Saturday, April 17, 2021

Oddworld: Soulstorm Review – A NEGATIVE Batch Of Brew

Playing Oddworld: Soulstorm is as arduous as Abe’s quest to liberate his Mudoken brethren from slavery. Each step is a supreme test of patience as you methodically guide your followers through challenging hazards, sweating over the fact that one slip-up could unravel all your effort. If you enjoy putting up with that old-school challenge, you might love this journey. However, if you’re a newcomer or a fan that believes this style of platformer hasn’t aged very well, turn back now. Soulstorm doesn’t do enough to modernize the series’ tedious gameplay, and a litany of severe technical hiccups spoil Abe’s attempted comeback. A reimagining of Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, Soulstorm’s gameplay remains largely the same: you recruit and guide followers through 2D platforming stages littered with dangers. As charming as the classic Oddworld games are, they can be frustratingly difficult and that hasn’t changed much in Soulstorm. Most Slig enemies and other hazards mow Abe down instantly, and I was infuriated by how little wiggle room I had to correct course when things went sideways. Abe drops so fast that it makes the health meter seem like a cruel tease. While playing Soulstorm, I often felt like I was walking on eggshells because of that high price of failure, retracing every step, re-recruiting every Mudokon, and carefully guiding them through a gauntlet of foes is soul-crushing when it all falls apart in seconds. Dying to unexpected perils, like being suddenly gunned down by off-screen enemies, feels cheap and happens way too often. A crafting system serves as Soulstorm’s biggest addition, but it doesn’t feel necessary. You must repeatedly gather the same ingredients every time you die (by searching lockers, trash cans, and fallen foes), which wore me down in a hurry after repeatedly replaying certain sections. The crafted tools themselves, like proximity mines, smoke screens, even a flamethrower, do add a welcomed element of flexibility and improvisation to gameplay. Dropping smoke screens to create hiding spots anywhere is nice, but I wished I didn’t have to make these items myself and grew tired of digging around the same spots over and over.   Even when Soulstorm’s difficulty eases up, the gameplay is bland. The action feels largely the same from previous games in the series, and that formula doesn’t evolve significantly beyond the first few hours. Even the more interesting sequences, like facing down a giant mech aboard a speeding train, are far too punishing to be fun. I’m glad that Abe controls better now (he even has a double jump), but the controls still have a mushy unresponsiveness that makes entertaining actions, like possessing Sligs, feel like a hassle. The controls also lead to additional deaths because Abe doesn’t act as swiftly as you need him to, especially during the ill-fitting, overly demanding combat arenas that pit you against waves of baddies while you try to protect fleeing Mudokens. Soulstorm would be a tough recommendation for anyone outside of diehard fans if it performed flawlessly, but I encountered several progress-sabotaging bugs (even after installing the big day-one patch) that should scare off even those players. When I died, Mudokens sometimes failed to respawn alongside me even though my tally indicated they were still alive and under my command. That meant I lost out on turning in followers that I’d spent ages trying to safely liberate, which negatively affected my overall quarma – a vital metric in determining which of the four endings you get.  Abe occasionally gets stuck in environmental geometry, forcing a restart. At one point, I fell into an infinite loop. One escape portal permanently vanished once I reached it, forcing me to abandon followers. A gun in a late-game turret sequence failed to shoot despite working fine in previous segments. After multiple restarts, I randomly discovered that clicking the right stick “fixed” the weapon for some reason, allowing it to fire. I spent over an hour trying to lead a large group of followers through a particularly challenging area, but once I opened the exit door an invisible wall prevented me from moving forward. I was forced to restart this entire, lengthy sequence twice before the exit worked properly. Soulstorm’s gameplay pushed my patience to its limits, but these bugs sent me over the edge and made me nervous every time I started a new level. “What on Earth is going to screw me over this time?” I regularly asked myself. Soulstorm’s faults are a shame because its narrative and presentation brought a smile to my face. Abe and his pals are goofy, delightful underdogs I couldn’t help but root for. The enjoyable story is packed with heart, and the cutscenes look great. I wanted to welcome Abe into a new generation of gaming with open arms, but Soulstorm fails to make a case for why its brand of cinematic platforming works today. In fact, Soulstorm only reaffirmed that Abe’s past adventures are best viewed with rose-colored glasses.
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    Bad Hair Review: Hauntingly Original & Incredibly Timely

    Rating: 

    9/10

    Cast:

    Elle Lorraine as Anna Bludso

    Zaria Kelley as Young Anna

    Vanessa Williams as Zora

    Jay Pharoah as Julius

    Lena Waithe as Brook-Lynne

    Blair Underwood as Amos Bludso

    Laverne Cox as Virgie

    Michelle Hurd as Maxine Bludso

    Judith Scott as Edna

    Robin Thede as Denise

    Ashley Blaine Featherson as Rosalyn

    Steve Zissis as Baxter Tannen

    MC Lyte as Coral

    Kelly Rowland as Sandra

    James Van Der Beek as Grant Madison

    Usher as Germane D.

    Chanté Adams as Linda Bludso

    Written and Directed by Justin Simien

    Bad Hair Review:

    When he first broke out in 2014 with the incredible Dear White People, Justin Simien became one of my most anticipated new storytellers to watch and when it was announced his second feature would be the horror-comedy Bad Hair, my excitement shot through the roof and though it may not reach the same heights as the former it is nonetheless an absolutely original and wildly entertaining follow-up.

    In 1989 an ambitious young woman gets a weave in order to succeed in the image-obsessed world of music television. However, her flourishing career may come at a great cost when she realizes that her new hair may have a mind of its own.

    In crafting his story and the characters residing in it, Simien has developed a unique and truly compelling tale to watch on just its own merit, with the opening 30 or so minutes of the film actually playing out as a really interesting drama of the Black woman’s plight in trying to get ahead in the burgeoning music television industry before diving into the more supernatural elements. Ashe is best known to do, Simien is able to explore every timely theme from racism to sexism to classism with as much a satirically comedic approach as a mature and dramatic one and despite being set in the past, he illustrates just as relevant every beat was in the past as it is in today’s society.

    Once things take a turn for the scary and supernatural, the writer/director continues to show a strong grasp on the satirical side of things while also displaying a remarkable talent for telling an effective monster story. The evil driving the story forward is an unpredictable and truly original nightmare that frequently rises above its campier B-movie sensibilities to deliver some exciting shocks and chills. The nature of the evil hair and the explanation behind it is actually a very powerful concept that remains tied to the film’s timely thematics while also utilizing some of the best tropes of the horror genre, and is saved for near the end of the film to keep audiences guessing in a really fun and exciting way.

    In addition to the skillful and stylish direction, Simien has once again assembled an ensemble cast of brilliant talent who all shine in their individual roles, especially on-the-rise star Elle Lorraine in the central role of Anna. The ability she displays of casually shifting from the doe-eyed woman with ambitions to become a major producer in the industry to a domineering figure empowered by her new weave is breathtaking to watch, establishing her as a sure-to-be breakout star. Audiences have certainly seen Vanessa Williams in the villainous role before and she continues to show new brilliant sides to her antagonistic nature that is compelling to watch every scene she’s in.

    The film’s only real problems lie in some of its depiction of the kills by the titular body part, as the majority of them are stylishly directed or darkly comedic and reminiscent of the best B-movies, but there are a few that feel rather janky and unintentionally hilarious, sapping the energy out of the overall scene.

    Bad Hair has just as much ambition, social themes and stylish direction as Simien’s Dear White People and though it may fall a little below the bar in comparison, it is nonetheless a wildly intelligent, wonderfully written, darkly hilarious and uniquely chilling treat that shows he has not lost his touch in the film world.

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