12 Underrated/Underappreciated Games You Need To Play: Part 1

March 24, 2011

The most recent game I’ve completed is de Blob 2 for the Xbox 360. I was sad to read that this game just hasn’t sold all that well (mainly due to having very little marketing), and so far has it been considered a flop by its publishers, THQ. As it stands, we probably won’t see de Blob 3.

Maybe I’m partly to blame – I rented de Blob 2 from LoveFilm rather than buying it, so despite my great enjoyment of the game, I haven’t helped their cause in any way.

Of course, THQ has a long history of churning out shit games that sell just because of the license they have/console they appear on. Every year we are ‘treated’ to the latest instalment of WWE Smackdown vs. Raw, which is probably the most enduringly bad series of games the world has ever seen. No, I’m not being one of those guys who criticises games because it’s wrestling – I’m a big wrestling fan – but rather, I criticise them because not only do they never fix the same basic problems that other wrestling games had licked in 1991, but THQ made the conscious decision to give the  WWE franchise to Yukes instead of AKI.

Anyone with an N64 will remember WWF No Mercy – a game so good that it actually won the Game of the Year in 2000. Everyone still talks about how they wish the Smackdown games were more like No Mercy. So you would probably ask yourself ‘Why did they go with Yukes?’ The answer is because the Smackdown series was on the more commercially successful Playstation console and sold more copies. So as a legacy we are left with a far inferior game.

I’m going off on a tangent there, but the point is, the success of a game is reliant upon many factors other than how good it is. For example, if you were to release a game tomorrow (March 25th 2011) it would be trampled over by the release of the 3DS and the IPad 2. Similarly, loads of publishers delayed games so they weren’t released on the same general period as Modern Warfare 2.

Other factors include the country a game is sold in, the console it is on, the willingness of the publisher to market it effectively, how good reviews it gets (and I’m fairly convinced that some games get generously positive reviews over others) and the competition the game faces within the same genre.

So I’ve gathered a list of games which I think you probably haven’t played for one-or-more of these reasons, but you really should. Note – these aren’t in any sort of order.

12: De Blob 2 (Xbox 360)

Starting with the game that motivated this article, de Blob 2 is a bright and colourful platform/puzzle game just released on the Xbox 360 and other platforms.

This game isn't selling that well. Help the developers out and give it a go!

In it, you control ‘Blob’ – a happy-go-lucky…erm…blob – who is battling to bring colour back to a world controlled by an oppressive regime of Nazi Blobs who have turned everything monochrome. Blob and his friends rebel against the regime by painting all the buildings/people that live there.

It sounds a bit silly, and it is; but that’s part of the charm.

The game combines free roaming 3d worlds with side scrolling 2d platform action and there is plenty to keep your attention. There are 12 levels in all, and in each you have the basic storyline to get through with up to 17 optional added missions to complete afterwards as well as a host of collectibles to find.

Oh and there are elements of strategy to it as well…

Firstly you are battling against a clock. If the time runs out you have to start again. But by doing some of the side missions as you go, you can collect time bonuses. Once you have finished the main story in each level, the clock stops to allow you to finish the rest of the optional challenges in your own time.

Secondly, there is some basic strategy when it comes to painting things. Sometimes you need to paint buildings or splat enemies with a specific colour – i.e. purple. To turn yourself purple you have to colour yourself in with blue and red paint. This probably sounds less fun and challenging than it is.

All told, the game lasts about 20 hours, and considering the game has already fallen below the £20 mark, that is good value for money for a single player game.

11. The Bigs 2 (Xbox 360)

It's a baseball game. Hurrah!

In the UK we don’t play baseball. And so mainly, games publishers don’t bother to release baseball games here. Of course, in the UK we don’t play American Football, Ice Hockey or Basketball much either and that doesn’t stop EA and 2K Sports releasing those games here either.

Yes, you can import baseball games if you want, since a lot of them are – surprisingly – region free, but if you don’t want to go to that trouble and would rather buy a baseball game that is available in the UK, there is only one option – The Biggs 2.

The Bigs 2 is to baseball what NFL Blitz and NBA Jam are to American Football & Basketball; an arcadier ‘Pick-Up-And-Play’ take on a sports game.

That’s not a bad thing though because it means you have a less complicated control system, and a more ‘fun’ style. For example, the pitcher can make a super human catch by the player pressing a specific sequence of buttons displayed on the screen (e.g. X Y B B). The challenge is that you only have a couple of seconds to do it in.

If you’ve ever played any of the NFL, NBA or NHL games you’ll know that to get the most out of them, you really have to know the rules of the sports. I still don’t know what ‘Icing’ is on NHL and why I keep getting called up on it. And the less said about the over-complicated rules in NBA the better.

Baseball is far easier to get into in comparison. Anyone can play it and you don’t have to consult a rule book before you start.

For the single player, Bigs has a fun and extensive career mode. You start off playing in the Mexican League, work your way back to the Majors and end up in the Hall of Fame. And it’s not just about winning the games either; you have challenges that you must achieve in each game to be able to progress (e.g. hit a home run with a man on every base). Also, when you beat a team you can actually take their best player for your own line-up. So it makes the career mode fun – something sports games (and I’m looking at you FIFA 11) do struggle with.

There are also some good mini games in it as well, including Home Run Derby (you have to score points by smashing up Times Square/Tokyo/Los Angeles) which can be played both as a single player or competitively against an opponent.

All in all, The Bigs 2 is a very worthy sports game for someone looking for an unassuming and fun game to play.

10. Street Racer (SNES)

We’re going way back in time here to 1994 and the release of a shameless Mario Kart clone.

Not the best game but had an incredibly addictive game mode that was never seen in any game ever again. Booooo!

I’m not going to say this is the best game out there. Even though Mario Kart had the promotional powerhouse of Nintendo behind it, it was still the better of the two games.

But Street Racer deserves recognition for having one particular game mode that hasn’t ever been seen again in games of this genre – a battle royal.

All the racers start off on a floating platform without any walls and the aim is to drive around and try and knock the other drivers off. What a superb mode it was; my friends and I played it for hours on end. But no other racing/driving game has ever used it since, and I just don’t know why.

You can track down Street Racer on an emulator. Give that mode a try!

9. King of Colosseum 2 (PS2)

You’ll note my disdain above for the Smackdown vs. Raw series. There is just so much wrong with it. For a start, most of the time you just drag your opponent into a certain part of the arena and watch a cut scene of a move. Then there is the god-awful Money in the Bank Ladder Match that never ends because to win it the wrestler has

These guys are looking dapper. Pity two of them are now dead.

to set up a ladder in the middle of the ring, climb it and grab the briefcase suspended above the ring. The problem with that is that there are 5 other wrestlers in the match who will never let you do it. So victory absolutely relies upon the other 5 wrestlers accidentally not realising you are climbing the ladder.

And how can we forget the top rope moves. Even if your opponent is standing up, you will try a flying legdrop or a splash; and it’ll defy the laws of physics by hitting him. The game is riddled with the same flaws it had 10 years ago, and they never bother to fix it.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a wrestling game out there that both looked good (for the time) and played it out like a sport?

Well there is – King of Colosseum 2.

When it comes to wrestling games, most people say ‘Let’s have a cage match/ladder match/Streetfight/Royal Rumble’. Nobody wants to play regular singles or tag team matches. They are boring!

But not in KOC2.

KOC2 only has a handful of game modes. There is singles match, tag team match, title match and a sort of Survivor Series style match. And it doesn’t need anything else because of the depth of play. Each wrestler has around 45 moves from a grapple position alone. Think about that. I played the demo of THQ’s latest insulting effort ‘WWE All-stars’. It would seem that each wrestler has about 3 moves. KOC has the large amount of grapple moves, then a host of weak/strong striking moves, moves off the top rope, corner moves, diving moves to the outside and submissions/striking moves to a grounded opponent. It is a deep game.

Also, unlike its US counterparts, you don’t have an endless supply of finishing moves which you can build up to by smashing people with weapons or doing taunts. You have between 3 and 5 ‘Powerballs’ (the amount depends upon the ability of the wrestler) that you can use to do finishers (of which each wrestler has around 10) or even use to kick out of a pin-attempt if you think that you’re done for. For some of the better wrestlers, there are also super-finishers that require two Powerballs to use.

The game accurately reflects the way these guys wrestle in Japan. While in the USA, wrestling is considered Sports Entertainment, in Japan – even though it is choreographed just the same as in the US and the punters know it – it is taken a lot more seriously.

The beauty of the game lies in the matches themselves. I’ve had singles matches against a human opponent last for well over 45 minutes, and not in the ‘Oh my god, when will this end’ way of the aforementioned Money in the Bank matches.

You build up slowly, doing the ‘weak’ moves like bodyslams and chops all the way to the crescendo of battering each other with your finishers. And the crowd gets into it. They react to the moves you do and cheer or boo depending upon how well you are perceived to be performing. The real kicker is that at the end of each match, you get a match rating out of 100. So the game rewards you for co-operating with your opponent to provide the most artistically rewarding match possible.

Being able to win and defend titles also brings a replayability level to it as well.

Oh, and this isn’t a button mashing game either. It requires a bit of skill and timing to play it well. This does mean new players will struggle at first, but the ends justify the means.

This is hands down the best wrestling game engine ever, even though it’s not the only wrestling game on this list (we’ll get into the reasons why in Part 2).

Oh, and by the way, for those who status-boost-moan and try and play down wrestling games, we all know your favourite guy in Tekken is King because he does suplexes.

8. Super Mario Strikers (Gamecube)

We’re big on football in the UK, and the football game market is dominated by two powerhouses – FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer. Well, I say that, but PES has been pretty poor for a while and is being supported almost

A fun and accessible football game for all your friends

 entirely these days by Fanboys.

The problem with football games is that to be able to play them well, you have to understand and watch football. And not everyone does. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to play football games. Take my brother for example. He’s doesn’t like football, but quite enjoys football games. The problem is he doesn’t have that level of understanding of when to pass and who to pass to, to be able to compete with those of us who watch and play football ourselves.

I’m sure if I played against an American who watched and played their sports, I’d get thoroughly humiliated at Madden, NHL, NBA etc.

Alternatively there will be people who like football but don’t play console games much. If they want to play a game against their mates who regularly play FIFA, it wouldn’t be fun for them because they just won’t win.

So there needs to be a game that appeals to all of these types of people – where they can all play on a level playing field.

Step up Super Mario Strikers.

Played under 5 a side conditions, this is to football what the Bigs is to baseball. With very easy controls, power-ups (in a similar vein to Mario Kart), no free kicks (you can foul to your hearts content), power shots (if you manage to press the button combo quick enough you can score a goal worth 2) and a quick time limit (5 minutes max) this game is accessible to everyone and still a hell of a lot of fun.

It’s a Nintendo game so I imagine it sold well, but I doubt it sold that well with the FIFA/PES fanboys who only want ‘real football’.

But then games are supposed to be fun. And without question, even though it really doesn’t accurately represent football (though some of the ridiculous challenges on this can be seen on a Sunday afternoon in Soccerworld) Super Mario Strikers is a lot of fun.

And before anyone thinks of buying the Wii version of the game, the Gamecube version is streets ahead, mainly because it doesn’t rely upon unnecessary controller waggling to justify its host console’s existence.

7. Rick Dangerous (Atari ST)

Games used to be harder than they are now. There was less to do back in 1989 so you didn’t mind playing the same levels of a game over and over and over again like you would now. Today if you couldn’t progress in a game you’d think ‘Sod it’ and move onto something else.

Good old Rick Dangerous. Sadly Lara Croft got the push meant for him, presumably because she had big tits.

I think the idea of having to play through a game in one go now is completely alien. We’ve got checkpoints all over the place. Does that make games better? Well probably; but it did mean that older games could be shorter in length and represent a greater challenge.

There are some great examples of that, such as New Zealand Story, Rainbow Islands, Indiana Jones 3 (The Action Game not the Adventure one), Dynamite Dux (maybe that’s stretching it a bit) and Night Hunter. I also remember being absolutely thrilled to beat Double Dragon 2 on what must have been the 900th attempt.

But one of the hardest and best of these games was Rick Dangerous; an Indiana Jones-style side scrolling platform game made by the same people who would later make Tomb Raider.

It combines being very hard with very addictive.

Oh, and it has a brilliant musical score as well – for a game.

Here’s the beauty of Rick Dangerous. You can play it for free at http://rickdangerousflash.free.fr/

It doesn’t get much better than that!

Look out for Part 2 of this rundown in the near future.


Geometry Wars 2: Retro Evolved 2 (or I Don’t Even Know Who Rossmosis Is, But I’m Glad I Beat His Score!)

March 22, 2011

Trying to adapt the writing style I use on Film and TV reviews for games reviews isn’t that easy, so I must admit that I’ve shied away from it in recent weeks. But the reason I started the blog was for me to able to look back on the stuff I’ve played and watched and remember it in the years to come.

So I’ve got a bit of a backlog of games to get through and I’ll start with Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2

Genre: Top Down Shooter
Players:
1 (4 player Offline Co-Op/Versus Modes Available)
Platform:
Xbox Live Arcade
Cost: £8 (though it cost me £4 as it was Deal of the Week on XBLA)

Synopsis (Description courtesy of Wikipedia)

The player controls a small, highly manoeuvrable ship that can move and fire independently in any direction. The objective of the game is to score points by destroying a variety of shapes and surviving by not touching them. If this happens, the player’s ship is destroyed and a life is lost. Depending on the game mode, lives and bombs can be collected upon achieving a certain number of points. Bombs clear the game space of enemy shapes instantly, although no points are awarded for their destruction.

Crucial to effective play is the score multiplier, which increases as the player collects “geoms” — small diamond-shaped green objects dropped by enemies upon destruction. The number of points scored by destroying an enemy depends on the multiplier, which can reach into the thousands.

There are six different game modes available:

  • Deadline: The player is challenged to score as many points as possible with three minutes and infinite lives. During the course of the three-minute countdown, it is possible for a player to earn additional bombs.
  • King: The player has only one life and no bombs. Circular safety zones appear randomly in the playing field. Enemies and geoms cannot enter these zones, and the player can only fire while inside one. The zone shrinks and disappears a short time after it is entered, causing a new one to appear elsewhere in the playing field. Thus, the player is forced to keep moving from zone to zone to survive.
  • Evolved: The player is challenged to score as many points as possible with no time limit. The player starts with 4 lives and 3 bombs, and earns extra lives and bombs at set point intervals. (100,000; 1,000,000; 10,000,000)
  • Pacifism: The player has only one life and cannot shoot. The player must fly through gates to destroy nearby enemies while avoiding the dangerous edges of the gates. Bonus points are earned by flying through gates in rapid succession. This mode was inspired by an achievement in the first game called “Pacifist” where the objective was to survive for 60 seconds without firing.
  • Waves: The player has one life and must avoid and destroy inline waves of rockets that fly horizontally and vertically from the edges of the game space.
  • Sequence: This mode consists of twenty levels, each with a consistent, predetermined pattern of enemies. The player has thirty seconds to destroy all of the enemies in each level. If the player loses a life, they are taken directly to the next level, but the game ends if the player loses all their lives. Additional lives and bombs are earned at set point intervals.

Thoughts

Addictive; that is the word I would use to describe Geo Wars. I took a punt on this game on a whim while it was Deal of the Week on XBLA and it’s probably the best £4 I’ve spent in years.

Getting the High Score is a very old gaming concept. When you played a game like Space Invaders, Pac Man or Galaga in an Arcade you’d look to be the at the top of the Leaderboard. That didn’t really carry over that well to home gaming in the pre-internet age though – after all, you’d be competing with yourself for a High Score, and really, where’s the fun in that? It’s all about the competition is it not?

With Xbox Live you compete for scores with your mates and with the rest of the world. It gives you something to work with!

When I got the game, the first thing I wanted to do was beat the score of my friend (and perennial gaming rival) Kevin. That was the motivation for me – the benchmark.

Pictures of this game are hard to come by, but this is an example of when things can become a little too 'busy' on screen.

And I did it.

And I felt a sense of smug achievement.

And I texted him to let him know it.

And he came back with some excuse, but I knew he was crushed (and he reads this blog so I await his response…)

Once he was done, the benchmark was raised by the high score of another one of my Xbox Live ‘friends’, Rossmosis. Now, I don’t personally know Rossmosis – he’s a friend of Kevin’s who was added when my brother and Kevin were playing online Left 4 Dead – but I saw his score and wanted to beat it. So that was the motivation to play on, and eventually I did. Ultimately these things don’t matter but at the time when I beat his score in Evolved mode, I was delighted. But then I’m often accused of being too competitive.

Anyway, the point is that the High Score system brings a sense of competition to the game, and that is something I find lacking with games these days. Most games involve Campaign modes which go from A to B to C… and once you have completed it you have no great urge to return to it. Geometry Wars has replayability – a definite rarity in a game in 2011.

As for the mechanics of the game – it’s simple and challenging. You move with the Left Stick and shoot with the Right Stick. The longer you last, the harder it gets. Some of the enemies are total bastards though. When you see the enemies with the fire tails coming at you, it’s time to use a bomb.

In terms of the graphics, the game looks good. Not ‘wow’ good but nice. If the game has any problem though I would say the screen can get a bit too ‘busy’ and it becomes difficult to keep track of where you are on the screen in relation to your enemies. Maybe that’s the point, but I’d hope the difficulty level was based upon your ability to shoot enemies rather than your eyesight.

The different modes offer plenty of variety as well, which is good. Pacifism seems to be a favourite among other reviewers and players on forums, but I personally prefer Evolved mode, followed closely by Waves.

But is it Fun?

Is it fun? That’s the question you have to ask when it comes to games. Why else would be play games other than for fun? Well it seems an easy question to ask, but I bet you’ve slogged through some games and thought ‘Christ, this is dull” – I know I have.

The answer to this question is “Yes”. The game has ‘Pick-Up-And-Play’ written all over it. You’ve only got 10 minutes to spare? You can easily have a quick go of this in that time.

Unlike a lot of games you won’t forget the controls; you won’t lose the thread of the storyline and what you did when you last played it two months ago. It’s quick, it’s easy to play (though difficult to master) and yes, it is fun!

Should You Buy Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2?

It costs £8 as standard, but £8 is still worth it. Put it this way, you would happily part with £40 for a game like Medal of Honor, which has a 6 hour, dull as dishwater campaign, so paying £8 for a game which you could still feasibly be playing years from now is a no-brainer.

There is a chance that it won’t have the same appeal if you don’t have people to compete for scores with, but there is still the overall leaderboard to work against.

And of course, you can download the demo on XBLA to give it a try anyway so there’s nothing to be lost by at least trying it!

 


The Adjustment Bureau (A Lesson In Not Judging A Book By It’s Cover – Or Film By It’s Trailer)

March 5, 2011

This poster implies that The Adjustment Bureau is a film all about Matt Damon and Emily Blunt running from a nasty 'Big Brother' style figure. But it really isn't. And that's a good thing!

 Trailers of films these days often given too much away. I think it was the trailer for the film The Town which appeared to just be a truncated version of the entire film, including what appeared to be some fairly important plot developments. So I never bothered with it.

The point of trailers is to get you interested in seeing the films, so they really have to work as a taster for them. Based on the trailers I saw today, I’m interested in seeing Hall Pass and Source Code, and less interested in seeing The Eagle and that film about an alien invasion in Los Angeles (even though the genres of the films are ones I *should* be interested in).

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I sat through the trailer for The Adjustment Bureau and thought “Well that doesn’t look very good”. It just seemed like a basic romance movie with some chasing up and down corridors to make it ‘exciting’. But I read a bit more about it and also saw it got good reviews, and so I decided I’d give it a go and hope my impressions based on the trailer were false. Incidentally, based on the trailer, I thought Unknown looked great, and it gets pretty average reviews. I still plan on giving it a go.

So did the trailer do a bad job of advertising the film? Read on…

The Plot

I ended up writing pretty much the entire plot here, but I don’t want to do that. I want you to be able to go to the film as spoiler free as possible. So here’s a basic synopsis of what the film is about…

The Adjustment Bureau is a group of ‘agents’ who make sure each human being’s ‘journey’ goes according to the plan written for them by ‘The Chairman’. While it isn’t explicitly stated, I guess we’re supposed to assume that the agents are angels, and that The Chairman is God. During the film, it’s explained that mankind needs the Bureau to control peoples’ destiny, as when they don’t, man messes it up for himself. He gives the example that the Bureau left man to it in 1910 but had to take control again in 1960 after two world wars, the Holocaust, the Great Depression and the threat of nuclear war.

Essentially while man has ‘free will’ for choosing trivial things like what he’s going to eat in a restaurant and what TV show to watch, his overall destiny is pre-written, and these guys are there to ensure each person sticks to the plan.

With that in mind, this film is about up-and-coming politician David Norris (played by John Cena lookalike Matt Damon, starring in yet another film this year), who has a ‘chance’ (i.e. pre-determined) encounter with a woman called Elise (Emily Blunt) on election night of his failed campaign for Senate. They form an instant connection and she inspires him to go out there and speak from the heart in his Concession Speech. And that is supposed to be the last time they ever see each other.

But three months later, a slip-up by one of the Bureau’s Agents sees Norris get on a bus that – according to his destiny – he shouldn’t have been on. And there, by proper chance this time, he meets Elise again, and their relationship develops further. Moreover, by getting on the bus, he also gets in to work on time – which he wasn’t supposed to do – and catches the Agents busy at work. As they put it, he’s seen behind a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed.

They explain to him what the Bureau is and tell him that if he tells anyone of their existence, they will wipe his mind. Furthermore, they tell him that he was never supposed to see Elise again after that first night, and that he should never attempt to contact her. To make sure, they burn the business card she had written her number on. Since New York has a population of 9m, the odds of them seeing each other again are incredibly low.

Three years pass, and in that time Norris has ridden the same bus every day in the hope of seeing her again, despite the Bureau’s warnings. But one day he does see her walking along the street. And so they meet up again, and that sets the Agents into motion as they try their best to ensure the two of them remain apart.

Beyond this, I don’t want to say much as it ruins the plot and therefore will make going to see this film a bit of a pointless gesture for anyone reading this.

Thoughts 

Again, without spoiling anything, I would say the film really impressed me. I declared the last film I went to see at the cinema – True Grit – as the best film I’d seen all year, but this runs it close. Maybe I’ll even look back on it and think it was better.

What I liked about the film was that it seemed reasonably fresh. On the surface it seemed like your bog standard ‘Man evades a Big Brother-style governing body’ plot which has been done to death, and I suppose that’s why the trailer didn’t appeal to me. But there is more to it than that.

For example, The Bureau aren’t the bad guys. I don’t think it ruins anything to say that. They do what they do to ensure that things go to a plan that means people really get the best out of their lives. The Agents themselves are portrayed as frustrated middle-managers being let down by the system (that being that Norris’s genuine ‘chance’ meetings with Elise are causing them havoc). While Norris is without a doubt a headache to them, they empathise with him. They understand that he has a genuine connection with her (and there’s a clever reason for why, which I won’t spoil), but they are just carrying out their instructions.

When middle-management (here played very well by John Slattery and Anthony Mackie) pass the Norris problem up to the Bureau’s trouble-shooter – Thompson (played by Terence Stamp) – he reveals to Norris that the reason they can’t be together is because together, neither will come anywhere close to reaching their potential. The plans destiny has in store for them both are that they will reach the top of their respective professions, but together they won’t do that, and that has a knock-on effect for many other people.

So their motives are not sinister.

Throughout the film, the plot kept me intrigued and the themes explored were entertaining and interesting. Beyond that, I thought it was well acted. Colour me impressed once again with Matt Damon. That’s two films in a row where he’s been particularly good. I don’t really understand why people have a problem with him.

It's the obligatory 'Matt Damon looks like John Cena' picture

The supporting cast are also good, and as I say, the portrayal of the Agents as frustrated middle-managers as part of a sort-of angelic corporate structure raises a few laughs – particularly Slattery’s character. That’s not to say it isn’t played seriously, because it is. We’re not talking about a couple of bumbling oafs playing for laughs.

I’ve never seen anything with Emily Blunt in it previous to this either, but much like the other key players, I thought she did a worthy job.

The other positive thing I can say is that in spite of the trailer, this really isn’t a lot of running up and down corridors. What they show in the trailer and what the poster for the film suggests really only occurs for a few minutes towards the end.

If I was to criticise the film, it would be on three counts…

The first is that some people will struggle to follow it. There are what could loosely be called ‘Science Fiction’ elements to this film, which will leave some people struggling to understand what’s going on. Put it this way, I know someone who struggles with Back to the Future 2, so I wouldn’t recommend this to that person. But for someone like me who loves ‘clever’ plots with a science fiction element, it works well.

The second criticism is that this is yet another film that impresses the point to the viewer that there is ONE PERSON for each and every one of us out there, and that it’s our destiny to find that ONE PERSON. Now, people who are romantic by nature won’t actually find a problem with this, but I’ve been swayed by a recent episode of How TV Ruined Your Life with Charlie Brooker. Brooker is quite right – time and time again TV & Film markets the concept that each one of us has a single individual soul mate who we must find. And it’s not realistic at all. Furthermore, as long as entertainment sticks to this mantra, ordinary people will continue to become depressed when they split up with whom they perceive to be their one-and-only soul mate, and their single chance of happiness. And as long as this happens then James Blunt will always have a job. Do any of us want that? Really?

My final criticism is the last scene is pretty cheesy. I guess the more perceptive among you might be able to guess why.

But then these aren’t major criticisms and don’t ruin the film as far as I’m concerned.

Should You Go and See The Adjustment Bureau

I would recommend this to anyone who likes the following kinds of films: Romance, Thrillers and Sci-Fi. At different points it manages to work with each of them.

I often think I’m recommending pretty much everything I see, but then I wouldn’t take the time to go and see something if I thought it would be crap. That’s why there are no reviews of films like Big Mommas House: Like Father Like Son or No Strings Attached.

But yes, go and see it. It’s good!


Coming Of Age on BBC3: The Worst TV Show You Will Ever See.

March 3, 2011

I’ve seen some terrible sit-coms in my time – that one where Nicholas Lyndhurst plays a widow, My Family from series 3 to 817, Rumble with Leslie Joseph, the last series of the Brittas Empire, The Smoking Room (that’ll probably offend some arty-farty types), Holding the Baby with the ‘great’ Nick Hancock and probably dozens more that are too bland to remember – but very rarely do these shows make me feel angry.

After all, sit-coms are supposed to be funny aren’t they? Some light relief to escape into.

I can’t imagine writing comedy is all that easy. Sure, I find it easy to inject a bit of humour into stuff like this, but developing characters and situations for them to be in, and make it funny is a real talent. If you need an example of good comedy, check out Arrested Development or Modern Family. Both shows have well rounded characters and deliver them into fresh and humorous scenarios each week.

Bad comedy though? Well, jokes can misfire I suppose and you’re also at the mercy of the actors and actresses delivering your lines (so why people still hire old Nicky Lyndhurst I genuinely don’t know).

But what about when comedy goes beyond bad? When it’s dressed up as comedy but is just a series of swearwords and lines that have no comedy value at all, smothered in a laughter track to try and tell you that it is a comedy. Surely something like that wouldn’t get past a TV channel’s commissioning board? And in the off chance that it did, surely people would see that it was so bad that they would pull it from the air after a couple of episodes – that’s what they do in America after all.

Surely there wouldn’t be THREE SERIES of a ‘comedy’ like this?

Well there is. It’s hands down the worst TV show I have ever seen in my life. A show with no redeeming features. A show that has no comedy to it. A show with horrendous acting. And a show that you have to watch once just to feel a sense of anger that you have probably never experienced watching ‘entertainment’ before.

Coming of Age

Coming of Age is a show about the ‘crazy antics’ of a group of Sixth Form College students and is presumably the BBC’s attempt to show that they hire young writers who can appeal to younger viewers. Maybe there’s a grant involved or something. In many ways it’s the opposite of Last of the Summer Wine or the continued employment of Bruce Forsyth.

It’s written by a guy born in 1988 whose Wikipedia entry reads “When asked about creating what the interviewer called the worst cultural artefact in British history, Dawson responded with an innuendo.” Says it all really.

I think back to when I was 19 (which is how old he’ll have been when he first started writing this) and ask myself ‘Would I have found this funny?‘ and then I remember that when I was 19 I watched intelligent comedy like Stephen Moffat’s Coupling. So no, I wouldn’t have.

Anyway, I suppose this is aimed at people between the ages of 16 and 18 – a demographic well known for spending their nights in watching TV on BBC Three – because anyone younger than 16 should not be allowed to watch it, and indeed if you play the show on iPlayer you have to clarify you are 16 or over.

I’ve seen snippets of the show here and there but decided that I would take the plunge and watch an entire episode to review. And I’m going to write the review WHILE I watch it.

This episode is called Lesbian Jumper, with the synopsis ‘Matt develops a penchant for older women. DK and Robyn visit a lesbian bar to get Robyn into the gay dating scene.’

Plot

The show itself starts off with a ‘Previously on…‘ bit, where a Welsh youngster says “Ah, vitamin beer” to great laughter, followed by “The most important vitamin of all” to even more laughter.

A pug faced boy in a tracksuit finds a gun and is expelled from college by the Head Mistress. The news is tempered by a fat bloke in a beard saying “Jingle balls” to him in a scary voice while the audience roar with approval.

Sometimes words aren’t enough

A simpleton in a penguin costume  is apparently shagging a woman in her 40s while standing in front of a life-size cut-out of Jeremy Clarkson, flapping his penguin arms and shouting ‘I’m King of the World’ (to massive hilarity). The ginger girl who is an extra in the actually funny Inbetweeners catches him in the act, and he screams while the older woman looks bored.

And then all that before the opening credits.

Ah…the opening credits. A song with a woman saying ‘All We Wanna Do is Fu…’ over and over again. Kids these days, eh?

So anyway, the opening scene and the simpleton (Matt), the Ginger girl, the Welsh guy and another girl are sitting round a table while Matt appears to ‘get off’ reading Good Housekeeping, or something similar, saying “Listen to this, Barbara from Hull wants us to try her Sherry trifle. I bet you do you dirty bitch”

The Ginger girl then says he can’t believe she let him ‘Lay his man eggs in (her) happy nest’.

It turns out they used to go out and she is jealous of his exploits. He meanwhile has plans on shagging another older woman after shagging the Welshman (Olly)’s aunt.

And Olly is causing concern because he’s become an alcoholic. No he isn’t he says. But it turns out he has three bottles of gin hidden in books and a beer keg in his bag. And he also does pratfalls to massive applause.

Next up, the ugly bloke who was expelled – DK – is back in school, cleverly disguised by wearing a fake moustache. He’s speaking to the lesbian girl we read about in the synopsis. He tries to seduce her by rubbing his body against hers. She tells him to back off because she’s a lesbian and he says ‘I know, I just wanted to hear you say it. It turns me on’. Again, the hilarity this causes the audience is very confusing.

She then gives him a present. “Is it a present?” he asks? “No, it’s a camel.” Massive laughs.

She says she wants to give him a present because he’s helped her settle into the group. He asks if she’d rather not give him a blowjob. HA! Even more hilariously the present turns out to be a bright coloured jumper with a sheep on it. He makes a ‘funny noise’  to ensure we know he doesn’t like it.

The fat bloke from the ‘Previously bit’ then turns up and tells him to leave before the police are called. That of course wouldn’t be funny on its own, but saying ‘For Schizl’ at the end does ensure that we the audience are able to keep laughing all the way through.

Oh look, Chloe is dressed as a Nazi. Isn’t that clever? And she’s standing beside a stereotypical Lesbian.

Next up the Ginger girl is offered the position of Hall Monitor, which she gleefully accepts, because she wants a position of power. For no reason, she then says – to her Headmistress sure enough – “See ya, Bitch” and leaves. The audience roar with approval.

We then move to a short scene in which Matt comes (oh look, I said ‘comes’ – that’s funnier that anything in this show) into the college caffeteria, approaches a cleaner who is in her 50s and says, reading off his hand “Hello Middle Aged Lady. Do you mind if I tickle your chin whiskers with my balls?”. The woman punches him and the audience break into applause.

There’s a long scene next with the girl whose name I still don’t know where she is concerned about his alcoholism. There are some gems of dialogue including…

“Pass me that cider. It has apples in it. Its part of my five a day” HAHAHAHAHA
“You drink five cans of cider a day?”
“Of course not. I drink nearer 10” HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

and

“You were drunk in college”
“I’d had a shock; someone had thrown up in my locker”
“Yeah…you” AHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!1111111 one one one

DK comes in wearing the jumper which he hates and then does a rap which finishes with the line

“…I don’t like your jumpa, but maybe as a consolation how about I pump ya. Balamory”.

At this point the ‘audience’ are on their feet applauding and cheering.

I just don’t understand what’s going on.

DK decides the way to ensure he doesn’t have to wear the jumper is to make the lesbian girl an even worse one. I’m not sure I follow that logic.

But anyway, he leaves the room they are in and the unknown girl then makes a few Oliver Reed and George Best references about Olly’s alcoholism. I can’t help but think the target audience won’t have a clue what that’s about.

Similarly in the next scene the ginger girl – while failing to make the students in the hallway do as she commands – makes a series of jokes where she gets Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels mixed up with Ken Dodd. Apart from that not being remotely funny or accurate, what 16 year old is going to get that joke in 2011.

Don’t worry though because in amongst that we have great jokes like

Ginger Girl: “You! Polish your buttons”
(in response) Random Girl: “Polish your tits”

Ginger Girl: “You! Make your bed”
(in response) Random Bloke: “Only if you shag me in it first”

We’re only 10 minutes in and I’m long since passed the point where I’d normally put it off, but I shall carry on for the sake of the review.

We find out that the unknown girl is called Jazz as Olly admits he has a problem. Matt comes in as Jazz says “Matt, Olly has just made a shock admission“, to which Matt replies “Oh, that happens to me all the time. I just wear

I’ve never seen a comedy do a ‘hilarious’ play on Lady & The Tramp before. Have you?

two pairs of pants”.

As if the joke wasn’t blunt enough, it’s then hammered in to our heads by Olly saying “No Matt, ADmission, not EMmission”. Thanks for that. I had no idea where that joke was going.

Matt then declares he’s going to seduce the head-mistress. I can’t wait to see how that pans out.

Meanwhile, the resolution we’ve all been waiting for. DK has knitted the lesbian girl a terrible jumper and wouldn’t you believe it – she LOVES it. I didn’t see that coming. “How can I thank you?” she asks. “Sex”, DK replies. HA!  Instead they agree to go to a lesbian club together.

At this point, the ‘humour’ descends even further round the U-Bend when the fat bloke arrives and says “DK, you shouldn’t be here. Right, I’m calling the police“.

And of course, by calling the police he means standing there shouting at the top of his voice, “Police! Police! Yoo-Hoo! Boys in Blue, I want to see your helmets”. Of course, the innuendo there that ‘helmet’ is interpretted in the phallic sense.

Matt then handcuffs himself to the Head-Mistress and tries to sexually assault her. There are no words…

The Ginger Girl then turns up in the cafeteria dressed in the BBC props department’s leftover Herr Flick costume from ‘Allo ‘Allo. Even though the ‘audience’ is clearly just a bloke with an applause button, he doesn’t actually bother to press it for this bit.

The highlight of the next few minutes is…

Matt: “I know where I can get cannabis”
Jazz: “Really?”
Matt: “Well, not cannabis…tomatoes”

After that, Ginger Girl admits to Lesbian Girl that while she took the job of Hall Monitor to appeal to her sense of power that she used to have while dating Matt, she’s realised that it isn’t power she misses, but Matt himself. Lesbian girl gives her a hug and the audience go ‘Awwwww’.

Arguably, this scene could be accused of having a point to it and maybe even including some character development. But this is then ruined by the child-like writer’s bulldozer-subtle ‘humour’ when ginger girl says

Ginger Girl: “Are you trying to touch me up?”
Lesbian Girl: “What do you think I am? Some kind of rampant pussy fiend? Well…I was actually! I love a girl in uniform”

I can’t imagine many young 16-18 year old girls struggling with their sexuality will find much comfort watching this.

Similarly, the next scene in which Jazz ‘cures’ Olly’s alcoholism by giving him what Olly assumes to be cannabis (but is actually a tomato plant). “I’m glad it’s taken your mind off the drink”

Matt then tries to seduce an 80 year old. And it works. A ‘Lady & The Tramp’ parody montage then follows with them eating together, him feeding her her medication and ultimately the 80 year old collapsing dead. Again, the ‘audience’ find this hilarious.

The child-like mocking of Lesbians is completed when they go to a Lesbian club and DK gets seduced by a deep voiced 6 foot tall German girl who manages to tick all the ‘stereotype butch lesbian’ boxes. She then rapes DK. I’m not kidding.

There’s a back at ranch-house scene to finish where Ginger Girl (who is finally given a name – Chloe) and Matt get back together after she explains for the third time that she realises she misses him, and then the fat guy does the ‘Call the Police gag’ again.

Thoughts

As a show, this just isn’t funny. I get it – I’m not the target audience. But are 16-18 year olds really the target audience either? I can imagine 10 year old boys finding humour in swear words and people talking about drink, drugs and sex, but I can’t imagine anyone with any semblance of intelligence or maturity seeing this show as anything other than utter drivel.

Sometimes you can watch a comedy show and decide you don’t like it, but then begrudgingly have to admit you found one joke, once in a while, amusing. Even if it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, it can at least raise a smile.

This show doesn’t raise a smile, but instead creates a frown. Everything about it is terrible. The music is purile, the writing has no substance, the jokes are not remotely funny, the content is offensive, it sends out the wrong messages to kids (and the writers should know fine well that it’s kids who are watching this) and the acting is among the worst you’ll see anywhere.

Chloe (Anabel Barnston) and Matt (Tony Bignell) in particular are two of the worst actors you will ever see. In anything. Ever. And I include school-plays in that.

Ah, rape. It’s funny when it happens to a man, isn’t it?!

Actually, as young actors, every one of them acts like they are in a CBBC show, where every emotion is exaggerated so the kids can see when someone is cross, or when they are happy. Because as I’ve said, that’s what this is – a show acted for children. That is made clear by the ‘key phrase’ (like for example Del Boy saying “You Plonker” or Sid James’s cackling) is ‘Balamory’. That’s because the key audience were toddlers when Balamory was on.  But while it’s a show acted for kids, it’s a show that is completely inappropriate for them.

Let’s be honest, kids today swear from the age of 2. But we shouldn’t encourage it. Drinking is portrayed as cool. Drugs are made out to be even better. A bit like Skins really (but Skins – a show written by young writers which glamorises the life of a late-teen for those who aren’t yet at that age – is actually well written).

And yet, despite me criticising it, despite that interviewer in the quote above calling it the worst cultural artefact in British history, and despite me finding nobody who has anything but contempt for this show, it has been on for 3 series and therefore must get viewing figures and praise from somewhere.

If anything, that says more about the youth of today than any ‘anti-kids’ journalist could muster up.

Possibly the worst and most fake thing about this whole sorry show is the ‘Audience’, which is either a laughter track or a ‘studio audience’ made up of plants who laugh on cue. Certainly the people in the audience sound like fully grown men and women.

Don’t get me wrong, some old fashioned comedy is helped by the laughter of the studio audience, because you can tell it’s genuine. You can hear individual laughs and people struggling for breath. And it can help make things even funnier – like Fawlty Towers or some old sketches like ‘Fork Handles’ from the Two Ronnies or ‘Bloody Greta Garbo’ from Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore. It gets funnier because they themselves try not to laugh in response to the audience’s laughter and so the comedy builds.

But good comedy doesn’t need it, and in 2011, it’s just a crutch used by some comedies that aren’t funny without them.When they brought back Red Dwarf and it didn’t have an audience there to tell the viewer when and where to laugh, we found there wasn’t much to it. Similarly, the acting was so old fashioned that they delivered their lines and then stopped for where there would usually be applause. The same happened in the now-incredibly-dated Only Fools and Horses where they did the Miami Twice episode with no laughter track. It just didn’t seem funny.

And Coming of Age is just a classic example. If there was a genuine audience in there, they wouldn’t laugh. Maybe some purile people would make the occasional noise, but in all likelihood there would be groans, boos, rotten fruit being thrown onto the stage or just silence. And that wouldn’t help. But having someone press a button to tell the audience ‘This bit is funny’ time and time again just adds to my anger while watching it.

I’ve never had so much negative feeling towards any other programme like I do this one.

Should You Watch Coming of Age

I’m going to say ‘Yes’. I want you to see how bad this is, and realise that we are paying our TV license to fund shit like this. Then I want you to write in to Points of View to get it thrown off the air.

You’ll hate it too.