Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hunter x Hunter DVD Box Set 2 Impression

Hunter x Hunter DVD Set 2
Viz continues to give anime fans what they want. Collections of great anime at a nice price. Hunter x Hunter DVD box set 2 continues this trend with 15 episodes of an excellent anime that does feel a bit dated with its voice work and animation, hey the industry has gotten much better. The story rocks even with the dated animation, but hey, good price, great collection, let’s take a peek.

The hunter exam continues in trick tower and only a team working together will escape and advance. Having done this Gon and the group move onto the next stage which consist of being assigned a number, a badge, and then assigned a number to capture. This assigned number along with other badges result in points, six points need to advance. So it’s hunter candidate vs. hunter candidate and then some. The most impressive encounter is Gon and his attempt to get a badge from Hisoka. It’s here that we see an encounter with a certain spider tattooed hunter applicant. Next the group is put on an interesting island where they must gather treasure to gain a room at a unique inn only to find themselves stranded and needing to work as a team yet again to survive. After surviving the tower, badge hunt, ship expedition each remaining applicant must pass an exam with the Chairman, which does not so much require studying as being ones self. The final phase is a tournament where each fighter must either kill or cause their opponent to quit, something Gon cannot do, thus he’s knocked out and needs a recap of what transpired as Killua’s brother makes his presence known. Killua, for reasons all his own, is disqualified and the exam is complete. Did Gon pass?

Wow, quite a busy few episodes. So I spoke about dated animation, and it is. The same can be said of Dragon Ball and DBZ, but it does not take away from the quality of Hunter x Hunter. Any older movie, animation, etc, heck even books, they just look a bit rougher from those newer shows created with today’s technology. The character designs are still fresh, Gon, Killua are unique and the world the live in is timeless. This is quite a feat as many anime copy each other. The story is full of action and explanation. Each stage of the exam has hidden meaning, but the introduction of Killua’s brother, his expulsion, this is where the show begins to get interesting.

Overall this is one of those shows where I’m going to say if you are a fan of the manga, get the anime. I will also go a step further and say if you subscribe to, or have picked up and liked Shonen Jump you need to go buy this series. It’s got everything one is to expect from a great and timeless anime and I’m willing to put it on the same level as Yu-Yu Hakusho (same creator) if not a notch higher, it’s that good minus the marketing.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 on PS3 Impression

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 on PS3
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 from Activision gives decent service to Marvel fans while remaining open enough for the average gamer to jump in and enjoy. The overall formula remains in place with a few updates but this is clearly a case of if it isn’t broke, lets see why …

Gameplay – Gamers start off with a pre-determined team of four then later will piece together their team of heroes (and villains). The action is a top-down, angled brawl-fest where gamers proceed through levels with obstacles, boss encounter’s check-points, etc to advance the story. Co-op mode is a plus, but when the second player decides to leave the disconnect process, well it sucks. Gamers can level up their heroes and reallocate points later and on the fly, very handy. Fusion attacks between characters will determine which teams gamers choose and can un-balance the gameplay with very powerful attacks, but punch, punch, kick goes a long way. Healing and reviving characters on the go makes up for sometimes spotty AI (anyone heard of block?)

Graphics – Cut scenes look really good and the in-game graphics are not too shabby. In-game story points can be carried out with in-game graphics, close-ups that don’t look as good as cut scenes (duh!) but still get the job done. In these instances the characters can feel a bit stiff but the detail remains. The gameplay can sometimes feel like the old arcade Smash TV! as gamers are overrun with bad guys just waiting for a fusion attack. While levels and even characters have more detail thanks to the next-gen upgrades due to the distance gamers are playing from there is not too much to this detail. Like the first MUA the game is a brawler that gets the job done and looks good doing it.

Sound – The soundtrack is film worthy with epic scores and changes in pace but there are enough Saturday morning cartoon one-liners thrown in to keep gamers from enjoying the music too much. The voice work overall, during cut scenes, is decent enough but again feels pulled from the cartoon counterparts, of which there are many.

Design – Levels are very interactive and also very linear. Don’t think too much about why Ironman can’t fly over a building or Spidey just scale rooftops, just part of the game. The characters look good, carry a stance befitting their station (Wolverine crouches all the time, Venom all over the place, etc) but it’s the bonus costumes which are really fun. Old looks, new looks, it’s all implemented very well. The design put into the fusion powers is also well done no matter how lacking in power they may be, everyone works together.

Miscellaneous – The storyline. The first MUA was more about the joy of picking a varied team of Marvel heroes while this latest iteration, its gameplay similar to the first, takes up one of the best Marvel storylines and implements it to mixed results. The Civil War storyline circa 2006 sees the Marvel universe split into two factions. One side is Pro-Registration, the other Anti-Registration taking up their roles in the Superhuman Registration Act. While the comic was outstanding and conflicts between former allies great the game loses a bit as the story is not quite as fleshed out, a shame really. The unique story is such a great draw for fans even as it’s almost three years old. That being said the other miscellaneous item which really makes MUA2 shine is the downloadable characters that have already seen Cable, Carnage and Psylocke offered and more on the way. There is so much incentive for gamers to keep playing and downloading, it’s outstanding.

Overall, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 breaks into three groups. First the must buy, which is anyone who enjoyed the first game. Don’t waste time, go out and buy an excellent follow-up. Second are Marvel fans with any gaming system. It’s tons of fun to play as such a variety of characters then get online and praise/bash the look, feel, costumes, powers, power fusions, etc like any good gamer should. Third is the average gamer, not casual gamer, but the average gamer who likes a great distraction and good gameplay. MUA2 is a solid game with solid graphics, great sound, a ton of characters and flavors to pick from and a decent difficulty level. MUA2 also reminds us that a sequel does not have to reinvent the wheel, sometimes it’s about a new set of rims and nothing more.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Inukami! vol. 4 Impression

A battle with death and more beauties to contest with ... and this is a bad thing why?

Inukami! volume 4 manga
Inukami! is a fun manga with great art. If that’s not to the point enough for you volume 4 of Inukami! from Tor/Seven Seas Publishing shows what makes this a great series and also (at times) a frustrating one. Let me explain after a quick look at the story.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kenichi The Mightiest Disciple Season 1 DVD Impression

Ah, the training anime. Geeky kid takes on intense training to get stronger. There are a ton of these type of anime on the market, some comedic, many serious. Kenichi from FUNimation is a mixture of both and executes well on both levels. What is it about Kenichi that makes his training and confrontation different from others? Gotta watch to know, but let’s try to summarize.

Kenichi DVD Season 1, Part 1
Kenichi Season 1, Part 1
Kenichi is a wimp. He is not spectacular at anything but has hopes of becoming … something, anything near great. He joins the karate club but is only accepted to cleanup after the older students. A chance encounter where he tries to help a damsel in distress, Mui, leads to another butt kicking for Kenichi but also a revelation. Mui lives at the Ry┼Źzanpaku Dojo, a dojo with six martial arts masters whom Kenichi seeks to train under. He pleads and is finally accepted into a world he could very well regret as he is the only disciple of the dojo and must contend with the insane training of the masters. Kenichi uses his brief training to counter the much larger head of the karate club which of course puts him on every bully’s list to smash. Very quickly Kenichi attracts the attention of the gang Ragnarok, his first encounter is with Takeda, a former boxer With an insane father, gang after him and six crazy masters the question is not when Kenichi will complete his training, but if he will even survive.

Now a quick look at the second part of season 1 …

Kenichi DVD Season 1, Part 2Kenichi Season 1, Part 2
A former foe turned ally thanks to a helping healing hand, an insane Dojo challenge and ‘relaxing’ trip to the beach. While not normal for most martial artist it’s just another day, another week for Kenichi. A seemingly innocent trip to an island turns into an insane training regime which teaches Kenichi to swim and deal with sharks. Thanks to his continued training Ragnarok is beginning to get more serious with Kenichi by lining up their top dogs, the 8 Fist of Ragnarok, including Kisara Nanjo, the Hermit and Romeo? Well, not quite Romeo yet, but a play where Miu is Juliet reveals Romeo to be the head of Ragnarok and Kenichi’s most dangerous foe yet. He wanted to just get stronger but now he finds himself fighting on the top of a moving bus and staring face-to-face with a group that could rival his Dojo. The fun is just getting started for Kenichi.

Ok, so let’s cover animation first. It’s good, little overblown for Miu and her … assets, and the characters remain, for the most part, in the same clothing and in same settings. School, Dojo, Streets and for a change the Beach are the settings, very ordinary looking. The animation itself is good but not great, its anime art, what the average person would think of as anime. The characters, especially the masters, each fit their character type and are funny as hell. Kenichi himself, he’s plain guy nothing more.

So how does an average looking anime hook the viewers? The story and this weak guy in training story is really good from the opening theme to closing. The story, once Ragnarok really jumps in, starts to feel like Tenjo Tenge with the bad guy back stories, it moves beyond Kenichi, but that is at the end of season 1. The bulk of the story is Kenichi slowly getting stronger, learning about different fighting styles and doing it all in funny ways. That’s it, nothing more to add. It’s a training anime with decent art and a fun, enjoyable story carried on with good voice work. Kenichi does not spectacular but it does many things well, check it out.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum on PS3 Impression

Batman: Arkham Asylum on PS3
Just as Batman Begins and The Dark Knight made movie going Batman fans forger the sins of the past so too will Batman: Arkham Asylum aid gamers in the less than stellar previous Bats gaming offerings. The stigma of comic super hero games was one mediocrity at best, controller smashing at worst. Marvel has fixed this issue for the most part with solid Spider-Man and Ultimate Alliance titles but DC has remained in the dark. To escape the dark use one who lives in the dark, thus it fell on an out of the blue Batman adventure to show DC can do it right, and do it so well that this is indeed a game of the year candidate. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why …

Gameplay – It’s Batman in a third-person, very Metal Gear Solid-ish, adventure with a Metroid type level setup. Gamers take control of the Dark Knight as he returns Joker to Arkham. The trap is sprung and now it’s Bats turn to round up all the inmates and return Joker to his cell. Gamers utilize a slew of bat-gadgets and stalks the Jokers henchmen, some armed, other not. Combat is one button with counters, done quite excellent. A detective mode allows Batman to follow forensics trails, check crime-scenes and do a few other tricks CSI would be envious of. Outside the single-player game there are various challenge modes to engage in, set high-scores and log scores online, great re-playability.

Graphics – Unique designs for all of Batman’s foes from the sultry Poison Ivy to Bane. The characters look outstanding and while the inmates are all cookie cutter they each sport unique detail in their molds. Batman looks incredible as his outfit gets tattered from combat and it seems like he even needs to shave as the adventure continues. The levels sport outstanding detail and Gotham in the distance seems real enough to visit. In both detective and regular mode this is one outstanding looking title. A nice touch with the character profiles unlocked by finding gaming secrets is the original DC art for each.

Sound – Thank you Luke Skywalker. You are the best Joker EVER! Mark Hamill continues his role as the ‘official’ voice of the Joker and from Batman to Harley Quinn each character is the same seen in the animated series. The background music is good, but the voice actors show their professionalism and make gamers feel like they are playing a movie and not a game with afterthought voice work.

Design – The characters look outstanding but the levels, Arkham itself, is a character in and of itself. After completing the introduction level and coming out on a cliff above Arkham gamers are treated to an asylum that is detailed, unique and haunting. The history of the asylum is everywhere to be seen. The Metroid comparison comes from each level being unlocked as gamer’s progress, certain weapons and upgrades needed to access secrets. Gamers must, and will, want to retrace their steps.

Miscellaneous – The Riddler, how you challenge the cranium. Like many games of its type, Arkham Asylum offers unlockables and these are accomplished in various Riddler Challenges. There are trophies to collect which unlock character models and more as well as hidden symbols which tell the history of Arkham and interview tapes for each inmate. Beating the Joker is only one goal for gamers, the other, I’d say primary objective for fans is going Secret Origins on the story and characters, there is a lot to be learned and unlocked.

Overall, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a must have for any Batman fan and for fans of titles like Metal Gear Solid. The gameplay is superb, graphics outstanding, voice work the best there is and overall package just way too much to pass up on for adventure gamers. Get the message or do we need to flash a bat signal in your face to convince you?

Friday, October 23, 2009

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Manga Impression

CSI Manga
CSI has hit Vegas, Miami and New York. Next up, the land of the rising sun, Japan. Well, not really but the new CSI: Crime Scene Investigation manga from Tokyopop offers us an interesting story spun with manga style art and a format between traditional manga and American comics. So what’s to like for both CSI and manga fans, lets take a look at the story by Sekou Hamilton first.

Kiyomi Hudon is just another 15 year old, growing up in Vegas scraping by with her father. There is one thing that separates Kiyomi from other 15 year olds and that’s her love of forensics which drives her to take the CSI internship exam. Only five interns will be accepted and it’s either this or a part-time job for Kiyomi. As results are relayed Kiyomi is thrilled to learn she’s been accepted with fellow interns Damian, the jock, Kirin, the nerd, Christof, the … kinda psycho Goth and Gregory, the suave ladies man. The group begins day 1 with a drip to the morgue and an autopsy for a girl, Gretchen Yates, who attended the same school as the interns. As they visit the crime scene and learn about the lab the CSInterns delve into the case of Gretchen and come to the startling realization one of their numbers is responsible for the crime. How will the case play out when it’s just study for them and the murder has an inside knowledge of the case. It’s just another day in the life of a CSI intern.

Give away the ending, now way, sorry, not going to happen. The story is typical CSI minus the musically scored investigative scenes. Taking the angle of an internship at CSI with Grissom and Catherine making an appearance makes it believable and fun for fans. Overall the murder and its resolution leave a bit to be desired but its fun for mystery fans, albeit a bit quick. The art is quite good making Grissom look fresh and young while Catherine looks year’s younger and very manga-ish. The interns all fit their stereotypes, Damian for example as the jock has a crew cut. The lab, settings, crime scene all match those seen in the show. So the story is good, characters ok and the art good, but what does it offer to manga and CSI fans?

Manga fans, you get the above and an introduction to what CSI is all about. Yes the show is deeper than just interns but the settings are pulled from the show. The cast has changed, but not as big an impact as they make appearances only in the manga. This is a good mystery manga that won’t break anyone’s grey matter but is still fun to follow.

CSI fans get two things. A look back, before Grissom left, at what could be a very real side-story in the CSI universe. It’s an easy investment, easy cost, good story, and good art PLUS there is a chapter from the novel Brass in Pocket, so you have that going for you, which is nice. CSI fans also get a cliff notes intro to the world of manga, which only gets better the more you explore. For example check out the Conan (detective, not barbarian) manga fro some great crime solving.

Overall a good read for both sets of fans for different reasons. The one hope I have is this is not a one-shot, that we get more intern stories in the current setting.

Isis novel Impression

Isis novel
Beware what you wish for, it may come true. A lesson that Iris Villiers learns in the novella Isis by Douglas Clegg with illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne. What makes this novel unique is readers don’t have to, well read, to enjoy the story or the art. All they need to do is search online for Isis Spot the Difference and a number of sites will come up and readers can experience this supernatural tale in an entirely new manner. First a look at the novel then the game.

Iris Villiers lives with her mother, twin older brothers Spence and Harvey. She rarely sees her father who’s a war trader or her oldest brother Lewis. Due to their father’s absence and the war the family is sent to live with her grandfather, whom she and Harvey nickname the Gray Minister. They live in Belerion Hall which has a history, a history both real and supernatural. As Harvey and Iris learn of these tales from Old Marsh, the gardener, they joke and jest at the possibility of them being reality. Isolated in this dreary manor Harvey and Iris become close as twins. They perform daring trapeze acts in their minds and share a bond which Spence cannot fathom in all his wickedness, a wickedness which reveals itself in his dealings with the tutor Edyth. As tragedy approaches Iris must recall the tale of Isis, a play her family performed, as the raising of the dead becomes a very real possibility.

There are major story points missing from the above for a purpose, that being not to ruin what is an excellent read. At just over 100 pages with illustrations sprinkled throughout this tale of tragedy feels perfect for the big screen, a stirring tale of another time where a lost loved one is wished for with all the proper intentions but none of the desired results. The stories told by Old Marsh become very real for Iris and the play of Isis which both she and Harvey took part in, becomes more than a play. Clegg takes readers on a journey both dark and chilling. Now the online game, just find it and listen to the music, it’s as chilling as the tale it illustrates. Finding the differences in each image is of course the object but upon playing once take time to go back and study, enjoy these fully colored images as they show the haunted tale which Clegg weaves.

Both the novella and the online game can be enjoyed separated but put them together and the flavor is more robust and enjoyable than the separated parts. While not the first game of its type, not by a long shot, what Isis does is gives readers another interaction with a too short novel (a good thing, great read) and gives gamers a reason to get off the computer and pick up a book.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Naruto Shippuden on Disney XD

Guess what, Disney is not just for kids anymore. Naruto Shippuden is joining Disney XD's lineup beginning on Wednesday, October 29th with four, YEAH FOUR, back-to-back episodes. This starts up at 8:30 and why this is of great interest is it’s more anime on TV. Adult Swim used to hook up anime, but has since scaled back to one night and other channels, non-anime channels, have shows from time to time with SyFy’s anime Monday’s and shows sprinkled into the lineups of other channels. Really nothing of serious note until now. Naruto is a big name, a great series and trust me; it’s going to get very dark very soon. What Disney does is help legitimize anime a bit more and put it’s massive marketing machine behind it like no other anime has ever experience … at least that’s my gut feeling. Lets wait and see how things go but for now find out where you have Disney XD (and if you don’t, begin bitching) and check in with these episodes.

Homecoming: 8:30pm – A fearless teen trains to become a ninja while battling the demon that lives inside of him. Sequel to "Naruto," a popular anime series. In the opener, Naruto returns to his home place after two-and-a-half years and receives his first assignment.

The Akatsuki Makes Its Move: 9:00pm – Naruto and Sakura challenge Kakashi to a survival test to show off their skills.

The Results of Training: 9:30pm – Naruto's years of training pay off in a battle with Kakashi.

The Jinchuriki of the Sand: 10:00pm – An aerial battle takes place between Deidara and Gaara; Kankuro assembles troops to fight Akatsuki.

Oh, btw, if you are a fan this should make you happy. True uncut episodes can be purchased from Viz, so if these showings do scale down some of the gore relax, it’s great exposure that will help the series you love, give more merchandise and you can still get uncut episodes (yeah, said it twice) so chill and enjoy. Also Disney purchased Marvel, don’t see too much changing there unless Mickey joins the X-Men … hmmmm …

Battlestar Galactica: Echoes of New Caprica manga Impression

Battlestar Galactica Manga
Battlestar Galactica: Echoes of New Caprica from Tokyopop offers fans of the Sci-fi show a chance to look back at events during and after the occupation of New Caprica. These side stories feel plucked from the show with their grit and harsh reality. Three stories, three chances to go back to a dark time for the survivors of New Caprica. The show may be over but the stories and legacy live on.

Teachers Pet – Laura Roslin, relieved of her presidential duties, continues her role as teacher to the children. As she tries to keep the history of the colonies alive not only is she working against Cylons but also traitors, children even. As her learning plans are stripped back more and more she must work to uncover just who is betraying their fellow students all while living under the rule of they Cylons.

This story shows Laura doing what she does, fighting for her belief but in the classroom. The use of children in war may sound taboo but it’s not. This story lacks in background as reader, fans of the show know Roslin taught but not this aspect. A decent story but the cartoony art, not really manga, not really comic is lacking.

Shelf Life – Dealing with traitors, a key plot point in the show but seeing how it began, the inner workings and choices made by Tom Zarek for the better of the fleet, now this is the dark story deserving of the new Battlestar. The story is straight; Zarek makes the choices a leader must that include their downfall and blame. The art is so-so, thick black lines but gets the job done much better than Teachers Pet.

Visitation – Kara Thrace, aka Starbuck, had a child, or at least she thought she did. A trick, but a real child. She must deal with taking back her child, crossing lines that only a broken mind would cross. A story of one going a bit crazy but one which closes the door left open in the series.

The best story of the group as it really gets into the cracked mind of Kara. Seeing how different the population lives; very chilling and real. Now the art is very kind as Kara is hot in this story, but come on, it’s not realistic. The best, most realistic art in the series but not realistic as how the actors look. The backgrounds are non-existent putting much emphasis on the characters.

Overall all three stories give a glimpse into what else happened, which is exactly what readers should want and expect. The art is a mixed bag as is the storytelling. Both get better as the page numbers grow but for only three stories, kinda disappointment. Unless you are a Battlestar fan then do not bother, knowledge of the series is needed to enjoy these stories. For those who are fans you get three stories to take you back to a dark time that begs revisiting.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sergeant Frog Season 1 Part 1 DVD Set Impression

Sgt. Frog DVD Set 1, Part 1
Not since Alf has an alien invasion been this harmless. The frogs are coming, the frogs are coming and has it been a long time. First announced by ADV a few years back, Sgt. Frog never saw the light of day due to ADV folding. Then something wonderful happened, FUNimation. Over the past few years FUNimation has thrived where ADV and Geneon had some issues (look at their catalogue of collections and release). So before I get to the frogies props need to be paid to FUNimation as well as Viz as they’ve changed the game of DVD release. While there are titles that get single DVD ($15-25) release both companies have been taking anticipated series and putting them out first as full season sets (34-26 episodes) or as parts (12-13 episodes) meaning fans get more, faster and for less not to mention the saved shelf space. Just go to any DVD store and you’ll see less spacing for anime but actually more content. That being said lets take a look at one of the best of those saved titles, those that ADV and/or Geneon never got to release which FUNimation snatched up …

The invasion is about to begin. The Keron invasion fleet is waiting on their advance team’s word to begin, but what is this? A distress signal, invasion off, the advance team is on their own? Oh brave soldiers, we salute you for saving the fleet … or did you just press the abort button by mistake? Yeah, Keroro is not the most capable sergeant and even manages to get himself captured by an average family. First you have Keroro, a Master Grade Gundam model kit loving pushover who lives in the haunted room, and cleans the house of the Hinata family. Fuyuki is into the paranormal, Natsumi is the older sister and Aki, the mother, is an obsessed manga studio director who utilizes Keroro for her own stories and inspiration. As Keroro looks to gain the advanced over his ‘captors’ he encounters the rest of his squad including Private Second Class Tamama who goes a bit crazy when pushed too far, Corporal Giroro who could be the love child of Kermit and Rambo, Sergeant Major Kururu, an information officer who nobody really likes and finally Lance Corporal Dororo who changes his name and takes on the life of a ninja. There’s also the Fuyuki obsessed Momoka Nishizawa who lives with Tamama in her families vast wealth.

The group is odd, yes, but their adventures are anything but. Besides the strange circumstances for each reunion there’s a lunch gone very, very wrong, a toy store going out of business, a haunted island retreat, a time and space distorting base and a few side invasions from other races not to mention a very powerful, world destroying niece who slept through her assigned doomsday. Yeah, it’s a pretty odd world, one that has to be seen to be believed.

I for one have been waiting for years for the localized version of Sgt. Frog. The manga is outstanding, well designed, simple art that just nails the humor. The Gundam references are outstanding and for an invading army, yeah, they are pretty pathetic frogs. The animation follows the manga, simple but excellent. The story is very funny and simple, not little kid simple but heck yeah, I enjoy this simple but don’t feel like a kid by watching, or something like that. The voice work is great because it’s full of established actors who’ve held serious roles but now find themselves in the body of frogs. The storylines jumps all over, introduces characters and just keeps rolling. It’s not supposed to be taken serious so don’t. Where I’ve got to give major props to FUNimation is how they’ve updated the cultural reference, that each time 2004 is shown or mentioned the narrator or characters correct the date, it’s really good and shows effort was put into this set.

Overall I love this series. It’s funny, well paced and just a nice distraction from the serious stuff out there. The split box set mentioned earlier works really well and is easy on the wallet. I usually try to recommend series to fans of similar but I’ll go out on a limb and tell any anime fan to take the Sergeant for a spin.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Darkness Calls Novel Impression

Anime fans familiar with the movie Wicked City (and novel) the story of Maxine Kiss in Darkness Calls will feel like a distant cousin never met, one both familiar yet very different. Marjorie M. Liu has crafted a heroine that is herself flawed in a world that is our own, separated from a greater evil by a thin prison veil. Maxine is not some grand champion but another player with a possibly larger role than she can comprehend. So what is Darkness Calls all about … let’s take a peek …

Maxine Kiss is a hunter. Her weapons are not rifles or cross bows. Here prey is not of the furry nature, which is the furry normal nature. Maxine hunts zombies, ghouls and other things that go bump in the night … or day. Her weapons begin with her boys, demons bonded and bound to Maxine’s dwindling bloodline of hunters what go back centuries. From sundown to sunup Maxine’s boys awaken and move in and out of the shadows helping her dispatch those nasty things her mother taught her to hunt. During the day she is covered in living tattoos which protect her as Zee and the boys sleep. Maxine also wields a unique ring which is slowly growing over her hand and arm and allows her to summon a sword. The exact nature of this charm is not fully known as she found it in the Labyrinth, an in-between place she was once trapped in. These are just a few details about Maxine’s appearance, abnormal yes, but nothing compared to her day-to-day trials. Hunting is easy, being hunted, not so much and it’s here that Maxine finds herself as a vengeful Avatar toys and manipulates her and those she is close to including Old Jack and Grant, a man much more a friend to Maxine and one possessing a lineage himself both powerful and deadly. Maxine finds herself on the run, with Grant, rescuing Grant, from this Mr. King and it’s their confrontation to which Maxine much push her full effort while dealing with the reality that the prison veil surrounding the world is slowly failing. The zombies and others beasties fought are just insects compared to the horrors that wait to invade earth and all that stands between them is Maxine and the boys. Nobody said the family business would be easy.

Quick summary but to the point. Maxine is a hunter with extraordinary powers. She is Witchblade, Wicked City and Buffy all rolled into one. This is actually the second novel for Maxine and from the summary above you can see where she got into trouble killing an Avatar in the first novel. So what is so intriguing about Maxine, especially for guys who may not read a paranormal romance? First she is badass, something its proven guys dig as seen the above mentioned titles. She controls a power passed down by blood that feels pulled from Buffy or Angel and she’s not too bad on the eyes. Second her ‘boy toy’ Grant is no pushover. Yes, he needs to be rescued but his latent powers, what he really shows a beast is waiting to be unleashed. Their relationship does not interfere with the story or provoke images of Fabio, just two folks getting it on in a normal, paranormal kinda way. Third it’s got zombies, werewolves, monsters and more. Yeah, there are tons of beasties for Maxine to fight and she does not go all Lifestyle on us either, nope, she embraces the slaughter at times. Fourth, she is flawed, has family issues, issues with her place in life, she is normal in her wants and needs. Maxine is not some above-us-all hero, in fact she just wants to be normal at times.

So there are a few quick reasons any reader should care. Witchblade, Buffy, Angel, Wicked City all share things in common with Maxine but the way author Marjorie M. Liu writes is so unique. As a reader you will be able to smell, taste, and feel what Maxine is going through. The descriptive writing invoked by Marjorie’s pen (or keyboard) leaves nothing to the imagination and challenges the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words. A thousand of Marjorie’s words is worth volumes of pictures. This was the first Maxine Kiss novel I’ve read and while I missed on story points it’s not tough to pick up on, it’s also not the end. I cannot say what will happen with Maxine, the story moves along at a nice clip, is full of action and character development while ending to satisfaction and leaving the next chapter to be written. Fans of the above mentioned titles should take a look, it’s an excellent read.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Takeru: Opera Susanoh Sword of the Devil vol. 1 Impression

Takeru volume 1 manga
Takeru: Opera Susanoh Sword of the Devil volume 1 from Tokyopop is excellent in the same vein as Samurai 7 from FUNimation. Pretty blunt, up-front statement I know but one I stick by even as I delve into volume 2. This tale of three men, all with the name Takeru, hints to so many epics brining together heroes for one grand quest. The comparison to Samurai 7 is due to the skills and personalities in each of the Takeru’s.

In the land of Oyashima there resides a legendary sword, Susanoh. With this sword one can rule with an iron fist and it’s this sword which draws the invading Amamikado into the land of the all female Jagara who serve as guardians. Tied into this quest are three men, all named Takeru. One is a carefree spirit with a map, a box (half actually) which will reveal the location of the sword. Another is a mercenary, Amanikado solider, very strong, who decides to leave the army and the third is a mysterious and deadly fighter surrounded by mystery. These three men journey into the land of Oyashima, witness the women of Jagara wield their unique blood based powers and eventually end up as ‘guest’ of the queen and her sisters. A prophecy of heroes is revealed but in order to prove they are those foretold three trials must be overcome. Luck, skill and knowledge are the name as the game as the three Takeru maneuver their way around two opposing armies and their own differences.

So, three strangers each with their own unique talents, skills and motivation. An epic quest to retrieve a sword among two warring armies. This screams epic and it is. Based on a play written by Kazuki Nakashima (Gurren Lagann fame) with art by Karakarakemuri, this book is pleading, begging for the big screen treatment. First up the art, it’s beautiful, detailed and reason enough to pickup this book. The level of detail is outstanding and the characters and setting very vivid and unique. It’s tough to place the dress but it does remind of FUNimation’s Samurai 7. The story of the three Takeru; Izumo, Kumaso and Oguna, is fun to read. You’ve got the serious leader (loose term) who has skill and hidden knowledge. You’ve got the brute, beast of a man and finally the slender, mysterious assassin type. These three join for a shared cause but owe nothing to each other. Put them in a land of Amazon-ish women warriors and oh yes, it’s juicy. Add in some double-dealing form within the Jagara, a shady prophet and legendary sword and one volume is just the beginning.

Listen, Takeru has excellent art, which cannot be argued. It also has a story mixing war, magic, mystery, sword play, bloodshed and so much more but in a classy ‘it’s art’ type of way. Heck, there is even the excellent twist ending that will no doubt leave readers wanting more. I highly recommend this title to fans of Seven Samurai, Samurai 7, even the Sayuki series. Three guys on a journey with tons of fighting, what’s not to love?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fate/unlimited codes on PSP Impression

Fate/unlimited codes on PSP is a game for two audiences. First are fighting game fans looking for a weapons/magic based fighter not named Soulcalibur. The second is fans of the long running anime/manga/game franchise that has not seen a proper gaming release here in the states. Fate/stay night originally released by Geneon, recently re-boxed by FUNimation with manga by Tokyopop tells the story of the Holy Grail War were magic users, Magi, team up with epic heroes to battle for the ultimate prize. This game is an easy sell to fans of the franchise but what about the rest of the gaming public? Let’s see why PSP gamers need tune in to Fate/unlimited codes …

Gameplay – It’s a 3D fighting game based on a popular anime franchise. Each character has weapons to wield as well as magic. Its closest PSP cousin, gaming wise, is Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny. These two titles share a lot in common with single-player battles, quest/condition modes and online play. At its heart it’s an arcade fighter that been updated and upgraded for the PSP, a game that’s fun to play and a solid fighter.

Graphics – Lots of manga inspired character shots with some animation but in-game we’re looking at characters that look pulled from the best of the PS2 era. The PSP can put out some very good looking graphics and Fate just misses on hitting the top levels. The characters look great actually but settings are just so-so.

Sound – Decent, not great, just ok. Not too much to add here, the music is not what this game is about.

Design – Mentioned before the levels don’t offer too much to the game. There are familiar settings from the anime and manga but for the average gamer the level design won’t leave too much to be desired. Now the characters they are spot on and should actually peak some interest in the anime for noobs.

Miscellaneous – It’s digital. Time for the PSP Go to gain even more steam. It’s great to have a game in hand but being able to download such a robust fighter is a true treat. The other miscellaneous is the anime and manga. Going out right now and getting the background at a decent price really adds to the whole package.

Overall, Fate/unlimited codes is a solid playing weapons based fighter that will please fans of the franchise but leave the average gamer a bit to be desired. See the roster is limited and even with multiple costumes it’s still only a small base set of seven pairs of fighters. Fans 1,000% need to purchase but for the other fighting game fans out there check it out if you love fighting games.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pangya: Fantasy Golf on PSP Impression

Originally posted on The Examiner on October 7, 2009

Ask most gamers what comes to mind with the word golf and its Tiger Woods PGA. While Tiger covers the most obvious, realistic title others such as Mario Golf and Hot Shots have provided a more comical, very well done experience. It’s into this category that Pangya: Fantasy Golf on PSP falls. Based on an MMO of the same name, Pangya offers solid golf on the go with a very anime inspired fantasy spin. A great title that fills a dual need on the PSP for a good, unique game and a great sports game there are other reasons to give Pangya a spin; let’s take a look …

Gameplay – It’s video game golf. The mechanics are good with a few power-ups never dreamed of in real life. The courses are fantasy based with incredible settings and course quirks but overall it’s a solid golf game that has nothing cheap about it. There is also a very deep customization, over 1,300 to be exact, that gamers can enact on their golfers so it’s fun to play dress up. This customization also offers a very RPG feel as different clothing can make a golfer hit further, putt better etc so it’s not all window dressing.

Graphics – Beautiful in all it’s colorful glory. Each course looks great on the PSP with all fantasy elements felt by the golfer. The players themselves look very anime, which is the desired direction. Each piece of customized clothing, clubs, and caddies (loose term) also look great. Think of Hot Shots Golf and make the characters a bit more accurately proportioned and this is how Pangya looks.
Sound – Cute opening, very anime, song will have gamers thinking this is an anime. In game not much sound to speak of besides some elevator-esque music. Much better to turn sound down and enjoy a good iPod mix in place of the golf claps and cheers.

Design – The characters are anime 101, great looking and fitting their personalities. The design star in this fare are the courses which match their player counterparts and get tougher as the tournaments move on. Three is a very nice level of difficulty on each course, nicely done.

Miscellaneous – The lack of competition. The PSP is lacking in quality titles and besides Tiger’s outing there I not much for sports fans, especially non-EA fans, to get excited about. Pangya hit earlier this year and may be overlooked by many gamers due to its cute girl cover, but this is one solid, fun, deep, replayable golf outing.

Overall, Pangya is solid. The miscellaneous line above sums this up pretty well. Looking for a solid golf game with a lean to the left of realism then Pangya: Fantasy Golf on PSP must be in your bag.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny on PSP Impression

Originally posted on The Examiner on October 2, 2009

The PSP is hurting. Even with the release of the super slick PSP Go the system as it stands now is and has been struggling for unique first and third-party exclusives. While there have been gems in the past the sheer lack of a solid and steady release of B to Triple-A level games has kept the system down no matter the power of the hand-held. These points are addressed as this trend seems to be changing, and part of that change is Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny. With titles such as Soulcalibur and Dissidia: Final Fantasy hitting in the same quarter the PSP is seeing a release of titles it’s been needing. There are more than these two, but why should gamers care, get excited and purchase Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny, let’s take a look at a few reasons …

Gameplay – Soul Blade was a 3D fighting game and that trend has not changed over the years and holds true with Broken Destiny. Unlike the Tekken’s and Virtua Fighters of the gaming word Soulcalibur is a weapons based fighter. Gamers pick the round length, amount of rounds and go at it with various levels of attacks from high to low and some kicks. Moves for each fighter vary as with all fighting games. There are story modes for games to follow as well as trials, a Gauntlet mode and versus. Gamers pull off regular attacks as well as new Soul Crushers and it is possible to destroy equipment, very nice feature.

Graphics – The PSP is a powerful machine but sadly the lack of great games hides this fact. Broken Destiny is one of the best looking titles on the system and shows off what it’s really capable of. Each fighter is detailed, levels look great and the cutscenes are outstanding. It’s a very good looking game.

Sound – The included soundtrack of the best Soulcalibur has to offer comes across excellently in game. The Tekken and Soulcalibur franchise of games have always delivered an excellent soundtrack and Broken Destiny is no exception.

Design – Some levels return from previous games, others are tweaked, even a few new. The levels look great, nothing revolutionary design wise.

Miscellaneous – The guest and created character of course. New fighters, such as Dampierre, are always expected with a fighting franchise, but Soulcalibur has created a habit of special guest. From Yoda to Vader, Spawn to Link these guest characters have usually been for show but not this time. Kratos from God of War has a purpose in-game and having come off his Chains of Olympus PSP adventure he is perfect for this PSP adventure. God of War fans will dig this adventure. The second miscellaneous aspect is the ultra deep character creation and customization that gives the game so much life, online life. Fight against shadows or real players and lose all advantages as each fighter is unique.

Overall, Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny is a must have, on any system, but 1000% on the PSP. The digital copy is available now, just in time for the PSP Go, so it’s going to be a whole new day for games jumping on board. Sometimes there is a need to justify buying a game. Other times it’s simple, see it, have the money, buy it. This is Broken Destiny for any PSP owner. You see it, you buy it, nuff said.