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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Trio of Marvel Video Games at Comic-Con

Comic based video games are bad, they are evil, stay away at all cost! What... what do you mean there are good Marvel titles out!!! The days of the Fantastic Four (PS) are over, and no movie based games don't count, they are a whole pile of poo unto themselves. Anyone that has been around video games for more than 1-2 console generations knows that there have always been video games based on comics, and that they almost always end up really crappy. From Superman to XO to Wolverine no hero was safe, not Marvel, not DC or even the defunct Valiant. Turns out this trend is making a u-turn, but don't get me wrong, not every comic based video game is gold, or even great, but they are getting much, much better. Take for instance 'X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse,' 'Ultimate Spider-Man' and 'Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects.' (oh, please don't ask me where DC's at. Teen Titans is not in my hands yet, and Batman was a movie based game, wait for Justice League next year... oh wait, cancelled!)

The three games I list above are each unique, different from each other, yet all pleasing to the comic fanboy and video gamer alike. These games are created for one reason, to target the existing fanbase that has existed for decades for Marvel. In the past games were created that had nothing to do with the comic, they had their own story, own continuity, and were usually just cranked out to whore out the license. This has changed. This trio of games ties directly into the comics (Spider-Man, Nemesis) or gives such a good story (Legends II) you can't put it down. Why are these games so much better than previous games? Let's take a look...

'X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse' -- The first game was great. Why build a game from the ground up when you can utilize the Diablo engine, throw in your favorite team of muties (and their foes) add a dash of character customization and form your own team. Boom, instant ramen... formula for success. The story penned for Legends set the stage for Rise of Apocalypse, forcing you to team up with your most hated foes. The game works because the engine is solid and the story is compelling, really giving fans of the X-Men something to drool over (no solo stories here, it's all about team). The control, sounds, graphics and feel of the game have been updated, which is a good thing since the original was not bad, but needed these tweaks. Great characters + good engine + great story = Marveliciosness.

'Ultimate Spider-Man' -- Tied directly to the comic of the same name, this re-invention of Peter Parker plays just like the Spider-Man movie games, and is sweet, sweet, sweet! The story is told in a virtual-esque comic book format. You get to explore the sand-box that is Manhattan in a great game engine established by the movie games (yeah, I know I already said this) but you get to do more. You get to live the Ultimate universe fighting characters only seen in print, meeting new characters not even in print yet, and just enjoy being Spidey (and Venom). The graphics are nice, control is spot-on and sound is good. Some cut scenes are annoying due to the teenage voices, blah! Anyway, USM is a fun title for a hot comic, one that lives up to the billing, and one any fan of Spider-Man should not be without.

'Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects' -- Ah, the runt of the litter. While I have nothing but praise for the first two titles, this one is a mixed bag for me. I love Jae Lee's art and character design. I love the fact you have a broad roster of characters to choose from and I love how the story ties into a comic series introducing new characters (Imperfects) who meld into the Marvel Universe nicely. Don't even tell me who the Imperfects resemble because there are soooooo many copy-cats in Marvel it's not even funny. I like the unlockable cards and comics (Spider-Man has these also). So, why a mixed bag you say? Well, Nemesis is not a fighting game, at least not a true fighting game, and it's not a true action game. It's the love child of the two from a night when the Tuaca was flowing. Don't pick up Nemesis expecting the next Tekken. Instead plan on spending time playing an action/story mode with various Marvel characters. This helps flesh out the story of Nemesis which is a welcome thing for anyone buying the game, but one that just kills those looking to rent. The controls are glitchy, to be expected from EA's first attempt at this genre, but I really like everything else. As I said before the character designs by Jae are sweet, selection of characters is also nice and I love the story. What do I hate, I hate having to unlock characters I should be free to use from the beginning. I hate the same enemies over and over again. I hate that I have to wait for a sequel that fixes these problems. Yes, I will play this game WHEN (not if) there is a sequel. For all its issues it's a fresh and creative take on a ni-fu, ni-fa genre.

Well, that's my rant. These games are good, they are fun, and they are for Marvel fans first, casual second. Rent them first, then decide for yourself. Each has replay value, but it's your buck in the end. Oh, one last thing, I glossed over the imbalance in character powers in Nemesis on purpose. Why should Wolverine be put on even ground as Iron Man when Iron Man could sit at a distance and pummel Logan with ranged attacks.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Samurai 7 Impression

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. A classic, multiple award winner and now re-imagined as an anime. When I first read that Studio Gonzo was releasing an anime based on Akira’s film I was skeptical. Why a new samurai anime? We already have a very good (and long) samurai series in Kenshin, a funky one in Samurai Champloo, and one of the ultimate (ok ninja) anime in Ninja Scroll so what can be done to make Seven Samurai attractive to sword-clashing Otaku? Tweak the story, re-design the characters and do what any good anime does, add mecha. This is not your fathers Seven Samurai. Welcome to Samurai 7.

The scale of the story, the size of the world and the scope of what the samurai are looking to protect (a rice producing village) is all set in the opening battle sequence. What is a small village being harassed and harvested by bandits to an empire falling and a corrupt government ruling with an unjust hand? Not much, that’s what’s so engaging about this anime. Seven men with nothing but rice as a reward set out to protect a village they’ve never seen, with their lives on the line, and why? For the honor, the thrill, because it’s right or just to have something to do. How they get there, why they go there does not matter, it’s all about the story. This is where the show really shines because it manages to take a classic and really do it justice.<o:p></o:p>

I have watched anime where a peasant rises to become king, where a boy finds himself in a mecha only to become the greatest pilot ever. This story is not that, and this is the exact reason it’s so refreshing, sometimes the best stories have already been told, you just need to open them up again. Kambei, Katsushiro, Kikuchiyo, Shichiroji, Heihachi, Gorobei and Kyuzo are the seven men you will watch episode by episode, as they journey and fight. Check out the official website for more character details and some background on the story, but know this, you must treat yourself to this series. No collection would be complete without these seven samurai. Watch the story unfold, enjoy the wonderful music (opening theme is sweet) and relive a classic remade. Bravo and props to Studio Gonzo for doing great honor to Akira Kurosawa classic with Samurai 7.

Pick up volume 1 and 2, or even check out the original Seven Samurai at AOL's InStore.