With this years E3 rapidly approaching, more and more attention is being paid to Nintendo’s new console, the Wii U. Last week a leaked photo of the revised tablet controller revealed that yes, this is to be the systems official name. You can call me a fan-boy if you like, but I have been playing Nintendo games since I was a child. I started off with an SNES; where Mario World, Super Metroid and Star Fox (called Star Wing in the UK for some reason) kept me entertained for many a long hour. When I was a few years older my parents brought me an N64 for my birthday and I remember games such as Goldeneye, Banjo Kazooie and Orcarina of Time wowing me and my friends with their chunky, polygonal graphics. This was the golden age for Nintendo. There where other Sega and Atari systems out at the time but no-one really cared about them. Every conversation was about Zelda or Goldeneye. Sadly this time did not last and I was lured away by the PSOne and the Final Fantasy series.When the Gamecube was released I put my faith in Nintendo once more and like many people was quickly disappointed. The problem with the Cube was not so much the library of games or its processing power, it was just a bit… meh. There was nothing stand-out about the system when compared to its competitors. Sure Zelda, Mario and Metroid where all there, but that was not enough to sell the system at the levels Nintendo needed. Its leaders seemed to realise this, and thus a few years later the Wii was born. Although only a fraction more powerful than its father, the uniqueness of its controls and accessibility for none gamers made it a smash hit. Despite the vast quantity of mediocre shovel ware and fitness/cooking sims, the Wii had secured its place in the market, creating a goldmine for Nintendo to rival that of the Pokemon crazy.
No joke for this one… its too serious.
So now we have the Wii U and my one main thought about it… What exactly is it for? This is the question I think will be asked the most and probably one Nintendo should be the worried about. Put simply, I cannot work out what sort of market this new machine is aimed at. On the one hand we have the new tablet controller. This the feature Nintendo has been pushing the most. So far evidence/fan theories suggest that it will have features such as being able to shift the game play to smaller screen, scanning physical items into the game world (ala Skylanders) and dynamic virtual controls. The way Nintendo has positioned the controller in the spotlight and not the system as a whole suggests to me that they are once again trying to sell it like the Wii, as a new way of playing games. The problem with this is that I am just not sure if a tablet controller is new and exciting enough on its own to sell a whole new console. Its not like touch controls have never been done before (see the DS/Vita/iPad) and I just do not feel that it will be exciting enough for people to want to replace their original Wii with it. The new market the Wii opened (and to a lesser extent the DS) was one that appealed to people who would not normally play a video game, ie, those not so technologically inclined. We have all seen the photos of the old folks playing Wii Sports in their care homes and I just cannot imagine those same people buying a Wii U just because it has a tablet. If anything a tablet is likely to put that audience off.
So if the specialist controller is not enough to move the system then what other selling point is Nintendo relying on? Is there some secret about the main console they have not revealed yet? Will they shock everyone at E3 by revealing the controller is the console? Because that would be awesome. A fully wireless system that can connect to a TV would certainly have that unique edge Nintendo needs to find again, although I highly doubt such a reveal is likely. So assuming Nintendo does not have a Shyamalan esq twist to stun us with, what else is there?
Well on the other hand we have the machine specs. One of the criticisms of the previous Wii was that it did not have enough to please hardcore gamers. It simply did not have the power to compete with the Xbox and PlayStation, also its online service was not up to scratch to handle the popular FPS games that where becoming all the rage. In my opinion however this was a none issue. Even if you could not afford more than one console at least you had a choice. Also with the 360 and PS3 there was little market room for a third hardcore device and really there still is not. Nintendo are trying to rectify this complaint now by providing a machine with power rumoured to be somewhere between half and twice that of the Xbox. Here I think the company needs to be very careful. Stepping back into the hardcore arena with anything less than twice that of current systems and people simply will not be interested enough. Half the power and the Wii U will be a joke to graphics hungry gamers. Also they had better be sure their online service is perfect from the start. No-one is going to payout for a new system on which to play Colonial Marines if it is sub-standard to what they already own, even if it has a funky new controller. On the subject of which, I am not sure how gamers who are used to the solid PS and Xbox controllers will take to it. Look at Sony and Microsoft’s and the basic twin-stick shoulder-trigger design is very similar. Unless Nintendo’s tablet is more comfortable then it looks I cannot imagine it being adopted for serious competitive play.
Could imagine this man buying one…?
The point I am trying to make with all this is that Nintendo is currently engaged in a two-tier approach to selling their Wii U. In one way they are trying to sell it to the same causal crowd who brought their previous inventive system, but in another way they are trying to appeal to the more seasoned gaming veterans like myself who perhaps grew up with their products but then moved on. What worries me is that I am not sure this approach is focused enough. By trying to appeal to everyone Nintendo could well end up with a unit that does many things but none of them well enough to compete. But maybe I am not being optimistic enough. Maybe the company which gave us the NES, the Gameboy and the Wii can pull off this hybrid console. Unfortuantly then I remember that this is the same company that also brought us the Gamecube, the Gameboy Printer and (gulp) the Virtual Boy. Then I long for my childhood and my N64 again….
Pictured: The empty space that replaced Virtual Boy…
I have to admit that I am not a real fan of horror or gore movies. I would rather watch a film about a man in tights saving the world than someone tortured to death. That said, I believe there is a place for violence in cinema as long as it supports the story and is not just there to make a quick buck with a few easy shocks. Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction and Fight Club are some examples of ultraviolence done right, but if there is one film that constantly lures me back with morbid fascination, its the Japanese cult hit Battle Royale.
Firstly let me make on thing clear, this is not a movie for children or tweenages trying to fill their need for more Hunger Games content. Although lots of people will mention the two franchises in the same sentence, Battle Royale is on a whole different level of black satire. It is filled with blood and death and trauma. Where as The Hunger Games kept its soul numbing depictions of child combat to a diluted second half of the movie, Battle Royale stretches its sickening tension for its entire running time. The atmosphere is dark and grim throughout, with the lower budget ‘fuzz’ of a Japanese movie constantly keeping things closer to reality then we would like. It is not one for the faint of heart, what I would refer to as midnight movie. (There is even a story that it was banned in the USA, although this is not technically true, it was more a case of no-one with the money for the licence wanting to stock it). But as with other controversial movies such as A Clock Work Orange, those who can stomach it will find and engaging, thought provoking story lies benieth its dark shell.
The film is based on the exploitation novel by Koushun Takami, who wrote the story as response to the Japanese governments treatment of their youth during the war, often forcing them into situations that would cost them their lives. Takami’s novel is set in the near future, where a totalitarian government rules Japan and most of Asia. As with all totalitarian dystopia Japan has a the constant problem of a population on the brink of uprising, especially amongst it younger generation who are becoming increasingly unruly and rebellious. In order to keep the order the Battle Royale act is passed, meaning that each year one class of 15-16 year olds is selected at random and taken to a secret location where they are fitted with explosive necklaces and forced to fight to the death over 3 days. The sole survivor is allowed to return home. It is centred around the 42 students of class 3-B, each with his or own chapter and story arc, but focuses mainly on the three antagonists; Shuya, Noriko and Kawada, all of whom are determined not to be dragged into the game.
‘Now don’t worry, Michael Bay assures me all the pyrotechnic stuff we crammed inside them will look great on camera… ACTION!’
For the most part the film adaptation does it best to copy this structure, with most students getting their own scenes, some of which are much more well developed then others. As with all book to film conversations a lot of the content is lost in transit and if you really want the full story of each of the 42 characters you ideally need to read the manga. Maybe if the remake ever comes, and I sort of hope it wont, then a trilogy with a movie for each day would be a more effective way of covering everything. Despite this, enough is retained to keep the movie constantly interesting, and its mass of characters and short stories that make it so engaging.
Looks like the sort of girl you could take home to meet your mother.
As a single movie with so much content stuffed into two hours, the pacing is surprising well done, with enough action to keep everything following nicely. Also for a large cast of young actors, most of whom were the same age as their characters, the acting is also surprisingly consistent. The director Kinji Fukasaku is well known for pushing his employees hard, are method which obviously works as most put in a pretty good performance. I could certainly feel the panic and fear a lot more then I could in The Hunger Games. The person who stood out to me the most was Takeshi Kitano, (an ex-comedian oddly) as the miserably evil teacher/overseer, who does a great job of looking both tired and psychotic at the same time. Also good was Tarô Yamamoto, playing the game veteran Kawada, who looks like we would be more at home in an 80′s action movie and gives a spark of old school ‘Die Hard’ heroism to the otherwise dark proceedings.
Although still an excellent film, Battle Royale does have a few problems. As I mentioned before the amount of attention each character gets is pretty impressive given the running time, although occasional it does feel as though other bits of the story have been sacrificed in order to make everything fit. Certain key plot points relating to necklaces seem to be missing from the last few scenes, as if the writer could not think of a proper way to explain the situation so just skipped over it. We get the general idea of what happened, but it seems an odd piece of the story to skip, given the importance which is placed on it earlier. The other main problem is that the ending suffers from a rather bizzare moment with Takeshi Kitano. If you have already seen the film then you will know want I am talking about. This could be some cultural thing I do not understand, but judging by the expressions on the faces of the other characters I am not convinced. Its such a strange moment and the way comes out of nowhere just destroys the tension in the final moments.
‘… I just wanted you to next the tv listings, see if there’s anything worth me hanging on for… Battle Royale 2? Screw that.’ *dies*
The final thing I have to note about Battle Royale that it will always be best the first time around. The key to this movie is the shock value, which is what makes the atmosphere work so well. Once you know what to expect you are still left with an entertaining movie, but it does feel as though it loses something. In some ways repeated viewing is advisable as you are likely to miss things the first time, but it just does not work quite as well.
Battle Royale is a cult classic for a reason, it is terrific and terrifying but certainly not for everyone. Most people will not get past the basic concept and without feeling decidedly uncomfortable. But that is exactly what the movie is made to do. Discomfort makes fear, fear makes tension and tension makes a thrilling piece of cinema. Sometimes the most memorable movie experiences are the ones that make us remember them, and if you watch Battle Royale you will not be forgetting it any time soon. A must watch for fans of Japanese entertainment or cult cinema followers, assuming you have the steel stomach required and a nice Disney flick to wash the taste out after.
Because there’s nothing dark or disturbing in any of their films.