Netflix Death Note Review

The Netflix original American Death Note is finally upon us. It took a lot of flak for, among other things, whitewashing, having a black man play L and generally looking shite (depending on your viewpoint), but personally I was rather looking forward to it. I enjoyed the anime but I’m not a diehard fan of it by any means, having the cast be white Americans didn’t bother me (if you want an all-Asian version that exists already) and I took quite a shine to the new L, despite his potentially weak disguise game. I wasn’t expecting it to be a masterpiece, but as long as it was decent I’d probably enjoy it. Unfortunately that was too much to ask.

After a magic book capable of killing anyone whose name is written in falls from the sky, Light Turner becomes a vigilante serial killer at the goading of Death God Ryuk. Along the way he gains the help of fellow student and girlfriend Mia Sutton, and after the killings become numerous and international he falls under the deductive eye of mysterious private detective L, who vows to catch him. First of all, Light and Mia are awful, both as adapted versions of existing characters and as character in themselves. Anime Light was a boy of sheer focus, immense intelligence and an alarming messiah complex. He killed everyone with a heart attack to instil fear and bring about a world in which he is seen as a God. This Light is a whiny dweeb who gets a few lines early on about how people don’t look out for the little guy, which is apparently all the motivation he needs to slaughter people. The heart attacks are gone, seemingly just so that the film can cram in unnecessary gore with which it swiftly grows bored. Here the moniker “Kira” is a name chosen by him to appear Japanese, and apparently means “Light” in Russian and Celtic. I am glad they put in an explanation for it, but it still seems a bit flimsy, and once it’s explained it’s never questioned again, and it’s never really mentioned why exactly Light wants people to think he’s Japanese, specifically. Mia’s loveable ditz routine from the anime has been discarded, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; this Mia has notable moments of real competence fuelled by a chilling desire to kill that outshines Light, but these moments are few and far between, and for the most part she’s just Light’s girlfriend. The love story is depressingly inevitable, begins within five minutes of them meeting and fails so thoroughly in its attempts to make you care about it that it adds literally nothing of value to the plot. Ryuk fares better, though it’s mainly down to Willem Defoe, who basically plays himself and does exactly as good a job as his casting would imply. Several times he’s shown out of focus, with only his glowing eyes giving him away; this combined with the film’s insistence on keeping everything regarding the Shinigami vague and unspoken make him quite effective.

L, on the other hand, is thoroughly battered. It starts reasonably well; Lakeith Stanfield gets the posture and mannerisms down, and has a slightly different take on the character, making him somewhat more self-assured in public, but barely restraining a flood of emotions that threaten to boil over more than once, and occasionally do. He doesn’t have the sheer length of time to show off his acumen afforded to his anime counterpart, but he puts things together, challenges Kira in a believable, understandable way, and maintains the disguise shown in he picture above. He is, for the duration of these scenes, L. Unfortunately the film apparently needed an exciting action climax, catalysed by a sharp departure from the source material involving a rule in the book being bent if not outright broken by the film and never commented upon. It results in L CHASING LIGHT THROUGH THE STREETS, ARMED WITH A BLADE RUNNER GUN. Said chase goes on way too long, as L pursues Light through alleys, diners and apartment buildings, in a scene I still can’t quite believe actually happened. He does all this with his face uncovered, too, and unsurprisingly this has consequences. I know L has quirks, and can do things a lot of people would consider irrational or strange, but the film has other scenes that convey this far more effectively, and without having the character do something so stupid and detrimental to his career. I can understand why it happens, and it’s not completely unthinkable given the series of events leading up to it, but as I said, those events are at odds with the rules in the Death Note, and to have L act so much like his anime counterpart in the scenes leading up to the chase make it jarring at best and detrimental at worst. It’s a shame, because alongside Defoe, Stanfield is the best part of the film, and he does his best with the lacking material.

Overall Netflix’s attempt at a Death Note adaptation is pretty awful. Light and Mia are annoying, bland, and neither likeable, nor truly hate-able as villains. It’s the bare bones of Death Note with gore, a love story and needlessly over-the-top action draped over. Despite what they have to work with, Lakeith Stanfield and Willem Defoe make the most of things, but they are all that the film has going for it. If you’re a fan of the source material, it’s worth a watch as a curiosity, and to see Stanfield and Defoe. If you’re new to Death Note, there’s nothing here for you.

By James Lambert


Nyehfully Yours : Thoughts on Undertale

Much has been said about Undertale, to the point where I feel like writing a review of it is slightly redundant for me personally. The game’s massively popular and has been since its release, which lead to its detriment for a time due to the fanbase ranging from “Yeah this game’s something special” to “PLAY THE GAME THE WAY I DEEM TO BE CORRECT OR I’LL KILL YOUR FAMILY”. It also didn’t help that, much like “Inside” it’s a “BEST.GAME.EVER but I can’t tell you why” situation, which gets us nowhere. While my review would go into more detail than that it would end up being quite hyperbolic without being able to delve into the specifics as to what makes the game so good, so instead I’m going to give a brief, non-spoilery rundown on the game, then move on to a more tangential ramble about what I like and why I’m glad I finally got to play it (the recent PS4 release is my first time playing the game). So for now: Undertale is an RPG in the classic style (see above sprites for reference) in which it’s possible (and encouraged) to spare every enemy you encounter. It’s wonderfully written, funny, sad and surprisingly dark at times, the characters are all brilliant, and it’s full of clever touches and really strong meta plot elements that I’ll elaborate on in my spoiler talk. If you’ve never played it I highly recommend doing so, I can’t think of anything else like it.


So I’ve done both a neutral run and follow-up true pacifist run, and I’ve read a fair bit about what happens on a “genocide/no mercy” run, and I’ll start by saying: that’s a master stoke. Killing every enemy you encounter makes it into a completely different game, with new dialogue, slowed-down music, new encounters and a unique final boss (more on him in a minute). It’s a horror game where you’re the monster, and beating the game this way means that unless you find a workaround (which is apparently tricky) you’ll never have a happy ending again. This sounds harsh, but I think it’s a really neat idea; lots of games hype up their “Every choice has consequences” schtick but it only lasts as long as that playthrough. Here, the game punishes you harshly for slaughtering everyone in the world for no reason, and remembers if you kill someone then reload the game to undo it. This is the meta element I mentioned earlier: two characters in the game, villainous flower Flowey and lazy, pun-loving Skeleton Sans know that you the player have the power to save and reset the game. Play a genocide route and the normally benevolent Sans becomes the final boss; powerful, merciless and constantly cheating because you’re an irredeemable piece of shit and he has to stop you. Normally he’s friendly but weary and melancholic over unseen “resets”, but cross the line and he can’t let you the player make the mistake of poisoning your save file forever. Good stuff, even if I have no intention of ever doing that run.

On the lighter side, the game is genuinely hilarious. It’s approach to turn based combat, making friends with/dating NPCs and even incidental dialogue is fantastic. The stand-outs are Papyrus the skeleton, a constantly cheerful, all-loving goofball who loves making spaghetti and creating puzzles and Undyne, head of the Royal guard and “heroine that never gives up”, who believes anime is real, suplexes boulders because she can and becomes best friends with you out of spite. You end up helping her get together with love interest Dr Alphys; endearing, anxiety-stricken anime fangirl who hits pretty close to home. You can hang out with both of them, with results best seen by your own eyes. Non-lethal approaches to fight run the gamut of encounter-specific choices, including things like petting, complimenting, hugging, singing, flexing and acting mysterious, all of which have different effects. Enemy attacks take the form of mini bullethell shooters, and a non-lethal run involves a mixture of those sections and charming your way to pacifist victory. The writing is generally whimsical and silly, but very sharp, and made me laugh out loud surprisingly often.

On the other hand though, it’s genuinely touching, particularly in the case of the royal family of Asgore (the King, who’s a big softy haunted by the terrible things he’s done) Toriel (loveable, lovely goat lady who wants to adopt and look after the child protagonist) and Asriel, the dead prince who just wants to keep resetting the world because he can’t let go of his dead friend, and has a really dark, upsetting backstory you can help deal with by forgiving and comforting him at the end, after a haunting boss fight. I can’t think of another game that made me laugh and cry in equal measure, that was so funny, touchingly sorrowful and that induced such joyful triumph. That it does so without suffering massive tonal problems is even more commendable.

I suppose this has sort of turned into a review, but that genuinely wasn’t my intention. I love Undertale, I’ll never forget Undertale, and now I’ve finally played it I had to at least write something about it. If you’ve never played it, do so, and play it however you want. If you have, leave it be, because those Monsters deserve their freedom.

By James Lambert



Netflix The Defenders Review

Hoo boy. So somehow, against all odds (or most, given Danny Rand’s presence) The Defenders is really disappointing. It was billed as a street level Avengers-style team up between Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist facing a new villain played by Sigourney Weaver. What it actually is, is a tired re-tread of elements from Iron Fist and Daredevil Season 2 in a story entirely related to them, into which Jessica and Luke just so happen to stumble. As it turns out Sigourney Weaver’s character Alexandra is yet another big shot in ancient ninja group “The Hand”, she has no development or depth, nothing interesting to say and do and apart from one catalytic action shown in flashback, has no real effect on the plot. If nothing else, the Defenders is a colossal waste of Sigourney Weaver. The Hand have more than outstayed their welcome at this point, and this entire season is dedicated to finishing off the last remnants, as well as newly revived, eeeeeee-ville Elektra, so Matt has something to do. That’s it for story really; Luke and Jessica follow up on their own private investigations which lead them to finding the Hand, the Hand are still evil and really boring at this point, Matt and Danny do the heavy lifting because they’ve had past business with the group.

Speaking of Danny, I now see him from the perspective of people who found him deeply irritating in his own series. I didn’t really mind him there, but given his key role in the plot and the fact that he still gets the shit kicked out of him by almost everyone he fights he’ll be nothing but the weak link going forward. By the virtue of being the Iron Fist he’s earned instant respect from Matt’s mentor Stick (Scott Glenn on top form, stealing every scene he’s in, just as he did in Daredevil) and (SPOILERS) Stick even dies protecting him, in completely unceremonious fashion, thanks for that, Marvel (SPOILERS END) but I can’t shake the feeling that he doesn’t deserve it, because he’s just an annoying prick who means well but comes across as arrogant, and for a “living weapon” gets punched in the face a whole lot. He’s the cause of the team inevitably fighting each other, for stupid, poorly defined reasons that could be solved with a conversation, and it’s one of the few fights in the season that isn’t dull or just really badly shot. Each individual series had its own spin on fights: Daredevil’s were brutal, harsh and nasty, Luke Cage’s were lighthearted and carried out by a kind-hearted tough guy always striving to do good. Jessica Jones’ were scrappy and often had a wildcard element of the attackers being brainwashed civilians, and even though Iron Fists’ fights were generally poor they at least had a nice martial arts focus. Here they’re just a slapped together mess; the fights feel like ones from Daredevil or Iron Fist; faceless goons by the truck load having a martial arts fight, Luke and Jessica punch and/or throw a few people, sometimes there are guns so Luke stands in the way of the bullets. Besides the scene where the four Defenders meet in a Hand-controlled office and battle their way out, the fights are never particualrly interesting, with the odd exception that’s over as soon as it begins.

There are good points, namely a handful of character-focused scenes. Matt and Jessica have solid chemistry, with the former’s surprisingly upbeat attitude letting the latter lower her guard as they work the detective angle. Jess’ scenes alone with Luke, reunited by extraordinary circumstances and trying to maintain some kind of connection are a definite highlight and just point out that the two of them are the best part of the show, and arguably the entire Netflix Marvel line-up. As I mentioned earlier Stick is as good as he’s ever been, all knowledgeable snark, ruthless efficiency and really good blind acting on the part of Scott Glenn. It’s nice to see Sigourney Weaver, and her character being an underdeveloped waste of time is entirely down to the script, not the actor. Without wishing to spoil the ending the only thing of importance The Defenders does by the end of its eight episode run (besides killing and maiming established characters) is further Matt Murdock’s storyline and set up Daredevil season 3; Danny gets some advancement by proxy and Jessica and Luke get a new story to tell. Also as good as Madam Gao has been in previous series, here she’s a toadying, apparently frightened lackey looking for a chance to usurp Alexandra, which is no where near as effective as the sinister puppet mistress she was previously. She does turn it around as the series goes on, but by that point she’s started taking part in fight scenes, and I’m still not sure where I stand on that whole deal.

Overall, The Defenders is a real let-down. Instead of a new story with a new villain all four team members can rally against, it wallows in a Hand-shaped paddling pool full of lukewarm water, half-arsing a Daredevil season 2.5 where he happens to make some new friends. The fight scenes are nothing special, the story is bland and the character development ratio is skewed in favour of the least interesting team member and the one who’s had two seasons dedicated to him already. Not a complete waste of time, but if the solo Iron Fist didn’t exist this would easily be the worst thing Marvel’s put on Netflix.

By James Lambert



Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice Review

Hellblade’s had quite a bit of buzz over the last few days for two main reasons; firstly for developer Ninja Theory’s serious, even-handed approach to the subject of mental illness and secondly for the game’s permadeath system, in which too many deaths will wipe your save. Both of these things convinced me to buy the game, which as it turns out is a character-focused affair with a mix of puzzles and combat, and the aforementioned mental illness angle playing a pivotal role in proceedings.

You are Senua, a Celtic Warrior who looks a lot like Leigh Alexander, embarking on a journey to the Norse underworld of Helheim to retrieve the soul of her slain boyfriend Dillion. It’s unclear if his death was the catalyst or merely fuel for the fire, but Senua suffers from severe Psychosis; in broad terms a disconnect from reality that brings hallucinations. It’s actually debatable as to whether her condition is so bad that the whole “Underworld” aspect of her journey is in her head, and there’s evidence for both standpoints, but the most prevalent, concrete symptom is her extensive auditory hallucinations in the form of voices. Far from being a gimmick that pops up now and then, the voices in Senua’s head are as much a character as Senua herself: they comment on pretty much everything, only rarely falling silent, and when the game recommends you wear headphones (as so many with a horror bent do), it does so for good reason. The voices are mocking, sympathetic, encouraging, defeatist, panicky and condescending all at once, and really do feel like an integral part of the game. The actual plot is a singularly focused journey into the depths of Senua’s personal hell; the only other non-enemy characters in the game are people close to her in the past, everything is seen from her perspective and the game takes its time to ruminate on her psyche and experiences. Credit to Melina Juergens, who inbetween the rare examples of Senua having dialogue conveys her character’s emotional state beautifully with facial expressions, often just with her eyes. For the most part the story is solid, but personally I’m not sure about the ending. I won’t spoil it obviously, but I’m not sure how well it suits the tone of everything that preceedes it.

Most of the game is spent walking around sparse, grim locales solving puzzles based almost entirely around perspective, and taking a break now and then to fight Norse goons. The Underworld shown here is unlike your standard fire and brimstone, rivers of blood deal, instead relying on a real-world aesthetic tinged with dread and a sense of unease, permeated with mutilated corpses and driving rain that create a miserable atmosphere. The puzzles are engaging without being taxing, and aside from some legwork don’t take so long to finish as to get boring, but they do stick to a definite theme. Chief among them is searching environments for door-unlocking runes, finding them represented in shadows, structures and bloodstains, a skill apparently unique to Senua. The rest of them are a variation on this theme; line up images, go through portals that change things in the environment, find runes. The combat, though less prevalent, is surprisingly satisfying, and feels like an attempt to punctuate the exploration with violence as an inevitability of both the time and Senua’s journey. Light and heavy attacks, a guard break, parrying and dodging; it’s deeper than I anticipated, frankly, and works really well.

The game does have some issues though. Senua’s supporting cast of Dillion, her father Zynbel and her old friend and mentor figure Druth are all presented in live action. This isn’t inherently an issue, but they often share the screen with Senua (who is performance captured but still rendered in the game’s engine) and it’s really jarring. When they’re limited to voice over and the visuals focus on Senua it works, all other times it’s off-putting. Also as enjoyable as the combat is and decent as the puzzles are, there isn’t much variety, and you will be doing what I described in the previous paragraph for the whole game, with a few exceptions. There’s also the ending I mentioned earlier, which I’m still debating over in my head.

Issues aside, Hellblade is a success; Ninja Theory’s approach to Psychosis, as manifested in the character they’ve created and portrayed by the actors playing her and the voices in her head are all worth giving the game a go. It’s on the PSN store for twenty five quid, which certainly sweetens the deal, and the rest of the game is enjoyable enough to make the story worth sticking with until the end. It’s also a victory for a reasoned, well-researched take on mental health and mental illness; as detailed in the making of included with the game Ninja Theory consulted with experts in the field of psychiatry and actual psychosis suffers, an approach which is both applaudable and entirely necessary in the industry.

By James Lambert


Nier Automata Review in Progress

So I’ve been playing Nier Automata, and was getting ready to review it. I’ve heard that playing it through more than once adds to the story, but it didn’t really bother me in regard to writing the review, but things have changed. A guide I very briefly consulted informed me that in order to get the full story you need to beat the game three times; second playthrough is as the main character’s partner, third playthrough is as an apparently important character who turned up halfway through for a boss fight and hasn’t been seen since. Given the quite drastic change in perspectives in the playthroughs, my interest in the plot hampered somewhat by how vague it can be and the promise of actual answers, I’m going to finish it three times before I review it. I do, however, have other things to review at the same time, and so I’m pushing Nier back for a while. I’ve got Persona 5 and Yakuza Kiwami coming up, as well as the PS4 version of Undertale, which I’d at least like to give some thoughts on given how long I’ve managed to avoid spoilers while really wanting to play it. Nier is coming though, I will get to it in good time.

By James Lambert