Monday, 8 February 2016

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4

If you're not already a fan of the series, you may well be looking at this title with tired eyes and thinking “yet another animé beat 'em up, where do all these bloody things come from?”. But such a dismissive statement is tragically, epically, explosively out of place here. But, er, it is a beat 'em up based on a manga and animé series.

Again developed by CyberConnect2 and out now only for PS4, Xbox One and PC, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (try saying that even once while you're drunk) marks the series' debut on the more powerful current-gen consoles. It's always been a good-looking game, but this is flippin' gorgeous. It doesn't quite look like you're controlling an episode of Naruto – this is 3D models versus 2D animation cels, after all – but it's as close as you could possibly hope for. This is an extremely rare example of a game looking just as good as it does in trailers and screenshots.

Series fans already know what to expect to an extent and, let's face it guys and gals, you're all going to buy this no matter what. Everybody else; you know what Naruto is, right? If not, it's one of the most popular manga franchises ever, which spawned a truly epic 220 episode TV series. There's no way I can cover all the intricacies of the story here, but it has: ninjas, giant supernatural creatures, incredible powers, stacks of fights, and lots of people running toward one another screaming “aaaaAAAAHHHHH”. That's all you need to know for now.

At its core, yes, NS:UNS4 is a one-on-one beat 'em up. Fights take place in 3D arenas you're free to move around in, though, and the controls are wildly different to what you might be used to. There's just one standard attack button, with your chakra (for those unfamiliar with Naruto: let's just say Blue Glow) being the most important element. Your chakra gauge is depleted each time you launch a special attack, generally do something especially ninjaesque, or even counterattack. You can refill it any time by holding down the relevant button, but this leaves you open to attack. Also: shurikens!

In addition to (hopefully) self-explanatory Free Battle and Survival modes, you get Story and Adventure modes. Story mode covers the canon Naruto saga via static anime scenes, fully animated cutscenes using the amazing in-game graphics, and lots and lots of spoken dialogue delivered by the original actors (available in both English and Japanese). Oh, and a great many fights too, of course. Most of these will incorporate support characters which you can switch to and/or call in for a few seconds of support, subject to cooldown periods. It's best appreciated by Naruto fans, but does an admirable job of explaining most (if not all) of what's going on to the ignorant.

Adventure mode follows on immediately after Story mode, and is a sort of RPG-lite experience. You'll be able to wander around locations from the series between fights, talking to NPCs and buying helpful items in shops. This mode serves to fill in some story details and important fights that weren't squeezed into Story mode, and provides yet more hours of solo content (albeit without spoken dialogue). As preposterously generous as the game is offline, there's also an online mode of course. Almost every fight I had was as super smooth as offline, but make no mistake: if you have no experience and/or skill, you are going to get absolutely obliterated. There are both Ranked and Player (unranked) matches on offer but, unfortunately, there's no rematch offer for Ranked fights.

What we have here is a perfect marriage of a deservedly popular epic to very talented, and clearly equally passionate, developers. It's the perfect gift for any Naruto fan (provided they have a compatible gaming machine, anyway) while still somehow managing to welcome those new to the story, the game series, or both. A veritable army of characters, each one with unique attacks, is the sumptuous icing on an already unnervingly sexy cake.

Ultimate Ninja Storm-ing its way into our hearts. 5/5.


Luke Kemp

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 at CeX

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Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Visit

M. Night Shyamalan has been on a downward spiral for years. After starting his career proper with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, things were looking good. Then came Signs and The Village – not offensively bad, but not great either. And then everything went tits up. Films like The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth followed. The world was not impressed. But then, hope flickered. Shyamalan directed the first episode of TV’s Wayward Pines and executively produced the series, which looked like maybe ol’ M. Night was on his way back. Then he brought us The Visit. Oh dear…

Out now on DVD & Blu-ray, The Visit is another jewel in M. Night’s crown – that is, if he is The Shit King and the jewels on his crown are pieces of faeces. The film is an extremely unoriginal found-footage tale about two unlikeable young kids spending a week with a pair of old nutters who claim to be their grandparents. Things gets weird, jump scares happen, it ends. The closing credits remind you this was ‘directed by M. Night Shyamalan’ and you’ll find it hard to believe. Yes, M. Night has made a lot of bad films recently but this has none of the hallmarks of a Shyamalan film, be it a bad one or otherwise. And if you’re the sort of person who likes to go into a film completely blind, stop reading now. Mild spoilers lie ahead...

So what makes this film feel so un-Shyamalan? Firstly, the film has no supernatural element. At all. Shyamalan is known for this, with films like The Sixth Sense and Lady in the Water but there’s nothing here to continue this trend. Secondly, it has no cameo from Shyamalan but that’s a blessing – somebody must’ve finally told him he can’t act. Thirdly, there’s no big twist. Sorry folks, there just isn’t. What little twist there is here I predicted within the first 10 minutes. No, The Visit is just a painfully ordinary run-of-the-mill found-footage horror which could’ve been made by anyone. Think Paranormal Activity without the Paranormal.

We spend almost the entire film at ‘Nana’ and ‘Pop Pop’s house with our two young heroes, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould). Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie put in decent performances as the mad old folks but DeJonge and Oxenbould are quite astoundingly bad as the youngsters. It’s hard to tell if this is down to their talent (or lack thereof), or Shyamalan’s dreadful screenplay. He makes these kids the most irritating and unlikeable protagonists I’ve seen in years, and when the old folks started getting more aggressive I was rooting for them! The found-footage format is built around the fact these kids are making a documentary about their mother’s childhood home and her parents, so get ready for a lot of talking to the camera about shit we do not care about. We’re here to see mad old people projectile vomit and chase children around. We’re certainly not here to watch obnoxious children address the camera with boring stories about their mum who they are far too obsessed with or their dad who ran away when they were young.

M. Night Shyamalan claims this is a ‘comedy horror’. But I get the impression he says that in the same way Tommy Wiseau says The Room is intentionally a comedy. It isn’t. It’s just so laughably bad that his only excuse is “well, it was supposed to be funny”. Even the film’s official poster makes no mention of this ‘comedy’ angle, and labels it ‘an original thriller’. Still, a box office of $97.1mil against a miniscule $5mil budget shows that people still eat this up. Critically, The Visit had rather mixed reviews and it would appear I am in a minority, along with Mark Kermode, who absolutely hated it. But I stand by that. It’s just bloody rubbish.

The Visit’s afore-mentioned poster has ‘Grandma’s Rules’ as the main focal point, the first of which is ‘have a great time’. You won’t have a great time with this load of old bollocks. It’s predictable, unoriginal nonsense with two of the worst young leads I’ve seen in years and another piece of cinematic evidence that the found-footage genre is done. Probably not the worst film in Shyamalan’s filmography, but certainly the most forgettable.

There is a scene in The Visit where a mad old man rubs his shit in an innocent little boy’s face. It feels like that’s what M. Night Shyamalan is doing to us with this film. 1/5.


Sam Love

The Visit at CeX

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