Merry Christmas!


Well it’s that time of year again and its hard to believe how fast this last twelve months has been and gone.  I’m a little late doing part two of my 2017 look back but hope to have that up later today or tomorrow, leading as usual to my end of year Top Ten at the end of the month. 

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For now how was my Christmas morning?  I send out my thanks and best wishes to anyone who got my a prezzie, and I hope you like what I got you!  This year was a bit of a Blu-ray haul, with the newly restored re-master of Terminator 2 in steel book form, the 4K re-master of Italian horror classic Suspiria, the newly restored, special edition of Stephen King classic Carrie and the box set of the new Twin Peaks.  In addition I got the official Scarlett Johansson calendar,  cloths as well as a book of Star Wars characters which I’m sure I’ll find fascinating, and the retro-themed SN30 Pro Nintendo Switch control pad from 8BitDo.  I’m really pleased with all I got and will be perusing it all over the next few days as well as I’m sure, eating, drinking and being merry – if it wasn’t for the fact I’m back at work Wednesday … booo!  Hisss!!

I will also send out a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my followers, visitors and those that like or comment or simply drop by.  Each and every one of you are so appreciated and help me to keep on writing this blog and keeping my passion alive.  To a great 2018 whatever you’re doing!

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My 2017 – a look back (part one)


I think at least as far as entertainment is concerned its been a pretty good year.  There’s been ups and downs as there is every year, disappointments and resounding successes.  So I thought I’d do a look back and therefore have decided to split this into two posts over the next week or so … leading up top my annual Top Ten of the Year on 31 December (please check back for that).

January to June

The year started off rather interestingly, with the absolutely nutty The Greasy Strangler … a movie I had heard a lot about.  The eventual experience was a bit ‘wtf?’ and remains probably the oddest, most out-there movie I’ve seen all year, and not in a good way.  The biggest let down though of the month (and year) was undeniably Trainspotting 2.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but this trapped-in-the-past, albeit entertianing sequel delivered nothing to either repeat the gritty cool of the original or offer anything new.  It’s not a terrible movie but it just had very little to warrant it’s existence.

iPadAir2One of my favourite gadgets this year has been my iPad Air 2 which I picked up in January, and use regularly for so many things…other than my phone (which I’ll get to in party two) it’s been my go to gadget of choice.  Hell or High-water was a particular highlight and a solid robbers on the lam sort-of western with two great performances from Chris Pine and Ben Foster, even if I thought Jeff Bridges was a little over-hyped.

Deepwater Horizon was a great disaster movie based on real events with a stand out turn from the always enjoyable Mark Wahlberg.  February was also when I played the return-to-form latest entry in one of my favourite gaming franchises:  Resident Evil 7.  One of the few games this year I saw through to the end, but this gripping, at times genuinely frightening and action-packed game truly put the franchise back on track.   Around this time I began to deep dive further into music having subscribed to Apple Music and I have discovered some really great artists this past year, which started out with Tegan and Sara as well as Chvrches, PVRIS, Royal Blood and many more (I’ll be covering my music highlights more in part two).

Train to Busan

March delivered one of my firm favourite movies of the year, the Korean zombie horror Train to Busan, which was a brilliantly executed thrill-ride with great characterisation and top-notch production values.  Look out for it in my end of year Top Ten.  March also delivered more highlights in the form of the enjoyable if a tad over-hypoed Doctor Strange, as well as the charming and touching A Street Cat Named Bob.  However the good times had to come to an abrupt stop in the surprisingly poor Kong: Skull Island which offered some truly awful characters, only saved slightly by some fun monster smack down action.  What Tom Hiddleston was doing in this is anyone’s guess though.  Thankfully it was only a short-lived blip as I then got to see another favourite of the year, Logan – with a career defining performance by the often underrated Hugh Jackman.  If you haven’t seen this one yet … remedy that immediately – it’s really that good.

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The end of March also saw me pick up what has been a really worthwhile purchase this year, the Nintendo Switch!  As with any Nintendo console, it was a bit of a risk.  Gamecube failed after only a short run, the Wii was a major success but lacked games, and well I didn’t bother with the Wii U.  Thankfully with games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Steamworld Dig 2 and Super Mario Odyssey it’s been the games console I’ve played the most in 2017 without a doubt. 

April was the month this blog reached it’s 10 year anniversary.  Wow…had it really been that long?  I’m not popular, what I discuss on here is a crowded field to say the least, and standing out is difficult.  However let it be said I still very much enjoy expressing myself on here and appreciate every visitor, every like and every comment when I get them.  Thank you to all who stop by!

Despite being one of my favourite actresses, Scarlett Johansson’s much anticipated Ghost in the Shell, whilst entraining didn’t turn out to be all that it could have been despite some great visuals.  However Tom Hanks delivered a solid performance as always in the based on true events Sully.  I also recently started getting back into the highly-imaginative world of Persona 5 (released in April) which is unique and cleverly done, despite some typical Jap-RPG gameplay trappings.  Suppose all that Switch goodness proved a distraction this year and there’s many games I need to also go back to.

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In May I saw more highlights of the year, firstly the highly entertaining (if not quite as refreshing) Guardians of the Galaxy 2 boasting some great turns especially from Kurt Russell.  Then the Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle Nocturnal Animals was also an interesting take on a relationship drama that struck a cord and proved powerful and clever.  Yet the over-hyped and generally rather tiresome La La Land was a huge disappointment with a lack of memorable songs for a musical and bland characterisation despite featuring a great cast.

As June rolled around I finally managed to see the highly acclaimed Hacksaw Ridge and came away humbled and suitably impressed.  It was a very different approach for a war movie but director Mel Gibson and star Andrew Garfield nailed it.  Following this possibly the best comic book movie of the year was released; Wonder WomanGal Gadot was born to play this roll and with a great dirty-dozen meets fish out of water storyline I really had a great time with this one.  I also got around to watching bullet fest sequel John Wick: Chapter 2 which although simply more of the same was still pretty damn good and well, who doesn’t enjoy Keanu Reeves obliterating bad-guys?

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June also saw the annual videogame convention ‘E3’ arrive which promised a great deal from the three big gaming giants Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo and highlights included the reveal of the Xbox One X, more footage of the highly-anticipated Super Mario Odyssey and Sony’s God of War amongst many more.  It was a pretty exciting time to be a gamer and 2017 was only to prove itself as a classic year in gaming history.

Well, that’s it for part one of this look back.  Phew, it’s been a pretty packed year when looking back and there’s plenty more to come.  Look out for Part Two this time next week!

State of play


Regular readers of this blog will have observed I haven’t been posting many reviews of late.  Well, I’ve simply not been watching that many movies and concentrating, entertainment-wise more on videogames, what with recently buying the Nintendo Switch and having a great deal of fun with it.  Even my Xbox One and PS4 have become a little neglected as a result, even though I have been playing Persona 5 on the PS4 recently and getting some fun out of that.

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Firstly I’ll report how much I’m enjoying the versatility of the Switch.  That simple idea of being able to play it like other consoles on my TV, and then being able to take that experience mobile and go play it wherever I like portably.  It’s pretty revolutionary and I’m guessing the big reason the console has been selling like hot cake since launch.  A month on I’ve clocked in over 60 hours in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and also had fun playing Graceful Explosion Machine and most recently, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.  To a lesser extent I’ve found indie titles like Snake Pass and Mister Shifty, intriguing but somewhat flawed and very frustrating.  However I’m mostly aiming that at Snake Pass which I doubt I’ll even pick up again it annoyed me so much.

Persona-5Going back to Persona 5 for a moment, I craved a traditional JRPG and with it’s lush anime style visuals and quirky personality, I jumped on this with excitement.  The opening hours though are very slow, dialogue driven and well, not much action and I could see it putting some people off.  However having stuck with it after what seemed to be a lengthy tutorial, the game did open up, the exploration restrictions and focus on dialogue relaxed a little and I could get more into the world, the game mechanics and the general vibe.  I cleared the first major mission after about 10 hours of game time and I’m intrigued to see where the story goes.  However it is a game that once you start playing, hours fly by and I realise I need to set some time aside each time I play to really get any progression done.  For now though I’m enjoying it.

Breath of the WildBreath of the Wild has been a massive, somewhat daunting experience but has all that unique Nintendo charm I’ve always admired, and this feels like the most fleshed-out and intricately detailed Zelda game I’ve played.  I wouldn’t call myself a Legend of Zelda aficionado by any stretch and have only really played through the Gameboy release ‘Links Awakening’ and the Gamecube game ‘Wind Waker’ whilst only slightly touching on ‘Twilight Princess’ back in the day, and although this has echoes of all those games, with an art style slightly resembling Wind Waker (but less kiddie more Ghibli), I have fallen in love with everything it has to offer.  Even 60 hours in I’m still finding new areas, uncovering side quests and well, have barely delved into the main missions (I’ve completed one ‘divine beast’ so far…) so still tons to do.  All I’ll say though now to conclude is that I’m very much impressed.

On the back burner some games have had to be placed.  It’s the nature of the beast I’m afraid owning three consoles now, and I need to focus on just a small amount or run the risk of getting bogged now with unfinished games.  So Dishonoured 2 which I’ve been really enjoying has had to be ignored for a bit, as has Watchdogs 2 and Mafia 3.  Phew that’s a lot of games but for now my time is best spent with Zelda and Persona, even though both games are reportedly so huge that It’ll be a while before I dive into much else.

Smaller games are an easy option though just for a bit of variety and some of those games, like Mario Kart and Graceful Explosion Machine are dip in and dip out experiences that I don’t need to dedicate hours.  I suppose I’m lucky to have the options that I have, and I don’t take any of it for granted even though I work hard to buy the things I enjoy.

My final thoughts on the above come down to one sentence:  It’s a great time to be a gamer.  Additionally I also have some movies I need to get reviewing so expect normal service to resume shortly.

That’s all from me for now.

Craig.

Return to the Mushroom kingdom


nintendo_switch_logoWell I took the plunge and got myself a Nintendo Switch.  So what do I think of the device?  From the start it feels a very premium piece of kit.  The build-quality of the tablet and the joy-con controllers which attach to it are excellent.  It’s also quite heavy to hold in the hands and switching it on first time was exciting as the familiar Nintendo logo appeared, followed by the new Nintendo Switch icon.  Nintendo have a history of making quality consoles and this is no different despite what reports you may have heard on the internet.  My device seems free of dead pixels, joy-con sync-problems or wi-fi issues, but just to be safe I purchased a screen protector to ensure the supplied dock didn’t scratch the screen as has been reported.  On a side note I hate screen protectors and am historically crap at putting them on.  The tempered-glass one I got wasn’t too bad but it still took a whilst to get right and avoid any air bubbles.  Grr.

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In the run up to getting the Switch (I had a bit of a wait as initial stock everywhere had sold out after the March 3rd launch), I got myself a couple of Amiibos (Nintendo-themed character figurines which act as interactive NFC enabled devices for use in games) namely Mario and one of my all-time favourite characters, Toad.  It helped build the excitement as I also got myself a carry case and the official ‘pro-controller’.  Yes I confess, I’ve spent a lot of money on this but hopefully it’ll be worth it.

Using the device, it was easy to set it up to work with my broadband and to access the eshop (sparse with only a few games I’d find interesting (Shovel Knight, Snake Pass, Fast RMX) and the quirky design features, general simple but functional user-interface still pleased.  Once I put a game in though, my experience was elevated to another level.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I think by now most people will know how well received and acclaimed this latest entry in Nintendo’s ‘legendary’ franchise has turned out to be.  I couldn’t wait to get into it and am having a great time.  Firstly it’s gorgeous – I love cell-shaded, cartoon world art styles and this is one of the best representations of that look I think I’ve ever seen.  Has Zelda ever looked this good?  It’s a huge world too to explore and I’m loving travelling all over, meeting villagers, learning bit by bit about the over-arking story and doing simple side quests.  I also love the Shrines – trial based underground levels dotted throughout the land, sort of mini-dungeons full of puzzles and atmosphere.  I am only a little way into this so far but I am really impressed. 

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The big selling factor of the Switch though is it’s versatility.  It can be used as a handheld gaming system and works perfect for that.  It can be used as a home console too, and the transition is seamless and takes literally 5 seconds once you place the device in the dock to have the game appear on your TV screen.  It’s a gimmick that never gets old and I can see me using the machine in both ways.  Less appealing is some of the advertised multi-player, which with the 1-2 Switch game comes off as a left over idea from the Wii era with it’s gimmicky motion-controlled party games which might be fun but would get discarded fairly quickly in favour of ‘real’ games.  The versatility of the controllers to create multi-player split screen or two player games in your home certainly hark back to a by-gone era but as a primarily single-player gamer I doubt that functionality will get much use either.

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For now the Nintendo Switch is a system with a great deal of potential.  Early sales have been impressive so Nintendo is off to a good start … let’s just hope that in the future we still get the games for it, so that unlike many Nintendo consoles, it doesn’t end up gathering dust in favour of an Xbox or PlayStation system.  Only time will tell but for now consider me happy with my purchase.

Nintendo Switch launch


Nintendo Switch

I can’t let today pass by without remarking on the release of Nintendo’s brand new console – Nintendo Switch.  I’ve had my eye on this ever since it was announced, and it’s come as a bit of a surprise just how interesting and clever an idea Nintendo has come up with.  Firstly, Nintendo have for many years ruled the handheld market … that cannot be contested.  The 3DS flew off the shelves and it’s various iterations – even in the advent of increasingly powerful mobile phone technology.  However on the home console front, they’ve been failing for a while even after the huge success of the Wii.  Yet now here comes a console that offers the best of both worlds and will attract both types of gamers; those that want to have their gaming on-the-go (I hate that term) and those that prefer the comfort of their sofa and a big screen TV.  Never before has a console offered both and offered it so seamlessly, as the video below will attest:

SwitchI won’t go into detail too much on the various things the Switch can do…I’m sure if you’re at all interested you’ll have read up on the machine already.  What I can give you though is my thoughts on why this is an exciting games system and why Nintendo are luring me back, despite my reservations in the past with Nintendo’s consoles (I had a GameCube, a Wii and a Nintendo DS back in the day).  It has a feel from what I’ve seen and read of a great secondary console.  It’s not rubbing shoulders with Xbox or PlayStation (something Nintendo has avoided for years) and has it’s own identity.  Plus I’ve really missed Nintendo’s game design.  Nothing on a PS4 or XB1 plays quite like Mario or Zelda.  There is a unique and stylish charm to their characters, and yes I have sometimes even looked to the ill-fated Wii U with jealousy because it still had those games.  However that machine had little to separate it from the Wii, whose motion-control gimmick faded with time and so it was clear Nintendo had to revise it’s approach to console design.  Therefore I’d say the Switch has delivered sort of a ‘best of Nintendo’ this time around in a well-designed and attractive package.  Only time will tell if the games can live up to the machine’s potential, if 3rd party publishers support it the way they do Sony & Microsoft.

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I hope to get one at some stage myself and will report more on the machine when I’ve actually spent some time with it.  Until that day comes let’s send congratulations to Nintendo on the launch of their new console and wish them plenty of success in the future.  I think it’s their turn, don’t you?