Wednesday, February 19, 2014
The first trailer for the highly anticipated (by me) Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest in Marvel's path to cinema dominance, premiered on last night's Jimmy Fallon. For those unfamiliar, the Guardians are a classic Marvel Universe franchise rebooted a few years ago by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning during the Annihilation: Conquest storyline. This lineup, on which the film is based, is somewhat quirky, consisting of everyman Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord; ruthless warrior Gamora, adopted daughter of Avengers post-credit baddie Thanos; other ruthless warrior Drax the Destroyer; gun-toting Rocket Raccoon; and a talking tree named Groot.
So how was the trailer? Take a look:
A few thoughts: I'm surprised by the tone. Marvel films have had their fair share of levity, whether it's Tony Stark's one-liners (more like Tony Snark, am I right?), Thor's fish-out-of-water antics, or the song and dance number in Captain America. But the Guardians trailer seems to go nearly flat out comedy, nearly to the point of parody. Don't get me wrong, I don't think this is bad - and I certainly don't think it'll be reflective of the film as a whole - but it's an interesting gamble when introducing a team for the first time to a large audience. I suppose it helps when you have Chris Pratt, best known for his role as Andy Dwyer on Parks & Rec, as your leading man.
It also seems to be a good take on the DnA series, which combined humor, surprisingly deep character moments, and insane sci-fi action. It's not a scene-for-scene adaptation (where's telepathic Russian dog Cosmo???) but the look and tone of the fan-favorite series seems to have been faithfully replicated.
Overall, I couldn't be more excited for Guardians of the Galaxy. It looks like it will successfully carve it's own unique niche in a film universe that's quickly becoming crowded (and hopefully not overcrowded). It's also nice to see chances being taken on franchises like Guardians and the upcoming Edgar Wright/Paul Rudd Ant-Man. Hopefully they can continue the trend of Marvel's fun, sharp blockbusters.
Guardians of the Galaxy hits theaters August 1, 2014.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Supergroups in music are nothing new. Some work better than others but it's generally fun to see members of your favorite bands collaborate in an all-star-like setting. One such group that isn't nearly discussed enough as such is fun.; while Nate Ruess is clearly the frontman of the band and is fairly well known from his time with The Format, Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost don't get enough credit for being in Steel Train and Anathallo. It's hard to forget how talented each member is on his own, so it's great when they get the chance to stretch their legs.
Jack Antonoff released a new song, "I Wanna Get Better," under this side project, and it's fantastic. It's definitely reminiscent of Steel Train and shows that Antonoff has retained his unique style and voice even after years of playing with fun. If we can't have more fun. for the time being, I'm glad we can get work from the individual members to hold us over.
Check out the Bleachers site for tour dates and to purchase the song on iTunes.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Is it still a thing for non-rappers to think they're rappers? It was in the '90s, where actors and athletes were dropping albums left and right (looking at you, Shaq). I suppose it still happens - some people will never accept that they aren't triple threats - but it seems to be on the decline. Still, when someone is known for one talent and tries to exploit another, it raises some flags. That's the challenge Donald Glover faced with his musical endeavor Childish Gambino, and one he easily overcame. It turns out that Glover's quick wit and wordplay, honed by his burgeoning career(s) in comedy and writing, served him equally as well on the mic. After a series of EPs he dropped his first full length album Camp in 2012, followed up by the free Royalty. December saw the release of his second "proper" album, Because the Internet, and it Gambino found himself at something of a crossroads: what direction would he take his career? Would it be more of what launched his musical ambition? Build off of Camp and Royalty? Something completely new? The answer is...yes.
Because the Internet is a concept album, complete with a screenplay, Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, that syncs up to the album. This depth is shown throughout; songs flow into and out of each other, and there's a tight coherence that gives the feeling that the album is more than the sum of its parts. Like Childish Gambino's previous works there's something acutely personal about the album. He raps of struggles, desires, mistakes, embarrassments, and other truly human emotions - often not positive - that are missing from a lot of modern music. It's an oddly somber listen.
However, Gambino's sharp tongue doesn't disappear completely. As mentioned in the announcement of his first teaser, "Yaphet Kotto", his trademark pop culture and "nerd" references are there, and each song has at least one. There's a whole lot of cleverness present, which works well in juxtaposition with the aforementioned moody tone. It keeps you on edge, not sure of what to expect, which makes for a truly enjoyable experience.
There's also a lot of experimentation to be found on Because the Internet. To this point, while there has been variety, Childish Gambino's releases have been fairly straightforward rap affairs. Because the Internet still has its fair share of rap and hip hop but there's a healthy dose of R&B as well. Ludwig Göransson's instrumentals are still present but each song is unique. The hard, syncopated "WorldStar" isn't the tempo-mixed "Shadows" isn't the almost pop-esque "3005" isn't the bass-heavy "II. Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night)." Guest performers like Chance the Rapper and Azealia Banks, as well as samples, are used to great effect and complement each song without taking away from Gambino's presence, especially when compared to Royalty's mile-long guest list.
Because the Internet is what you want it to be: you can follow Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, delve into the subtitled track titles, trace the narrative string that weaves throughout; or you can simply enjoy it for a well-written, well-produced hip hop album. There's really as much to it as you want to put into it. While the album builds off of Childish Gambino's previous work, it's also clear that he's experimenting, changing, growing. Does he have anything to prove still, after a meteoric rise and a trail of sold-at-worst releases? Maybe in his mind. Because the Internet cements him as a voice for a new age of rap, but if a need for validation means he'll keep pushing the boundaries and his next release shows as much growth as Camp to Because the Internet, I won't complain.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Adventure games are a tricky proposition in today's video game market. In an environment continuously touting hyper-realistic graphics, online multiplayability, and more, a relatively simple point-and-click adventure game has a hard time gaining traction. That's exactly why developer Double Fine went to Kickstarter: they knew there was an audience for this type of game but couldn't find a publisher to take a chance on it. Two years and over $3 million later, we finally have Broken Age, and boy was it worth the wait.
Broken Age follows two thematically-related storylines. One involves Shay, a young boy living aboard a spacecraft with some overbearing computer programs who takes part in absurd "training" missions. The other takes place in a quaint village as Vella finds herself chosen as one of the sacrifices for the monstrous Mog Chothra and, unlike the rest of the village, doesn't see the point in appeasing the monster. The plots unravel slowly as you explore, and the slow burn really helps to build each storyline's respective world. Characters are funny and clever and, most importantly, each interaction feels important, or at the very least worthwhile. There's also enough intrigue and mystery that you'll want to keep clicking through until the end.
The gameplay is, comparatively, pretty straightforward. You click where you want your character to go and are able to pickup and otherwise interact with certain objects. When you speak with people (or computers in Shay's case) you're able learn more about the world in which you're interacting and choose your next course of action. The puzzles involved are fun and clever; you'll need to, for instance, decide how to use objects in conjunction with each other or figure out a certain path to take, and while they can be tricky, nothing in the game will leave you frustrated or exhasperated. The UI is clean (and virtually nonexistent) and nothing is so confusing that you won't be able to jump right in.
Aesthetically the game fires on all cylinders. If you've played a Double Fine game before - Psychonauts, Brütal Legend, etc - the distinctive art style is alive and well. The graphics have an almost watercolor appeal to them, and there's a great contrast between the soft backgrounds and the sharp characters and objects. The music is fun, and the voice acting is superb - which is great, because the game is incredibly character- and story-driven, and a half-assed attempt at making the characters come to life would have done it a huge disservice. When a company can get this kind of quality on a relatively small budget, it makes you wonder why you need a hundred million dollars at all.
The worst part about Broken Age is that it ends. Abruptly. You see, only Act 1 has been properly released, with Act 2 coming out later. The team found a nice end point for a cliffhanger, but it also means that your playthrough will be short at only a few hours. Maybe chalk it up to good marketing and always leave them wanting more, but it's tough to decide whether you like having what you can right now or if you wish they'd finished the entire thing up before release.
It's appropriate that Broken Age's protagonists struggle with growing up and forging their own paths, as that's exactly what Double Fine has done with their game. Their Kickstarter campaign has, in fact, kickstarted the resurgence of an almost-given-up-on genre and helped validate crowdfunding as a viable business model. The best part is that this wasn't just for show; Broken Age is a truly fun, engaging, emotional game that's worth the hype. Don't be disappointed when it ends; know that there's more on the way, but more importantly, make sure you enjoy the ride while you're on it.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
It's a brand new year, and you know what that means: new year's resolutions! I know you all made them, and I bet one of them is to play more awesome games. Luckily Humble Indie Bundle X is here to make your cross-platform, DRM-free dreams come true. (That's '10,' not 'X.' Like Wolverine.)
- To the Moon by Freebird Games: An beautiful story-driven game that harkens back to the golden age of 16-bit RPG goodness.
- Joe Danger 2: The Movie by Hello Games: Part racer, part platformer, all chaotic over-the-top destruction that's goofy and cartoony in the best ways possible.
- Papo & Yo by Minority: Does it get more exotic, haunting, and clever than this puzzle-platformer? You'd be hard-pressed to argue otherwise.
- BIT.TRIP Presents... Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien by Gaijin Games: It's a mouthful of a title, but this installment of the BIT.TRIP series lives up to the rest of its family in terms of sheer fun.
- Reus by Abbey Games: Take control of a group of gods and shape the planet and, ultimately, it's people. A truly wonderful game; expect a review soon.
- Surgeon Simulator 2013 by Bossa Studios: Is it as straightforward as its title suggests? Mostly, yeah. Is it really fun and kind of unsettling to have someone's life in your virtual hands? Mostly, yeah.
"But wait!" you say. "My resolution wasn't to play more games, it was to help people! What can Humble Indie Bundle X do for me?" Oh, you mean besides offer donations to the EFF and Child's Play Charity?
...OK, nothing besides that, but that's pretty great, right? It's what people in the biz call a "win-win."
You've got great games, great variety, and an entire year to play them, so get started!
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
We're well past Halloween but that doesn't mean it's time to put away the spooky entertainment. I'm not just talking about your survival horror games that seem to be all the rage with the kids these days, or your Slenders, or even one of the plethora of zombie games; sometimes you just need some good ol' fashioned monsters, the likes of which literature and classic cinema have been based on for decades. Blood of the Werewolf, from Scientifically Proven and Midnight City, harkens back to a day of not only nostalgic fiction by featuring all of your favorite monsters but also of tried and true platforming gameplay that will challenge you and, if you stick with it, ultimately reward you in the end.
There's an interesting gameplay hook in Blood of the Werewolf: you split your time as deceptively dainty Selena, a crossbow-toting mother chasing after her kidnapped child, and Selena's werewolf form. At certain intervals throughout levels you'll find yourself in moonlight, at which point you'll transform automatically. Becoming a werewolf offers a whole new set of skills and abilities and adds some great variety. I certainly had more fun playing as the werewolf - simply a personal preference, as I found that more interesting - but there's a nice balance between the two styles; you'll never go too long in one form before having to play as the other, and unlike some titles with protagonist switches, you won't find yourself bored by either the human or wolf forms. Each form has upgradable abilities and very light RPG-ish elements to keep things interesting as you progress.
Blood of the Werewolf is hair-pullingly difficult in both good and bad ways. Here are some examples of real life exclamations I made while playing the game:
-"Argh! I just need to avoid that monster and jump onto that platform, then avoid that guy, shoot that one, and get across the water!" Blood of the Werewolf has plenty of old-school sequences like that, requiring meticulous planning made over many trial-and-error deaths. Keeping track of bad guys, moving platforms, environmental hazards, and more while testing the limits of your finger twitching to make jumps and defend yourself. It's tense, exciting, and frustrating in the best way possible: once you complete certain sections you feel like you've really accomplished something.
-"Oh my God. Are you kidding me?!? How?! What?!? $&#*!!!" This is the dark side of difficult gameplay: when it seems like things are designed for the sole purpose of being annoying rather than challenging. Some enemies (I'm looking at you, tiny flying bats) are just aggravating. The most constant cause of this, though, is the knockback effect. When you get hit, you'll fly backwards. Unfortunately, it's a little too liberal, causing you to fly back into another hazard - another enemy, water, lava, etc - and you get stuck in a loop of being frustrated not because of your own failings but because of the game’s design. I realize this is common in a lot of previous platformers, but the knockback is an old-school flourish I definitely could have lived without.
Aesthetically the game is great; there's a stylized, almost cartoonish design to the characters and levels which works well with its classic monster movie approach. Enemies are varied and levels are detailed, ranging from sewers to factories and more. You'll never find yourself wanting in regards to interesting visuals. Small touches - like your werewolf form getting bloodied as you devour enemies - really help to draw you in. The music also really helps to build the world, setting the right mood for each stage. The story is progressed by static cutscenes featuring a simple portrait and text, but there's some nice voiceover work that just campy enough to be fun and really brings the characters to life. It's an overall pleasant experience and as a player it's always nice when such obvious care is taken to all aspects of a game. How much you'll enjoy Blood of the Werewolf depends greatly on how you end up feeling about its difficulty. Some might not have the patience, but they'll really be missing out. The game feels like a love letter to classic films and games but doesn't rest only on nostalgia; it's determined to build its own world and style, and does so wonderfully. Blood of the Werewolf proves that old school fun is alive and well in modern day gaming and is a must-play for any platforming fan.
Blood of the Werewolf is available now on Steam.
Special thanks to Scientifically Proven/Midnight City for providing a copy of Blood of the Werewolf for review.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Oftentimes when a new way of doing things pops up - a new platform, a different business model, etc - it's relegated to fringe products and creators. By their nature independent creators are more able and willing to mix things up and take chances as opposed to larger entities who are more entrenched in their ways. Take the Humble Bundles, for instance, which I've written about many, many times before: more often than not their re-releases, mainly of small games. However, there have been exceptions, such as the THQ Bundle, and now we're getting another with the Humble WB Games Bundle - y'know, with little franchises like Lord of the Rings and Batman.
It's true that these games aren't particularly new, but they are great. Included are:
-Batman: Arkham Asylum (Game of the Year edition)
-F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
-Lord of the Rings: War in the North
-Batman: Arkham City GOTY
Like all Humble Bundles it's pay-what-you-want, and while those last two games are available by pay-more-than-the-average, that's currently sitting at under five bucks so just pony up for it. There's also a caveat that they're Windows/Steam only, as opposed to most Bundles which are multiplatform. On the other hand, if you can't play the games, you can still buy them and donate to We Can Be Heroes (oh, who just posted about that? Hmmm...)
It's great to see major players find the value of different distribution and revenue routes. While I think Humble Bundle provies an amazing service to small studios, it's also nice to mix things up a bit; maybe including Batman games turns people to the site who might not have heard of Humble Bundle otherwise. In any case, this is just another opportunity to buy fantastic games at a great price and help out a good cause to boot.