AI: The Somnium Files Review

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If you were to ask me what video games have the best storylines the Zero Escape trilogy would have to rank among my favourites. Sadly many people have avoided those titles, as visual novels are not their thing. When it comes to console experiences people want gameplay over reading text. To combat this problem Zero Escape director Kotaro Uchikoshi has tried something different with his latest release AI: The Somnium Files. This time round, instead of trawling through paragraphs, the story is told through cut scenes, point n click sections and third person puzzle sequences, where the player has direct control of their character.

Hopefully this added interactivity will tempt buyers to check out the game. Like with past Uchikoshi works, AI: The Somnium Files will reward those who play it with an excellent tale that is packed with clever twists. In this futurisitc murder mystery players guide a detective named Kaname Date, who is investigating various homicides committed by the New Cyclops Killer. The aforementioned murderer is known for gouging out the eyes of his victims. Gross! Aiding Kaname with the case is best girl Aiba, an AI assistant who assumes various forms. These include a sexy woman and a hamster with an eyeball for a face (out of those two guises I know which one I would rather smooch).

As was the case with the Zero Escape games, The Somnium Files has multiple endings. How you solve certain levels will determine what path you go down in the plot flowchart. Some endings are locked until certain clues have been uncovered in other branches of the narrative chart. Most of the game involves visiting a location and investigating the scene. Using a cursor Date is able to question witnesses and search the area for evidence. In some ways the gameplay is reminiscent of a sci-fi Phoenix Wright. Instead of relying on spirit mediums to solve the case, Kaname however navigates the dreams of suspects.

One thing I failed to mention earlier is that Date works for ABIS – the Advanced Brain Investigation Squad. This department owns a glorified dentist chair that suspects, who have been put to sleep, can be hooked up to. Once connected to the device Aiba, under the guidance of Date, is able to scour the person’s dreams for incriminating evidence. The one snag is that it’s only possible to psync into a person’s slumbering brain for a total of six minutes. On the plus side time doesn’t flow unless the player moves. Solving puzzles in the dream world also rewards Aiba with “Timies” that allow her to perform actions at a faster pace.

My rating for AI: The Somnium Files is five stars. If it wasn’t for Fire Emblem: Three Houses this would be my favourite game of 2019. The game was so enjoyable that I even made the effort to platinum it. Granted it isn’t too difficult to 100% the game, as none of the trophies are missable. The only ones that gave me a little trouble involved finding collectibles that are hidden within the dream stages. I think this game will appeal to fans of Danganronpa, which also happens to hail from the Spike Chunsoft stable. Both games revolve around gruesome murders, but manage to stay light hearted thanks to a quirky cast of characters. Another thing both games share is that they feature a killer bear. Always beware of bears in video games or you may meet a grizzly end.

Review of Alita: Battle Angel

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Oh no, another Hollywood live action adaptation of a beloved manga. If this turns out like Death Note I might just stab myself with a Panga. Thankfully I am pleased to report that Alita: Battle Agent turned out better than Dragonball Evolution. I don’t recommend that you watch the Americanized Goku flick, unless you have a strong constitution. The film is produced and co-written by the bloke who directed True Lies. It features a female cyborg warrior, who battles against a scientist who resides in the skies.

Alita: Battle Angel takes place in the year 2563. It’s set in a dilapidated metropolis that’s almost as rundown as New Jersey. Centuries ago a major war devastated Earth and left most of humanity living in slums. The wealthy elite relocated to a flying city, from where they now look down at the poor bums. Our tale begins in a scrapyard, where Doctor Dyson Ido finds a badly damaged cyborg who he later names Alita. Rescued from death, Ido gifts Alita with a new prosthetic body that possess the speed and agility of a cheetah. 

The best thing about Battle Angel are the visual effects and action scenes. I never once got bored of watching the heroine tear up the enemy machines. Over the course of two hours she battles various bounty hunters and competes against gladiators in a sport named Motor Ball. The CGI, fight choreography and talent of director Robert Rodriguez delivered many an exciting brawl. Sadly however the script’s pacing could be a lot better. Alita changes from an innocent amnesiac into a battle hardened revolutionary just a few short moments after we first met her.

It’s a similar story with Alita and scrap dealer Hugo’s forced romance. They go from acquaintances to passionate lovers, faster than characters in an adult game like Rance. One can only speculate this is due to a 120 minute film condensing too much material from the comic book. The end result is a movie were characters and plot take a backseat to how great the special effects look. Shame, as I was expecting more depth from a feature whose cast list contained talents such as Mahershala Ali. Jennifer Connelly likewise has little to do, although seeing her in nothing but underwear stimulated my peepee.

Although not perfect I can still recommend this release from 20th Century Fox. I will forgive the superficial writing as every fight sequence rocks. When compared to other anime/manga adaptations Alita: Battle Angel is a hit. The creators put in some real effort, unlike the makers of Dragonball Evolution who produced a steaming pile of shit. The finale teases a potential sequel, which in my opinion would be really cool. A poor box office may however deny us from ever seeing a follow up… damn, capitalism can be so cruel.

VERDICT: THREE OUT OF FIVE

Review of Aquaman

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Aquaman is a DC superhero movie that was released at the (fish) tail end of 2018. It stars Jason Momoa, the muscle man from Hawaii, whose performance in Conan is best left unseen. Aquaman, aka Arthur Curry, is the offspring of an Atlantis royal and a lighthouse keeper. I bought the film during a recent iTunes sale for seven quid, although apparently you can get the DVD from Amazon for much cheaper. The story sees Aquaman attempt to foil an Atlantis invasion of the surface world, which is being led by his brother Ocean Master. Although the flick runs for over two hours, it’s such an enjoyable action adventure that I never found myself wishing that it would end faster.

Curry is a hero who fights for justice using brawn and a telepathic ability that gives him command over any sea creature. Mera, an Atalantean princess who can manipulate water, aids Aquaman in this live action feature. She is portrayed by Texas beauty Amber Heard. She looked stunning in a cleavage flaunting emerald costume – schwing, what a sexy bird. The pair travel to Africa and Italy in search of a mystical trident that could potentially stop the upcoming war. Whoever wields said weapon can claim mastery of Atlantis’ throne and army, according to ancient lore.

Ocean Master gets wind of this scheme and decides to recruit the services of a pirate named Blank Manta. He equips the criminal with advanced armour and orders him to give Aquaman the gift of death (like an evil version of Santa). Their subsequent showdown in Sicily was a visual treat. Kudos must go to horror veteran director James Wan, because every action scene he filmed was sweet. All the battles were easy to follow, as they are well choreographed and don’t resort to using excessive jump cuts like other blockbusters do. I really hate it when films do that – Hunger Games I am looking at you!

Given how good the duels between Aquaman and Black Manta were it’s a real shame that the villain doesn’t get more scenes. I suspect he will appear more prominently in Aquaman 2, let us hope it doesn’t take too long for a sequel to hit cinema screens. Thanks to the mix of colourful CGI, comedy and action the movie avoided being yet another DC flop. In fact, from what I recall, back when it made its debut on the week’s blockbuster movie chart Aquaman finished top. It looks like Marvel’s rivals are starting to improve. Shazam and Joker were also well received by moviegoers, so it appears that DC and Warner Bros have finally found their groove.

On a five point scale I am giving Aquaman a four. I am not a big fan of the comics, but the movie adaptation was great – in that aspect it mirrors my feelings on Thor. Some viewers may disagree and say the content is childish. Screw them because, in my opinion, soldiers who ride sharks are badass and a hero who can pull off a gold top with green pants is stylish. It’s refreshing to see a DC movie that isn’t promoting a cinematic universe or even worse is dark just for the sake of being dark. The DC films helmed by Zack Snyder were guilty of that, James Wan went with a more lighthearted approach instead and hit it out of the park.

Spider-Man: Far From Home Review

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Spider-Man: Far From Home is the sequel to Disney’s wallcrawler reboot. Back in 2002 Sam Raimi gave us two excellent live action webhead movies. Sadly that series came to an end when studio interference conspired to produce a messy third installment. A decade after the first Raimi movie came out we got The Amazing Spider-Man. Said reboot (and it’s followup) were far from amazing. After three successive duds Sony Pictures conceded that they are inept at making films and allowed Marvel Studios to film a new reboot. The result was the brill Spider-Man: Homecoming. Can Far From Home match the quality of its predecessor? Read on and find out.

OVERVIEW

Marvel superheroes don’t have time for vacations. That’s something Peter Parker learns, after being resurrected in Avengers: Endgame. Pete was hoping for a peaceful trip to Europe, with his classmates, but those plans are scuppered when Nick Fury gives him a call. The director of SHIELD recruits Spider-Man to aid him in battling elemental creatures, who are terrorizing the continent. Joining him for the ride is Quentin Beck (aka Mysterio) a fellow hero who hails from an alternate dimension.

Far From Home shows how recent events have changed Peter. After getting zapped out of existence and witnessing the death of his mentor, Parker has lost his enthusiasm for being a high profile Avenger. He is content with battling local neighbourhood crime and living a regular high school student life on his time off. It’s gotten to the point that Peter is looking for any excuse to give away all the cool tech he inherited from Tony Stark, including a pair of shades that can hack any device and command killer drones from outer space.

The movie’s 129 minute running time can be split into two parts. The second half of the film is your typical superhero fare, where Spidey battles to save the world. Before that we get a bunch of high school hijinks. These focus on Peter trying to pluck up the courage to confess his romantic feelings to MJ. Like in the comic books however, Peter’s relationship is put in jeopardy by his crime fighting obligations. Many times he is forced to go AWOL and disappoint MJ, which is not ideal given that rival classmate Brad Davis is also vying for MJ’s affection. Forget party loving redheads, these days kids find moody/sarcastic chicks to be irresistible.

VERDICT

My rating for Spider-Man: Far From Home is four stars. For the second time Marvel Studios have delivered a fun packed Spider-Man movie. Let’s hope they don’t falter on the third attempt, like Raimi did. Overall, I would say that I liked Homecoming a little more. It had a more menacing villain and did a better job of keeping it’s comedy moments under control. There was a bunch of goofy stuff that could easily have been cut out from this film. I found the romance between Spidey sidekick Ned Leeds and a young Betty Brant unnecessary. The same goes for the fling that Aunt May and SHIELD agent Happy Hogan have. Neither of those subplots did much, other than give overweight guys the unrealistic hope that landing a gorgeous girlfriend is possible.

Some positives include the performances of Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal. Holland cements his place as the best live action Spider-Man to date. He played well off the charismatic Gyllenhaal, an actor who years ago was considered for the role of Spider-Man too. Moving onto Gyllenhaal’s character, I was impressed by the effects used to bring Mysterio’s powers of illusion to life. I also dug how the studio retained Mysterio’s costume from the comics. Thankfully they didn’t deem a fishbowl head to be too goofy and replace it with something less iconic, as was the case with Electro’s live action redesign.

Based on the quality of the two Spider-Man “Home” movies I am pleased to hear that Sony and Marvel have patched up their differences and extended their partnership to produce more sequels in this universe. Given how Spider-Man has been positioned to be Iron-Man’s successor (and the bombshell this film ends on) I cannot imagine how disappointed fans would have been had Sony parted ways with the MCU. Corporate greed sometimes sabotages art, but thankfully common sense prevailed on this occasion. Thank you for reading. Until next time, court is adjourned.

How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?

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Anime is the fountain of all knowledge. In recent times it has taught me how to survive on a desert island and how to perform magic tricks. How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift teaches viewers how to work out. The show’s combination of fitness advice and eye candy motivated me to do exercise, back in the summer when the show was airing. It didn’t last though. After a while I developed tennis elbow. The strain was just the excuse I needed to revert back to a slothful existence of sitting on the couch playing video games.

OVERVIEW

Based on a manga, set in the Kengan Ashura universe, this twelve episode anime follows a high school girl named Hibiki Sakura. Due to constant snacking, Hibiki has recently put on some weight. This won’t do, so she decides to join the local Silverman Gym; hoping that exercising on the machines will help her slim down. Soon she makes a training buddy in the form of student council president Akemi Soryuin. At first glance Akemi looks like a model student, but don’t let initial impressions fool you. Her main reason for frequenting the gym is to gawk at bodybuilders.

The pair are coached by fitness trainer Naruzo Machio, who reminds me a little of the Incredible Hulk. His default form is that of a slim man. Whenever Machio flexes though, his muscles grow to the point that his tracksuit shreds apart. Although his body bulks up his head doesn’t and looks comically small in comparison. Never mind the warning of not skipping leg day when bodybuilding. This is what happens when one skips head day.

As the series progresses more gym goers are introduced. My favourite is Hibiki’s teacher Satomi Tachibana, who unbeknownst to her students is a cosplayer that likes to pose in revealing attire. Other characters include Hibiki’s best friend Ayaka Uehara, whose family own a boxing gym. Working out at said establishment has blessed Ayaka with incredible abs. Last but not least is Gina Boyd, who hails from Russia. She travelled to Japan in order to compete in an arm wrestling tournament. After the final she decides to remain in the country. Wow, immigration to Japan is more lax than I thought. Gina has no trouble transferring to a foreign school or finding a place to stay. Even language is of no concern to her. Gina is apparently fluent in Japanese because she grew up watching Jackie Chan movies??!???

VERDICT

My rating for How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift is four stars. It’s a series that is both funny and informative. The characters make you laugh, show you how to perform sets properly and highlight how easy it is to exceed a recommended daily calorie count. Overall, I preferred the earlier episodes, which focused more on training, over the latter ones. Towards the end of its run the series cut down on fitness content in favour of silly storylines. Speaking of fitness, I didn’t always agree with the advice that was given. One episode in particular seemed to suggest that intermittent fasting will turn you into a fatty sumo wrestler. In my experience the opposite is true.

I won’t hold that against the show though, as everyone is different. What works for one person may not for someone else. That could well explain how people get the same results with different methods. Just look at vegans for example. They stay slim on a diet that is high in carbs. On the other end of the scale are the keto crowd, who proclaim that carbohydrates will make you fat and that it is healthier to consume foods rich in fat.

How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift is an anime I can recommend to most people. Those with eating disorders may want to stay away though. A show that considers someone with the slim physique of Hibiki to be overweight is likely to push some people over the edge. All that said, I think it’s good to have entertainment that promotes fitness. Obesity rates are on the rise and not helped by plus size models who brainwash followers into believing that it’s possible to be both healthy and fat. People shouldn’t be ridiculed for their looks, but protecting someone’s feelings with falsehoods will cause even more harm in the long run.

For those of you who don’t care an iota about fitness I can still recommend this series. The comedy is worth the price of admission, as is the eye candy. I don’t think the fan service is a deal breaker for audiences, as it stays playful and never crosses the line that makes other ecchi shows creepy. The ladies are gorgeous and I am sure female viewers will also appreciate a barely clothed Machio showing off his saido chesto. Just be sure not to get carried away with pleasuring yourself off to animated beauties. Doing so may result in a sprained wrist… or tennis elbow.

Review of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

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I don’t usually double dip on video games, but for Link’s Awakening I decided to make an exception. It’s my favourite GameBoy title of all time after all. Come to think of it, it’s probably my fave Zelda game too; narrowly beating out the likes of Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker to the number one spot. In this remake of the 1993 classic, players have to help a marooned Link in escaping from Koholint Island. To leave the isle Link needs to awaken the mysterious Wind Fish, who slumbers within a giant egg situated atop Koholint’s tallest peak. Unfortunately for him the only alarm clock that can wake said fishy are eight mystical instruments, which are each stored in monster infested dungeons.

OVERVIEW

Zelda: Link’s Awakening is exactly what a remake should be. The game is virtually identical to the original, but has been beefed up with modern day visuals and several quality of life improvements. My favourite enhancement comes courtesy of the Switch hardware. Thanks to the system’s extra buttons, players no longer need to pause every few seconds to rearrange their inventory. I also appreciated the addition of extra warp points, which makes travelling across Koholint Island much quicker. Content wise this edition contains all the levels from the original GameBoy release, plus a bonus dungeon that was added to the GameBoy Colour re-release a few years later.

Difficulty wise I don’t think Zelda: Link’s Awakening is too tough. The puzzles will stump you for a bit, but are solvable with some thought. Should you get stuck inside a dungeon seek out the owl statutes, as they offer tips on how to overcome certain obstacles. On some occasions, when traipsing through the overworld, it isn’t always clear where Link should go to advance the story. Fear not though, as there are phone booths scattered across the island. You can visit these to ring up an old geezer who will point you in the right direction. Helpful, if perhaps a tad redundant in this modern age where we have been spoiled by free online guides that tell you how to complete any game.

One thing that disappointed me about Link’s Awakening was the Dungeon Creator, which Nintendo promoted in their trailer. When I first saw footage of this feature I got excited about the prospect of constructing Zelda levels. Sadly what we get is no Super Mario Maker. It’s pretty much a glorified sidequest, were you earn rewards by clearing stages assembled from premade chambers. You can’t even share your creations online with other players, which would have given the game some replay value. Pity, as Link’s Awakening is short by Zelda standards. You can complete the whole adventure in under ten hours. Modern gamers may expect more content, but you need to understand that back in the day squeezing a game of this size into an 8-bit cartridge was impressive.

VERDICT

My rating for Zelda: Link’s Awakening is four stars. The game isn’t quite as epic as I recalled, but was a lot of fun to revisit nonetheless. I dug the cute graphics, the funny characters Link meets and the emotional ending. Should you be one of those players who found Breath of the Wild’s open world to be intimidating I recommend giving Link’s Awakening a try. It’s a more linear experience that focuses on puzzle solving rather than exploration. Like I said earlier, this is a great remake. Developer GREZZO has ported a great game and polished it even further. The only change that I disliked was adding physics to the previously easy crane mini-game. Now, just like a real arcade machine, the claw sometimes drops your prize. How I raged when the Yoshi doll, Link was trying to win, escaped from my grasp.

Untitled Goose Game Review

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Geese love to torment humans. If you don’t believe me just do a quick search on Youtube and you’ll find countless videos of park goers fleeing in terror, after crossing paths with an irritable goose. The star of Untitled Goose Game is no exception to that rule. Players guide said goose, as he waddles through a tranquil English village on a mission to commit “fowl” play. The village is broken up into five areas, but when the game begins you only have access to one zone. In order to unlock entry into other parts of the village players will need to commit various pranks, which are listed on a digital notepad.

OVERVIEW

Untitled Goose Game is unlike anything I have played before. If I had to pick a genre for this title my answer would be “puzzle game mixed with some stealth elements.” The above mentioned pranks require some thought, as they depend on working out where and how to use objects the goose finds in the environment. The puzzles aren’t too difficult, but may stump some “bird brained” individuals. What I like about the game’s design is that some of the brainteasers can be solved in multiple ways. For example, one early puzzle demands that you soak a pesky gardener. This can be achieved by turning on some nearby sprinklers or alternatively the goose can snatch a valuable item and force the greenskeeper to chase after him into a lake.

The stealth portion of the game involves sneaking past certain villagers, who have no patience for a trouble making goose. Don’t expect Metal Gear Solid depth from the stealth parts though, even if getting into the pub does require that the goose conceal himself inside a cardboard box! For the most part you can usually progress just by walking slowly at the right moment or distracting a foe with a well timed honk. As someone who dislikes stealth games I was okay with Untitled Goose Game’s more casual approach to sneaking. I don’t believe it is possible to suffer a game over at all. Should the goose get caught he’ll just be shooed away from the vicinity and have any item he is carrying confiscated.

VERDICT

My rating for Untitled Goose Game is a three out of five. It’s funny to see how this indie game, that was put together by just four people, is presently outselling the latest Zelda release. It would seem that gamers cannot resist the temptation to cause mischief. The game’s appeal may also come from the graphics. When I first laid eyes upon the trailer I couldn’t help but be charmed by the children’s book style visuals. On the sonic side of things, we get limited sound and music. The audio we are treated to however does its job well. Pressing the honk button never gets old and I dug the piano tune that plays whenever the goose is pursued by one of his honking mad victims.

I can’t give Untitled Goose Game a higher score, as it can be completed in one or two hours. Even if the game isn’t a full price release, I was expecting a bit more content for the money I paid. All that said, once the main campaign is finished some bonus objectives get unlocked, which extend the playtime somewhat. If value for money is a concern, my recommendation would be to wait for the game to go on sale. Alternatively fun can be had just by checking out an online Let’s Play of the game. If you want a giggle hop over to Youtube and give an Untitled Goose Game video playthrough a “gander.”