Thursday, April 29, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII on PS3 Impression

Final Fantasy XII
A new Final Fantasy, a new generation of systems and a new reason for RPG gamers to get geeked. With dual release on both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Final Fantasy XIII marks the next great step in RPG gaming … or does it? While the franchise has a storied past and has attained many great achievements and awards does FFXIII measure up or is it resting on the laurels of the past? The answer is yes, but let’s takes a look at which road of ‘yes’ FFXIII travels.

– It’s a role-playing game where characters move in and out of gamers party of three, level up and continue an a fairly linear path with some side-quest later in the adventure. This is core Final Fantasy but changes have been made such as the Active Time Battle system where battles flow much faster with pre-issued commands to fighters as well as an interesting leveling up system, Crystarium, where gamers have more control over the flow of growth. Towns where shopping was done in the past are replaced with a camp shopping system and summons have been turned into vehicle transformations, like the love child of Transformers and M.A.S.K.

– Stunning. The level of detail in cut-scenes is amazing from blades of grass to the shine on a blade. The in-game action is also off the charts with a level of polish only an experienced dev team and years of work could produce. Every detail of the game comes across as alive and even the menu system is crisp and polished. Doubters can say whatever they like but they cannot diss the visual appeal of Final Fantasy XIII. Surprising note is the PS3 boast better graphics than Xbox 360. It’s not major but it is one of the few times the PS3 has beat out the 360 on this front.

– Wonderful thing about Blu-ray is the amount of data one disc can handle. This space allows for hours of dialogue in FFXIII and while some of the lines may be cheesy it’s all very well delivered with the proper dramatics. The music is excellent also and while it does not have that one ear catching tune, well this may take shape over time and play through but still a great score.

– Tons of design, tons of action, settings, weapons, monsters … all very, very well done down to the jewelry. The battle system, Active Time Battle, design is great in being able to set class commands moving the flow of battle along. The leveling up system, Crystaruim, is also a nice update to grid and sphere systems from prior games. No towns to explore but this design element is welcomed by this gamer. Finally the Eidolons and how they manifest, are utilized is solid. While this is indeed a Final Fantasy it makes some bold design changes to core gameplay elements and they all pay off.

– First, FABULA NOVA CRYSTALLIS. This project by Square Enix to create different chapters, pieces of the overall same story world is going to be interesting, to see how it plays out in other entries. Second the story and characters. These are core to the success of any Final Fantasy and one of the reasons FFVII is so well remembered. Same can be said to FFX but not as much for FFIX. The story is a bit confusing as the primary city world of Cocoon protects itself from the outside world of Pulse and the branded I’Cie, enemies of the state. The ruling group of Sanctum is behind some larger conspiracy, of course, and the main plot beings as rebels fighting against this plot. The story will begin to make sense and gamers will come to like, maybe love the new cast from strong femme fatal Lighting, her sister Sarah and fiancé Snow to chocobo carry Sazh and annoying youngsters Hope and Vanille.

there are some significant changes to the Final Fantasy formula that purest may frown on but these are good solid changes. The game flows faster and will take fewer hours to complete due to the lack to backtracking, exploration and mini-games but there is well over 60 hours of visual and gaming bliss to experience so it’s a great purchase. So is it worthy of the Final Fantasy name? Yes and just like any great game franchise, Final Fantasy continues to evolve while doing enough to stay on top.

Nier Comic Impression

Nier comic
Many games have been using both novels and comics to further their story from a prequel to adaptation of the in-game action. NIER from Square Enix is no exception as gamers can jump into the NIER comic and learn more about the mysterious story. It’s a free download but is it worth gamers and comic fans time? The three part comic explains the back story for NIER from the Fall of Humanity to the birth of “The Black Scrawl” (what now?). So just what is NIER?

NIER is an action-RPG (role-playing game) from Square Enix, better known for their Final Fantasy series. Beyond this and its April release timeframe not much is known about the story outside the crazy trailers populated with some of the most aggressive language seen in a Square Enix game. Nier is the name of the sword wielding, book carrying hero, who travels with his daughter. The book is not really carried; it floats and is called the Grimoire Weiss. This living book tells a tale of a dark past and future. Nier’s purpose is to travel around and defeat the Shade (bad guys) while saving those the Shade seeks to destroy. This is the first comic plot but there is more to Nier than meets the eye. The games trailers show off an impressive game with a slew of interesting characters and tons of action. So why should gamers care?

The comic is offered as a download or a scrolling three minute viewing of the story. The art is more traditional American comic than anything seen in manga and when compared to the game looks totally different from a design standpoint. The coloring is great and while the art is different it works and works well. The fleshing out of the story will only add to enhance the game experience and allow gamers to invest more in the unique characters but is it worth the time?

Yes and yes. For gamers investing in Nier you need to check out the comic. There is zero cost and total immersion into the series. For gamers thinking about taking a dive into Nier then start with the comic. If the story and characters interest you then get the game but if it’s all boring then why invest. This is the world gamers will dive into so read the comic first then make a buying decision. The choice is gamers and release is drawing Nier so time to download.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Strike Witches DVD Complete Series Impression

Strike Witches DVD
Aliens called Neuroi invade Earth; wipe out a good portion of the populace and stand up to most all military. How does humanity stave off extinction … flying witches of course. Strike Witches from FUNimation puts young witches in leg engines called Striker Units and sends them into the skies to battle the invading Neuroi. Sounds a bit odd, well yeah it is but there are things to like and a niche for this particular anime.

The Neuroi invade. The year is 1944 and no force on the planet can stand up to these invaders until it’s discovered witches have the power to do battle. With the development of the Striker Unit, engines crafted and strapped to the witches’ legs, humanity has a good fighting chance. These young witches are sought out and trained to battle the Neuroi as they appear and it’s the latest recruit, Yoshika Miyafuji who’s the latest into the fray. As Yoshika learns the ropes and battles the Neuroi she grows close to her fellow pilots and begins to learn more about the Neuroi. Will she hold the secret to turning the tide of battle in humanities favor or just be another weapon in a lasting battle?

Strike Witches is … interesting. First the animation is solid and simple. If there is a poster child for anime girls then is it. Strike Witches is not amazing looking or original but it’s solid. There are plenty of girls for all fetish flavors and yes I point this out due to the plentiful leg and panty shots. It’s not over the top but also not needed for a solid series so total fan service. The animal ears and tails that appear when a witch uses her powers is also very plushy. The ladies of Strike Witches will make many an otaku happy, but what about the story? Well the World War II setting and substitution of aliens for Nazi and flying girls for military is interesting and really does have so much more ground to discover. The 12 episodes presented offer many answers and create so many more questions that may (MAY) be answered in future releases. For some reason the story reminds of the PlayStation 3 video game Resistance where alien chimera invade and take over Europe. It’s the alien and WWII setting but that is all that creates comparison.

Overall from an anime fans perspective what you see on the cover is really what you get as this is an anime with good quality action and animation of flying girls with magic, ears and tails taking on a faceless and mysterious enemy. If this is what you want then go to it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Bloodstained Man, Netherworld Book 2 Impression

Heavy Metal Pulp vol. 2 The Bloodstained Man

Heavy Metal Pulp

In Netherworld Book 1 readers were introduced to Detective Rook Venner, a man caught up in a government conspiracy that seems to gravitate to a certain pleasure model he’s protecting. With his life all but forfeit Rook and Plesur go on the run, hunted, and keep learning more about why they are targets and just how big the conspiracy is. As the first story ends the second volume of Heavy Metal Pulp’s Netherworld, The Bloodstained Man, kicks in. How are Rook and Plesur doing? That’s what you have to read for.

Having just seen an ex-presidents head go boom Rook, Plesur and Julia make their escape thanks to an upgraded Plesur. Instantly they look for more names tied to the recently uncovered Taste Imperative, a deadly government secret which the shadowy Sable Ranch will kill to keep secret. While on the run the trio is captured by the Latin gang located in the uninsured wild just outside the city where Rook must fight while Julia puts her unique skills to work. The trio encounters not only Latin gangs and gators but some very finicky robotic kitties. Not all pleasure mods are created equal but a secret underground soon reveals they can be free but is this enough for Rook as his feelings for Plesur grow?

This second volume picks up where the first left off and never misses a beat. The story is frantic; fast paced and cannot be put down once begun. It’s actually a very quick read with tons of comic style pics thrown in to give a visual to the story. It’s not War & Peace but seeing Rook grown closer to Plesur is enjoyable while this huge conspiracy unravels around them. That is the story, Rook on the run and government conspiracy. Nope, it’s not resolved in this volume but if you are a fan of the first book you’ve just got to get Bloodstained Man. My only gripe is the story ends with such a surprise and now I’ve got to wait for volume 3 … dang it all.

Sakura Wars on Wii Impression

Sakura Wars on Wii
Sakura Taisen is well known to anime fans worldwide but it’s never received the proper release here in the States. The now defunct ADV Films released Sakura Wars but it was at a very saturated time for anime. This being said it’s not too late to get caught up on the anime but now gamers get the chance to experience one of the fine games in the long running Sakura Wars franchise on the Nintendo Wii. Released on both the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Wii Sakura Wars is indeed dated graphics wise but it fits quite well on the Wii. So what does this release offer both anime and strategy role-playing fans, let’s take a look.

– Battles are carried out in a strategy RPG setting but there are many more elements which set Sakura Wars apart. First there is an adventure mode, think dating sim, where gamers choose main character Shinjiro’s reactions to various encounters thus shaping gameplay. These interactions are usually with other STAR (mech) pilots and will affect the mech driven gameplay. The game takes place in New York and as Shinjiro travels around he can snap pictures around the city so there is a pic taking element. There are also musicals to watch which only makes sense since this is how the STAR pilots make their money. Yeah, in the world of anime this makes sense. A strategy RPG wrapped with a relationship sim and photo sim.

– The animated cut-scenes are beautiful, worthy of any DVD release while the photo stills found in many of the conversations are true to the anime and just plain pretty to look at. The in-game graphics capture the look and feel of Sakura Wars to a tee and look better than any mech titles seen on both PS2 and GameCube. It reminds of a much more polished Eureka 7 and for an S-RPG it avoids the boring grid look and feel.

– Fantastic voice work when present mixes with an anime inspired soundtrack that rocks for fans. Battle sounds are good, but it’s the voice work that captures the day here.

– The mixture of genre types works very well since this is actually the 4th installment of the series in Japan. The mixture of dating sim and S-RPG works well as this is how the franchise is meant to work, for relationships to impact story and battle. The mech designs may seem clunky to fans of Gundam or Evangelion but they are designed to have a more industrial, steam punk feel and it comes across very well in the older New York setting.

– The value of the Wii to anime fans. While the system does not boast the line-up or power of the PS3 or Xbox 360 what is does is offer games ‘next-gen’ system would usually pass over. Seeing (essentially) PS2 titles such as Bleach, Sky Crawlers and now Sakura Wars getting pub is awesome. There are a ton of great anime based games on the PS2 in Japan that gamers here never got the chance to play outside of imports. Localization is not cheap but seeing the release of these titles, even as a trickle, is outstanding. Overall, the story, voice work and setting in Sakura Wars are great, established and something fans will love. For straight-up S-RPG fans the dating aspect and sometimes plodding story may not be your cup of soup but it’s worth a taste for a system starved of good RPG’s. The price is right, the formula refined and for such an odd mixture it’s worth the try.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Naoki Urasawa's Monster DVD Set 1 Impression

Monster DVD Set 1
Could you save a monster, a beast that will torture and kill others without a second glance? The answer seems straightforward but what if you had no idea the person you were saving would become such a monster. This is something that Dr. Kenzo Tenma must deal with in Naoki Urasawa’s Monster on DVD from Viz. Based on the thrilling manga the anime loses none of its suspense or intrigue.

Dr. Kenzo Tenma is a brilliant surgeon, a man capable of saving almost any life but being a doctor is not always about saving lives. Tenma quickly learns that politics carry a heavy weight. As he saves the life of a famous singer another man dies, one who arrived earlier. Haunted by this fact, reminded by those who lost their husband, their father, Tenma makes a choice later to save a young boy as another prominent figure passes away. This choice ends his immediate medical career and years later begins a horrific journey where he is hunted and on the hunt. The young boy he saves, Johan, grows to be just that, a monster and as he murders it’s Tenma who becomes the target of a fanatical ex-fiancé and a determined detective. There is more to Johan than just a deranged boy. As Tenma seeks to end the life he saved he learns there is much more to Johan and his twin sister than anyone could imagine.

For those fans of the manga you know exactly what type of story and suspense you are getting. This tale is part CSI, Incredible Hulk and The Fugitive. CSI for its crime solving pieces, Hulk (TV series) for its wandering hero helping others and The Fugitive for just that, he’s a fugitive. This last example really shows what fans can expect but the addition of government conspiracies and cover-ups against a German backdrop and hints of a new Reich really make Monster unique. The story is suspenseful and haunting a pure pleasure to watch.

The animation is ordinary, not great, not bad, but this is everyday life in Europe so no super bouncy women, tight wearing men or super powers needed.
Monster is an excellent entryway into the world of anime for fans of mystery, suspense and crime stories. If the DVD set is too much to take on right now then take a look at the manga at a lower price then decide if the money is worth bringing the story to animated life.

Lunar Silver Star Harmony on PSP Impression

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony on PSP
Lunar: Silver Star Harmony on the PSP is plain and simple a gaming classic polished and brought back to life for a new generation of gamer to experience. From Sega CD to PlayStation and now PSP this gaming gem is classic RPG with a long boy-to-hero story, lots of leveling up and plenty of turn based battles to take on. The characters and settings retain all their charm into its third decade of life. Yup, this puppy has been refined from its original 90’s release, 00’s re-release and now a new decade. So what makes Lunar so special? Let’s take a look.

– Assume the role of a young boy, Alex, as he joins childhood friends Luna and Ramus on a local adventure that quickly blows into a world spanning adventure that will see the rise of a new Dragonmaster, a champion not seen since the disappearance of Dragonmaster Dyne 18 years prior. The adventure is very linear with quest and objects, tons of leveling up through turn-based battles. Random encounters are still missing, replaced by enemies that are viewable on screen. This is an RPG in its most basic elements where plenty of hours and leveling up are needed to experience once excellent story and adventure.

– Updated from the originals and remakes with bright settings and character designs. The graphics scream RPG and will never be confused with recent, more modern RPG’s but it looks really good and will spark major nostalgia in gamers of the original. The animated cut scenes are excellent, not to be missed.

– The music is RPG gold for those longing for the 16-bit era of sound. While updated the tunes a classic from the moving around town tracks to the battle sequences. The voice work is top notch and bring the anime sequences to life. Humor comes across really well with some subtle jokes thrown in along the way, all delivered on cue. Gotta say the lyrics for the PlayStation opening are missed.

– Linear, point A to B, fetch quest and the like. Lunar is a reminder of a more direct time in RPG history and is a top notch J-RPG that requires stat building, level grinding even with the enemies that can now be seen on the field. This is a true old-school RPG done well, done right.

– Nostalgia is the name of the game. Remakes usually happen with major facelifts but Lunar has received two major remakes, PlayStation and now PSP, and both times all the core elements were retained and updated. This is a testament to the excellence of the Sega CD original. The expanded story elements alone warrant yet another play through for veteran gamers also.

gamers looking for a good, a really good, role-playing game in the traditional Japanese mold of turn-based battles and level grinding minus the random encounters will do themselves will to get Lunar: Silver Star Harmony. This remake is excellent; a great service to fans of the franchise and PSP owners looking for a great app to spends hours on. Lunar does not deliver anything new but refines everything it does to a tee.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What a Wonderful World! vol. 1 Impression

What a Wonderful World! manga volume 1
What a Wonderful World! volume 1 from Viz is not the usual manga. This collection of stories, stories of average people in sometimes not so ordinary situations feels like a breath of fresh air in what is a world of manga filled with fantastical stories.

Stories of regret, not following through on a band with promise, pursuing that good corporate life that society dictates we must have. Living from day to day getting by on odd jobs. A school kid listening to the voices they hear, taking a chance. A man on the run becoming friends with a child who wishes for … nothing. A boy hooked on syrup who wants to fly, stories of ordinary life no matter how extraordinary the circumstances, these are the stories of a wonderful world.

A short description for a set of short stories from Inio Asano. No matter how tough life may feel or seem there are those with worse circumstances, with odd circumstances that must cross a path many have followed at one time in their lives. Giving up on a dream to become a normal part of society. Doing what is needed to fit into society as a child, walking the normal path. These stories remind the reader of choices made or foretells choices to be made. I’m not saying readers are going to have these set of choices but the fact is everyone has dreams at some point in their lives and as we mature these dreams are turned away for what society dictates. Few follow their dreams, few let the voices in their head guide them for ill or good.

Point is that for this reader What a Wonderful World! does is make me think. The stories are well told and enjoyable and mixed with art that guides the story but won’t wow readers but it’s the thinking that made these tales so thought provoking. What if the reader decided to drop everything, pursue their dreams? What if the reader has their own issues but seeing those of others helps them resolve themselves. For me it was gaining insight into myself, not for any life changing event but rather for the good fortune I have in my life. What a Wonderful World! indeed.

Portrait of M&N vol. 1 Impression

Portrait of M&N volume 1
Fetish can be a very odd, a very personal luxury few can afford to indulge in no matter how sane the user makes the practice in their head. Many of these acts are socially unacceptable or just plain embarrassing and with Tokyopop’s Portrait of M&N volume 1 readers get a taste of both worlds.

Both are beautiful, both have much to hide. Mitsuru and Natsuhiko have secrets to hide; ones which eat them up inside and force them to hide from society. All they want is to fade into the shadows but it’s this very fading which draws attention to them at school and a chance encounter, a few encounters reveal to each the secrets they hide. Mitsuru is from a high society family which frowns upon her extreme masochist ways. An accident reveals this secret at school where Natsuhiko steps in to ‘save’ her but he also has an issue. He is an extreme narcissist who delights in his looks and only his looks. Through a series of interesting events the two grow closer and must overcome the potential issues their secrets carry.

A unique manga; oh yes. Creator Tachibana Higuchi has created a very interesting story where the focus on two such fetishes is brought to light in both a serious and humorous manner. These are two characters that, from external appearances, have everything going for them but are tormented by their own inner demons. Their coming together is not smooth and creates a butterfly-in-stomach series of encounters that will delight readers and is done so subtly. For a story built on the M&N the focus moves to a relationship manga quite nicely. The art, well it reminds of a rougher Wall Flowers with tall, thin, shojo’ish characters that don’t scream original but suit the mood.

Overall the art and story is very shojo and at its heart this is a unique take on the romance genre of manga. The inclusion of two such unique fetishes is what will determine how Portrait of M&N fairs as this is the one point, the one and only story point that separates this from so many similar manga.

Dragon Age comic issue 1 Impression

Dragon Age is more than just a video game. It’s a world full of vivid characters and unique races living in an historic, deep landscape full of good, bad and the in-between. The game world is only a portion of the many layers built by EA and BioWare. There are novels that take place generations before the age of dragons in Dragon Age and the game offers up expansion packs that are just the beginning of the story. Now IDW has teamed up with EA to produce a Dragon Age comic. The question for gamers and fans of Dragon Age should not be if they buy but rather when. Buy now as individual comics or wait for the collected volume? Let’s take a look at the pieces involved.

The Story
– Mages are powerful, so much so that in the past they unleashed the plague, the Darkspawn on the land and only through a united front were these creatures beaten back into submission. Now in order to contain, control the magic wielded by magus an organization has been created. The Circle of Magi oversees all magic activities and utilizes the well trained Templar’s to control these magi. The brutal and unjust treatment of magi by Templar grows a hate between the two that will see the rise of powerful magi but not before one of each group fall in love leading to a child. How will this fugitive child of mixed lineage impact the world and who is the demonic Man of Light? Questions to be answered but time is needed to fulfill this tale.

Dragon Age is unique in that it’s not above subjugating its residents from magus to elves. This story shows such hate for the magi and just how dark the world of Dragon Age can be. The story is set quite quickly and from the ending tone a fast forward, child grown will be needed but that’s not an issue. The issue is establishing where this story sits in the overall timeline of Dragon Age. The story works for casual comic fans but for die-hard Dragon Age buffs a bit more detail is needed, hopefully to be provided later.

The Art
– Never judge a book by its cover. Reason; Humberto Ramos did the cover while Mark Robinson did the internal art. The overall impact is not too different in style as the cover depicts a dark world of swords and magic while the internal art does the same. The biggest difference is the Joe Maduro feeling work produced by Robinson. It’s an earlier Maduro that this art feels like, not the refined Battles Chasers many are familiar with. The action is fluid and fast, a well paced style of art mixed with excellent coloring.

Buy Now?
– Yes but only for fantasy comic fans and collectors. The main reason being the lack of back-story, location in the Dragon Age timeline. Casual fans can dig an action packed story but fans may be a bit perturbed.

Buy Later?
– Yes for Dragon Age fans. Looking ahead this journey will be much more memorable in a collected volume with all the Dragon Age novels read. There is also the chance that a history, timeline, of characters, events and settings will be included thus fixing that annoying feeling for hardcore fans.

the first issue of the Dragon Age comic is solid, a bit too short (which happens when a story just gets going) but is an overall solid purchase for fantasy comic fans. Dragon Age fans will enjoy seeing characters brought to life in yet another light but the lack of timeline will annoy. Buy now or later, there is a difference but as a comic and gamer that is for the reader to decide.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Q1 2010 gaming report – Nintendo Wii and DS

Pokemon SoulSilver
While the PS3 and Xbox 360 delivered in droves in Q1 the Nintendo DS and Wii both continued their steady release of solid titles, not a ton mind you, but enough solid titles to please both casual and hardcore gamers alike. The Wii will soon get some completion in the PS3 new controller and the DS has increased its size so Nintendo keeps on rolling and adjusting to a competitive market. How did the games fare in Q1 2010, let’s take a look …

Nintendo Wii
– Love the anime feel, just love it and so should Wii owners for the variety.
  • Red Steel 2 – The new setting and art style works much better than the original and takes on a cowboy genre lacking in … well really any titles.
  • Endless Ocean: Blue World – It’s swimming around an ocean … ok it’s more than just that but what a fun, relaxing way to spend time. Explore sunken ships, marine life all across the globe.
  • Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love – Mechs, monsters and dating, oh my! Starved Sakura Taisen fans finally get one of the long running games (fifth actually) in this unique title. The sim based dating story moves the game along with a fairly deep strategy role-playing game wrapped around.
  • Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon – Not quite a creep fest but it has it antsy moments and a unique way of using the Wii-mote. Also a very pretty game with that anime look.
  • Shiren the Wanderer – A wandering samurai in an ancient Japanese setting with tons of J-mythology thrown in everywhere. Sounds like a standard Atlus title.
  • Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars – Brining over such an excellent fighter is a no brainer by Capcom but one that does not have Marvel but instead Tatsunoko was bold and welcome. Great cast of fighters with a deep anime heritage. One of the best titles on Wii, easily a top 3 fighter on the Wii.
  • No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle – Story is still a bit out there but all the third-person style and action is back and a bit more polished. Great gameplay, a true gamer’s game.
  • The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces – A flight combat title perfect for the Wii build on top of a deep anime based story. Story aside the gameplay stands very well on its own and is a welcome addition to the Wii library of games.
Nintendo DS – When a traditional Pokémon hits the market it’s time to celebrate. Mix in some different takes on the RPG genre and a few new puzzle games, good quarter for DS.
  • Pokémon HeartGold Version & Pokémon SoulSilver Version – Not even going to comment. It’s more Pokémon with a take-with-you pet and hours of refined gameplay. Guess I did comment.
  • WarioWare D.I.Y. – Mini-games with the classic Wario twist. It’s odd but fun.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey – Not the traditional Shin Megami Tensei game and that’s saying something. It’s a RPG, quirky and not for everyone but fans of the SMT franchise should rent first as it’s not the norm.
  • Infinite Space – A deep and engaging space combat simulation where gamers build their fleet and take on incredible space forces in an operatic story. Niche but worth the try for anyone interested in the genre as a whole.
  • Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing – Like cart racers? Starving for more Mario Kart? Take Sonic and his Sega buddies for a spin. Same formula, same great gameplay.
  • Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth – The Ace Attorney series is established and well done. This is the next step in the series, one that is not too original but delivers what’s expected.
  • Glory of Heracles – Taking advantage of all the mythology based stories and movies? Recommended for gamers who can’t get enough mythology.
  • Sands of Destruction – A fun and original RPG from Sega that has a 12-episode anime series from FUNimation. The story is decent as is the gameplay and overall it’s just a solid title.
Overall the Wii gets a solid B+ thanks to a great variety of titles from air combat to fighting, mystery and action. Even a trip to the ocean floor is not out of the Wii’s reach. The DS clocks in with an A and not just for Pokémon. A new WarioWare, Ace Attorney and a slew of new RPG titles is too much to pass up and a great haul for the quarter.

The first quarter of 2010 delivered great titles on every system and while things may slow in Q2 there is more than enough great gaming on the market to consume gamers hours, days, weeks and dollars well into the fall. What a great beginning to a new year.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Impression: Halo Legends Blu-ray

As game universes get bigger and more complex new media is needed to accomplish this. From books to card games and movies there are different media outlets to expand these universes and Halo is no exception. With a long running series of novels, comic adaptations, action figures and of course the games themselves it’s time for some animated action for Master Chief and his fellow soldiers and enemies. In Halo Legends, these seven stories unfold beautifully on blu-ray but what is each story about, let’s take a look …
  • Origins I & Origins II – Who are the Forerunners, the Flood, the Covenant? How did the war begin, what is the history of Halo? These questions are answered in two tales of the past. The story is a recap of history while the animation is the most basic on the disc, almost like Ben 10 on Cartoon Network. It gets the job done but is nothing major to write home about. What these two stories accomplish is providing a rich back-story that shows there is more to Halo than the completed Human/Covenant war or Master Chief.
  • The Duel – An internal power struggle, the quest for power and betrayal it brings. The Arbitor must take on a deadly foe. The story feels pulled from ancient Japan with its robe dress, honor and setting. The animation is like a water color painting come to life. A nice look into the life of an Elite but one that’s gorgeous to view.
  • Homecoming – A female Spartan on a mission reliving the past as her present comes crashing down around her. Spartans may be super soldiers ripped from their families at an early age but they are still human with emotions and ties to the past. The animation is top quality, better than Babysitter and just below Prototype. The story is more insightful than touching even though it’s meant to be touching.
  • Odd One Out – Whoops, seems a Spartan got left behind on planet and must faceoff against a new Covenant monster while dealing with a few odd kids, their pet dinosaur and two kung-fu orphans! The story is funny, it’s meant to be funny and delivers. Who said everything must be serious. The animation is quality but simple and over the top at times. Feelings of Dragon Ball spring to mind in the fight scenes and the overall mood is Halo meets over-the-top, funny traditional anime.
  • Prototype – The story of a ‘ghost’, a solider with seemingly no emotion who makes the greatest sacrifice and goes missing in action while carrying out the Cole Protocol. The story is excellent, very deep and touching. The animation is outstanding, dark and some of the best seen on this Blu-ray. A look into the life of just another solider.
  • Babysitter – A sniper mission to take out a prophet. The shooter, a Spartan, the support, a cocky team of ODST. One particular, young, ODST is not too happy about his sniping duties being removed and never gives the Spartan a chance but hey, that’s typical ODST MO. At the end of the mission opinions are changed. The story shows off just how powerful a lone Spartan can be and how human he is in his support of his ODST backup. The action is over the top, can you imagine a Halo fighting game? Just wait till the waterfall scene. The animation is a step below that seen in Prototype but still excellent. The coloring is well done, a very vivid episode showing more emotion than the others.
  • The Package – A team of Spartans on a critical mission that cannot fail launched from a cloaked UNSC cruiser. The package must be recovered even at the cost of Spartans and for Master Chief a fateful encounter with an Elite who will help shape the Halo universe. The animation is computer generated; think Final Fantasy XIII cut scenes. The action is Star Wars meets Halo in the first portion with a few nods to the FPS view of the game in the second and back to Star Wars for a to brief duel. The story is simple, team of Spartans including Master Chief, must destroy a package and for the first time the sacrifice that Spartans made is revealed. Gamers, fans of the Halo universe can finally begin to appreciate the loss of Spartans in one simple mission, especially when the package is revealed.
Overall fans of the Halo universe will love this Blu-ray, this fan did. The novels offer expansion on the game universe but require a bit of time to read but with the Blu-ray gamers and fans get a snippet of each angle of the Halo galaxy, perfect compliment for the games and novels.

The bonus ‘Halo: The Story So Far’ is also a very nice treat as it captures the story, well so far and expands on those stories outlined above.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ratman vol. 1 Impression

Ratman Volume 1
Super heroes have vastly been confined to US comics from Marvel to DC but now a new kids on the block. Say hello to Ratman. Ratman volume 1 from Tokyopop created and illustrated by Inui Sekihiko is not your average hero; actually he’s not a true hero at all. How does this manga man measure up, let’s take a look …

The world has embraced heroes. Advancement in technology has allowed for the average man to become a hero, with corporate sponsorship of course. These hero’s hold different levels of fame, power and are marketed by corporations for image. Like any idol these men and women are also idolized by the public. Shuto Katsuragi is one such adorer, a boy with dreams of becoming a hero … except he’s really short for his age. Only the strongest, faster, best can apply to become heroes and Shuto just does not seem to measure up. One person believes in him, pretty classmate Mirea Mizushima and soon, after being kidnapped by Jackies, Shuto is recruited by the evil organization Jackal, equipped with a very unique piece of hardware and becomes Ratman. Once fake rescue later of a very familiar face and Shuto learns he is not the true hero he wants to be, and after his first assignment he learns that the hero’s he worships are not all they are cracked up to be. Does being a hero require corporate backing or does it come from inside? These are lessons Shuto will learn as he works for the nefarious Jackal.

So is Ratman, not really getting the name in this first volume, a worthy hero manga and does differentiate enough to warrant a purchase? Yes, yes … oh lordy yes. See I really liked this manga for the excellent art, funny story points (Jackies rock!) and the twist on what could have been a very average story. So first the art is superb. There is a more anime feel to the art than manga, it’s crisp, sharp and just pretty to look at. The look is more traditional anime but each character is unique and the members of Jackal, the Jackies are a flipping trip. I could read stories of these guys for hours. This could not have been an easy manga to draw on deadline, such a great quality, high praise.

So the art is good but what about the characters and story? So freaking good. This is not a short boy gets power, becomes hero, learns lessons tale. This is a short boy gets kidnapped, given powers because of his stature and made part of an evil organization because of a contract. It’s so absurd that is works oh so well. The deeper piece of the story that caught me is the fact Shuto is more a hero than those doing it for money, his ideals are hinted at and already seem deeper than those of the hero society. It’s also a story that has so much more to explore … like how does the watch work, how will the fights pan out, who are the real heroes. Yup, a potentially deep hero manga, good stuff, highly recommended.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Q1 2010 gaming report – PS3, Xbox 360 and PSP

Did this quarter really happen? Did the holiday season shift back by a few months? This many great games in the first three months of 2010 ... really, this many! The sheer number of top quality games would challenge any holiday lineup and it comes in a very interesting quarter. Many game companies have been choosing to push out some titles till the beginning of the year to avoid flooding the market at the holidays and what it means is more great games for gamers spread out over more months. So first up is a look at both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Both systems had a handful of top quality, exclusive, titles but the amount and quality of cross platform titles is mind boggling. Without further ado, let’s take a look.

PlayStation 3 - God of War III would have been great by itself but the realism brought by Heavy Rain not to mention MAG online … oh yeah!
  • God of War III – Kratos quest comes to an end with incredible gameplay, design and graphics. A mature game if ever there was one and should not be missed by any age appropriate gamer.
  • Star Ocean: The Last Hope International – The Xbox 360 exclusive comes to PS3 with more content but same robotic, space anime feeling. A fun romp for series vets but with FFXIII out, RPG fans should only pick up after finishing FFXIII.
  • Heavy Rain – Indigo Prophecy offered a more realistic looking, feeling mystery title with action elements and characters that could live next door. Heavy Rain takes this formula and ramps up the realism from looks to voice work to overall gameplay. Gamers will come to care for characters and feel more involved with gameplay than they could ever anticipate.
  • Yakuza 3 – Mafia titles based the US have been hit and miss, but Sega has now delivered three rock solid Yakuza titles that just don’t seem to get the attention they deserve. Yakuza 3 is sadly more niche than mainstream but for fans of Grand Theft Auto take a gander, give a rental and enjoy some Japanese mafia bashing action.
  • MAG – Lots of online combat on different levels with great weapon and side selection. For PS3 owners it does not get much better than this for online combat.
  • White Knight Chronicles International Edition – Another title that feels sub-par with its anime style and design. A few more months of polish and a summer release would have been better for this title taking on FFXIII. Sadly many RPG gamers will miss out due to the sheer number of grade A titles this quarter.
Xbox 360 - Mass Effect 2 is more than enough for an exclusive.
  • Mass Effect 2 – There are few games that can consume months of a gamers time and do a good job while eating these hours. Mass Effect 2 is such a title with incredible story, characters, graphics, gameplay … need more?
  • Supreme Commander 2 – SC2 does a good job of delivering RTS on the 360 but unlike Halo Wars which was starting fresh, there is an established formula for Supreme Commander which had to be stripped down a bit for console. Vets of the franchise should stick to PC but for noobs that loved Halo Wars then check out SC2 now.
  • Perfect Dark & Scrap Metal – No, not retail games but as downloads go these two require mention as Perfect Dark is better than the original while Scrap Metal is a new generation of car combat in the model of Twisted Metal that fans will dig.
Multi-platform – Great selection of titles from a number of genres, truly, truly solid gaming.
  • Final Fantasy XIII – Wow, what an outstanding RPG, but not one for every gamer. Hours of gameplay woven around a deep storyline, unique combat and characters creates what is a very satisfying Final Fantasy given the years of waiting.
  • Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – MAG on PS3 rocks but Bad Company 2 offers up just as much depth but a fun factor spoken of by gamers that only a polished sequel can prompt.
  • BioShock 2 – It feels more like an extension of BioShock than a sequel but the last few hours make this a great adventure and one that does not require a play through of the first game.
  • Army of Two: The 40th Day – Co-op gamers need apply for this bromance of an action game. Many of the issues from the first game have been resolved but Ao2 still seems to miss on its original promise.
  • Bayonetta – This witch is everything that’s right with gaming in an over-the-top adventure with excellent combat, control and depth of development (level and character) mashed with a passable story. Dante now has a soul sister and same father.
  • Just Cause 2 – On the list based on reputation but sadly a game this writer is yet to play. I can only assume fans will dig this but jury is out for me, for now.
  • Resonance of Fate – The J-RPG that takes hours to get used is going to be lost in the shuffle of fantasy/space RPG’s this quarter but the setting, steam punk, is quite cool and worth a look.
  • Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening – Not new but rather an expansion, a 10-20 hour one, but it shows the new way games are going with downloadable, expansion content that PC gamers have enjoyed for years.
  • Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition – For hardcore fans but mainly those who missed it on the first pass. Now there is no reason for what Capcom is offering up.
  • Aliens vs. Predator – While AvP does not fix the issues with the film franchise it at least gives gamers a better story setting
  • Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing – A cart racer for Sega, yes. A good title for the family, yes.
  • Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce – God bless Dynasty Warriors. They just keep on going, releasing new titles and hitting their core audience with updated gameplay. Give it a try at least once, there are like a bazillion titles.
  • Dante's Inferno – A comic, DVD, action figures, bad PR attempt. Sometimes a game just needs to stand on its own and this imagining of original story is another God of War clone. Combat is fun, there are moral paths to follow but gameplay just feels so … familiar.
  • Darksiders – Ripping off elements of Zelda and God of War is not a bad thing especially when done with pizzazz. Darksiders is not original, will actually feel déjà-vu-ish but it’s still fun and worth the purchase or rental.
PSP – Three titles worth mention but sadly none are new or original.
  • Lunar: Silver Star Harmony – Working Designs would be proud as this graphical remake offers up a true J-RPG classic. The opening song lyrics on PS were better, personal preference, but the game is so much fun and memorable.
  • Metal Slug XX – More Metal Slug, more shooting action and while it’s been released time and time again this download is a good purchase on the go.
  • SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3 – Gotta be used with its console big brother. Sadly, for a first party title why did it not get more pub??? Where is the love Sony?
PlayStation 2 – Is the system essentially dead? Yes. Buried? Yes, but like a zombie with the recent release of Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love. This long running anime based title finally hits these US shores and while it’s on a dated system (and Wii) it at least gives fans a chance to play a localized version.

Overall the first three months of 2010 were outstanding for the true next-gen systems. The PS2 gets no grade as it’s really just mentioned for one game while the PSP clocks in with a D. One great remake, a re-release and SOCOM … really, that’s all the PSP can muster? The PlayStation 3 gets an A just for Heavy Rain and God of War III alone while the Xbox 360 gets an A- with Mass Effect 2 (that good folks, that good). With grades set so high how will the Nintendo Wii and DS check in? More on that very soon so check back this week.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Infinite Space on DS Impression

Infinite Space on Nintendo DS
The Nintendo DS is populated with a ton of RPG titles from tactical to real-time and even simulation. It’s this last category into which Infinite Space from Sega resides. Space combat on a space opera (think Robotech meets Battle for Midway) will push DS gamers to strategize and think in ways only an admiral is capable. So what does a space battleship simulation, a fleet commanding simulation with very heavy anime cut-scenes and characters add to the DS, let’s take a look …

– Guide young boy Yuri as he builds his first ship to get off planet and get entangled in over 70 hours of space opera style gameplay where the name of the game is battleship style combat. Collect parts and blueprints to build and customize your ships and take on the baddies of the universe. Take on buddies as you pit fleet against fleet, it’s that simple.

– The anime scenes are fantastic and if this is all the game was, that would be worth $20 alone. The menu system is decent looking but sadly this looks more like Star Fox than Star Wars (the film folks). The DS is a great piece of hardware but it’s not a graphics powerhouse and it shows in the blocky ship and pixilated battle scenes. That being said it really does not take away from the overall gameplay so decent graphics but nothing new or extraordinary.

– Limited voice work is well done and drives the anime scenes but otherwise the sound and soundtrack is limited based on the DS capabilities. Battles sound good but this is not a genre that really begs for hot music.

– Very, very deep on the ship building side. Gamers can spend hours customizing their fleet, each individual ship and the options boggle the mind. The amount of design is outstanding and each battle offers so many chances to try new tactics. The levels … well its space so it’s big … and black, full of stars. Ships and battles, full of options, good stuff.

– The story of the young boy turned commander, Yuri, is worthy of an anime all its own and should attract a specific anime niche in and of itself. This is a chance to live out the dreams of so many space battles just watched in the past and to engage with characters and a world as engaging as any anime.

Infinite Space is for gamers looking to customize a fleet of space ships (5 ships total … it’s a fleet) and take on bad guys in over 70 hours of gameplay. Prepare to spend time building, modifying ships and following the tale of Yuri in one of the better simulation titles on the Nintendo DS. The great anime style and story don’t hurt either.

D. Gray-Man, Season 1 Part 1 Blu-ray Impression

D.Gray-Man Blu-ray
Looking for a Blu-ray full of unique characters, great story with an animation and design style any animation fan, not just anime, will love? Get ready for D.Gray-Man, Season 1, Part 1 Blu-ray from FUNimation. The PlayStation 3 is more than a gaming machine. For many owners it’s their one and only Blu-ray player as well as a full online enabled machine with Netflix, Facebook and more. FUNimation has fully embraced this with a large lineup of Blu-ray titles as well as plenty of downloads in the PlayStation Store. It’s with these thoughts in mind that we bring you a look at some of the top level titles to hit Blu-ray from FUNimation and why gamers should take note, so legs get to it.

The Story – Allen Walker is an Exorcist, a human blessed/cursed with the power to control and use innocence. As a member of the Black Order its Allen’s and other exorcist job to hunt down and destroy Akuma, creatures created by the Millennium Earl, who prey on human pain. Those suffering as sought out and their pain is corrupted as they are turned into monsters to serve the Earl as he searches for the limited number of innocence in the world. To what ends the Earl hunts for these fragments is unknown but Allen is determined to stop him.

The Design & Animation – The characters are unique and very well designed, a design established in the manga and carried over to the anime. The settings are altered European and both dark and moody. The animation is fast paced and only slows to get into key story points. For those new to anime the quality of the characters and design is unique and not cookie-cutter. This is also the case for the animation style and quality. D.Gray-Man is a longer running series, over 30 episodes, yet it carries a quality of much shorter series where production cost is not as high.

Why Gamers Should Care – The story is deeper than explained above and laced with humor and a cast of characters well beyond just Allen. The cast is worthy of an RPG and gamers can just feel how perfect an RPG or fighting game these folks would make … even an adventure game. The design and animation is very unique even in the anime world and carries a dark moody style that gamers should just dig.

Overall, both anime and gaming fans will find a Blu-ray that delivers top quality animation, design and characters wrapped in a full body, deep, story that keeps the action coming. The voice work is also solid with some anime vets on board that gamers will recognize also. Fans of the manga need not worry, you will enjoy the series and with so many Blu-ray now to choose from D.Gray-Man is one series worth picking up in a very crowded field.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

God of War III Impression

God of War III
God of War III is violent, brutal, beautiful and one of the finest examples of an immersive gaming experience to hit any system in any era. Yes, it’s that good. Kratos and his four game, three system quest for vengeance has continued to improve upon itself time and time again, no matter how good the previous games were. This standard of excellence is one many games look to follow but few have delivered on. What makes this quest so epic, let’s take a look …

– Assume the role of Kratos as he picks up where God of War II left off scaling Mount Olympus on the back of Gaia. The basic gameplay involves Kratos running around using a series of weapons, mainly his blades, to hack, slash and kill his way to his father. Environmental and boss puzzles throw themselves into the fray and whole levels can turn upside down, or indeed be living creatures themselves that must be scaled and conquered. While the formula is a third-person action adventure the way each levels changes and comes to life is so unique and superb that gamers will need to sit back and hit pause to understand what they just played. It’s God of War, refined and perfected and if it’s a gamer’s first romp into the franchise then get ready for an experience so familiar yet so truly unique.

– Does best graphical guts have an awards category? From the epic opening that uses shadows and silhouettes to tell the tale of the first three games to the first person point of view death of a god, GoWIII delivers a visual feast. The level of detail seen in Kratos face from the opening screen does not decline one bit as the game gets underway. The lighting effects, weapons and characters all carry a level of detail only matched by top tier titles such as Uncharted 2. Most games deliver a handful of truly impressive graphical experiences but with GoWIII gamers get hours of visuals that will make most games pale in comparison.

– An epic soundtrack weaves itself around the every moody voice work of Kratos and a cast of characters that deliver grade A quality performances. From the sounds to Titans climbing Mount Olympus to the ripping and tearing of Gods body parts and the splashing of guts, every sound was crafted to offer the most immersive gaming experience possible.

– Very linear and filled with puzzles nothing is too frustrating or out of place. Obstacles and their solutions feel natural, feel right. Unique kills and eviscerations are newly designed as are the boss battles. Each new weapon and attack feels useful and well designed and the levels continue to evoke the overall mythic experience established by the first God of War. A few of the platforming pieces offer up cheap deaths, but otherwise gamers can flow through the game with minimal frustration.

– First Uncharted 2, now God of War III. It’s a shame you rock solid PlayStation 3 games come along so infrequently or else I might have a bit of satisfaction. Besides buttering a quote from my favorite movie the point is this is gaming perfection. An immersive experience that warrants multiple play through and will leave an impression on any gamer that spends the hours playing.

anyone over the age of 18, sorry it’s Mature, that owns a PlayStation 3 needs to play God of War III. When a movie wins multiple awards, Avatar for example, fans who would not think of seeing it end up going. Kratos final adventure is such a game, one that should and will attract gamers due to the pure perfectness. Kratos story is tragic but dang it’s a great adventure to live with him.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Moose & Zee Alphabet on iPhone Impression

Moose & Zee Alphabet App
The iPhone offers up a ton of applications for kids but are they worth the price or worth handing to kids? As a father of a young child who loves my iPhone as he thinks it’s a kid’s toy only I’m often on the hunt for Apps that are educational. This search can be costly even at $1-5 a pop per App. Recently I came across an App from Nickelodeon that fulfills my desire for not only education but for something I’ve seen on TV for a long time to finally be interactive.

Nick Jr. offers up a ton of educational shows from Dora to Wonder Pets. Each show teaches something different but it’s what happens in between that my kids love and that’s the puzzle time events of Moose & Zee, the colorful mascots for Nick Jr. One particular game has kids looking for shapes in a picture and while fun it’s not interactive, kids cannot actually pick by touch the shapes. No longer an issue with this new App.

Moose & Zee Alphabet is an application that takes these puzzles and makes them interactive. It’s quite simple. The game begins as Moose explains the big and little letter to kids then shows them a puzzle in the wonderful design seen on TV where there are hidden letters that must be touched. Simple premise, one seen on TV but it works.

Does it teach? Yes, it teaches the entire alphabet and offers up bright and colorful puzzles that make kids think and not just stare at the TV. The use of Moose, his voice, and the art style will feel comfortable and familiar to kids as I’ve seen them have no problem jumping into this educational adventure. The price tag of two dollars is well worth it also.

This being said the best activity for a child is still active, physical activities with their parents but when stuck in a doctor’s office, or on the go and looking to distract a child, doing it with a familiar, easy to use application that teaches at the same time is the way to go. Overall this father of two highly recommends this particular application as it’s not mindless. Use it in moderation and if your kids show no interest in puzzle time on TV, well then it may not be what you are looking for.

More to learn? While I’ve only used Moose & Zee Alphabet it’s not the only App by Nick. There are quite a few more that require exploration but know this. Nick does quality content, products and they are keeping the price point low which is very nice. As parents you know if your kids like these characters so there is no blind buying. Check out all the Apps from Nick and let us know your thoughts as parents.

More to watch? On a very related note I do get irritated with the re-running of so many episodes of the kids favorite Nick Jr. shows. The warmer weather helps as we can get out and play but these repeated episodes just get old. The answers, pick up a DVD, but which one? The new Backyardigans: Escape from the Tower if fun and original fun from imaginative group with three new episodes and a very annoying Fresh Beat Band episode (bad show folks). A good DVD, yes, but looking at bang for your buck check out the Earth Day-inspired Nick Jr. Favorites: Go Green! This is a great DVD as it has six episodes, one each for Dora Diego, Yo Gabba Gabba, Blue’s Clues, Wonder Pets! and Ni Hao, Kai-lan. Six episodes, 144 minutes, it’s rock solid.

So that does it for now. Video games and video game related content are the name of the game in this space, but seeing the power of the iPhone and other mobile devices to teach our kids, in a game format, well it just bears talking about and I hope to bring back more info soon from a fathers standpoint.

Aliens vs. Predator on PS3 Impression

Aliens vs. Predator PS3
Licensed properties don’t always translate well to the gaming front, no matter how perfect the source material. The Aliens and Predator movies are two such cases, excellent on their own but even when paired on the silver screen they fail. Overall on the gaming front the experience has been the same, with a few, very few, exceptions. Sega recently threw their publishing hat into the ring with Aliens vs. Predator created by Rebellion, the studio responsible for that one exception back on Jaguar. Using a future based story and not the crap present day settings of the recent movies, Sega and Rebellion look to bring the franchise back but the question is did they? Will gamers get a game true to the excellent source or more poo that continues to destroy such great creations? Let’s take a look …

Gameplay – Three storylines, three races, three different experiences. This first-person romp puts gamers in the role of Marines, very standard feeling FPS weapons and objectives, heck they make the gamer a rookie, how typical. Next is the role of a lone, young, Predator looking to prove itself, more a one creature army and finally one of a number of experimented on Aliens that don’t have weapons outside their speed, movement and body. Gamers follow intertwined stories or jump online to play in a variety of online modes where each character class has unique advantages, disadvantages. The Marines as mentioned control as so many FPS before while the Predator feels more like Master Chief on Red Bull. The really unique control for the Xenomorphs can throw gamers off as it reminds of old games like Tron with all the spinning and movement, but like any ‘character class, getting used to the control offers unique advantages in scaling walls, ceilings … the things aliens do. So pick a class, run around, follow objectives, kill, and survive.

Graphics – Lighting is done very well to spark tense fear and the levels are as detailed as any trashed space lab but it’s the characters that have great looks. The Aliens are the best looking this side of Hollywood as are the Predators and Marines. Yes, the Marines look robotic and there are much better looking humans, but their scream animations are spending when seen from a first person, hunter, perspective. The levels do expand out to jungle settings, but again nothing gamers have not seen before. There are military bases, old ruins, jungles and a ton of Aliens, Marines and few Predators thrown in. It looks good and watching this is much better than any recent movie.

Sound – The Marines sound forced and do nothing to prompt saving by the gamer but otherwise the iconic sounds are all there from weapon discharge to Alien screams and Predator spin ripping. From a sound standpoint there is nothing to complain about. The motion sensor offers up creeps, but dang it beeps a lot and the sound of a Marines rifle is just beautiful.

Design – Blah, bland and predictable. The levels look like any Aliens movie already made and the characters are already set to nothing new there. Sadly there is no real design creativity as these are franchises and characters that are already established. It’s not easy being iconic.

Miscellaneous – Why is Dark Horse so ignored? The comic company has been putting out excellent stories and comics expanding on these two franchises for years, both separate and combined. Their stories are excellent and worthy of a fully fleshed out game and movie. The direction of both Aliens and Predator need to follow what Dark Horse has set forth and this game gets close with its setting, but not quite there.

Overall, this is the best Aliens vs. Predator title in years. This may not be high praise but here is what gamers get. A solid FPS with three unique gameplay character classes and fun online modes. The graphics and sound evoke memories of movies done right and will help franchise fans to forget some of the recent silver screen sins. Most FPS titles try something new and unique in unfamiliar settings. Aliens vs. Predator makes modest FPS adjustments and wraps it in a very familiar package that fans of both the franchise and genre will enjoy. Is it the best title of the year? No. Is it a solid purchase that will entertain and offer up some scares and good online gameplay? Yes, yes it will.

Naruto Shippuden DVD Box Set 1, Season 1

Naruto Shippuden: DVD Box Set 1
He’s back as he should be. Naruto Shippuden: DVD Box Set 1 from Viz offers up all the uncut action of the more mature … I mean more grown up Naruto. While the anime continued for well over 100 episodes after Naruto and Sasuke’s epic battle the true story ended there and begins again with Shippuden, in other words all those extra episodes were not needed. So where does that leave us Naruto fans …

It’s been 2-1/2 years since that day, the fateful fight where Naruto was left in ruin and Sasuke abandoned the village to seek his vengeance. Naruto is back home after training with Jiriya (SPELLING) and he’s ready to seek out and bring back Sasuke. A lot has changed but Naruto is still the same immature ninja he was before. Time for catching up is cut short as the Akatsuki make their move by sending two of their members to capture Gaara in order to obtain his Jinchuriki. Being the only team available, Team Kakashi is sent off immediately to assist the Sand Ninja in their pursuit of the two Akatsuki, Deidara and Sasori, who captured Gaara. Before they depart a little medical help is needed from Sakura. Joined by old Granny Chiyo, Sasori’s grandmother, Team Kakashi sets off for Gaara and is faced with a very familiar ocular jutsu using Akatsuki member while the recently dispatched Team Guy faces off with one sharky foe. The race is on as part of the Akatsuki’s plan is outlined by Granny Chiyo and its Gaara’s life in the balance.

The animation in Shippuden is a step above the average, long running TV series. There is a level of detail and quality seen in the entire Naruto franchise that’s also seen in long running series such as Gundam SEED and Dragon Ball Z. The being said I get to my first gripe which has nothing to do with this box set but rather the 100 or so ‘filler’ episodes that added nothing to the franchise and felt empty. After Naruto and Sasuke fight fans needs to then jump into Shippuden, it’s how the story should flow and does not mess up the 2-1/2 year window Naruto was gone. If he did all those missions after Sasuke left then he was only training for like 1-1/2 to 2 years. So that’s the only issue, otherwise the animation and voice acting are top quality and the story … oh yeah, the story.

The art style shows the grown Naruto and cast, which is very cool and the story rocks as the Akatsuki are on the move. Seeing all the familiar faces now grown is sweet and the story where Gaara is in danger rocks. The action is all over the place and while I read this story arc months ago in the manga seeing it animated is so sweet, totally fresh and new again. The teaser with Sasuke at the opening episode is excellent, but will be forgotten as the battles in the sand are just that good. More Akatsuki are introduced, more grown characters are seen and more background is unveiled … White Fang anyone?

Listen, fans get it, fans know what Naruto is all about. Coming in fresh at this point is not advised, too much great story to learn, to need to know, but for fans you cannot go wrong with this box set. The action and story, hot. The animation and design, hot. This is the definitive anime of this generation following on the heels of Dragon Ball Z. Think I’m a fan? Yeah, that happens when a series hooks you like this in so many ways and actually inspires you to try harder, to shape your own destiny.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Army of Two: The 40th Day Impression

Army of Two: The 40th Day
Army of Two: The 40th Day sees the return of one-lining mercs Rios and Salem, this time in a Shanghai setting where everything gets blown up but good. When the first Army of Two hit and missed on reaching its full potential (thanks delays) a follow-up was inevitable. The questions on gamers lips needs to be has the 40th Day improved enough to warrant another romp with Rios and Salem, should it prompt gamers who passed on the first to dive in now and is it just plain worth the duckets needed to purchase. Let’s take a look …

Gameplay – Take control, with an AI or real world buddy, of mercenaries Rios and Salem as they fight their way out of a destroyed Shanghai where a larger conspiracy is at play (not to mentions tons more PMC’s and Mercs). Core gameplay require cooperation to flank, trick and destroy enemies and a newly added morality system makes each choice to rescue, kill a tough one. In-between and during missions gamers can customize their weapons to suit the situation and the choices are much larger than the first Ao2. The Aggro, buddy, system gets to utilize a new GPS system to tag enemies and track them for better situational tactics. Each of these new systems, features are layered on top of a very improved third-person co-op shoot fest that requires much more than guns blazing mayhem. Beyond the single player, co-op, story driven mode there are a few multi-player modes worth taking advantage of, but they were not played here and thus will not be reviewed.

Graphics – Upgraded in every way from the original. While the game takes place in one city over a few days the environments manage to feel varied and carry a nice level of detail. Little additions like dust and debris from explosions adds to a nice, next-gen looking title. The lighting effects are shown off by sharp shadows. Tattoos and the customization of weapons are just a few more areas that show off a great level to detail to go with two very varied, gruff looking … heroes?

Sound – Rios and Salem may delivery cheese at times but their voice work is spot on. How games have changed from the ridiculousness of the original Resident Evil. These one-liners have been scaled back from the first game but when they do hit, it just feels right. The weapons each sound unique, even after customization, and it adds a level of satisfaction to hearing an instrument of destruction so lovingly crafted by the gamer.

Design – Weapon customization is deep and fun, a great design element. The city … well it’s just a city blown to pieces but fighting in a zoo and mall, this is fun and different. Some of the settings do feel bland, constrained, but overall the gamer will be focusing on the mission at hand and from a design standpoint, the battles are the star of the show. Co-op feels natural and it fits a challenge of the first title.

Miscellaneous – The story had potential but did not quite deliver, so let’s go with the co-op mode. The first Ao2 was built on this premise of having the fight with, rely on a buddy, but at times it felt very forced and unnatural. Ao2 2 delivers on the original promise in a big way with ‘that feels right’ situations worthy of a play through. One recommendation is to play with a buddy, even with the split-screen, on a big ol’ TV.

Overall, fans of the first Army of Two will enjoy The 40th Day. It improves on enough areas and was not delayed like the original. Ok, that’s a cheap shot, but this is a solid, fun, game built on violence that is one of the more enjoyable games to play with a bud. The gameplay is solid, co-op well done, graphics tight and sound funny and good. For those who passed on the first the game is worth the purchase but if there was no joy in Army of Two, the 40th Day won’t change gamer’s minds, even with all its improvements.