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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi: The Genie & the Amp Impression

Anyone seen Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi on Cartoon Network? If you're reading my blog the answer has to be yes. So when this series first came out I was interested, but then turned off. Why? Well, the show features the J-rock/pop styling of Puffy Ami Yumi, but in a very kiddie cartoon format. Hell it works, especially for the younger Meguzzi target audience, and once in a while I'll tune in. So these ladies do put out good music, have a foothold with their series on CN, and now onto video games. Nintendo DS, say hello to The Genie & the Amp.

The story is simple, in keeping with the cartoon it's based on. You take either Ami or Yumi on a side-scrolling, semi-3D, adventure to get your musical inspiration back. See the genie will help you, for an autograph. (Yeah, a genie, don't ask, it's a cartoon, it makes sense). So while you can play the game with the buttons moving from right to left and so forth the fun comes in using the stylus to strum your guitar strings (4 total) to unleash various attacks on your enemies. Easy to learn, difficult to master. Mix in music based mini-games and the charm of the show and what we have here is a formula sure to satisfy any Ami Yumi fan, and especially any young child looking for a fun, non-abbrasive time on their Nintendo DS.

Seeing new uses for the touch screen is always fun, so D3 Publisher and others, keep up the good work, keep these unique games coming, and be sure to make the price point good for all. ;)

The Darkness Video Game Impression

The Darkness is rising ... again ... for a different publisher. Originally scheduled to be published by Majesco and since handed off to 2K Games the next title from Riddick developer Starbreeze is looking nice. Being in limbo is not good for a video game (just ask Starcraft Ghost) but The Darkness has nothing to worry about. Behind closed curtains at Comic-Con show attendees (yup, regular people, not just press) were privy to the first few stages of The Darkness as Jackie comes into his power.

What Is It? Based on Top Cows comic of the same name we follow Mafia hit man Jackie Estacado, who on his 21st birthday is not only looking to be wacked by his adoptive uncle, but also comes into an age old power known as ... yup, you got it, The Darkness. While the license is from Top Cows comic, the original story is not scripture. Paul Jenkins pens the game, he was an original writer on the printed page, so this game will delight fans new and old. We will get more info on the story as the game gets closer to launch, lets just say it's not for the faint of heart. Game play wise the games first level puts you in the back seat of a Mafia driven convertible in first-person mode. You're on rails, and will laugh your ass off at the commentary by the two wise guys in the front seat, and the first time you see all the Irish construction workers shooting at you. The game will be primarily FPS with occasional moves to an over the shoulder third-person perspective when needed.

Why Should You Care? This is not your ordinary FPS. While the demo displayed the gorgeous settings (these are the guys who did Riddick after all) it's the game play that raised an eyebrow as you don't feel like you're floating through a level. You see your arms, if you get too close to a call you will raise your guns up and if you fire too close to a wall the gun will recoil out of your hands. It's little touches like that that impressed as the games still in the works. I touched on it a little earlier and will reiterate here, the voice work is looking good, or I should say sounding good, really good at this point. The music changes to match the mood, and if you have a killer stereo setup like the demo booth then you will be totally immersed in a very Gothic, gritty, bloody world. Oh, there is a really cool TV in the game, where you can watch real shows like Popeye and even the news. Sounds silly, but it's so fun. The screen in clean, no health bars, no ammo counts, nada. Just you, your arms and the environment. You know your health based on red flashed when you get his, similar to King Kong, and once you gain the darkness power your darklings eye color will tell you the power you are using.

Why You May Be Sad? Besides not coming out till 2007, it's the curse of licensed games. Why The Darkness? Why not the sexier Witchblade or former Top Cow alum Fathom? For a series that has pretty much run it's course it was interesting to see it picked up as a video game. The Darkness does have a fan base, but by choosing this title, this license there is a chance the casual game player will take a pass.

Two reasons you should not pass it up. First the developer, Starbreeze Studios. These guys brought you The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. That game freaking rocked, and all they're doing is building on top of that excellent platform and then some. Second, this is not your daddy's FPS. The wild card in this game is the Darkness itself. A power that allows you to call upon demons/darklings, and harness the power of shadow. Other FPS may have BFG's and whatnot, but how many have demons as weapons, not many.

2007 looks to be a really interesting year in the console war as everyone is looking to establish their footholds. The Darkness is going to be a worthy addition to any gamers library looking to help their preferred game system take the lead in the next generation. Get ready as The Darkness is rising.

Stan Lee Interview Comic-Con 2006

On Saturday, July 22nd at Comic-Con in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />San Diego I had a treat, a really rare joy of getting five minutes to sit with Stan Lee. Now five minutes is not a whole heaping lot of time, but I made the most of it by asking questions as quickly as possible on a variety of subjects. Stan ‘The Man’ Lee is just great, a real pleasure to talk to, I just wish I had more time with him (like an hour) but I have to say thanks very, very much to Activision for getting me this five minutes. After a quick intro and being asked to serve as tech support for AOL we began …<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

 

(Q) In Marvel Ultimate Alliance, who is Stan Lee’s Ultimate Alliance of four characters?

Stan - Well I think Spider-Man and maybe Thor against Doctor Doom and Galactus ... if I may.

 

(Q) With comic artist and writers becoming more and more involved in video games and their development, do you see this becoming more mainstream, another outlet for a true comic experience, or just a fad?

Stan - Well it’s more than a comic experience; it’s a true entertainment experience like the motion pictures or the television. These video games are really like motion pictures except they’re interactive, the people who like them, love them and are very involved in them and more and more people (artist, writers) are getting involved in video games.

 

(Q) What can you tell me about your new Sci-Fi show, Who Wants to be a Super Hero? What's unique about this particular project?

 

Stan - I am so surprised. We started the whole thing almost as a gag. Everybody was doing reality shows so I said why don’t we do one, my new company Pow Entertainment, not Marvel. So we thought what will we do, and thought why not what we know best, super heroes. We came up with the idea Who Wants to be a Super Hero, and I figured, gee I don’t know; let’s send out a call for contestants, but what if we don’t get any? We got thousands not from only this country but from all over the world when we put out the call on the Internet. We finally narrowed them down to a few hundred, then after a lot of interviewing we narrowed them down to about a dozen men and women. This thing has progressed to the point I really think it’s going to be a tremendously big show. Even the critics who have seen it have been one of them, from one of the trades papers said before she started the interview, “I tell you I love the show and my parents who were watching with me love it” and her parents had to be in their 50’s and this is about super heroes.

 

The thing about the show is we try to keep it entertaining and funny. It’s serious but also a lot of built in humor to it. It is not mean spirited, it’s a very, I think, very nice show. All of the contestants and this is a strange thing too, they’re all competing for the one prize and yet each time one got eliminated the others felt so bad about it they would comfort the one, and hug him or her. They really formed into a tight little clique of friends. Now that the filming is just about over they have all stayed together and we've been meeting as a whole group you know they love each other and they’ve bonded. You don’t get that in many reality shows where there are contestants. This show has its own different flavor, it’s replete with surprises, nobody knows what’s coming next, but it also has humor and is warm hearted. Now I sound like I’m touting it, but  believe me I was the last one to be convinced, other people have convinced me and now I’m beginning to believe it’s going to be a big show.

 

Thanks very much for your time, and it’s been a pleasure meeting you.

Stan - My pleasure, thanks for listening to all that.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Rocket Slime at Comic-Con

Another Square Enix title I spent time with was the cute, but addictive Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime for the Nintendo DS. Now if there is one thing the DS does very, very well it's unique fun to play games that are addictive for one main reason, game play. In this aspect Rocket Slime excels, but also goes a step further because while this game is very kiddie looking any gamer will love to play the multi-player 1 vs. 1 or 2 vs. 2 battles. At heart Rocket Slime is a very Zelda-ish, Pokemon-ish adventure RPG where gamers wander around 'collecting' friends (hit them on head, carry back to village. Bad guys invade your town/country and you proceed to fight them. Ok, so I mentioned collecting friends. You wander around towns, forest, dungeons, etc collecting not only friends but weapons and items also. Any friend you collect and deposit in a town will remain there for you to visit, almost like your very own fish bowl. There are over 100 slime to collect, and anyone who's played a Dragon Quest game knows what to expect.

Now this game is not just about collecting, there is a lot of fighting to be had. These battles are carried out via tanks, and Wifi comes into play if you want to challenge 1, 2 or 3 friends to a battle. Items you find will be used in your tank as ammo, even friends can be shot in cannons. Your tank has multiple screens/levels that you wander around. You grab whatever items you have, load them to the cannon and fire away. The greatest fun in this area was breaking into your enemies tank, picking them up and shooting them out of their own cannon, and watching them fly across the top screen on DS. This was also done to all the friends in the tank. Your friends do what they are told, so you want them to fire from one cannon, they will only shoot from that cannon. While I only briefly played this game at E3 I spent a good amount of time with it at Comic-Con and I cannot wait for the final version. Sometimes no matter how simple the graphics, with great game play you are good to go.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Another Look at Square Enix at E3

At E3 this year I played every game Square Enix had at their booth, and man are they great. (Hey, I'm an RPG nut, so it's all good.) Anyway going back to Square Enix at Comic-Con I expected to see much of the same, and I did, but there were changes.

In 2005 Square Enix did not have much of a video game presence at Comic-Con. There were the ever gorgeous Kotobukiya figures, and a plasma showing trailers for Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children but that was about it for FF fans. This year, totally different story are Squenix was out in full force with their same game lineup as seen at E3. So what was new and cool, lets take a look at ...

Final Fantasy XII -- Most gamers want this title in their hands now, but no worries, time is fast approaching when hours will be widdled away behind a TV monitor. The graphics continue to impress, and it was interesting to note the detail seen within a cut scene was also present in game play. Just stop running around and fighting and look around, there is so much detail in the environment. I also got my first hands-on taste of Limit Breaks, or as they're call in XII Mist. Sweet attacks that you unleash after building up the required meters. There were fun to watch and pull off, and never fail to remind gamers they are indeed in a Final Fantasy game, and it does live up to standards. Remember the grid system from FFX, well now you have a license system. Think of it as the love child of the Job System and Grid System. As you gain license points you get to take a test for your learners permit ... oh wait, you get to assign different attributes to your characters. What this means is you want your small little girl character to be the brute of the team, she can, the big mean gruff guy, make him the healer. Gamers are not limited to set classes, you can determine your own path, similar (again) to an online RPG. Setting gambits is also fun, but going old-schoo FF by putting the system on wait is refreshing. Each character will wait their turn to fight letting you control each one as opposed to letting the gambits rule the day. All in all the game is looking freaking sweet, making the wait well worth it.

Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII -- Another game taken for a spin at E3, Dirge has been tweaked since the show and will be improved a little more before release. As you may or may not know this is one of the first real attempts are getting an FPS into the Japanese market, think of it as my first FPS for beginners. Due to this the game was moved to a slight third-person perspective, has auto-aim and is not super fast. Forget all of that, well almost. The third-person is still there, but the controls have been tweaked to appease U.S. gamers and the game is overall much faster. There are new levels being added for the U.S. The game is taking on shape, and this is one nice slim super model in waiting, not the local ... yeah I'll avoid offending any of the femme fatal out there. Oh, Dirge of Cerberus Lost Episode, is a cell phone game tied to Dirge that fills in a lost chapter during the game, that give some background on Vincent.

Tell me, whey does an FPS work on a cell phone, but developers are like fricking tards when it comes to the PSP?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

One Piece: Grand Adventure Impression

One Piece: Grand Adventure is Monkey D. Luffy's second adventure on the GameCube and PlayStation 2 (well, third actually behind Grand Battle and Pirate Carnival). So, while Pirate Carnival looks to be a series of party and mini games, Grand Adventure is the sequel to 2005's fighting game Grand Battle.

So what's different, why get excited? Besides the usual list of updates, cleaner graphics, tweaked controls and an expanded roster of characters there are two BIG things to get excited about. First the Adventure mode (hence the title, duh!). Similar in concept to the adventure mode found in Soul Calibur, gamers will take on a series of missions and task that sway in and out of the actual anime story line. Guide your pirates over the open ocean and live out all the adventures you've come to love on TV. Next thing to get excited about, well it's not a game play feature, is the fact this games been developed for the US market. Only Otaku will get excited by this because for anyone unfamiliar with anime or One Piece will see this as another licensed fighting game. Most games that reach the US based on an anime are ports, ports of games based on anime that have had a longer TV run on foreign soil.

Step back time. Check this out, lets say One Piece has shown 20 episodes on US TV, and prompts a video game here. Well, that video game is being ported from Japan, and when it was developed there One Piece was at or over 100 episodes already. In a nutshell (a big one) this means we US gamers, have not seen all the characters and settings the Japanese market has and thus will have a stripped down game (for the same price dammit). You will see weird character changes, especially with a title like One Piece where it's very adult in Japan, but been kiddied down here. Now characters don't smoke, they have lolli-pops. ARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH, don't get me started. It's a good thing to have a game developed here because it wil be true to the anime we've seen, know and love. Good times. I suggested giving the manga a spin if you've never seen the anime or played the previous games. The story is great, art is great, and it's not just for kiddies.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Eureka Seven - Vol 1: The New Wave Impression

Namco Bandai's upcoming Eureka Seven - Vol 1: The New Wave is fun, really, really fun. I had the pleasure of playing at this year's E3 in Los Angeles. Since I've only seen volume one (DVD) of Eureka Seven I went into this game not knowing what to expect other than sky-surfing LFO's (think big mech's riding waves on giant boards in the sky) and maybe some characters from the anime. Well, I did get the LFO's but thus far there is nada on the character from the anime front, but that could change the deeper you go into the game and story. This is a sort-of prequel to the anime. Now since I don't know to much about the story at this poitn I'm not going to yammer on about it, let's get down to the nitty gritty, the gameplay.

Vets of the various Gundam vs. games will find the LFO controls easy to grasp, and will not be disoriented as you surf the trapar waves in one directs while targeting enemies going every which way. This is how flying mech games are supposed to be. I spent five minutes with the game and in that five minutes I came away a very excited fan-boy. I want to play more, I want to know the story, how it ties into the anime, I want to get outside my LFO and surf around (which you can do) and I want to immerse myself in an anime based video game starring giant mechs not ending in undam. (BTW, I LOVE me some Gundam action, I have every game released here in the states for Gundam, no joke, even the Dreamcast game, solid!)

Hey, listen, the New Wave does not kick up for a few months so do yourself a favor and check out the anime, buy it, borrow it, watch it online. The music hooked me, and while there are tons of giant robot mech anime out there Eureka (pronounced L-wreck-A) Seven does enough to separate from the crowd, and great character design never hurts. Good times.

Speed Grapher Vol. 1 Impression

DECADENCE - ANGER - CONSPIRACY - LUST - MONEY - CRIME - INNOCENCE - DEATH

These words, taken from the back of the box for Speed Grapher Vol. 1 from FUNimation pretty much sum up the show. Ex-war photographer Tatsumi Saiga is living a hum-drum life in Tokyo, taking pictures for tabloids to make a buck all while around him the rich get richer and poor ... they just remain the same. While following up on a tip Saiga stumbles upon a side of Tokyo only the most powerful and rich ever experience, an underground club where no desire is taboo, a club where Saiga meets Kagura Tennozu, a girl with special 'gifts.' With a kiss from Tennozu, Saiga gains his deepest desire, which looks like is to be able to destroy/kill through the lens of his camera. Sounds off-kilter, well it is.

Speed Grapher is not an anime for the young or faint of heart as volume one has plenty of adult situations, violence and things that are just wrong (wait till you see the underground club, good times, if you're into that kind of thing). So as stated above we have Saiga who loves taking pictures, even at his own expense body-wise and Kagura Tennozu, a young girl who's mother, Shinshen Tennozu, just happens to be ultra-rich and the most powerful woman in Tokyo (she runs the underground club). She also happens to be quite twisted herself (very sexual) and utilizes here henchmen as super powered thugs. Suitengu is one white haired badass you don't want to cross, even if you only owe him $1, you better pay up. Mix in a bunch of dirty politicians, some cops, including the very, very horny detective Hibari Ginza (she's always after Saiga, and gets him, good times) and you have a base for a very different anime.

Volume one will do one of two things. 1) Turn you off to the series because you don't like the overly sexual content thinking it detracts from the show or 2) leave you wanting more. When I say wanting more I don't me dirty, perverse stuff, it's not everywhere, but rather wanting to find out more about the characters, these strange powers some individuals have (including Saiga thanks to Kagura) and just how things will play out. I want to see volume two as one really set the stage. Four episodes that expose you to most of the main players, hides nothing about their outward personalities, and pulls no punches in it's story telling or art style. It's dark, it's gritty, and you come away feeling a little dirty, in a good way, as even the 'hero' has his vices.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The Law of Ueki DVD Impression

The Law of Ueki, what an interesting story. We know this story, other-worldly begins pick earth kids to fight for their glory, kingdom, throne or something else of consequence. The most recent example that comes to mind is Zatch Bell! where Momodo are paired up with an Earthling who utlize their book to fight other Momodo till one is left, and thus king.

That basic concept is what you have with The Law of Ueki where POWERFUL CELESTIAL BEINGS select middle-school kids to fight for them in a tournament to determine who will be the next king ... of where, who knows, but that's besides the point. I did not put too much hope into this Vol. 1 of The Law fo Ueki from Viz Media, but woooooooooo, was I surprised. Yes, I've already said this formula has been done before, but I never said it was a bad formula. Do you know how many giant-mech anime I own, or fighting games? Anyway my point is no matter how cool, lame, common or unique the story concept without unique twist, turns, characters and settings it will fail. The Law of Ueki need not worry.

Tsubasa Fukuchi's art style is instantly engaging, reminding me very much of One Piece, yet a little more down to Earth due to the setting (modern day Japan, middle school). The narrative does not take itself too serious, but also does not turn into an Excel Saga type of adventure. Kosuke Ueki is very care-free kid, even as he loses his talents, and appears to have a truly good heart, which is why he's picked to represent Mr. K in the upcoming tournament. Granted the power to turn trash into trees (whaaaaaaaaa!!!!) Ueki will lose his talents (think popularity wtih girls, ability to study) if his powers are used against non-combatants, or against an opponent who's already lost their power. Sounds weird and it is, but it's this strange mixture that make Ueki so charming. Anybody can have super powers, a giant robot, magical armor, but turning trash into trees, that's pretty sweet.

Volume 1 of The Law of Ueki will introduce readers to the world Kosuke Ueki inhabits bringing a handful of supporting characters into the fold as it goes. You see Ueki for who he is, and witness the ways he learns his power and uses it to protect those he cares for. At the end of the day I would say The Law of Ueki is a great read for anyone with a passing interested in Zatch Bell!, and for those who don't care for Zatch due to its more child-like art and story telling, you MUST pick up The Law of Ueki. If it's crazy powers and even crazier combat you're looking for The Law of Ueki is for you. Ok Otaku, get up, go out, and buy this manga, it's money!