Author Archives: Jonny Young

Castlevania – A Netflix Review

I don’t have much experience with Castlevania. I once watched about a third of a Let’s Play of Symphony of the Night, played Castlevania III for as long as it took the first floating Medusa head to appear and knock me into a river, and vaguely remember a game existing on the DS with a giant crab in it. I haven’t exactly been following along with the adventures of the Belmont factory pipeline, an endless supply of vaguely posh blokes with whips and impractical hair traipsing up a hill to spank a bat in a cape, but I get the gist. It’s vampires, right? Dracula? Blood and Holy Water? Stakes through the heart, lightly salted with a hint of garlic? Yeah it’s vampires.

dracula

My name is Vlad, and I am not a vampire.

Safe to say, then, that I have very little prior investment for this new Netflix series, and, given I first heard of it about two days after it came out, no real anticipation of anything either. Nevertheless, I was intrigued to find it sitting at a princely 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, with some critics calling it a new gold standard for videogame adaptations. There was even a giddy review from GamesRadar which claimed that ‘it has enhanced the Castlevania franchise in ways a video game could never do’. Aside from a fair amount of damning with faint praise going on, given that game adaptations are notoriously abysmal, and the GR quote being total sycophantic gibberish (pray tell what can an animated series do that a videogame can’t), this is some high praise indeed. So is it any good, or does it reek harder than the goatee of a thousand year old man who only drinks blood?

skulls on spikes

The answer may shock you, as with this fella, although in hindsight his surprise may have been the spike up his jacksie.

Castlevania is a four-episode adult animated series that re-tells the story of Castlevania III, with a bit of added backstory from Symphony of the Night and a bit more that’s totally made up. It follows the adventures of Trevor Belmont, exiled vampire hunter, as he bands together with a magician and a plot spoiler to try and stop Dracula’s hordes of monsters from slowly and inefficiently killing everyone on the planet. You might notice that it’s not a very complicated plot, which isn’t surprising since Castlevania III was an NES game that didn’t really have a plot anyway. They even removed the pirate in a belltower, which was probably a wise decision upon reflection.

This simple setup is a good starting point and lends itself to a more character focused affair, as Castlevania has always been one part swashbuckling adventuring to two parts ghastly horrors from alternate dimensions. The potential is there for boundless personal growth and discovery, since all the main characters are introduced with so much implied backstory that I’m surprised they can remember it all without a personal library.

Unfortunately, this never really happens, and ties into my biggest issue with the series – Castlevania is simply far, far too short. Four 25-minute episodes is no time at all to both introduce a world of this size and leave a satisfying self-contained story, or at least not the story that they attempted to tell. The phrase ‘leaves you wanting more’ has been thrown around, but for that to apply it really has to give us something in the first place.

belmont

Trevor’s been given a polar bear to wear, for example. He doesn’t seem pleased.

When I said that the series re-tells Castlevania III, what I probably should have said is that it aims to tell the first third of a story based on Castlevania III, with the other eight episodes coming out as a second season at some point. This essentially means that sod all happens in the four episodes we have; the first episode, while quite good, is nothing but backstory and setup, the second and third are mostly expositional filler with about 3 minutes of action thrown in to stave off narcolepsy, and only in the fourth episode do we get the heroes fighting anything supernatural. I’m fairly sure Trevor kills more priests than demons in this series.

Wait, he kills priests? Yes, for some reason Castlevania flips its own source material and makes the ruling religious folk absurdly, cartoonishly evil, being lead by a bishop that wouldn’t look out of place at the head of a Nazi experimentation facility. This is probably an attempt to add more human stakes to what is essentially a big stabby fight against some oversized rodents, or to make an edgy point of some kind (possibly that religion is bad, but that needed implying another billion times before I can be certain). It doesn’t really add anything to the core story, and given that there’s a TV Tropes page for this already maybe it’s not as novel as the writers seem to think it is.

notavillain

Notavillainnotavillainnotavillain…

Sadly, this isn’t the only problem with the script. For example, our hero is an arsehole.

Trevor Belmont is presumably intended to be a lovable rogue, an apathetic scoundrel armed with a sarcastic quip or weary sigh for every situation. Unfortunately, he quips sarcastically and sighs wearily in every situation, which becomes annoying rather than endearing. To compound matters, this deliberately posh-voiced British man randomly litters f-bombs throughout his conversations, and monologues about how much he hates things and just wants to be left alone. This only serves to make him dark and edgy at a level of nuance not seen outside of the more depressing corners of Tumblr. It jars with his visual design and constant attempts to help people, and combined with his lack of enthusiasm and the borderline comatose vocal performance from Richard Armitage, Trevor becomes actively unlikable. For crying out loud, Dracula is more developed and sympathetic, and he’s barely in the fucking thing.

Other plot wobbles include the ‘legend’ of a soldier resting under a town for centuries despite him only being there for a single calendar year, leading me to believe that these townsfolk run on advanced dog years or something. This plot point also has a twist that a deafblind newt would be able to see coming if they knew anything at all about either Castlevania III or Symphony of the Night, ruining any tension the series might have been building. Even me saying ‘blonde hair’ is probably a spoiler.

castle

I’m running out of relevant pictures, so here’s a Dark Souls level.

Similarly, there’s a fight towards the end where a magic user creates massive ice walls to ‘trap in’ the demons, which somehow works despite the demons having wings and the ice walls not having a roof. It also begs the question that if you can make 6ft thick walls of ice appear from the ground then why are these demons any trouble at all? Just drop a concrete block on them or something.

On top of this, there seems to be an awful lot of utterly pointless violence. When it happens it’s genuinely disturbing, such as one close-up of a child’s mangled corpse in the first episode that made me feel a bit ill, but this, along with the swearing, feels like an exercise in excess. It’s like they knew that they had an R rating from the get-go and pushed the envelope as hard as they could without it popping open and it’s entrails leaking out, but didn’t integrate it fully into what is a very generic adventure story. None of the gore is necessary; it’s pretty infrequent, is always insanely violent, and all happens either off-screen or to extras who’s entire screen presence is them being ripped to shreds. At one point there’s a market square with intestines as bunting and heads on spikes, which is just absurd. Did the demons kill some people, then instead of killing everyone else they made parade decorations out of the corpses? They must have been in a very jovial mood that evening, those horrifying fanged monsters of the night.

At this stage it’s probably a good time to re-iterate that Castlevania definitely isn’t terrible. In fact it could be amazing if given the right amount of love and care, as the characters all appear to have depth, the world is theoretically huge with a lot of scope for extended adventures and new characters, and the fight scenes are often directed extremely well despite how scarcely they appear. On top of this, some things look really, really cool.

fire face

See how cool this thing looks? Phwoar.

Unfortunately, the majority of things don’t look cool. In fact, some are flat out bad.

A bit of context; Castlevania is a product of two Western production studios (well, technically five, but two did the majority of the work), including the one behind Fairly Odd Parents and Adventure Time. These companies decided to go with a distinctively anime style for this series, presumably on a dare, as it’s a bit of a departure from the aforementioned kids cartoons. Unfortunately, this lack of expertise shows. It really shows.

The action scenes are decent, such as the final fight with its awesome looking whip stuff, and most other things look alright from a distance, but little details will frequently break everything and make the art look frankly amateurish. In the slower scenes some of the geometry can go beserk; in one conversation, I completely missed what they were talking about because I was distracted by the varying dimensions of the room they were in, and how people seemed to completely disappear from it depending on the shot. Sometimes it’s hard not to notice these things.

Here are some examples.

1) Belmont’s face changes from the key frame on the left to the key frame on the right during a conversation scene. During this movement his eyes have gotten bigger and closer together, his nose is now longer and has changed direction completely, now pointing down instead of up, and his shitty hair strand has grown. I don’t even know what’s going on with his ear and sideburn, but they seem to have moved as well. This was the first obviously bad thing I noticed, since it was so weird looking in motion.

belmont faces

2) This old man regains his hairline after being stared at by an angry priest. I think his eyes have changed colour as well but I can’t be sure, and someone’s smashed his nose in with a frying pan.

oldman faces

3) The same old man, when sat down, appears to have a perfectly cylindrical body made entirely out of putty, because the artists drew themselves into a corner with this rounded cloak thing and had no idea how to draw the inside of it. Also, his nose is suddenly straight, his face only occupies the bottom half of his head, and his hairs changed yet again. He also seems to be naked.

necks not like this

4) This things neck is not supposed to be telescopic, and his wing folds into nothingness behind his right arm. Some of the muscle definition changes as well.

demon neck

These might seem like the most nitpicky nits I’ve ever picked, and while you’d be right, this sort of thing happens incredibly frequently. Maybe none of the artists got on and were assigned their key frames via broken tombola, or the lead artist died on the way back to his home planet, or they all swapped desks one crazy Friday. There’s really no excuse for it.

It doesn’t help when the motion itself is often choppy and stuttery, with surprisingly few inbetween frames for any large movements; for example, the man in the shot below is on screen for a total of three frames, which is barely enough to register his existence before he’s vanished back into the comforting embrace of the void.

3frame run

Gotta go fast.

This can leave some scenes feeling very static and awkward, or, in the worst examples, leave the viewer with no idea what’s happening because the animation is so jumpy and the art is so baffling. The first episode is largely alright for this, especially anything related to Dracula’s fantastic looking fire powers, but the others can be downright hard to watch at times. For a first stab at an anime style it’s not bad, but it’s also not good by any stretch of the imagination.

On a lighter note, the sound is generally decent, with a fitting orchestral score that swells and fades at the right times, and some pretty solid sound effects, if that’s what you’re into. The voice acting is largely good, although it can vary. As stated before Richard Armitage has apparently fallen asleep in his cereal, and the female speaker sounds like a girl from Leeds attempting an Italian accent. While it’s always nice to hear a variety of rural English accents (ignoring the fact it’s supposed to be set in Romania), some of the plebby farmers can be a bit indecipherable, even for someone who grew up in the north of England. Maybe that’s the point, who knows. Anyway, it’s a nice change of pace from the usual suspects, and I’m glad I didn’t have to listen to Johnny Yong Bosch shout-cry his way through all his scenes again.

magician

‘Ooh-a ‘eck-a, she’s-a all-a clarted up for-a goin’-a down-a t’ pub. Whippets, pasta etc’

Overall, the Netflix Castlevania isn’t particularly bad, but it’s not distinctly good either. It’s suffocatingly short and extremely forgettable, more of a pilot than a real series. What is there lacks polish, with a surprising number of plot holes for such a short series, and the art could do with another editorial meeting or twelve. There’s also not enough Dracula.

If the inevitable second series matches the highest points of the first episode then I’m all in, but as of right now go watch Hellsing Ultimate instead. Castlevania’s just not worth your time.

cloud

Sad cloud-man is sad at my mangled Yorkshire gibberish. It sort of made sense. Sort of.

Premature Movie Reviews (2017)

Since I so accurately gauged the quality of last year’s set of pop culture blancmange-athons in slightly cryptic and vague ways (I’m still not quite sure what “Will Smith’s rap career / 10” actually means), I thought I’d dust off the old crystal ball, pull the soothsayer out of the fridge, and give it another crack. Maybe this can become an actual thing with a schedule, although it’s basically the end of January by this point so maybe not.

Helpfully, it seems that Hollywood is dumping a million bajillion films on us this year, so to stem the tide a bit I’ve added some vague categories. Notice that not one of them is anything along the lines of ‘new interesting franchise with promise that could be a big deal for the company’, no, they’re all fucking sequels again. Onwards!

 

Superheroes!!

The big obvious thing to start with is your regular overpowered idiots in shiny spandex. They’re still extremely popular for reasons unbeknownst to modern science, so I should probably talk about them.

justice-league-movie-970x545

First of all, we get to see if DC can dig themselves out of their overly gritty hole with some hopeful course correction, aiming to move away from gleeful Batman murders to something a bit less grim. It doesn’t help, then, that Justice League looks like The Jetsons if it was set in the Holocaust, while Wonder Woman is The First Avenger in a different war and with less sensible clothing options. It’ll also have to do a hell of a lot to convince me that the pose-able mannequin in a tiara that we saw in Batman v Superman: The Broodenating can actually act. They might as well charge people to inhale a gravel driveway.

Rating – A donut filled with wallpaper paste and slugs / 10

 

hulk-thor-98

Meanwhile, Marvel continue to churn out the same film over and over again in the form of Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, two films that I can’t possibly be excited for when I know they only exist as setup, like a two-hour filler episode of a TV show that’s stalling for time. Thor might have something fun for Hulk to do rather than play emotional pattycake with a forced love interest, and Guardians will have some amazing, new, innovative soundtrack that James Gunn found down the back of his dad’s sofa one rainy Tuesday evening, but it’s impossible to be excited for Marvel films anymore. Hopefully the giant purple thumb in a chair will do something soon.

Rating – A Panini album of Fisher Price workbenches / 10

 

x-men-origins-wolverine

After last year’s incredibly boring X-Men: Apocalypse, Fox are clawing (heh) one last payday from Mr Huge Jackhammer with the dusty depressing Logan before he sods off to be far too handsome somewhere else. Quite what the fuck they’re doing with the plot is anyone’s guess, given they’ve re-tooled one of the most insanely violent and depressing (or ‘mature’ if you’re a pissant) comic book storylines into a knock-off of The Last of Us but with sand instead of zombies. They’ve also put the post-apocalypse a measly decade away, just so they can introduce a character that will be usable later in the franchise. Inevitably boring and pointless.

Rating – Three perfectly good clocks that have been dropped in a woodchipper and re-sold as a toaster / 10

 

emo-goth-peter-parker

While Fox are experts at being very boring, Sony appear to be the best in the world at ruining immensely popular things; they’ve had five cracks at Spiderman now, and have managed to get it right a stellar one-and-a-half times. Having somehow failed to understand the appeal of a talkative teenage wanker who jizzes from his wrists, Sony have had their toys ripped off them for Spiderman: Homecoming, with Marvel promptly throwing Robert Downey Jr and a couple of jokes in, as is the way. It’s not hard, Sony.

Rating – Reddit: The Movie / 10

 

Remakes/Reboots/Re-awakenings/Re-inspirationalisings!!

If Hollywood isn’t busy making superheroes for every age, ethnicity, gender, culture, species, blood type, fursona, and flu strain to relate to, they’re busy remaking an old thing we used to like in the hope we recognise it and throw money at them, like a dog distracted by some keys. It seems that executives are imaginatively bankrupt and can’t stomach the idea of having ideas. Presumably they explode when asked for ranch or barbeque.

spaceballs-alien

Instead of just watching the originals on Netflix we’re now gifted the pleasure of amazing ‘new’ (massive quotations) versions of things, such as Alien: Covenant, whose alternative title should probably be Prometheus -0.2: Maybe You’ll Like This One Instead. Some sort of weird prequel/sequel/reboot/parallel universe, it’s just the first Alien on repeat but filmed in spacey blue spook-o-vision and with your old pal Fassassin’s Creedbender in it again for no particular reason.

Rating – Laminating a VHS tape / 10

 

harrison-ford-depressed

Other pointless franchise rumblings come from Kong: Skull Island, a film which will almost certainly have some people looking for a giant monkey for half the film then running away from it for the other half, and Blade Runner 2049, a film which should never exist. It’d be like making A Clockwork Lemon where Alex is suddenly un-brainwashed and sat at home watching TV.

There’s also Baywatch and Jumanji, films linked by their starring roles being taken by a man known more by his genetic link to boulders than his real name; The Mummy, which won’t be nearly as entertaining as it’s botched trailer was; and for some reason XXX: The Return of Vin Diesel and a Motorbike or Something, featuring gnarly bike jumps and off-key edgy one-liners that just sort of make you a bit confused more than anything.

All of these movies would be pretty highly anticipated if it was 2004. Shame it isn’t, then.

Rating – Laminating a VHS tape that everyone wishes you’d thrown out several decades ago / 10

 

power-rangers-pig

We also have Ghost in the Shell, which promises to be a series of anime set pieces re-shot in live action, strung together by half a plot that’s notionally about AI and technology and whatever but mostly just makes vague coo-ing promises of nearly nude robo-Johansson. This, depressingly, will be enough for some.

Finally, there’s the baffling Power Rangers film, which has taken such an amazing tonal shift from the original franchise that I’m amazed it hasn’t broken in half from the torque. Imagine Fant4stic, but made of Skittles.

Rating – Laminating a VHS tape that nobody remembers you ever having, and now the laminator’s broken so you’ve just shat plastic all over your film, you idiot / 10

 

Standard Sequel Land!!

Yes, pretty much everything in this list is a sequel. However, while the others at least had some flavour, things like Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Dead Franchises Make No Money appear to be happening for presumably some reason, but nothing to do with what any member of the public could possibly want. You can lump Transformers 5: The Last Straw in with this as well, as it’s guaranteed to make infuriating amounts of money despite basically being one of those sleazy American second-hand dealership adverts with the boobs and the cars and the racism, but stretched to 600 minutes with a load of random CGI metal flailing everywhere as a distraction. Despicable Me 3: Yellow Bastards Forever will shove more fucking minions down your throat until you choke to death on the tiny bean-shaped cunts (I’m not a fan), while Cars 3 seems to be attempting to do gritty realism in an animated franchise that has a redneck tow truck screaming and yodelling every five minutes. Fifty Shades Darker is porn for people who don’t understand the internet (or porn), Saw 8 is torture porn for people who don’t understand the internet (or basic common decency), and World War Z 2 is a film with an abomination of a title that’ll have even less to do with the book than the first one. It’ll probably be just as underwhelming to boot, if it even comes out.

Rating – Landfill / 10

 

starwars

In terms of actually slightly interesting sequels, Lego Batman is another shameless cash in but one that stands at least a slight chance of being alright, given the previous shameless cash in was surprisingly decent. War of the People who are Fighting for the Planet that the Apes live on Angrily is probably here more for contractual reasons than anything else, but again the previous ones were good so maybe the film with a monkey on a horse with a machine gun won’t be totally stupid.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle will have as much cocky British charm as the first but will just end up retreading all the same steps as the previous one, so much so that the Wiki for this unreleased film seems to give away an unsurprising plot spoiler (click here if you want to read it, you daring scoundrel). Meanwhile, I have no idea what John Wick 2 is going to be doing in order to top the brilliant original, which covered almost every action set piece and plot point it could without derailing into insane gibberish. Probably some Face-Off level jiggery-pokery involving doves and exploding windmills or something.

Oh there’s also a Star Wars film or something. It’ll be fine.

Rating – Having to attend your distant cousin’s wedding despite only talking to her once at a drunken New Year’s Eve party when you fell in a pond and your pants fell off so now it’s a bit awkward and you’d really rather not be here at all but it is a nice wedding and there’s cake and bonbons but your Aunt Marge has had too much wine again and this analogy’s getting away from me somewhat / 10

 

Shite!!

The Emoji Movie can fuck off forever.

Rating – Fuck off forever / 10

poop-emoji

 

Join me next year for when I bitch about how movies are all the same and Hollywood should stop making sequels for absolutely everything. It’ll be great.

I’m sensing a pattern here.

A Word On… FIFA Ultimate Team

I’m not sure there’s a single game in existence that can make me as angry as FIFA can. Football is random enough as it is when tiny dirigibles can become key tactical elements, but FIFA takes it to another level on the uncontrollable bullshit spectrum; players will do things you didn’t tell them to, decide to tackle the air beside the ball they’re dribbling with instead of taking a shot, or be suddenly incapable of hitting the ball with their foot in a straight line, something which is ostensibly their profession. On several occasions I’ve found my defenders hanging out next to the other teams corner flag, presumably for a cup of tea and a chinwag. The FIFA subreddit is basically a support group for abuse victims at this point, summed up by a recent post which said bluntly, and fantastically, that ‘FIFA is shit’. He’s a happy bunny, that one.

james-gameplay

This probably ends in a ball boy scoring an own goal or something equally daft.

So if FIFA is shit, as was so eloquently put, why is it so popular? Well there’s the obvious reason that it’s football, one of if not the most popular sport in the world where teenagers who can’t spell the word ‘offside’ suddenly get access to the hottest of cars and the fastest of women for approximately six months before their lives spiral into a terrifying storm drain of money, tattoos, and shit punditry. Every child aspires to be Phil Neville, I can assure you.

The other reason is it’s by EA, and they have the official FIFA license so you don’t have to play as Blatan Dimbrasandwiches for Redchester Unite-reds, unless someone happens to take cocaine. It’s basically popular by default at this point, and every September the new FIFA cycle judders into view, proudly displaying its new set of over-hyped non-features like a peacock with used cars for a tail. This year’s instalment had a story mode called ‘The Journey’ where Definitely-Not Marcus Rashford gets to play a year of football while his dickhole friend acts like a dickhole and Harry Kane mumbles some verbal pies into your ear. It’s a glorified tutorial mode, and for some reason exists alongside the previous Be A Pro mode, which is functionally identical if you ignore the crucial fact that the latter has more features and customisation. The Journey does have the vocal wizardry of Kane though, so there’s that.

hunter-rashford

B…brother?

The final and most important reason for its current popularity, though, is Ultimate Team, a morbidly evil combination of football, casinos, stock markets, and the promise of building the titular ‘ultimate team’. That last part is what draws players in, being a natural extension of typical manager modes where you build a team from nothing to win the top prize. The other parts are where EA makes their money – you can buy packs with either real money or an earned in-game currency, which when opened gives you a random selection of players and other items based on how much dosh you threw at them. The standard pay-to-win format is in here, where you don’t earn enough in-game money for it to ever be worth spending on hopeless crapshoots, so you just buy points and get endless amounts of players instead. Somewhere in the swarm, you’ll find Messi. This is clearly the best way to play the game, because why would you ever want to experience steady personal gains when you can just buy your neighbours fucking yacht instead.

But then what are you going to do with these millions of human beings, who are for some reason inexplicably attached to trading cards, panicking, screaming eternally from inside their virtual cardboard hell prisons? Well, Frank, you sell them on the virtual trading market. Obviously. It’s not slavery, it’s business.

This is where human players can make loads of in-game currency through normal stock market ideas of buying low and selling high, amongst other sneaky tactics such as the bizarrely named ‘sniping’ method of buying something for cheap as soon as it’s put on the market. This phrase has probably spawned from children playing CoD, since I don’t think American Sniper was a film about the trauma of excellent fiscal investment choices.

walkout

“I think this business card presentation might be a bit overkill, Mr Reus”

Each games platform has a different market with different organically shifting prices, meaning that the oft forgotten PC version (the one I’m bloody playing on) has prices that can easily be double what you’d get on a console. Handily, match earnings are exactly the same. This means that not only does the PC have a massively smaller player base, leaving online play feeling a bit like a ghost town with a couple of randomly jabbering Austrians in the corner, it’s a lot more difficult to actually make your ‘ultimate team’. I’m fairly sure I’ll never get my glorious Gareth Bale card, simply because the game will have died before I’ve even had the chance.

Anyway, once you’ve sniped your way through the marketplace (not like that) and come away with a hatful of virtual coins, what do you do with them? Well common sense would dictate that you then use that money in the virtual market to buy the players you want to play with. Unfortunately, YouTube claims otherwise.

It turns out there’s a staggeringly massive market for FIFA YouTubers, with most not even bothering to play the actual football game they’ve bought. Instead, they spend their days reacting hilariously to random chance that’s happening in front of them by screaming at the top of their lungs at pack openings, jumping around the room, dressing up, making stupid faces, screaming again, and generally being normal functioning adults. Hopefully they blow out their vocal chords at some point when they pull a spikey horned satanic version of Ashley Williams or whatever the hell EA are doing this month.

twats

Four perfectly normal, natural, sensible, reserved, adult reactions. This image was saved as ‘twats.jpg’ by the way.

Some more sober channels feature variously aged children giving mildly obvious tips about how to make money in the marketplace, which can be helpful at times; I’ve seen a few give hints about players that are cheap now but may be worth a lot in the future. Fairly standard investment stuff, but still useful.

What aren’t useful, however, are the grotesquely misleading titles and thumbnails these things tend to have. One guy (who for some reason appears to want you to know he has a carrot, despite never appearing on screen with one) claims to be able to ‘double your coins!!!’ with a thumbnail of a Photoshopped picture of a large number doubling. I watched this video, and the doubling of coins is done by spending 500 to make 1000. The fake thumbnail has the number 50,000 doubling to 100,000. You will need to do this method 100 times without the market changing against you in order to do that. Good fucking luck with that.

Other bullshit includes telling you how to ‘100% make coins!’, which is an embarrassingly easy thing to do when those words are in that order, or being able to make ‘1k coins in 1 minute!!!’ in ‘the best trading method in FIFA 17!!!!’. This was done by buying a player then selling him for 1k profit within 60 seconds. Note that he does this once, and so has accurately made 1k coins in 1 minute. The implication, however, is that you can now do this for every minute, thereby making 60k an hour, or 1.44m a day. This is clearly absurd, but don’t let reality get in the way of manipulating kiddywinks for YouTube likes.

youtube-channel

I don’t know what’s worse, the dubious advertising or the glaringly obnoxious colour scheme.

So now you’ve got a hundred quadrazillion coins sitting in a fake virtual bank account that you can’t do anything with. You’ve bought 14 Ronaldos to use just in case three get injured all at the same time in a flexing competition. Your team is literally the best it will ever be. You now have nothing else to do but play the game.

Unfortunately, this brings me back to the start, where all of my hypocritically childish bitching began. FIFA attempts to be a solid competitive game, but it just isn’t. It can never be one. You can learn how to get better at a fighting game, for example, since it’s all very tightly controlled and doing the same thing twice will end with the same results. Scientifically speaking, it is repeatable.

No such luck in FIFA, as it’s a game based on chance and statistical probabilities. This is fine in something relatively simple like poker, but in FIFA there are 22 players on a pitch at once, each with about 50 individual statistics that have to be used to determine what happens. Then there’s positioning, how long you held down the power bar, which direction you’re facing, and so many more subtle complexities that makes it basically impossible to know exactly what’s going to happen when you press a button.

This isn’t helped by FIFA’s AI problems. Conspiracies abound about ‘scripting’, which is where the game basically decides who’s going to win the match by goalkeepers suddenly becoming octopuses or strikers developing severe allergies to running forwards. A less strict version of this is ‘momentum’, where teams supposedly swing back and forth in ability to make games more interesting. This would be fine in a spectator sport, but FIFA is a videogame. Randomly changing the numbers behind what you’re actually seeing so you don’t know if your team is prepared to play football or if they’ve rocked up for water polo instead would be immensely frustrating. Watching your monstrous defender with his 82 inch pythons muscled off the ball by what can be accurately described as a bearded baby is something that just shouldn’t happen, and, while it’s unlikely any of this maniacal overload scripting rubbish exists, when all the glitchy nonsense starts to pile on you often feel like you’re fighting against the game rather than controlling it.

smalling

Case in point, there is no ‘applause’ button.

With all of this random bullshit, with all of this manipulative wankery, with the inevitability of a PC graveyard, you might be asking why I even play FIFA Ultimate Team. To be honest, and this might come as a surprise, most of the above is slightly exaggerated for comic effect. I know, who would have thought.

The game is, generally speaking, great. The above clip of Smalling crossing his wires and daydreaming a lovely performance of the Bach chorales is a one in a million instance that just happened to be caught on video and shared in the screaming echo chamber of Reddit, and while you’re well within your rights to hurl your TV out of the window when it happens to you, most of the time you’re going to lose because you’re in a bad mood and not concentrating. There’s a phenomenon in games called ’tilting’, where you start to perform badly and get annoyed, meaning you perform worse, which makes you more annoyed, and now you’re stuck in a suicidal one-more-go mentality where you won’t stop until you’ve finally won. This is not EA’s fault. Go for a walk, have a wank, do anything. Come back when you’re not being quite so shit.

It’s true that some matches do feel as if they’re fighting actively against you, but the little moments of satisfaction in a tight game you edge 1-0 make everything worthwhile. FIFA might kick you in the balls when Giovinco scores a backheel from the halfway line, but you’ll be back for the trading, you’ll be back for the atmosphere, and you’ll be back for the goals. As I alluded to when jabbering about Football Manager, it’s addictive not in spite of, but almost because it isn’t fair.

Now go pay for Messi, you bellend.

marco-scream

I don’t know why one of the promo pictures was Marco Reus shitting out an egg, but there you go.

DmC: Devil May Cry – A Videogame Review

Okay, hands up who still cares about DmC? It was first released over three years ago, which was in itself about three years after its initial announcement, and feels like it’s been around forever. It’s certainly been on my hard drive forever; it was free on Games for Gold a while back and has since been hanging out in my pins with Dishonored and Hitman and the like. This week, however, I finally got round to playing it, and having not read any of the wanky think pieces about it because I honestly couldn’t have cared less I’m now going to write my own wanky think piece. Such is life. Prepare for some inevitable wank about the other two at some point, since they seem like they’ll be very wank-heavy, but now I’m rambling. Where was I? Oh yeah, an irrelevant video game.

underwater

Upside-down Rapture is not a sensible place for firearms, young man, now put it away.

First, a bit on the actual ‘game’. Gameplay wise it’s not as deep as previous entries but the combat is still pretty fantastic, which is always a good start. There are enough weapons to have variety without too many to bog you down, it’s not infeasible to use every weapon in the game in the same air combo, and the enemy variety means you have to switch up your tactics fairly often to tackle different situations. Grappling around is fun, the camera doesn’t seem actively worse than any other game in this genre, and the general visual style of the game is amazing. It often resembles a high contrast Escher painting, with buildings twisted and contorted around, and the series of levels that are set upside down are particularly great.

It does sort of run out of ideas towards the end of the game, unfortunately. There’s a level which boils the in-betweeny platforming bits down to literally a straight line, and the last few missions take place in a massive office building, which is visually boring and padded to all baloney. The semi-final boss is a complete rehash of a previous one but with a worse framerate and a character design made up of Play-Doh and Stickle Bricks, and none of the other bosses are all that fun to fight either. There’s nothing to rival fighting a God in space with a fire dragon, that’s for sure.

Basically, while there are issues, it looks lovely and plays extremely well. So now that I’ve qualified it as A Good Game, let’s talk about fanboys.

devil trigger

Note: dumbing down of gameplay is not automatically a bad thing. If your game is impossible to play, maybe it’s not as good as you think it is.

Fanboyism is one of the dumber things to happen in the last twenty years or so, as the internet’s anonymity and ease of use makes it super easy to cultishly defend or attack anything and everything. You see it with Star Wars, you see it with My Little Pony (bizarrely), you see it with fucking real life actual politics for fucks sake as a racist cinnamon bun slow dances his way into the Oval Office, and you saw it with DmC. New Dante was unveiled as a gaunt, deathly pale, black haired Hot Topic frequenter, and fanboys lost their shit.

However, while certain screaming morons got worked up over his fucking hair colour, the issue among most sane people was that Dante seemed like every background extra from Twilight rolled into one. This was a dumb decision, not because it was radically different from the original Dante, but because the change was stupid; Original Dante had evolved into a wisecracking joke character, which was a perfect fit for an insane action game about demons and air combos. You don’t put Hamlet in a John Woo film, and so after some sensible changes the original Starving Mournful Emo flavour was gone for a more suitable Handsome Punk Rock Douchebag one. If anyone is still complaining about his appearance they can be officially ignored, because it now looks fine. Good, even.

dante comparison

Still a twat, but a better kind of twat.

This change didn’t happen cleanly, however, and there are obvious remnants of his old woe-is-me mopey nu-metal persona littered throughout the game. Most of this is in the concept art, as is to be expected, although the flashbacks can get a bit grim; there’s one where he’s in a public bathroom clawing his own chest out while screaming, with ‘anarchy makes sense’ and ‘WAR’ graffiti reflected in the mirror. There’s also hints of a drinking problem, schizophrenia, and a trailer-trash mentality within the opening montage, along with jarring mentions of sexual deviancy that seem to come out of nowhere. This tortured soul shtick doesn’t mesh with the newly confident and brash Dante, and the whole game suffers from a similarly bipolar tone. Even the name didn’t make it out alive.

Let’s start at the beginning – the main bad guy (a dude in a suit in a giant tower) blackmails the President with something irrelevant and smells (?) Dante from across the city. This sets out the stall immediately for buckets of stodgy, lazy writing that thinks it’s way smarter than it actually is. Blackmailing a President is Captain Planet levels of hokey villainy, and he randomly senses Dante for seemingly no reason other than there’s now a digital camera in the vicinity that he can spew exposition into.

Anyway, Dante is out partying, and he’s troubled by visions of Demons in everyday life, leading normal humans to think he’s a bit deranged. He goes back to his trailer with some strippers and shags them because he’s a rebellious delinquent, dammit. A random girl conveniently appears to tell him a Hunter wants to kill him just as the Hunter shows up and attempts to kill him by dragging him into an alternate reality that for some reason also wants to kill him. We learn he is not deranged at all, removing any subtlety from that idea completely. His trailer is also alone and on the end of a pier, because why not.

fairground pier1

A terrifying neon-nightmare LSD demon pier, but a pier nonetheless.

Lack of subtlety is a recurring theme in this game, it seems. There’s an alarmingly derivative They Live scenario going on where some humans are secretly demons and if you can see in Demon Vision or whatever it is, billboards and posters change to show their real subliminal meaning. Shame, then, that They Live wasn’t very smart about it to begin with, and ripping it off wholeheartedly just makes it even less interesting. Adverts for an energy drink with a buff man change to show a fat slob with OBESITY and STUPIDITY plastered everywhere, and the drink itself is actually demon’s piss (or vomit, but it barely matters). The news channel is a secret prison for traitors with OBEY YOUR MASTERS showing on every TV screen. The workers in the financial building are “barely human anymore”, having been “corrupted beyond recognition”. It’s all so obvious and blunt.

The problem is the uber serious tone, which makes the surface-level satire seem like it was written by the Goth Kids from South Park. If it was a bit more devil-may-care (heh) about everything, some of the They Live shit wouldn’t be as cringingly lame as it is. Dante does have some shit puns, true, but they’re delivered with venom instead of the silly camp that they should be. Remember that bit in DMC4 where Dante puts on an incredibly sexual flamenco routine to celebrate shooting a floating dog head? The equivalent of that in this game would be when Dante trades “fuck you”s with a screeching larvae who then vomits all over the stage. It’s just not as fun.

stupid satire

Awesome level, stupid satire.

It’s also strangely muddled, with a hundred potentially interesting elements that all get wasted by minimal attention. One of the most obvious examples is the presence of Demon CCTV cameras that are supposed to be watching and tracking Dante through the city. Unfortunately, there are several major issues with this concept – firstly, the Big Bad wants to kill Dante and has sent out Hunters in order to find him. Mate, you have cameras. You don’t need to ‘find’ him when you have him on a video feed that he doesn’t know about. Secondly, they only appear in one level and you remove three in the entire game. Thirdly, Dante is running away from things for the duration of about one level, and is actively seeking out and goading the Demons in the other nineteen. These three things combined make the camera idea pointless in concept, execution, and tone. Why is it in the game.

Another abandoned idea is the city that wants to kill him, but only ever does so in linear ‘run through this set piece’ sections while the walls sort of cave in but not really (this also follows the confused camera logic of ‘find Dante’ while he’s in a city that knows where he is). There’s a whole underground rebellion thing which I’m fairly sure is just made up of three people, including Dante, that gets taken down halfway through the plot. The Raptor News network, so called because Fox is an animal and that’s about it, only exists for about three missions and an intro cinematic. The inevitable final boss happens simply because it has to and is tacked onto the end of an otherwise finished plot. Dante’s hair slowly turns white for absolutely no reason other than because it was white in the other games, which begs the question why it was ever black in the first place. An old wizard appears midway through a level, fixes some platforms with his magic green eye, and blurts out some critical exposition before buggering off into a portal. The female companion has psychic powers because she has to for the plot. Every boss fight is crap.

pandering2

How to exploit fanboys? Annoy them then pander with DLC. Quids in.

It very much feels like what it was – a project that was one thing to begin with (a normal Devil May Cry), then something vastly different (a modern, technology based, dark-and-edgy masterpiece of social commentary), then it kept juddering back and forth between the two until sort of settling vaguely in the bland middle ground. It’s still got all the gothic statues and weaponry and mannequin-like enemies of the old games, but there’s also a level where you fight a giant Bill O’Reilly head made of pixels. It’s got Vergil in a trenchcoat and katana, but now he’s also a hacker and wears a fedora.

If they’d gone all in on either style it would have felt a lot cleaner and more focussed. Instead, the plot is confused, messy, and underdeveloped, while the dialogue is either bland, characterless exposition or unfunny crude humour, and often slaloms violently between the two, leaving the tone as confused as a Jewish pig. The whole thing feels like something your edgy thirteen year old cousin would write while listening to early My Chemical Romance albums. The presence of Combichrist, a band so edgy your ears might start self-harming, doesn’t help.

city2

Please don’t self-harm with a seven foot scythe. Do it with crayons.

It all reeks of edge lord ego with any semblance of self-awareness drained away, which makes a whole lot of sense when you realise it was the first game written and directed solely by Mr Tameem Antoniades, a man who once said “if I do my job properly, [it will] break the myth that all videogame stories are trite and will never stand up to the best that theatre and film have to offer”. Cheers Tameem. You didn’t. It doesn’t. It’s shit.

The enduring image for me in DmC is when, during the groan-inducing masturbatory studio tour in the credits, one of the devs slowly rides off on a skateboard while flipping the bird at the camera. The creators thought they were doing something so smart and cool, so progressive and punk rock, so deep and clever. All they did, though, was make an action game.

Better luck next time.

angels

Maybe take out the finger-handgun-penis routine as well, that won’t have helped.

The Seven Deadly Sins – An Anime Review

First of all, I feel I should point out that I’m a bit of a dick. I can be nit-picky, I can be sweary, or I can just start ragging on something for no apparent reason. I say this because I feel that the first season of The Seven Deadly Sins is something that probably doesn’t deserve an absolute hammering but is most likely going to get one anyway. I still can’t get over the fact that there’s a pig that is also a hill.

a pig that is also a hill

Pictured: a pig that is also a hill. With a pub on it.

So what is The Seven Deadly Sins? Well, going in I assumed it would be a charming, swashbuckling remix of things like Dragon Quest, Zelda, and One Piece; a bit of adventuring here, a bit of wholesome pirating there, all silly fun with no major repercussions. This impression was only strengthened by a main character that looks identical to every non-tunic’d Link you will ever see, and the squawky, bouncy, malleable, nails-on-a-chalkboard-annoying bloody pig bloody sidekick that looks like those ones at the start of Wind Waker you can chuck around at the kids with the massive bogeys (you know the ones). Turns out this isn’t the case, and instead it’s Bleach in the Middle Ages as told by Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.

The set-up is that a group of Holy Knights called The Seven Deadly Sins are rumoured to have killed their leader in an attempted coup before disappearing into hiding. Ten years later, a random girl with preposterously massive breasts falls over in a tavern and sets in motion a chain of events that sees the Sins re-unite and attempt to clear their name, all whilst uncovering the standard sinister plot within the upper hierarchy that aims to do something that isn’t really ever clear at any point in all honesty.

king ban

Before we start, I should stress that there are a lot of cool looking things in this show. A child impaling a backup dancer is one of them, apparently.

Unfortunately, there are many things that are wrong with The Seven Deadly Sins. It has tonal issues, pacing issues, plotting issues, dialogue issues, visual design issues… it’s one of those irritating Code Geass situations where a fairly insignificant part of pretty much everything is consistently and repeatedly a bit off, meaning nothing ever quite feels ‘right’ despite it seeming really pretty good on the surface. It’s a shame, because once the immersion is broken, every single problem stands out like a house fire.

Firstly, and most obviously, there seems to be no cohesive vision for the character designs: Blondie looks like a homeless Hobbit  version of Edward Elric; Crying Girl is dressed as a sexy fondant cupcake with a stocking missing; Giant Pigtail Lady comes in a bright orange mech pilot bodysuit with the legs cut off to show her arse a bit more round the edges; Abs Man is Grimmjow moonlighting as a Michael Jackson striptease artist; Whiny Floating Child is South Park by way of Naruto; Tumblr Bait Skinny Boy is just Uryu Ishida with pink hair, even going so far as to copy his personality and special weapon of an energy bow that shoots light; and all the knights are from your generic swords and sorcery armoured goon show, but with more boob windows, abs, and thigh gaps. By the time the Boar Sin of Gluttony arrives as a Victoria’s Secret model in a G-string and a dinner jacket they’ve just completely given up. If it wasn’t for the thigh high boots she would pretty much just be wearing censor bars.

Dawn_Roar_preparing_to_fight_the_Sins

Alright, so we’ve got a female Templar with a bent sword and too much thigh, a bored Robin Hood, a tweenage Samurai, mecha-Baloo with a giant pizza cutter, and heavy metal Casey Jones with a red satin thong stretched over his shoulder, enormous pink washing-up gloves, and a… weapon, of some sort. Consistency?

It’s a very vibrant and colourful show, which combined with the ‘distinctive’ character designs means everything looks strangely fake and plastic. It’s all a bit too well produced, a bit too polished. Whenever I see any of these people interacting all I can see are vinyl collectable figurines bumping into each other on a shiny tablecloth. Call me cynical (please), but I can only assume that the original character designs were all done independently at different times for marketing purposes, before being quickly squeezed into a plot to form this semi-competent flip-flop of comedy and drama that I like to describe delicately, and with class, as blithering nonsense.

This brings me to the writing. It’s lazy. As lazy as a very lazy simile, which is very lazy indeed, let me tell you. The only excuse I can think of is that it’s probably stuffing too much manga into not enough show until the pacing snaps and it all goes a bit wacky at the angles. An actual plot only drunkenly lumbers into view in about episode sixteen of twenty four, with a helpful bit of exposition that turns one of the various Slightly Evil Dudes into the Main Evil Dude, finally giving us an actual villain with an actual plan. It all feels like a first draft by someone who was making it up as they went along, perhaps translated from a different dialect on a different planet through a sophisticated combination of hand signals and panicked shouts.

The major plot beats just sort of happen out of nowhere with very little foreshadowing, such as the time fucking King Arthur of Camelot appears without any of the constituent parts of that title being said at any point prior to his introduction. It would be like if Bleach brought out Nikola Tesla in the middle of an episode to talk about how he created a laser space shuttle that can turn the moon upside down. He’d also be crying, because that happens a lot as well.

Elizabeth_falling_while_serving

Like, a lot.  A really, very, very big lot.

More wonky storytelling occurs when, towards the end of the season, several incredibly major action sequences are hijacked by the fifteen minute exposition fairies who throw flashbacks at you until you care slightly more about why the fight’s supposed to be happening. This is obviously much, much improved over the tried and true method of, say, sprinkling small bits of exposition throughout the series to keep intrigue high and boredom low, instead of fucking off to a beer and fighting festival for like six episodes where you just spend time slamming your cocks around to see who can make the biggest crater in that cliff over there.

Even the dialogue doesn’t escape unharmed; it’s a constant deluge of slightly bizarre sentences that doesn’t really mesh or develop character as such, rather just shout what’s happening at a breakneck pace in order to keep everyone roughly abreast of the plot that nobody actually knows. Any world building or backstory is lumped in with the throwaway intro narration that’s really hard to follow since it keeps jumping around in time like Doc Brown on a particularly rough weekend.

The practical outcome of all of this is that I have no idea what’s going on, who’s involved at what level of government, what the governing system actually is, what the time scale is, why some Holy Knights are evil for no apparent reason, or where the hell the Fairies and Giants come into it (fun fact, there is exactly one Giant in the entire series, making me question if it wasn’t just a weird perspective trick the whole time). Compare this to something like Fullmetal Alchemist, where I know exactly how the country works and so can follow the schemes of the villains in their plans to royally fuck it all up. Here, all I know is that sometimes people are evil and sometimes people are dressed as bugs.

Weird_Fangs_Anime

Clockwise from top left: King Boo bolted to a Texas Longhorn; Ariados; a boss character from Bayonetta; and a bad day with a ball of yarn.

OK, so maybe the structure isn’t very well thought out, but the action itself is good, right? Well… shit, not really.

I’ll give some examples.

There’s a sequence where the main character traps a villain, who’s secret power is turning invisible, in a basement to make the latter stop pursuing the heroic female companion. This is so they can have a nice dust up without our hero having to look over his shoulder for her the entire time, since she’s such a strong character who definitely isn’t a pathetic useless crying bleating wailing waif the whole time. Literally four seconds after this they bust out the side of the building into the street in broad daylight and this big dumb idiot with her stonking honkers comes running out with squawky pork in tow to have a conversation. This pig sidekick has done nothing but squeal and make atrociously ham-fisted (smirk) pork puns because pigs are har har funny bacon. Neither combatant is restrained or cornered, so the villain could just pick her up and leg it, but instead he turns invisible and gets on a horse, which isn’t invisible, and runs away on that, riding off into the distance and consequently straight out of the plot.

There’s also that time our heroes have to fight their way through a bunch of eminently beatable cannon fodder, but instead of smacking them around they pull an ex-machina out of their collective arse and go into sneaky stealth mode around some chest high walls to avoid them all. Something in the near distance explodes, throwing rubble a few hundred feet up into the air directly in their line of sight. Someone asks “what was that”, and receives the ever helpful answer of “it was over there”. They all decide to get angry again and charge at the source of the explosion with the amazing idea that “the fastest way [to win] is to wipe them all out”.

Quick question – why did you start sneaking around people if you were just going to beat them all up anyway as part of the plan? Never mind the actual plot, even moment to moment interactions are impossible to keep up with.

pig and link

Side note, I fucking hate this pig.

Some other dumb things: there’s a ten year gap built into the plot but everyone still looks between the ages of four and fifteen at all times; of the Seven Deadly Sins we never actually meet the seventh, and one or two are so pointless it might as well just be four; the opening credits manage to spoil a boat load of characters that aren’t introduced for ages, ruining any impact their debuts might have had; there’s a giant conch shell that lives in a basement and can grant wishes that is mentioned twice and shown once; some people have moral difficulties with killing the same guy for what is ostensibly the third time; a character appears and is then immediately killed off for a dramatic impact that falls completely flat for obvious reasons; and one character offhandedly whistles a dog into existence from another dimension that can teleport whatever he eats to wherever you want to go. This was a vehicle to get an arse shot of a woman in a leotard. I was… struggling at this point.

cool armor (grr)

Can we just go back to these cool looking things from the intro please? Hm, what’s that? They never appear in the actual show? Oh…

In summary, The Seven Deadly Sins is alright. It was incredibly, nigglingly, frustratingly annoying at times, but the actual direction, production, animation, and music are all really good. The fight scenes in particular would be fantastic fist-pumping moments if there was any character to back it up, but that’s been lost in a sea of tits and primary colours. If you don’t care about or notice plot holes, the loud game of exposition hot potato doesn’t get your goat, and you’re not put off by the scattergun character design then you’ll probably quite enjoy it, but for me it just became infuriating. There’s a pig that is also a hill, for crying out loud.

In a scene near the end, a character gets up after having a massive hole blasted in their chest and punches a giant soldier head over heels in one blow. The line that accompanies this? “I recommend not over-thinking things”. Touché.

slide large

There’s also this weird curio in one of the opening titles where someone in the editing department doesn’t know how to zoom layers properly. Look at these slidey arseholes slip-slidin’ around. It’s like they’re on a bar of soap.

A Word On… Why I Watch Professional Wrestling

 (Originally published in Issue #5 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in March 2016. Read that version here, on pages 36-39.)

Some things can be hard to explain – quantum physics, the offside rule, why some women go to the bathroom in small herds rather than, as one would reasonably expect, individually. Do they need moral support? Are there bodyguards? Is there some complicated hive mind thing going on where their minds automatically flip to BATHROOM mode like a weird urinary Roomba? Anyway.

One thing that’s often been the trickiest to explain, however, is the appeal of professional wrestling. While still a big deal on TV and in pop culture, it’s never quite managed to shake some of the stigma associated with it over the years. It’s a combat sport without the competition, some decry. It’s stupid, gross, and fake, others calumniate. Where’s my sandwich, asks Bob. To these diverse and varyingly valid arguments, however, I say this: that’s the point. Professional wrestling is not supposed to be a sport; it’s a wildly varied circus stunt show dressed up as the already ludicrous world of professional boxing mixed with car crash American TV, and your sandwich is in your lunchbox Bob. Where else would it be.

punk_cena

The worlds most outrageous hug.

Because it’s a pre-determined ‘sport’, wrestling shows are a unique kind of TV, where they can essentially tell any story they want as long as it ends in two people throwing each other over their heads and into tables. Wrestling characters are by and large fairly simple, denoted as either a heel (bad guy) or babyface (good guy) with a few marketable character quirks around it to get over with (get a reaction from) the crowd. These ‘gimmicks’ as they’re known include the red and yellow ‘Hulkamania’ of Hulk Hogan, Kurt Angle the Olympic gold medallist, and literally every part of John Cena’s clothing, vocabulary and anatomy.

This way, it becomes fairly easy to get people to care about two people having a fight – the heel does something horrible to the babyface/his friends/his family/his gerbil or whatever, the babyface wants revenge, you tease them fighting for a month or so then have a big blowoff match where you get to make a load of money and roll around in it like Scrooge McDuck in the Federal Reserve.

Some great angles have revolved around relationships, such as the time a very real backstage affair was made public in the form of Matt Hardy and Edge feuding over Lita, or the famous breakup of the Mega Powers where Randy Savage became paranoid about Hulk Hogan’s blossoming relationship with Savage’s valet Elizabeth, subsequently turning heel on his tag partner. Shawn Michaels v Chris Jericho  began due to a simple dispute over match tactics, and Hogan v Andre the Giant was just because Andre wanted to beat up a sweaty clay-man with a ridiculous moustache. These feuds are all fondly remembered, and feature motives no more confusing  than “I think you’re a bit of a twat, mate”.

austin_mcmahon

Pictured: a twat, mate.

This is all a rather simple way of writing storylines and is proven to work, but given wrestling companies tend to be run by billionaire carnies with the emotional intelligence of a satsuma, the people in charge can sometimes get bored of normalcy and instead do something bugger nuts ballistic. For instance, there was that time a giant turkey thing hatched out of an egg halfway through the same show an undead wizard/zombie/gravedigger man made his debut. This ‘undertaker’, as some called him, would go on to become one of the biggest ever stars in professional wrestling and a pop culture icon, despite having a midlife crisis where he fell madly in love with motorbikes and started wearing leather vests and bandanas. Thankfully, the turkey didn’t last the month.

This is where the car crash nature of wrestling comes in – wrestling ability is certainly a large factor, but fan interest in a feud will only really ignite because of the storytelling. While a good story can make for amazing programming, a bad story becomes amazing for completely different reasons.

Some infamously awful examples: two Mexican best friends beating each other up with ladders to decide who got custody of a small child; a man climbing into a casket to shag a mannequin before holding up some goo and saying ‘I screwed her brains out’; the current WWE power couple initially getting together by one drugging, kidnapping and marrying the other without their consent; a Viagra on a Pole match; a tag match where one of the participants is God; an old woman giving birth to a hand; a man being buried in a desert in Nevada for several months; the male tag team champions at one point consisting of a wrestler and his mother; a tournament where more points were awarded for kidnapping an audience member than winning a match; a character called Mr Ass who’s gimmick is exactly what you think it is; a Hog Pen match wherein the winner is the first to throw his opponent into a pig pen filled with mud and shit; and a reverse battle royal, where everyone started outside the ring and raced to get in it. How that match managed to last more than 3 seconds I have no idea.

wtf_vince

Here’s an unrelated picture of Donald Trump shaving Vince McMahon’s head. Ignore the nearly naked black man with creamy hands, he’s not important.

While this sort of writing can be entertaining in retrospect,  viewing it live makes it crystal clear that nobody has any idea what they’re doing. This combined with incredibly stubborn management that seems to actively enjoy doing precisely the opposite of what fans want can be frustrating and often boring, such as the current attempt to push (make fans warm to) Roman Reigns as the next big hero character despite looking like a greasy Expendables villain and being the least talented of a very well regarded trio.

Roman’s push has been going on for about 18 months by now and has never even begun to look like working; he has the charisma of a large plank of wood with a drawing of The Rocks face glued on it upside down, has about three moves of which one is called the god damn Superman Punch, and he gets to wear bulletproof armour in his matches for some reason. This last part is a rather apt metaphor for how management is treating him at the moment, and the fans have just about had enough and started booing the piss out of him. Management has responded by muting the crowd. Genius.

roman

Someone once had a sign saying ‘Roman is a wank pheasant’. Can’t argue, really.

Due to the clashing styles of PG TV and management not being able to evolve their ideas beyond things done twenty years ago when you could show boobs and poop on screen and nobody cared, the WWE is currently in a lean period of too much empty predictable nothingness happening on their shows. Luckily, it’s not the only game in town – promotions like Ring of Honor, New Japan and Lucha Underground have had room to breathe away from mainstream attention and corporate sponsors, and have turned out much the better for it.

Lucha Underground especially isn’t really a wrestling show. It’s headed by Robert Rodriguez of all people and portrays a strange noir Aztec meta-show (it’s a TV show about a wrestling show, for all extents and purposes), played relatively straight but with a knowing Grindhouse-esque mentality about how ridiculous the whole thing is. There’s a phoenix, a dragon, the living embodiment of death itself, and a man called Prince Puma who’s spirit animal is the jaguar. It’s oddly brilliant, and something completely different to the often flavourless corporate wallpaper paste of WWE.

lucha_underground

Warning: may contain traces of very silly trousers.

You may have noticed I’ve barely mentioned the act of physically wrestling in this article. Put simply, most modern wrestlers are fantastic. While the overall shift from “do things that don’t hurt but look like they do” to “hurt yourself immensely but pretend you’re fine” is generally a bad thing, both for wrestlers health and the minds of the audience, wrestling nowadays is a much more athletic venture than in the 80s and 90s. People like Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk helped to shift the tide away from immobile giants like King Kong Bundy and The Great Khali, with a new emphasis on mat moves and technical grappling. It’s almost as if you should be good at wrestling to be a professional wrestler, and not just be really really really tall.

The best wrestlers need more than just moves, however; legends like Shawn Michaels, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart, Ric Flair and The Undertaker know it’s a constant performance from the moment you enter the arena to the moment you leave, and all the little things such as facial expressions, body language, and selling moves to make them look more dangerous than they are make you forget it’s all pre-determined and they’re not actually trying to hurt each other. Watching a match often requires significant suspension of disbelief, especially when a lot of moves are set up by one wrestler not being able to stop running, but when you’re invested in a match it can be exhilarating.

bret_hart_sharpshooter

This probably hurts, but to be honest I can’t really tell what’s happening. Are those legs?

So back to the title; why do I watch professional wrestling? Well, I watch it to see impressive physical feats of strength and endurance. I watch it to be engrossed in storylines, both wacky and serious. I watch it to see what’s coming next for my favourite wrestlers. I watch it because it’s a pantomime, a comic book, a soap opera with powerslams, almost a parody of sports in general. It often gets looked down upon, sometimes with extremely good reason. But I watch it, basically, because it’s fun.

Oh and Brock Lesnar’s fucking massive.

bork

He’s like a bear made out of gammon steaks. It’s terrifying.

A Word On… Modern Visual Media and Why They Suck

 (Originally published in Issue #4 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in November 2015. Read that version here, on pages 12-15.)

Why does everything have to be a movie? Don’t get me wrong I like movies, but whenever a book, game or even TV show becomes a hit there’s instantly talk of when the movie version’s coming out. It’s indicative of the steaming pile of sequel factory bullshit the blockbuster movie industry has found itself in, and videogames aren’t far behind either.

For starters there are books that have absolutely no right to become movies, like the unbearable Fifty Shades of Grey. Like any film based on sex, it would have either had to be Pornhub: Extended Cut or two pasty personality sieves gawping at a dildo for two hours in various vaguely hospitable settings. However, the critical issue with Fifty Shades is that the book is absolute putrified garbage, written as fan fiction to fucking Twilight of all things before they changed some character names around and fed it to sex hungry mums whose husbands were too busy eating mud and kicking themselves in the testicles to notice they were married. If a book is lacking in plot, characters, material that can actually be released in a cinema, or general noticeable quality, then it has no purpose being a film. It’d be like trying to make an action thriller based on the contents of my shower drain.

storytelling-shades

If it’s not just a shit adaptation of shit material then it’s movie execs wringing as much money out of a franchise as they can. Endless sequels, prequels and duringquels effectively split one story into eleventy billion parts for maximum dollar and minimum customer satisfaction. Harry Potter started the trend and sort of got away with it since the book was legitimately too big, but since then films have been all too happy to stall for time like lawyers at a strippers wedding. The second Hunger Games film was the movie equivalent of a fat moggy getting stuck in its own catflap, Twilight existed for about 8 films longer than it should have, the Marvel cinematic universe is currently making movies just because it needs to keep existing, and The Hobbit padded a fairly short book with mine cart races and stoner wizards. Modern movie franchises are like public bus services; short journeys, loads of stops, irritatingly expensive, and a decent chance of finding a homeless man masturbating with a paper bag in the back row.

But while book-to-film adaptations are getting progressively stupid and pointless like when a dear relative passes into their ninth decade, videogames have a much more chronic problem; they’re beginning to think they are movies. Little Jimmy Ubisoft likes to dress in Momma Paramount’s dresses on occasion and is slowly hatching a plan to kill her off in a freak golfing accident so he can replace her in society, even though he’s about 8 and smells of Wotsits and fear.

Games publishers talk bullshit. When a game claims it’s ‘cinematic’ it means it has expensive graphics. When a game claims it’s ’emotional’ it means it has an over-complicated, under-acted story. When a game claims it’s ‘immersive’, it means it’s paranoid about being shit and praising itself for doing its job. Listen: if your game is not immersive then your game is bad. Immersion is broken by inconsistencies, so if the players are noticing physics glitches and graphical weirdness or it controls like a crab at the helm of a 747 it’s going to pull you out of the experience no matter what the experience was to begin with. If you advertise a visual media as ‘immersive’ you may as well advertise the fact that it makes pictures appear on a screen.

storytelling-tombraider

‘Cinematic’ is even worse. It means nothing and screams of the desperation of marketing departments trying to ride the coattails of a medium they passed by in profitability somewhere in 2009. More worryingly, however, it implies that marketers or developers or whoever think that visuals are the only important part of a film. If this was the case every film would just be a procession of flashy lights, tits, and fireworks. I can’t be certain, but other than some experimental student art films I highly doubt there has ever been a movie that hasn’t at least tried to tell a story of some kind, no matter if it was good or not. A film can look decent while still being absolute shit, such as every single thing Michael Bay has ever done in his entire career, but the best films have more than that: an excellent plot, clever use of music and set design, good dialogue etc. When a game claims  it’s ‘cinematic’ it’s often artistically good at a level of shallowness not offered by most tea-trays. Controls and gameplay don’t matter since people don’t need to play it, only sit entranced by a giant noisy screen while their body fat slowly fuses to their seat.

Then there’s the insanity of transferring a videogame franchise into a film, which boggles the mind. Videogames aren’t particularly known for their excellent storytelling, and if one is it’s often at the expense of gameplay complexities, like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons or The Walking Dead series. If a game has an excellent story in its own right then a film spin-off is pointless, as the story has already been told in a visual medium so all you’d be doing is removing any user interaction and throwing Ryan Reynolds in for Nolan North. On the other hand, if it hasn’t told a good story then you’re removing the pop-ups from a pop-up book and leaving behind a story nobody cared about in the first place. Films that tell a different story but set in the same universe are fine and have the potential to be interesting provided they don’t magic up a story out of thin air using a franchise name, of which Battleship is the logical stupidity black hole. If all you’re going to do though is regurgitate the same Mass Effect story with no customisation or moral choice then at least one of the creative teams involved has wasted literally years of their life.

Even ignoring all of that, why is cinema the bastion of quality anyway? There’s nothing intrinsically better about films than games or books, and the industry is now as bloated and overconfident as Jabba the Hutt. The critically ‘best’ films aren’t the most successful and the most successful are normally pretty crap. Transformers 4 grossed over a billion worldwide but is so absolutely atrocious in almost every possible way I wouldn’t be surprised if  Michael Bay was just seeing what he could get away with without being fired. The reason Marvel has taken over the box office isn’t because their films are universally amazing must-sees, it’s because they deliver a solid, consistent 6.5 out of 10 every time, with the occasional 8 sneaking in there to make up for the hopeless gibberish that was Iron Man 3. Marvel has made a TV series in the cinema, so people want to come back and watch more of their favourite characters get into hijinks in their armoured pyjamas. Unfortunately now every studio wants to do this, and it’s absolutely not going to work.

storytelling-transformers

To sum up – pretentiousness runs through the industry like a clogged artery through an obese dog stuck in a McFlurry machine, the majority of content is trash of the highest degree and the good stuff is either lost in the crowd or swiftly dogpiled by the higher ups for sequels if they made any chunk of money at all. While that may very well be a description of modern Hollywood, it’s also a perfect example of the giants of the videogame industry. Two of the biggest media industries on the planet are circling each other down the drain with blinkers bigger than Quentin Tarantino’s ego, caring little if at all for customer satisfaction or end quality. If that’s not a terrifying thought, then… well, go and watch Pan’s Labyrinth or something. I heard it was scary.

Read more of Cobalt magazine here, and check out their blog here.