My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time’

Throughout my middle school and high school years, I was a huge fan of Game Informer. Aside from game coverage on G4 TV’s X-Play, it was my biggest insight into what was going on in the gaming industry. Every month, I would be super excited to tear through every single page to see new game previews, reviews and even the entertaining bits of trivia that ended the magazine.

When I came home from football camp during the summer of 2009, I was greeted with the July edition of Game Informer. I can still see the cover clear as day. It was all black, with the only image being that of an old, disheveled Max Payne. And at the very top of the cover, above even the Game Informer logo itself, was a line of text advertising a preview for Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time. 

Quest.jpg

Although I was familiar with the name Ratchet & Clank, I had never played a single game. I had both a Playstation 2 and a Nintendo Gamecube, but my PS2 was almost exclusively used to play Kingdom Hearts, Dragon Ball Z and Naruto games, so I would miss out on quite a few notable games on the system, Ratchet & Clank being one of them.

The Playstation 3 is where I would really consider myself having become a true Playstation fan. I was a teenager, so my gaming taste was a bit more refined than when I was a kid, so I ended up playing all types of different games, including most of Sony’s first party offerings.

Hoverboot.jpg

I distinctly remember pouring over that issue of Game Informer for what must’ve been hours. I couldn’t believe how cool A Crack in Time both looked and sounded. So for Christmas that year, in addition to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and LittleBigPlanet… I also got Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. Even back then, I was a sucker for continuity, so I really wanted to start with the first game in this new saga of Ratchet & Clank.

Needless to say, I ended up really enjoying the game. Although the gimmicky motion control stuff was really off-putting, everything else in the game was awesome. I loved the story, I loved the characters, and I REALLY loved the gameplay. I couldn’t get enough of mowing through hordes of enemies, leveling up my weapons and collecting bolts while I explored the vast locales that the game had to offer.

Clank.jpg

So the following year, I got A Crack in Time for my birthday (which is just one day before Christmas), and I spent the entire day playing. I was amazed at just how much fun the game was. I really liked Tools of Destruction, but I absolutely adored A Crack in Time, and it’s the game that made me a Ratchet & Clank fan.

Before I go more in depth with the game itself, I wanna talk about how it got me into the rest of the series. Not only have I played (and gotten the platinum trophy for) every Ratchet & Clank game that has come out since A Crack in Time, but I’ve also gone back and played the PS2 iterations (I also have the platinums in these games, except for Deadlocked).

Azimuth.jpg

With the experience of just about every Ratchet & Clank game that isn’t a spin-off under my belt, I can confidently say that A Crack in Time is the best Ratchet & Clank game. The only aspect in which it has been surpassed is its presentation, and it took an installment on the Playstation 4 to do so.

As far as A Crack in Time is concerned, I’ll start with the story. Whenever I think about how I want the story in Sonic the Hedgehog games to be presented, my mind immediately jumps to this game. It’s everything I want out of a story, game or otherwise. It’s funny and comical, but knows when it needs to convey genuine drama and emotion. It takes itself just seriously enough to keep the audience engaged, but never gets so serious that you forget you’re playing a game about an anthromorph that fights aliens with crazy weapons.

War.jpg

I won’t say much more about the story, as I really don’t wanna spoil how good it is, but I do have loads to say about the gameplay. In my eyes, the Playstation 2 games have a very clear trajectory. The first game was mostly a platformer, with bits of shooting thrown in for some added fun, while Going Commando was a pretty even split between platforming, exploration, puzzle solving and gunplay. Up Your Arsenal had a much greater focus on the weapons, but still had bits of platforming and puzzles, while Deadlocked is exclusively a shooter.

Similar to Going Commando, A Crack in Time is a perfect balance of everything that makes the series so great. There’s plenty of time to tear through the galaxy’s most fearsome creatures, but there’s also no shortage of platforming and exploration, the best example being the myriad of mini-planets that Ratchet can explore.

Clock Puzzle.jpg

These planets typically have a collectible that can be obtained by completing it’s challenge, and the challenges can range from defeating enemies, conquering platforming and swingshot challenges, or demonstrating mastery over your hoverboots.

One major thing that I feel like doesn’t get talked about nearly enough in the gaming industry, is how amazing the Clank sections are in A Crack in Time. In most Ratchet & Clank games, Clank’s sections are where the bulk of the puzzle solving takes place, and A Crack in Time is no different. But man, I can’t believe how innovative these puzzles are, nor can I even fathom how Insomniac Games came up with them.

Great Clock.jpg

 

If I remember correctly, it was Ted Price that did an interview sometime during 2009 where he discussed the Clank puzzles. He said that he couldn’t accurately describe how they worked in words, you would just have to play them to understand, a statement that I wholeheartedly agree with. If a man that had a hand in making the game can’t describe the puzzles, I certainly can’t expect to do much better, but here’s a nice little video to give you a taste.

The weapons and gadgets are essential components of any Ratchet & Clank game, and A Crack in Time has a whole slew of them. While there are a few returning weapons like the Negotiator and Mag-Net launcher the game also introduces the Constructo weapons, and to this day, A Crack in Time is their only appearance. The Constructo weapons were an attempt to spice up the standard pistol, shotgun and grenade weapons. In addition to the normal benefits that are gained from leveling up, these weapons could also be outfitted with various mods that changed up their functions on the battlefield.

Cover 2.jpg

I said before that I believe that A Crack in Time is the best Ratchet & Clank game, and I don’t know that any game will ever dethrone it. This isn’t because the game is perfect or anything, but it I can’t imagine it being any better than it already is. Again, aside from its presentation, there isn’t a single element of any Ratchet & Clank game that followed or preceded A Crack in Time that I think wasn’t done better in this game.

The story is much more engaging, the gameplay is Ratchet & Clank at its finest, there’s plenty of exploration for worthwhile collectibles, tons of post-game content, the list could go on and on. Not only is A Crack in Time my favorite Ratchet & Clank game, but it’s one of my favorite games of all time.

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’

When I discussed my love for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Super Mario Kart, I put quite a bit of emphasis on two of my older cousins. As I said before, these two were incredibly influential on my early gaming years, and are largely responsible for making me a gamer today. Amongst the many games that I discovered because of them, is The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Unlike games like Sonic Spinball, Link’s Awakening isn’t a game that caught my eye by being on display on their entertainment center. I actually found this game by rummaging through some of their old Game Boy games (which is also how I came across Kirby’s Dream Land). The Legend of Zelda, just the name alone caused my imagination to run wild. At that point in my life, most of the games I loved featured flashy, or at least attention grabbing cover art. But Link’s Awakening was a different case entirely.

Beached.jpg

A bronze background with a rusted shield and sword at the forefront, what kind of adventure could this little Game Boy cartridge hold? The story begins with a young boy named Link being washed ashore by a vicious storm. He’s discovered by a young girl named Marin, and after a bit of exploration around the island of Koholint, encounters a strange owl who recounts the tale of the Wind Fish to our young hero.

In order to return home, Link must awaken the Wind Fish by gathering a series of magical instruments that are scattered about Koholint Island. Along the way, it is eventually revealed that Koholint Island is a dream of the Wind Fish, and rousing it from its slumber will cause the island and all of its inhabitants to disappear.

Sneaky

I have a very limited experience with the Legend of Zelda series as a whole, but Link’s Awakening easily has my favorite story of the ones I’ve played. The characters are simple, but memorable, and waking up the Wind Fish is a genuinely bittersweet moment in the game. As a player trying to out myself in Link’s mindset, I had to consider whether or not it was even worth leaving such a fun and peaceful island lifestyle.

As much as I love the story, it’s not what made me fall in love with the game as a child. In fact, I didn’t even complete the game until just a few years ago (it was a bit too complex for my childhood self). It was the sense of wonder that the game gave me that kept me enthralled and entertained for hours on end.

Wind Fish

As a child, I only ever got as far as obtaining the third instrument, but the fact that I never could beat the game really bothered me. I loved simply exploring Koholint Island, and interacting with all of the locals. I’ll never forget the layout of the beach that Link washes up on, or the fact that Marin’s brother gets transformed into a Tanuki.

It sounds like it should be really frustrating experience. After all, the main objective of most games is to complete them, right? In the case of Link’s Awakening and games like it, the exploration is a huge part of the experience. In real life, I could only explore as far as my backyard and playground would allow. But Link’s Awakening took me to far more interesting locales.

Beach.jpg

Another thing I’ll never forget is the music. The soundtrack along with the sound effects will forever be ingrained in my head, and I mean that in the best possible way. The ominous track that plays over the game’s intro, the quaint piece that accompanies Marin’s village and the head-bopping tune from the Mysterious Woods are just a few of my favorite songs from the game. Not to mention the jingle that plays when Link acquires a piece of power.

Compared to other Zelda games I’ve played, I love how different Link’s Awakening is. It’s far removed from series conventions like the Triforce, the Kingdom of Hyrule and even Princess Zelda herself, but this makes it a very unique installment in the series. It put an interesting spin on traditional Zelda stories, and ambitiously tried to fit a fully featured Zelda experience on a handheld. I’ll always treasure my memories of Link’s Awakening, and beyond my own personal nostalgia, I genuinely believe it is a great game.

Anime Early Impressions: ‘Boruto: Naruto Next Generations

Anime Early Impressions: ‘Boruto: Naruto Next Generations

For almost a year now, the story of the Naruto franchise has been continuing in the form of the Boruto: Naruto Next Generations manga, and as of April 2017, the anime series of the same name has started. At the time of this writing, three episodes of the series have aired, so now seems like a pretty decent time to give my early impressions of the show.

Just like the manga, the anime adaptation starts in the middle of a battle between a teenage Boruto and a ninja named Kawaki, with their battle taking place in a destroyed Leaf Village. Kawaki states that the era of ninja is over, and that he will strike down Boruto the same way that he did the Seventh Hokage.

Older Boruto

Boruto, sword in hand, dons a ninja headband, and opens his scarred right eye to reveal something akin to the Byakugan, with the show then flashing back to the present day. Just to get out  my only major complaint with the series so far, I wasn’t a fan of this in the manga, and I don’t like it any more here. Not so much the idea of Kawaki or the village being destroyed (though this plan is really old at this point), but Boruto’s mysterious powers.

Since Boruto was first introduced to the world, my favorite thing about him is the fact that he’s mostly a normal ninja. Although he does come from two of history’s most prestigious clans, he doesn’t really have anything special outside of the strong life force and chakra that come from his Uzumaki heritage. And unlike his little sister, he initially didn’t even show any signs of inheriting the Byakugan.

Bros.jpg

Outside of characters like Sakura, Rock Lee and Tenten, the original series didn’t really focus on normal ninja. The two major exceptions were Kakashi in his youth, and pre-revival Minato. I was really excited to see Boruto grow as a ninja, especially seeing how in his debut movie, he was already skilled in various styles of elemental ninjutsu.

At some point, Boruto is going to get an upgrade that I’m sure is comparable to either being a Jinchuriki or having a Dojutsu, but I really hope they continue to play up his skills with basic ninja abilities, which to be fair, the first three episodes of the anime do a really great job of.

Byakugan.jpg

The first thing we see Boruto do in the series is dart and dash around the village with way more style and finesse than his father ever did. To go a bit further, Boruto displays his skill with the Shadow Clone jutsu before even being enrolled in the Ninja Academy. The second episode features a match between Boruto and an unruly classmate, and seeing his potential to grow was a really cool moment.

Speaking of the Academy, one thing that I love that the series does from the perspective of a long time fan of Naruto, is the way in which the Academy has adapted to fit the new era. For most of its existence, the Ninja Academy served only to prepare young shinobi for missions and battles. But since the world is at peace, the Academy now offers courses in varying subjects like science and machinery.

Hinata.jpg

I talked for quite a bit about Boruto’s ninja skills, but for me personally, the highlight of the show so far is his character. When I reviewed Boruto: Naruto the Movie, I stated that Boruto has the personality of Naruto, but the skill of someone like Minato. But after seeing his portrayal in the anime, I don’t really feel this way anymore. Boruto: Naruto Next Generations has, so far, made Boruto into a wholly unique character.

Boruto’s a cool dude, but not try hard cool. He genuinely doesn’t care what others think of him, which makes him seem kind of efforlessly cool. He’s friendly and approachable, even to his classmates that deride him for getting by on the coattails of his Hokage father. He never even lets these insults get to him, always brushing them off like they were nothing.

Train

But the one thing that can stir Boruto’s anger, is injustice. In the first episode, Boruto sees a boy named Denki being picked on by a group of bullies. Without hesitation, he swoops in to save the day, all while making a new friend in the process. Another example is his sparring match in the second episode, as it is the direct result of his opponent, Iwabee, pushing his ideals on the other students.

I’m really loving Boruto so far. He’s cool and care-free, but not exactly careless. He’s very socially adjusted, and is really good at making friends. One thing of note is the fact that he doesn’t do a lot of talking when he’s trying to prove a point. His dad has become rather infamous for persuading people with his words, and while Boruto is definitely a loud mouth in his own right, he’s much better at expressing himself through his actions.

Denki.jpg

Two big praises that I can give to Boruto: Naruto Next Generations so far are the extended cast and the Academy setting. The original series glances over the group’s Academy, days mostly giving us insight through flashbacks. This time around, we’re actually getting to see the young shinobi grow up together. While characters like Boruto and Shikadai (Shikamaru and Temari’s son) are already acquainted with each other because of their parents, most of the new class are meeting for the first time.

This gives us plenty of time to get to know each individual kid, as well as their relationships with the others. The best example so far is the third episode and its focus on Rock Lee’s son, Metal Lee. He has all the skill and power of his father, but he has crippling performance anxiety, a trait that makes him really endearing.

Next Generations.jpg

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations is off to a super great start. There are one or two things that I’m not super jazzed about, but I’m overall really pleased with the direction the show seems to be headed. Compared to the manga, the anime had a much stronger and engaging start, and I’m definitely excited to tune in for the weeks, months and likely years to come.

Anime Film Review: ‘Boruto: Naruto The Movie’

Anime Film Review: ‘Boruto: Naruto The Movie’

The efforts of Naruto Uzumaki and his friends during the Fourth Great Ninja War brought the world into a time of peace and prosperity. During these peaceful times, Naruto finally achieved his dream of becoming Hokage, succeeding his sensei, Kakashi Hatake, in the role, and he even took Hinata Hyuga’s hand in marriage.

Naruto’s era has come to an end, and it is now time for the spotlight to shift to a new generation of shinobi, one with their own ideals and adventures to experience. At the center of this new generation is the Seventh Hokage’s own son, Boruto Uzumaki.

Boruto Headshot.jpg

Boruto: Naruto the Movie is the first of many stories that will follow the ninja escapades of our titular character. For this particular film, Boruto and his teammates, Sarada Uchiha and Mitsuki, are preparing to partake in the annual Chunin Exams. Along the way, Boruto, Naruto and Sasuke Uchiha must deal with remnants of the past that desire to bring ruin to the world.

Boruto is initially against the idea of the Chunin Exams, as he believes that they will be a waste of his time. But after being spurred on by the idea that his efforts in the third round of the exam will be viewed by the Five Kage, his father included, he gets pumped up about the opportunity to display his skills.

Rasengan Training

 

Boruto has somewhat of a love/hate relationship with his father. Ever since he became the Hokage, Naruto has had much less time to spend with his wife and children. This has caused Boruto to resent the position, and he is completely against the idea of following his father and grandfather’s footsteps (no matter how many times Mitsuki suggests it).

Boruto’s stated goal is to take his own path and surpass his father, but subconsciously, he really wants to earn his father’s respect and attention, which is why he wants to be successful in the Chunin Exams.

Hinata.jpg

 

It would’ve been easy for Boruto to be a boring, protagonist’s child character, but I really feel like they did a good job with his portrayal. He’s very similar to Naruto, but different in a number of key ways. I like to describe Boruto as being a fusion of Naruto’s personality, with the skill of his grandfather, Minato Namikaze. He’s a brash and arrogant loudmouth, but unlike Naruto in his early years, he’s got the skills to prove it.

As a Genin fresh out of the academy, Boruto was able to perform Wind Style, Water Style and Lightning Style techniques, as well as his father’s signature Shadow Clone Jutsu, all with very little training. This has caused Boruto to become lazy, a complete antithesis of Naruto’s attitude of hard work over natural talent.

Vanishing Rasengan.png

Even when he’s playing video games, Boruto uses cheats and mods to make the game really easy. And the few times that he does work hard towards something, he gets frustrated when it doesn’t come to him naturally, two great examples being his Shuriken and Rasengan training.

But the best example his when he is caught cheating during the Chunin Exams. The third round of the exam is a series of one on one bouts between the remaining shinobi. During a few of these matches, Boruto is pushed into a corner, and he uses and illegal ninja tool that stores various jutsu in order to win. Naruto eventually discovers him using this tool, leading to one of the film’s more emotional scenes.

Shuriken Training.png

Through the tutelage of Sasuke, whom Boruto requested to train under for the exams, Boruto is able to recover from his loss, learn the value of hardwork, and help his father and teacher defeat the film’s antagonist.

Boruto: Naruto the Movie is beautifully animated. It was produced Studio Pierrot, the same team that has always worked on the Naruto anime series, as well as Bleach. I’ve loved the art style evolution that the Naruto anime has gone through over the last couple of years. It’s soft, fluid and colorful, and I honestly get a kick out of just seeing the characters talk and emote.

Sarada's Sharingan.png

Although there are very few fight scenes in the film, the ones that they do give us are extremely well done, special mention to the choreography in the final fight scene. My only real complaint with the film overall are Boruto’s fight scenes. They look nice, but there’s so much more that could’ve been done with them.

For starters, his Chunin Exam matches should’ve been much longer, giving us a chance to see the results of his Shuriken and Rasengan training (to be fair, there is a moment where Boruto references his Shuriken training). I know we are going to get plenty of moments of Boruto action in his manga and anime series, but it would’ve been nice to see his skills in his debut.

Boruto: Naruto the Movie is a pretty solid start to the Boruto era. It introduces us to the new generation of ninja, as well as the influence that characters like Naruto and Sasuke have on them. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention this, but the English dub is really good!

shadow-clones

 

Anime Film Review: ‘The Last: Naruto The Movie”

Anime Film Review: ‘The Last: Naruto The Movie”

The Last: Naruto the Movie is a particularly interesting film in the Naruto franchise. Most long-running Shonen series produce movies on a yearly basis, but for obvious reasons, they are almost always non-canon. As memorable (and marketed) as someone like Broly may be, he still technically only exists in the context of the films (unless Dragon Ball Super decides otherwise).

However, The Last is actually one hundred percent canon to the story of the manga, and takes place between chapters 699 and 700 (it has also been referred to as chapter 699.5). But perhaps even more interesting than its place as a canon entry in the story of Naruto, is the film’s subject matter.

Mission Team.png

At its core, the Naruto series is about action, friendship, chasing your dreams and overcoming adversity. The Last definitely has action in spades, but its focus is squarely on the romance between Naruto Uzumaki and Hinata Hyuga. At this point, series creator Masashi Kishimoto had told all of the action stories that he had in him, but he always wanted to tell a romance story.

And this isn’t to say that the action in The Last is lacking in any sense of the word. The film has a handful of really cool moments, special props to the Konoha chase sequence between Naruto and movie villain Toneri Otsutsuki. Quick aside, I really enjoy his inclusion in the film. I don’t really care for him at all as a villain or as a character, but he provides a bit of much needed lore for Kaguya, the “final boss” of the original Naruto story.

Sakura.jpg

Kaguya comes quite literally out of nowhere, so learning more about her origins, as well as the history of the entire ninja world was really cool as a fan of deep, world building stuff like this. And to be fair, the anime did a much better job than its source material of fleshing out Kaguya’s backstory.

Back on topic, The Last takes place around two years after the end of the Fourth Great Ninja War. The shinobi world is at peace, and Naruto Uzumaki is a celebrated hero in the Leaf Village. Hinata, after years of pining over him in secret, is finally spurred into action by Sakura Haruno.

Kingdom.jpg

After a few kind words of encouragement, Hinata decides to finally ask out Naruto, and of course, she has a number of embarrassing encounters on the way. But one of these encounters is much more scary than embarrassing, and it has to do with the abduction of her little sister Hanabi, who this film suddenly remembered existed.

Hanabi is kidnapped by Toneri in an effort to lure out Hinata, his Byakugan Princess. Toneri basically has two goals in The Last. One is to marry Hinata, and the other is to awaken the Tenseigan, a Byakugan powered counterpart to the Rinnegan. Long story short, he does eventually gain the Tenseigan, but is promptly defeated by Naruto.

Nightlight.png

 

I never really knew how much I actually loved Hinata as a character until I saw The Last, especially her adoration of Naruto. I have a lot of personal problems with Sakura and Sasuke as a couple, mostly because Sakura’s love for him is never shown to mature past her childhood crush, and Sasuke seems to only be with her out of convenience.

But Hinata’s love for Naruto is pure and genuine, right down to the fact that I can’t recall one time throughout the series that she mentions his physical attractiveness in anything more than passing. Everytime she comments on her feelings about him, she’s talking about his drive, determination, growth or maturity.

Childhood.png

One of the film’s early scenes shows Naruto and Hinata during their ninja academy days. Hinata is being picked on by a group of boys, and Naruto steps in to defend her… only to get beaten up. Hinata was moved by this selfless act of heroism, and has been in love with Naruto ever since that day.

Fast forward to the present, and you can truly see how her love has grown and matured with time. Much like the viewer, Hinata has spent years watching Naruto slowly get better and better, as well as earn the respect of a village of people that once detested him.

Kiss.png

Naruto’s feelings for Hinata are somewhat of a weird case. I couldn’t clearly identify them the same way I could Hinata’s, but I could definitely feel them. When he’s desperately fighting to rescue her from Toneri, I can feel them. When he’s holding her hand as they leave the moon and return to their village, I can feel them.

Subtlety has never been a strong point of the Naruto series, but The Last actually manages to come across as such in its execution. It would have been really easy and really annoying for Naruto and Hinata to constantly verbalize their love for each other, but all of their feelings are perfectly exhibited by their actions. And the few times they actually do talk about their feelings, the impact is there because the moment hasn’t been spoiled.

Through the years.jpg

The little moments that these two share are the big highlights of the film for me, and I want to give a special mention to the camera shots that focus on the pair. Simple shots like Naruto and Hinata sitting in an abandoned kingdom and walking under cherry blossom trees, are accompanied by grander shots such as them kissing in the moonlight.

As someone who has watched Naruto since its debut in America, seeing Naruto and Hinata finally pair up was a really special moment for me. It was like the years that I spent rooting for Hinata, and hoping Naruto will eventually realize the genuine love that she has for him were finally validated. The Last is worth at least one watch for the love story alone. Plus, the characters all have really cool new outfits to look at, special mention to the updated Leaf Shinobi uniform, and extra special mention to Hinata’s new outfit.

 

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Beauty And The Beast’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Beauty And The Beast’

1991 saw the release of what is not only one of the most critically acclaimed films to hail from Disney’s Renaissance Era, but one of the most celebrated animated features of all time, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast broke numerous records, both as an animated film and as a musical. It was the first film to receive three Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song (something which 1994’s Lion King would later accomplish), and was the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture.

This was actually not the first time that Disney had attempted to adapt the classic fairy tale for the silver screen. Around the time of the Golden Age of Animation, Walt Disney Pictures had plans on making a Beauty and the Beast feature length film, but a few story issues caused the film to be shelved for a while. Similar things have happened to other Disney films such as Tangled and Frozen.

Stained Glass.jpg

Beauty and the Beast has one of the most beloved soundtracks in all of film, which is kind of funny when you consider that the film was not originally envisioned to be a musical. But after seeing how much of a critical darling The Little Mermaid was, Disney changed course to make the majority of their subsequent films musicals.

While I’m sure the title track would have made it into the film, musical or not, it’d be hard to imagine watching Beauty and the Beast without a few of the other songs. Title track aside, the only song that really stuck with me was Human Again, but the song between Gaston and his men in the tavern, as well as the one that opens the film and follows Belle as she makes her way through the village are great pieces.

Balcony.png

There’s quite a bit of history behind the animation of Beauty and the Beast. At the time, most of Disney’s major animated films had a four year production schedule. But the final version of Beauty and the Beast had to be completed in two years, as half of the usual time was spent working on the earlier, non-musical version.

At first glance, Beauty and the Beast is a film that lacks the natural flair and style of earlier Disney films, as well as its Renaissance contemporaries. It doesn’t have grand fight scenes against villains like Scar of Maleficent, nor does it have the sweeping shots of films like Tarzan or Mulan. But the film is by no means bland or boring, far from it actually.

Dance.jpg

Beauty and the Beast is a perfect example of understated animation. At its core, the film is about true love, so there’s no need for it to attempt to consistently wow us with its visuals. Even the village and the castle, the two primary settings of the film, are much more realistic and downplayed.  However, the film is also very aware of the times it needs to crank up the production.

The ballroom dance is obviously the highlight of the film, and for multiple reasons. For me, the most notable aspect of this scene is the color. Up until this point, the film was primarily using natural earth tones (green, browns etc), with the most distinctive color being the blue in Belle’s normal attire. But the ballroom scene is a complete shift in tone and ambience.

Human Again.png

Belle is wearing her famous yellow dress, and the Beast is wearing a classic royal blue suit (heavily modified of course). Even the ballroom itself is bathed in a warm, orange glow. The colors, in conjunction with the music and the dance choreography, made for one of the most famous scenes in all of Disney history.

Another interesting historical fact about this scene, is the fact that it was shot using technology developed at a burgeoning Pixar. Before they became the animation juggernaut that could rival and even surpass Disney themselves, Ed Catmull and Pixar spent years developing the technology to create entire animated features using only a computer program. This program would come to be know as CAPS (Computer Animation Production System), and the ballroom was shot almost entirely using this technology.

Gaston.jpg

Another piece or gorgeous animation that sticks out to me is the broom dusting scene that takes place towards the end of the Human Again sequence (which also takes place in the ballroom). It’s a really simple scene overall, but I just loved seeing the way it was shot. It’s shown entirely from an overhead perspective, and the choreography from the brooms as they clean the ballroom in time with the music is really a special sight.

I’ve yet to talk about the actual cast of Beauty and the Beast, but I’m definitely saving the best for last in this case. Characters like Belle’s dad are really endearing, and Gaston is a cool villain just by how smarmy and self-absorbed he is, but I’m going to focus on the principal cast, namely: Belle, the Beast and his servants.

Bros.jpg

The Beast and his servants’ transformations are the result of a spell that was cast on them by a traveling witch, and it can only be undone if the Beast can learn to truly love and be loved in return. So naturally, the castle inhabitants see Belle as a prime opportunity for romance.

The Beast is not the most entertaining character on his own, but the film almost always gives him other characters to play off of. Seeing him slowly soften up at the influence of Belle, as well as his usually comical talks with characters like Cogsworth and Lumiere make for really memorable scenes.

Cogsworth.jpg

The standout characters as far as servants are concerned are easily Cogsworth, Lumiere and Mrs. Potts. Mrs. Potts is the calm motherly figure, and is a huge help to the Beast in his efforts to woo Belle. Cogsworth is the Beast’s right hand man, much like Sebastian to King Triton, and Lumiere is a charismatic and occasionally insightful ladies man. These three somehow manage to provide both levity and depth to the film’s narrative, and are wonderful additions to the cast.

Belle’s character is without a doubt the highlight of the film. The best way I know to describe her is, “the one you take home to mom.”  She’s extremely well read and has perfect manners, but she also knows how to stand up for herself when she needs to.

Belle.jpg

Much like The Little Mermaid’s Ariel, Belle isn’t content with just sitting around and waiting for things to happen. The moment she realizes something bad has happened to her father, she hops on her horse and sets out to find him, regardless of the fact that the village has dozens of strapping men that would be more than willing to assist her.

One of the most interesting things about Belle is the dichotomy that she shares with the Beast. She is beautiful and dainty, while he is towering and ferocious. One of the more notable scenes in the film is the one directly following Belle’s rescue from the wolves. As she’s patching up the Beast’s wounds, the two have a very entertaining back and forth, with Belle being the victor. She’s much smaller than the Beast, but doesn’t let that stop her from defending herself.

Beauty and the Beast.jpg

Beauty and the Beast isn’t a classic for no reason. It’s a tale as old as time that has stood the test of time. It’s a truly endearing story that teaches us that true love goes deeper than the surface. In addition, Belle is a great role model for young girls. She’s just as strong and independent as her male counterparts, but also not as reckless and headstrong as someone like Ariel or Rapunzel (these two are still amazing characters, they’re just younger and not as experienced as Belle).  I can’t imagine someone not at least acknowledging and appreciating what Beauty and the Beast has done for modern animation, and it will continue to be a classic story for years and years to come.

Sonic The Hedgehog, Power Rangers And Embracing The 90’s

Sonic The Hedgehog, Power Rangers And Embracing The 90’s

I recently went to see the 2017 Power Rangers movie, and I had an awesome time with it. The Power Rangers have always been a huge deal to 90’s kids, but my only real attachment to the series is the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie game on the Super Nintendo. Having said that, it’s odd how much I knew was going on in the film, given my limited knowledge of Power Rangers. They are so ingrained in 90’s pop culture, that I was extremely familiar with all of the tropes and terms that are associated with the series.

My primary thought during my time with Power Rangers (again, as somewhat of an outsider to the series) was, “man, this movie really gets it.” Basically, I felt like the movie captured what I personally considered to be the essence of the Power Rangers, but with a modern twist, so much so that I actually got pretty excited when they played the classic theme song.

Modern Power Rangers.jpg

The movie can be very 90’s at times. There’s plenty of cheese, cheeky one-liners, campy humor and fight scenes that feel like modern renditions of the Power Rangers’s classic fight scenes. It knows it’s a silly concept, and has fun with it. It’s very self aware, but never so much so that it detracts from the quality of the story.

For all of the laughs and humor that Power Rangers 2017 aims to provide, it also takes the time to lay the groundwork for an engaging story (as well as the eventual sequels). I really grew to love this new cast of teenagers, and I’m actually genuinely excited for the next installment.

Classic Power Rangers.jpg

My overall feelings of Power Rangers 2017 are very reminiscent of the ones I have for Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films, and to a lesser extent, Transformers. These movies have their haters, plenty of them in fact, but I’ll always defend the TMNT films as legitimate homages to the franchise. Unlike Power Rangers, I did grow up loving the Turtles and their various incarnations, and I consider myself to be pretty familiar with their story and personalities.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have always been silly, and they’ve always been an incredibly 90’s franchise. The 2014 TMNT movie has a fairly decent story, but great characters, action and humor (especially the elevator scene). In a similar vein to Power Rangers 2017, the Turtles felt much like how I remembered them being.

Classic Turtles.jpg

The overarching theme between the modern versions of the Power Rangers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is their embrace of their 90’s and late 80’s heritage. The 90’s are often looked at as a pretty divisive time. Some people cringe at the extremely in your face, and rebellious nature of the 90’s, while many other absolutely love it, big pants, neon colors and all.

As far as the Turtles and the Power Rangers are concerned, many of the complaints that their classic versions receive come from them being style over substance. They’re super charming, and have memorable moments and characters in spades, but many people argue that they didn’t have any real appeal if you weren’t in the target demographic (this is why these shows are negatively referred to as glorified commercials).

Modern Turtles.jpg

This is something I’ve wanted Sonic the Hedgehog to embrace for a couple of years now, but I couldn’t really put it into words until I saw Power Rangers 2017. For some time now, I’ve been saying that I want Sonic games to become like Pixar movies, similar to modern Ratchet & Clank games. In short, this means fun and high energy stories, likeable characters, and engaging stories, and to be fair, the series has been trying to do this at least since 1998’s Sonic Adventure.

Ever since then, the story in Sonic games have become increasingly important, and while many of them have had various levels of quality, I do think there are some genuinely good ones in there. I love the stories of Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors, and as weird as this is gonna sound, I really feel that Sonic & The Black Knight has the best written story of any Sonic game. But I guess I forgot that Sonic the Hedgehog is a 90’s property, and maybe even Sega themselves did too.

Classic Sonic Sonic Forces.png

Sonic the Hedgehog is the embodiment of what defined the 90’s. He’s got plenty of attitude, lives by his own set of rules, and mocks anything slow or boring (even the famous Italian plumber himself). Somewhere along the lines however, Sonic started to get away from this. He lost a bit of his attitude, and became more of a standard hero character.

The past couple of years have seen Sega and Sonic going back to the ideas that made the hedgehog famous in the first place (especially the Twitter account). 2010 saw the entire voice cast of the series being replaced, save for Mike Pollock’s Dr. Eggman. And ever since then, Sonic has been much closer to his older, 90’s self. He’s got tons of snark and attitude, and dialogue from games like Sonic Colors wouldn’t feel at all out of place in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.

As awesome as Sonic Colors is, the game’s that followed represent the inverse of what I said about the modern versions of Power Rangers and TMNT. Sonic Generations, Sonic Lost World and the entirety of Sonic Boom are all jokes and no substance. To be completely fair, this works in the case of Sonic Boom, as this was its entire premise, and there have been some legitimate deep references that only hardcore fans would pick up on, as well as plenty of jabs at the history of the series.

Sonic Forces City 2.jpg

But in the case of the main series, the constant onslaught of jokes has started to fall flat. Moving forward, I would love for Sonic to follow the trend set by Power Rangers 2017. I’ll say it again, that movie has a really good story, tons of humor and unabashedly embraces the 90’s. Sonic stories have embraced the 90’s as well, they just need to work on the substance factor.

I don’t wanna be the guy that asks for deeper stories in my Sonic games, but if they are going to be there, I at least want them to be well written. In summation, my ideal Sonic story would be something that has the tone and plot of Sonic Unleashed or Sonic & The Black Knight, but the self aware humor of modern Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or even other Sonic games like Colors and Lost World.

Sonic Forces City.jpg