Ticket To Ride Review

Ticket to Ride, the classic board game of planes, trains and automobiles, well. Trains at least.

When creator, Alan Moon and publisher Days of Wonder first released Ticket to Ride back in 2004, they had little idea that it would go on to be one of the most successful games of recent years, reportedly selling in excess of 3 million copies. Upon it’s release it was nominated for one of the most prestigious accolades in the board game world, the Spiel De Jahres and won  Not to mention the slew of spinoffs, expansions, extra map collections and even a smartphone/tablet app emulating the game that it has spawned due to it’s popularity.

ticket to ride app 1

This was the first board game I bought after realising there was more to board gaming than Monopoly and Cluedo. It often pops in lists of the best games to introduce a new gamer to. A ‘Gateway Game’ if there ever was one, it has sparked the gaming imagination of many a player. It’s even managed to reach my mother (a lady who has always had little interest in my hobbies) when one day on a visit to see her she excitedly asked if I’d ever played ‘The Train Game’. I even let her win a game or two.

So, the big question: What do you get in the box?

ticket to ride contents

  • 1 Board map of North America,
  • 240 coloured train cars,
  • 144 coloured train cards,
  • 30 destination ticket cards,
  • 1 continuous path bonus card,
  • 5 wooden scoring tokens,
  • and a rules booklet.

 

 

Like many of the greatest games the rules are simple (the rule booklet is pleasingly thin at four a4 pages), but the strategies are many.  

So, let’s don our ten gallon hats and shout out our best Texan accents as we transform into railway tycoons to claim railway routes across the US of A (and the South of Canada) and become the tycooniest of all the tycoons!

To start with you have a big ol’ pile of trains all one colour in front of you, which you will use to place on the board to claim your routes.

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You get dealt three destination cards to link up cities say, New York to L.A or Florida to Chicago, each one is worth a different amount of points at the end of the game if completed. However if you fail to complete the destination those points are deducted from your final score. choose at least two and discard the third if you don’t think you’ll finish it before the end of the game.

 

 

 

ticket to ride colour cardsDuring your turn you get three options, either you can pick up up to two of the five colour cards on display at the side of the board, or from the draw deck. You can exchange the colour cards to claim routes, or if you’ve had a lot of luck (or very little) you can pick up more destination cards. 

 

 

The end of the game is declared once one of the players reaches 0, 1 or 2 trains left. You tote up the end scores, points are awarded for routes placed, destination cards fulfilled (or deducted if not fulfilled) and there’s 10 bonus points on offer for whoever has the longest continuous train chain. The player with the highest point score wins the game!

ticket to ride board

Whilst the rules are simple, the game play is not.

 

The strategy planning begins the second you get your destination tickets, you already have so many things to think about. Will it be better to go for the long route and risk not being able to do it, but getting a large reward if you do? Or is it better to go for the shorter routes and getting more of them. Can you link them all up to get that much prized and quite often game deciding longest route card at the end.

This is all before you even come to actually start the game, and the sometimes heartbreaking decisions that go with it. It is better to go for the cards and build them up and risk someone taking the route you needed. Or is it better to place down your trains as soon as possible and risk losing out on the cards that you might need next or later on?

ticket to ride mid play

 

You need to think about all of this within seconds as it is possible that one of your opponents can swoop in and steal that card or route you needed and you’ll be forced to recalibrate your plan with a moments notice, as once a route has been claimed there’s no turning back.

 

Whilst I think the simple yet hard choices and is what has brought about TTR’s initial popularity, I think this coupled with the game’s cut throat attitude is what has broadened it’s appeal  to those not usually interested in board games.

If you’re the kind of person who loves a game of Monopoly and taking over your friends’ properties when they go bankrupt, or take glee in asking for rent on a hotel on Mayfair, when the other player only has a tenner left then you will love Ticket to Ride. There are so many ways to totally screw up your competitors plans (though often you may not know it). It’s a great game for making enemies as well as friends.

So, the games got a pretty good ticklist going on, it has simple rules [tick], great strategy [tick] lost of player interaction [tick] can be a great game for non gamers [tick]. Yet there is one bug bear that I have with TTR, and that is it’s re-playability, after a while you get used to the destination cards and you start relying on lot of the same tactics and the same routes where possible. This can be solved to a certain extent if you purchase the 1910 expansion. This gives you a lot more destination cards and a couple of new rules options for playing.

The 1910 expansion also gives you re-printed, and re-sized coloured cards as the  ones you get with the game are tiny for some reason, and these ones are normal playing card size, which makes them a bit easier to hold as well.

tt-mc5_inside

The re-playability issue can also be addressed with the map collections that you can buy to freshen things up with a new map of a new country or continent, there are about 5 of these now, the latest including the UK. Despite the basic game play staying the same, each new map has it’s own unique rules to give you something new to sink your teeth in.

I have played TTR Europe, and I have to say I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the original.

 

 

This game is recommended, especially if you’re new to the hobby or if you’re looking for something to introduce to a friend who’s new to board gaming.The rules are simple enough to pick up quickly yet the play is complex enough to be interesting without being too daunting, but if you’re already a big fan of board games and looking for the next big juicy game to really get into, with plenty of re-playability then you will probably be best getting your rocks off elsewhere. 

★★★★

 

 

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Batman v Superman: The Day My Hero Died 

This was a deeply disappointing movie for me to watch. I’m a practically life long DC and Batman fan, I was born in ‘88 so I didn’t get to see the ‘89 movie until it was shown on TV. My earliest memory of the Batman is watching it on a rainy Saturday afternoon at my Grandparent’s house and having so many questions about this mysterious dark knight. 

I was also the perfect age when Batman: The Animated Series started in ‘92 and this excellent portrayal is what I consider to be my Batman. Brought to life by the voice actor Kevin Conroy, this Batman was kind and altruistic but knew when and how to dispatch thugs when he needed to. Batman was a true role model for our generation and he’s been a constant presence in my life. But that’s not the Batman I saw on screen in Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice. What I saw was my childhood hero turned into an unrepentant murderer and that’s not okay with me.

*Spoilers for Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice*
  

Injustice

Batman kills a lot in this movie. Just off the top of my head: he blows up multiple cars full of people with mounted machine guns on the Batmobile, shoots multiple people with pistols and heavy machine guns in a post apocalyptic dream sequence, knocks a thug’s grenade out of his hand and leaves them to explode and shoots another thug’s flamethrower tank with an assault rifle again resulting in a fiery explosion. 

To me this felt like complete betrayal of everything the character stands for and I want to go into a bit more detail on that.

As a character Bruce Wayne’s defining moment is undoubtedly the mugging turned murder of his parents. They were shot and killed in front of him which is what started him down the path to becoming Batman. He wanted to rid the streets of the kind of scum who indiscriminately destroy human lives figuratively and literally. He values human life and is always ready to give people a second chance to leave their life of crime behind. No one man should decide who lives or dies and Batman does everything in his power to ensure criminals are caught and sent to jail alive.

Weapons on the Batmobile aren’t something new, over the many incarnations he has used projectile weapons but they are usually used to disable a vehicle or destroy obstructions. He should never use them to shoot a car until it explodes. 

Fair enough, the post apocalyptic Batman we see is a dream sequence but in my opinion it adds nothing at all to the story. It was a pointless inclusion. There should not be footage of Batman in a major movie gunning down hordes of soldiers with an assault rifle. It’s just not right.

In the final Batman scene he infiltrates a warehouse full of thugs which was their big chance to make it right but again he murders some of them. Now granted the thug with the grenade was mostly responsible for his own death but the Batman I know would have at least tried to minimize the damage caused by that situation. The last guy he comes to is pointing a flamethrower at the hostage Batman’s trying to rescue so it’s a desperate moment but a better Batman would have used his knowledge to disable the weapon hopefully without blowing the guy up.
  

World’s Finest    

Maybe it does sound unrealistic for Batman to dispense vigilante justice without taking a life but that’s the point. Batman is supposed to be the best of all of us. The pinnacle of humanity. A man who over his comic history has faced down god-like beings from other worlds and bested them. He should never even want to pick up a gun in the first place after what happened to his parents. By avoiding killing he can also ensure that he doesn’t orphan anymore of Gotham’s children himself.

This is what happened when my Batman was forced to pick up a gun in desperation:

He quits. Because if he let himself slip down that path there would be no coming back and the symbol of the Batman would lose its meaning.

With Great Power…

Director Zack Snyder not content with just destroying Batman also drags the Man of Steel’s good name through the mud too. 

Superman never shows any remorse in this movie for the events of 2013’s Man of Steel movie. We find out that he never made any statement or public apology for levelling a good chunk of Metropolis in the 18 months between movies. He doesn’t show and remorse or internal conflict over the murder of General Zod on screen.

Superman is another character that famously doesn’t kill because he is basically a god compared to a regular human. He knows that if he kills a human people would be terrified of him because he’s so powerful. So when he snapped Zod’s neck in the climax to Man of Steel a lot of his long time fans felt their character had been betrayed too. They had hoped that in the next film he would take responsibility for his actions and be held accountable but that does not happen.

He just emotionlessly flies through the whole movie and again in the climax a lot of buildings get levelled except this time they cram in some clumsy lines about the areas being after 6pm so nobody is at work in the financial district.

They do set up a scene where Superman is supposed to appear in front of congress to explain himself but just as he’s about to talk a bomb planted by Lex Luthor blows up the entire building. Then Superman just flies away and this is never addressed again! Snyder literally substitutes much needed dialogue for an explosion, it’s ridiculous. 

Doomsday

On top of all of this it was just a mediocre movie for me. It hits nowhere near the highs of Marvel’s Avengers but it’s not as bad/boring as Green Lantern either. All I was feeling was disappointment while watching this. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Bruce Timm’s excellent animated universe but I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have a good Justice League movie in my lifetime. Sadly Zack Snyder is directing the future DC movies and they’re due to start filming soon so I guess I’ve got a few more years to wait.

Ending on a positive here are some shows I would 100% recommend over this movie if you’re curious about the DC universe: Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Young Justice, Arrow, Flash. 

(Most of these animated shows are on Amazon Prime Video right now)

The Naff Nic Season: Zandalee (1991)

(Rating 18, 110 mins)

 

After quite literally getting a big net and trawling the world wide web, I managed to locate the seemingly forgotten Zandalee in some sad corner, cast away into the darkness never to be spoken of again like a weird cousin that keeps setting things on fire and dismembering cats. A straight to video release at the time, it has became a very minor footnote on both Nic Cage’s and (The Honorable) Judge Reinhold’s curriculum vitae.

 

We open with Zandalee herself, a bored, sexually frustrated shop owner. Unhappy in her marriage to ex-poet now corporate stooge Thierry (Reinhold (yes, i am aware how unbelievable it is watching Judge Reinhold play a man called Thierry never mind a man called Thierry who is a poet)), she seeks out excitement and passion by having a steamy affair with Thierry’s weird, greasy artist friend from a different life Johnny (Cage). The affair intensifies, Thierry becomes suspicious and what follows is semi-pornographic, frequently histrionic barrage of naked, sweaty skin and excessive shouting culminating in a ridiculous Shakespearean tragedy of an ending.

 

This is the kind of film Channel 5 would have broadcast when it first came to air, wedged between the bizarre documentaries they acquired about Hitler and sharks. There are boobs and bums at regular intervals, regular enough for it to garner an ‘erotic thriller’ tag, and strong enough to keep fans of the soft core porn variety of film-making quite happy. It also helps that Zandalee is played by Erika Anderson (known to some as Greta from Nightmare on Elm Street 5) who may not be the greatest actress in the world but certainly has the physical attributes to make her character believable enough to cause such a vicious love triangle. She also delves into the sex scenes with particular aplomb, her and Cage making all that gratuitous nudity between the pair surprisingly unembarrassing to watch. We also get a glimpse, and quite possibly only glimpse on celluloid, of Judge Reinhold’s butt so if that is the sort of thing you are searching for in your film watching experiences then Zandalee is for you.

 

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Cage’s performance is not his best, but we do get to see an absolutely cracking example of his ability to go completely over the top in a scene where Johnny, unable to take Zandalee’s decision to break off their affair, trashes his art studio, punching and ripping through various canvases while howling like a banshee who has stubbed their toe, before slopping great big dripping handfuls of black paint all over his naked chest and legs, and then slumping into a defeated lump in the corner.

 

Reinhold does his best in one of his first proper dramatic roles after his breakthrough in Beverly Hills Cop, but he’s not great. The only strong thing going for him is a gloriously bad moustache which hangs limply on his upper lip, like a hairy tentacle of aching sadness. I’m pretty sure that he and Cage were paid bonuses for their facial garnish as Cage himself turns up for the party with a terrible goatee party piece, the bottom half of which looks like a fluffy bollock.

 

As mentioned before, Anderson is not Meryl Streep, but she puts in a decent performance as the object of obsession. She spends most of film as the oasis of calm between two hysterical and overwrought performances from Cage and Reinhold, but as we inch towards the finale, her character joins the mire of screeching, sobbing and waving guns about.

 

The finale itself just needs Kenneth Williams to make it a very convincing but bleak Carry On Romeo and Juliet scene. Some drug dealers, only very briefly alluded to earlier in the film, enter stage right to make a massive impact on Johnny and Zandalee’s relationship. It’s such a bloody cop out of an ending and reeks of a bored screenwriter who just got to the last three pages and didn’t know how to wrap it up.

 

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this film isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It’s no Con Air or Leaving Las Vegas, but it certainly doesn’t deserve to be dangling in the doldrums with the likes of The Wicker Man and Left Behind (I still have flashbacks of terror over that one). It is certainly a overly ripe, overwrought piece of work but strangely enough it’s never deathly dull but it’s just not particularly great either.

Average with lots of butts.

IMDB Rating: 4.4

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

My Favourite Book Series

I generally shy away from book series due to the fact that I have major commitment issues. I really want to read more series but instead of being excited about what they might entail, I only manage to see a pile of books that once I start, I’ll feel obliged to read regardless of how much I like them.

That said, on a rare occasion I’ll see a series that I want to read or I’ll pick up a book, not realising that it belongs to a collection and I’ll love it so much that I’ll read the rest.

Today I thought I’d share with you a few that I’ve loved and sometimes even read more than once. Yes they’re fairly obvious choices but I can’t help being generic so here is my top five in no particular order.

Side note: When I say series I mean two or more books.

The Harry Potter series J. K. Rowling

As I say, this list is in no particular order but I still wanted to start with my favourite series of all time. I know a lot of people out there will be banging their heads against they’re keyboard after seeing the most obviously predictable series but I couldn’t make this list without mentioning it. In 1997 J. K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or the Sorcerer’s Stone if you’re American) and at nine year old it changed my life. I can honestly say that I doubt I’d love reading as much as I do today if it weren’t for this series. After reading the first book, I was hooked and I was first in line on release day for each book that followed.download (3)

Unless you’ve been living in a world without any source of media for the last twenty years, you will be aware that this series follows a young boy, Harry, as he goes from a mistreat child to a famous wizard who is constantly being threatened by one of the most dangerous wizards of all time.

Why do I love these books? Because they were perfect for me. I was part of the Harry Potter generation, the generation that grew up as Harry did and as his stories became more complex so did my own life. Although I never received my Hogwarts letter, I still related to so many issues within the books, they may follow a fictional world but they also tell a true story of how hard life can seem but how much easier it can feel if you have good friends along the way.

There won’t be many people (if any) who read this and haven’t read the Potter books previously but if you’re one of the few then please pick them up. I promise* you’ll be sat at your letterbox waiting for an owl to bring you some important news.

*You might not.

The Lunar Chronicles – Marissa Meyer

A series where the main character is a kick ass woman? Yes please! I was a little bit late to the party with this one. By the time I picked up Cinder, Scarlett and Cress were already released but the idea of books based on well-known tales (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White) was enough for me to buy all three at once. Cinder stole my heart, I honestly love the character and even after the series has ended, she’s my favourite. There’s so much that I love about this series but the fact that it shows off a lot of strong women made it perfect for me.

download (4)The series starts with Cinder who is living with her step mother and step sisters in a world where letumosis, a deadly plague, is spreading rapidly. Cinder, an overworked and underappreciated cyborg, realises that she is immune to the disease and with that revelation she discovers a whole lot more about who she is and who she was before she came to live with her step family.

I couldn’t put these books down. As the series progressed I loved them more and more. The characters are all so strong and relatable and I had serious book crushes on all the male love interests. I adore the fact that although there is romance within the books, it’s not the main story, instead they focus on the protagonists and how they develop themselves based on the situations they’re forced into and the friendships they forge.

The Hunger Games trilogy – Suzanne Collins

So far all my choices have been super predictable, I’m aware, but I love The Hunger Games and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Again I didn’t read in the beginning, by the time I picked up the first book, the other two had been released already but at the time I wasn’t aware of the buzz around them and there hadn’t been any films released yet.download (5)

Again, I’m sure you’ll all be aware of the premise of The Hunger Games. In this dystopian series, every year the government host the hunger games, a game that is broadcast across the world (made up of twelve districts- but secretly there’s an active thirteenth) and forces two children from each district to partake, one male, one female. The children fight to the death and whoever is the last person standing is the victor and wins a lifetime of fame and fortune. After her younger sister gets picked to be part of the games, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her position and we follow her through the games and through the rebellion that follows after her victory.

I’ll be honest (please don’t hate me for saying this) I didn’t like the last book. I found it was a lot of running around the Capitol and hiding from the law but it doesn’t stop me thinking as a whole, it’s an amazing series. I love Katniss in book one. I love that she’s strong minded and she loves her sister so much that she’s willing to put her life at risk for her. As I was reading book two and three, I found myself starting to dislike her more and more. I found her too whiney and miserable. It wasn’t until I re-read the books that I started to appreciate this about her. I realised that yes she was miserable all the time after winning the games but then who wouldn’t be? After being forced to kill a bunch of kids they then stuck her back in another game where she had to instead kill a bunch of adults in order to survive, after she was finally away from the games forever she was forced to be the face of a rebellion that she never agreed to start.  I think I really like the fact that the books portray how real people would act under these circumstances.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before –Jenny Han

There are only two books to this but I’m still putting it in here. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was my favourite YA romance that I’ve read and I’ve read a lot!

15749186In this duology, Lara-Jean has written five letters, all to boys who she has loved at some point in her life. These letters are put into a hat box and she never plans to send them but one day she finds they’ve been posted and her secrets are revealed.

The books are predictable and typically YA but I loved them. I loved Lara-Jean’s love interests, in most YA I just can’t deal with the love triangles but for once I loved it. I understood how this love triangle happened and I understood why Lara-Jean had such a hard time deciding what she wanted. She felt every bit the sixteen year old girl wanting the best of both worlds and I never once felt annoyed with her for not immediately making up her mind. Oh, I also bloody loved Kitty.

The Shopaholic series – Sophie Kinsella

Now this is a weird one because although it’s one of my favourite series, I feel a little like it’s being dragged out and that Sophie needs to just finish it.The_Secret_Dreamworld_of_a_Shopaholic

This series follows Becky, a twenty-something journalist who has a big spending problem. She’s obsessed with buying things and she really can’t afford everything she is buying. Becky meets Luke Brandon, a successful businessman who she forms an unlikely attraction to but whom she has to hide her spending issues from.

There are so far I believe there are eight books in this series and with every book I’ve come to love Luke a little bit more. If you ask me who my ideal book boyfriend is, I will always answer Luke Brandon. He’s just perfect. He’s hard working, motivated and loving. He also constantly puts up with Becky’s shit and sometimes I really don’t understand why. Up until Mini Shopaholic (book six) I really loved Becky, I felt she grew as a character and she deserved the outcome of every book but with the latest instalments I’ve started to hate her. All the hard work Kinsella did to make Becky a lovable character seems to have evaporated and Becky has become ungrateful and annoying. I’ve just finished reading the newest book, Shopaholic to the Rescue and I admit Becky redeems herself a lot and I enjoyed this book a lot more than the previous two books so I’m hoping it all just stops there while I love Becky again.

I know this doesn’t seem like a glowing review but up until Mini Shopaholic, I really love the series and I genuinely found it hilarious and heart-warming.  I love the characters and I love Sophie’s writing so I would recommend the series to anyone. Just pretend it finishes with Shopaholic and Baby.

Pee Wee’s Big Holiday Review

In the 80s and early 90s and you wanted to have a wacky fun filled time there was one man you could always rely on. Pee Wee Herman.

pee wee

He provided kids with a haven of silly crazy, nonsense, where anything could happen and it often did. One moment that always sticks in the mind is when Pee Wee married his bowl of fruit salad.  Here’s the theme song, you can get it stuck in your head too. 

 

It’s been 28 years since the last cinematic outing of everyone’s favourite man child. In the last installment he went to work in a circus in Big Top Pee Wee, which was somewhat of a let down after the triumphant Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and the subsequent TV series Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

As a big fan of zany nonsense, I loved Pee Wee as a child, and I still believe Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (which shall henceforth be called PWBA) to be one of the greatest kids films and one of the best of the director, Tim Burton’s.

pee wee big adventuer

So, as you might imagine when I heard there was going to be a new Pee Wee movie that was going to involve Judd Apatow I was pretty excited. So, once the morning of 18th March finally rolled around, I stayed in my pyjamas, poured myself some cereal, and pretended I was 7 years old again as I turned on Netflix for something I have been waiting for for a long time.

The plot starts off with Pee Wee (according to the credits, Pee Wee plays himself, but really it’s Paul Rubens) loves his home town of Fairville, CA. so much that he has never left, and has no intention of ever leaving to explore the big wide world. However, one day a handsome cool stranger walks into the diner where Pee Wee works as a chef  (Joe Manganiello, who plays himself with great humour) and they immediately hit if off and become BFFs. So much so that Joe invites Pee Wee to his birthday party. In New York. In 5 days time!

pee wee joe 2

After some advice not to just get a plane and go cross country, Pee Wee takes the plunge and sets off on an adventure of a lifetime.

Along the way he conveniently meets a ragtag collection of characters who both help and hinder our plucky hero along the way, including a travelling salesman, a farmer and his nine daughters, an Amish community, and a gang of female thieves on the run.

pee wee maebe

If you’ve ever seen PWBA then this might sound a little familiar, just replace birthday party for stolen bike and you pretty much have the same story with new characters. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, out of the slew of remakes and reboots of famous franchises over the last few years the best ones have essentially followed the format of the original movie (Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I’m looking at you!).

The jokes are hilariously bad, if you love a good dad joke, then you’ll happily chuckle away throughout the film. There’s a great use of slapstick humour as well, an art form I feel is sadly lacking these days. The movie starts off with a beautifully orchestrated Rube Goldberg machine that involves the entire community helping Pee Wee on his way to work.

The plot bounces along with a good pace, and none of the supporting characters feel like they overstay their welcome, despite the long list of cameos there is only one true star of this picture. Pee Wee himself.

Paul Reubens, Pee wee Herman

 

Rubens manages to bring his famed Character back to life with a great energy for a man of over 60. Pee Wee feels like his good old self, though I suspect Rubens may have farmed out some of the more strenuous stunts to a team of stunt Pee Wees. He carries the film through to the finale with all the adorable naive aplomb you’ve come to expect.

Even though I was thrilled with the silly, slapstick humour I think my main problem with the film was the feeling that it couldn’t quite escape the shadow of PWBA, although many reboots have made use of old formats, they’ve been able to update them enough that they become fresh, unfortunately there just wasn’t enough changes from PWBA for me to fully get it out of my mind, and all I could do was compare it throughout my viewing. Along with the lack of originality it sometimes the wacky, zaniness that comes with Pee Wee felt a little forced, like they had to do it because it worked before. PWBA, although similar, always made sense within the world that was created around and by Pee Wee. I never quite got that same feeling in Big Holiday. 

pee wee amish

I did enjoy the movie on the whole, and this will definitely help to keep the kids quiet on a Saturday morning. For those of slightly older fans, however, I would make sure to put any other Pee Wee incarnations out of your head before watching and just take the movie for what it is; a daft romp about a man child exploring and discovering a big wide world in the best way that he can. By making friend with everyone he meets.

 

★★★☆☆

Shovel Knight Review – PS4

Being reductive you could describe Shovel Knight as another retro style indie game platformer but it’s so much more than that. It’s a perfectly crafted love letter to 8 bit (NES) and 16 bit (SNES) eras but it’s also not afraid to borrow from some more recent games where it makes sense.  Steel Thy Shovel

You take control of the titular Shovel Knight, a treasure hunting adventurer. While exploring the Tower of Fate with his partner Shield Knight they uncover an ancient amulet that traps her inside and locks Shovel Knight out. When he hears that an evil Sorceress has unlocked the tower he grabs his trusty shovel and sets out on a rescue mission. 

I get that they were trying to stick to an overall retro game feel but they could have at least tried modernize the whole damsel in distress trope. Even Nintendo has tried this over the years for Princess Peach in the Paper Mario series and they’re the ones who made their money on this cliché back in the day. It’s disappointing that in a modern game there is virtually no strong female presence throughout most of the story. 

Strike the Earth!

As you may have gathered a lot of the gameplay revolves around the shovel, this is your main form of attack. You can use it to bash enemies, smash blocks, dig up treasure and even bounce on like a pogo stick which can be used as an attack. The controls feel great, you never feel out of control of the character which is good because there are many tricky jumps ahead.

You navigate the overworld via a Super Mario Bros 3 style map complete with enemy encounters patrolling around. Each level is usually themed around whichever boss resides inside, there are 8 Knights to defeat at the end of their own themed level almost exactly like Mega Man’s robot masters. For instance Specter Knight’s level is a creepy graveyard/haunted house and Mole Knight’s is an underground labyrinth. 

The boss battles are a great event to cap off the stages. Each Knight has their own unique attacks and they come after you relentlessly. It’s really exciting when you’re down to your last bit of health and you land that final well deserved hit.

There are Zelda II style towns you can visit to buy supplies, upgrades and maybe find a few sidequests if you talk to the right person. This is where you can shop for the game’s many items, they slowly unlock as you defeat more Knights and range from fireball spells you can shoot to a spell that makes you intangible so you can’t be harmed. It really lets you play the game however you want. Whether you focus on upgrading your health so you can take more hits or upgrade your magic power so you can use the items more often, it’s up to you.

A Lust for Gold

Each level is brilliantly crafted, fitting the theme of the corresponding Knight and also slowing increasing the difficulty as you go along. The game does a great job of teaching you how to be better without straight up telling you what to do. It also rewards exploration, there are secret passages hidden everywhere full of treasure. 

Collecting treasure feels great in this game. Nintendo figured out early on with Mario that it’s just fun to collect coins and such in video games but all they did there was give you an extra life every now and again. In Shovel Knight treasure is everything. You use it to buy all your upgrades, extra weapons and to gain access to certain areas. Taking out a huge enemy or digging up a mound of earth and getting showered in riches is fun for everyone.
  When you die in Shovel Knight you lose some of your gold and are sent back to the last checkpoint but you are given a chance to retrieve what you lost. In the area that you died there’ll be floating bags of cash and if you can make it back there without dieing again you’ll get all of it back. I really appreciated this system because when making retro style games developers always seem to be tempted to make it super difficult but this really takes the pressure off and made it way more enjoyable to me. You can make it a bit more risky for yourself (if this seems too easy) by smashing the checkpoints you come to during the levels. You can get gold out of them but then you won’t have anywhere to respawn if you fall down a pit.

This system is very clearly borrowed from the Dark Souls series, where your experience is left in the area you died. it’s good to see that they weren’t afraid to borrow from some modern games, where it makes sense.

A Bard’s Tale

One thing that can’t be faulted in this game is the music. Jake Kaufman creates a masterpiece of bleeps and bloops that is very authentic to the 8 bit era while also feeling modern due to the complex song arrangements. Just listen to this and tell me it doesn’t get you all pumped up and ready for adventure:

I’ve had songs from this game stuck in my head all week which to me means they did something right with this soundtrack. You can even collect the songs in game and give them to a bard in town who will play them back to you whenever you want. They are usually pretty well hidden in the levels so it made me want to check every suspicious looking wall, sometimes at my own peril.

They even get Manami Matsumae (a composer who worked on the original Mega Man soundtrack) to compose a couple of songs for Shovel Knight, Just to take this nostalgia trip full circle.

But Shovel Knight is much more than that, it in no way relies on nostalgia to get a free pass. It’s an excellent game that could be enjoyed by anyone whether you were around in the 8 bit era or your first video game was Call of Duty. This is video gaming in it’s purest form and I loved every second of it.

★★★★★

Daredevil Series 2: Review

Daredevil Series 2

(Spoilers. BIG FAT SPOILERS!)

 

(Spoilers – seriously)

With me now having a job that gets me home before half past five on weekdays, the opportunities to binge-watch television series have never been so ripe, and the stars were clearly aligned when Netflix released Daredevil in its entirety on Friday. Pyjamas were on, takeaway was ordered and I was settled down in a duvet mountain all before half past six.

I’m not going to bore you by reviewing each individual episode in turn, mainly because spoiling each individual episode in turn is a bit rude and you probably don’t really care that much about this review enough to read 13 separate breakdowns. Alas this will be a review of the series as a whole and feel free to yell or argue in the comments below because who doesn’t love internet keysmashing.

We start where we left off in the first series. Fisk is off the streets and in jail, Nelson and Murdock are still a struggling, though now infamous, law firm, but as predicted Fisk’s incarceration has created a power vacuum in Hell’s Kitchen. A vacuum in which Kitchen Irish, the Cartel and the Dogs of Hell are battling to fill through various methods of intimidation and violence.

Series 2 wastes no time in introducing the Punisher into the mix. The Irish are brutally gunned down by an unseen assailant assumed to be an army of men but turns out to just be one man. Frank Castle. It’s all neatly done with Frank’s face unseen until the very end of the first episode but it is a bit bloody obvious who it is in the first place. This kicks off the first major arc of the series, and the first major philosophical questioning of Matt’s/Daredevil’s methods of justice in comparison to the Punisher’s more bold and aggressive methods of termination. Kudos must be given to Jon Bernthal because holy moly mother of God. As a big Punisher fan I was mildly reticent when Bernthal was cast. Having only really known him from The Walking Dead where he played that piece of shit Shane, I didn’t know if he could carry off the Frank Castle I was hoping for and expecting. But, fuck me, I was so wrong. He absolutely owns the part. While he doesn’t match the comic version of Frank in terms of stature, his physicality is still impressive; he looks like a man who was has fought all his life, he has the swagger of a man with a purpose, and in the moments of calm introspection he brings a gravitas and emotional resonance (see episode 3 for the rooftop scenes and episode 4 graveyard scene). He and Ray Stevenson will now have to arm wrestle to decide who the best Punisher is.

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The fight sequences are as vicious as usual, both men bleed and groan (LIKE NORMAL HUMAN BEINGS), both get hurt, and the scenes are surprisingly (in a good way) economical. We don’t get unrealistic 10 minute fight scenes for the sake of it, to show off some fancy camera trickery or to show how good the stuntmen are. We get short, sharp shocks of cruel violence and it’s all the more potent for it (Episode 9 in particular has a particularly astounding fight scene in a prison). The writers wisely keep this philosophy throughout the series and, while this is undoubtedly a violent piece of television, the scenes themselves never feel like they overstay their welcome (compare that to the end fight sequence from Man Of Steel where I left the cinema with blunt force trauma after been visually assaulted for about 25 minutes).

The main Punisher arc finishes as quickly as it seemed to come and for me this is where series 2 lost a little bit of its focus. Elektra (Elodie Yung) is swiftly introduced and a rash of links of events in series 1 begin to reveal themselves. Fisk, Nobu (!) and Stick all emerge from the sidelines to muddy the waters of some sort of conspiracy. Then we have another murky unknown baddie called The Blacksmith who seemingly comes out of nowhere. It’s all a little bit too much. While in series 1 we had our conspiracies and dirty dealings, they all lead to one major source in Wilson Fisk. He was the main antagonist, the main focus for our love/hate/whatever floats your boat, the spider in the middle of the web as it were. However, in series 2 there is just so much hovering in the background (post episode 5 / 6 especially) it is hard to know where to look or focus. We have Elektra, we still have the Punisher (who makes a welcome return to the fold further on), we have Fisk, we have Stick (who may or may not be a good egg), we have Nobu, we have The Blacksmith, we have The Hand, we have something called Black Sky that is randomly referenced about 3 episodes from the end, we have a massive hole in the ground that is seen but never referred to again. And i understand we need to have a puzzle, a loose thread in the weave, but we also need a locus and we get no indication by the end of the series what exactly that is.

Elektra’s arc is nicely played if a tad underwhelming on the whole. I don’t think this is a fault of the actress (Yung nails it) but the writing is rather clunky and a lot of her scenes feel extraneous. I did enjoy the flashbacks with her and Matt in college, showing us Matt’s less than perfect moral compass as a student and his weakness when it comes to women.

 

The series hits its stride again once Fisk joins the proceedings. D’Onofrio is, as per usual, as absolute juggernaut and it was nice to see in a spoilerific world of the internet that I can still be completely caught off guard. The scenes between Fisk and Frank fizzle with tension and the distrust between the two men is palpable. Bernthal holds his own however, and while he doesn’t say much during their exchanges, you know exactly what he is thinking.

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We also learn more about Frank’s backstory through Karen’s own investigative poking about after she is hired by Ellison to take Ulrich’s (oh Ben) role as researcher for the newspaper. Frank and Karen’s relationship one of the most interesting ones to develop in this series, as she fights for Frank’s humanity, desperate to believe that there is more to him than just violence and hatred, while he simultaneously thwarts her attempts to do so. Whether it be out of respect for her or loneliness he lets her occasionally with some deftly played discussions about love and redemption, but soon shuts it down before she gets too close (see the diner scene).

Like a drunk man on stilts, the series wobbles at the end. So much is stuffed into the last two episodes it feels like you’ve gorged on a box of Ferrero Rocher then nicked a box of Quality Street. You feel like sick, probably got diabetes and you are no further forward with your life. We are left with very little closure, the bad guys Matt has been fighting throughout the series are still there when the credits roll, Frank has one vaguely cheesy moment and then stalks off into the night; yeah, The Blacksmith was disposed of but he was probably the tip of a very large iceberg. The only thing I really got from the last two episodes is Matt’s decision to give in a little bit more to his Daredevil persona and less to his Matt Murdock lawyer persona, and while that does set up things juicily for series 3, it feels like a bit thin for 2 hours of television.

Overall, the second series of Daredevil is a success on the most part. The pacing problems inherited from series one are still present and the finale was a little on the rushed and underwhelming side, but the pros outweigh the cons. The Punisher was fantastically done, Matt’s struggle with his own identity and persona added an interesting sharp edge to his friendship with Foggy and relationship with Karen and it will be interesting to see how it plays out in the third series, Foggy was a delight as always and it was nice to see him strike out on his own instead of being at Matt’s beck and call, the inclusion of Fisk was a masterstroke, and the fight sequences were bone-crunchingly good as always.

★★★★☆
Best episodes 3, 4, 8, 9.