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Skellboy Review: No Skin in the Game | Screen Rant

Originality is an overrated buzzword in the video game industry. Horizon Zero Dawn cherry-picked a bunch of ideas from other open-world titles and is now regarded as one of the best games of its generation. As long as they’re done well, copycat games can be just as enjoyable as the properties that inspired them. Skellboy, the new Nintendo Switch indie game from developer Umaiki Games, owes much of its action-RPG design template to The Legend of Zelda. That’s as good a starting point as any but while Skellboy has the bones of a great game, someone forgot to put any meat on them.

Skellboy’s premise is familiar but with just enough quirkiness to draw players in, at least in the early stages. The pixelated Cubold Kingdom has been overrun by an evil court magician and his hordes of minions. Rather than a young heroic boy chosen by destiny, Cubold’s fate falls into the bony hands of Skippy, an ancient hero accidentally summoned by the magician’s dark spell. Much like Link, Skippy has no discernible personality of his own and must rely on the Cubold citizenry to bring him up to speed on the current crisis. It’s a thin plot that gets players from Point A to B, but is made a little more engaging thanks to some mildly amusing, witty dialogue. Skellboy’s sense of humor is decidedly square in the most literal sense, as the game throws every four-sided pun it can think of at you (the main villain is named Squarumon, for crying out loud). While there aren’t many zingers in the mix, it’s hard not to admire Umaiki’s dedication to the joke. 

Related: Top 10 Indie Games On The Nintendo Switch, Ranked

Unfortunately, once players actually take control of Skippy, Skellboy becomes considerably less enjoyable. Played from an isometric perspective, Skellboy’s core gameplay consists primarily of simplistic close quarters combat and avoiding environmental hazards. The problem is, everything about controlling Skippy feels, well, terrible. It’s hard to think of a game where the act of swinging a sword feels less satisfying. Fighting enemies mostly boils down to whacking them until they’re defeated but there’s a laziness to the way Skippy hits enemies that makes it feel like he’s constantly wading through a pool of honey. This feeling extends to Skippy’s movement as well. He moves painfully slow and given the sprawling nature of the level design, this makes navigation feel like more of a chore than it needs to be. This problem becomes heightened during the game’s boss battles. While these encounters are more engaging than fights against regular enemies, Skippy’s sluggishness makes them more frustrating than they should be. Even with a boss’s patterns figured out, collision detection is all over the place, so a successful dodge could just as easily be damage received. 

The good news is Skellboy’s unique body-swapping feature saves combat from being a total drag. Instead of skill trees or experience points, Skippy upgrades himself by picking up new body parts off of downed enemies. While some of these parts are just cosmetic, many of them offer stat buffs or even power-ups. One early head swap grants projectile attacks, while another lets you set bombs. Players also have to be on the watch for body parts with negative attributes. One of the most memorable of these is a zombie head that will drop from ceilings and attach itself to Skippy, inverting the movement controls in the process. Unfortunately, the novelty of the body-swapping mechanic quickly wears off. Once you learn which parts an enemy drops, there’s little reason to fight them again. Between this and its poor combat mechanics, Skellboy is a game that ironically teaches you to avoid combat, which is a problem given how much of the game revolves around it.

When it comes to visual design, Skellboy is kind of a mixed bag. The art direction is reminiscent of a pixelated Paper Mario and it doesn’t entirely work. While “upresed N64 game” is an inspired visual choice, it’s hard not to wish Umaiki had gone with something a bit cleaner. Navigating the game’s 3D environments can be needlessly confusing (and not just because there’s no in-game map) Skellboy doesn’t fare much better from an audio perspective. The chiptunes soundtrack primarily consists of the theme being recycled and warped in various ways to fit the current environment. Unfortunately, hearing the same music over and over quickly becomes grating and since Skellboy has no voiceover dialogue, it’s arguably a game best experienced with the volume turned all the way down.

Next: 5 Zelda Clones Better Than The Real Thing (& 5 That Are So Much Worse)

Skellboy is available for Nintendo Switch and releases on Steam later this year. A Switch code was provided to Screen Rant for the purpose of this review.


2020-02-10 01:02:30

Nick Steinberg

Kunai Review: Supremely Satisfying Platforming Action

Meet Tabby, Kunai’s mute anthropomorphic tablet in a kimono hiding an arsenal and some slick moves. With an attractively rendered limited color palette and a superb sense of game-feel, publisher The Arcade Crew’s newest release offers up keen platforming in a metroidvania template that excels, thanks to considerable attention paid to movement and combat. It’s pixelated parkour with swords and explosions, and that’s all any players should need to now.

The titular weapon in the game takes the form of two rope darts which are somehow always fun to mess around with. Certain areas may require you to grapple up to higher points to proceed, but you can actually thrust them into almost any surface to add some kinetic oomph to each jump. To be honest, character movement in Kunai handles even better than that in Bloodstained, a metroidvania peer which itself set a high watermark for the genre by its master, which is a point of comparative praise. Kunai is nowhere near as large or complex as Igarashi’s momentous return to the genre, but it holds its own in terms of charm and playability, adding twists to the formula that usually work in its favor.

Related: Patapon 2 Remastered Review: The Rhythm is Gonna Get You

As Tabby, you navigate maze-like interconnected sections on a ravaged Earth, first escaping an experimental lab and soon venturing into deserts, mines, and high-tech caverns and airships. The somewhat minimalist visual aesthetic keeps everything clean and readable, with tremendous attention paid to lighting and detailed shading. Entering new areas applies a shifted but limited palette—slightly reminiscent of Downwell but distinctly more-than-monochromatic—all cut with beige, red, and navy blue, and always introducing an additional color or two. Its initial minimalism feels much more like an artistic flourish the longer you play, and it really works to Kunai’s favor.

For anyone raised on Newgrounds’ seemingly endless community-crafted catalog of hyperactive platformers back in those halcyon days of Flash game development, some remnant energy persists in Kunai. The limbless main character seems like a high-def rendition of some former stars on the platform, and swapping between quick katana slashes and double uzis feels somewhat inspired by its hundreds of uber-violent stick figure flash games, brought to high-polished modernity.

As a reactivated robot (tablet-bot?), you’re first tasked with escaping a lab, then seeking out the help of a resistance movement of fellow automatons. New tools and powers are doled out judiciously throughout the game, and though Tabby’s full arsenal isn’t enormous, every piece of it feels great to experiment with and nothing is a unitasker. Shuriken can stun enemies and also trigger door switches, uzis help you hover over short distances, and a rocket launcher can blast apart boulders blocking your way or trigger a super-jump.

Sadly, there is no fast travel option whatsoever, which does end up padding out the length of the game. Certain junctures require a lot of timely backtracking—for instance, an NPC may tip you to an area which is blocked off at all entrances except for one, forcing you to re-try different approaches until you luck out. It doesn’t help that the in-game map leaves a lot to be desired, and putting the game down to pick it up a week later may result in some head-scratching as to where you were headed to next. There’s no quest log or anything of the sort, but you’re also rarely faced with multiple goals at the same time. In other words, while Kunai’s world is technically open, you’re invariably tasked with only one thing at a time. Rewards for exploring beyond that straight path’s boundaries only amount to some swappable cosmetic hats or an occasional heart container piece to increase your maximum health.

The above paragraph would draw a severe cost on a lesser game, but Kunai‘s focused philosophy makes it an all-taste, less-filler arrangement. Boss fights are challenging but never unfair, the story’s brisk pacing and light humor keeps things moving along, and there are some fun surprises that subvert the slight chance of monotony. Tabby’s mute protagonist shtick is never really a drag, and his emotive “screen-face” grimaces with every swing of the katana or gets cute and glassy-eyed when opening up a secret chest.

Kunai’s levels offer a solid series of mazes through various biomes, with certain areas admittedly more interesting and dynamically presented than others. There’s sadly only two complete air fortress levels to explore, but each of them are delightful death traps, even inclusive of a charming reference to Super Mario Brothers 3 in their musical theme. The overall soundtrack is also worth a hat-tip, presenting a jaunty selection of chiptunes that complement the scrappy robot narrative, blending perfectly into the crunchy sound effects, with all fallen enemies exploding in a loud flourish of glitchy tech noise.

We reviewed Kunai on the Nintendo Switch and experienced absolutely no issues or bugs whatsoever (something of a godsend after Bloodstained’s notoriously rocky run on the platform), and the dimensions of the screen make the game feel even more ideal in handheld form. Loading times are brief, characters are clear and easy to spot, and the color palette feels especially gentle to the eye on a small screen; it’s not clear if this part was intentional, but it makes the portable Switch version an especially attractive option.

Though its color palette is limited, nothing in Kunai feels like a cut corner. The silky animation, refined control scheme, and creative options for decimating your foes presents a highly polished metroidvania with wide appeal. There’s a specific late-game city area which feels like the best application of its strengths—if there are any significant criticisms to angle here, it’s only that the game really reaches its full potential right before its over. There’s no apparent New Game+ option, boss-rush, or challenge modes, so a single play-through is all you really get. Upgrades are somewhat limited and it’s easy to obtain them all by the time ¾ of the story is done, so there isn’t much reason to return; the only reason this seems critically relevant is that the mechanics are so finely polished that you’ll probably just not be ready to leave Kunai’s world by then. Maybe more attention will prompt some content updates or DLC? Either way, Kunai is a trip worth taking by any and all lovers of action-platformers.

More: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics Review – Good Adaptation, Better Strategy

Kunai releases for PC on Steam and the Nintendo Switch eShop on February 6 for $16.99. A digital copy for the Nintendo Switch was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.


2020-02-06 06:02:17

Leo Faierman

Stone Review: An Emotional Story Undercut By Boring Gameplay

Convict Games’ Stone tries to capture the spirit of stoner noir like Inherent Vice and The Big Lebowski and transplant it to video game form. This is a neat idea on paper, but Stone hits several roadblocks along the way in terms of meaningful and engaging gameplay mechanics. Its narrative, while nowhere near the quality of the aforementioned films, does hit several emotional high points, especially toward its surprising conclusion. But the perfunctory nature of its gameplay drains Stone of any and all excitement. Even as a self-proclaimed interactive story, it lacks the player involvement factor that make the best examples of the genre shine.

Stone follows the eponymous down-on-his-luck koala private investigator as he searches for Alex, his missing lover. Like the rest of the characters in the game, Stone is quirky, highly flawed and interesting enough to immediately create interest. This is a major staple of noir fiction, especially the stoner subgenre, and its one that Stone embraces right out of the gate. Its Australian setting gives the game a unique twist that probably helps the game stay far more interesting than it should given how early its gameplay flaws become apparent.

Related: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore Review – The Switch’s Persona

Speaking of which, while Stone could have capitalized on its protagonist’s private investigator career by having players gather clues or complete at least semi-interesting mini puzzles, the game settles for something far lazier. Most of the game’s brief three hour run time consists of visiting (and revisiting) locations, talking to some random side character and then going somewhere else to do it all over again. There are some interesting and funny conversations to be had, there’s no doubt about it, but a failure to involve players more actively in the process of moving the plot forward is an infuriating mechanical decision.

Stone isn’t a complete waste of time. From the middle of the game on, the story becomes almost interesting and emotionally satisfying enough to look past its poor gameplay. While the beats of the story won’t be spoiled here, the entire final act and conclusion is intriguing and heart-wrenching in the most surprising way possible. The dialogue and voice acting is a little spotty at times, but the narrative consistency and plot twists are so fun, poignant and befitting of noir that it’s hard not to appreciate the care that went into it.

Stone also features a wonderful hip-hop infused soundtrack from underground artists and allows players to watch older movies like Night of the Living Dead in their entirety (either from home or by visiting the local theater). While it’s doubtful that most players will boot up Stone just to watch movies or listen to the soundtrack, it still gives the game a lived in feel and the black and white movies contrasted with its colorful, anthropomorphic talking animal characters especially add to its new-age noir feel. These are small qualities, but given its shortcomings in gameplay, it’s important to note everything the game does get right.

It’s admirable that Stone goes for a more casual gaming experience by not asking too much from its players, but visiting the same locations over and over and talking to the same characters again and again can only sustain a title like this for so long. Even at around three hours of gameplay, Stone feels downright monotonous most of the time, even when its narrative is firing on all cylinders. Some meaningful dialogue choices or a basic morality system probably could have offset this, but at the end of the day, Stone is too simplistic and boring to be worth it for most gamers.

Next: Battlefield 5’s Firestorm Battle Royale Mode is a Broken Mess

Stone is available on Xbox One. It previously released for PC on September 21, 2018. An Xbox One code was provided for the purposes of this review.


2020-01-28 01:01:13

Corey Hoffmeyer

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot Review: A Promising Fighter That Needs Training

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot successfully captures the elements that make Dragon Ball Z tick, both good and bad. Epic, world-shattering battles routinely occur after formulaic storytelling and tedious pacing. When Kakarot clicks, throwing Kamehamehas with reckless abandon, it is a blast. Much like Goku’s son Gohan though, its attempt at delivering a compelling open-world RPG falls short of delivering on its potential.

Don’t be fooled by Goku’s birth name in the game’s title. Though billed as the story of Dragon Ball’s top star, this is little more than yet another interactive retelling of DBZ, from the arrival of the Saiyans to Majin Buu. That means players control other characters, like Vegeta and Gohan, as often as Goku himself – if not more so. While that makes sense from a storytelling perspective–Goku is out of commission several times throughout DBZ–it makes the premise feel somewhat misleading.

Related: Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot Is Adding A Time-Machine So You Can Play Old Quests

The idea of seeing a version of this tale from purely the Goku perspective would have been refreshing instead of spending dozens of hours watching the same old story unfold. Despite this, Kakarot at least does a phenomenal job presenting that story. Cutscenes, especially the action-centric ones, look fantastic and perfectly capture the show’s signature style. If nothing else, newcomers may find Kakarot to be an adequate alternative for digesting this sprawling narrative as opposed to watching hundreds of anime episodes.

Side quests and playable intermissions between sagas offer the only places where Kakarot gets creative with its storytelling, but these diversions can be hit and miss. Some are humorous, such as helping a rogue Frieza Force soldier who aspires to become a chef. Others are disappointingly unrealized, including one based on the beloved driving school episode that doesn’t even let you race Piccolo. Even when side quests have cool premises, they all suffer from a lack of gameplay variety and depth. You’re either tasked with punching the same limited number of enemies (why do so many citizens own the same killer robots?) or performing simple fetch quests for materials and ingredients. When the game does offer a change of pace, such as a baseball mini-game, it happens so infrequently that it’s a jarring surprise each time. 

Side content may be average but Kakarot’s exploration does a better job of realizing the power fantasy of controlling god-like martial artists. Soaring around the semi-open worlds feels thrilling, though the flight controls could be better. Using the two right triggers to both ascend and descend feels somewhat clunky; one of those functions should have been mapped to a left trigger. Still, once you get used to it, barreling through mountains and into oceans never gets old. Sprinting like The Flash on foot is entertaining in its own right.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot’s vibrant world looks great and it’s neat to see familiar locations like West City and Kami’s Lookout rendered to scale. Wildlife, including roaming dinosaurs, may be limited compared to similar games, but they breathe some semblance of life into the surroundings. For diehard fans, bumping into the myriad of familiar faces throughout both DBZ’s history and original Dragon Ball offers a charming cherry on top. It’s a treat to reunite with favorites like Eighter, Launch, and the World Tournament Announcer even if they’re little more than talking sign posts and mission givers. Collectible memories that recall pivotal events from the Dragon Ball anime offer another fun dose of nostalgia. 

The way Kakarot alters its world to fit whatever’s happening in the story is both commendable and occasionally frustrating. Characters and side missions will be locked out entirely during moments where it wouldn’t make narrative sense for them to be active. That can be a problem when you might need to shop or train, but Kakarot does a good enough job communicating these changes ahead of time. Since the side stuff isn’t great, odds are you’ll enjoy being railroaded on the critical path anyway.

Kakarot’s combat shines brightest during the big one-on-one bouts against iconic foes like Frieza and Cell. Though not deep, these clashes offer a mindless sort of fun that captures the flair source material. Boss adversaries sport just enough diversity in their offense to make them feel unique enough from each other. Some bad guys even force new strategies, like the Androids who heal themselves by absorbing energy attacks. Having up to two party members that attack or defend at your behest adds a welcomed layer of strategy. Unfortunately, Kakarot restricts access to a party more often than it should–most of the game is spent fighting alone. Perhaps that’s a necessary evil as battles involving multiple combatants often devolve into incomprehensible (but fun) clashes of fireballs and flashy effects. 

Engaging in random battles, on the other hand, becomes tedious after several hours due to a disappointing lack of enemy variety. Dragon Ball Z ‘s story never featured many grunt-type enemies and it shows badly here. Get used to fighting bland robots, Frieza goons, or Saibamen for hours on end. Baddies often overstay their welcome, too, thanks to the multiple health bars they have. Even the more challenging, legendary-style foes are poorly implemented. Their levels aren’t revealed until after you trigger the battle, meaning you’re often blindly entering fights way above your weight class. Since enemy levels scale with you, this makes it tough to know when you’re ready to take on these top-tier foes which, again, are just the same opponents but tougher. Not that it really matters; the rewards for winning these fights aren’t worth the effort anyway.

The fruits of this labor comes in unlocking new abilities and gaining Soul Emblems, character coins used on the Community Board. This progression web grants bonuses depending on how character emblems are arranged. It’s surprisingly engrossing finding ways to connect Goku and Gohan or all the Namekian characters in order to reap as many benefits as possible. These offer stat bumps in areas such as combat, cooking, and training. The downside is that most emblems can only be obtained by completing side quests. Expect to spend time grinding out missions for a full set.

Kakarot is a lengthy experience that can sometimes feel like a drag due to uneven pacing and the grind-focused progression. The Namek and Android/Cell sagas take ages while the Buu arc flies by in comparison. Training to unlock new skills involves fighting the exact same battles ad nauseam. Other diversions like hover car races, assembling vehicles in Bulma’s lab, or demolishing enemy strongholds are shallow and feel tacked on for the sake of padding out the world. Cooking dishes for stat bumps rarely feels necessary since you can usually handle anything on your own. Like Cell, Kakarot assimilates the best elements of other open-world games but, unlike Cell, fails to achieve perfection. 

When Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is just being Dragon Ball Z , i.e. a sensory overloading action romp, it’s an empowering and enthralling experience. But that novelty is just barely enough to overcome the flat open world and underwhelming mission design. With deeper activities and stronger variety, this could have rivaled Dragon Ball FighterZ as the best game Goku has ever graced. Some fans will be satisfied regardless, but others will see a promising fighter that should enter the hyperbolic time chamber for more training. 

More: Dragon Ball Z Kakarot: Secret Boss Fight (& How To Unlock It)

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Screen Rant was provided a digital PS4 code for the purpose of this review.


2020-01-28 07:01:02

Marcus Stewart

Effie Review: A Lovable Old Man [PC] | Screen Rant

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, especially in video games. Given how much the industry cares about having the newest, most powerful tech or getting in on the very most recent trend, it can be surprising to see how many games hearken back to the early games, the ones that defined peoples’ childhoods. Effie is nothing if not a nostalgia engine. It wears its inspirations proudly on its sleeve, taking influences from classic 3D platformers like Ratchet & Clank and Jak & Daxter. The love the developers had for those milestones is matched inch for inch by their love for Effie, and even if the game falls quite a bit short of living up to its heroes, the heart and creativity put into it makes it a hard game to really dislike.

Effie puts the player in the shoes of a young man named Galand, who is turned old by an evil witch. In order to undo the curse he must cleanse the three Gems of Evil and then defeat the witch herself. It’s a bit of a tired premise, another of the many fantasy games that task the player with hunting down a handful of magical crystals. The conceit of the game is that it is all in the form of a story being told by Galand to the title character, a young girl named Effie. This storytelling style has a clear influence on the gameplay; as you adventure through the game, Galand is constantly narrating everything that happens to Effie. This is a quaint idea that sets up some cute moments; for instance, whenever the player respawns after death, the narrator will usually be inclined to cover up for whatever error led to their demise, claiming that it didn’t actually happening or blaming their fumble on Galand’s magically-induced age. Unfortunately, the charm wears off quick, and the player will swiftly grow tired of the narrator cryptically proclaiming that “Galand felt an urge within him” after they open a chest.

Related: Wattam Review – Sweet and Silly

The meat of the gameplay is just what you’d expect; platforming, exploration, and combat. The main draw of the gameplay is the protagonist’s signature tool; a magical shield called Runestone. This is the only weapon Galand wields, but that’s far from a bad thing. It has a variety of uses, and as you progress through the game, more special abilities are added to Runestone’s arsenal. Some help with traversal, like a special dash that proves invaluable throughout the game’s platforming challenges, while others, like the ability to fling your shield in a circle around you and strike all enemies in range, are simply powerful combat tools.

Combat in Effie is only okay. At the start of the game you can perform a light attack with your shield or a heavy one, and you can of course also block. Blocking with your shield doesn’t work the way you expect; it produces an invulnerable dome of magic around Galand’s body that protects him from harm at the cost of some of his energy every time it is hit. Galand is immobile as long as he has the shield up. Beating enemies with the shield is satisfying enough, but combat is ultimately clunky, and too shallow for its own good. Even as you gain access to powerful special moves, you’re never really called to strategize in any meaningful way. Your energy pool never seems to decrease fast enough for it to be a real concern, even when you get the strongest attacks. This means that by the end of the game there’s not really anything stopping you from just obliterating everything in your path. The enemies aren’t particularly varied, either; by the time you get about halfway through the game you’ve already fought everything the game will ever throw at you. There are a couple of large monsters that are impervious to your light attacks, but this is as challenging as the game tries to get. There are no weak points to exploit, no attack patterns to memorize. The combat system isn’t bad, per se, it just feels needless. The potential offered by Galand’s magical shield is never fully realized.

The stronger aspect of the gameplay in Effie is its platforming. It’s not phenomenal, but it’s certainly not bad. The controls are responsive enough, and challenging without being frustrating. Effie is far from a hard game, but it’s not a cakewalk either. The game relies heavily on things like bottomless pits and pools of lava to raise the stakes in platforming challenges, but death is forgiving, and points where the game autosaves are relatively plentiful. The player is deposited at one of these with nothing but a repetitive remark from the narrator to punish them for them for their failure. In addition to platforming gauntlets and combat challenges, Effie also offers a few puzzles to tease the player’s brain. These puzzles are, for the most part, incredibly easy, but they can still amuse for the few seconds it takes the player to figure them out. Given how brief and unobtrusive they are, it’d be hard to say anything bad about them, especially because the ideas behind some of them are pretty creative. Still, the game would lose little in the way of challenge if they were removed.

If there’s one thing Effie truly excels at it’s the environments. The cities that Galand must journey to look gimmicky from a distance, and that’s no coincidence; they are gimmicky. Each city is themed after a singular defining trait, like windmills, lumber, or even grape juice. While that might feel like lazy worldbuilding, the beauty of Effie’s world isn’t in the overarching lore, but in the details. The environments of each city are beautifully detailed, filled with little touches that make the cities feel like actual places, not just backdrops for floating platforms to jump on. It’s always a delight to turn a corner or open a door and see what delightful new setting you’ll get to explore next. This creativity translates to gameplay, too; there are plenty of unique challenges offered by the setting, like a river of grape juice in Vineyard City that Galand must cross by jumping across barrels. Unfortunately, the magic of Effie’s level design does not extend to its overworld. The cities are placed in the red plains of Oblena, a realm that is as pretty as it is empty. A few small distractions are scattered around for the player to amuse themselves with if they so choose but if one were to just hop on one’s shield and magically surf their way to the next city, they wouldn’t miss much.

Ultimately the plight of Effie’s protagonist is a rather fitting metaphor for the game as a whole. It’s a new title, originally released for PS4 about half a year ago and only now seeing a PC release. But its reliance on the past instantly makes it seem older than it is. And, like a young man suddenly cursed with old age, it can get stiff and clumsy from time to time. But just like its jolly old protagonist, who never stops smiling and who flashes a thumbs-up at the concept of grape juice, Effie has charm for days. It’s a flawed game, certainly. It’s very short, beatable in only three to five hours, and there was little variety in terms of gameplay and combat. Ultimately it felt more like a generous demo than a full game. But it has heart. And if that’s something you’re looking for, you could do a lot worse than pick up Effie.

Next: Wizardry: Labryinth of Lost Souls Review – A Bit Past Its Prime

Effie is available for PlayStation 4 and releases on Steam on January 28. A Steam code was provided to Screen Rant for the purpose of this review.


2020-01-28 04:01:45

Peter Morics

Dolittle (2020) Movie Review | Screen Rant

The character of Doctor Dolittle was created by author Hugh Lofting and made his debut in the 1920 children’s book, The Story of Doctor Dolittle. In the century since Lofting introduced his hero, Doctor Dolittle has been adapted many times, perhaps most famously in the Dr. Dolittle film series starring Eddie Murphy as a modern-day version of the character. Now, the doctor who can talk to animals gets a reboot in Dolittle. The film is directed by Stephen Gaghan (Gold) from a script he co-wrote with Dan Gregor and Doug Mand (How I Met Your Mother). Robert Downey Jr. turns in a bizarre, but entertaining performance in Dolittle, though it doesn’t much elevate this generic family-friendly adventure.

Dolittle tells the story of veterinarian Dr. John Dolittle, with Downey Jr. in a role that seems poised to be this generation’s Captain Jack Sparrow, though his performance never quite has the magic that made Johnny Depp’s roguish pirate so universally beloved. In this film, Dolittle is a man plagued by the death of his wife, who’d drowned at sea while searching for the legendary Eden Tree and its magical properties. Years later, Dolittle is disturbed in his animal sanctuary – where he’s lived with only his animal companions as company – by Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) seeking the doctor’s help to save a squirrel. On the same day, Dolittle is called on by Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), who insists the doctor visit the dying Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) of England. In order to save the queen, Dolittle must retrace his wife’s final adventure and discover the Eden Tree, but he’ll have the help of Stubbins and all his animal friends.

Related: Every Movie Releasing In January 2020

The story of Dolittle is fairly standard for a family-friendly action-adventure movie: the heroes must retrieve a magical item in order to save the day, and their journey will take them to fantastical locations. In the case of Dolittle, there are really only a few fantastical locations, but there’s nothing especially magical about any of them aside from the various creatures. This ultimately prevents Dolittle from feeling like the epic fantasy adventure movie it so clearly wants to be. Instead, much of the magic is derived from the fact that Dolittle can talk to animals – and bugs apparently. (The movie’s own rules of magic aren’t clearly defined at all; at one point, Dolittle speaks to a squid, but not any of the fish around it – is he not able to speak to fish? And that’s not even broaching the subject of how exactly Stubbins is able to learn to speak animal, which presumably means any human can speak animal if they just try hard enough.) For a fantasy movie, Dolittle doesn’t do much world-building, but it doesn’t quite matter as long as you don’t think too hard about it.

Rather, Dolittle puts much more focus on the dynamic between its many characters, both human and animal. There is a sweet story about connection and vulnerability at the center of the movie, as Dolittle is forced to rejoin the human world. But while there is a nice message about not closing yourself off from others – and about bravery in the case of the anxious gorilla Chee-Chee (Rami Malek) – most of the character dynamics are played for laughs, from the odd couple friendship of the polar bear Yoshi (John Cena) and ostrich Plimpton (Kumail Nanjiani) to the duck Dab-Dab (Octavia Spencer), who mistakes vegetables for medical equipment. However, very little of it is memorable, and though the humor’s bound to get some laughs, it’ll play better with younger audiences than older moviegoers. The biggest standouts of the voice cast are Craig Robinson as the squirrel Kevin, who harbors a grudge against Stubbins, and Jason Mantzoukas as the bumbling dragonfly James, though that’s largely because their characters play to their particular comedic strengths. The whole cast of Dolittle is solid enough, but this is Downey Jr’s movie.

Still, though there is a compelling pathos to Downey Jr’s Dolittle, the role necessitates the actor to work off an almost entirely CGI cast of animal characters, which is much less interesting than the movie would have you believe. Often, it comes off as clumsy when the CGI doesn’t totally line-up and disjointed on a tonal level, especially in the juxtaposition of Dolittle’s tragic history and the comedic relief of the majority of the animals. There’s certainly some fun to be had in Dolittle, and the movie makes certain decisions, especially in the third act, that are so wildly preposterous and ridiculous – but that may not necessarily be a good thing. Ultimately, Dolittle seems catered entirely to the younger crowd, which is fine and makes the movie perfect for a family outing.

As for whether Dolittle will appeal to older crowds, though, that seems less likely, despite Downey Jr’s appeal as a fixture of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also doesn’t have much movie magic, never surpassing the bar of a generic family-friendly adventure. So while Dolittle may have been meant to start a new franchise for Downey Jr., there’s not much here compelling viewers to clamor for another installment. It’s fun enough to keep audiences mostly entertained for its hour and 45 minute runtime, but there’s nothing particularly memorable to latch onto – not the CGI animals, not the fantasy world and not even Downey Jr’s performance.

Next: Dolittle Movie Trailer

Dolittle is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 106 minutes long and rated PG for some action, rude humor and brief language.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


2020-01-17 04:01:39

Molly Freeman

Dare Me Series Premiere Review | Screen Rant

After her time as a writer on HBO’s The Deuce it seemed inevitable that author Megan Abbott would bring an adaptation of one of her novels to television. As it turns out, USA was the network with the foresight to do just that, turning Abbott’s Dare Me into a smart, dark thriller that’s as enticingly unconventional as it is deliberately paced, making for a must-see series to close out 2019 and continue on into 2020. 

Cheerleading squads aren’t usually the basis for intense dramas about friendship, betrayal, and ambition, but Abbott proves adept at turning the ultra-competitive sport into an almost terrifyingly insular group, complete with its own set of social rules and expectations. In the car of Dare Me, most of those rules are decided upon by Beth Cassidy (Marlo Kelly), the almost brutally driven “top girl” of her high school cheerleading squad. With her right-hand woman, Addy (Herizen F. Guardiola), the two enjoy a certain kind of status among their peers, and wield a frequently abusive amount of power over the younger women on the squad, all of whom are eager to please and terrified of consequences should they fail. 

More: Lost In Space Season 2 Review: More High-Flying Family-Friendly Adventure

The series begins at the start of Beth and Addy’s senior year. Expectations are high, as both young women hope to use cheerleading as a means by which they can escape the confines of their suburban existence, and in the case of Beth, the unstable home life brought about by her father’s infidelity and her mother’s prescription drug use. But senior year becomes rife with conflict following the arrival of a new cheerleading coach, Colette French (Willa Fitzgerald). Colette immediately destabilizes the social clique, knocking Beth from her perch as “top girl,” and ensnaring Addy and the rest of the squad with the promise of her new regime, all while cultivating an air of suspicion around her. 

Dare Me isn’t a propulsive thriller — at least not in its first hour. The series takes its time establishing a strong sense of place and character, both of which prove useful as the season progresses and the power struggle between Beth and Colette turns ugly. The premiere, ‘Coup d’État,’ at times moves at a leisurely pace, steering in and out of the lives of its three main characters, filling in the details of who they are, what they want, and how they plan to go about getting it. This approach paints Beth and Addy in great detail, revealing not only the inner workings of their relationship and its unique power dynamics, but also the fissures that Colette is able to exploit early on, driving a small but devastating wedge between the besties. 

This proves to be the first of many dramatic turns, as Dare Me gradually shifts gears from small, Midwestern story to a dark plot that’s more crime thriller than high school drama. This is very much in Abbott’s wheelhouse, as readers of novels like Queenpin and The End of Everything know the author expertly delves into the kind of crime-oriented territory normally covered by the likes of Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos — the latter is, unsurprisingly the co-creator of The Deuce. 

Viewers will be hard-pressed to guess this after the end of the first hour, as Dare Me plays things pretty close to the vest, hinting at a variety of unsettling circumstances surrounding Beth and Addy, and sudden portent that accompanies Coach French’s arrival. Near the end of the first hour, the series swerves dramatically, seemingly putting Beth on the offensive after being upbraided by Colette in front of her squad and seemingly losing the position of team captain. While there is intrigue in that conflict, Dare Me delivers a more compelling set of circumstances in what brought Colette to the small town, and how much of her past is know to those who hired her, and to her husband, Matt (Rob Heaps). The discovery that Colette has secrets to hide and is more often that not living a double life — or seemingly on the run from one — energizes the story just in time. What was at first a seemingly relaxed teen drama soon proves itself to be a skillfully told thriller with a penchant for surprises and twists that don’t undercut the power of the narrative. 

As a late-in-the-year drama Dare Me proves to be one of 2019’s best shows, and as it only gets better as it moves along, the series is well on its way to being one of the best new shows of 2020, too. 

Next: The Witcher Series Premiere Review: Netflix Delivers A Grand Sword-And-Sorcery Adventure

Dare Me premieres Sunday, December 29 @10pm on USA.


2019-12-28 01:12:54

Kevin Yeoman

Our Review Of Duolingo: The Free Language Learning App

If you are looking to learn a new language, you’ve probably heard of Duolingo – but does it really work and is it worth the download? Duolingo has been around for quite some time now and is currently one of the most popular language learning apps for mobile devices. The program has lessons for dozens of languages including all of the most popular ones like Spanish and Chinese. The app is free but it does rely on a freemium model complete with in-app purchases, premium currency, and a paid subscription mode for a monthly fee. The costs for these in-app purchases ranges from $0.99 to $13.99. There are ads between lessons as well, but they are easy to skip and not timed like in many other freemium apps.

Instead of using reading-based lessons, the app uses a teaching style that is familiar to users of other language products like Rosetta Stone or Mango. That means you will be presented with information and immediately asked to answer questions about it. For example, if learning an Asian language, you will be shown a character and hear the pronunciation, then asked to click on which pronunciation you heard. This method can be useful for some people, but for others that want a more methodical, structured approach, this style can seem lacking. Of course, there are no rules against taking notes or doing your own outside research.

Related: Teen App Photo Roulette Causes Moral Panic, Privacy Fears

The lessons are fairly robust and can cover a lot of the basics of a language, and even some of the more complex concepts. However, when it comes to some of the more complex grammar, the lessons often end up being more of a guessing game with a lot of trial and error. The app itself has a clean interface and is easy to navigate. The lesson layout is clear and users can see their progress visually as they unlock new sections of the lessons map.

One of the biggest drawbacks to Duolingo is if you allow it to send you notifications. The app will remind you daily, or even multiple times a day if you don’t do a lesson. If you stop taking lessons for several days, it will still beg and plead that you come back to it. It’s only after several weeks have passed where it will finally give up and tell you that it won’t bother you anymore. Of course notifications can be switched off, but if they aren’t, Duolingo will be sure to pester you more often than you’d probably like.

As mentioned above, lessons don’t typically go into detail about how grammar rules work. There really aren’t any sections where a concept is explained in great detail. The system instead just relies on its preferred method of having you guess until you get it right, even if you don’t understand why you got it right.

Overall, Duolingo is a decent app for what it offers. Just don’t expect to become completely bilingual just by using Duolingo. You’ll likely have more success if you consider Duolingo to be a companion app to your own training through more traditional means such as taking a class or reading a book. On the other hand, if your goal is just to get some basic conversation skills for an upcoming trip, Duolingo could be exactly what you need.

Next: Robinhood Stock Trading App Will Let You Buy Stocks One Cent At A Time


2019-12-19 02:12:39

Robert DeVoe

DuckDuckGo Mobile Privacy Browser: Our Review | Screen Rant

The popular Google alternative search engine DuckDuckGo released a mobile browser that’s dedicated to your privacy – but is it worth switching to? We gave the DuckDuckGo browser a test drive for several weeks and have come up with our impressions on the app. Overall, it’s a solid piece of tech that can help keep trackers out of your private business. It even has a nifty and explosively cool feature that lets you securely wipe all of your browsing history with just a single tap. If you’re like most mobile users, you probably just use your phone’s default browser. You may even have installed an alternative browser like Firefox or Google Chrome for iOS. But if you are as crazy about online privacy as we are, you might want to consider taking a look at the free DuckDuckGo privacy browser.

The app functions just like you would expect and we found no problems viewing media rich sites like YouTube and Twitter. The address bar works as an integrated search bar for DuckDuckGo.com, the groups native search engine that yields impressive search results but without phoning home every query you make to Google headquarters. In fact, the group promises that they never keep any search history whatsoever on any of its users. Remember that embarrassing query you made last week on Google? Unless you changed your settings manually to tell Google specifically not to remember, then they absolutely did remember and will use that to target you with ads. With DuckDuckGo, privacy is the default, not an opt-in feature you have to find yourself. Other handy features include automatic data clearing, light and dark themes, and Google-free search autocomplete.

Related: Why Google Buying Fitbit Has Raised Privacy Concerns

The browser supports tabs, bookmarks, and everything else you would expect from a full-featured browsing experience. One of the most interesting features that DuckDuckGo offers is its burn button which looks like a flame. When you press it, your screen lights up as if you just set your device on fire and an instant later all of your browsing history, cache, and so on are completely and irrevocably wiped from your device. That’s an extremely powerful privacy feature – especially if you share your device with others and don’t want them to gain access to your email account that you forgot to log out of.

For browsing on a desktop or laptop, DuckDuckGo offers a browser extension that can help resolve a number of privacy issues related to tracking and security holes. It does this by forcing encrypted connections and preventing malicious code from executing. Unfortunately, we did find that the browser add-on was far more likely to cause compatibility issues with certain websites than in the mobile browser. For example, one banking website we tested went into a frenzy of refreshing itself several times per second on an endless loop and we couldn’t log in until we completely disabled the extension. The developers must have been aware of this potential outcome which is why they included a white list option which disables the extension whenever you visit a site that doesn’t work.

Overall the extension is nice to have, but you are likely better off just using a privacy-focused browser in the first place like Brave or Firefox. The DuckDuckGo extension only makes sense if you are required to use only Google Chrome (like at your office) but still want to maintain some control over your privacy. The mobile browser, on the other hand, is a clear-cut winner in our eyes and we recommend it to anyone who wants to stop trackers from following them around the Internet.

Next: Pokemon GO Is Addressing Its Massive Privacy Problem


2019-12-13 02:12:06

Robert DeVoe

5 Galaxies (2019) Movie Review | Screen Rant

5 Galaxies is a new sci-fi film that’s now available on DVD and Digital. Much like this year’s Holiday Hell, the movie is a collection of shorts that allow a team of filmmakers to play in this realm and tell their own stories across various time periods and settings. For example, one is set in a contemporary future where a man wrestles with his responsibility to help an overpopulation crisis by killing himself at age 40, while another is set in a Phillip K. Dick-inspired word where a criminal is in possession of a face-shifting device. This all sounds rather interesting, but unfortunately it doesn’t make for the most engaging watch. 5 Galaxies is a muddled lineup of sci-fi shorts that struggles to live up to whatever intriguing potential they may have on-paper.

The biggest issue with the film is a painful disconnect between the five shorts. Unlike Holiday Hell, there’s no framing device that ties all of the vignettes together, so the complete picture has a random feel to it, rather than being a cohesive work. Additionally, the shorts themselves feel incomplete – almost as if they are individual acts pulled out of a longer feature (or a proof-of-concept demo for a full movie). Many of them lack either the necessary setup to help certain emotional beats land or a proper resolution. Too often, the shorts will frustratingly end just as things really start to get interesting and present a challenge for the characters, which can be maddening for the viewer. If the directors had more time to flesh things out, there might have been some fascinating works here, but instead some of the shorts feel inconsequential and unsatisfying.

Related: Read Screen Rant’s Holiday Hell Review

Sadly, the material doesn’t do any of the actors favors, as much of the cast is given little to work with. To be fair, the ensembles of all the shorts try their best, but there’s only so much they can do. Impressively, the filmmakers were able to land some big names amidst a group of unknowns (like Eric Roberts and the MCU’s Pom Klementieff), but 5 Galaxies ultimately feels like a waste of their high profiles and talent. Additionally, the writing leans heavily into tried and true sci-fi tropes in both premise and characterization (the post-apocalyptic survivor jaded by his experiences; a roguish bounty hunter with a tortured past, etc.) without bringing anything all that new to the table, which takes away from the viewing experience.

On a more positive note, the filmmakers do stretch their obviously limited budget as far as it’ll go. Technically, the production design and special effects work are impressive (especially considering the scope of 5 Galaxies), making things as immersive as possible. It’s in these elements the directors’ passion for the stories they’re telling comes through, as it’s apparent they had fun crafting sci-fi environments and wanted to take viewers to new worlds. 5 Galaxies might have looked a little hokey in theaters, but its release strategy of going straight to video benefits it, since any shortcomings in the technical aspects are masked on the small screen – be it a TV or a mobile device.

Ultimately, 5 Galaxies is a mishmash of various sci-fi concepts that doesn’t really amount to anything. What’s unfortunate is that any individual short had the potential to make for a relatively compelling feature-length genre picture, but it doesn’t work as an anthology. As presented, 5 Galaxies doesn’t have any real flow to it, and it’s difficult to recommend even to the biggest sci-fi fans out there. Perhaps someone might find something to enjoy if they were to cue it up on a rainy day, but 5 Galaxies – even for a low-budget film with small aspirations – will really struggle to stand out.

More: Read Screen Rant’s Bombshell Review

5 Galaxies is now available on DVD and Digital.


2019-12-10 02:12:31

Chris Agar