Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why hunt? A look at Monster Hunter Tri on Wii

Lagiacrus from Monster Hunter Tri
David Hasselhoff, the singer. Europeans love him and cannot understand why Americans don’t. Hasselhoff is just one example of someone or something that enjoys massive success on foreign soil but never quite catches on in the United States. While the quality of Hasselhoffs singing is questionable the quality of the Monster Hunter gaming franchise from Capcom is not yet they are similar. Imagine a fantasy world where gamers can join their friends on quest to kill massive monsters, dinosaur size creatures that will then be harvested for food, clothing and weapons. The hunts are intense the teams are closely knit … this is Monster Hunter and it’s incredible successful in Japan.

The Monster Hunter concept is concept is quite Western. Creating an avatar, joining a hunting party, leveling up … it’s all so similar to popular PC titles but these features did not guarantee success in the States, not on the level as in Japan. Why is this? Could it be a game ahead of its time, PS2, with its limited, difficult online play? Could it be recent titles on the PSP, a system that is still finding its way? The answer to this gamer is yes on all counts. When Monster Hunter was first announced it screamed awesome, I mean hunting monsters with buddies and using their parts to level up, sweet. Take this concept now on the PS3 or Xbox 360 with standard online and Capcom can put money in the bank. For some reason this is not the case as recent Monster Hunter titles have hit the PSP … and now the Wii.

Yes, the Nintendo Wii is getting Monster Hunter Tri, Monster Hunter 3. The online play looks to be better than any entry in the past with chat support and a packaged in controller that will feel much better than the non-sensical Wii controller motions. Point is simple. This is a solid gaming franchise that was ahead of its time but it’s not too late. This release on Wii, even with limited graphical power, is offering up gamers, a newer generation of gamers a chance to experience one solid series than an entire nation embraces. As the game gets closer to its April release gamers have a chance to pick up the demo disc at GameStop and for a further taste here is a gallery of the new monsters to take on.

This is a chance for hardcore gamers with Wii’s to show they can support a solid title. This is a chance for Wii owners to show success for what is shaping up to be one of the systems best games. This is a chance for Capcom to take notice and work on a truly next-gen Monster Hunter. Best of all this is a chance for US gamers to embrace a series long neglected. That, or you can just go import David Hasselhoffs greatest hits.

Monday, March 29, 2010

PassionFruit Games Impression

What is PassionFruit Games? It’s a collaboration between two women, Melissa Heidrich, a gamer, and novelist Marjorie M. Liu. These two have known each other since high school and now come together to create PassionFruit Games. Still wondering what this is all about … how about casual gaming, romantic casual gaming.

Yes, the same strong writing seen in all of Liu’s novels will now take center stage in PassionFruit Games which is a total female collaboration. The first game set to release in April is Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box which has strong ties to Tiger Eye novels from Liu. The gaming concept is familiar to any casual gamer. Hidden-object gameplay that follows a storyline, this time Tiger Eye. Voice acting cinematic will move this beyond the run-of-the-mill casual games and the romance tie-in adds an aspect that should draw in many gamers assuming proper word gets out. So how best to draw in noobs, contest of course. First was choosing a character appearance, second was the chance to join the beta test.

So has it worked, is there interest? Time will tell but with the game about to be release time is ticking down. What PassionFruit Games has going for it is a very, very strong writer in Lui with her following, both male and female, a chance for fans to get further into characters and settings they love and the biggest hook. It’s a romantic casual game full of passion and intrigue that is just perfect for the millions of casual gaming ladies … and yes they are the majority of casual gamers. Time is ticking so check out info on PassionFruit games now and check back for more info and interviews.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars on Wii Impression

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars on Wii
Tatsunoko where have you been all this time! Joe the Condor, Jun the Swan, Ken the Eagle, Tekkaman and Karas are a few of the anime characters from Tatsunoko Production in Japan but why should these characters, know really only to fans, be of interest to gamers? Why should Wii owners lift an eye for these five and their seven other Tatsunoko allies? The reason is Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars for the Nintendo Wii.

This fighting game, besides being one of the best games period on the system, is unique in it brings so many unfamiliar characters to US shores with tons of well known, classic, Capcom characters that fans will drool. The reasons stretch beyond a split niche and well known lineup, let’s take a look …

– Think Marvel vs. Capcom 2 with a bit more meat and we’ve got a start. Using the Wii wi-fi ability take on gamers around the world in tag-team battles gaining ranks and moving up the leader boards. Button masher can find some success but there is a mastery needed to move up the charts and its best achieved using the classic Wii controller. The motion controls are non-existing and pulling off moves with the classic controller is easier. There are tons of special moves and over 20 fighters to choose from, each with a unique style, speed and range advantage, so choose wisely. Modes range from Arcade to Time Attack but the very neat hidden gem is the unlockable All-Shooter (short title) hidden game. It’s a 2D fighting game that does everything right.

– The Wii gets knocked quite a bit for its GameCube type graphics but like with MadWorld before, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is perfect for the system thanks to its style. It’s a beautiful, stylistic fighter where every character nails their anime look, even Capcom’s, and special attacks and environments shine. With such great in-game graphics the cutscenes are a letdown since they are just static scenery without what could have been a great opportunity at custom animation. The mixture of 3D character design on a 2D battle-field holds up so well it’s worth comparing to Street Fighter IV on PS3 and Xbox 360. Are these next-gen graphics, no, but any Wii owner will be very pleased?

– The background music can be very memorable on one stage, lost on another. Music is not the Wii’s strongpoint, and it’s not the focus of this title but gets the job done with good in-game fighting sounds and classic special move sounds and battle cries.

– Most fighters have multi-level, destructible environments but not here anime guy. This is a throwback to days of gaming past where levels are background and not much more. Each character shows off a bit of their ‘other lives’ with backgrounds and settings pulled from their respective series so that’s a treat, but an expected one.

– Tatsunoko is a risk for Capcom. The Marvel name is so much better known and how many kids would have asked for a Wii game with Spidey and Wolverine on the cover. It’s this risk, bringing over a title with half a roster most gamers have no idea about, that makes this gamer so happy. This is a rock solid fighting game that never would have seen light of day if not for Capcom taking a risk, a risk anime fans and gaming gamers on Wii should appreciate.

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars is a solid fighting game with great graphics, decent sound and gameplay that every Wii owner needs to experience. It’s not the casual gaming audience that we’re talking about, it’s gamers who want a great, classic fighting experience, the type that hooked many older gamers in arcades in days gone by and will hook even more with a collection of iconic characters … even if gamers don’t know every character on the roster.

Final word from an anime fans perspective. Could Capcom have finally shown that a great game populated with outstanding anime characters can succeed in the states? Can gamers finally get a Shonen Jump All-star title or some missing Evangelion titles? Time will tell, but if Tatsunoko can succeed then sunny days are ahead.

The Slayers Revolution DVD Set 1 Impression

The Slayers Revolution DVD Set 1
What’s old is not always great new. The anime that hooked many current fans, anime watched on VHS or even VCD does not always age well. Even some of the earlier DVD titles, while new to the states, were 3-7 years or older when we finally got them. One such title, The Slayers, a title responsible for hooking me after Ranma ½ and DBZ absorbed me, has not aged as well. Watching the first three seasons, the last hitting about 10 years ago, shows a truly ‘anime’ anime title, one with such a classic design but animation that is dated now. It’s a shame that fans now may pass give The Slayers a once over due to this fact … or will they.

Say hello to The Slayers: Revolution from FUNimation. The fourth season of the legendary series has finally been delivered, the first half that is, and all the points above are erased as the look, feel and sound are top notch and well worth the purchase even for those new to the franchise. So what’s changed for Lina and gang …

Lina and Gourrey are back but this time they take to the high-seas as they’ve just about busted every bandit so time to move on to pirates. As they wrap up their first success Lina is placed under arrest for the crime of … being Lina Inverse? Yes, seems being herself is a crime and as Zelgadis and Amelia join the fray it’s time to go on the run again and get involved in yet another demon driven plot. Pokota is a strange little fur ball and he goes head-to-head with Lina but why? What is he, why is he attacking and how does he tie to Lina being wanted Circumstances dictate that these foes become allies and the mercenary Xellos is involved so things won’t be easy, not when demons are involved. Just what is this new evil, that’s exactly what Lina is going to find out.

For returning fans what’s to love is it’s classic Slayers complete with Megumi Hayashibara opening and closing theme not to mention the full, original voice cast. I cannot spoil too much of the plot but it goes like this. Lina and Gourrey get into trouble, Zelgadis and Amelia show up, one or two new allies join in, funny things happen, things get serious, major bad guy/demon joins the fray and after a few hours things work out but something bigger is lurking. Yup, same formula as every season and this time the noob is Pokota. His voice is a bit annoying but his history and the surprise is very cool. The story formula works so well and the music is a match. This is what I love about Slayers with one big change. Being made in 2008 the animation is sharp, crisp and modern. The character design is dead on how it has always been but it’s updated. In much the same manner the Evangelion has received a visual update so does The Slayers while maintaining the cult look and feel.

This is honestly one of the easiest pieces to write because The Slayers has always been a memorable and fun series and with Revolution none of the good has changed while all the intangibles, animation quality, sound, have been modernized. I love it, plain and simple.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rin – Daughters of Mnemosyne DVD Series Impression

Rin anime
Rin – Daughters of Mnemosyne from FUNimation will get your blood flowing from its metal driven opening theme and skintastic scenery but what lies inside is not all over the top, Speed Grapher like, action. This is a generational spanning epic that will take viewers from the mundane to extreme and unbelievable in six hours.

Rin Asogi is a detective with a very unique skill. She cannot die, will regenerate any wound and along with her assistance Mimi the two will live eternally. Their cause for long life is a spore from an eternally growing tree, Yggdrasil, which entered her body and changed her. This only affects females as any male who encounters the same spore will be transformed into mindless angels, dubbed so for their appearance and not being real angels. Rin takes on odd jobs as she and Mimi go about their business until a chance encounter with Koki Maeno, just a normal guy, begins a decade spanning relationship where Rin will encounter not only Koki’s son but his granddaughter also. Fates are tied together as another immortal; Apos has his own agenda against Rin and is constantly manipulating things for her favor. When agendas span centuries and not every card is on the table the ride is going to be long and interesting.

Rin’s cover is deceptive as it shows Rin in a white dress looking all fancy but the Rin you meet is closer to Colombo than a beauty queen. She is pretty but also fun. Mimi, while young looking is anything but and both find themselves in very sexual situations. The story, in only six hours, is great. Rin is a very likable character and the eternal life angle works and is done very well. The final few hours will delight viewers and leave them very happy with the plot twist and turns. The animation style and design direction is good, I won’t call it average, it’s not, but it has a realism and simplicity that is polished and well representative of a solid anime title.

The piece of Rin that makes the title mature is the explicit and gruesome (at times) violence and sexual situations. There have been anime that seems to throw these devices in for the pure joy and while it seems like that at times with Rin the justification is there, after all what other pleasures are there for an immortal, female immortals, to enjoy? For me this work by Shigeru Ueda is much better than his work on Serial Experiments Lain, so if you find this blasphemy then do me a favor and give Rin a try. I was a doubter at first but came to really like these characters and the interesting setting they are in and I think you will also.

Mature folks, this is for adults, not kids and no it’s not hentai.

Red Hot Chili Samurai vol. 1 Impression

Red Hot Chili Samurai vol. 1
Red Hot Chili Samurai from Tokyopop created by Yoshitsugu Katagiri is everything good about comedic samurai manga (niche example … nah!). First is the fun hero with quirky side-kicks. Second is a ‘could-be-friend’ rival and cookie cutter bad guys. Third is a not too complicated setting that moves the story along.

Kokaku Sento is a hero, swooping in to beat bad guys cheating at dice or drug dealing brothel owners. Assigned task by his father, with the help of the more serious Ento, the cute Ran, quiet ninja Shou and a love, abnormal love of peppers, there is no task Kokaku cannot take on in the name of justice. Quirky is the kindest way to describe Kokaku and the troubles he gets into but with a turtle rival and inspiration from the past he’s well on his way to being the hero he thinks he is.

Once in a blue moon a manga comes along with a cover that I cannot ignore. Red Hot Chili Samurai is that title as the red jumps out and grabs you with a title that cannot be ignored. The chili piece is explained and an interesting hook that helps the story but is not needed for it to stand as a fun series that reminds me of a younger Samurai Champloo toned down a bit on the violent side. I absolutely love the art style as it fits the story and setting perfect without being too complicated or busy. Characters are unique and quirky, fun to follow and when reading these stories time just flies by. When a manga is over and you feel robbed that there is not more, well this is a good thing. The story chapters involve gambling, brothels, rival encounters, land dispute and a bit of history, all good stuff.
Fans of samurai anime with a bit of comedy would do themselves well to check out Red Hot Chili Samurai.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces on Wii Impression

The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces for Nintendo Wii offers up air combat in a fictional WWII era European setting. Set in the same general atmosphere as the anime The Sky Crawlers, Innocent Aces maintains the look and feel of the anime while taking on the gameplay personality of many a flying game that’s come before.

Gameplay – Air combat that puts gamers into the seat of an older era of planes. As with many Wii titles gamers have the option to use the Wii motion controls or plug in a classic controller. This choice is totally on preference and will not affect gameplay too much. Take on story based missions or re-play completed missions in free-mode. Before combat there’s a briefing on mission details as well as a chance to select your fighter, weapons and then to assess damage post-mission. The setting may not be exact WWII but the core gameplay is that of a WWII fighter.

Graphics – The fate of every Wii title, graphics that are polished GameCube .. and that’s for the top titles. Innocent Aces offers up a lot of detailed, blue sky and out of focus ground. The game does look good up in the air but the muted, soft look of the anime is maintained so there are segments that almost feel dreamlike, fuzzy at times. Not the greatest looking Wii titles but one of the better looking air combat titles.

Sound – Vehicle and weapons sound spot on and music is not too much a factor so let’s chalk this section up to ‘gets the job done’ and really nothing more (even for the in-flight voice work).

Design – Levels run the gamut of seek-n-destroy to support. Levels are, well in the sky. The design really shines with the characters and fighters. Characters are pulled right out of the anime, the design that is, and continues to carry the WWII comparison in their dress. They are a more realistic anime look, not the big eyed ones many associate with anime. The fighters are unique with some based on classic, real-world planes while others are designs that have been seen in concept, but never mass produced. The use of propeller on the rear of the fighter as well as reversed wing placement keep the gamer grounded in the fictional world.

Miscellaneous – The story of course. In the anime there was much more talking than fighting and more than a few questions left unanswered. It was an exercise in human development in a wartime environment while the game gets right to the action. The story moves along the heart of the game and while the Kildren, young pilot’s angle, will be explored a bit more it’s really all about the combat. Why the story is worth mentioning is for two reasons. First, fans of the anime will want to play Innocent Aces, second anyone who digs the core story will want to check out the slower paced anime, movie really. It’s a treat.

Overall, Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces is for two audiences. Wii owners looking to get a good WWII type fighter with interesting story and for owners of the Sky Crawlers anime movie. Seeing this title released gives hope to anime fans for all the great titles in Japan that have yet to see the light of day outside of import. These games, while based on anime properties, offer up solid gameplay that limited or no story knowledge will not hinder. Good graphics, sound, a decent story and solid gameplay highlight a gamer’s game on the Wii, take to the sky and enjoy.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sands of Destruction DVD Impression

Sands of Destruction Anime
Anime based on video games carry a checkered past. Tekken, Street Fighter, Final Fantasy, Halo, Dead Space, Mario, Zelda and Mega Man are just a few of the series that have dabbled into the world of anime, animation, with mixed results. The formula fails when a series, Final Fantasy for example, uses a popular series name and puts behind it some god awful crystal story not based on any game … ever. It succeeds as a side story with titles such as Halo and Street Fighter, to expand an already rich universe. It also succeeds with a series like Wild Arms that lives and breaths the game world either in parallel or just before/after.

Sands of Destruction from FUNimation falls into this last category as it was created in unison with the game and does nothing but enhance the gaming experience by creating a more visual world, larger and more engaging than that seen on Sega’s DS title. So there are two audiences for this title, gamers who have played Sands of Destruction and regular old anime folk. Why should either group care, lets take a look at a few key areas from both point of views.

Story – A single young lady, Morte, holds the fate of the world in her hand. As the only member of the hunted World Destruction Committee she is hunted for the Destruct Code passed on to her by her deceased brother. Grieving, she seeks nothing but to gain the power to activate and end all life. She is reluctantly joined by one goofy human boy, Kyrie, and a very heroic … small, powerful bear (kuma, sorry kuma) named Taupy. Hot on their trail is a member of the long lived dragon clan, Rhi’s and her half-human, half-beastman partner Naja. As they journey and avoid capture the group grows, and the choice Morte was sold on when she was solo is no longer set dead in her mind.

That’s the jist of the story without giving away plot points. As a game the central desire Morte has, the locations she must get to and growth experienced all add up to a well rounded, sometimes predictable RPG but as an anime it stands alone. The characters are more anime, and seeing them come to life is a treat for anyone who spent the time with the DS cart and enjoyed said time. Twelve anime episodes allow for plenty of explanations even without playing the game and provide a solid anime for fantasy adventure fans. A good story for fans of anime and the game.

Animation – Rock solid. This is good, above mid-level animation. It’s not on par with a highly budget anime movie but it stands above long running, daily series. Care was put into re-creating each character and location and fans of the game will appreciate this while anime fans will not be disappointed in any way.

Ties to Game – They are there but won’t be spoiled. Even in an RPG there are areas that can drag on and still end up leaving story points untold, or emotions never fully realized. This anime helps make up for that with plenty of emotion and a great score to move those emotions along.

X-Factor – Created in conjunction with the game, not before, not after, with. This is huge as the integration between the two feels fresh, feels right. When Dead Space hit for EA and they looped in comic creators form the beginning it created not only a game to enjoy but a solid prequel story that added to the gaming universe. Sands of Destruction does the same but with a much more difficult genre to coordinate.

Overall, fans of the game owe it to themselves to pick up this series. Check out some episodes on FUNimation’s YouTube channel and see if it’s a gaming universe you’d jump into or an anime that will tickle your fancy. This is what anime is all about, action, adventure, emotion and a great game to go along.

Naruto Shippuden the Movie Impression

Naruto Shippuden Movie
The first Naruto Shippuden movie from Viz is what fans expect and so much more. Naruto is assigned a mission and of course influences those he’s assigned to protect (hey, he does this in every movie it seems) but this Naruto is more forceful.

With a legendary evil unsealed from its prison the Leaf Village is called into action on the front line. As Naruto is assigned to a squad including Sakura, Rock Lee and squad leader Neji he is disappointed to find the front line is not his calling but rather its bodyguard time. In order to re-seal this evil the priestess Shion must make it to the Land of Ogres underground palace and re-establish the seal. All that stands in her way is an insane group of jacked-up chakra users, a ghost army and her own doubts. Top it off with Shion’s ability to foretell the future, one where she has viewed Naruto’s death, and this may be too much for even the obnoxious Naruto to overcome … or not.

Like prior Naruto movies this outing has excellent animation that takes it levels above the series and includes action sequences that will captivate viewers. Rock Lee’s … inebriated battle is excellent as is the use of light and dark special moves, bright vivid attacks in dark backdrops as well as elemental attacks that will delight the eye. What add to the animation are the mature Shippuden designs. Seeing the grown up version of our favorite heroes and their attacks in action is the best looking of any Naruto animation yet. So yes, the animation is solid but it’s the story that stands out from the previous movies which all felt so similar with their base stories. It’s a tale of body guarding and changing the attitude of one spoiled girl but how Shion learns what she needs to, how she changes … well I’ll leave that out, what it boils down too is yes, Shion is a pain at first but her growth is influenced by Naruto but she does much on her own also. Her comment at the very end of the movie shows a major change and is one funny episode, so pay attention.

The other story point worth mentioning is the bad guys, Yomi and his group. Yomi is creepy in how he uses his medical jutsu and his group of four underlings are like drug addicts in how they jack up their powers with chakra worms. Gross, yes, creepy in appearance, yes and it works very well as this is not some group trying to take over a kingdom, it’s a group of true monsters looking to bring destruction to the world. Been a long time coming that a demon and his minions are the foes … and you though ninja were tough. These are the main players with Sakura really doing not too much, Rock Lee showing off some great moves while drunk and Neji learning to use Naruto to his abilities and not force on him what does not work well. What’s missing … well any sign of nine-tails, but he’s not missed.

Overall this is the best Naruto since the land of snow. Good bad guys, great action and animation and an overall package that will please fans and leave you fulfilled.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bamboo Blade DVD Set 1 Impression

Bamboo Blade DVD Set 1
Sports anime usually feature a down and out team that gets a jolt of super-stardom from an unexpected source that allows them to succeed, learn about themselves and excel where the team never dreamed. These traits present themselves in the first DVD set of Bamboo Blade from FUNimation but not without its own quirks. The first being the sport is not a traditional Western one; it’s kendo so viewers will get a bit of education while enjoying the … adventures of these young ladies and their starving coach.

Toraji has issues. His kendo club is losing members and he has no dough to buy food. He makes a bet with a former classmate that his kendo club cannot beat Toraji’s class. If Toraji wins he gets all the sushi he can eat, a true dream … with one problem. His team is a few members too short so not only does he need to assemble a full team but whip it into shape to win his bet, no problem. The answer to his issues is the quiet Tomaki, the daughter of a kendo school master who herself is years ahead of high school kendoers. Convincing her is another challenge but by appealing to her sense of justice brought on by her obsession with anime leads to one tough team being formed. Soon it’s time for Muroe High and Machido High to faceoff, but will Toraji’s club have enough skill to secure him sushi for a year?

The story points are very, very high level and only covers one of the five female team members, does not mention the two male members or any other side characters. However both Toraji and Tomaki are the central figures in this series that is fun, funny and surprising (to me) addictive. I’m no kendo expert and upon judging by cover this seems to be a simpler series that maybe kids would like but it’s not. Judging by a cover will get you nowhere. Bamboo Blade offers up a unique sports anime narrative as its kendo covered. The moves, terms, competitions all follow true kendo rules and I’m sure a few viewers will find enough interest to take up kendo, why not, happened with Go. Tomaki is a likable, smaller stature character who is innocent and easy to root for, not that she needs it with her strength. Her change, growth, is in the form of interaction with her team.

The animation is actually very simple and sports what could be considered a very anime look. Big eyes, different stereotype characters and insane situations. The style is nothing new or super special but Bamboo Blade is a solid anime. The simpler art is crisp and not low quality; it’s just not a mega serious anime. Not taking itself too serious all the time helps the series along.

Overall fans of sports anime should most def check out Bamboo Blade. The art style is pleasing and story picks up to a nice pace and puts a decent plot in place sprinkled with humorous and emotional moments. Kids and adults will enjoy as there is no fan service but plenty of humorous moments both will enjoy. The sports anime that takes itself serious, but not too much so but will hook viewers none the less.

BioShock 2 on PS3 Impression

BioShock 2 on PS3
Upon entering Rapture in the first BioShock gamers experience a city trapped in time, ideals gone wrong and moral choices waiting in the wings. The history, the city and the creepy Big Daddy all presented gamers with a truly unique FPS, winner of many awards and just a great overall experience. Pretty tough standards to live up to but BioShock 2 manages to maintain the level of creativity even it it’s not surpassed. What makes this second installment wonderful in its own way lets take a look …

Gameplay – BioShock 2 is a first-person shooter (FPS) where gamers enter the underwater city of Rapture and use melee, ranged and special (plasmid) weapons to accomplish their goals. Bad guys, Splicers, Big Daddies and Big Sisters all stand in the player’s way of accomplishing their goal. The path is very linear but getting from point A to B still allows for gamer creativity in using various plasmid powers (electrify water baddies standing in) to hacking security systems and unleashing security bots. The unique ways of disposing of baddies from the first BioShock comes over nicely. The choice of save vs. harvest return and with Big Daddy’s personal ties, these choices are a bit tougher, or not for the twisted.

Graphics – Beautiful levels, creepy characters and shadows that do more and try to kill. Gamers new to Rapture will be amazed as the underwater settings, the level of detail in each corridor and just how creepy each Splicer is … even if some are cookie cutter designs. For those returning to Rapture the look is mostly the same with some new baddies to confront but the plasmid effects, weapons, everything looks just a tad better than BioShock but not jaw dropping different.

Sound – A carbon copy of the abandoned, haunted atmosphere found in the first BioShock. The Splicers are equally crazy and creepy in their ramblings and the Little Sisters have the demonic undertone to their innocent, I must harvest Adam, voices. The background music, both the soundtrack score and the 50’s and 60’s themed music give the abandoned halls of Rapture a personality all their own. BioShock 2 is an audio feast for gamers and does as much to draw gamers into the story as any character or setting.

Design – Returning to an isolated, mostly abandoned underwater utopia gone wrong holds many restrictions for game designers but it won’t be noticed as much. While many of the settings are familiar there has been enough wear, tear and decay to vastly change the city and as a Big Daddy gamers are seeing this uniquely crafted city through a different set of eyes. Rapture is unique, beautiful and haunting in its design and it’s rare that a games level, design, is as much a star as any other part of the game. Many feelings of Déjà-vu will present themselves to players of the first BioShock because even with such a well designed city it’s still Rapture, still under water and only so much can be changed.

Miscellaneous – Being Big Daddy. Rapture, its history, the Splicers, been there and done that. Gamers know about they history and mystery of the city but now it’s time to get inside the head of what seemed to be a mostly mindless monster. This Big Daddy has a history and purpose. The story develops around his awakening and mission to find his daughter … little sister. Moral choices must be made but why does a Big Daddy feel so powerless, normal, at the beginning of the game (this changes much later, patience gamers, patience).

Overall, BioShock 2 is a solid title that takes everything the first game did well and repeats while correcting some minor flaws. This leads to a title that feels more like a new episodes of BioShock, not an expansion, but not quite a full sequel with tons of updates and changes. Fans of the first need to pick up BioShock 2. The multi-player, not talked about, employs all the great gameplay mechanics and throws in prequel story points from before the first BioShock so added incentive to play there also. Point is BioShock 2 is a great FPS that will make gamers think about their choices while delivering a unique story where nothing is black and white. Adopt or harvest, easy or difficult; choices that will challenge gamers and make them think.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Alice in The Country of Hearts vol. 1 Impression

Alice in The Country of Hearts volume 1
With another Alice story getting all the attention Tokyopop has quietly released their own versioning of Wonderland full of gangsters, murder, mayhem and pretty boys. Yes, Alice in the Country of Hearts volume 1 is a very unique take on Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole and while it shares much in common with the source material it does so much to set itself apart and become a unique and enjoyable tale.

Alice Liddell seems pretty normal; just another young girl with a pretty older sister whom she spends time with on a lazy Sunday afternoon discussing interesting dreams, clothes and a story of wonderland. As their conversation finishes Alice decides to take a nap, one which will lead her into a very unique and dangerous land. Soon she is swept up in the arms of Peter White, a man with white rabbit ears, who sweeps her down a large hole in her yard to Wonderland and before she knows it, through a kiss, she consumes a vial of liquid which begins a game. The game is never fully explained, nor is Wonderland as Alice is left on her own and soon confronted by two young gatekeepers, another man with rabbit ears and a very familiar looking man named Blood. All are armed to the teeth and only by chance is Alice saved. Soon Alice finds someone who can explain things in Julius Monrey, the owner of the Clock Tower. She learns she is indeed in a new land, one at war, divided into the Heart Castle, the Amusement Part and the Hatters Mansion. This strange game sees Alice meet more interesting people, some with duties (and faces) others without. What is this game and why does everyone seem to have a crush on Alice? Not only must Alice deal wit the moody Julius and the leaders of each territory but while she sleeps she interacts with a demon called Nightmare … who seems fairly under the weather. How is Alice going to adapt in a world where life is treated with utter disregard and gunfights are the norm? The game it seems has just begun.

More story points than I usually chat about but the fact is I’ve not even touched on any of her interactions beyond Blood and that is skimmed. Not knowing is part of the fun as a reader as is seeing how this classic tale has been modeled to fit a world of very pretty manga boys. That’s the next interesting story point, almost every character is male, some have animal characteristics (ears) and grow close to Alice … like a twisted dating sim. Such an interesting way to tell this story and so unique at that. With as strong as Quinrose’s story is the art of Soumei Hoshino is amazing. The fine level of detail, unique characters and settings, emotions, humor and plain beauty in design make this one of my favorite art styles in any manga. It’s truly beautiful and not in the typical ‘dreamy’ shojo way but a solid manga way. It’s manga 101 to the highest degree and really fun to read.

Overall with top notch art and an interesting, mystery filled take on a well known story I have to urge fans of Alice and/or fantasy manga in general to give Alice in The Country of Hearts a try. Pick it off a store shelf or read preview online, you won’t be sad.

Natsume’s Book of Friends vol. 1 Impression

Natsume's Book of Friends volume 1
Once in a blue moon a manga comes along that just delights and surprises me. Natsume’s Book of Friends, volume 1 from Viz’s Shojo Beat line is just such a title. The cover with its soft art and tranquil colors reflects the tale to unfold within. What is it about this manga from Yuki Midorikawa that brings such high praise? I shall share.

His parents having passed at a young age, Takashi Natsume has been shuffled from relative to relative, usually passed along due to his ‘odd’ behavior. See Takashi has a gift, his ability to see and interact with Yokai, spirits. As a high school student he keeps to himself but since moving in with a new group of relatives these Yokai have become much more aggressive. The reason is his grandmother, gifted in the same manner, she made bets with spirits, games, and the loser was bound to serve the winner. Reiko was very successful in these games and compiled a book of names to seal the bargain and it’s this book which Takashi has inherited. With a spirit cat ally, one who’s just out for the book, Takashi takes it upon himself to return each name. The process is exhausting and not every spirit is kind and gentle so with his sensei kitty bodyguard Takashi must not only return names but help spirits with issues. Can his kindness make a difference to spirits who don’t trust humans? Time will tell and with so many names to return time is not an issue.

The story outlined is basic for a reason. The pleasure I took, the serenity was from the story, and how Takashi interacts with each spirit, how each tale unfolds. I found myself reminded of InuYasha in the spirit/human interaction but there is not real combat or agenda to speak of. This is a book of relationships, new, brief and old. It’s the story of a human, isolated by his gift, finding comfort in helping spirits his grandmother bound, in showing that people are people even if they are sprits. The art style is also simple and subtle. It’s as soothing as the feelings the green colored cover invoke. While some of the spirits can be quite fierce and scary looking they maintain a soothing style. Odd, maybe, but I can’t deny how much I enjoyed this manga and how relaxed and good it made me feel from the style to just how Takashi acts and treats others. There are lessons to be learned from Takashi, so pick up a volume and start learning, it’s a good read.