Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review: Watchmen (the film)

It took me a while to get round to seeing this film- I'd missed it at the cinema and for some reason never felt like watching it at home. I'm not sure why.

I'd heard a lot of good things about this film from people I know who had seen it, and I'd also been told that it had been written as a deliberately unfilmable comic, and that Alan Moore was not a fan of adaptations of his work. One of the first things I noticed in the credits was the lack of Moore's name.

I didn't know what to expect when watching the film, so just sat back to enjoy the ride. The only things I'd been made aware of were the high levels of violence, and Dr. Manhatten's nudity. The opening credits show the rise and fall of the Minutemen, a team of masked superheroes, set to Bob Dylan's The Times they are a-Changin'. (The use of music seemed like a wry nod to the audience. Hallelujah and All Along the Watchtower don't feel shoehorned in. Me and Bobby McGee appears in the tracklisting in the credits, but I didn't catch when it was used -a shame, as I love that song). Skip forward several decades, and we are in 1985, except in an alternate reality where Nixon is president, and America won the Vietnam war. We learn of the Watchmen, a sort of spiritual successor to the Minutemen, however heroes in masks and their own special blend of vigilante justice have been outlawed, and the team have disbanded.

One member, the sociopathic Rorschach continues to work outside of the law, and he discovers what he believes to be a plot to kill former "masks". As he contacts his former colleagues we learn of a much more sinister plot, involving the nuclear unease between America and Russia. To be honest, explaining the film is complicated due to the nuances it contains, and the fact I want to avoid spoilers. 

The film is around three hours long, but at no point did I feel it dragged- no extended fight scenes for padding for example. The effects did not feel out of place, and none of the characters felt 2D. This is an unpleasant film, but in this context that isn't a bad thing- it's a fantastic film that deals with a lot of unpleasant subjects. The clichĂ© of the "flawed superhero" is taken to an extreme, and it is logical- why not "dirty" heroes? Rorschach may see things in shades of black and white, but this film shows that the world, even the world of heroes, just doesn't work that way. 

I didn't like the ending. At least, I thought I didn't like the ending. Now I'm not so sure- just because I didn't like it doesn't mean it wasn't the appropriate ending, and the more I think about it (and it did make me think), the more the ending grows on me. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Review: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

This was the game that came packaged with my 3DS XL. I am a big fan of the Legend of Zelda series, and this is a direct link (ho ho) to one of my all-time favourite games- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (shortened to LttP here) which was originally released on the SNES.

The map and outside enemies are the same, but with much better graphics- for example, the small stones that move in LttP? In LBW (Link Between Worlds) you can see that they're actually skulls. The music also remains the same, and I think it's this continuity of game details that really makes the franchise flow well.

Plot-wise, our hero is once again called upon by Princess Zelda to save the Kingdom of Hyrule, this time from an evil sorcerer who...turns people into paintings! Our hero, however, holding special power, is able to use this to his advantage. He can go 2D and merge onto walls! This gives an interesting twist to the gameplay, and gives a lot more scope for exploring the landscape- you can, for example, merge onto the back of a building, or between boulders, as well as walking on walls like a living wall-painting (which is pretty much what you become).

Instead of the dark and light worlds of LttP, this has the parallel kingdoms of noble Hyrule and ruined...Lorule. Yeah. Lorule. I jokingly thought that might be the kingdom's name as I watched the cutscene, and was slightly taken aback to see it was the actual name. It does work though, and I especially like the look of  Lorule's princess.

One major difference in this game is the way in which items are obtained. I'm not going to go into too much detail because of spoilers, but for those expecting the standard formula of Go to dungeon-->Get item-->use item to defeat dungeon boss-->Use item to assist in getting to next dungeon, it's not how it happens. I was initially put off by this, especially as it gives the game less structure, but then I got used to the idea and was able to move between the dungeons as I chose.

The level of difficulty in this game was low for me, I finished the storyline in under a week, but that is with about 24 hours of gameplay. I also needed a few hints for some of the side quests and also for the very very end of the final boss fight (something I'd tried earlier in the fight but didn't work needed to be done). Normally these games stump me for longer than that. I am still short one piece of heart thanks to an incredibly tricky minigame, but other sidequests were straightforward (note: this does not mean easy).

 Overall this is a worthy successor to LttP, and a great addition to the Zelda franchise. I will be playing it again, this time seeing if I can get things to run more smoothly (for example, get extra hearts earlier).

Review: 3DS XL

It was my birthday last week, and my fiancé gave me a 3DS XL, the limited edition black and gold Legend of Zelda version, emblazoned with the Triforce. (Review of the game to come separately).

One of the first things I noticed on looking at the box was that it didn't come with a power adapter. Now, that seems like a bit of an odd move. Thankfully the console comes with some charge, and we had a suitable charger already, but it would have been frustrating had this not been the case. It's not usually the case that a charger has to be bought separately so it should have been flagged up a bit more. I realise that many of those getting this console may have another console with a compatible charger, so it's possibly a way of cutting costs, but I doubt it will prove a popular move.

According to Nintendo, the following chargers can be used with the 3DS XL: 3DS, DSi, DSi XL, but not the chargers that come with the original DS or DS Lite. 

Another possible cost-cutting exercise is the fact that the game this console came with (The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds) came as a digital download, rather than as a physical copy. This to me harks back to the days of the Sega Master System with it's inbuilt copy of Alex Kidd. This comes with the caveat that as with e-reader books and music downloads, buying digital games is not always the cheaper option. As an aside, I signed up for the Nintendo rewards program, which has changed and therefore eaten all my previous points, after downloading the game, which I think now means that I can't get the reward points for it. Most annoying.

Those are the only real downsides to the system. In itself is a comfortable size and shape to hold, and the battery life is long. I've used the camera as a QR scanner, which is easy to do, and the actual interface is simple to use. I'm not that impressed with the Internet browser, but I have other means of accessing the Internet, so I'm not overly worried by that.

One new feature is Streetpass. When the system is in sleep mode, being near someone else with the system will allow you to trade Miis (which are not linked to the Miis on the Wii, although they may be linked to the Wii U) and play games with them. This is an interesting feature, and one that I enjoy using.

I've not yet explored all that the system has to offer, but it is a great console to play. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Review: Let the Right One In

(Previously published on my Goodreads page)

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

This was a fantastic book. In Eli, Lindqvist has created a vampire for the modern age- one that is a vampire in the physical and emotional sense. The idea of vampirism as a living being - a symbiot - is also a neat twist in the idea of the "curse" of vampirism.

The book is neatly paced, and well grounded in it's setting of Sweden in the early 1980's. Something I felt would mar the book for me, but in fact helped me enjoy it more, is the fact that Oskar, the boy who strikes up an intense friendship with Eli, is not an instantly likable character. Whilst it was easy to empathise with him as a victim of bullying, and sympathise with the fact that he feels isolated and misses his father, the fact that he shoplifts, and is proud of doing so, and that he also has a morbid fascination with murders, does set him apart from other characters in the vampire genre. All the characters are well-rounded, and backstory is provided where relevant, and in a way that eases the book along, rather than feeling like a detour from the plot.

At the end of the book the story is brought together neatly, in an appropriate manner (I'd say "realistic" but that's not really the right word given the nature of the book) but also left potential for more of a story. I wanted to keep reading the book to see what happened at the end, then at the end I wanted more.

Highly recommended!

Review: The Great Gatsby

Er, yes. Been a while. Good intentions and all that.
Anyway, I've made a conscious decision to blog more, and do the reviews I kept telling myself I'd do.

At the start of the year I began reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I'd heard good things about it, and it is touted as a masterpiece, a definition of the Jazz Age, and the greatest love story of the century.

I really couldn't get on with this book. I found the pace too slow, it was only in the last twenty or so pages that the plot (to me) came to fruition. By then it was too late- it was only then I felt a tiny amount of sympathy for Gatsby, who wanted a specific love. Up until then I'd found him irritating- I appreciate this may have been the intention- none of the characters are appealing, wrapped up in themselves and the silk and glitter of the age, but the actions at the very end of the book removed that sympathy.

I read this book decades after it was written, maybe I just read it in the wrong generation. Morals regarding love and relationships have changed over that time, but even taking that into account, the love story does not shine through as much for me as I believe it was meant to.

This book is not getting a re-read from me, and the paperback will be heading back to the charity shop from whence it came. I may read other works by the author- I have been told that Tender is the Night is a better work, but it's not something I will be going out of my way to do.