Hey Guys!

 Here it is, episode two of Read, watch, play! Available now on iTunes and Podomatic!

Just Stu and lil ol' me this week as Billy and Chris had 'real life responsibilities'.Pffffffft.

As the title suggests we talk all about Mad Max Road Fury. And by talk I actually mean gush. Like all over the place. Repeatedly. We really, really, really really, really dig this film. Plus Stu
squeezes in some quick reviews of Tommorrowland and Women in Gold and I blab about comics for a bit. In case you haven't picked it up, this is very much a 'watch' heavy episode.

If that wasn't enough to have you salivating and rushing to download the podcast then surely this will: WE HAVE ANOTHER COMPETITION!!!!! Yay Free stuff!!! obviously you have to listen to the podcast to find out how to enter.

Like last episode we say shit a few more times and there is a bit of innuendo  (Stu and I were alone in a room together, what were you expecting!??!?) so just an FYI. However unlike last time Itunes hasn't labelled it 'explicit' So it probably means it's alight I guess. I mean why would Itunes lie to you?!?!

And yes I am well aware that last week we said the next Podcast would be Witcher centric but given how comprehensive Chris' Witcher 3 review was ( check it out here) we kind of felt everything had been covered. Also Chris insists that I have to wear pants when we record the podcast and I wasn't cool with that.

Finally, before I leave you I should clarify the comic I refer to as 'World war hulks' near the end of the Podcast is actually 'Battleworld: Planet Hulk'.

Anyways get listening!

- Christof

       
Christof (@weeklygeek, Christof@geekofoz.com)

Read:  Batman vol. 5: Graveyard shift, Stumptown vol. 1, ApocalyptiGirl: an Aria for the end times
Watch: Mad Max: Fury Road

                 Stu (Stu@geekofoz.com)
Read: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone
Watch: Mad Max: Fury Road, Tommorrowland, Women in gold
Play: Bear vs. Art

For those of you who love beer and competitive Mario Kart (which I hope is everyone) you’d better polish up those red turtle shells, grab a handful of lighting and get your butt to this awesome event!

PRESS PLAY will be a retro themed night combining various forms of live entertainment: Gaming, music, art and fashion into one jam packed night of excitement.

The central focus of PRESS PLAY will be the Mario Kart Nintendo 64 tournament, consisting of 16 teams of 4. The night will also feature music from a selection of popular DJ’s and live art from Mr. Sweet & Bethany Smith as well as prizes for best dressed (Gaming/Retro themed). There will also be gaming consoles for casual gamers to partake in.

Sponsored by Red Bull, Little Creatures Brewery, Domino’s Pizza and The Gamesmen, which means that there will be FREE food & beverages for patrons.

All important details are as follows:

PRESS PLAY @ XX POP UP CLUB

Location: Level 2, 171 Victoria St, Potts Point
Date: 30th May 2015
Ticket Price: General Admission: $10.00 (GST inc) - Presale & OTD tickets available
Time: 8:30 PM

Want to be a Contestant?

If you are looking to enter into the Mario Kart N64 Tournament there is a team fee of $100.00, ie $25.00 per person. The winner of the competition will receive a Nintendo prize pack supplied by The Gamesmen as well a cash prize of $500.00.

To enter your TEAM of FOUR please visit: http://bit.ly/pressplay4
Feel free to check out their website SHABBAEvents.com, like SHABBA Events        Facebook Page to stay up to date and follow them on their Twitter page.

If you have questions please contact Alex Campbell on the details provided below.


Email: alex@shabbaevents.com 

- Stu 

THE SHORT VERSION


I mentioned, back in my brief look at it in August last year, that Project CARS felt like the racing world's answer to Dark Souls. It was a solid and unforgiving racing simulator that rewarded patient players who could get a handle on complex controls and customisation options. This was the kind of game where you could tweak your tires to a T, where if you didn't know the ins and outs of your vehicle you were liable to veer out of control very quickly, and where, yes, you could indeed drive around Mt Panorama in a go-kart with rain incoming. Trust me, that last part is a lot more exciting (and awesome) than it sounds.

That was just in the beta, mind. Small wonder, then, that the finished version is all that and more. In fact, I'd almost go so far as to say Project CARS might be the defining driving game experience one will come across. That's both a good and a bad thing.


STORY


You are a racing driver. You enter competitions, and have cars that go vroom.

In all seriousness, the story is a career mode in the spirit of Gran Turismo and Need for Speed; you
start out racing go-karts at the lowest rank for local audiences, and advance to global grand prix arenas to battle for the fate of the world (or, rather, the fate of your Twitter follower count, but I'll get to that in a second). As you advance you can use different cars and tweak them to a rather insane degree, to get an incredibly personalised experience as you race for the accolades of millions.

When I say that last part, I'm not kidding. One of Project CARS' neat little side features is a scrolling Twitter-esque social media feed, displaying reactions from your fictional adoring fans. It updates after each race, showing how your followers react to your wins, near-misses and losses. At times they can be a little snarky, too; one fan said he might've gotten his hopes up about me too early after coming 4th in my second ever race, obviously not bothering to stick around for the succession of seven races following that in which I scored 1st place and praise from the rest of my fanbase. I wouldn't be so quick to judge noob racers there, Mr Social Media Follower.

Speaking of noob racers...


GAMEPLAY


One of the common praises and criticisms Dark Souls usually receives is that it's not a game for casual players. It demands a solid chunk of time to get the mechanics down pat, to explore the world to its greatest extent, and to master the game the way one might master taming a tiger, or a pack of velociraptors. The effort is more than most games require, but you arguably have a richer experience if you go in for the long haul.

Project CARS is similar. As mentioned above, the amount of customisation is insane. There are a number of dials and sliders to adjust every minute detail of your car's mechanism, from tire balance and weight, to the way it drifts on the track. That's not even getting into any cosmetic details, either. Arguably, this is the kind of game where five different drivers on five separate consoles, driving the same vehicle, will all have five vastly different setups for how their ride burns up the track.

In all honesty, it's a little overwhelming. As well as not being a huge racing game fan, I'm not much of a revhead when it comes to the way a car comes together, moves and keeps running. If you're like me, all that overcomplexity for a game where what you mostly want to is to drive really fast might be a little off-putting. Going through all those sliders for the first time I mostly just clicked over them to get the race happening. Maybe that was why I lost at 4th place, and Mr Social Media Follower's disappointment in me might've been warranted.

This is also not a game where driving off-road means you have a slight speed reduction before getting back on course. If you overaccelerate, or misjudge a turn, or slide off into the gravel, your car will spin out and get caught on a barrier, or just plow headlong into an obstacle that'd ruin an ordinary car's chances of functioning the next day. The walls also do not bump you off them easily, so impacts will usually mean a second or two stuck to the barrier like honeyed toast on a ceiling. I'm used to a driving experience where I can just floor the gas and brake at strategic moments; Project CARS would prefer you accelerate in bursts where necessary, and use braking much more judiciously. It's not necessarily a point against it that it's not as smooth or easily-handled as other driving games, but it is something that I found difficulty wrapping my head around at first.

But if you can wrap your head around what makes your car go vroom, there's a lot of fun to be had. It's nice to have a racing game that doesn't rely on either watered-down customisation options, like the older Ridge Racer games, nor one that offers a modicum of customisation that really comes down to a multiple choice quiz on which engine you'd rather have under your bonnet, like Need for Speed Underground. Don't get me wrong, those games are fun, but part of the appeal of Project CARS derives from being able to fashion a truly unique experience from what you're given to play with. It also feels somewhat validating once you get the hang of the tap-on-the-accelerator mode of driving, and can expertly weave around tight hairpins while your AI drivers behind you squeal their tires in frustration.

On that point, Project CARS boasts AI opponents who will grow to learn your driving style the further you progress, working harder to circumvent your favourite vehicular tactics. I'm not sure I entirely noticed this in the time I played, but there were a number of points where, during a particular race, the AI seemed a little too easy to overtake on smooth bends. Of course, that was then juxtaposed with the AI in the following race being murderously difficult to beat, once again affirming Mr Social Media Follower's lack of faith in my abilities. I thought this might've been showing the AI adapting to my driving style, but in the race after the tough one they went right back to being easier to beat than a bowl of cracked eggs. So maybe they felt sorry for me, being so difficult to come first place against, and decided to drop things to my level a little? Way to be condescending, AI drivers.

In all seriousness, the AI is fairly competent at enhancing the driving experience. There are differences between certain named AIs styles the further along you go, and some can get pretty aggressive when it comes to trying to smack your car off the track with their own. Makes me wish I had the star powers from Mario Kart on hand for those guys.



VISUALS


It's obvious from the outset that Slightly Mad Studios have put a ton of time into rendering every car
and track with painstaking detail. Vehicles look shiny, solidly built and vividly coloured, and the tracks look like every tiny bit of gravel or grass beside them was rendered individually. On top of that, the visuals are designed as if you're really inside a race car driving through certain conditions; the sun glints off your bonnet, and the rain can mess up your vision as well as your handling.

It all comes together to create a marvelous tableau within which you win your championships. I imagine it would play significantly more immersively if, unlike me, you had a driver's seat and steering wheel setup for your console. That'd also really work well for...


SOUND AND VOICE ACTING


The soundscape is, like The Witcher 3, what really helps sell Project CARS. The cheer of the crowd, the screech of tires, the clunk of gears changing and brakes applying, it's all rather magical. It's exactly what I imagine sitting in a race car actually sounds like, including the occasional vocal interjection from my pit crew when they warn me I'm cutting too many corners on the track (in my defence, this was during my initial kart-driving run, before I got the hang of the acceletapping).

The in-game and menu tutorials are also helpfully voiced to inform you which elements in both areas do what, alongside pop-up messages that say the same thing. It feels a little redundant to have pop-ups read to me in the menu, instructing me on how to start a career mode or how Mr Social Media Follower's posts can scroll on the side and tell me what a disappointment I am. Seriously, Mr Social Media Follower, I think you need a job besides being a critical Social Media Follower.



WRAPPING UP


If immersion and a solid if complex mechanical system are what you're after in a driving experience, Project CARS has got what you need. I'm not sure I'd heartily recommend it to newbies or the un-revheads like myself, but there's a sound experience for them, too, if they don't mind spending a couple of hours taming the tiger. For those with an affinity for vehicular sportsmanship, I'm almost positive you'll have the most immersive and dynamic driving experience that's currently out there.

And just remember, once again - Mt Panorama. In go-karts. With rain incoming.

Try and criticise me for that, Mr Social Media Follower.

- Chris




Project CARS is available now on PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4.
It will be available for iOS and Wii U later in 2015.

Welcome to the first of, what will (hopefully) be many, episode of Read, Watch Play! The official podcast of Geekofoz.com

The podcast is available to  download here via podomatic, or here via iTunes!

Read, Watch, Play! Does exactly what it says on the box; it’s a chance for us Geek of Oz folk to come together and chat about what comics, films, games and TV we have been enjoying over the past week. For this very special first episode we managed to assemble our full team of writers, and by that I mean Stu, Chris, Billy and myself, at Geek of Oz HQ (a.k.a my lounge room). 

Apart from general banter we put the spotlight on comicbook movies and discuss our feelings about  the Marvel and DC cinematic Universes including our thoughts on the Suicide Squad cast photo that emerged last week. Plus we tell you how you can win some free digital comics!

Just a heads up we say shit a little bit, there’s a few sexual references and Stu and I make a joke about cocaine, so probably not suitable for children. Well unless you're a terrible parent, in that case grab the kids!

In terms of how frequently we plan on dropping new episodes, there won't be any formal release schedule or anything but ideally we hope to do 2-3 podcasts a month. 

Finally, If you have any feedback, suggestions, or just  want to send us pictures of cats doing human things then please do! I have included everyone's twitter handles and emails below for exactly this purpose.

Any way that’s enough out of me, enjoy the show!

-Christof 

FYI! Due to me failing at technology the podcast took longer to upload then anticipated so Chris’ Witcher 3 review (which we anticipated going up a couple of days after the podcast) is now up! You can check it out here.

Billy (@aqulec, Billy@geekofoz.com)
Read: Secret Wars #1
Watch: The flash, Arrow Agents of Shield, Chef's table
Play:  Shadows of the Empire, Bears vs. Art


                                                                Chris (@ChrisComerford3, Chris@geekofoz.com)

Read: Avengers Time Runs Out Volume 1-2
Watch: Game of Thrones, Mad men
Play: Lego Marvel super heroes , The Witcher 3


                                                               Christof (@weeklygeek, Christof@geekofoz.com)

Read: Zero volumes 1-3
Watch: The Flash, Arrow
Play: Never Alone

                                                              Stu (Stu@geekofoz.com)

Watch: Kumiko the treasure hunter, What we do in shadows, A Royal night out, Chef's table, Guardians of the Galaxy, Inside man
Play: Batman Arkham City

THE SHORT VERSION


I'm not one to give into hype. There's a reason I don't tend to watch E3 livestreams or many game trailers these days. It usually comes down to overhyping things with pre-rendered cinematics and even slightly doctored gameplay footage. If a game is marketed as being the biggest thing since Skyrim's world map, chances are it won't match the hype when it finally emerges from production.

Consider me pleasantly surprised, then, at how much The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt manages to work to earn the reputation it's garnered from the hype. I won't go so far as to say it lives up to that hype, but it certainly is a far cry from most games that see a gulf between expectation and execution. If nothing else, is accomplishes the task of snagging new players quite effortlessly. Either that or I'm just a really easy target for sharply-written fantasy narrative alongside great gameplay. The latter is distinctly possible, given the copies of Dragon Age: Inquisition and Dark Souls II sitting on my shelf.

I covered The Witcher 3 as a first impression review back in January, when I was lucky enough to get a crack at the hands-on beta thanks to CD Projekt Red and Bandai Namco Sydney. I'll try to keep this review from becoming a "It's pretty much what I said then, but better" deal, but to be fair, it really is a lot of what I'd already said then, but better. If you're looking for a short answer review as to whether you should play it, I'd come back with a resounding, overwhelming yes.

If you're after a more detailed breakdown, read on...


STORY


If you haven't read my first impressions post, keep in mind that I am not a Witcher series veteran. I played a few hours of The Witcher 2 before getting a little fed up with it, and more or less came to  The Witcher 3 as a fairly fresh player. To provide context, this review will be approached literally by someone who has limited to no knowledge of the franchise specifics to date.

In very broad strokes, this is the end of the grand saga of Geralt of Rivia: Witcher, badass and professional albino. He's on a quest to locate Yennefer, his old sorceress lover, and Ciri, a former ward of his who is being chased by the eponymous Wild Hunt, a trio of gothically-armoured warriors from Norse mythology with a penchant for sharp swords and a "stab first, ask questions later" mentality. Throughout his quest, Geralt comes across threats of civil war, a melange of monster enemies, and the need to harvest enough alchemy herbs to start a one-man potion delivery service (seriously, there is an insane amount of plant harvesting in this game).

If, like me, you're a new arrival in these parts, where wild wolves are so suicidal they think it's a good idea to Zerg Rush the armoured monster hunter with a sword the length of a dragon's molar, you might be turned off by the 3 in the title. Rest assured that you shouldn't be; The Witcher 3 is excellent at orienting newbies without either lack of or copious exposition. The opening cinematic deftly sets up part of the premise without dialogue, and the tutorial level taking place in the past also does a great job introducing characters and setting through visual and vocal shorthand. Undoubtedly there will be more here for someone who's slogged through the previous two games, but it doesn't get to the point where casual players might be locked out of the narrative. It might even have worked a little better to simply remove the numeral altogether, especially given how vast the marketing campaign has been.

But that aside, it's gratifying that I can get into the story very easily. It's also great that the characters are sharp (even those without swords), well-written and predominantly well-acted. I came to care about characters I'd just met a lot faster than I would in the same time span for something like Game of Thrones, where new characters are introduced every nanosecond. Geralt is a husky-voiced badass, yes, but it's made immediately apparent that he's a lot more empathetic and kindly-minded than his gruff, coarse exterior may suggest. I don't know if he can even really exist under the "anti-hero" label most fantasy protagonists seem to be attributed to these days; unless you go out of your way to insult NPCs or steal every loose object in their houses, there's not really a lot of "anti" to his heroics.

On the subject of characters, The Witcher 3 is an expert at unveiling layers. As with Geralt above, there are several characters - some of them only existing for a solitary sidequest - who have more to them than appears at first blush. A questline involving a jovial, Robert Baratheon-esque ruler and his missing daughter takes a sharp turn into a heartbreaking family drama that frames itself in a way I didn't see coming. A seemingly standard sidequest to take down a werewolf turns into a brief but effective exploration of marital issues and looking beyond someone's appearance. A herbalist who appears aloof and standoffish to Geralt, at first, ends up having a very good reason to be so. In this game, a lot of elements can't be judged just on the surface layer. The nuance really is to the game's credit, and it prompted me to actively question quests and characters as I experienced both. I like a game that doesn't have two-dimensional characters and plots that are telegraphed from the get-go.

The worldbuilding is also quite well realised. The regions I visited were distinct from each other, ranging from hinterlands to boggy marshlands to a frozen isle, and had a variety of smaller locations within each larger world map to explore. I never felt bored reading letters at the various towns' Notice Boards, that expanded the world and some of the unseen characters who inhabit it. This definitely feels like a place where people live, not just exist for the sake of passing adventurers.

Finally, what would an RPG be without choice impacting the region? A lot of decisions Geralt makes - kill or spare a character, side with a particular faction - will resonate with the locals, showing real effect from even the tiniest choices. There's also the "dynamic beard" system, where Geralt's facial fuzz will regrow in parts over time after being shaved. Apparently this comes with a special DLC after launch, but I still noticed parts of it after being shaved before meeting the Emperor, then spending days afterwards trekking in the wilderness becoming hairier and grizzlier.

Of course, all of this could be rendered meaningless if the gameplay's not up to scratch. Which, thankfully...


GAMEPLAY

 

...it is. What, you thought it wasn't going to be as good as my glowing review of the combat and movement mechanics back in January?

One of my biggest problems with The Witcher 2 was the overcomplexity of controls for simple things like attacking or equipping items (I hear The Witcher 1 is even more irritating in this regard for some), probably not helped by the fact I was using a console over a PC. It felt clunky, and threw me out of the world.

Thankfully, The Witcher 3 has smoother, streamlined controls and a much easier interface to get things done. I did have problems in January with some attack commands not registering, and with Geralt's Red Dead Redemption-esque drunken turning circle when on foot, and these problems have all be licked and fixed accordingly. Combat is easy to learn and excellent to customise for play styles; will you be quick on your feet, a fan of heavier attacks, or a ranged fighter with bombs and crossbow? The leveling-up system is also fairly intuitive and handles well, with a variety of schools similar to the Far Cry XP system that can each be given points for different specialties and abilities.

If there's one issue I have with the gameplay, it's that The Witcher 3 really seems to discourage level
grinding. Wild creatures found in the world give paltry XP when killed (with wolves, who tore me to pieces in January, only giving 2 XP a pop when they fall to Geralt's sword), and the range of experience delivered through sidequests varies almost a little unfairly. An involved quest to solve the murder of a horse caravan driver, and take on the swamp creatures who've arrived near his corpse, rewards less than a quest that just involves brewing a potion for a sickly young woman. It's not a deal-breaker, but it definitely encourages you to take the extra effort and go through the world's little corners rather than speeding through the main questline.

The other major addition to gameplay is Gwent, a card game evoking a mashup of Risk and Triple Triad from Final Fantasy VIII. Nearly every character in the game has a deck, some with powerful cards yielding greater rewards if you beat them. This is the kind of in-depth minigame that, reportedly, some beta players have already sunk dozens of hours into alone. If you have the inclination to get used to the rules and give it a go, it's a fun little addition to an already-packed cornucopia of gameplay. Plus, as with Triple Triad, it's always as gratifying as killing a high-level dragon when you beat a major character's impossibly strong deck. Yay for accomplishment!



VISUALS


Let's not mince words. The Witcher 3 is very, very pretty.

The game is built on the REDEngine 3 engine, and manages seamless moving from one part of the world map to the other similar to Skyrim and Dark Souls.  Loading times between cutscenes and fast-travel transitions are also fairly brief. This is the kind of loading eschewing that more next-gen games need to get into the action quicker.

All that super-fast next-gen loading times mean you get to see some truly gorgeous virtual vistas across the world. It's obvious the developers have really taken their time putting everything together, creating a landscape that is so lifelike one wonders whether they motion-captured some actual hills and mountains somehow. The environment is also aided as a lived-in place through random weather effects and a day/night system, making the whole experience that much more authentic.

Character visuals are also outstanding. Every face on every character, no matter how minor, looks like it was individually mo-capped and has expression. Little elements like armour and hair moving are nice touches, with the later also getting permanent slashes or stitched holes after lots of combat. Very little about the characters and the world the live in feel static or "gamelike"; this really does feel like a real place, inhabited by real people.


SOUND AND VOICE ACTING


I mentioned this a lot back in January, but The Witcher 3 has probably the best sound design of any game I've ever played. This isn't so much in relation to the voice actors, who definitely acquit themselves well and seem to really get into the characters they play (particularly a great turn as a nasty emperor from Game of Thrones's Charles Dance). This also doesn't so much refer to the music, which is handled skillfully by Marcin Przybylowicz and creates a fitting fantasy atmosphere to the proceedings.

No, where The Witcher 3's sound really captured me was in the environment and ambient noises. It feels like every footstep, every tree moving, every wolf howling and every sword unsheathing is a unique sound. Little noises like branches creaking in the wind or house foundations settling at night go great alongside the broader sound design for battle, horse galloping and that horrible noise whenever a wolf takes a bite out of Geralt. I really can't stress enough how great The Witcher 3's soundscape is; I remember raving about it to the CD Projekt Red developers during the January beta, and it feels like it's only been enhanced since then. Seriously, get yourself a good pair of headphones, turn the lights off, and let the sounds combined with the visual draw you into a living, breathing world.

Oh, and sometimes guards make farting noises and then laugh at them. So there's also that.


WRAPPING UP


The Witcher 3 is, in a word, sublime. One of the most gorgeous, well-acted, aurally magnificent, smoothly played and engrossing fantasy games I've played in recent memory. I wouldn't necessarily say to "believe the hype" that all the ads are stoking like a fire in a bellows, but they're not wrong when they trumpet it as a great game. It really is, and you should really play it.

I'd like to offers big thanks to the good folks at Bandai Namco Sydney, for letting me come along again and play the game for this review.

- Chris


The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is available May 19, on PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4.
I can't remember the last time an anime made me cry the way The Tale of the Princess Kaguya did.

It might be unorthodox to lead with that off the bat, and while it's not strictly speaking a selling point that a movie is able to cause Kleenex share prices to skyrocket, it's nonetheless a quality with Princess Kaguya. You should know going in, especially since this is a creation from the mind of Isao Takahata - the award-winning scribe who began his career with the soul-crushing depression-fest Grave of the Fireflies - that The Tale of the Princess Kaguya will, unless your cardiac region has recently been removed, make you cry. But given that it's an overly-heartwarming, growth of the protagonist tale that follows the eponymous princess from her birth, what else could you expect?

The movie opens with an elderly bamboo cutter discovering a tiny child, dressed like a princess,
inside a strange-looking bamboo stalk. He takes the little girl home to his wife, where the two of them decide to raise her. The little girl grows very quickly, becoming the equivalent of a five-year-old within only a few hours (she probably drank some Ent draught at some point). As she grows, the bamboo cutter believes she is a gift from heaven, and must be worshipped and cherished as such. He makes a plan to take the girl to the capitol city and install her as a member of royalty. Unfortunately, this kind of goes against the little girl's preferences of playing with her friends out in the forest and being generally un-princesss-like.

The plot goes a couple of interesting places from there - with one notable thread being five buffoonish suitors who are each given impossible tasks in order to win her hand in marriage - but the film largely concerns the girl, who is later named Kaguya by a wise elder, as she grows and tries to juxtapose her life as an actual princess and her longing to return to her previous, more simplistic (and more fun) life in the forest. The film also deals a lot with the imbuing of agency within women at a time when they had little, as Kaguya tries to handle casual misogyny and idiocy from her suitors and other royals who endlessly objectify her.

So, the film makes you cry and is wonderfully pro-feminist. Could you ask for more?

Well, you could, but to be honest Princess Kaguya already gives a lot. The most striking and memorable element of the film is its visual style; it's as if an anime were put together with
watercolour frames. The art shifts and flows in a way that makes every scene appear hand-drawn and gorgeously-rendered, and colours look as if they'd been brushed rather than drawn on. The lines of definition on characters and facial expressions alternate between soft and understated, contributing to the wonderfully lackadaisical charm of the early forest scenes, and hard and rigid, especially useful during scenes when Kaguya tries to run away and the art style shifts to a frantic miasma of movement and colour. It's an utterly unique style that I've never seen anywhere else. There are similarities to more French styles like ligne claire at times, but on the whole it's an anime unlike any I've watched previously.

Basically what I'm saying is that the movie is very, very pretty.

This is on top of what is an excellent story, derived from an old Japanese fairytale, which really
tackles a lot of contemporary ideas while being rooted within an older historical setting. Kaguya's struggles to reconcile her royalty and her regularity are presented a real internal culture clash, compounded by the urging of her father to take to her new regal lifestyle and fully embrace her identity as a princess. The fact she's able to claim her own identity, as the child from the forest who'd prefer getting dirty in valleys with her friends than sitting immaculately at a royal dinner table, elevates what might have been a story about a young woman with no agency in a male-driven world, becoming a tale of a young woman's self-given agency that eclipses the short-sightedness of the men who claim to rule that world. It's refreshing and definitely a point in the film's favour to have Kaguya not be a girly pushover, nor to meekly accept her informed place in the royal chain of self-actualisation. I was worried for a moment that the plot would turn in that latter direction during a stretch in the middle, where Kaguya becomes mute and shut off from her more fun side in order to try and be more like the royals. Thankfully, that doesn't last long.

If there's one thing the movie trumpets for the majority of its running time, it's that you can be whoever the hell you want to be. Sounds like an obvious and unoriginal idea, but it's important to put that idea in the context of a contemporary society where we might feel pushed or implicitly driven towards particular life avenues we're not comfortable or familiar with. Some of us are taught to strip away and sequester what we want to do in order to take hold of what we should do, which may be to our detriment. Kaguya being able to assert herself over the older, patriarchally-minded men who try to woo her, and even her own occasional defiance in the face of her father's urgings of a fully royal existence, makes her something of an excellent role model for young people watching the movie.

The narrative is really held together through a superb combination of scripting and voice cast. The latter is full of famous names, with Kaguya voiced by Kick-Ass/Carrie alum Chloe Grace Moretz, and the rest voiced by the likes of Darren Criss, Oliver Platt, Mary Steenburgen and James Caan. Damn near everyone acquits themselves excellently here, with Lucy Liu's royalty etiquette teacher being a particularly over-the-top standout. Moretz is in fine form voicing Kaguya, with an emotive mien that is at once engrossing as it is believable. These characters aren't just brought effortlessly to life through the gorgeous art and narrative, but through what is probably some of the best vocal performance I've heard in an anime (and as someone who ranks that alongside the likes of Cowboy Bebop and the Rebuild of Evangelion films, I don't say that lightly).

And as I said at the beginning of this review, the film made me cry. A lot. Loudly. The emotional beats are effortlessly landed - remember, this is a film by both Ghibli and the Grave of the Fireflies dude - and the thematic backbone, sustained by an excellent familial relationship between Kaguya and her parents, is highly resonant. There's a particular scene towards the end consisting of nothing but the three family members declaring their opposition to an encroaching threat, which might be the emotional height of the film and that caused me to really start bawling. You'll know it when you see it.

I'm finding it particularly hard to write a lot of funny things in this review. Usually I try to engage readers with little quips and asides woven through the broader analysis, but you might notice my take on Princess Kaguya is a little more serious than normal. That's not to try and bring things down, but it's just that kind of movie. It's Ghibli, it's Isao Takahata, and it's a truly beautiful, moving tale of family and identity. Since it managed to snag me, someone who is not the biggest Ghibli fan in the world, I think I can safely say it's the kind of film almost anyone can take to.

Go see The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Then find someone dear to you and give them a really big hug afterwards. You'll need it.

- Chris


The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Madman.

I loved the first Dark Souls because I was never very good at it.

I'm one of the first to herald games that don't hold you by the hand for their runtime. I feel a lot of those Call of Duty or Uncharted-type spectacle-driven escapades not only make the experience only slightly above watching a movie, but they invariably detract from the higher brain functions games can and should tap into. Give me the choice between tapping buttons to imperiously shoot things monotonously or employing the upstairs thinking machine to sort out tactics when battling homicidal skeletons, and it's not choice at all.

So even though it flayed me like a Greyjoy, I really dug Dark Souls. It was a complex, visually rich and mechanically challenging grind I was happy to consign myself to for several hours at a time. To be honest, I never possessed the masterful control over the monsters and environment many Let's Players developed through constant, blood-soaked repetition. I just liked having to think about a game in addition to simply playing it, and I liked that it was entirely possibly to completely fail and have to start again without an expansive safety net. To quote Batman Begins, sometimes we fall so we can learn to pick ourselves back up again.

But if Dark Souls was a simple rinse-and-repeat of falling and rising, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is a bunch of falling, breaking a rib, then rising again, then when you fall again you break another two ribs, then a wrist, then you lose a kidney, and the analogy starts to break down.

To put it simply, Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is hard. But you probably knew that already.

The game is a repackaged and updated release of last year's Dark Souls II with all the DLC bells and whistles attached for current-generation consoles. As such, much of what I'm about to say will undoubtedly be very old news for many of you. Chances are the really hardcore Souls players are already scoffing at my neophyte approach as they carve out the buttocks of twelve caprademons at once, for the sixteenth time today.

For those of you either new to the Souls 'verse or having had just the first game as experience, let me say that Scholar of the First Sin is undeniably worth your time. A large part of that is because of, rather than in spite of, the game's intense difficulty. Let's not mince words: there are people trying to break concrete walls with toothpicks who'd have an easier time at their task than some of the players of Dark Souls II. The game is unrelentingly brutal from the word go, with each subsequent death chipping away at your maximum health and depriving you of the souls (the game's equivalent of experience points and currency) that you arduously gathered from all those slain zombies. There's also not much in the way of tutorialising, meaning you'll most likely have GameFAQs open simultaneously in order to work out how to level up or find the Estus Flasks that are your sole renewable means of health replenishment.

I say that with zero shame, by the by: there are secrets and objectives peppered throughout Dark Souls II that can only be found with a walkthrough or an insane degree of luck and/or overly-developed attention to detail. Maybe that makes me a failure as a player, but there are only so many times I can handle being stomped by a statue-sized dude in armour before I growl, "Right, so what's a way to get around this bastard?"

Remember how I said I loved the first game because I sucked at it? A lot of that love both there and in Scholar of the First Sin comes from the repetitive kill-die-recover rigmarole that, eventually, results in a victory by curb-stomp or skin of your teeth. That might not sound like a ringing endorsement by effectively saying "The game is good and you should play it because it's hard and repetitive", but trust me when I tell you the satisfaction that ensues from an inevitable victory is worth it. I spent a good three or four hours fighting a particular Dragon Rider guy, dying many times to his (compared to other bosses) basic attacks and coming back to life at a bonfire, determined to beat this guy despite the fact it was 3 in the morning and I had to leave for work in four hours. I ground scimitar-wielding ninjas and the aforementioned statue dudes over a solid night's work of slashing, dodging and countering, until I'd gathered enough souls to bolster my level and equipment to the point where the Dragon Rider fell to my blade, after probably the fifteenth or sixteenth attempt.

Let me tell you, the euphoria that follows is awesome. He wasn't even the biggest boss in the game, too.

Your enjoyment of Scholar of the First Sin, and Dark Souls in general, will live or die depending on
what you ask for in a game. If you're after something casual and easy on the thinker, look elsewhere. This is the kind of place one would come to for a challenge, undertaken by the kind of gamer who likes to emulate Klingons and nearly snaps their controller in frustration at the twenty-seventh death of their character that hour. This is a game reliant on gritting your teeth and slogging through the trenches to get to those golden, unbeatable moments where those boss guys fall, and you gain souls from their death, and you feel great.

It's also the kind of game for people who like a marriage of fine visuals and geographical exploration potential. The environment of Drangleic is expansive, full of nooks and crannies for loot and dudes
trying to kill you. Graphical gorgeousness is boosted by the shift to current-gen consoles, and the runtime is smoother than I remember the first game operating on the Xbox 360 at. It's an aesthetically stunning game with the kind of dark, brooding style taken from the very best in gothic narratives, and while you probably wouldn't want to live in its world - particularly with all those bloodthirsty skeletons I mentioned - it's very pretty to look at.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin might make you work for your sense of gratification in a way few other games do, but in my opinion the grinding slog is worth it. This is the kind of game that truly challenges, something I feel is lacking in the current gaming clime to an extent. If more games took on Dark Souls' mentality of making you put some Sisyphean effort in for your achievements - like I hear Bloodborne does - then the world would be a better, if slightly more controller-snapped, place.

- Chris



Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is available now for Xbox One and Playstation 4.