Friday 8 June 2018

Kirby Star Allies ★★★☆☆

Gee, I hope I can think of a Kirby pun that doesn’t suck...

Can you believe that despite being a fan favourite for over 25 years, there’s never been a traditional Kirby platformer title released in HD? Like most of us, the pink blob skipped on the Wii U and finally finds himself getting long overdue graphical upgrade in Kirby Star Allies, available on the Nintendo Switch. 

But pixel prowess aside, will the classic gameplay hold up in 2018? Will I ever find out what Kirby actually is? Read on to find out.

The Good 

What makes Kirby Star Allies stand out from other recent platformers released by triple-A publishers is its heavy focus on local co-op. Up to four players can jump in and out of gameplay seamlessly, with players 2 to 4 taking the role of former enemies, who have been brainwashed by big cartoon hearts (it’s Nintendo, just roll with it). In a culture when gaming is becoming more isolated, this really does harken back to a time in which gaming was a more traditionally social pastime. 

What’s more, the HD treatment of Kirby is nothing short of brilliant. While obviously not trying to match the technical superiority of the Xbox One of PS4, Nintendo have worked their magic yet again to create a game that is as charming as it is vivid. If I were a decidedly more ‘weeb-ish’ individual, I’d describe it as kawaii.

The Bad 

With that being said, the amount of bombastic action can make it hard to keep on top of what’s going on on the tablet screen; a problem that is exacerbated with more players. My advice? If you’re playing with friends, keep it docked.

However, if you do decide to break out multiplayer (you really should), be aware that there’s a slight imbalance between player 1 and 2 to 4. Player 1 assumes the role of Kirby, with everyone else taking brainwashed foes; only Kirby can use his traditional arsenal of sucking and shooting enemies, likewise only his death will result in being thrown back to the last checkpoint. Although this could lead to the age-old squabble of who gets the first controller, for parents looking to share classic games with their kids, it does negate the necessity for everyone to know all the nuanced controls for Kirby.

Finally, the nostalgic appeal of the game is almost to a fault, as there’s not much to be found that hasn’t existed in previous Kirby titles. The first two worlds, Grass Land and Planet Popstar will be remarkably familiar to longtime fans of the series, and co-op multiplayer has been a feature of the series for over 10 years. If anything, Kirby Star Allies works to reacquaint fans with the franchise, but the next title must be more of a departure.

The Verdict

Kirby Star Allies is one of the most engaging, true multiplayer experiences of the year so far, and is a delight for old and new fans of the franchise alike. It certainly doesn’t tread any new ground, but for Kirby’s first title on the Switch, it’s still enjoyable to get to grips with the pink blob all over again.

Sir Thomas Baker

Kirby Star Allies at CeX

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Wednesday 6 June 2018

Samsung Galaxy S9 / S9+ ★★★★★

The Galaxy S9 & S9+ launched shortly after being displayed at the MWC earlier this year with similar pricing as last year’s flagship S8. Samsung also made sure this time there were enough differences in the 2 models like Apple (and unlike Google) which is not something I personally like because it says the bigger / larger model is more a full spec’d flagship than the base.

The design stays the same glass and metal combo but just looks like a better version of last year’s S8 with smoother curves and edges and an almost bezel-less screen. The S9 has a 5.8” display while the S9+ is a 6.2” with Super AMOLED panels and 18.5:9 aspect ratio. The fingerprint sensor has finally managed to settle down under the camera rather than the side. There’s always been a heart rate sensor next to the lens for a few years if you didn’t know! The Bixby button is still there and besides increased understanding of your voice commands it’s upgraded itself with new languages (live translations) and the camera helps you identify how many carbs and fats your meal contain (you really don’t wanna know!).

The phone is available in 4 colours: Lilac Purple, Midnight Black, Titanium Grey & Coral Blue, while the S9 has 4GB of RAM, the S9+ has 6GB and both have a minimum of 64Gb storage space which can go up to 256Gb plus a micro-SD card slot that can support upto 100 Blu Ray movies (if that’s your thing...). Both phones are also water and dust resistant so you can take them for a swim up to 30 minutes. You get Oreo out of the box and Samsung’s own Experience 9 UI skin on top which is now faster than ever and with less bloatware than ever! With tons of customisation options and Always On display you’ll never get bored of it. Iris Scanner and face recognition have been in Android devices for ages and here the accuracy increases so your face is recognised even if you have a beard. In case it fails you still have the fingerprint sensor (Insert Apple iPhone X joke here).

In terms of performance and multimedia management there’s nothing the S9 & S9+ can’t do. You can throw the heaviest of files, videos or games at it and it’ll score like Ronaldo in each and every one of them. Coming on to the camera or cameras (in case of the S9+ that is) which the company has been raving about for ages, which has the first ever dual aperture lens. The lens actually opens and closes physically when you change the aperture before clicking a picture either to capture brighter images in low light or to have the bokeh/background blur effects (along with the second camera). Overall the S9+ (and the Samsung Note 8) have the best cameras on any phone right now and can give the iPhone X a run for its money. The other most hyped feature is the super slow-mo @ 960fps which Sony has done in the past and Samsung does get pretty close to. Front cameras are 8MP which do a decent job but not close to the Pixel 2 yet.

There’s also an AR Emoji feature which I rather not talk about. They are a low budget copy of the Animojis and that is that. If you own the S8 or S8+, ignore the S9 / S9+. If you need a better camera to replace any older phones go for it if you have the budget. Personally, I’ll wait for the Huawei P20 Pro launching with 3 cameras! 

Pritesh Khilnani

Samsung Galaxy S9 / S9+ at CeX

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Monday 4 June 2018

Paddington 2 ★★★★★

We live in dark times. It seems like everywhere you look, there’s hate, political incompetence and general tragedy. The world is on a slippery slope. But every now and then, sometimes comes along to make us forget all this pain and remind us that no matter how old we get, a talking bear eating a sandwich is the answer to all our problems. Back on Friday 17th April 2015, my review of the first Paddington film was published on the CeX blog. A whole 3 years later, I’m reviewing the sequel. I am older, I am wiser, and yet I’m still wishing there were more than 5 stars to throw at Paddington’s adventures. This is a simply perfect film.

Boasting a perfect 100% from almost 200 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, Paddington 2 is that rare experience that is simply impossible to criticise in any way. Every single second of the film is so lovingly crafted and performed, and full of such joy, that my face was actually hurting by the end from smiling too much. I’ve always been a big kid – hell, I still love Sesame Street – but Paddington doesn’t feel like children’s entertainment. It is a totally ageless and accessible film that feels made for absolutely everybody. This film could end wars.

Picking up where the first film ended, Paddington the lovable titular talking bear is a popular member of the community who spreads joy and marmalade wherever he goes. One fine day, he spots a pop-up book in Jim Broadbent’s shop -- the perfect present for his beloved aunt's 100th birthday. When a dastardly thief (played by Hugh Grant in a BAFTA-nominated performance) steals the prized book, Paddington embarks on a quest to unmask the culprit before Aunt Lucy's big celebration. Of course, madcap mayhem ensues, and lessons are learned…and tears will be shed, primarily of joy. 

This is a difficult film to review because I could sit here all day and just list the things that are perfect about this film – and as that is everything, we could be here a while. But hey ho, let’s go for it. The company logos are perfect! The opening credits are perfect! The first scene is perfect!...

In all seriousness, every second I spend writing this review could be better spent rewatching the film. And every second you spend reading this? Well, you know what to do. Pick up the DVD or Blu-ray, stick it in your player, and enjoy. Awaken your inner child and leave that old hateful cynic at the door. If you don’t love this film, seek medical attention because I think there’s a strong possibility you’ve got a serious problem with your soul.

This is a stunningly beautiful and charming film that makes me proud to be British. I’d happily take another Paddington film every year for the rest of my life, because with such a strong creative team and talented performers, you just know the quality would never dip. Last summer, Michael Bond – Paddington’s creator – passed away at the age of 91. I can’t imagine a more loving and fitting tribute than this masterpiece of a film. Stop whatever you’re doing and join Paddington on his adventure. You’ll thank me later. 

Sam Love

Paddington at CeX

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Saturday 2 June 2018

Insidious: The Last Key ☆☆☆☆☆

Another year, another Insidious. In the current cinema climate, it seems nobody can make a horror film without Hollywood seeing franchise potential and milking the film’s udders until they’re raw. It’s been happening since the good old days of Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers and Chucky – but now almost every single well-received original horror film is the beginning of a franchise that steadily decreases in quality until it becomes unbearable. It’s hard to believe that the first Insidious film was released a whole 8 years ago, and we’re still having the films stuffed down our throats. The Last Key, the fourth and hopefully final film in the saga, is what we’re going to talk about today.

You all know the story. We follow a paranormal investigator who must deal with spooky spectres and bland character development. Elise Rainier, who has thus far appeared in all entries in the saga, receives a phone call from a man who claims that his house is haunted. Even more disturbing is the address, which we learn to be the home where Elise grew up as a child. Accompanied by her two investigative partners, Rainier travels to her old home to confront and destroy her greatest fear -- the demon that she accidentally set free years earlier. If you’ve seen any supernatural horror film ever, you’ve seen this. While franchise star Lin Shaye is on top form – and it’s so refreshing to have a horror heroine who isn’t a young blonde running around in a tight vest – there really isn’t anything to recommend about The Last Key.

I interrupt this interview to bring you some sad news. Due to the overwhelming box office success of The Last Key, a fifth Insidious film is in development. Thanks a lot, cinema goers. You’ve brought this on yourself. Consider the budget of an Insidious film. The Last Key, for example, cost $10 million. Think of all the ways that could’ve been put into combatting hunger or disease. Instead, it is spent on 103 minutes of tripe. That’s roughly $97 grand a minute….

Anyway, back to The Last Key itself. It really saddens me that these generic horror films are still made so frequently when the genre has recently delivered such richly inspired and original fares like Get Out and A Quiet Place. This is all jump scares and ghosts with seemingly no motivation being nasty bastards and haunting our heroes. A horror film of this nature lives or dies on the strength of the atmosphere and the scares. But when the atmosphere is almost non-existent, and we’re left only with jump after jump, there is no fear in our hearts. Anyone can sneak up on an unsuspecting bystander and crash cymbals behind their head and make them shit themselves, but is there really any cold, hard fear there?

Insidious: The Last Key is tantamount to that. There’s no fright here. Just jumps. Brent McKnight of the Seattle Times said it best - “horror franchises don't die, they unspool tepid, uninspired sequels in perpetuity”. Amen to that, Brent. The Last Key has absolutely nothing to offer to the genre or even the bland franchise in which it exists. If you’ve seen the first 3 films and inexplicably are hungry for more, then go for it. But if you’re a self-respecting horror fan, steer clear. This is just another insult to horror’s rich history that doesn’t deserve to be uttered in the same breath as a John Carpenter or Wes Craven creation. Avoid. Insidious: The Last Key may not be the end of this tired franchise, but hopefully it is the beginning of the end. 

Sam Love

Insidious at CeX

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