It’s all been happenning lately. Little Bear rehearsals are in full swing and half of my time has been focused on rehearsals, costume hunting and line-learning while the other half has seen me glued to the internet and the reports coming in from Los Angeles and E3. My report on Nintendo’s performance at the world’s foremost interactive entertainment event is on the way, as is The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time 3D, which has me quivering with anticipation. All this has distracted me from this blog somwhat and I’m well behind in my reviewing so once again it’s time for me to apologetically cram several into one post, starting with the films.
X-Men First Class
X-Men, a superhero property I’ve always had a soft spot for, has seen its share of highs and lows on the big screen but this neat reboot comfortably registers as a high. Removing to a 1960s cold war setting First Class is a textbook prequel that chronicles the meeting of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, aka Professor X and Magneto, one of superhero comics’ foremost pairs of frenemies. Xavier (James McAvoy) is an authority on mutation a subject of particular interest to him since he possesses telepathic powers. His expertise draws the attention of the CIA who are on the tail of ex-Nazi Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who is also a target for Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), a holocaust survivor possessing the power to create magnetic fields out to wreak vengeance on the man who murdered his mother. Xavier saves Lehsherr from killing himself in pursuit of his goal and the two gradually form an unlikely friendship as they scout for mutants to join the CIA’s super secret new Division-X. Meanwhile Shaw, a mutant-supremacist commanding the ability to absorb energy plots to insite nuclear war by orchestrating the Cuban missile crisis. This dip into history lends the film a strong sense of tension and authenticity, a perfect fit for the franchise. The film’s greatest strength, surprisingly, is comedy, featuring highly amusing recruitment and training montages, great in-jokes and a perfectly judged cameo. James McAvoy appears to have a lot more fun than his reported grumblings about the script would suggest and Kevin Bacon gives a smirkingly sinister turn as the near-invincible Shaw. There are some complaints, the first few scenes don’t fit togehter very well, there are plot holes all over the place and one reel seemed to be missing a whole heap of subtitles rendering scenes in Russian a bit hard to follow but the action, characterisation, humour and acting lift the experience irriesistibly.
Kung Fu Panda 2
Animated flicks about talking animals are ten-a-penny and always have been but Dreamworks’ action-packed martial arts comedy about Panda Po’s Kung Fu misadventures stood out from the crowd for its incredible fight sequences and nicely balanced comedy. This sequel looks to make lightning strike twice as Po and the Furious Five are pitted against Lord Shen, a villainous peacock intent on destroying the world of Kung Fu, cue the necessary frantic action sequences and pratfalls. Once again Dreamworks have found their mark combining thrills and laughs. The set pieces are bigger and bolder and the story more interesting as Po struggles with flashbacks of his childhood and finally gets round to questioning why his dad is a goose. Every bit as entertianing as the first film the film rattles along at a breakneck pace full of slapstick and lightning punches while setting itself up for an intriguing threequel.
Sonic 3 (Mega Drive)
The third entry in the blue blur’s superb early series is every bit as good as its predecessors, sending you through another half dozen brilliantly designed zones varying from the tropical Angel Island to the frozen Ice Cap. It was the fastest Sonic game to date but, like all the great early titles didn’t get carried away with the speed and slowed Sonic down for some challenging, slower platform jumping sections. Its this intelligent balance between fast-paced thrills and refined precision. The game introduced some wlecome new elements such as three different shield upgrades that would grant Sonic cool new abilities and an addictive new isometric psuedo-3D special stage design that saw you tracking down blue spheres, not to mention this was the first time you could manually fly (and swim) as Tails. It was perhaps disappointingly short and the ending a bit underwhelming following Sonic the Hedgehog 2 but it made up for it with the series’ most bombasic visuals and best soundtrack to date.
out of 10
Sonic & Knuckles (Mega Drive)
The content created for Sonic 3 turned out to be too much for a single release so Sega did something a bit different with its fourth entry in the series released in the same year as the third. With all the missing zones restored Sonic & Knuckles also came on a unique cartridge that allowed you to plug Sonic 3 into it thereby unlocking Sonic 3 & Knuckles, a combination of the two games that allowed you to play through them as one for the most epic and rewarding Sonic experience ever. Not only did the game feature Knuckles as a playable character for the first time but it also boasted the best and most atmospheric level design in the series so far such as the fungal Mushroom Hill Zone and the desert themed Sandopolis Zone complete with its intense, haunted second act. The game built to the franchise’s biggest climax ever with a secret final zone unlockable for collecting all the Chaos Emeralds. This was the peak of Sonic’s once-illustrious career.
out of 10
3D Classics Excitebike
With the Nintendo 3DS eShop finally up and running Nintendo have made the first in a new line of old classics enhanced by the system’s stereoscopic 3D available. For a limited time the title is free to download making the title hard not to recommend at least for a while. Excitebike, an early NES title that has seen a handful of re-releases down the years, is a racing sim in which you must negotiate tricky linear courses against the clock or other racers. To succeed you must master changing lanes to avoid hazards performing wheelies to give you the best angle for jumps, using your turbo to give yourself the right amount of lift and angling your bike to land smoothly. It’s a tricky and often intense challenge that retro gamers will lap up. The rather basic visuals are complimented by the 3D well enough although the feature adds little to the gameplay. The sound and design are decidedly retro and the game represents an engaging if not compelling challenge but there’s really very little of it. Worth a download while it’s free but only those with fond memories of the original should consider paying for it.
out of 10