Stuart’s Top 100 Games of the Last Generation Part Twelve: #10 – #1

January 22, 2014

And here we are in the Top 10. It’s been a long time coming!

#10 – Worms 2: Armageddon (Xbox Live Arcade, 2009)worms 2 armageddon

No matter how many times you play Worms, it doesn’t get boring. It requires strategy, forward planning, patience and skill, and hilariously those are four things my brother has none of.

So though I’ll play this online against friends a lot (the plan is to have a couple of games later on tonight, in fact), whenever my group of friends actually gets together, we put this on. And my brother goes into a strop as he inevitably kills his own worms by mistake straight away.

What a buffoon.

Worms deserves its place on this list for more than just that though; it’s an enduring classic, and this particular version is the best one. There have been subsequent releases that have tried to take advantage of 3D and give different worms different abilities, but to me, that’s messing with a formula that works.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

And Worms 2: Armageddon is anything but broke.

#9 –  Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360, 2006)Elder Scrolls IV

So while many other games from the same series have been lumped in together in single entries, I think Oblivion deserves its own place on this list, rather than it being in there with Skyrim.

Oblivion was the first game I ever played on a High Definition TV, and so the clarity and beauty of graphics and just the general depth of the game blew me away.

Unlike in Skyrim, I barely touched the main storyline. The fun for me was doing all the side quests and guild stuff. Sure, the voice acting was so repetitive that it began to grate after a very short while, but that was only a small problem on the whole.

On my recommendation, my friend went and bought the Game of the Year Edition, but got bored whilst still in the opening dungeon.

I suppose there’s no accounting for taste.

#8 – N+ (Xbox Live Arcade, 2008)n+

At the completely opposite end of the spectrum from Oblivion is N+, one of the most minimalistic games released in the last 20 years.

You control a stick man and try to get him from the entrance of a room to the exit.

Like so many other games on this list, it’s both highly addictive and utterly frustrating. I remember holding a sit in when my brother and best mate were trying to watch a film, and saying nobody was going anywhere until I’d completed the last level.

Hundreds of goes later, I was about to throw the controller away, before my brother took over and completed it in a matter of minutes.

Not my proudest moment!

#7 – de Blob 2 (Xbox 360, 2011)deBlob-2-Boxart-335x480

Perhaps a surprise entrant in the Top 10, de Blob 2 is one of the few games on this list that I never owned, but instead rented from LoveFilm.

What was described as a relatively ordinary 7/10 platform game was for me the best game of 2011. The colour, the charm and the gameplay were just tremendous.

Unlike so many games that try to be a narrative masterpiece, or take themselves far too seriously, de Blob 2 was fun.

That’s all you need.

#6 – Quarrel (Xbox Live Arcade/iOS 2011)quarrelicon

Combining Risk with Countdown, Quarrel is a game I play almost every day. It’s my number #1 go to game on mobile platforms, and yet also can be enjoyed online using the Xbox 360.

A test of my word skills and an easy way to kill time (the moment it’s half time at the football, Quarrel goes on and the 15 minutes fly past) it’s endlessly enjoyable.

#5 – Football Manager (PC, Various)

Now I know what you’re thinking; I’ve got Football Manager so high on this list because I work for the company that makes the game.FMScotland

But this isn’t product placement; I have Football Manager here because it deserves to be here. It’s a tremendously deep game – easily deeper than anything else on this list – and it the most detailed Football and Management game there is.

I work for Sports Interactive because I love the product, not the other way around.

So why isn’t it number 1 or even the best football game on my list?

Simple; unfortunately for me as the guy who inputs all the Scottish info into the game, part of the challenge has long since gone. I know who to buy if I want to do well, so the mystery of the game isn’t there for me now.

Plus, I – like everyone else at SI – know it can still be improved year upon year 😉

#4 – Call of Duty Franchise (Xbox 360, Various)COD

As much as the single player mode of this game is average at best, the online Multiplayer element of Call of Duty is still the number one way of gaming with more than one other person.

With new maps and new versions of the game coming out all the time, it doesn’t get boring, and the score streaks and rewards system makes putting the hours in worthwhile.

When we have the time, my friends and I will play this game for hours on end.

And that doesn’t look like changing any time soon.

Perhaps the ultimate COD experience for me was when both myself and my mate were off work with the flu. With nothing to do but sit down in our own living rooms recover, we ended up playing COD for about 12 hours a day for 3 days straight.

It was a throwback to our teenage years with Goldeneye.

Awesome (and a bit sad).

#3 – Little King’s Story (Nintendo Wii, 2009)Little_King's_Story

One of the most underrated video games of all time, Little King’s Story is a game I have waxed lyrical about on this blog since day one.

What more can I say about it? It looks, sounds, plays and controls brilliantly.

If you haven’t heeded my words by now, I guess you never will, but in case you’ve only just stumbled upon this blog recently, I’ll say it again…

Buy Little King’s Story!!!

Only, buy it for the Wii – the PS Vita version lacks the charm of the original.

#2 – FIFA (Xbox 360, Various)FIFA

As much as I love Football Manager, nothing beats actually controlling the players on the pitch.

While you can come across some weirdos and rage quitters online, and while the offline mode can be a bit mundane, there’s no better game to play with a friend (assuming he both likes football and is of a similar standard to you) than FIFA.

Though I’m still waiting on my friends to get their arses into gear and buy either their PS4s or PS Plus accounts and therefore, FIFA 14 has yet to get as much use as I’d like, FIFA 13 summed up the near life-long gaming war I’ve had with my best mate in regards to football games.

A year’s worth of playing it, amounting to what must be a good 100-150 games and our record ended in a tie. We won, drew and lost the same amount of games.

And to me, that’s as good as it gets.

#1 – Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360, 2010)Red_Dead_Redemption

When it’s all said and done though, one game stands out as the best game of the generation and that is Red Dead Redemption.

GTA is such a frustrating game because despite it being ridiculously overhyped, bizarrely popular and Rock Star Games’s favourite child, Red Dead blows it all away.

I’ve never been the sort of person who wants to 100% a game, especially when to get 100% you have to do the most menial and almost autistic things.

But I wanted to do that – and I did do that – with Red Dead Redemption.

After playing through the excellent story mode with its fresh and interesting setting, I wanted to roam the lands, killing off specific animals, picking the right flowers and winning all the card games. To me, that was single player gaming at its best.

Sure, over the years I’ve had more utility and probably more enjoyment out of some of the other games on this list; after all, once you 100% Red Dead, it’s done forever.

But as an individual title and a single game in its own right, this was the best.

If only GTA could match up to it, then it might be worthy of the hype and sales figures.

And so that’s it…

So that’s the list. Do you agree of disagree with what’s on it? Remember, I haven’t played every single game out there, so this is just my opinion on the ones I have played.

Let me know what you think.

And if you want to check out the previous entries in this series, they can all be found in the Article Index.

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Stuart’s Top 100 Games of the Last Generation Part Eleven: #20 – #11

January 21, 2014

#20 – Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360, 2011)Skyrim

There are two ways of looking at Skyrim. The first is that it’s one of the deepest and best looking games ever made, and the second is that it’s just a pretty spreadsheet.

I’ve seen it from both perspectives.

Once I had completed the main story of this one, I just didn’t feel the need to continue, even though I know I should go back to it. But it occurred to me that beyond the main story it did feel quite repetitive and just a case of collecting things into a list and then giving those same things away to other people.

It’s still a momentous achievement in gaming though, and well worthy of inclusion in the Top 20.

#19 – Dead Rising/Dead Rising 2 (Xbox 360, 2006 – 2010)deadrising

A great idea for a game that’s well executed. Though I personally didn’t feel the need to do more than one play-through of either game, I know people who did, and I can understand why.

It’s not possible to do everything in one run on Dead Rising.

While both are essentially the same game, that’s ok. Cutting through hordes of Zombies in a shopping mall/Las Vegas is worthy of a sequel.

That I won’t get a chance to play Dead Rising 3 on the Xbox One is a disappointment.

#18 – Borderlands 2 (PC, 2012)borderlands2

While another First Person Shooter features higher up the list on the basis of its multiplayer mode, Borderlands 2 is for me the best single player FPS of the last generation.

Deep, great looking and with a challenging but progressive learning curve, Borderlands 2 also managed to be quite funny as well.

You can pick it up dirt cheap now too.

#17 – Everybody’s Golf: World Tour (Playstation 3, 2008)everybodys golf

For my money, a better game than any of the Tiger Woods series.

As much as it’s fun to play with real golfers on real golf courses, I prefer playing against the more colourful anime style Japanese characters of this Playstation franchise.

It’s also a more polished game than Tiger Woods too.

Sadly, this is the top golf game because Nintendo never bothered to release a new version of Mario Golf on the Wii, and even if they had, it would have had crappy motion controls with the Wiimote.

It should be pointed out though that the classic Mario Golf style is a copy of the Everybody’s Golf match engine. And that says all you need to know.

#16 – 42 All Time Classics (Nintendo DS, 2006)42-all-time-classics_4115717

Just a genius idea for a game.

As much as developers will try their best to come up with new and innovative styles of gaming, the old classics are often the best.

What would you rather part with you hard-earned cash for? A dodgy stylus based DS game with no replay value like most of the early DS releases, or a game that includes 42 well-known and much-loved board and card games?

42 All Time Classics worked as both a game you could play on your own and one you could easily play through link up with other DS owners, and moreover, it actually explained the rules of some of the more complex card games in a succinct and understandable way.

Definitely one of the MVPs of the last generation

#15 – The Bigs 2 (Xbox 360, 2009)TheBigs2

You’ll notice that American sports games are conspicuous by their absence on this list. In the main, that’s because I find their sports confusing. So while I’ve bought basketball, ice hockey and American Football games in the past, the intricate rules and complex controls are a barrier to me really enjoying them.

Baseball games are the exception, but they are few and far between, especially in the UK.

While MLB: The Show on the PS3 was a technically sound game, it had no character.

But the Bigs 2 does; it has it in droves.

Sure, it’s a bit cartoony, with the home run power-ups and ridiculous catches, but that’s all part of the fun. The controls and rules are easy to master too. And unlike most sports games – even FIFA – its single player career mode was worth playing.

#14 – Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 (Nintendo Wii)mariogalaxy

It’s a 3D Mario platformer, so it’s going to be top-notch as a matter of course.

But the reason neither game – which are much of a muchness – enters my top 10 is because I felt they lacked the spark of Mario 64 or even Super Mario Sunshine. I’d sooner  play Mario and feel I was playing in a Mario “world” rather than a series of loosely connected levels.

Still brilliant though.

#13 – Geometry Wars 2 : Retro Evolved (Xbox Live Arcade, 2008)Geometrywars2cover

Five of the games in the top 13 could be described as basic, simple or “budget”, but to me, the last generation of games brought back that style of play.

Look at Geometry Wars 2; it’s a top down, old school shooter that could have been done on less graphical power in the 80s. All you need is the two thumb sticks and you’re good to go.

But this manages to look good, and play amazingly. The replay value is tremendous, as you try to beat either your own score or your online friends scores.

Wonderful.

#12 – Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (Nintendo DS, 2006)Partners in Time

As much as Nintendo – and Mario – are famous for their platforming games first and their sporty/racing games second, what Nintendo did best for some considerable time going back to the Gamecube days was make RPGs.

If I had done an article on the best games of the generation one before last, Paper Mario 2: Thousand Year Door would be in my top 2. It really was superb.

On a similar vein, the Mario & Luigi series for the DS was magnificent, and Partners in Time was easily the best of them.

I’m not a big fan of RPGs and find stuff like Final Fantasy to be a bore, but this just worked for me.

#11 –  Pinball FX 2 (Xbox Live Arcade, 2010)PinballFX2

Like Geometry Wars 2, this is a simple yet engrossing game. It is, after all, just pinball.

But again, it’s all about competing for scores. If I had no friends online to play against, I doubt I’d have played it half as much as I have, but the key is that if your friend beats your score, you then want to trump him.

So you end up playing each of the various tables time and time again. I couldn’t tell you how many times I played that fucking Rocky & Bullwinkle table before I finally bested my mate’s score, but I can tell you it was frustrating and rewarding in equal measures.

The variety of tables is excellent as well. It’s a game type you’d never tire of playing.

And One That Doesn’t Make It – MLB2k11mlb2k11

Easily one of the worst games of the last generation, MLB 2k11 was the drizzling shits.

I mean, how hard is it to map out the controls for a baseball game? All you need for pitching is a button for four different types of pitch, for batting you’ve got to have a normal, power and bunt swing button, and for fielding and base running just a few other buttons.

It’s easy.

Yet MLB 2K11 had the most ludicrous controls where you’d have to draw out weird patterns with the right thumb stick before you could pitch or bat. It was daft and needlessly complicated.

2K Sports have finally laid their grotty baseball series to rest.

Thank God.


Movies – The Wolf of Wall Street Review (or “Too Long For Its Own Good”)

January 19, 2014

Movies are getting too long these days.

Just this week, I found 12 Years A Slave pointlessly protracted when it could probably have been a snappier 90-120 minute feature.

Then you look at the likes of the Hobbit movies. I mean really, where’s the need for those films to be as long as they are? It’s a relatively short book fleshed out over three films that run to 180-odd minutes each. I never actually bothered to see the first one at the cinema because I knew I’d be bored stiff, and having checked it out on NetFlix with its tooth-pullingly dull real-time dinner scene, I was proved correct.

So I was hesitant to go along to see the three-hour long Wolf of Wall Street. It looked like it would be a fun film, but for that length of time, anything would surely begin to wear out its welcome.

Was I right?

The Wolf of Wall Street: What’s This About?

The official synopsis of The Wolf of Wall Street reads “A New York stock broker refuses to cooperate in a large securities fraud case that includes mob infiltration into Wall Street and the corporate banking world.”wolf

That’s not really how I would describe it. Indeed, I’m not even sure where the mob infiltration stuff even comes into it, while the cooperation element is exclusive to the last 30 minutes.

I’d say it was more about the rise and fall of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who – along with his partners in the broker firm Stratton-Oakmont – made millions by selling dodgy penny shares for high commission, and led extremely hedonistic lifestyles in the process.

The Wolf of Wall Street: Who’s In It?

Starring Leonardo Di Caprio as Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street also includes the likes of Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler and – rather incongruously – Donna Freedman off Neighbours, aka Margot Robbie.

The Wolf of Wall Street: How Highly Is It Rated?

Imdb give it 8.7 from just shy of 100,000 votes, while Rotten Tomatoes gives it an approval rating of 76%. Critics reviews are a bit more mixed though.

Ultimately, any film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Di Caprio will be rated highly by some as a matter of course, so I did consider that when going along.

Thoughts – The Length

As I suspected, running time is the key here.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this film – the first half especially – but at three hours it’s too long; there’s no getting away from that it’s just too long.

Like I said above, the official synopsis of the film is about a man refusing to take part in a fraud case, but that section of the plot only really kicks in at the part way into the third and final hour. So if that’s what the wanted it to be about, they got it wrong.

And while the rise to power of Belfort and his associates is funny and well told, that really only lasts for about 90 minutes, which is too long as well. It’s as if Scorsese wanted to load the film up with all the funny stuff at the start, and then get to the meaty part of the plot a lot later.

By that point it felt too late, and by that point, I was in desperate need of a break from it.

The Acting & Characterisation

Another hit and miss area is the characterisation.

While I have no problem with any of the acting (well…apart from Margot Robbie’s attempt at a Brooklyn accent) the characterisation was a bit dodgy.

And I say that from the point of view that while it was no doubt reflective of the sort of pricks these guys were, I watched it thinking that perhaps the lack of anyone likeable was harmful to it.

If you look at a show like House of Cards – the original one especially – the main character is a right bastard in his actions, but he had a twinkle in his eye and mischievous way of making the viewer feel like his friend and co-conspirator.

Di Caprio, while good, doesn’t manage that with Belfort, even though he does break the fourth wall to talk to us from time to time. It’s clear that Francis Urquhart is what they were going for, but they fail. That’s not Di Caprio’s fault either, I should add; it’s the writing.

But the result is that some people – and I know a few who this has applied to – will come away from it with a bad taste in their mouths. The fact that this stuff did happen makes it tough to feel anything but anger towards the lot of them.

I didn’t especially mind that, but I understand the problem.

Random Observations

  • In some ways, this film might have been better if it had channeled Catch Me If You Can a bit more. It would have been nice to get to know more about Kyle Chandler’s FBI agent and how Belfort got on his radar. I get that this is based on a book and so its told from Belfort’s perspective, but much like 12 Years A Slave, a bit of creative license to make the story sit better wouldn’t have been a bad thing.
  • While it does explain a bit how they managed to make as much money as they did, it would again have been nice if they’d delved a bit deeper into how people were negatively affected by Belfort’s scams. It’s not made clear how much of what they did was illegal and what was above-board,  nor was it explained how many people lost money as a result of their scams.
  • The breaking point of the film for me was the scene where Belfort ends up off his face on drugs in that Country Club and struggles to get back to his car. It just seemed out of sync with the rest of the scenes, as if it would be more at home in a Harold & Kumar film.
  • Again, like 12 Years A Slave, this starts off with a rather pointless prolepsis. I wish directors would stop that.
  • The scene where they discuss the health & safety ramifications of throwing midgets like darts is just brilliant. Not politically correct in the least, but brilliant all the same.

The Wolf of Wall Street Review – Final Thoughts

So it comes back to the issue that I suspected it would – length.

Very few movies, if any, need to be as long as three hours. The Wolf of Wall Street is no exception.

It takes so long to get to the point, and once that point finally arrives, you’ve run out of steam. As much as some of the early bits were funny, they could have made way to make this film work as a far snappier 120 minute affair.

The other problem is the lack of an identifiable or likable lead character.

I would say that this is the sort of film you’d enjoy a lot in two sittings, at home on Blu Ray, but at the cinema, it’s just too much.

My conclusion…wait to watch it at home.

 

 


Movies: 12 Years A Slave Review (or “Coasting On Subject Matter Alone”)

January 17, 2014

Long term readers of Stuart Reviews Stuff will know that in my reviews, I like to bring up the notion of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

By that I mean that certain things, whether they be films, games or TV shows are purported to be amazing just because people don’t want to go against the popular view.

And that’s true of the film I went to see today and the film which will inevitably win big at every award show going this year, 12 Years A Slave.

12 Years A Slave Review: What’s This About?

I would regurgitate the synopsis, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll write exactly what this film is about.12-years-a-slave-quad

A black man is kidnapped into slavery in mid-1800s America, he’s beaten up for 2 hours and then Brad Pitt writes a letter for him so he’s freed.

12 Years A Slave Review: Who’s In It?

The lead – playing the part of the kidnapped protagonist Solomon Northup- is Chiwetel Ejiofor, and his supporting cast includes the likes of Benedict “Sherlock” Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o.

12 Years A Slave: How Highly Is It Rated?

As you might expect from my opening remarks, this is a very highly thought of film with high marking reviews everywhere you would care to look. Imdb give it 8.5 from around 45,000 votes, both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic give it 97%, and as you can see from the movie’s poster, it gets 5 star reviews from critics all over the place.

Thoughts – So Why Don’t I Like It?

You might sit there reading this and think “Why doesn’t he like such a critically acclaimed movie?”. Well I’ll tell you.

But first I’ll tell you why I think people like it.

The subject matter is the key to 12 Years A Slave. It’s being described as a “shocking” and “unflinching” portrayal of how slavery really was, and that it pulls no punches.

And that’s true. You won’t hear me argue against that.

The thing is though, I suspect critics feel they dare not go against the grain and criticise such a serious subject matter for fear of trivialising it.

Well I’m not trivialising it either, but that doesn’t mean it gets a free pass and heaped with praise just because of the subject matter. I get that slavery was a horrible thing in the pre-Civil War Era, but surely anyone with half a brain knows that? Is the idea that some people think that slavery’s best representation is the Disney film Song of the South (even though that is set after the abolition of slavery I might add)?

I’ve seen films that deal with the way slaves have been treated; hell, look at Django Unchained as an example of that. And sure, that film was over the top, but the core message that the oppressive white man of the American South seriously mistreated slaves was in there alongside the comedy and the ridiculous cartoon violence towards the end.

But Django Unchained had more than that; it had entertainment value.

12 Years A Slave has no entertainment value.

I’m guessing we’re supposed to reflect on how bad things were back then after we watch it, but like I just said, I think anyone with common sense knew that.

So what does it have apart from that? Practically nothing.

As a story, 12 Years A Slave just doesn’t cut the mustard. Once Solomon Northup is kidnapped, all we have is two hours of him lurching from one set piece where he’s beaten up or mistreated to the next, with almost no storyline to it. Nothing develops and it’s just one long slog. Is that the point? Maybe it is, but that doesn’t make for entertainment.

I do tell a lie there though; the film is padded out with two side-plots that go nowhere. The first is a woman whose children are taken away from him, and that’s not resolved. The next is that evil Plantation owner Michael Fassbender has a sort-of-relationship with one of his slaves, much to the annoyance of his wife, and that doesn’t go anywhere either.

Then, with no real reason other than it was perhaps time to wrap things up, Brad Pitt arrives on the scene and sorts out his freedom.

It just had no flow to it, and I attribute that in some part to the director.

The Direction

Now, whenever you read anything about 12 Years A Slave, you’re told about the masterful job Steve McQueen did. I couldn’t disagree more.

Here are my main reasons for that…

  1. The film starts off with an entirely pointless prolepsis (flash forward). There was just no need for it; it’s an overused, lazy directorial trick that lost its impact as long ago as the TV series Alias.
  2. For a film entitled 12 Years A Slave, it would have been good to get some perception of how long he was a slave for. But there was none. None at all. Nobody appeared to age and there was no indication of the passing of time whatsoever. If you didn’t get told how long he was a slave in the title of the film, you wouldn’t know by watching.
  3. I think he thought that showing the results of people getting lashed would hit home, but I feel desensitized to that sort of thing now. That’s not his fault of course, but while some are saying what he did was groundbreaking, I would disagree.
  4. It isn’t made especially clear how or why he was kidnapped.

But I will give him some credit. There were a handful of very strong scenes in there, most notably the one where Solomon is left almost hanging, and the rest of the slaves just went about their business without even trying to help him. That was powerful.

And similarly, some of the scenes involving the character of Patsey and the jealous plantation owner’s wife were pretty shocking.

Those are not enough though, and what we were left with was so much dead screen time and repetition that with an hour to go I was almost climbing the walls with boredom.

I guess though that “Oscar-worthy” movies have to run way beyond the 2 hour mark to be taken seriously, eh?

12 years A Slave Review: Final Thoughts

When I was leaving the cinema tonight, I heard some of the things the other patrons were saying about 12 Years A Slave. In the main, they were discussing how hard-hitting and violent it was and how it made them think about slavery.

And I get that; I honestly do.

But I go to see a film to be entertained. I think it’s more than possible for a film to educate and entertain at the same time, and that should be the standard by which all great films should be held.

12 Years A Slave will show the people of 2014 just how bad slavery was, and it makes no effort to sugar coat it or to make it melodramatic or over the top.

But it didn’t entertain me. It had no progressing narrative, it had some ropey directorial moments and it just dragged on and on.

So do yourself a favour; if you want to be entertained, don’t bother. And if you want to be educated, there’s bound to be a documentary somewhere that does that better too.

 


Movies – Last Vegas Review (or “Charmingly Comfortable”)

January 17, 2014

Two films down and it’s only the 17th of January. In fact, I actually saw this a few days ago but have been too busy with other stuff to get round to it. There’s a chance I might even go and see Twelve Years A Slave later today.

But that would be getting ahead of myself.

Right now, I have a review to write, and that review is of Last Vegas.

Last Vegas Review: What’s It About?

Sort of like a geriatric version of The Hangover, it’s about an old guy and his three life-long friends meeting up for his stag do in Las Vegas. last vegas

Hijinx ensue.

Last Vegas Review: Who’s In It

The film stars Michael Douglas as the groom-to-be, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman & Kevin Kline as his mates and Mary Steenburgen (who you’ll recognise as Doc Brown’s missus from Back to the Future 3) as a lounge singer who captures their hearts.

Last Vegas Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

Not all that highly really. imdb only gives it 6.9 from just shy of 20,000 votes, Rotten Tomatoes only gives it an approval rating of 47% and the general press average is middling.

Thoughts

The feeling I get from reading the reviews of Last Vegas is that people consider it a gentler version of The Hangover and mark it down for that.

Now on the one hand, I can see their point. It’s clearly a derivative idea with the twist of having older guys get up to no good rather than young guys, and in turn that means that the stuff that happens to them is perhaps less ridiculous.

But I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.

While movies like the Hangover push the envelope when it comes to gross-out humour or outlandish scenarios, I find that’s often at the expense of a good plot and jokes/set pieces that actually make me laugh.

And that’s where Last Vegas’s is different.

Each character has a full back story that you can understand and appreciate, and the jokes hit the spot.

Indeed, I thought that Last Vegas was surprisingly good. Sure, the actors aren’t setting the world on fire with career best performances, but like the old pros that they are, they put in charmingly solid shifts.

So I’ve got no complaints on that score.

Last Vegas also tells a story. And sure, it’s a predictable story to the extent where I knew exactly how each character’s story arc would go, but again, that’s fine for me.

The key is that I enjoyed it.

And I think most people would.

Last Vegas Review: Final Thoughts

So this isn’t exactly a long or in depth review, but it doesn’t need to be.

Last Vegas is what it is; it’s comfortable, it’s not a fresh idea and it stars actors who could play these parts in their sleep.

It’s never going to win any awards, but at 90 minutes long, it doesn’t out-stay its welcome, and it entertains throughout.

Put it this way; I’d recommend it way ahead of Long Walk to Freedom


Stuart’s Top 100 Games of the Last Generation Part Ten: #30 – 21

January 13, 2014

#30 – Rock Band/Guitar Hero (Xbox 360, Various)rockband

To separate Rock Band and Guitar Hero would be pointless; they are in essence the same game. But what a game and what innovation.

Yes, this was a genre that started back in the PS2 generation, but it came into its own on the Xbox 360. I couldn’t tell you how many songs I otherwise would never have heard of were it not for these games. Furthermore, it was great to be able to “play” some of my favourite songs over the years, and to repeat them over and over until I got them done flawlessly.

My only criticism of the games – games, incidentally which have sadly fallen by the wayside – is that the transition between Hard and Expert was just too much.

#29 – Bully: Scholarship Edition (Xbox 360, 2008)bully

Another game technically from a previous generation, but one which I only played on the Xbox 360, Bully is certainly one of Rockstar’s more underrated efforts.

I enjoyed the story, the setting and the gameplay mechanics a hell of a lot more than I do GTA.

Sadly I don’t think this is a game we can expect to see return any time soon.

#28 – Super Tank Run (Xbox Live Indie Games – 2011)supertankrun

Like I said in my review of Super Tank Run (which you can read here), this game was bought for something daft like £1 and put on for a laugh when I had friends round.

I had to go to work so left them all there playing it as they joked about how crap it looked, but when I came home a few hours later, it turned out they’d just left and had been playing turn-about for ages.

Highly addictive, great fun and has strong incidental music.

#27 – Pac-Man Championship Edition Deluxe (Xbox Live Arcade, 2010)pacmancedx

Everyone knows Pac-Man, surely?

You might scoff and think it’s old-hat, but the fact is that Pac-Man is so enduring because the gameplay is and always has been superb.

And Championship Edition Deluxe – with its huge variety of tables and game modes – is the definitive version.

#26 – Mario Kart Wii (Nintendo Wii, 2008)Mario_Kart_Wii

The beauty of Mario Kart games is that they are some of the most easy and fun games of all time to get into.

I’ll be honest and say that I can’t even remember the last time I played Mario Kart, but I know that if I had a go today it would be as fresh and enjoyable as it has ever been.

I wasn’t too keen on the wheel though; I preferred to play it with a Gamecube controller.

#25 – LEGO Games (Various)Legobatman2

I’m just going to lump all of these in together. I’ve played and enjoyed most of them, with their simplistic mechanics and charm and there’s no doubt it’s a winning formula.

The best of the bunch? Probably Lego Batman 2, which was not only challenging, but was from a genre I particularly like.

People say these games are best enjoyed multiplayer, but I think the single player is fine.

#24 – Saints Row 2 & 3 (Xbox 360, 2008 – 2011)Saints_Row_2_Game_Cover

Saints Row 4 is one of many titles still on my ever-expanding gaming backlog, but it’s one I definitely plan on playing considering  I enjoyed the previous two installments immensely.  The first one wasn’t up to much mind you.

Saints Row is what GTA should be. It ramps up the cheesiness and ridiculousness levels to the max and it also allows for a hell of a lot more customisation.

While GTA players have to make do with ultra-dull characters like Niko Bellic and Michael Di Santa, my Saints Row character is an obese Oriental dude with bouffant white hair, a Fu-Manchu moustache and a Ray Winstone accent.

I know who I’d rather play as…

#23 – Mario Strikers Charged (Nintento Wii, 2007)Mario_Strikers_Charged

Not as good as the original Mario Strikers on the Gamecube, this is still a top, top game.

I love arcadey versions of sports games, I love Nintendo and I love football (or Soccer for you Americans out there) so this is a perfect game for me.

The benefit of it is that it allows people like my brother – who’s not au-fait with football and therefore struggles to compete against hardened FIFA players like me and some of our friends – to compete on an even playing field.

Good, solid fun.Picross_DS

#22 – Picross DS (Nintendo DS, 2007)

One of my “Most Underrated Games of All Time”, Picross is one of those simple yet addictive masterpiece puzzle games.

What else can you say about it other than it’s clever, logical and engrossing.

#21 – Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain? (Nintendo DS, 2006)untitled

One of the best uses of the Nintendo DS, and a genuinely clever game into the bargain.

Brain training games have perhaps been over-diluted now, but this – especially when played against your friends – was another classic that deserves its high inclusion on this list.

Game modes like the maths challenge saved me from boredom on many a flight and/or train journey over the years.

And most of all, it actually made me quicker thinking at stuff like that.

And One That Doesn’t Make It: FalloutFallout_3

Sorry, but as much as Bethesda’s other franchise rates highly on this list, Fallout doesn’t make it.

I know it’s a good game – indeed I know that it’s probably a great game – but I just can’t get into it.

Why?

Because of the lack of colour. A game needs to capture my attention, and part of that is the colourfulness of it.

The bleak post-apocalyptic Fallout is just not for me I’m afraid.


Movies – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Review (or “Telling You Nothing You Didn’t Know Already”)

January 10, 2014

It’s a new year and another batch of movies to see at the cinema.

Right now it looks like there are a few decent films on, so I’ll have to make time over the next couple of weeks to get along to see them.

First up though is the Nelson Mandela biopic Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom Review: What’s This About

The story of Nelson Mandela’s life as an activist through to his eventual election as President of a united South Africa. It’s based on Mandela’s own autobiography of the same name.

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom: Who’s In It

It stars Idris “Luther” Elba doing his best Mandela impersonation. Beyond that, the only other character to get any screen time of note is Winnie Mandela, played by Naomie Harris.

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom: How Highly Is It Rated?

That would seem to depend upon who you ask. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus, with ratings ranging from 2.5 to 4.5 stars in the press, while imdb gives it 7.0/10 from around 3,500 votes.

Thoughts

I don’t know much about Nelson Mandela’s life beyond what anyone who hasn’t lived under a rock all their lives would know. I know he was an activist with the ANC, he was imprisoned, there was a benefit concert, he got out years later and

I just see Luther

I just see Luther

became President.

And when I sit here and think about it, I don’t think I know any more about him now I’ve seen the film.

That’s not a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting and it held my attention in spite of people suggesting it was too long, but I can’t say it was thrilling.

To me, a good biopic needs to fill a certain criteria. It’s either got to be…

  • The mostly factual telling of the story of someone you don’t know much about (Example: Captain Phillips/Rush)
  • A snippet of an event in someone’s life that’s exciting enough on its own merit to be told (Example: Downfall)
  • A story from the perspective of someone else (Example: My Week With Marilyn)
  • A semi fictionalised biopic that makes what might otherwise have been a mundane tale seem more interesting (Example: Saving Mr Banks/Catch Me If You Can)

Long Walk To Freedom didn’t fulfil any of those criteria. It seemed to me that it was a highlights package of Mandela’s life that the majority of the people watching would already know about. It was devoid of drama.

And sure, I’m not saying I should be sitting there thinking to myself “Fuck, what’s going to happen? I hope the white guys don’t win”, but I’d liked to have understood more about him.

For example, they touch upon things like his son dying, but it goes nowhere, and his thawing relationship with his prison guards and the white politicians of South Africa is just skimmed over. One minute he’s public enemy number one and the next he’s having high level discussions with the President, and we don’t really know why.

Ironically, it’s the character of Winnie Mandela who is developed more throughout the film. You understand her change and the motivation for that change far more than you understand Mandela.

But then that could well be the trouble with making a film based upon someone’s autobiography. I haven’t read it, and this film may not be translating it well to the screen, but it seemed a bit of a lifeless whitewash (pardon the reverse pun) of Mandela the person. He’s never anything less than the hero and shows absolutely no weaknesses or flaws, and that could be because that’s how he decided to portray himself.

Is his depiction as a person true to life? I honestly don’t know, but I feel it can’t be.

As for the acting performances, Elba is fine on the face of it, but you do wonder if much more was required than to put on a Nelson Mandela impression that sounds pretty good for him to get away with it.

Harris, meanwhile, seemed to take a good hour to get to grips with her attempted thick African accent as her early attempts sounded like a Glaswegian.

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom: Final Thoughts

So on the whole, this film was ok, but not all that interesting.

To give it credit, it didn’t bore me, but it just wasn’t exciting or particularly informative either.

I feel underwhelmed