Pokémon Sun/Moon 3DS Review

If I had to estimate, Pokémon is probably the video game series I’ve spent the most hours with in my entire life. From the moment I picked Bulbasaur all the way back on my 11th birthday in 1999 I knew I’d found the perfect game for me. The Pokémon series was the first RPGs I’d ever played and it’s a great introduction to the genre. The cartoon that had also started that year was also my first real exposure to anime, save for some badly dubbed 80s cartoons I may have seen. All of this combined into a perfect pokéstorm of new and exciting things and I’ve been on board ever since.

 

Moon and its counterpart Sun are the latest instalment in the main Pokémon series and while it does mark a bit of a departure to the Pokémon formula there’s still some familiar aspects to keep older fans interested.

 

I only played Pokémon Moon but Sun is effectively the same game just with a few version exclusive Pokémon and minor changes.

 

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You start off the game in pretty much the same way you always do. A nameless aspiring Pokémon trainer that moves to a new island/country with their mother. In this case you’re a new arrival in the Alola region which is basically Hawaii. Here you befriend the local professor who gives you your first Pokémon and sets up your whole journey. Your main goal is to collect and train a team of pocket monsters that are strong enough to defeat all rivals and help you eventually become the Pokémon League Champion. You do this by finding wild Pokémon in the plentiful tall grass and water of the Alolan region. Once you find a monster you like the look of you can catch it in a Pokéball then it becomes part of your team. You can then send it back out into battle to level up and eventually evolve into a stronger monster.

 

Right away I noticed some improvements from the older games in the presentation of the story moments. The camera angles and character animations are much more lively and charming than any of the previous games. The world overall feels a lot more alive. When you walk down a path you’ll hear the cries of Pokémon in the area, the various towns people will mill around instead of being motionless statues and sometimes Pokémon will randomly swoop down from the sky or jump out of a bush to battle you. All of this just really goes to show how far they’ve come since those early Gameboy days, it’s even a vast improvement from 2013’s X and Y games. All of these improvements to the world do have a cost though. I experienced a lot of slow down in any battle with more than 2 pokemon, in busy areas of the cities or when big special attacks were used. You can tell this game is really pushing the 3DS to its limits. Supposedly some of these issues can be mitigated by having one of the New Nintendo 3DS’s but I’m still rocking the 4 year old 3DS XL so I can’t personally confirm that.

 

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Speaking of special attacks that’s one of Sun/Moon’s new additions. Throughout your journey you’ll be faced with island challenges which take the place of the classic Pokémon gyms we’ve seen in other games. These challenges are quite different because instead of battling a gym leader at the end you’re attacked by an extra strong wild Totem Pokémon. At the start of the battle the Totem pokemon gets a beneficial stat boost and he can also call in some ally Pokémon making it a 2 on 1 fight. These battles became a refreshing challenge as the game went on because in previous games I’ve always felt pretty overpowered throughout. Once you defeat this boss you’re given a Z-Crystal which can power up a specific type of move letting you unleash a super attack once per battle. These Z-Attacks are pretty spectacular to watch (they’re almost as epic as a Final Fantasy summon) and can often let you easily take out a threat before they do any damage to your team.

 

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As with any good Pokémon game there is always a team of evil doers who try to thwart your progress at every turn and Sun/Moon introduces Team Skull. Normally these bad guy teams are pretty forgettable but Team Skull are beyond charming, they’re just so dumb and pathetic you can’t help but root for them.

 

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They’re basically the Pokémon world equivalent of Juggalos only a lot less gross. All of their lines of dialogue are spoken in rhyme and their appearance is always signalled by a goofy rap beat music track. The way they convey so much personality without any voice acting is a joy to experience and it’s head and shoulders above anything else in the series. There is a much bigger focus on story and characters in this game. It all flows together quite well too, you always know what you’re doing and very rarely stuck wondering where you need to go next. There are some fun twists and turns along the way but overall it felt like there was a bit too much of an anime influence and there were a lot of moments where things got a bit to ridiculous to take seriously.

 

Pokémon Sun/Moon are huge games and when you lay it all out it can seem a bit daunting especially now that we’re up to a total of 802 Pokémon as of this release. The amazing thing is that Pokémon games can be played at almost any level of complexity. You could really dig into the minutia and weigh up all the strengths and weaknesses of your Pokémon in every battle or you could probably just over level your starter Pokémon so that it outclasses everything you battle and ignore strategy altogether. It offers something to people of all skill levels which is probably why it’s been one of Nintendo’s most successful and enduring franchises. Whether you’re a returning Pokémon Super Nerd or a new fan brought in after the phenomenon of Pokémon GO I’m sure you’ll be able to find something to enjoy.

 

★★★★★

Doctor Strange (2016) Review

I’m loving Marvel’s recent willingness to risk high budget movies on some of their obscure characters. Back in 2014 I’m sure nobody thought a Guardians of the Galaxy film would have worked because even among comic fans they weren’t very well known but it did work, gloriously.

Dr. Strange is another gamble for Marvel, if you’ve read any big event comics you’ll have probably came across the Sorcerer Supreme. He’s the guy everyone calls when they have a magical problem or when technology has failed them. He’s a good utility player to have in this wider Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This review will contain plot spoilers, including the after credits scene

We start out getting introduced to Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), he’s a rock star surgeon who seems to be more concerned with recognition for his skill rather than saving people. We see his lavish apartment, car, clothes and also the dismissive way he treats his fellow doctors. It’s a pretty similar format to the first Iron Man movie, We hate him but also kind of like him because he’s charming and good at his job. In keeping with that format Strange’s hubris is soon met with a horrible car accident in which he suffers severe nerve damage to his hands. Naturally this means he’ll never be able to work as a surgeon again and sends him into a dark spiral of blame and self loathing. I felt like during this part they maybe went a little too dark though. He routinely abuses his friendship with fellow doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) and she kind of just takes it. Even going so far as to forgive him later in the movie without much push back. It’s annoying that Marvel continues to downplay the women in their stories. It just further alienates female fans and it made it hard for me to root for the character as a hero later on.

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Idle Hands are Mephisto’s Play Things

After all of his top surgeon friends abandon him because his condition is too risky to try and fix Strange starts to look for more unorthodox methods of healing. This leads him to Kuala Lumpur looking for a place called kamar-Taj. There he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and as many movie characters like him before doesn’t believe in magic or anything beyond the physical realm. The Ancient One decided to open Strange’s mind and sends his soul hurtling off the earth and out of our plane of existence. I can’t talk about this movie without mentioning that the special effects are incredible. They capture the psychedelic visuals of the 60’s comics perfectly. There are some incredibly complex actions scenes later on that are a cross between an M.C. Escher painting and that folding city scene from Inception.

From this point in the film the plot moves pretty quickly. We don’t actually see too much of Strange learning magic so it comes as quite a shock when he’s thrust into some fights and seems to hold his own. They don’t really make it clear how much time passes while he’s training. They try and explain his leap in skill away with Strange’s photographic memory, which I guess makes sense since most of the magic seems to involve memorising hand movements and incantations but it’s not very satisfying for the viewer.

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Before his training is totally complete our bad guy and former student of The Ancient One Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen) shows up ready to destroy earth’s magical barriers and let in the dark dimension. Mads does a pretty good job with what he’s given but he’s written as a totally forgettable villain. We don’t really get to see him do anything and there is barely any depth to his character. Add in that his character’s name is hard to pronounce and nobody will ever remember this guy.

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Doctor Strange has all the potential to be a great movie but the rushed pacing really lets it down. They do set up some really cool stuff for the future including name dropping some crazy characters (like Dormammu and the Living Tribunal) and setting up that Strange will be joining Thor in his next outing with the mid credits scene. I think Doctor Strange would have worked better as a TV show, we would have had more time to get to know the magical side of the Marvel universe and we could have actually got to know the characters and learned how his powers worked. It’s also a pretty formulaic film they don’t really throw any unexpected plot points your way and you can easily predict how most scenes will play out. So not a perfect first outing for the good doctor but I’m excited for what he’ll bring to marvel movies in the future.

★★★☆☆

The Enduring Appeal of Freaks and Geeks.

There are many TV shows that were cancelled before their time. Some still have a strong cult following, like firefly whose fans still lay in hope that it will come back once again in any form. Others have largely been lost to the mists of time. 

Then, there’s Freaks and Geeks. The 1999 TV show, though short lived is very well loved by its fans. It was where Judd Apatow and Paul Feig first cut their teeth, in fact it was partially based on some of the experiences of Paul Feig during his time in high school. 

From the beginning it is made clear this is not your typical teen drama, following popular kids as they navigate the life of cheerleaders or American football players. This is about the outsiders, the titular freaks and geeks of the world the ones who don’t fit in, and for the most part don’t really care to. The feelings of outsiderness are felt by and identified with almost everyone at one point or another so it’s easy to find at least one character you identify with strongly.

The story follows two siblings, Sam (John Francis Daley)  and Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardillini) as they make their way through the pitfalls of high school, though their storylines tend to stay separate.

Lindsay is an intelligent, well mannered, well performing student and captain of the mathletes. After witnessing the death of her grandmother she begins to question the world around her and she’s not so sure she like what she sees. Lindsay begins hanging out with the ‘freaks’, the kids who mostly hang out, smoke pot and listen to Rush a lot.

james-franxThough the story for the most part is told through the eyes of middle class Lindsay, her co-horts are mostly from a working class background, and are often struggling with issues of poverty and unstable home lives. We first see a glimpse of this in the episode Kim Kelly is my Friend, when Kim (Busy Philipps) invites Lindsay to her house for dinner. Lindsay thinks this is an olive branch for Kim’s hostile behaviour up until now, but it turns out Kim needed someone as an alibi for her late night activities. It is clear that Lindsay was not prepared for the sight of a low income family when she is greeted with a sheet of plastic in place of a wall, fried chicken for dinner, a brother asleep on the couch in the middle of the day and a shouting match over the table.

In another episode we see that the school has given up on Daniel (James Franco), it is also revealed that he has to help in the care of his ailing father as well as trying to be an ordinary eighteen year old kid who wants to escape all the pressures that are put upon him by the adults that are around him. Not many teen dramas of the time would be willing to look at the issues why the ‘burnouts’ became that way, but Freaks and Geeks when there, it wanted to tell the stories of the downtrodden, the given up on and the forgotten about. It was about those society has shunned and would rather not be there.

freaksThis willingness to speak for the often unspoken for combines with it’s subtle and rather gentle humour from the characters. Ken (Seth Rogan) is a great source of humour with his sarcastic quips and total apathy for school and for life, and Nick (Jason Segel) who falls desperately, and a little naively falls in love with Lindsay. This subtle humour allows for other topics such as drugs to be discussed without it being preachy, glamourising or simply ridiculous, which we can see in the episode “Chokin’ and Tokin’” when Lindsay tries weed for the first time after becoming concerned for Nick when his habit starts taking over his life. It’s refreshing to see a portrayal of drugs that does not speak down to it’s audience, it does not sensationalise the level of addiction by showing Nick becoming homeless and destitute, instead it shows us how he just hangs out listening to music and giggles a lot. Though accurate I would not say that it was a positive view of drugs as Lindsay decides she doesn’t want to get high again, but only after trying it for herself and experiencing some of the negative side effects first hand.

mr-rossoAnother great source of humour is the brilliantly played school guidance councillor, Mr Rosso (Dave Gruber). An ageing hippy who likes to dole out life advice based on his own experience, much to the annoyance and disgust of the pupils. He perfectly portrays an adult trying desperately to relate to kids who are at least twenty years his junior, and failing miserably.

 


Sam, Lindsay’s young brother, meanwhile gets things a little easier, his storylines are more the comedy relief, though his is not without his own trials and tribulations. At the bottom of the social pile he is a confirmed geek, with his small frame, clothes picked out by his mother and his Star Wars notebook paper (remember, this is set in 1980, before geeks were cool). Sam has to battle bullies, both literally and figuratively, has to learn to navigate the baffling world of girls, learning to make friends, and trying to make it with the cool kids. sam-and-the-gangHe has to help one of his best friends, Neil (Samm Levine) come to terms with the fact his father is having an affair, and deal with his other best friend almost dying after a bully puts peanuts on the sandwich of Bill (Martin Starr) who has a peanut allergy. All the geeks are lovable in their own way and I just want to hug all of them whenever they’re on screen. You’re with them every step of the way as they learn about the world and becoming teenagers.

Set in 1980, it was ahead of the nostalgia wave that was still only a ripple at the time. Though it might be a little less overt than some of its successors like Stranger Things, which specifically references the films of the time, F&G manages to subtly evoke the time period to before we had the internet and mobile phones, and the only way to play music was on a record player, making us yearn for a simpler time when things weren’t so complicated. Part of the authenticity is the fact all the cast are age appropriate, where many teen films and dramas would use much older actors Freak and Geeks wanted to make it feel more real, and it does, with the young cast giving great performances that feel real. It even helped to launch the careers of some of today’s biggest stars like Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jason Segel.  

Freaks and Geeks only lasted eighteen episodes, but it managed to cover a whole host of different issues affecting teenagers, no matter the era or the social standing, but especially those that have been thrust to the sidelines by those that are deemed more desirable in society. Why has Freaks and Geeks lasted so well for a show that didn’t even make it to the end of its first season, because it’s a voice for the broken, the forgotten, the free thinkers. It manages to capture both the simplicity and the complexity of high school and growing up in a way that no other show has managed to do. It manages all at once to be hilarious and tragic, insightful and kinda dumb.  

 The final episode sees Lindsay blow off the academic summit she had been invited to (something that could have helped her get into an Ivy league school and with future employment) and instead jump in the van with her new hippy friends to follow the Grateful Dead. We’ll never know if she really did spend her summer following the Grateful Dead or if she made it to the summit, but we can all enjoy her adventures of trying to make her way through high school in one piece.

What the Hell is the Nintendo Switch?

You may or may not have seen that Nintendo dropped a trailer for their new console set for March 2017, the Nintendo Switch!

There have been credible rumours circulating for what feels like forever about what this console is but this is the first time Nintendo has officially confirmed it. Thankfully the trailer wasn’t just a teaser, it does answer a lot of questions but also raises some new ones. 

What We Know

True to all of the rumors, the Nintendo Switch is basically a halfway point between a handheld and a home console. It’s like the DS and the Wii rolled into one. You can seemingly play full versions of all the games on your tv or on the go with very little interruption. This means no more rushing to finish a mission before you leave the house. You can just take it with you as long as you’ve got a bag because this doesn’t look like it’ll fit in many pockets. 

There hasn’t been any official dimensions revealed by Nintendo at the time of writing but Ars Technica has been doing some snooping and have figured out some rough dimensions. It looks as though the screen with the two controller parts (or Joy-Cons) attached is about 10 inches x 4.2 inches. It’s similar in width to an iPad or Kindle Fire HD 10 on its side but a little bit thinner vertically. I’m not sure if I’d feel comfortable taking this out to play on the bus, maybe if I had two seats to myself. I was definitely expecting the handheld part to be closer to a 3DS XL but Nintendo have their reasons for these dimensions.

All of the processing power of the console is contained in the tablet portion. People have been assuming that the dock that connects to the TV may handle some of the processing power when the Switch is docked allowing for increased performance. However, the day after it was announced Nintendo spoke IGN and told them that “The main unit of the Nintendo Switch is the unit that has the LCD screen”. This is a little worrying to me but Nintendo hasn’t tried to be the most powerful console on the market since the N64, their signature visual style can go a long way on underpowered hardware. 

Nvidia announced that they will be partnering with Nintendo on the console and the Switch will contain a new custom version of their Tegra chip that they use in their Nvidia Shield tablets. While this hardware may not be as powerful as a PS4 it’s certainly leaps and bounds above any Nintendo handheld. 

Cartridges are back! We see a quick shot in the trailer of someone inserting a little SD card looking game into the tablet. A move away from discs is quite exciting. Solid state storage is much more reliable and loads quicker than most disc based methods. Larger sized SD cards are becoming more affordable so you can easily match the storage capacity of the Blu-ray Discs PS4 and Xbox use. 

What We Don’t Know

Does the 3DS have any place in this Nintendo Switch future? I hope Nintendo just goes all in with the Switch. I want all of their awesome portable games like Pokémon, Animal Crossing, Monster Hunter, Dragon Quest and many more all available in glorious HD and ready to play anywhere. Sadly I could also totally see them running the 3DS along side the Switch because they’ve never been afraid of a little brand confusion. 

Nintendo have recently confirmed that the Switch won’t be able to play any physical versions of Wii U or 3DS games so they haven’t ruled out some kind of backwards compatibility in a digital sense. Speaking of digital, I really hope they don’t expect us to buy all of their Virtual Console games again. I think I’ve hit my limit for how many times I’ll re-buy Super Mario 64, Xbox One is an shining example of backwards compatibility done right and I hope Nintendo have taken notice.  

It will be interesting to see what kind of price this comes in at. At the time of writing Nintendo’s competitors Microsoft and Sony are selling their consoles at £250.00 – £300.00 depending on hard drive size and model. I’d expect the Switch to be in a similar price range, Nvidia Shield tablets are around £200.00 by themselves so with the controllers and the Nintendo Seal of Approval that seems reasonable. 

Hopefully some of these questions will be answered in the not too distant future. Gone are the dark days of the Wii U and motion control, it’s finally an exciting time to be a Nintendo fan again. The Nintendo Switch seems like the right step for them in this current console climate. Instead of trying to compete with Microsoft and Sony on power they are offering something that neither of them can provide at the moment. One thing I know for sure is that I’ll be there day one. 

John Wick (2014) Review

For some reason whenever I hear the name Keanu Reeves I don’t immediately think “action hero”. After pondering this I’ve realised that’s my own problem, perhaps I watched the Bill & Ted movies too much as a child because all I think of whenever he’s mentioned is this…

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Woah

However, after watching John Wick I am totally a believer in Keanu as an action star and if they do ever make a third Bill & Ted movie I’ll probably be a bit on edge expecting Mr. Logan to snap and go on a killing spree at any moment.

This review will contain some early plot spoilers for John Wick

One Man and His Dog

In the opening of the movie you’re treated to a montage of Mr Wick enjoying his life with what you assume is his wife. Unfortunately it’s not long before this goes sour, she ends up in hospital with an unknown illness and before we know it we’re at her rainy funeral. Upon getting home John receives an unexpected delivery at his house. The cutest puppy in all of existence!!!

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Daawwwwwwwwww

Turns out she was expecting her untimely death and set up this surprise pupper to be delivered after her funeral. It’s cool for plot purposes but this is not a thing normal people do.

Woof Woof Bang Bang

After some cute bonding scenes between him and the pup he realises he needs to get some doggy chow. While he’s out his cool car gets the attention of some unsavoury Russian mob types (led by Reek from Game of Thrones) who want to buy it but he not so politely declines. This leads to them following him and invading his home late at night so they can beat him up and steal his car keys. During this ruckus the bad guys commit one of the greatest atrocities in film history and kill the dog! Now with this being a revenge story they had to kill someone to get the film going. Usually it’s the main characters partner, mentor or good friend. They really ratcheted it up a notch with this puppy though, after seeing this any person with an ounce of humanity will want to go after these bad guys with the fury of a thousand suns.

Reek then goes back to his mob boss father to brag about his successful night of horror but once daddy realises who they’ve stolen from he gives him a very satisfying (for the audience) gut punch. Turns out John Wick is one of the greatest hitman in the entire world, a one man army that gained the nickname Baba Yaga (The Boogeyman). Reek’s disappointed father isn’t very confident in his son’s chances but does agree to at least try to protect him. While these scenes are going on we’re treated to a furious John Wick smashing up his garage floor to reveal his secret stash of high-powered weaponry and gold coins that he presumably thought he’d never need again.

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Killing is his business…

After this point the movie never really slows down. John goes on a monumental killing spree at all of the Russian mob’s places of business trying to flush out Reek and his idiot friends. The action has a really good flow to it. Wick moves smoothly from one henchman to the next either filling them with bullets or doling out a fatal beating. He doesn’t pause to say one liners or anything stupid like that, he just keeps on killing.

Unfortunately I did feel like this action style got a bit stale after the first few scenes. I guess I prefer when there’s a bit more variety in my action movies. I would have liked it if they’d taken some inspiration from movies like The Raid where there’s seemingly endless variety in the ways the bad guys are dealt with.

One thing that really impressed my about the action scenes is that they always synced up with the movie’s musical score. It really helped give the action a rhythm and it just feels good to watch. They also filmed the action in a way that you can always tell what’s happening. There are so many modern action films where the camera is zoomed in too far and you can’t tell what’s going on (I’m looking at you Dark Knight trilogy). Whether this is to hide sloppy fight choreography or intentional I’m not sure but there’s none of that in John Wick, it’s a pleasure to watch.

 

Show, Don’t Tell

One surprising thing for me was that they actually set up a pretty interesting universe in between the brutal action. There are times when you’re given glimpses of John’s hitman world. he stays at a hotel that serves as his base of operations in the city but it’s also a place where no hitman-y business is to be conducted. There’s even a fancy jazz bar on the premises where everyone knows John’s name. Everything is paid for with these big pirate style gold doubloon coins and you get a sense that all the characters have a crazy history together but they leave most of that an intriguing mystery.

I was really impressed with this movie overall, it’s definitely not the best pure action film I’ve ever seen (That’s still The Raid) but John Wick is very well-rounded. All of its pieces come together well and there are no wasted scenes or dull parts. I’m really excited to see where they go in the future and their newly announced sequel John Wick: Chapter 2 is high on my list of 2017 movies already.

★★★★☆

The Accidental Dictionary – Paul Anthony Jones (book review)

As a former English language student, I’ve developed a love for words and their origins. At university I decided to study both English language and literature and while I adored reading Austen and Shakespeare, I would look forward to my lectures on language where I would find out the history of English language and how it’s used today. 
I soon began to find that other than my language text books, there were limited books on language that were actually readable and enjoyable so when Paul Anthony Jones started releasing books, I became obsessed. 
I started off with The British Isles: A Trivia Gazetter, a reference book which gives the origins of the names of towns and cities all over Britain, of course I skipped to find all the places I’d ever been first but afterwards I sat down and read it properly. I loved it and I loved every book that followed so when I got the chance to get my hands on an ARC of The Accidental Dictionary, I jumped at the chance.
The Accidental Dictionary is list of words that once meant something completely different (‘alcohol’ once meant ‘eye shadow’ and ‘foyer’ once meant ‘green room’ and so on.)
Now as I say, I love words and I’m always on the hunt for a book that will educate me while entertain me at the same time and I have to say this is the perfect combination. The information in the book is accurate and interesting while it has a casual tone throughout meaning it doesn’t read like a school book. Small jokes are placed within the chapters and this helped the flow of the book; although the book is informative, it meant that I didn’t have to take it too seriously. I also like that the chapters aren’t long and too informative, they get the point across without becoming a bore. I was able to read two or three chapters (one chapter = one word origin) at a time and put the book down for a while, I never once dreaded picking it up again as it was an easy read and never felt like a chore to read so at night before I would fall asleep, I was sure to pick Jones’ book and read a little more. 
There’s not a lot that I can really say about a dictionary, it has words and it explains what they mean (or in this case what they used to mean) but I can say that if you like this sort of thing then it’s certainly worth picking up and reading, it’s a fun read which will teach you a lot while making you feel like a clever person who reads the dictionary. Like me, you’ll probably end up at work the next day explaining to people how the word ‘nice’ meant ‘ignorant’. 

A Parisian Affair – Guy de Maupassant (Book Review)

A while ago I decided I was going to try and read more classics, the thing I completely forgot? I hate reading classics. This isn’t to say that I hate classics, I actually rate Pride and Prejudice and Tess of D’Uberilles as two of my favourite books but generally I find it hard to read classics. As someone who generally reads a lot of young adult, it’s pretty hard making the move over to classics. The writing is different, the setting is different and on whole the books are hard to get into because although classics are generally set in a world that I’m familiar with, the way of living is completely different.cover-jpg-rendition-460-707

That said, I’m still trying and I thought I would ease myself into some classics, I bought a tonne of the Penguin Little Black Books in the hope that they would give me an insight to a lot of authors writing style then I could pick some that I enjoyed the most and continue with those. I also picked up A Parisian Affair… I thought short stories were the perfect way to get into classics (let’s just forget that I didn’t even finish James Joyce’s first short story in The Dubliners)

A Parisian Affair is a collection of short stories written by Guy de Maupassant and translated by Sian Miles. Set in Normandy and the French Riviera, the thirty four short stories follow a number of characters with one thing in common; they’re rich. The stories follow high society women, wealthy men who like to play around and prostitutes, among many more.

Naturally this book jumped out at me, not only because by the blurb it sounded ahead of it’s time but also because it was set in Paris and even if I hated the book I could just read all about Paris and remember how much I love it there.

I’ll be honest, the first story, Boule de Suif, was a bit of a bore to me, although I liked the main female character, I just found it hard to get into and the first story alone took me a week to read. Naturally, I started to worry that this was going to be one of those books that takes forever to finish. I’m not someone who can leave a book, I have to finish and I worried that my reluctance to leave a book would mean that at the end of the year, I had only read half of my target book goal.

Luckily I was wrong, after finishing Boule de Suif, I found myself reading the next short stories right away and I found that I loved the head strong women of France along with the love struck men and lovers. I started to see Paris in the book; I saw the romantic city where love and romance can be found on every street corner. I felt like I was back in my favourite city, feeling all the emotions of Maupassant’s characters and walking their footsteps. It has to be said that once I got into the writing style, I felt like I was in the book; Maupassant has an amazing way of making you feel like you are one of his characters (well I did).

My two favourite stories by far were Mother Sauvage and The Jewels. Mother Sauvage tells the story of a woman whose son goes to war and never returns; while they are away she hosts some soldiers from the opposite army. The end result is twisted but hilarious, there was a moment when I wondered if it was ok that I should be laughing at this story but in the end I decided to go with it.

The Jewels tells of a man who falls deeply in love with a woman he meets and then goes on to marry, the only problem is that he doesn’t share her passions so is relieved when she befriends someone who will accompany her on outings to places like the theatre where he would prefer not to go. In his wife’s death he is devastated and can’t seem to find it in himself to go out and earn so had to look around for something to sell in order to live. Again, I loved the ending, I don’t want to give away what happens (it’ll only take you nine pages of the Penguin Pocket Classics to read and find out for yourself) but I found myself glued to the pages wanting to find out more.

If you’re interested in reading more classics, then I would certainly recommend A Parisian Affair, it may not be the most well-known or the most highbrow but it is good fun and easy to read.

Matilda Book Review

front-pgeWhen I was a kid I loved reading, I would read all the time. I loved the places and times that they could transport me, an escape from the real world I found myself in. I loved escaping to Faraway Trees, meeting magical insects that lived in a peach, and being scared by saying cheese.

Though I would read anything, by anyone, there was one author that could always be relied upon to bring a smile on my face and really make the real world disappear. Roald Dahl. With his eccentric characters and exquisite turn of phrase Roald Dahl has become a firm favourite with children and their parents for decades.

Since his first book was published in 1943 Mr Dahl has made young children gasp with terror, cheer for their favourite characters and most of all giggle uproariously from the rather gruesome jokes and made up words.

Which brings me to the book I decided to review, Matilda. I first read this when I was nine years old, I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t have much of a home life, either. Matilda, with it’s themes of bullying and loneliness spoke to me immediately. First published in 1988, the year of my birth and only two years before the death of Dahl Matilda has become a much beloved character, with a well loved film released in 1966.

This year is the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth, and with all the events celebrating this milestone I thought I would revisit an old favourite for the first time in nearly twenty years.

Right from the first sentence it was immediately like a big warm hug welcoming me back to a story and characters that I love so much.

I really think of this book having two halves, the first half revolves around Matilda and her parents. Matilda’s parents are really vile, her father is a dodgy used car salesman and her mother seems to do nothing but play bingo and think she’s pretty. They both seem to hate their own daughter and resent her. The thing is, Matilda has an extraordinary talent, she is incredibly smart. By the age of three she is able to read everything in the house and even takes herself to the library to read as many books as she possibly can.

parentsMatilda uses her smarts to get back at her parents when they are unduly mean to her, she makes her parents and brother think the house is haunted by stuffing a talking bird up the chimney (in its cage, and it was returned to it’s owner, don’t worry no birds were harmed in the writing of this book), she bleaches her dad’s hair and she glues her dad’s hat to his head. This part of the book is a great source of some of that trademark Roald Dahl scrunginess, it’s all about the the kid getting one over on the adults. As kids we all feel that life could be unfair and we all wanted to get our own back on our parents, and Matilda actually does it, and she does it well. And with the reactions of her truly horrible father it provides some great belly laughs.  

miss-honeyLike other children, however, when she turns five she must attend school. This is where the second half kicks in, Matilda Vs The Trunchbull. On her first day at school Matilda make friends for the first time in her life, and she meets Miss Honey, only the second adult in her life to treat her with respect and to recognise her amazing gift. Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of the school, is just as bad as her parents and tries her best to bring Matilda down and disbelieve her intelligence. The Trunchbull is nothing short of a bully, she holds boys up by their ears, and throws girls by their pigtails as though the she were competing in the hammer throw at the Olympics.

It’s during one of the Trunchbull’s lessons that Matilda learns she has an even more amazing talent than her smarts, she can move things with nothing but her eyes and the power of her mind. She is, essentially, magic. Matilda then devises a plan to bring down the Trunchbull and restore order at the school.

trunchbullMatilda is a beautiful story, and brought back many happy memories of reading it the first time round, Dahl has such a great imagination or small acts of striking out on your own. A common theme with Dahl is kids sticking it to those adults who seems to hate kids. This questioning of authority, that helped to inspire me to think for myself and realise that not all adults are right and should be respected. Even as an adult this rejection of authority really strikes a chord. 

matilda-bookThe illustrations from Quentin Blake are as always a welcome addition and helps to add to the story and fires the imagination.

The structure, I felt was a little episodic, and sometimes it felt like a collection of connected short stories, and I felt that the ending was a little rushed, but honestly, I didn’t really care, the characters and the story and the writing all made up for this in spades. I encourage you to also celebrate the centenary (or, just, you know for fun) to pick up Matilda, or any Roald Dahl book and give it another go, I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed like that time you decided to re-watch The Super Mario Brother Super Show.

 

The Top 5 Halloween Video Games

Ah, October is finally here. Tis the season of spookery where we can indulge in all manner of occult entertainment. Video Games have a unique quality of being able to immerse you in another world and this can be really effective in a scary setting. These games I’ve picked aren’t necessarily the scariest but I do think they embody the Halloween vibe and they’ll definitely get you in the October mood.

 

5. Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon (2013)

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS

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Mario’s not the only one who can tackle ghosts, ever since his first solo game in 2001 Luigi has been linked to the spirit world. While Mario would take on ghosts with a thundering “Yahoooo!” Luigi is more likely to run from spooks and possible cry hysterically.

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This is part of what makes the game so interesting. At times you feel like you’re forcing Luigi through this haunted house filled with ghouls of all shapes and sizes. He shivers and jumps whenever anything goes bump around him, the character animation is so expressive. Your task is to suck up all the ghosts using Luigi’s ghost vacuum the Poltergust 5000. Sometimes you’ll have to solve puzzles to reveal the ghosts or just check every draw until one pops out (much to his chagrin). Luigi’s Mansion is the video game equivalent of a fairground haunted house… Dare you enter?

 

4. Costume Quest (2010)

Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3, PC, iOS

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Costume Quest is an underrated gem, it’s also one of the only games I can think of that’s entirely set on Halloween night. You and your friends are out trick or treating when all of a sudden these goblin guys come out and steal everyone’s candy! Even more unfortunate for your character your little brother/sister (depending on your gender choice) is kidnapped because they were dressed as a giant candy corn. So you’re forced on a quest to rescue your missing sibling before your parents find out. On your way you’ll have to fight your way through various goblin enemies but the great thing is that when you enter into battle all the kids transform into an exaggerated form of whatever costume you have on.

You start off in a cardboard box robot outfit but when you’re in battle you’re an anime style mech that shoots missiles, wear the Statue of Liberty costume and you can heal everyone with a blast from her torch and my personal favourite is the french fries costume which turns you into a Tim Burton-esque spider with fries for legs that can stun enemies with a shower of grease and salt.

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This game is just a fun time all round. It’s not especially hard so anyone could enjoy it and there are lots of goofy moments hidden around the areas so it really rewards exploration. It’s not a long game either and can probably be picked up cheap these days. It’s the definition of short and sweet… you know? like candy?…I’ll see myself out.

 

3. Mortal Kombat X (2015)

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC

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The Mortal Kombat series has always taken heavy influence from horror and action movies. In this latest instalment they ratcheted up the movie references and started adding some classic horror characters into their roster. By the time all of MKX’s DLC had been released you can play as Jason, Leatherface, Predator and the Alien Xenomorph.

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People have been debating for decades about “who would win in a fight…” regarding all of these characters and in MKX is the first time we got to test some of those theories. What makes it even better is that they’ve all been lovingly crafted to include lots of movie references in their abilities and moves. You also can’t forget about the Mortal Kombat cast of characters which includes many weird, wonderful and monstrous people. Put all this together and you’ve one hell of a hyper violent monster mash on your hands and on a dark Halloween night, what more could you ask for?

 

2. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)

Platform(s): Xbox 360/One, PS3, PS1, PSP

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Castlevania: Symphony of the Night practically oozes atmosphere from the moment you start the game. The opening sees you reenact the ending of the first NES game, facing off against Dracula himself within minutes of starting up. It’s a scripted fight that you can’t lose but it really feels good to blow up Dracula with a rocking guitar soundtrack as your backing.

After this flashback you’re given control of Alucard (the son of Dracula) after he senses a disturbance at the castle. There you’ll have to fight your way through all manner of creatures including wolves, zombies, skeletons, living suits of armor, bats, venomous plants, floating acid skulls, medusa heads, hunchbacks, creepy Lovecraftian horrors and even Death himself shows up. Drac’s castle has everything you need to throw the best Halloween party in the world.

This game is like a good horror movie. It has amazing visuals but some admittedly cheesy dialogue throughout (the intro conversation with Dracula being a highlight) but Castlevania’s hallways full of macabre hell spawn are definitely worth a visit for any intrepid vampire killers.

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1. Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3, PC

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I don’t often see Batman come up when people discuss their Halloween viewing but he totally should be. The Bat’s rogues gallery is the stuff of Halloween nightmares. A killer clown, a human scarecrow, a crocodile man hybrid, a mad hatter, a roided pro wrestler and this game is all set in the insane asylum that they all call home.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is an excellent game whether you’re a Batman fan or not. It can also be devilishly creepy when it wants to. You spend the entire game exploring the asylum after all the inmates have escaped. In between fighting thugs you spend most of your time investigating the tragic histories of famous batman villains. You never know what unsettling situation is round the corner but the game really knocks it up a notch when you meet The Scarecrow.

After taking a dose of his fear toxin Bats starts to hallucinate in some pretty creative and sometimes 4th wall breaking ways. Rooms start to repeat, Batman’s forced to relive the death of his parents and at one point the game resets and the intro sequence starts again making you think the game may be broken.

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You’ll never forget your first trip to Arkham Asylum, it’s masterfully crafted fun house of terror and what I think is the best game to get you in a creepy Halloween mood.

Mysterium Review

Grab your Mum’s best white bedsheets and cut little holes in them, it’s time to ghost about in the haunting Mysterium! BooOOOooooOOoooooOooooOoooo

So, you’ve just bought this really spooky looking abandoned mansion, and you’re all excited about all the things you could do with the place, you could turn it into a lovely hotel/spa, make the world’s best Hallowe’en haunted house or just gad about in a top hat and tails all day pretending to be Fred Astaire, if you’re into that kind of thing. There’s one snag, the house is haunted by the ghost of a man-servant, who was violently murdered in the grounds thirty years prior, and this guy is really messing up your plans of recreating the stairs scene from Beauty and the Beast with your best bae. Naturally you want rid of this spectral pest.

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Sadly, there is no Bill Pullman

So far, so plotline of Casper, but, instead of getting the ghost therapist and hot dad Bill Pullman in, you gather six of the world’s most famous mediums to communicate with the ghost to help him pass on to the other realm and stop pestering you.

 

set-upIt is the night all hallow’s eve where Mysterium takes place, the 6 (or however many players you have) mediums have gathered round to communicate with the grisly ghost. As the ghost is very old and forgetful (and apparently very murderable), there are several different possible suspects, locations and murder weapons, one set for each medium. To make things a little harder the decrepit ghost can only communicate via the medium of vague visions, and will send out these visions to each of the mediums, who have to interpret them to guess their suspect, location and weapon. There are cards placed on the table with all the possibilities, once you think you’ve interpreted the vision given to you you plonk your crystal ball on the suspect you think it is, and once everyone has guessed the ghost will reveal who is correct and who was not. If you are correct you keep that card and you move onto guessing your location, and if you are incorrect you go back to guessing the suspect again.

I know what you’re thinking, it’s kind of like a Casper themed Cluedo, meets Dixit (another board game that uses similar vague picture cards you have to interpret), but there’s a little more to it than that. It’s better than cluedo, because you don’t have that ridiculous and frustrating board you have to move around in to find clues and what not. Though I do love Dixit, it’s very cute and endearing there’s not much more to it than looking at nice cards and guessing what the other person means, Mysterium gives that mechanic of interpreting visions and gives it a little more meat, or ectoplasm as the case may be. You are working towards something, you’re making a story about what happened to this poor murdered man. 

One major thing I haven’t yet mentioned is that this is a fully cooperative game, and though it’s an uneven game as the ghost has a very different role, everyone is working together to find the culprit. This means that the mediums can share their visions and ask for help from the group and everyone can work together to figure it out, all whilst the ghost looks on in stoney silence.

claivoyancy-tokensThough information can be shared and debated between the mediums, where you place your coloured crystal ball is your choice. However your fellow ghost whisperers might not agree and think that your vision did not represent the policeman, they might think it represented the maid. If this is the case, they can used these little clairvoyancy tokens, and place a little X token next to your crystal ball. If you were wrong in your guess of the policeman, your friend will get one clairvoyancy point for guessing correctly that you were wrong, likewise if they had put a little tick next to your crystal ball and you were right they would also get a clairvoyancy point. However, if they had put an X next to your crystal ball, but you were correct, they would not get anything. The amount of clairvoyancy points you get can have an effect on what you get to see in the next phase. This is probably the fiddliest part of the game, and can be a little hard to explain in the first instance, but once you demonstrate it and you all get into the swing of things it becomes pretty easy. Though I did find that towards the end of the game we were sometime just chucking them on willy nilly just for the sake of it, in case which I think defeats the point a little.

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So, you’ve all worked super hard, the ghost has been banging out visions left and right and the mediums have been interpreting them like Sherlock Holmes on an all night coke bender. All mediums have guessed their suspects, locations and weapons before the end of the 7th hour. Congratulations! You get to move onto the suspect line up. You all place your sets of cards into the centre, the ghost will give you all a shared vision made up of three cards, one to represent the suspect, one for the place and one for the weapon, they will be placed face down in a random order, then depending on how many clairvoyancy points you got earlier depends on how many shared vision cards you get to see. If you got less than 7 you only see one card, if you got up to 10 you get to see two, and if you get 11 or more you get to see all three.

There is a secret vote, whichever suspect gets the highest vote is the medium’s guess, if they guess correctly, the ghost will pass onto the other realm with peace and tranquillity, if they are wrong the ghost is doomed to wander the mansion for another year until next Hallowe’en.

vision-cardsMysterium is a great party game, it plays up to seven people (six mediums and a ghost) so it’s brilliant when you’ve got a crowd and you’re breaking out the emergency chairs. I love that it’s a co-op game, so you’re all working together, it means that even if you’re still waiting for your vision to appear for that round you can still be thinking about your friends vision and helping them so you’re never just sat there waiting around. As there is a two minute time limit on getting your crystal balls and clairvoayncy tokens once all the visions have been handed out there is a feeling of urgency and rushing as everyone rushes to get their guess out and look at what other people have guessed and if they think their companion was correct.

crowsOn top of it all, this is simply a fun game, the cards are beautiful and so well designed and made, and it can be funny when you get a fruit house or a hot air balloon or a mouse and you need to match it up with the cards on the table, it could be anything on the card, the colour, the main object or a tiny speck in the background that could relate to your card on the table. I love the fact that it brings people together, and unlike other co-op games like Ghost Stories or Pandemic this feels a lot more relaxed, and less pressure to do everything or else you’re going to let everyone down, it’s about gathering round and trying to figure out what on earth the little man and the umbrella are supposed to represent, and this can produce some good times and some good laughs. 

It’s not just the cards that are well designed, the big hidy board the ghost uses to keep all of the visions and what location/suspect/weapon goes with which medium is perfect for keeping track of the game, and it even has a lovely piece of artwork on the front facing the mediums, there’s even a little clock stand for you to assemble to keep track of the rounds.

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Playing as the ghost isn’t something I’ve even talked about yet! When you’re the ghost, you are basically in charge of the whole game, you’re responsible for keeping track of which medium needs what cards, and trying to find vision cards you think they can interpret. This can be incredibly fun when you see someone getting something you thought was really tough, or incredibly frustrating if they are not seeing the really obvious clue you gave to them. Sometime you just want to yell out, but you must stay quiet, otherwise the game is kinda ruined. It can be a little less fun than playing as a medium as there is a little pressure on you to keep track of the game and to come up with clues for the mediums to interpret, but it can also be great fun looking through all those cards and sending them out into the ether for analysis. 

Overall this is a great party game, it’s fun, it’s relaxed, it brings people together, it can be just the right amount of frustrating. This is the perfect game to dim the lights, light some candles and play some spooky music to on Hallowe’en.