Tokyo Godfathers (2003) Movie Review

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Christmas in Japan – what do I know about it?  Well, considering Christianity makes up 2.3% of religious beliefs in the county (that’s still 2.9 million people, roughly the entire population of Jamaica…quite insane, I know) it usually is celebrated as a secular and commercial holiday that’s good for business.  I’m aware that it’s quite traditional for Kids who (sort of) experience it like every other country that allows it.  While for adults and teens, it depends on the individual.  Some go on dates, others are with family and friends, and others are alone or too busy with work and it’s a normal day.  There’s also the known fact that KFC’s business booms around that time of year, to the point that meals have to be ordered a year in advance…and then there’s the strawberry cream cake, which is also, seemingly, a Japan-only Christmas tradition long before Chicken was considered.  However, despite the range of celebrations of the holiday around this time of year – the artistic expression of the season isn’t as evident beyond the Christmas Decorations.  SEGA’s Ryū ga Gotoku (Yakuza) games usually happen in December, so the decorations are up and the music is playing throughout each tale.  Some anime shows would have 1 Christmas episode, usually about the 2 love interests in a Slice-Of-Life anime, and altogether there are only 3 Japanese Christmas Movies that Wikipedia is aware of:  The live action (Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, starring David Bowie and featuring Ryuchi Sakamoto’s famous piano piece of the same name), the stop motion animation from 1979 called Nutcracker Fantasy, and of course, the 1 in focus for today; The anime.

Directed by the late great Satoshi Kon (7 years later, the void remains), Tokyo Godfathers is a Christmas movie about 3 homeless people; Gin, a middle aged gambling addict and alcoholic who says he was a bicycle racer.  Hana, a former drag queen who became homeless after the death of a boyfriend.  And finally, Miyuki, a fouled-mouthed 14 year old high school student who ran away from home after a violent argument with her father.  After receiving food from a Christian Outreach via outdoor soup kitchen with Christmas Carols and Sermon, the 3 end up finding a baby in a trash pile, which in turn leads us on an adventure as the 3 unlikely heroes go in search of the baby’s parents.

Now to go into some details:

The Animation, much like Satoshi Kon’s other work, is absolutely top notch.  It’s grounded in reality, and yet it throws in a number of facial expressions and visual quirks that can only be found in animation.  The expressions are realistic with a subtle cartoon hint that isn’t really over the top.

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Actors are awesome, but sometimes you need to turn volumes up to 11 in the facial department for the biggest laugh.

Unlike Satoshi Kon’s other work, which are extremely colourful and like to blend reality and fantasy – Tokyo Godfather’s art style chooses to be grounded in reality, with any blending being created by hunger induced hallucinations.  The backgrounds look like they were rotoscoped from photographs (Some might ask why not just use the photos on their own to save time, well, animated characters need to be in a world that looks like somewhere they belong, and sometimes you’re not going to get completely empty shops and streets).  The the brightest scenes in the movie take place either indoors or where street lights or business signs are in galore.  In the process there is balance and change in scenery.

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Yes, in the name of submerging animated characters their world, you sometimes have to recreate photos as illustrations.

The Music is like the film’s story – Happy, Sad, Funny and Chaotic.  It doesn’t stand out like the rest of the movie, or even from other Kon movies like Perfect Blue and Paprika where music is tied into the stories.  But it’s eclectic and suits the scenes really well, including, obviously, at least 1 Christmas song.

The Voice Acting is excellent with both the weight and the emotion transcending the language barrier (This is the Japanese audio).  Japanese audiences could say otherwise, but to my ear, it worked really well.

The Characters, especially our 3 heroes, are very colourful and at times can come across as more human than most live action shows.  With the exception of the thugs that beat up Gin halfway into the movie, no character comes across as bad…just sad, broken and lonely – a reflection on how some people are around that time of year.  Throughout the movie, these 3 meet all sorts of folk, ranging from troubled couples to Yakuza to immigrants to other people who remind them either of their past or point them towards their possible future if they continue down such a path.  Together they make up a sort of distorted nuclear family with Gin as the drunk good-for-nothing dad, Hana as the protective mother, Mizuki as the oldest child who fights with Dad, and obviously the baby Kiyoko (whose name means pure child, a reference to being found on Christmas Eve)as the newest arrival.  As the story progresses, even for just 92 minutes, you get to know who they really are and even feel for them deeply as they confront their pasts.

The Story and its themes are by far Satoshi Kon’s most straightforward while having all of the twists and turns of an unpredictable but oddly logical story.  It places great emphasis on coincidences and timing.  It shows that even the smallest detail can tie complete strangers to each other for better or worse.  It also has “miracles” woven into the plot, as particular timing seems to not only rescue the 3 homeless grumps (and a baby), but also have them confront their pasts – pasts that made them homeless to begin with, whether through misunderstandings or stupid mistakes and selfishness.  The theme of family plays throughout the film as well.  This thrown together family is highly dysfunctional, and could part ways if they wanted to…and yet they look out for each other.  It challenges not only traditional families, but also the pseudo family.

Would I recommend Tokyo Godfathers?  Absolutely!  It’s not a Christmas movie that gets brought up much, but it’s incredibly funny and entertaining, even if anime is not your cup of tea.  It’s humour (and language) is not for kids, but it has a ton of heart and is probably 1 of the best seemingly-out-of-place Christmas movies out there.

Animation: ****3/4

Art Style: ****3/4

Music: ****

Voice Acting: ****3/4

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Themes: *****

Overall: ****3/4


Syberia 3 (2017) Video Game Review

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After 13 years of waiting, this game was finally released and much like Kingdom Hearts fans waiting for number 3, fans rejoiced.  Compared to the original 2, Syberia 3 was eager to give back to fans by not only being available on PC, X-box One, Nintendo Switch, and PS4, but by also selling premium editions which included artwork, an art book, the game’s soundtrack, a 23 page comic book (which is also sold on comixology), a poster and a small figurine of the main character, Kate Walker.  At £100 for the console versions  and £40 for the PC version (which excluded the figurine and had everything else in a digital form) on release date, I chose to get the PC/Mac version, simply because I didn’t have the money.  Anyway.  Lets read about it.

Our story begins sometime after the events of Syberia 2.  Hans Voralberg, the last heir of the Voralberg automaton factory, has finally accomplished his goal by finding Syberia with Kate Walker, and then riding on the back of a large, wooly mammoth into the arctic sunset.  Such an ending then brought up the question – What happened to Kate Walker?  Well, in Syberia 3 we see this;  Kate ends up travelling (by foot) through the vast snowscape, until she collapses .  She is then found by a tribe of Youkols, natives to Syberia who haven’t changed with the times of the world around them.  The Youkols are on a pilgrimage, a long path to a land where their Snow Ostriches can partake in their mating season (or go extinct).  Kate wakes up in a hospital, where she is sharing the  room with Kurk, the young guide of the Youkols, who lost his leg and needs a prosthetic.  After finding out that there are people who are not only trying to stop the Youkol Migration, but also aiding the New York Detective, Nic Cantin, who was sent by Kate’s ex-law firm employers to find her and place her under arrest for various charges – Kate makes it her goal to not only avoid capture, but also to help the Youkols (and their ostriches) finish their pilgrimage.

Now to discuss components:

First of all, this game really nailed the artwork!  Benoit Sokal, a comic artist himself, worked as both author and art director, and contributed in the concept art.  The art itself was mostly done by Amanda Goengrich and Sebastien Bousquet.  I love how everything is presented with tons of quirks, much atmosphere, evident steampunk mixed with 20th century Russian stylisations and a very european charm that’s either found in european cinema or Wes Anderson movies.  The art book was a lovely addition to this also.

The graphics are…almost understandable, since this game was in development hell for so long and visuals in video games have grown so much since then – It’s safe to say the graphics are a mixed bag.  When I first bought the game, I was presented with the option of “beautiful but with fewer frames per second” or less detailed and faster.  I close detailed and slower – and I did rather enjoy the graphics around this time, despite the cinematic lag in framework.  However, about 3/4 of the way in, a patch was created on the PC/Mac version, and when I played the game afterwards, I could no longer choose my presentation.  In the end, the game did play a lot faster, but the textures were evidently worse.

The gameplay animation for this game, much like its previous chapters, is terrible.  It’s made even worse when you consider it’s 2017 when you look at it.  I can compare it to the animations in Frogware’s Sherlock Holmes PC game series, which were as stiff as the Tin Man in the middle of a good oiling – but I guess it has become a running trend – that while Sokal gets amazing artists, his renders, animators and possibly his choice in software, leave a lot to be desired.

The cutscene animation is better than the gameplay animation by a long shot – but when compared to its contemporaries, it’s pretty ordinary at best.

The gameplay has an inconsistent quality with a number of curveballs thrown in.  Several puzzles were very easy, others had me wandering around lost for 20 minutes.  But many-a-times you need to think outside the box.  Such as 1 particular puzzle that seemed to require a code, when in actuality, I just needed to smash it with something.  Little things like that which can go over your head.

The voice acting seems to vary in quality, depending on the character.  I played it in english, but when I watched the cutscenes again in French it sounded (and looked) so much better!  Much, much more endearing.  Makes me feel like I’m watching a Jean Pierre Jeunet film in places.  But since my ear to the quality of french voice acting is limited, I can only talk about the english version.  The voice for Kate Walker (Sharon Mann) is by far the best, while many other voices don’t seem to match the characters, especially Mr Steiner the Clockmaker (who sounds like a bank clerk than a grizzled artist) and Olga the evil doctor (who sounds 30 years younger than she looks).  They sound so much more in character in the french voiceover.

The characters are what you would expect from the series.  With the exception of Kate herself, many are there for a short time.  Full of character?  Yes.  But their time in-game doesn’t always last, as the story likes to progress rather quickly (depending on how good you are at this sort of game).  During their short stints, you basically know who they are in their appearance, the environment and their dialogue by the end of it.  Which, to be honest, can take great skill.  Enjoyable, and 1 of the better aspects of the game.

The Story’s actually very good when you’ve been following the rest of the series and manages to maintain a consistency.  It’s like the series has been able to continue without much time gone past.  It’s colourful, funny, and full of twists and turns to the point of finding its 1 problem after another as an amusing wink to the audience.

The music by Inon Zur is 1 of the best parts of the game.  A mixture of Tribal music, chanting, wooden instruments, brass and some strings, it manages to provide an oddly magical sound to the game that would have otherwise suffered without it.  You feel the adventure, the mystery, the danger (in a quirky, theatrical way), the struggle, the sadness, the longing, and the hope, which are just some things I love about it.    Even when the game’s over, I’ll be sticking this on for some ambience or pondering.  Really, really great stuff!

Would I recommend Syberia 3?  Maybe.  It depends.  As a whole, and within context of the times in which it came out, it’s safe to say that Syberia 3 is not as good as its previous chapters.  It struggles to make any impact on the modern market, the attempts to give back to fans have possibly been thrown back at them (with their broken statues in £100 premium editions) and at times it feels like the world has very much moved on without it.  It’s the little fishing boat chasing the large cruise liner containing the Triple-A developers.  As someone who creates things without “going through the system” – I actually feel for this game and its developers.  It’s created by people who tried, and wanted it to succeed.  They had hopes of it doing well and putting the franchise back on the map, and it ended up being disappointing, even when I was willing to accept all of the things that they would have been ashamed of themselves (which was usually in the animation department more than anything else).  Fair play to them, they managed to get the game out there after 13 years with some wonderful qualities to it.  But the whole thing feels bittersweet.  If they release Syberia 4, I’ll be ready for it.  Whether it’s an actual game or a Comic-book-continuation that’s similar to how Buffy, Angel and Firefly are still going in comic form, even when the show has finished or been cancelled.  Either way, as someone who enjoys Sokal’s work, may this story keep going somehow.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **3/4

Gameplay Animation: *1/4

Cutscene animation: ***1/2

Gameplay: **3/4

Voice Acting: **1/2 (**** in French)

Characters: ****1/4

Story: ****

Music: *****

Overall: ***1/2

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016) Video Game Review

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Right, we’re now on the last game of the Nathan Drake series known as Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End.  What is entailed when it’s called a thief’s end?  So much is left up for interpretation.  But that’s for you to witness.  So here we go.

Our story starts with Nathan Drake on a boat in the middle of the ocean with another man by the name of Sam.  The sea is incredibly rough due to a huge storm, and they are being chased by a huge militia.  Their boat is basically destroyed.  Several flashbacks happen to provide us with some more backstory to Nathan, including his time at the Catholic Orphanage and his time in prison in the late 90s.  We then see where Nate is, several years after the events of Uncharted 3 – He’s now retired from adventure and living an honest life working as a diver for a Marine Salvaging company.  He’s back with Elena, and their life is nice…but a bit boring for them.  However a job offered to Nathan in Malaysia seems to provide him with some excitement…His life then changes when Sam – his older brother, whom he thought dead, has returned with a request. He broke out of jail with the help of a ruthless man, who wants a huge payout from Sam in exchange for his life, through treasure.  The treasure?  Henry Avery’s $400 million fortune from the 1695 gun heist – a huge stash that has allured the brother since they were teenagers.  Reluctant at first, then giving into temptation – Nathan lies to Elena, saying he is taking the job in Malaysia – and with the help of Sully, they head to Italy to retrieve their first clue – the St Dismas Cross (a wooden idol of the thief to whom Jesus Christ said “On this day you’ll be with me in paradise”).

Now to venture into the details:

The graphics…The graphics are absolutely amazing, as it not only surpassed what The Last Of Us had accomplished, but it managed to be easily 1 of the best looking games on the PS4.  Much like the original trilogy was on the PS3 (before it was remastered on the PS4), it flows at the cinematic frame rate of 30 frames per second (The trilogy flows at 60FPS on the PS4) which provides a nice touch…and when you consider the size and detail of the game…maybe it’s for the best at this time, unless the Playstation 5 offered a 60 frames version.

The art style is absolutely inspired!  So much variety in the scenery, so much to look at.  A truly organic looking game.  I really went all out with the game’s Photo Mode.  Adoring everything that was presented to me, and almost wishing it was real.

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This view…

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This inside joke…

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This mood…

The gameplay…if you didn’t think they could have upped the gameplay from Uncharted 2, you’re in for a surprise.  Along with Nate’s melee attacks being improved yet again, We’re also given new ways of attacking and getting around.  You now have the option of driving, whether it be by boat or by jeep (rather than just being the gunman all the time), the ability to take out hordes of soldiers using only stealth (much like Metal Gear games), and of course…the grappling hook.  Which adds more to the puzzle aspects of the exploration.  I had an incredible amount of fun with this, and didn’t feel any boredom from it.

The music for the first time in the series’ history is not done by Greg Edmundson, but rather Henry Jackman, whose CV includes Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Big Hero 6 and both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War.  To be very clear, this doesn’t stop the game from having a highly memorable score in its own right.  By not having its original theme song, it instantly suggests a change in direction or simply something new…and that something new is from being played on the next generation system.

Uncharted 4 has a bittersweetness to it when you consider that Amy Hennig, the Director and 1 of the 3 writers of the original trilogy, wasn’t involved in this game.  However, despite her absence, the story is excellent.  Really excellent in fact.  If you’ve journeyed with these characters before, then you’ll notice that this is the series’ storytelling at its most advance and well polished.  While The Golden Abyss was full of one-upmanship in dialogue – Uncharted 4 managed to make this game absolutely hilarious.  The banter between all of them, not just Nate, Sully and Sam, is fantastic.  It remembers the importance of fun, but at the same time it manages to avoid some cliches.  This game is also where you see Nate and Elena’s relationship at its most mature, as it is here we see Elena’s greatest acceptance of who Nate is and what he does, as well as Nate’s feeling that he really has something to lose.  The main villains, Rafe Adler and Nadine Ross, would in their own right be pretty scary.  Rafe is a smirking, selfish, millionaire psychopath who reminds me of pro wrestler Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, while Nadine, a paramilitary leader, is more or less a South African Melina May – You don’t get into a fist fight with her.

Would I recommend Uncharted 4?  Yes – if you’re a human being.  Uncharted 4 took what made every instalment before it great, and created what is likely the best possible outcome.  It’s refined, yet with more to see and do.  It’s possibly 1 of the funniest games I’ve ever played.  So full of life and intrigue.  If this is the last time we ever play as Nathan Drake, I don’t mind, because it might never be topped.  An absolute pleasure of a video game.

Graphics: *****

Art Style: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Music: *****

Gameplay: *****

Overall: *****

Puzzle Agent 1 and 2 PC Game Review

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It’s a snow day here in Northern Ireland, and if it lies for more than a week it will qualify for a legendary winter that people here talk about years later.  So what better time than now to present a game series that is also set in snow.

Ever since I made a quiet return to PC gaming (via Steam on Mac), I’ve had the opportunity to acquire a lot of curious and recommended titles, not only at good prices during the black friday/christmas/January sales, but also because some games will never truly be available to console gamers…and I’m not only okay with this, but I’ve found it rather exciting because as we know – PC gaming does move on (to an extent), but it’s more like a simple expansion of the library – you never truly get left behind unless your PC can’t handle the requirements.  Anyway, lets talk about 2 games I got in the steam sale, and I’m doing them both because to be fair, it’s a complete story when they’re together, and you can’t have 1 without the other (especially the 2nd 1).  So…

Puzzle Agent is a game that was created by Graham Annable (A canadian cartoonist who also did the story art for Coraline and directed the movie Box Trolls) while he was working for Telltale games (the company who do episodic games like The Walking Dead, Sam & Max, The Wolf Among Us and more recently Game Of Thrones).  Puzzle Agent could be best described as a game with the humour of Monkey Island, puzzles like Professor Layton, and it focuses on a bizarre case that FBI Agent Nelson Tethers has to solve.  What department does Tethers work in?  The Puzzle Department, of course.  A place where Nelson sits at a desk that’s practically in the basement of the J Edgar Hoover Building, and suggesting that the FBI “has somebody for every problem”, even in the area of puzzle solving.  After the eraser (rubber) factory in Scoggins, Minnesota stops working, there is a little bit of panic, because this particular eraser factory supplies the rubbers that the president uses in the White House.  Any attempts to contact those who work at the factory are useless, because their reply is always a puzzle…This is where they sent their best man for the job, as Nelson Tethers travels to Scoggins, Minnesota (population 754) in order to find out what exactly is going on.

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We’ll talk about Puzzle Agent’s strengths for now; First of all, it has a great art style.  One that looks like it was created with crayons, chalk and pastels.  It is most definitely a cartoon, and though it looks simple enough to be drawn by a child, there is a lot of expert choices in its design, such as its inspired interpretation of real life, as well as how clean and accurate it looks, even within the exaggeration. I love how it’s set in some small, creepy town in Minnesota during winter (Because I love those small town mysteries, and I liked the movie Fargo, which this game evidentially borrows from, as well as David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and believe it or not, Stanley Kubrick.) and despite having a minimalist animation style, it maintains its character behaviour and humour very well.

I’ve mentioned the humour, and yes I found it to be incredibly quirky and charming while being clean about it.  It’s also very good when it comes to applying surrealism…and has a fun story full of colourful characters who you might find in small towns.  Story-wise it falls into the stranger-in-town archetype that can also be found in movies like The Guard, Blazing Saddles and of course, Hot Fuzz…and you might enjoy the idea of crimson gnomes being part of a town’s folklore.

The music was done primarily by Jared Emerson-Johnson, who is a Telltale Games staple, and it incorporates some surfer guitar, bass and keys that are often heard in Spy movies/stories/games, as well as some strings and piano in the more unsettling parts of the game, and sometimes it reminds me a little of the TV show Dexter.

Is there a big difference in quality between 1 and 2?  Yes, a bit.  The humour is consistent, as is every other good quality.  But I do think 1 has a better story.

Is there anything bad about this  game?  Perhaps.  The puzzles themselves are surprisingly inconsistent in their difficulty.  Sometimes they’re incredibly easy, other times they’re pretty hard, but there isn’t really a learning curve, a medium level puzzle or a build up towards harder and harder puzzles like in Professor Layton.  There was even a puzzle midway through the 2nd game that was done in the “guess the next number in pattern” style, and then I found out that it requires you to realise it is connected to the mathematical constant of Pi, which didn’t seem particularly obvious…that’s the sort of thing you put up with shortly before and after puzzles like “create a road”, “rotate boxes to create a picture” and “How many Gnomes can each bird carry”.  Like Professor Layton, which used gold coins to buy hints for puzzles, Puzzle Agent sort of satires that concept by having Nelson chew gum…that has been stuck to walls and windows around town.  While asking for a hint drops your perfect 10 by 1 star, getting the answer wrong takes away a brutal 3 stars on its own…and since Puzzle Agent uses auto-save, it’s hard to fix that if you’re aiming for a perfect play through.

On top of this, it could be argued that as a point-and-click puzzle-adventure game, Puzzle Agent is a bit short.  Puzzle Agent 1 is worth it for its RRP of £4, even if it can be completed in about 2-4 hours depending on how well you know the game.  But £7 for Puzzle Agent 2 (also 2-4 hours long)…wait for a sale.

Would I recommend the Puzzle Agent series?  Absolutely!  They’re cute, charming, quirky, funny, quite nice to look at and have a great story and characters that combine Fargo with the likes of The World’s End.  The puzzles themselves can either be too easy or brutal, and I do think there could be a longer story.  Other than that, I had fun with these games.

Overall Ratings:

Puzzle Agent

Art/Design: ****1/2 out of 5

Music: ***** out of 5

Story: ****3/4

Characters: ****1/2

Gameplay: ***

Overall Rating: ****1/4 out of 5

Puzzle Agent 2

Art/Design: ****1/2 out of 5

Music: ***** out of 5

Story: ***1/2

Characters: ****1/2

Gameplay: ***

Overall rating: ****

Little Inferno Video Game Review

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Wow…where do I begin with this game?  Created by the Tomorrow Corporation, who also created the awesome puzzle game World Of Goo on the Wii, Little Inferno is set in a Tim Burtoneque town where the world is getting colder, and the only way to stay alive is by buying stuff, and then burning it in a massive fire.  And that’s the whole game, it’s all about burning stuff…and you know what…I loved playing this!

It’s really short, you’d get about 4-5 hours of gameplay out of it, and there’s even an odd story to go with it.  One where you receive letters from a girl next door, who, like you, also enjoys burning things, and earn money by doing it.

The game’s humour is absolutely class.  Really funny in a dark and morbid way, while maintaining a cuteness to it.  Part of the fun with the game is the fact that everything you burn as its own “special power”.  Credit cards have bank notes playing out of them, allowing the fire to spread further away.  marshmallows scream when they burn.  Batteries burst.  heating fans catch fire, making it a fun final item.  Ice cubes freeze everything around it, making it difficult to stack other items quickly because like everything in a liquid nitrogen state, it shatters.

Are there any downsides to this game?  Perhaps the fact that it wasn’t longer?  That there wasn’t more stuff to burn?  Maybe.  With the amount of fun I got out of it, I wouldn’t have minded an extra few hours.  Perhaps some DLC to provide an extra catalog or 2?  The graphics and music are great.  The gameplay is ultra simple, yet fun.  The story is like a short film that doesn’t try to fit itself into a formula, and therefore provides a pleasant change.

I guess outside of the length, the only thing that doesn’t make this a perfect game is the lack of challenge.  As fun and funny as it is, there is no real challenge to it, unless you’re trying to figure out all of the combinations, which are necessary to advance the game and get more catalogs.  The names of the combos are there in the form of a riddle or a pun that you have to figure out, and honestly I think that’s it.  If you want something for a laugh at with your friends or a family member with a twisted sense of humour, then this 1 is for you.

Overall rating: **** out of 5