaps most of the old gang end up at a daycare centre, whereas Woody has a golden ticket to college with Andy. Of course, the daycare centre isn’t the paradise it appears, and Woody is left with some important decisions to make.

You may have heard that this film is a bit of a tear jerker, and your humble reviewer can report that he wasn’t above having a bit of a weep towards the end of the film. It is genuinely affecting seeing characters I loved when I was 14 struggling to live in a world increasingly hostile to them, a family whose circumstances are changing just like the family of Andy. I challenge any adult to not feel at least a little emotional when Andy’s mother sees his newly emptied room, or when the toys stoically face death together after facing a world filled with betrayal.

Pixar’s talent for layered storytelling takes these emotional themes, more at home in a drama, and mixes them with elements that are fun, hilarious and at times a little scary. The film follows a narrative that is easy to follow and keeps the pace up well with nary a slow moment, possibly at the expense of feeling a little rushed. This pacing ends up burying some of the other toys, Bullseye and Slinky Dog seem to be downplayed almost to transparency, and I’m not sure that Bullseye is actually in the conveyor belt scene at all. It would have been nice to see more of the supporting toys from the earlier films, but I suspect that would have dragged down the start of the film unnecessarily. Saying that, the implied loss of some other toys, namely Woddy’s squeeze Bo, impart the theme of the film early and well.

There is also a confusing romantic subplot happening between Jesse and Buzz which, whilst leading to some entertaining scenes, adds little to the story and seems disjoint; especially if your memory of the second film is a bit hazy. I’d have gladly given this up for a bit more screen time for some other characters. The last real issue with the film is that it might be a bit scary for younger kids, I heard one child remarking that they were scared and I’m fairly sure another left the cinema. Although the level of threat is fairly high, it’s not opressive. The film is a U rather than a Uc and seems secure in the knowledge that kids don’t want an boring happy romp. I for one have much fonder memories of childhood films with a high level of antagonism.

Tom Hanks and Tim Allen voice the protagonistic couple, Hanks has the lion’s share of the work but Allen puts in a great performance and managed to make me forget I was listening to the ‘star’ of Home Improvement. Other characters are well rounded where they are allowed to be. The perennially quixotic Joan Cusack puts in a great performance as Jesse, being both abrasive and endearing at the same time, but not given enough space to really shine. Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris) have some good scenes together as well, and are the most active of the supporting toys.

New additions Ken (voiced excellently by Michael Keaton) is the comedic star, providing a lot of the laughs during the middle stretch of the film. Casting Keaton here was stroke of genius, you can almost see the first movie Batman’s face in Ken if you squint hard enough. Ned Beatty as antagonist Lotso never seems to really get to grips with the character though, by turns outraged and friendly he doesn’t come off as the mastermind he’s supposed to be, more two personalities inhabiting the same character.

A quick note on 3D. I tend to avoid it wherever possible, I find it distracting and blurry, but for Toy Story 3 it’s worth investing in the Elvis Costello glasses. If it wasn’t for the fuzziness in near objects I could have completely forgotten the film was in 3D, but Night & Day however, the short before the main feature, uses the 3D effect in a genuinely interesting way and is well worth seeing.

All in all, I adored Toy Story 3. The continuing theme of obsolescence carried through the series from the first film comes to a head, and leaves you with a bittersweet ending to the character’s stories. This is possibly Pixar’s best film to date and the best film I’ve seen this year. Go to see it now, take the kids, friends and a tissue. You won’t be disappointed that you did.

+10 on the Rjandberg-Smythe scale

Los Campesinos! We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

This album slipped by me since it was released in November, just eight months after the release of their Debut ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…’ but I’m glad I stumbled across it. Right from the opening lyrics (I think it’s fair to say that I chose hopelessness and inflicted it on the rest of us) it’s clear that tweexcore has grown up; out the window are the songs where the cherryade flows, replaced by bitterness, resentment and jealousy.

The sentiment in the title track, ‘We are beautiful, we are doomed’ shows a much bleaker, darker Los Campesinos! punctuated by the trademark glockenspiel – “I taught myself the only way to vaguely get along in love is to like the other slightly less than you get in return” – the guitars building to the anthemic outpourings about heart failures.

A major criticism of ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…’ may once again put off listners, as the new album is anything but an easy listen, but in my opinion this doesn’t detract from the quality of the songs; I’ll never grow tired of cheerful sounding tunes coupled with self-destructive lyrics like ‘It’s as if I walked into a room to see my ex girlfriend, who by the wasy I’m still in love with, sucking the face of some pretty boy with my favourite bands most popular song in he background’ all tempered by soft female vocals.

The stand out tracks for me are ‘You’ll Need Those Fingers For Crossing‘ and ‘It’s Never That Easy Though. Is It?

The Most Expensive Game Ever (TM)

Richie Sambora, Guitar Hero
Richie Sambora, Guitar Hero

As, already mentioned in these hallowed pages for me the stand out game of 2008 for me was Guitar Hero World Tour.  The reasoning behind this in honesty has very little to do with the innovation on show in the game but comes down to the fact that I’ve enjoyed GHWT more than any other game this year.

The game mechanics are pretty much unchanged since GH3 (well, since Guitar Hero really), the newly implemented slide bar on the neck of the guitar is  the only innovation and is ignorable.  The vertical difficulty curve from GH3 has been dispensed with, though it has been replaced with something more akin to a difficulty scatter graph, this isn’t as much of a curb on progression as in previous iterations though now that the game difficulty level can be changed mid play-list (My sticking point was Today by The Smashing Pumpkins, damn near impossible on medium, probably just me though).

If innovation was important to a GH game to be honest we’d still all be playing Guitar Hero, what matters to a GH game is the music, World Tour is no exception to this with a whopping 86 tracks, all based on master recordings, placing it well above main rival Rock Band’s 58.  Quantity is not always everything, quality has to be considered and this is where GHWT potentially comes unstuck.  Musical taste is subjective and while Activision has attempted to provide something for everyone, inorder to cover all bases it is possible to spread yourself thin.  I’d say that this is avoided, however I pretty much fit the demographic to which the playlist is geared, which appears to be a punk-metal Rockabilly with one foot planted firmly in the eighties and one ear in Seattle around 1991.

I refer to GHWT as the expensive game ever, and at £150 for the full band set  up this is more than I’ve spent on consoles in the past, the price tag is not where it ends however, The Guitar Hero frachise always ends up costing me money as it represents a large influence on my music collection.  The month following a GH release will often see me spending hundreds of pounds on albums.  GH is responsible for me listening to Avenged Sevenfold, Dragonforce (so therefore ultimately responsible for the stain on my buddy Poki’s living room carpet), Creedance Clearwater Revival and Tool.  GH is also responsible for rediscovering bands just by looking at their music in a different way, The Eagles for example it wasn’t until I played Hotel California on GHWT that I asked myself, “What else have have they done?”  Similar can be said of The Smashing Pumpkins, a band which I missed the first time around, also The Pretenders, Cheap Trick and Pearl Jam.

While the music in GHWT tends to throw up a few unexpected suprises I’d say that most are worth persevering as there’s a hell of a lot of triple A tunes to be had, some of the more obscure tracks may even suprise you.

All of this  subject to personal taste, I’m sure not everyone thinks that Livin’ on a Prayer is the best song ever written, and that is why you all fail.

Assorted Mammals of the Old Republic

Hey droogs, guess who’s still alive.

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Boxart
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Boxart

Yeah, the economic down turn is bad, but the biggest drain on my pocket at the moment is the glut of triple A game titles around at the mo. I spent last week completing Fable II’s main plot, started playing Fallout 3, started up Guitar Hero World Tour (or as I like to call it “super arrgh I can’t do three things at once magical drum simulator”), my import copy of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia’s arrived, SSFII HDR comes out some time today and I still haven’t even considered giving time to Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge or Left 4 Dead yet!

Following my obituary for sonic the hedgehog a couple of weeks ago, and based on the recommendation of Chesterfield’s premier/only independent games retailer I decided I’d find time in my frantic gaming schedule to give Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood a rare opportunity to redeem it’s franchise.

Sonic Chronicles is a Role-playing game based on the popular sega franchise, and developed by the hand held division of Canadian company Bioware, better known for creating the Neverwinter Nights series, Mass Effect and Star Wars: Knights of the old Republic.  Considering Bioware’s staggering back catalogue of RPG success going into SC:TDB I was quietly optimistic feeling that Sega had made the right decision to pass the game to a third party rather than leaving production with Sonic Team (Probably too busy making a hash of Sonic Unleashed at the time).

The game picks up sometime after Sonic and Friends have once again defeated Dr Robotnik(His name’s Robotnik.  Not Eggman!), Sonic is brought back following some much needed R ‘n’ R to find that the Chaos Emeralds have been stolen (again) and Knuckles has been Echidna-napped by an organisation referred to as the Marauders.  Sonic assembles his usual team of Mammalian cohorts, slaps on his Ricky Rocket-pants and saves the day via an unusual team member, a trip to another universe and a whole heap of ring collecting.

The challenge presented to Bioware in the production of SC:TDB is the need to keep a hell of a lot of people happy by creating a product which will not only be marketable to Sonic fans, but is also of a high enough quality to appease sceptics amongst their own fan base.  I feel to a degree at least they’ve pretty much cracked it.

The presentation of the game is exceptional with the majority of the game played in 3D across an Isometric plane, the locations themselves are well designed with re-creations of various classic Sonic stages such as Green Hill, Mystic Ruins and Angel Island.  The character design is of a usual high standard with few suprises as to the design of new characters fitting into the fifteen year old tried and tested formula, new protagonist Shade fits well into the rest of the characters, though expect a change of costume before her next appearance.

The game play utilises 100% touch screen control, much like Phantom Hourglass all field abilities are activated by tapping a context specific icon on screen.  During combat the game adopts a variation on the traditional JRPG style.  Protagonists line up at the bottom of the screen, antagonists at the top, the two factions then wait for their turn to batter each other until all of one side is defeated.  To add to this tried and tested formula, Bioware introduces a system similar to Elite Beat Agents/ Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! for activating special powers.  Pow moves use up Pow points when used much like Magic Points in a Final Fantasy game to activate the Power move however a small rhythm-action style puzzle needs to be completed involving tapping and dragging icons with the stylus, it offers a welcome variation to an otherwise humdrum activity.

As a warning to fans of Bioware do not come into Sonic Chronicles expecting the complex plots and sub-plots seen in Mass Effect or KOTOR, while the plot is relatively well written, this is a simpler game than many of Bioware’s other efforts, an RPG lite for a younger audience.  Don’t let this put you off, as while simple and with a low difficulty level that doesn’t mean that Sonic Chronicles isn’t a pleasure to play.  I managed to complete this game in under 15 hours, which I considered to be about right.  In terms of sub plots and side quests, there are some, though most of these aren’t really more than fetch and carry quests for NPC X.  Apparently there is a Bioware romantic sub-plot ( though without Mass Effect’s Alien Rumpo) between Sonic and Amy Rose, though to be honest I didn’t pursue this and have since found out about it through GameFaqs.

While Sonic Chronicles may not be to everyone’s taste I found it to be an amusing diversion, if somewhat easy to complete.  Though I maybe wouldn’t advise my peers to go out and buy it, I wouldn’t hate myself for giving it as a gift to a younger gamer.  It is a well polished adventure which goes someway to repairing the damage done by previous games to the franchise.  Repairs aided by the fact that it’s possible to complete the game without ever having to use Shadow.

I only hope that Sega takes note of this return to form, and doesn’ t do anything stupid with the next Sonic game, y’know like turning Sonic into some kind of lycanthropic hedgehog, man, chimp, thing.  Man, that would be stupid.

The cake is an analogy. Fable II Review.

One man and his dog
One man and his dog

Imagine someone promised to bake you a cake.  A strawberry cream cake, with fresh strawberries, and whipped cream.  On collecting your delicious cake though you receive a lemon drizzle cake.  The Lemon drizzle cake is great, but because you were promised strawberries and cream you can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

This was the problem that Fable had when it made its debut on the X-Box in 2004, it wasn’t a bad game, thanks to the game’s designer Peter Molyneux though it couldn’t be anything other than an anti-climax.  The game won many awards, was critically acclaimed and at the time the fastest selling game on the console.  However, Molyneux was still forced to make a public apology on the lionhead forums as the game did not contain many of the features that he had previously promised.

I have purposefully avoided everything Molyneux has had to say regarding Fable 2.  So that I could avoid the inevitable disappointment when I found out that the game would be unable to make my hair grow back, or cure cancer, or make girls like me.

Playing the game I’m afraid to say that Fable 2 has a few technical issues.  Graphically while the visuals can be breathtaking, the overall effect is often ruined by glitches, clipping issues, pixelisation, poor draw distances, and almost Halo 2-esque levels of pop-up are not uncommon.

I keep coming across little Irks all the while I’m playing this game.  I can’t close doors,  when I return from a rough day’s adventuring, take the missus upstairs for a bit of the other I find my every move being scrutinized by half a dozen friends and well-wishers.  I’ve on several occasions transported to a quest location to find I’ve already killed antagonist X and need to travel back to the quest giver, achieving little more than being forced to sit through the loading screen for the second time in two minutes.  I’m unable to sell my first home because the game still thinks it’s my marital home.  The list of flaws seems to stretch on well into the middle distance.

Ultimately though all of the faults are unimportant.  When playing Fable II all the minor irritants don’t matter.  The game as a whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.

From the very outset Fable II is full of golden moments from the game’s cliched but well presented prologue you find yourself in a world in which things like graphics and load screens don’t matter, it is the world itself which matters and is constructed with such a sense of verisimilitude that even the smallest action can become a joy simply through the way the world around you reacts.

I considered the removal of the mini-map to be a step backward from the original Fable, several of the mini-map’s functions have been reintroduced though in the guise of the hero’s new canine companion.  While I met the inclusion of the dog with apprehension, I found it to be well handled and in-keeping with the overall style of the game.  Never appearing  too intrusive, it’s assistance is not essential to the play experience, but I felt enhanced it.  I suppose it depends on your opinion of dogs prior to playing Fable 2 but I took a great deal of enjoyment from simply observing my dog’s mannerisms, even just watching it tear-arsing around the countryside put a big, foolish grin on my face.

There is a real sense of drama running through the game giving it the air of a hollywood blockbuster.  The role of clothing in the game is now solely cosmetic, allowing a player to choose a look which they find appealing, without having to think about armour values (The pink frock coat over an olive green Waistcoat is mine! You can’t have it!).  The one button combat is suprisingly nuanced, while still allowing a degree of success through mashing.  The camera adds to the cinematic nature of combat highlighting blows with use of slow motion and Crash-zooms.

While I felt that graphically Fable II fell short, the sound is awesome.  The music expands on Danny Elfman’s original theme, and composer and Lionhead mainstay Russell Shaw does an excellent job without Hollywood intervention.  The dialogue is well written and the voice cast is impressive, including solid contributions from Firefly’s Ron Glass, Stephen Fry and my own personal milf de jour Zoe Wanamaker.  While some of the NPC dialogue can be overused, on several occasions they have left me laughing out loud.

I whole-heartedly recommend Fable II, as I have allowed myself to become completely enamoured with the world it creates.  There is a real sense of charm that runs all the way through this game and while i admit it has it’s flaws, it is never the less a work of flawed genious.