Saturday, July 31, 2010

Batman: Under the Red Hood Movie Impression

When I was younger the Death in the Family storyline in Batman comics touched me in a unique way at a very young age. This was not a super hero dying but a boy, savagely beaten by a psycho that turns a dark knight even darker. It was a story that said the good guys can lose; they can die and is still a favorite today for me. But this is the realm of comics and who really stays dead in comics? Batman: Under the Red Hood is the latest animated feature from the DC Universe and its rock solid on so many levels beginning with the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin, at the hands of the Joker. From the beginning the inclusion of Ra’s al Ghul will tell viewers where the story is going in the first five minutes but it still does not detract from the feature. Let’s take a look at this from a few angles.

The Story – A new villain takes control of the drug trade in Gotham and the Dark Knight must confront his past to reveal just who the new Red Hood is. To confront this new treat an old partner, Nightwing, lends a hand and two of his greatest rivals are taken on in the Joker and Ra’s al Ghul. Who is the Red Hood and why do his moves, techniques seem so familiar? To fight in the present Batman must confront the past.

Such a great story and one fans should and will know. In case not I’ll try to avoid SPOILERS but please take note. While fans will know where the Red Hood is coming from, who he may be, getting there in an animated manner is a treat. The story is well told with great drama brought on by the next two points. What DC is doing with these animated features is bringing to life some of the best stories from DC printed past. Batman fans do not miss out on this story.

The Animation – Yet another animation style is brought to Under the Red Hood. There was a time when the Batman/Justice League/Superman designs of recent years dictated all DC animation, the best being Justice League Unlimited but no longer. Each new tale from Wonder Woman to Green Lantern is different, as different as the artist that pens the comics we fans love. The animation and design in Under the Red Hood is more realistic than anime-ish. This is great in that the more realistic Joker brings home a more psychotic look and feel, gets home the severity of the murder he commits. The humanism of Batman, he’s a man angle, is easier to relate to thanks to the animation style. The action is superb and would make a great live action Batman tale … just forget the cyborg battle, that’s more super hero than anything else in this feature. Great animation folks that sets the emotional and action terms from the press of play.

The Voice acting – Emotion is real and felt. Joker is cold and methodical and while we long for the crazy of Mark Hamill the work delivered by John DiMaggio shows a crazy and real Joker. Bruce Greenwood does a great job with Batman showing signs of emotion, despair, regret and plain coldness while Jason Isaacs as Ra’s could have been a little more arrogant but he does show decent range. The rest of the cast, Neil Patrick Harris as Dick Grayson, is ok but Joker and Batman set the stage and delivers the emotion started with the animation. It’s a sad and somber tale with some funny lines from Wade Williams as Black Mask.

Overall Batman: Under the Red Hood is a must own, MUST OWN, for all Batman fans. He is the world’s greatest detective but not infallible and seeing him face his past, his greatest failure is a heart string pulling tale that sets a new bar for DC animated adventure. I’ll watch again and again and am pulling out my old Death in the Family comics (first print) to revisit the original tragedy. Emotions are the best selling point, stop reading and go out and buy/rent now folks.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Heat Guy J DVD Series Impression

A few years back I came across an anime being shown on MTV. It looked interesting but for some reason the animation was stretched, almost like trying to fit a widescreen image to a standard television. This and the hazy image led me away never to look back. Fast forward a few years and FUNimation has released that same series in one collection which I’ve finally picked up. Heat Guy J is the series and having watched all 26 episodes it’s sad that MTV did such a horrible job as I thoroughly enjoyed this anime and surprising it does not feel dated at all. What’s it about after all these years, let’s take a look …

In the city of Judoh all android are illegal with one exception. The government built and sanctioned J. J is unique in his AI program allows him to grow as a person not just follow orders and this comes in handy in his role with the partner Daisuke Aurora. The two track down and investigate special crimes, many of which involve rogue android, items the regular cops can’t handle. With the death of the old Vampire, mob boss, and the ascension of his not too stable son J’s and Daisuke’s job is going to get a whole lot more interesting. Know as Heat Guy J the duo is in for a ton of action with genetically altered criminals, mysterious Celestials and a few internal mysteries to resolve.

High level story folks, there is a lot more here. First the animation, on the DVD not MTV, is still fresh and relevant today. Some series just look good no matter how many years old they are and Heat Guy J is one of them. Much like Cowboy Bebop to which it draws comparison, J looks good and delivers a solid animation quality even if a few scenes are recycled. The characters are solid in design if not predictable in a few cases (hot scientist chick, pretty and young secretary). The animation keeps it relevant and fresh but it’s the story that drives the series.

I mentioned it has been compared to Cowboy Bebop but know this, Bebop it is not. Heat Guy J is more about Daisuke and his partner J. Daisuke drives the story more and it’s his family at the core with J more a co-star. J is the cool android with all the power and the headliner on the title but not so from the story. He is integral but his role could have been explored so much more, on a higher evolutionary level … something that Asimov would have written but oh well. The story starts with some pretty straightforward mafia vs. good guys stuff then quickly evolves into mafia infighting, government conspiracy and much more. The characters are cool and will grow on the viewer making you want to come back for more.

Overall Heat Guy J offers up great action, a few recycled scenes weaved together with memorable characters. If Cowboy Bebop is an A+ then Heat Guy J is a solid B and should not be passed up by fans of Bebop. When compared to many anime hitting shelves today J still stands solid and it’s surprising we’ve not seen a run on Adult Swim or Spike TV, Heat Guy J is made for these channels and time slots so make it so!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Square Enix to Launch Digital Manga

Digital manga from Square Enix … delicious! As the image shows there is no shortage of titles that Square Enix will be unleashing on manga fans this fall here in the States and France also. There is a sign-up required but what can fans expect? How about some amazing titles, a few that have been published by Viz such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Soul Eater and O-Parts Hunter just to name a few. Check out the Square Enix Manga page for previews of these series and more.

What does this mean for manga fans? It’s not all about manga but rather Square Enix. Visitors need to become Square Enix Members to gain access to the site, earn points from purchases, play online games, read manga and talk to other members. It’s a community site that’s been done before for these types of properties but is unique for Square Enix. Manga fans can’t go wrong with free manga.

What does this mean to gamers? Gamers know that Square Enix churns out excellent video games and may have seen the highly detailed figures and soundtracks for purchase online but this is the other side of Square Enix. In Japan they publish manga, support series like Fullmetal Alchemist (thus the PS2 games) and are a part of more than just the video game industry in Japan. For gamers to truly embrace and support the industry they need to explore all aspects of the industry and Square Enix is finally making their full scope known here in the states.

It’s great to see a company like Square Enix giving more when so many companies need to scale back. Quote from Square Enix sums it up … “Given the increasing popularity of electronic reading formats, Square Enix has decided to take advantage of the online distribution infrastructure originally developed for its games business, along with the company's existing payment system and online fan communities in order to establish a paid digital distribution channel to better serve the varied needs of its global customers. Square Enix will continue to work with its existing regional publishing licensees to promote both electronic and print versions of titles, while aiming to deter piracy by establishing an official web-based distribution source.” Pretty cool no?

This technology was shown off at the just completed Comic-Con International in San Diego. Sign-up now and get on board from the beginning and take advantage of the feedback loop Square Enix is providing.

Madden Monday’s at GameStop

Now that the Madden NFL 11 demo is here what’s next? What’s a football starved gamer to do while waiting for the tantalizing gridiron action that EA delivers every year? It’s simple, check out Madden Monday’s at GameStop. Five weeks are in the books with each showing a different tip/trick of in-game gameplay.

Each week shows off the enhanced and realistic gameplay of Madden and serves as a primer for new and improved features, very nice. There is also a chance to win a trip to the Madden Tournament Finals, but you’ve got to check out the site to see what this is about. The contest is through text entry and the best thing about this type of giveaway/contest is there is no purchase needed. Go for the content to see the game, get tips and feature updates or just check in each week to try to win a trip, that simple.

Why Gamers Should Care? Pre-orders are great and GameStop has been doing a ton of these especially with digital content. This promotion with Madden is unique in it’s not a one shot. There is reason to come back each week, no cost and a chance to win a trip, multiple chances. For Madden gamers it’s a no brainer but for the average gamer it’s an extensive way to see what all they hype is about and just how deep Madden really is. A cool promo and once worth bringing to everyone’s attention before the game gets a review.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Q1 2010 gaming report – Nintendo Wii and DS

The Nintendo Wii knows its niche. Fun and interactive games that may not sport the best graphics but deliver on gameplay. For the DS this is pretty much also true. Both systems don’t struggle to compete with the PS3 and 360 because they not only lead the market but also because developers know what types of games to make for them. No longer are square pegs shoved into round holes, now games are developed for the Wii and DS without being just graphiced downed version of the more rugged next-gen systems. With that said there is plenty of great gameplay on both systems and Q2 2010 was no exception.

Nintendo Wii – The Wii knows its niche. Lacking in graphical power it’s all about unique gaming but how long will this last with both next-gen systems getting on board with the motion based gaming model … ponder that later but for now lets see what Wii have to offer.
  • Trauma Team – A bit of a steep learning curve cannot detract from a solid surgery simulation mixed in with CSI’ish case components and plenty of doctor types to choose from. 
  • Sin and Punishment: Star Successor – An on-rails shooter with Eastern flare and addictive old-school gameplay. A gamer’s game.
  • Tetris Party Deluxe – Tetris with tons of play modes and the addictiveness is still there after all these years. 
  • Super Mario Galaxy 2 – Pinnacle (so far) of Wii gaming with imagination and originality galore. No Wii owner, none, should not miss Mario’s latest adventure. 
  • Monster Hunter Tri – The addiction moves onto consoles here in the states but the more casual owners will pass. This is a gamer’s game that deserves the full console treatment. It’s fun, addictive and loved overseas, hopefully here soon. 
Nintendo DS – Puzzle games and a few more choices highlight this quarter which continues to see a solid line-up for the DS.
  • Picross 3D – Puzzles, numbers, hours of time lost gaming. This is what the DS is all about.
  • Dementium II – Not for kiddies but most-def for FPS fans looking for a more mature gaming experience. 
  • Puzzle Quest 2 – The RPG elements are just icing on the cake of a great puzzle adventure that is addictive and easy to get into. 
  • Dragon Ball: Origins 2 – More for fans than the average gamer. The gameplay needs polish but getting into Goku’s earlier years is a kick. 
  • Mega Man Zero Collection – No new games but 4 titles from the Zero series that link back to a simpler time in gaming’s history. 
  • Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow – This is the Blue Dragon DS fans who played the 360 version have been waiting for. A title that is now more niche than mainstream there is an audience and they will like this purchase. 
Overall the Nintendo Wii clocks in with an A thanks to Mario and some great monster hunting while the DS receives a B+. The DS is about puzzle games and RPG’s and this quarter gamers get both with some platforming thrown in. Good times indeed for all systems in the second quarter of 2010.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Q2 2010 gaming report – PS3, Xbox 360 and PSP

Another three months gone. Another three months of game development. Another three months of gaming bliss … or was it? Going from Spring to Summer means end of school and the desire to head outside for many, it’s also time for E3 with the promise of games to come, but what about games to come now?

This quarter saw the release of more multi-platform titles than system exclusives as evidenced by the list for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 below. This is not a bad thing as even the multi-platform titles are starting to take advantage of what PS3 and 360 offer, each systems unique power and features. This is mostly seen in the download centers but also applies to extra levels. Sadly this is not a list of these features but rather a look at the good, great and a few poor’s from the quarter. So with E3 full of much promise what did gamers have to dig their hands into during April, May and June, let’s take a look …

Multi-platform – Sweet, sweet series of titles. This is an excellent mix of the familiar, new and updates. Sadly two titles, NIER and Lost Planet 2, missed on fulfilling their promise but were not bad titles, just not great.
  • Transformers: War for Cybertron – A fun and original take on the Transformers universe with many designs tied to the G1 and G2 characters fans love with decent online play and an interesting story mode. Great for fans and those looking for a different online experience. 
  • Red Dead Redemption – GTA with cowboys … in a sense. A fun and raunchy sandbox experience that will leave gamers wanting to ride a horse and ask why are there not more western based games?
  • Singularity – Turn time back and forth to solve mysteries of the past. While not a ground breaking FPS, Singularity is one that held much promise but just seemed a bit lost in the shuffle. FPS fans should take it for a spin 
  • Super Street Fighter IV – Is Street Fighter entering a whole new era of yearly releases? At this quality we can only hope that Capcom brings along Darkstalkers and Marvel for the ride but for Street Fighter fans this is an amazing title. 
  • LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 – The same great Lego formula this time with Harry Potter and that excellent soundtrack. Amazing game for kids and adults.
  • Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands – Not tied to the movie but rather a filler story that bridges the gap in the original trilogy. A solid title but not as fun as the next-gen reboot for Prince. 
  • Green Day: Rock Band – More Rock Band and this time with a more modern group. Pair with the Beatles and enjoy with the whole family. 
  • Blur – Racing game, new kid on the block but take a look in a quarter that did not see too many racers.
  • Alpha Protocol – A few quarters late and not quite living up to the hype but this spy RPG entertains in a bad Tom Cruise Mission Impossible way but is not as good as … 
  • Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction – Sam is an angry man and getting into a plot worthy of 24, hell it’s better than most movies. The action, animation and boundaries Ubisoft pushes with Conviction is excellent and really allows the gamers to immerse themselves in a realistic world. 
  • Skate 3 – Another Skate? Yup, improvements, new areas and worth mention as this type of title should really go 100% the download route. Don’t make fans buy a new game. 
PlayStation 3 – Mainstream games are not the exclusive flavor of the months but rather niche titles that simple rock and show that old ideas can be new and gamers can do the creating.
  • 3D Dot Game Heroes – A Zelda rip-off or just major homage to an era long past. The gameplay, levels, design never take themselves serious but offer an incredibly fun gaming experience. 
  • ModNation Racers – Taking the racing kart genre to new levels where no sequels are needed as the gamers will create the courses and keep the fun going. 
  • Trinity Universe – No stopping NIS and the niche fun keeps on going with more RPG style gameplay to be had.
Xbox 360 – One great title and another that offers a box full of … fan service.
  • Alan Wake – Incredible game design and graphics. This is like playing a King novel and it will mess with the gamers head. 
  • Record of Agarest War – Offered on shelves for 360 and as a PS3 download. Worth mention as it’s a solid SRPG but it’s the box with way too much fan service thrown in. Attention for all the most improper reasons. 
PSP – Metal Gear alone makes this an outstanding quarter for the always slim pickings PSP but a few other titles are worth checking out also.
  • Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker – More Snake, more excellent handheld gaming that includes some heavy influence from Monster Hunter in it’s feel … not a bad thing at all. 
  • Disgaea Infinite – Not a true game but rather a choose your path story with great voice work and the twisted Disgaea humor fans love. 
  • Hexyz Force – Two stories and tons of great fantasy J-RPG style gameplay await. It’s the RPG choice for gamers on the go this quarter.
  • ModNation Racers – Not as polished as it’s PS3 big brother but a nice racing diversion on the go. More a title worth mention but one that has not lived up to what LittleBigPlanet on PSP is to the PS3. 
  • Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 – For fans and fans alone. The gameplay feels stiff at times but getting to assume the role of new baddies is fun as ever. These are the titles the more Eastern PSP gamers need. 
Overall the PSP gets a B for Metal Gear and a few decent Eastern type games. The Xbox 360 also scores a B thanks to Alan Wake. Two systems, both stand very well with one exclusive title each and for the 360 a gaggle of multi-system titles to choose from. This leaves the PS3 which gets a C+. Yes it has three good exclusives and a ton of multi-system titles but no grade A exclusives.

Next up the Nintendo Wii and DS.

Mad Love Chase vol. 1 Impression

Don’t let the cover fool you. Mad Love Chase volume 1 from Tokyopop is not some dreamy boy, questionable nature manga. It’s a story of arranged marriage, demons and a prince wanting to make his own choices. What’s the chase all about, let’s take a look …

Kujou Yamato make look normal but under his teenage exterior lies the should of the demon realm prince Kaito. Being part of royalty has its perks and downfalls and it’s his arranged marriage that has forced Kaito to seek refuge and freedom in the human world. With Rebun, his cat, also transformed into human at his side, disguised as the school nurse, Kujou is just trying to blend in and enjoy himself but his father has other plans. Sending three servants, also disguised as students and school workers to retrieve his son life gets very interesting for Kujou especially since the markings on his back identify him as the missing prince. Trying to see his back, get his shirt off leads to many … interesting encounters and when a very domineering fiancĂ© shows up, well this is not the normal life Kaito wished for. The chase is on and it is indeed a mad type of love being pursued.

My comment about the cover really focuses on Kujou having a loose short and the soft colors. The black demon wings are missed when first looking so it’s easy to mistake this manga for something other than the adventure it is. Story is the real driving force for Mad Love Chase as you’ve got Kujou and Rebun trying to blend in, stay hidden, three soldiers from the king trying to blend in while discovering the identity of the missing prince, even if he happens to be one of their best friends, and then you’ve got a crazy sexy fiancĂ© from the arranged marriage showing up with her body guards. The encounters offer up plenty of funny and awkward situations and leads to a strong and fun story, nuff said. The art contains basic school settings, minimal background work and character models that are cookie cutter, not very memorable or details. Sound bad, not really as each character shows personality, humor and anger in a manner that comes off the page perfectly. Again, Mad Love Chase is about the story and it contains art that gets the job done, nothing more.

Overall Mad Love Chase may not look super compelling from its cover but inside it’s a humorous story of an other-worldly prince who just wants a chance to be normal. Like many similar stories before the clock is ticking on when the prince will be discovered but until then sit back and enjoy the humorous hiding while the chase continues.

Puzzle Quest 2 on Xbox 360 Impression

A gaming hybrid that RPG gamers with a taste for puzzle mini-games can devour. Assume a generic fantasy character role and journey from screen to screen taking on ogre, orc and other baddies in bejeweled style battles. What makes Puzzle Quest 2 such an attractive download? Let’s take a look.

Gameplay – Mix the addictive puzzle gameplay of bejeweled with head-to-head battles seen in titles like Puzzle Fighter and top it off with upgradable characters, weapons, magic’s and equipment. The puzzle aspect is just a part of the gameplay as much attention needs to be paid to upgrading your character. Its plain addictive and easy to get into.

Graphics – Solid character and monster art slide around a vivid and bright puzzle adventure. Settings are static but feel pulled from an old-school Diablo angled adventure. Easy on the eyes and well detailed.

Sound – Decent sound effects and background music get the job done but otherwise nothing to really praise or detract.

Design – Excellent mixture of solid puzzles with a quest mode that will make gamers want to move onto the next fight all the quicker. Any game that makes you forget you’ve been playing for 2-3 hours is well designed and this is an area Puzzle Quest 2 excels in.

Miscellaneous – The quest mode and upgrading of characters adds a level of depth that puzzle titles have missed on. Utilizing spells and weapons in battles in ingenious and a mixture that works on all the right levels.

Overall, it’s a puzzle combat game mixed with RPG elements done right. Nothing is forced, it all flows very well and is a great purchase for any 360 owner.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trauma Team on Wii Impression

A game fit for the Wii. Trauma Team takes operation to whole new levels with not only surgical procedures but investigation and drama, not to mention a steep learning curve. Gamers now get a chance to take on multiple levels of trauma but is more, well more? What happens when CSI meets E.R., let’s take a gander.

Gameplay – Take the successful Wii operation simulation and add in more disciplines and doctors. Take on surgery, endoscopy, orthopedics, forensics, first Response and diagnosis. It’s not all about operation now as gamers must look at crime scenes and use their brain quite a bit. Put in the most simple of terms this is a collection of hospital based mini-games. Fun, well built but with a steep learning curve and lots of reading to just get to surgery.

Graphics – The doctor models are Persona anime perfect and scream for a true anime spinoff but the in-game look is anything but award winning. The body is recreated admirably but like most Wii titles there is a lack of graphical power missing. In motion comic scenes move the story along but imagine real top level graphics of bodies, the level or realism then. But alas it’s not to be so and for a more casual system such as the Wii has become it’s a fitting graphical look that can be enjoyed by the entire family.

Sound – Dramatic and forgettable. Gamers will be concentrating on the task at hand that the music just blends into the background … that’s it. BGR at its semi finest but nothing more. Sound effects in surgery can be twisted addictive but otherwise the beeps of the heart monitor will haunt many a dream. The fairly extensive voice acting is solid, the best of the soundtrack.

Design – Solid no matter which doctor track the gamer takes on. Operations are creative and fun while diagnosis and forensics will keep the gamer jumping. The character design match their professions and personalities while the cases and gameplay flow very well. Well designed gameplay, nuff said.

Miscellaneous – This ain’t your daddy’s operation. While it’s all fictional the terms and body parts worked on are really real and while I doubt Trauma Team will create a new generation of doctors it will spark the interest of some and lead to a love for all things medical. Who said a game can’t teach.

Overall Trauma Team delivers on all the surgical action fans want with additional procedures and cases to appeal to Ace Attorney fans. Solid game and character design mix with unique gameplay, great voice work and a need to heal. A great starting off point for those new to the franchise as it’s more than just surgery.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

This Ugly Yet Beautiful World manga vol. 1 Impression

The more common formula is a manga becoming an anime but it’s not the only formula, just the more common. There are times when a successful anime is then converted into manga and This Ugly Yet Beautiful World from Tokyopop is exactly this type of manga. There will be times that such manga tweak the story a bit but overall they stick to the formula. For manga fans how does This Ugly Yet Beautiful World stack up as a standalone manga, let’s take a look.

Takeru and Ryo, childhood friends who chance upon a mysterious light one night, a light which when investigated reveals a young girl, Hikari, lying unconscious and naked. She immediately latches onto Takeruo and ends up living with him. Upon taking her in the duo is attacked by a mysterious monster which reveals a hidden power in Takeru. Her affection to Takeru sets off his many female friends and interest and when Ryo shows up with his own younger mysterious girl the questions begin. Who are these two young ladies, why are they attacked by monsters, what is Takeru’s strange power and what is Hikari’s true self? Mysteries and danger wait as does the challenges of dealing with so many fine young ladies.

From a story standpoint TUYBW is shaping up to be a fine entry in the long running harem anime genre. Similar to Tenchi in its alien babe way and young guy with power, not a bad series to be compared too. There are two hooks in this series the first of which is the relationship aspect for Takeru and the second the mystery of Hikari and her sister’s origin. Who is after them, what are they and can there be more boob shots in one book? Yes, this is a mature title due to a lot of clothes flying off, something not really needed with a fun and engaging story and great art. It’s not over the top, but the tops be missing a lot.

The art style is set from the anime as seen on the gorgeous cover. That quality remains on every page and readers should take notice of Ashita Morimi, great art really (yes, Morimi does not do the cover art but see if you can tell a difference). Overall This Ugly Yet Beautiful World starts off a bit slow but ends very strong and will leave the reader wanting more.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Persona Trinity Soul vol. 1 Premium Edition Impression

Video games and anime do go hand-in-hand if done right. There is a time and place for everything and NIS America has found that time, now, and place for the anime Persona: Trinity Soul. Based on the niche/mainstream gaming franchise the anime takes all the addictive pieces from the game and translates them to DVD for a true viewing treat. What makes Persona so great as an anime and why should gamers and anime fans care, let’s take a look … 

The Story – Brothers Shin and Jun Kanzato move to their childhood home back north to be with their older brother Ryo whom they’ve not seen in ten years. In place of a warm reception the brothers meet with a detached and cold Ryo who is more interested in seeing them relocate than stay with him. The reasons seem to center around a series of student disappearances, cases where bodies are turned inside out. Quickly Shin and Jun are wrapped up in these events along with schoolmates. Shin learns he controls an inner power, a Persona, a power at the center of these strange events and attacks. How is Ryo tied to these cases as the chief of police and what does the new trend of Shadow Extraction among kids mean?

Like all Persona based games the anime is covered in mystery. What are Persona’s and how do they tie to the mysterious group trying to gather them and what does Ryo know? What happened to Jun in the past, why does he seem a bit … off? What viewers do know if they have mysterious powers a shadowy and dangerous organization trying to gather them, an edgy and cold police chief, brothers and their fellow students all wrapped up in the middle and mysterious feathers. Classic mystery story wrapped around stylish students and badass Personas. 

The Design & Animation – Beautiful design on every level. The scenery and settings are beautifully created and stand out more than other anime. The environments are alive. The characters are Persona, they are the stylish look and feel that fans of the games know and love. The Persona themselves are unique to each character and each breaks it’s own mold, no two the same. The included art book in the premium edition is hot and just enhances the viewing experience.

The animation is rock solid with plenty of action but a real human feel to each character, their emotions and struggles. What attracted this gamer to the Persona titles was the design. What kept me was the gameplay and story. The same is now true of Trinity Soul with the same addictive design, amazing action and animation in place of the gameplay experience and plenty of mystery to go around. 

Why Gamers Should Care – Let’s keep it very simple. Gamers who loved, even liked, the Persona video games with their stylish design and mysterious stories will love Trinity Soul. Published by NIS America, these are folks who get the J-RPG genre, niche games that become mainstream and what they’ve done with this collection is offer up not just a rock solid anime but a package and book that fans will LOVE! Persona fans stop reading and go buy. 

Why Anime Fans Should Care – First you gotta love NIS getting into the anime game with Viz, FUNimation and Bandai. There are others, yes, but getting Persona is a treat. Please note it’s only in Japanese so fans looking to listen need to read. Think of the bright side. In place of voice over cost viewers get the sweet art book and casing, it really is beautiful. A great collection and one worth the purchase for the story and animation alone. 

Overall, Persona: Trinity Soul volume 1 offers up 307 minutes of excellent anime based on a niche/mainstream RPG universe that will delight fans. The style is outstanding, story and pacing well delivered and overall package a prize to be had by collectors. The only knock will be the Japanese only audio but listen to the passion in the voices and enjoy, it’s not really a knock but a treat.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

New Xbox 360 Impression

First PlayStation 3 then Nintendo Wii and now Xbox 360. It’s a pity you consoles re-design so easily or I might get a bit of satisfaction. Butchered movie quotes aside, yes, the Xbox 360 announced at E3 2010 that it would redesign in much the same manner as the other consoles. Call this the Apple Effect as the iPod has always tweaked, redesigned and added features even when the market did not demand it. Consoles rarely redesigned while in a generation until near the end of that generation. For example the PlayStation 2 slim hit much later in the systems lifecycle. So what does this Apple Effect mean to Xbox 360 owners and gamers?

Look & Feel – It’s shiny and pretty. The design casing is actually smaller and weighs less and has a Jenny Craig slim waist look near the power indicator. The older 360’s looked like they should live in a stack in a datacenter while this new design looks fit for any living room entertainment system. It fits in, looks great and feels, well the same. The controller is the same, with a shiny Xbox logo and having the Wi-Fi built-in means no gray attachment with antenna on the back. Microsoft did a great job of making this system look desirable which also points to the Apple Effect. 250 GB of built in memory never hurts.

Tech & Ports – All accessories will work with the new 360, so no money lost there but the old school hard drives need to be ported over leaving gamers with a hard to access hard drive (not really removable). This is solved by the use of flash drives for taking game data places, a nice space saving fix. There is one HDMI port (one more would have been nice) along with five USB ports (3 back, 2 front) and an Ethernet port. The additional USB help to connect the variety of accessories. The new port that really requires mention is the Kinect Auxiliary port for the new sensor that Microsoft will release very soon. The Kinect looks like something out of War of the Worlds and is not by any means hidden or small but it’s gaming and entertainment promise is staggering.

Sound – It’s quite, so much more quite than any other model which is a dream. This is a much needed fix and one that is long overdue. The S/PDIF port for digital audio is easier to access and makes games sound outstanding, of course based on our home setup.

 Worth the Purchase? For gamers looking to finally get a 360 then this is the time, 100%. Besides the extra ports, look and feel it’s really the built-in Wi-Fi that makes this the time to buy. Everything is here for an out of box gaming experience on par with all other systems and it looks, sounds and feels damn good. What about current 360 owners? Unless you recently purchased an Elite, in the past 6 months (a fine system) then you should take a look. This redesign makes it easier to justify a new purchase especially if there are internet cables running all over your house. It comes down to if the budget is there as this system is well worth the purchase.

Overall the newly redesigned Xbox 360 looks beautiful, sounds great and offers a more integrated gaming experience. With built-in Wi-Fi, an additional cost for every other 360, gamers are getting more for about a $300 price tag and that’s before you trade in your old system and games to get even more duckets off. The benefits are great and for gamers on the fence about getting an Xbox 360 or trading in their old system for Elite, well the time is now.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Complete Book 1 Collector’s Edition DVD Impression

Forget the blue skinned version of Dancing with Wolves, this is the real Avatar. With the upcoming The Last Airbender set to hit theaters it’s time to take a look at the source material which is the true Avatar as seen on Nickelodeon. The right place to start is with the DVD collection Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Complete Book 1 Collector’s Edition (whew!). Don’t blow off Avatar as a kids show, something I was guilty of until the movie trailers made me realize ‘wow, there is some story for adults here.’ This series about the last Airbender and his role as Avatar is great for kids but should not be missed by anime fans with its Korean animation roots. Let’s take a look at a few pieces on why you need to check out Avatar on DVD before checking out the movie. 

The Story – Four elements, four tribes. Water, Earth, Fire and Air. Every generation one individual will inherit the power to control all four elements and be known as the Avatar. 100 years ago the fire nation declared war and the Avatar disappeared. Only the Avatar can bring an end to this war and set things right but where is he? Water tribe siblings Katara, a water bender, and her warrior brother Sokka discover the 12-year old Aang, an airbender and the missing Avatar. The only hitch is he’s been frozen for 100 years, is still 12-years old and still needs to master all the elements. Thus a journey begins to the North to learn from a true water bender while avoiding an honor seeking fire nation prince. Aang must come to terms with what is required of him while learning that the world he remembers is no longer around.

So the story seems very simple but is actually quite deep. The world of Avatar is alive with varieties of people within each of the four nations. War is ugly and this is shown many times even in a kid’s friendly show such as Avatar. This is actually the strength that will draw many adults to the series; it’s not just about kids. The action is great, pacing simple at times but hints to more, more history, depth and characters than expected. I was hooked, I am hooked and this has only increased my interest all the more for the movie, the games and the rest of the series. 

The Animation – Bright and vivid but not lacking in detail. This is not a US based series that has no true look and it’s not an anime, Japanese animation, that also has a handful of established looks, it’s a unique bird all its own. The animation shows Aang in all his childlike mannerisms and expressions but when the action gets fast Aang is intense in all his emotions. It’s a well delivered animation that again bridges the gap from the younger audience to the more mature anime/toon viewing fandom. The included book, a snipped/sample, of Dark Horse comics The Art of the Animated Series, really shows what my words are not allowing me to relay. This is a real world, one alive with hardship and life that’s faced with war and its harsh realities. These settings are married with one frozen for 100 years who is still a child and puts his air bending spin on what is going on. 

For Kids or … – I’ve touched on this a few times and it’s a point I truly want to drive home in that this is a great kids series but it’s not empty for adults. This is not SpongeBob where any episode can be watched in any order. It’s a story, a narrative about more than just the young airbender. It’s a world at war not unlike those seen with World War I and II. The Fire Nation is scary and for most of this first DVD set viewers are only shown pieces of the monster they truly are. Kids are spared most of the ravages, onscreen, but adults will find the workings of war intriguing. This is a series for kids, their parents, aunts, uncles and anyone else looking for a great way to spend 20 minutes or three hours. 

Compares to Movie Trailers – So tasty, oh so tasty to see Aang and crew brought to life, see scenes pulled right from the animation and some not (in this DVD collection). The movie looks very, very solid and brings to life the awesome action Avatar fans have known about for years. As long as Aang does not say he sees dead people then we should be good to go as fans. 

Korean Animation vs. Japanese Animation – I’ve watched a lot of anime and it’s rare when a unique series comes along in look and feel. No matter the anime watched there is almost always a predecessor, similar series. Same is true of manga but in that medium there is much more creative freedom. Avatar is animated by the Korean Animation Studios (Making of DVD included) and just like with the King of Hell manhwa (Korean manga) there are similarities to the Japanese cousins but it’s unique. Look at the cover of the Avatar art book and its inner pages and you will see a style, a subtle look in the face and clothing that speaks to the Korean animation style. It’s a style I’ve received limited exposure too but I’ve seen enough to spot the changes, the uniqueness.

Bottom line is its not cheap anime or a wanna-be anime series. It’s a solid animation and design quality that retains a simplicity and humor that most anime fans will enjoy. 

Overall, Avatar: The Last Airbender was created for a more tweener audience on Nickelodeon but it was built with a story and world that is worthy of the big screen treatment (which it’s getting). Kids will love the action, story and humor that’s mixed with unique cultures, characters and funny facial expressions while adults will enjoy the series with their kids, or alone, while seeing a larger world that’s more than a young adult on a quest. There is war, infighting, fights for survival and a rich history which Aang is tied to directly as the Avatar. How often can that be said about a show many must imagine is for kids.

Looking for more Avatar, more Avatar games?  Check out Avatar The Last Airbender Games now and get to playing.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Impression

Mario and Link; simply two names but to gamers so much more. These two names speak of quality, nostalgia and hours of fond gaming memories both 8 and gazillion bit in nature. While Link is still waiting a truly next-gen grown up adventure Mario has no such issues with a smash hit sequel in Super Mario Galaxy 2 on the Wii. Let’s cut to the chase, the game is great on every level and for every age. Even on the Wii with limited graphical superiority the looks of Galaxy 2 will amaze it’s just pure gaming bliss and it is the new Mario. Super Mario Bros. on the NES is iconic while Super Mario 64 established new levels in gameplay and 3D and now with Super Mario Galaxy Nintendo has done it again with a game that defies gravity. Super Mario Galaxy 2, how do we love thee, let us count the ways …

Gameplay – Ah the game map, how I’ve missed thee. A staple from Super Mario Bros. 2, gamers are introduced to Galaxy 2 in a very homage based side-scrolling view that guides them into the gameplay mechanics of 3D and does not feel like the usually mandatory training sequences. From here it’s all about solid Mario platforming fun as gamers must take on a planet sized Bowser to save the Princess (yup, again). Complete levels to grab the Stars and Comet Coins but it’s not that simple. New power-ups and old buddy Yoshi are along for the ride so vets of Super Mario Galaxy need not fear a new level rehash. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is all new and quite unique. The level of design and creativity will remind gamers why anyone can love Mario. Platforming at its finest on any system. 

Graphics – A legitimate knock on the Wii is it does not boast the graphical power of the PS3 or Xbox 360. While this is true Nintendo knows how to get the most bang out of their system and Galaxy 2 proves the point with sharp, crisp characters and amazingly colorful and vivid environments. It’s a bit more polished from the first Galaxy title but the overall look and feel is the same. It’s more Super Mario Galaxy which is a great thing. The only complaint is why can’t Nintendo run a boot camp with all the major third party publisher and teach them how to make this level of polish … it’s that good looking especially on a nice big HD TV. 

Sound – Lots of text boxes but not a bad thing. There are snippets of spoken text but one of the charms of Mario’s 3D adventures is the limited text. The music contains iconic tunes, remakes and new tracks that carry the gameplay and just add to the delicious package. The sound and music in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is nothing, nothing to complain about. 

Design – Creative and imaginative are understatements. Moving around, up, down, through and side-to-side, there is no boundary on Super Mario Galaxy 2. Every level offers up amazing challenges that will leave the player saying ‘did I just do that’ and will warrant hours of time to be stolen by Mario. 

Miscellaneous – Super Mario Galaxy is the whole package, it’s what gaming is all about and shows that not everything new is old, sometimes it’s truly new. 

Overall, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is an engaging, beautiful and complete gaming experience that warrants tons of replay to unlock every bit of gaming goodness in this tasty treat. Mario is that good … now for that game creation clinic Nintendo needs to deliver to every Wii publisher.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Guinness World Records 2010 Gamers’ Edition Impression

Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition 2010
Another year, another collection of world records but one that, since its inaugural edition in 2008, is a bit different. The Guinness World Records 2010 Gamers’ Edition not only captures achievements in video gaming but also provides insight and history into a 30+ year old industry and hobby. It’s not niche, its mainstream and part of the culture but where does the 2010 version sit? In 2008 gamers received a hardbound collection of every major system, their history along with interviews, records and collections of data on major gaming genres. In 2009 the history and records were updated, new interviews published but the meat of the book, the genre information, broke into categories that were sub-topic, sub-genre that did not fall into one genre. Instead of keeping the standard genre formula and adding to it’s each year the 2009 direction felt a bit off, a bit scattered.

Both 2008 and 2009 offered great data and detail but the lack of a set genre formula missed the appeal of an annual publication. Now 2010 hit the perfect cord with a mix of the two and content that needs to be repeated in 2011. How did they do this? Trial and error as 2010 is the book gamers should want moving forward even with the softest cover yet, let’s look at content.

Welcome to Gamers’ 2010
– Nice summary of the book and past year as well as tips on getting in on the record setting. Awards recap, top 10 games, yearly recap captures a roundabout look at the year that was in games unlike any single magazine or website does.

– PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360, PC, DS, PSP, Mobile and Future Gaming are all summarized on two pages each with top level highlights, system changes and a nice bit of trivia and facts. Only fault with this section is why is the PC ‘best of’ where other systems are not marked as so? PC games need to be covered a bit more even if give 1-2 more pages.

Record Breaking Games
– Getting the formula correct. A nice balance of top level categories that then break down into sub-categories. Each section contains an introduction followed by nice breakdown, for example in Shooting Games both Console FPS and PC FPS get their own two pages.

  • Shooting Games – Breakout of Console vs. PC FPS is nice. Shooters are deep as outlined in the 8 different sections.
  • Sports & Racing Games – American sports do get the shaft here but worth it to see more sports covered.
  • Action-Adventure Games – Solid breakdown in 7 sections.
  • Fighting Games – 2D and 3D get their due along with combat sports and weapons based, nice breakout.
  • Party Games – Wii brought them to prominence but they’ve been around since the Atari days.
  • Puzzle Games – Downloadable games have really helped this section shine as has mobile gaming. It’s not just Tetris folks, something casual fans have known for years.
  • Role-Playing Games – Japanese and Western get their own breakdown as well as three, THREE MMORPG sections … delicious.
  • Strategy & Simulation Games – Well, strategy and simulation is here … not much more to add.
  • Instant Gaming – An interesting way to capture arcade and mobile games and could this be the new way to capture such games moving forward?
Features – Future Gaming is hit and miss, failure section is nice. Miyamoto interview is more an homage that real in-depth feature while Couch Casualty seems to be the warning label on playing too many games.

Top 50 Video Game Series
– Ripe for debate with 1-2 sentence blurbs on every game, top three getting a bit more text. Fine reading and great to compare to prior years.

Twin Galaxies Leaderboard
– Host of records at the end of a record book. Interesting placement but gotta justify the name somehow.

what Guinness World Records 2010 Gamers’ Edition does right is get the top level genre and sub-categories to feel right. This was the challenge with 2009 in that it tried to break down 2008 further and just seemed like a mish-mash of content. 2010 is an easy read, mostly 2 page features and for the price of three gaming magazines it’s worth the purchase. 2010 is the first volume that is a must for gamers and if this formula continues then every volume after will be outlined so also.

Klondike Everyman Challenge game Impression

Klondike Everyman Challenge
Game 2 of 3 in the Klondike Everyman Challenge is underway but what is it? It’s a series of online games and contest. The first game and contest is over but there’s still a chance to win but should gamers care or is this just a marketing ploy? Well duh, it’s most definitely a marketing ploy but Flash games can be a fun distraction and grow cultish so that’s the question. Where does Klondike sit, let’s take a look …

What Type of Game(s) is it?
Three games to play, two available now, the third at end of July. Game 1 is Pack Master, an angled take on Tetris which is unique in its angle that has players packing the trunk of a car with junk. Game 2 is Bar Slinger, a slingshot shooting gallery game which feels perfect for smart, touch phones but not as fun as Pack Master. Game 3 is Concession Stand Hero … and there are no details yet. So two fun games so far built on popular Flash formulas but what about the contest?

What is the Hook?
The hook right now is the 3-D entertainment system which players can submit to win. What to submit, a video of course so the winner has got to be creative which adds a nice element to what’s usually a ‘enter email’ to win process. The prize on the next game will really appeal to gamers as it’s a tricked out game room … sweet!

Why Should Gamers Care?
The chances to win seem decent and getting a tricked out game room is worth the video creation. So far the two games are fun to play and worth a quick play or two but don’t expect the next Mario Bros. or Halo, these are fun and time consuming games, nothing more.

Klondike has offered up two (soon three) games that are fun and promote a contest that is both original and been done before. Many contests have used games and many have used entries and the combination of the two `works really well. Play the games or create a video and enter to win. Easy, straightforward and of course sponsored. A model that other companies can follow. There is also plenty of social media plugged in for promotion with friends to get really creative with friends.

What’s the Future?
Consoles my friends, consoles. Offer these three games as permanent downloads on each system and offer an easier, social media integrated video submission process (using the console cameras) and you’ll begin to see console download gaming married with social media and an online contest … this is why gamers should get behind this type of media and push for further innovation.