Video Game

Wreck-It Ralph is rarely laugh out loud funny but it’s often delightful and there are lots of clever videogame references and jokes to spot.

This is probably the best computer-animated film I’ve seen since The Incredibles and it’s certainly better than the over-rated Toy Story 3 and Up.

Ralph (John C. Reilly) or to give him his full title Wreck-It Ralph is the villain in an old arcade game (think of the ape from Donkey Kong). Only he’s tired of being the bad guy,. No one in his game likes him and when the game shuts off, he sleeps alone by a tree stump in an old town dump.

What’s clever about this film is that all the characters live lives outside their games. From the outside you only see the view through the screen, but really there is a lot more to their world than that. They are even able (via the electricity wires) to enter the other games in the arcade. Handy for Ralph since he attends ‘Bad-Guys Anonymous’ meetings run by one of the ghosts from Pacman, and which is also attended by such famous villains as Bowser, Zangief, and generic zombie.

Ralph soon sets off on a quest to become a hero, because with a hero’s medal around his neck, everyone will like him? Right? His quest takes him to the latest Hero’s Duty game (a great parody of Call of Duty and all those games that feature muscular bald space marine type heroes). It’s here where we meet one of the best characters, the very intense and aggressive Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch). We are told the reason for this intensity is that she has the the most tragic back-stories ever: The one day she didn’t do a perimeter check, her wedding day, her husband- to-be was killed and eaten by aliens.

Then it’s on to Sugar Rush. A cynical karting game possibly inspired by the Candy Crush franchise (I can’t say for sure since I’ve never played it but it’s fair to say most karting games are cynical cash-ins). Here Ralph meets a little girl, Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) who is also a glitch. This part of the film is both it’s greatest strength and weakness. Ralph forms a tempestuous but touching friendship with her (she is also an outsider within her game on account of her being a glitch). However a large part of the story is told here and the world of Sugar Rush is very bland, not just on the account of it being a saccharine-sweet karting game but also because it’s generally a very empty place when it’s not race day.

The message behind the film is a familiar but admirable one – that it’s ok to be yourself. After a bumpy and difficult journey getting there, both Ralph and Vanellope find this out for themselves. There’s another message to be learned too, this time for video game developers: what goes on outside the games in the arcade is a lot more magical and enchanting than than the generic action that we often see happening behind their screens. So something else to think about there too. Not perfect but a very good film. 7/10

Super Meat Boy developers Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes previous games include Cunt, Time Fcuk and Bitch Hunt which probably explains why they have yet to release a game for Nintendo.

This is no King of Kong (the acclaimed film which followed 2 video game players as they competed to achieve a new world record on the classic arcade game Donkey Kong) and it’s not exactly a movie either. More accurately it’s a movie-length documentary following 3 independent game developers, each with a game at a different stage of development. The games in question are Fez (at the time of filming, midway through it’s development), Super Meat Boy (fast approaching it’s release date) and Braid (which had already been released to critical acclaim).

Much is made of how the developers’ individual psyches and childhood experiences influence their games. This and the fact that the developer’s like to complain about generic massmarket games is slightly ironic given how ultimately, they all end up making what are at a basic level 2D “Run and jump” games (think Mario but with added bells and whistles).

Considering how this could all be slightly dry subject matter, it’s impressive how the director has managed to mine such a rich seam of emotion from it. The developers have all poured their heart, soul and financial security into their games and the stakes are high. The games *need* to succeed. This is something that the documentary really gets across well to the viewer and there are a number of emotional moments as the developers flit between despair and elation.

The flipside to this is that you get the feeling more than a couple of times that dramatic moments have been exaggerated at the expense of the truth. For example Fez’s constant crashing at it’s initial showing appears to make it unplayable, but not much later on this doesn’t seem much of a problem at all – you see a queue of people all happily playing and enthusing about the game. Similarly Tommy (Super Meat Boy programmer) is distraught when he realises his game is not featured on Xbox Live Marketplace on it’s release day but then the film switches to show his co-developer Edmund who doesn’t seem at all bothered and in fact doesn’t even mention it. You get the feeling this issue was quickly resolved after an email to the publisher.

Still this is a well made, interesting and occasionally emotional documentary. Recommended especially if you are interested in video games, and even if you aren’t you will still get something from it.