Comics, Movies, Video Games, and More

"Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

~Ephesians 5:16

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Salt, the Cheese, and the Tiers: On Super Smash Bros. -The Concept and Falsity of Tiers

I remember being at a Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament awhile back. Before the actual matches began, there was friendlies being done. I was utilizing Mario and holding my own against two others. One onlooker told his friends something along the tines of, "You guys are letting a Mario survive all this?" That statement always bothered me, but I knew it was a joke since Mario is typically not known as one of the better characters in that particular game. This is the concept of "tiers," which in a nutshell states who the best characters in a game are and the worst. But what makes a character better than another? This concept is especially popular with the latest installment in the Smash series, but is it a really true concept and something that should be followed?

In video games, often there's such a thing has characters having unfair advantages. In Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 for example some characters literally have far inferior heath bars and nothing backing them up. Krillin for example has so little health in comparison to Goku it gives the latter an extremely unfair advantage. It's games like this when the disadvantage is so obvious that one simply has no reason to play characters like Krillin or Yajirobe, even if the player likes them a lot. This type of stuff doesn't exist in Super Smash Bros. Yet, many will say that there's such a thing as bad characters in the game. Sheik at the moment is known as the best character. So, a much lower tier character such as Dr. Mario should have no shot against her. As evidenced here, this is simply not the case...

Some might say that a single battle isn't enough to gauge this type of thing, since "flukes" can happen according to many. Well, let's pit Pac-Man, whom has never been known to be a fantastic character, against someone whom is constantly being put up in the tier list: Zero Suit Samus, in 3 battles back-to-back.

My opponent obviously knew what he was doing, but my Pac-Man was just simply better here. Stuff like this tell me that that people really think too much about tier lists and the like. Players abandon their characters to play as top tiers just because many claim they're the best. Isn't that just a little disappointing? Let's say for example you've been playing with Samus throughout all the games. And when the new one comes out, you're still playing as her. You enjoy her moveset, and find yourself mastering all the different things she can achieve. You've even beaten quite a few Sheiks, according to many the best character in the game. Then someone comes along and tells you Samus is actually the worst character in the game. You're great with her, but because you find out that most agree she's the worst, you abandon her. Sound fishy? That's because it is.

Let's take two characters: Pac-Man and Sheik. They have vastly different movesets and can achieve quite a bit. On their own however, they can't do anything. They are immobile; they need a person controlling them. All characters are equal in that sense. Then we grab two people. An expert Pac-Man will almost always beat a rookie Shiek, and vice versa. What if you pit two people whom know their characters pretty well? I was listening to the narration for EVO, and one of the broadcasters made the statement of this match-up as "unwinnable for Pac-Man." As we can see, this is simply not the case...

A person can train their character to beat anyone. For example, just a few days I managed to beat the word champion of the game, ZeRo, in a match on tourney mode.

Many will be quick to point out that he wasn't using Sheik, his main, rather he was using Little Mac. Would the battle have gone differently? Let's hypothetically say it would have. That wouldn't be because Sheik is inherently a better character than Little Mac. Rather, it'd be because ZeRo has mastered Sheik so well that it's just supremely difficult to overcome him.

There is such a thing as bad match-ups. Mega Man against Rosalina is a fight in the latter's favor due to her being able to absorb whatever Mega shoots at her. This doesn't make her a better character than Mega Man, she just has the advantage. A classic example is the original Pokemon anime. Near the finale before Advanced started, Ash had his Charaizard battle Blastoise. Both Pokemon are equals; they are the final form of their species and both trainers have been on similar journeys with them. But Blastoise has the edge due to being a water type. Does this mean he is better than Charizard? Not at all. Then in a surprise turn of events, Charizard takes the win, showing that even having the advantage doesn't guarantee a win.

Sheik, Rosalina, and Zero Samus are great characters, but I believe every character in the game has the capability of being the best. Unlike many other fighting games, there isn't an obvious unbalance here. And when an anomaly seemingly appears, Nintendo has been quick to fix it. (Meta Knight being much less over-powered, Robin becoming slightly faster, etc.) If you find yourself doing well with say Duck Hunt and like the way he plays, don't feel like you should switch just because many say your character is more on the average side.

Of course, if you find yourself liking Sheik's moveset for example, by all means grab the character. The problem is that people give up on their mains just because many say certain characters are superior. Then there's this illusion that losing to certain characters means the player isn't quite that good. If say Luigi lost to Mewtwo, many would question Luigi's player skills, no matter how impressive Mewtwo looked, simply because Mewtwo is known as one of the worst characters in the game. This kind of thinking hurts the competitive landscape as less and less diversity is seen since everybody is flocking to characters people claim are the best. Then the other characters aren't taken seriously when in actuality they can be equally impressive.

Here's a saying to remember, "Tier power is all in the head. It's really all about the person playing the character, building a connection, learning their moveset, and being creative. Every character has the potential to be the best. You just have to make them the best."

Saturday, August 15, 2015

BIG HERO 6 Review

BIG HERO 6 garnered a considerable amount of hype prior to its release on November 7th last year. Disney has been consistent in delivering quality animated installments. The fact that this particular one was superhero oriented, in line with Marvel Comics, added to the hype. Many people going into the theater had no idea it was actually based on a comic. Even a lot of Marvel readers didn't know. (And the fact Marvel is against re-releasing the older comics means people will probably never get to read them.) I was unprepared for the amount of fun and emotion felt going into this film. Big Hero 6 is a fantastic watch and ranks with the recent greats such as Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen.

From Walt Disney Animation Studios, the team behind "Frozen" and "Wreck-It Ralph," comes "Big Hero 6," an action-packed comedy-adventure about the special bond that develops between Baymax, a plus-sized inflatable robot, and prodigy Hiro Hamada. When a devastating event befalls the city of San Fransokyo and catapults Hiro into the midst of danger, he turns to Baymax and his close friends adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. Determined to uncover the mystery, Hiro transforms his friends into a band of high-tech heroes called "Big Hero 6."
After the gorgeous scenery in the intro, we're treated to an intense "bot fight" as they're called. (Think Beyblade, just with Pacific Rim-style appearance robots!) Just by these two sequences the viewer can see just how incredible the animation is. Everything is fluid and the characters are given a range of emotions. The story then takes a different turn as we see the relationship between the main character Hiro and his brother Tadashi. The first 15 or so minutes established this perfectly, which is great since it takes some movies over an hour to establish a realistic, touching relationship.

That's why Tadashi's death was so effective. It added a dimension of emotion to the story and remains a backdrop for the entire film. Disney has employed many saddening scenes in their films, but I must personally say this is one of their strongest yet. It's hard to go and watch things like The Nut Job or Minions when BIG HERO 6 employs this kind of writing and emotion. The story moves at an excellent pace going forward. One could say things happen a little too fast, because in basically less than a few weeks a bunch of kids get suits and become essentially superheroes. But it's so much fun and the characters are all likable that one simply cannot say that as a negative.

The only main negative perhaps is the antagonist, Yokai. He has a menacing design and commands a presence for most of the film, (not to mentioned accompanied by a stellar soundtrack) but the way his alter ego is driven mad doesn't quite appear right. It is true that nice people can go the other way when faced with a tragedy, but here it really could have used a little more deepening. Still, the writing deserves props for not going the generic route and making Alisair the man behind the mask. Baymax is a great character and the relationship established between him and Hiro is done very well. That's why in the climax when the robot makes a heroic sacrifice the emotion is felt.

It's rare in a movie when every main character is likable. Honey Lemon, Wasabi, GoGo, and Fred are all very good focuses. With just being a little over 90 minutes, there wasn't too much time to give each character backstory or deepening, but the writing managed to incorporate each personality well. It's nice to see genuine friendship portrayed on the screen. Hopefully the sequel will explore them a little more. The action scenes offer some unique imagery since Yokai uses microbots, which made for some fast-paced action. The chase scene was well done also. As stated already, the soundtrack is quite great. From the villain's intro to Baymax's programming to destroy, this is definitely one of the strongest soundtracks from Disney yet.

Overall, BIG HERO 6 is another quality animated installment from Disney. It features great characters, fantastic animation, genuine emotion, and stellar themes accompanying almost every scene. It's a great watch for an individual, or the whole family. The Incredibles finally has a competitor for best CGI superhero-inspired film.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015


I am not a fan of Damien Wayne. The character has been nothing short of an unlikable brat and basically just there to be an edgier Robin. He wasn't the only reason why Son of Batman was more on the average side however. That film, while of course entertaining, is definitely one of the weakest animated Batman films due to mediocre story progression. There was some hype for the sequel because it would be, partially anyway, adapting the famous Court of Owls arc from the comics. For some odd reason however they decided to title this one "Batman vs. Robin." The title didn't make sense then, and it still doesn't make sense now. Nonetheless, VS. is a far superior watch to its predecessor.
The shadows of Gotham City are no place for a child, but Damian Wayne is no ordinary child. Now bearing the mantle of Robin, he blazes a headstrong and sometimes reckless trail alongside his father, the Batman. While investigating a crime scene, Robin encounters a mysterious figure, Talon, who leads him on a life-altering course through the depths of Gotham's secret society known as the Court of Owls. It's a dangerous journey that will force Batman and Robin to face their most dangerous adversaries... each other!
Naturally, the film starts out with Damien going against Batman's orders. It's extremely hard to find this character likable since every time he's on screen he's either a) going against Bruce or b) hurling insults. The story does an okay job developing him as a character however, which deserves praise. Sadly, the short run time of 74 minutes is sometimes felt. For example, Damien almost right away following Talon came off as unrealistically fast. Perhaps the most glaring thing is when Samantha is revealed to be the grand-master of the Court. Bruce is never made aware and that entire romantic subplot feels wasted and forgotten.

It seemed like based on interviews the writing was really trying to make aware that this was not a "Court of Owls" adaption, rather it uses elements from the arc. Interestingly, the final product is quite the opposite. It's actually an adaption while forcing Damien into the story. I for one was thrilled to see it go down like this. But it should be noted that the title doesn't make sense. It really should have been called "Batman - Robin: Court of Owls." The two do of course fight, and it's well choreographed, but it doesn't justify the title. (Though, perhaps the purpose was to lure in people whom might not know what the Court is. After all, who wouldn't pick up a film called "Batman vs. Robin?")

The story begins with a rather creepy intro, which is appropriate since the Doll Maker is quite a surreal character. I must give props to "Weird Al" Yankovic for delivering a fantastic voice portrayal of the villain. Talon was a highlight, as he was in the original comic. We're treated to some intriguing backstory establishing who he was. The dialogue he has with Damien throughout is interesting to listen to. The climax with him in the cave was intense, though his actions seemed a bit out of whack. With the Court destroyed he went to finish off Batman. I suppose one could make an argument that he still wanted to take out Batman so he could be the crime fighter in Gotham. Nonetheless, his actions seemed rather moot without the Court in the background.

Nightwing, like in the previous film, was a welcome addition. His brief scenes just further shows that a story centering around him and Batman would be far more engaging than a Damien team-up. (How Damien managed get the upper hand on Nightwing the world may never know.) Alfred is given a fantastic role, reminding Bruce that sometimes we just need to have a little faith. The fight scenes, as usual, are very well-done. From Batman's fight against the un-dead Owls to Damien's battle with Talon in the climax, they offered some impressive visuals. Not knowing how much of an adaption the film would be to the comic, I was surprised and thrilled to see the infamous hallucination sequence adapted. We rarely get to take a look inside Batman's head and see his fears, so like in the comic it was interesting. The soundtrack is definitely solid; there's a certain level of theatrical quality the themes bring to the table.

Overall, BATMAN VS. ROBIN is far superior film to its previous installment. The story is better, the pacing is better, the fights are better, everything is better. As a partial Court of Owls adaption it succeeds. It even somehow manages to Incorporate Damien's story into the arc. It is however not perfect, and nowhere near the quality of greats such as Under the Hood and The Dark Knight Returns, but is still a very entertaining watch. As long as you refrain from attacking the screen due to Damien's infuriating character, you will be engaged from beginning to end.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

ANT-MAN Review

Many people were surprised when ANT-MAN was announced for 2015. It was not because of the character, but the release date. The most famous thing the character is known for in the comics is the creation of Ultron. But, this doesn't happen in the Cinematic Universe. It was decided that Tony Stark would be the creator, which isn't the first time Marvel has toyed around with the idea. (Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow for example.) Another shocking thing was that instead of having the well-known Henry Pym as the title character, it was going to be Scott Lang. Marvel has been quite on a roll lately with quality installments one after another. While Ant-Man  doesn't reach the greatness of the previous three movies, it's nonetheless a solid entry in the series.
The next evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe brings a founding member of The Avengers to the big screen for the first time with Marvel Studios’ “Ant-Man.” Armed with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, master thief Scott Lang must embrace his inner-hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, protect the secret behind his spectacular Ant-Man suit from a new generation of towering threats. Against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Pym and Lang must plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.
Interestingly, one of the most well-known things about this movie is more on the controversial side. Originally Edgar Wright of Scott Pilgrim fame was set to direct. Infamously, he left due to creative differences. (Marvel loves to keep a tight knot on their films.) Peyton Reed replaced him. How Wright's version of the film would have gone is an interesting thought, but now completely irrelevant. So, how does Reed deal with all these script rewrites? The film does suffer from a few problems, one of which we'll address now.

Near the beginning is the Baskin-Robbin's scene, which I couldn't stop thinking about throughout my viewing. A customer literally comes in and asks for a burger. After being told the place doesn't sell them, he then asks for "whatever is hot and fresh." I've never seen such bad writing in a high budget summer film. It was so unrealistic I had to question whether or not it was real. Then the scene following where the cashier (Scott Lang) talks to his boss afterward is so unrealistic it's like "Huh?" Marvel loves comedy, but this goes to some pretty cringe-worthy levels.

Thankfully, the rest of the film never goes that low. Paul Rudd as Scott Lang portrays a pretty solid protagonist for the most part. The redemption story underneath it all of a man whom wants to be a real father to his daughter is quite touching. Michael Douglas as an older Hank Pym was a highlight, and ironically more engaging than his comic book counterpart for the last ten or so years. (A prequel show with him as the original Ant-Man would actually be welcome!) Evangeline Lilly as his daughter Hope portrayed a believable character whom is angry with her father in regards to the death of her mother. The scene where Pym reveals to her the nature of his wife Janet's death was touching and easily one of the most emotional scenes of the Marvel movies yet.

Unfortunately, the romance between Scott and Hope is poorly established and feels completely tacked on at the end. It would have been far better to have it develop in the next movie. It would have been more organic and realistic, but alas the writing decided to go the generic route with it. Scott is accompanied by a trio of friends, though the only notable one is Luis. (Michael Peña.) He was used mainly for comic relief, and some scenes were definitely cringe-worthy, but in conjunction he did have some of the funnier segments. If the writing can downplay some of his going over the top just for the sake of comedy, I wouldn't mind seeing him brought back for the sequel.

How about Corey Stoll as the antagonist, Darren Cross? Like a good number of Marvel films, this guy is completely and utterly forgettable. The writing tries desperately to make him sympathetic and gives some pretty generic antagonist lines to help. (It doesn't help.) The fact that we just saw the amazingly written Ultron a few months ago also doesn't help matters. This guy is basically a poorer version of Obadiah Stane from the first Iron Man. At the very least, the Yellowjacket design is quite impressive and a treat to see in action. If only the wearer was at least a bit engaging.

The usage of Ant-Man's shrinking ability was definitely something intriguing to behold going into the film, but I never thought just how smartly utilized it would be. Lang is able to turn little then big again in a flash, which made for some pretty unique and awesome fights scenes. I've never seen the comics utilize his ability like this. In fact, usually in the comics the shrinking is treated as a slow process, which makes the film's usage a refreshing change of pace. (I wouldn't be surprised if the books started using this more prominently now.)

Every scene with Lang turning small offers very unique imagery and engagement we haven't seen since the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids days. Not only that, but seeing ants up close and personal was a lot fun. In fact, after watching this movie the viewer may like ants so much that he/she may reconsider stomping on one next time. The core of the story is the "heist" on Pym industries, and it's a blast to watch. The final battle against Yellowjacket was one of the most innovative of Marvel showdowns. We have the characters battling in a suitcase and even next to a Thomas the Tank Engine. (Whom deserves an Oscar by the way.) The soundtrack is pretty solid. There aren't many truly standout themes, though the one which played during the suitcase fight scene at least deserves praise.

Overall, ANT-MAN is a solid solo film introducing a character whom actually proves to be one of the most interesting with his shrinking ability. There is some mediocre writing which stops it from being called "amazing" like Winter Solider and Guardians and Galaxy, but there's more things to praise than there are negative. The action is a lot of fun and just different than what we're used to seeing. Also, the film takes some great advantage of being part of a shared universe. Unlike Iron Man 2, this film knows how to incorporate itself into the bigger picture while at the same time being a standalone story. I personally look forward to seeing the character again in Captain America: Civil War next year.