Friday, August 27, 2010

Master of Martial Hearts DVD Impression

Master of Martial Hearts from FUNimation. From the cover art it looks to be a bevy of beauties fighting it out in cos-play’ish outfits with plenty of panty shots. This analysis is half right and what viewers get is not what you’d expect but a mis-mash of plot lines and animation. What’s Master of Martial Hearts all about, let’s take a look.

Aya Iseshima may live a care-free life but very quickly her hidden fighting skills are brought to the fore when she’s suddenly wrapped up in a girl-on-girl fighting tournament where battles are waged at anytime, anyplace and the ultimate prize is Platonic Heart, a jewel that can grant any wish. The catch, loses in the tournament go missing without a trace and there is no backing out. As Aya battles she shows a brutal side of her personality which allows her to advance but at what cost? The tournament is underway and Aya is heading towards more than just a prized jewel at the end.

So that’s about it. The plot is one piece that ruins this anime but can something be ruined if it was never good? Harsh, yup, but true. I love heaping praise on anime and manga, finding that one niche that works and talking about it. Does an anime lack animation quality but shine in story, emphasize it. Great animation but horrible voice acting, point it out. With Master of Martial Hearts, from episode 1, the viewers get an anime with canned character styles, models, a very anime look and design and animation quality that is not good … just not good. So the assumption here is it’s a boob, clothes flying off, chick-on-chick fight fest. Not so fast. This is an easy assumption to make due to all the fighting ladies with clothes flying off and many questionable angles but even that hook is lacking. The story lets this anime down big time with a ‘are you serious’ moment towards the end that will leave you feeling robbed of the few hours invested in watching. None of the characters are worth caring about, none of them are deep and the twist at the end, tale of revenge, it fails and fails bad.

There has only been one anime series I’ve watched, Melody of Oblivion, that make me angry and empty at the end. Master of Martial Hearts is the soul mate for that fiasco and it’s the first time since Oblivion I’m telling you to stay away from this anime … go get Project A-Ko for better panty and fighting shots.

Dragon Ball: Origins 2 on DS Impression

Dragon Ball: Origins 2 for DS is for fans; period. Goku’s latest adventure on Nintendo’s portable offers a new story pulled from the anime to gamers and is best enjoyed if familiar with the source material. Goku may have ended his story years ago but the amount of content that can still be put into a video game is mind boggling, especially for Goku’s younger days when exploration and adventure ruled the day, not fighting (and yes, I know about his younger martial arts tournaments). The cost is not high but why should gamers take a gander at Goku and gang … let’s take a look …

Gameplay – Take control of Goku, Krillin, Yamcha and Bulma as the group continues to hunt for the Dragon Balls and encounters the Red Ribbon Army and other recognizable foes in an action adventure. Gamers must solve puzzles, navigate large levels and take on waves of enemies and sweet boss encounters. Like all great action/adventure games there is a collecting aspect and of course leveling up for characters. Use of the stylus is hit and miss, not truly needed but still present.

Graphics – The in-game action looks decent with recognizable characters and settings but the in-game cut scenes are blah. The staged cut scenes, special attacks really look quite nice, almost pulled from the anime nice with smooth edges and dramatic effect. There is a lock of polish from the bigger moment scenes to the story moving scenes but this is to be expected. Love the cover art, it’s polished and poster worthy.

Sound – When there is voice work, sweet, sounds great, but the rest of the music and sound feels pulled from the 16-bit days of gaming. The opening sequence will entertain … yeah, stretching here but not much to talk about with sound on this DS cart.

Design – Levels can be very blah, is it over yet, but they move the story along and feel pulled from the anime. The character design is set from the anime so no flexibility there or real surprise. Overall the design is decent, not great, not mind blowing but decent.

Miscellaneous – The continuation of Goku’s younger adventures on US soil. FUNimation has released the entire Dragon Ball series, all five seasons, and gamers also get to continue these reality new adventures on the DS. Dragon Ball Z, we know it, we love it but taking control of the young Goku, pure joy.

Overall, Dragon Ball: Origins 2 for Nintendo DS will please fans and young kids alike. The graphics are better than many anime based DS titles (niche, I know) and while the sound is lacking the gameplay is hour eating entertaining. Listen, this is not a top tier DS title like Mario or Zelda’s adventures. It’s a serviceable action/adventure game for non-fans and a true gaming treat for Dragon Ball starved fans. This is the audience; this is who should take a look at Goku’s most recent adventure on DS.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Supreme Commander 2 on Xbox 360 Impression

Real time strategy, RTS, games are excellent on PC but to data sub-par on console. Halo Wars, built from the ground up for Xbox 360 served up a very good RTS experience build around the console and control scheme but this is the exception to the rule. Supreme Commander 2 for Xbox 360 is a good PC RTS done right with keyboard and mouse but one which has faced the same challenges as others due to the controller and scheme presented by the 360. Simple question; will Supreme Commander 2 fall into the Halo Wars category and get it right or will it follow every other Command & Conquer, RTS experience on console that just misses the mark. Let’s take a look …

Gameplay – Three factions, three storylines all converging on one larger tale of war. Take control of an army; manage its base construction, resource harvesting, unit construction and deployment to defeat the opposition. The three factions, United Earth Federation, Aeon Illuminate and Cybran Nation all have unique strengths and weaknesses to explore and exploit. Gamers can also take the battle online or start a quick skirmish. The challenges get tougher as gamers progress and are provide more advanced units and scenarios but this is standard RTS fare. The challenge faced in Supreme Commander 2 comes in the control scheme; all mapped to the Xbox 360 controller. All moves, navigating the map, moving units is light years ahead of past RTS offerings and for this fans should cheer but, no fault of SP2 is there is no true substitute for a mouse and keyboard.

Graphics – With tons of units on-screen the action still keeps up at a decent frame rate and zooming in will reveal detailed unit models, terrain and buildings. The lighting effects, particles look outstanding, it’s just one good looking title … we’ve come a long way from Herzog Zwei.

Sound – Voice work is decent and serves it purpose. The various battle sounds, weapons and explosions are fantastic and change as gamers move in and out of battles, very nice. The soundtrack is a mix of well paced tunes to keep the action moving. Ignore the voices, the sound shines in battle.

Design – Units are a pleasure to unlock and are as varied as any RTS. The branching campaign modes are well done but fans of the genre will still need to sit through tutorial levels which are always a pain. The design change to make control, building more console friendly is to be applauded and help to separate SC2 from other RTS titles, especially since it’s a PC title first.

Miscellaneous – The choice to make Supreme Commander 2 a bit more Xbox 360, console friendly. There are a ton of options when building units but due to control schemes it was scaled down to make upgrades all the easier, so more in line with Halo Wars than the original Supreme Commander. Veteran RTS fans may think the controls and options too simplified and really, they are right but the changes made show that it’s no longer a ‘just-port-it’ world but rather one where developers are thinking about new gamers, new arenas of play.

Overall Supreme Commander 2 is a solid RTS on the 360. It’s a bit deeper on options than a Halo Wars but a great next game for fans of Halo Wars. The downside is RTS vets may not dig the simplification of controls and upgrades. All this will be forgotten once online where all bets are off and gamers can enjoy a quick and engaging battle with buddies or strangers. For a console RTS it looks good, sounds good, controls better than others and is one of the better real-time strategy titles on a console to date.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

PS3 - The RPGs Console

The console wars wage on. There is no clear winner in site, and there may never be one. The Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have all found different niches. The Wii has locked up families and younger gamers. The hardcore gamers are split down the center between the 360 and the PS3. You can argue hardware back and forth, but choosing a console comes down to two things. Note how many pixels or polygons, but can it do more then just play games, and the games themselves.
PS3 has Blu-Ray; 360 not so much. Given a Blu-Ray player is a significant fraction of the cost of a PS3, I'm sold right there. Does the 360 have great games? Yes, but the PS3 has cornered the market on high quality RPGs.

Go on, I hear you in the back. Finish your snickering about RPGers not being real gamers. SquareSoft mades it's reputation as one of the greatest game developers on RPGs. RPGs have come a long way since the first Final Fantasy. When I sit down and intend to lose a day to a game, shooters don't do it for me. Platforms are fun now and again, but after a few hours I get frustrated. Pick up one of the new RPGs, FF13, Dragonage:Origins, Mass Effect 1 or 2. You will get drawn in, the games are just fun. The characters are engaging, likable. They banter back and forth. They help pull you in, engage you in the story of the game in a way that a great novel can. Except that with these games, you choose that plot twist.

A gamer should choose their console based on what they most enjoy. The Xbox and Wii just don't provide me the same value as the PS3. I'm an RPG guy, can't beat the PS3 for that.
About the author: James Mowery is a computer geek that writes about technology and related topics. To read more blog posts by him, go to led tv.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Interview Batman: The Brave and the Bold the Videogame

Batman: The Brave and the Bold brings a campier, more humorous look at the Dark Knight's adventures and the upcoming Batman: The Brave and the Bold the Videogame is taking that humor and action to the Nintendo Wii and DS. Why should Bat's fans take notice, why should DC fans take notice? We went to the source to find out as Adam Tierney, WayForward Designer/Director of Batman the Brave and the Bold the Videogame for Wii and Sean Velasco, WayForward Designer/Director of Batman the Brave and the Bold the Videogame for DS chime in on what the adventure is all about.

Why should Batman fans, new to Brave and the Bold, give this new adventure a spin?

Adam Tierney (director of Wii game): If you haven’t seen the TV show the game is based on, I’d definitely recommend giving it a look. As a huge fan of all things Batman, I was skeptical at first of this lighter, sillier portrayal of the Dark Knight. He’s hardly dark at all! But the writing is so sharp, funny, and the characterizations of each hero are so fresh, you can’t help but fall in love with it.

With the game, we essentially wanted to create four playable ‘episodes’ structured like the TV show. From our first discussion with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, the concept was that gamers would essentially ‘play the cartoon.’ So instead of creating a game like most superhero games, where you have a cutscene, followed by speechless gameplay until the next cutscene, we have constant, running dialogue (over 400 pages of it) of our heroes bantering, bickering and discussing the current mission. The end result is really unlike any other action game on the market.

Sean Velasco (director of DS game): With the DS title, our focus has been on embracing the strengths of the platform. We have amazing renditions of all the characters and environments using WayForward’s signature pixel style, and our gameplay is suited to faster pick-up-and-play sessions with emphasis on teaming up and kicking butt.

Will the game retain the same fun, campy humor as the show?

Adam: Absolutely. We worked with the TV show’s writers to ensure that the dialogue and humor felt very true to the source material. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment also brought in the cast of the TV show to record for the game, from Diedrich Bader as Batman to Paul Reubens as Bat-Mite.

What games influenced the direction of Batman: The Brave and the Bold?

Adam: The core combat is a blend of old-school brawlers such as Double Dragon, mixed with modern juggler/fighters. We looked at games aimed at younger audiences (like the LEGO series) in regard to risk/reward systems, since the target audience skews a bit younger than most superhero games. We also pulled elements from other Batman games where it made sense, like the gadget inventory system and lunge attacks inspired by Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Sean: Platformers like Mega Man and Metroid inspired some of our core mobility, but Batman: The Brave and the Bold the Videogame is also very combat heavy. I’m pretty proud of the depth we managed to cram into the combat system, which you could say is a bit similar to the next-gen games. I am extremely reverent towards the perfection of the combat in that series!

Why go with a side-scrolling style vs. a more 3D adventure?

Adam: For a couple of reasons - first, and most important we wanted to match the look and feel of the TV show as faithfully as possible. If we recreated the characters in 3D, it wouldn’t feel like playable episodes. Our animators used the very same models, and frame-by-frame process, as the animators on the Batman: The Brave and Bold TV show, so the end result looks strikingly similar.

Second, WayForward excels at classic, 2D animation. We put out quite a number of 3D titles as well, but if you look at 2D game development, we’re maybe the only developer producing this magnitude of classic frame animation in games. I believe the final animation frame count for the Wii game was around 16,000 frames, each frame illustrated by hand, from pencils to digital inks and colors.

And third, the core combat has its roots in games like Double Dragon and Street Fighter, so 2D art and gameplay matched those sensibilities. The game does feature some very impressive 3D backgrounds and special effects, but the playfield and characters look straight out of the cartoon.

Sean: With the DS, the answer is clear. Awesome pixels games are our specialty, and adding Batman to the mix is too good a formula to pass up.

How different was development from Wii to the DS?

Adam: Both projects were in development at the same time, and share a lot of similarities: episodic structure, some heroes, villains, and locations. However, the Wii game had more of an emphasis on storytelling, and its combat was predominantly brawler-influenced.

Sean: As Adam was saying, we were on two different development tracks. The DS game has more of a focus on platforming and classic game sensibilities. The games came out with some core similarities, but the cool part is that each one is its own unique experience.

How much will motion/stylus controls play into the game?

Adam: Keeping combat as precise and tight as possible is absolutely essential for any good fighting game. At the same time, the game is being developed for the Wii, so to not take advantage of the system’s more unique attributes would be a missed opportunity. All core combat occurs on the analog stick and face buttons, and the Wii Remote’s IR and motion functions are used for powering up jump-in heroes (shaking) or special aiming.

Sean: Our game focuses on the top screen as the playable portion. The bottom screen is used for selecting gadgets, swapping heroes, and also acts as a heads-up-display.

Which in-game character is the most unique, fun to play? (for you)

Sean: Batman! The Caped Crusader has an awesome array of moves, a huge arsenal of gadgets, and a bunch of great little dialog quips. The other characters are great partners that add a lot of flavor to the game, but I have to go with the tried-and-true.

Adam: I’d have to go with Guy Gardner. When you have a ring that allows you to construct anything in your head, the possibilities are endless. The animators had a lot of fun varying up Guy’s attacks visually, so you’ll see him construct chairs, baseball bats, anvils, all in the blink of an eye with each button press. His gadgets are also a blast to play with, since they’re very IR driven and can be projected anywhere onscreen. Using a giant fist, he can slap enemies around, or pick them up and hurl them at one another.

Are there any surprise characters not mentioned yet we can be spoiled/teased with?

Adam: Definitely. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment has been announcing characters over the past few months, and there are plenty left. The 5 playable characters in the Wii game are now known, but we’ve only revealed some of the jump-in heroes, and only a few of the villains. The number I’ve heard is over 60 prominent DC Universe characters between both games. As a tease, I could say one of the game’s episodes deals with a 100-year-old grudge against Batman.

Sean: Sorry, I can’t be monkeying around with any clues at this time!

Are there characters unique to the game not seen in the cartoon?

Adam: In a sense. All of the characters in the game have appeared in the cartoon, but some of them had only minor or non-speaking parts, so for the game we were able to develop a voice and persona for them. Catman was a character that only appeared in a teaser sequence in the show, and we were really able to develop his personality in the game as a hilarious key villain. The thing about the show is that sooner or later, everyone in the mainstream DC Universe gets pulled in. So even characters we had an interest in using that weren’t from the show, ended up being written into the show by the time the game went into production.

What's next for Batman, more Brave and Bold adventures on the Wii and DS?

Adam: The game is coming out September 7th!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Avatar: The Last Airbender Book 2: Earth Impression

Book 1: Water, the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender surprised with its hidden depth and fluid animation but it’s Book 2: Earth that takes the series and moves it to new levels. The same great animation is present but emotions are taken to new levels as are conspiracies. How to explain without ruining the collection and possibly the second Airbender movie? Let’s try...

Aang looks to continue his elemental training by seeking out his old friend King Bumi in order to master Earth bending only to find Omashu has fallen to the Fire Nation. Bumi grants Aang sound advice in seeking out the master he needs, the master he is destined for, advice which leads the travelling trio to a very insightful swamp. A new enemy presents herself in the form of Princess Azula, Zuko’s cruel and calculating sister. She will dog Aang’s steps every step of their journey. Soon Aang finds his Earth bending instructor in a most peculiar and amusing way and she soon joins the trio. Her name is Toph, a blind and headstrong brilliant Earth bender who is just what Aang needs. As the group takes knowledge gained from a hidden library so too is Appa taken and lost to Aang. Finding themselves in the walled city of Ba Sing Se the group must now deal with political cover ups, a fire princess in disguise, Zuko and his uncle serving tea and a plan that soon falls apart. Just when things were looking up they quickly being to fall apart.

Animation is just as bright and vibrant, smooth and flowing as in Book 1 but it’s the story, the emotional hooks, ebb and flow that really takes flight in Book 2. Some of the highlights include Appa being take, Aang dealing with more loss, Zuko confronting his desired and real destiny and a city that choose to hide from the war thanks in large part to political conspiracies. Aang continues his training and finds a master Earth bender in the blind, headstrong Toph. Toph is not the only new fame-fatale to join the story as Zuko’s sister, Azula, is now on the hunt for both Zuko and the Avatar and she is deadly. Seeing both Aang and Zuko having to confront their inner turmoil and hardships gives these two … heroes … a more human side, that they must and are growing. Seeing the betrayals and political aspects of Ba Sing Se shows just how real and gray this war really is. It’s not good versus bad, it’s a ton of in-between.

There were times while watching Book 2 that I was expecting Vader to walk out and announce he’s Aang’s father. There are plenty of ways that Book 2 compares to Empire Strikes Back from revelations, training, loss and even the ending, it’s quite good. With Book 2, Avatar goes from being a good, solid show with aspects adults and kids will both dig to being an emotionally charged tale that’s larger than the main characters. Good stuff, cannot wait to see how Book 3: Fire goes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Casshern Sins Blu-ray Impression

Casshern Sins from FUNimation; a Blu-ray that gamers will have a bit of an interest in checking out and one which anime fans will dig. Beautiful and sharp animation drives a bleak story as mysteries unfold and a cybernetic assassin must face his fate. Sound appealing? Not so much? Let’s see what else Casshern has to offer …

The Story – The Ruin sweeps the land. A plague that reduces to rubble the robotic population, a plague which began with the death of Luna at the hands of the cybernetic assassin Casshern, a death he does not remember. Casshern wanders the land, his memory slowly coming back, attached by those with power as he’s the only one not susceptible to the Ruin. Some are after him for vengeance while others have personal scores to settle. Just who is he, why did he kill Luna, what was Braiking Boss role in his creation and Luna’s death? Lucky for Casshern he gains friends to walk with him in his journey which must end with the salvation of the world or its utter destruction.

Bleak? Yeah, just a bit. Casshern is a tragic figure and the land he wanders sad yet filled with pockets of hope from robots with optimistic outlooks, those who have accepted their fates and even a few remaining humans. The mystery, pieces revealed before each title sequence, keeps the story moving as parts of Casshern’s past catch up with him and he remembers more and more. It’s a journey with an end that viewers will want to sign-up for thanks to the great action and animation. Another nice nugget about the story and Blu-ray is it requires zero prior knowledge of the series or characters.

The Design & Animation – Casshern Sins has a look, a style pulled from earlier days of anime. It’s unique, simple yet sharp and engaging. The action is fluid, land desolate and despair of the Ruin comes off the screen in a most depressive manner. It’s a tasty visual treat that feels made for HD and Blu-ray rather than an upgraded DVD. The style is not average anime fare and it shares more in common with the excellent feature Metropolis than a Spirited Away.

Why Gamers Should Care – While this is a darker Casshern with a different name spelling he is the same core character as seen in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom for the Nintendo Wii. This is one group of gamers who may have more interest in seeing just who this fighter is in one of the best Wii fighters around. Never mind the action and story being dark and engaging, the action being sweet to watch and it looking fantastic on an HD TV, no, gamers should check out Casshern thanks to Capcom’s surprise of a release fighter (and it’s a good anime folks).

Overall, Casshern is a rock solid action anime that looks outstanding in HD on Blu-ray. Great voice work mixes with a style that’s unique even among the plethora of anime on the market. Give Casshern a look, he was one of the few characters in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom that many here in the States may not have been familiar with and while this version is darker it’s nice to have the option to learn more.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Predators and Pro Zombie Soccer on iPhone Impression

The iPhone is very, very relevant in the gaming space with quick and easy downloads at (mostly) reasonable prices. Some games offer deep gameplay while others are gimmicks looking for a quick buck. We are here to take a look at two games from Chillingo to see if they stack up and warrant a purchase. Let us begin …

Pro Zombie Soccer – Sadly this is not a new entry in the Sega Genesis EA Games Mutant League series of games but rather a shooting gallery fest. Swarms of zombies attack, some slow, some fast, some strong, some very disco but all out to kill. Seems a failed soccer prodigy is bitten by his hero, zombiefied, soccer star and must save his friends before he becomes a zombie also. The locations may change but the action remains the same. Gamers must point, kick and destroy every zombie thrown their way in quick gameplay levels full of blood and style. Style; this is what makes Pro Zombie Soccer fun to play, the game looks awesome, bright and vibrant. The gameplay is straight forward enough with special moves thrown in but it’s the art style and story sequences that are a pleasure to watch.

Overall is Pro Zombie Soccer worth a purchase? Yes, if gamers have a gut for blood and comic violence that can get head popping over the top at times. A perfect portable gaming experience with quick and good looking levels it’s a title made (duh!) for the iPhone and better than many point/shoot titles on the phone.

Predators – Based on the movie of the same name, a franchise that’s been sub-par since Predator 2. Take on the role of a young Predator and let the hunt for dangerous humans begin. With simple touch-screen controls and plenty of human prey types to take on the third-person action keeps going for hours. Collect trophies, upgrade tech and climb the leader board. Solid graphics and solid gameplay that makes a gamer wonder why can’t the movie franchise get it right?

Overall Predators plays so similar to Vampire Origins which is a blessing and curse. The smaller screen controls well but fat thumbs can hide onscreen action. The combat is fun, a great bloody time killer with plenty of depth and fun. A good game worth the purchase even if the movie was blah.

To the point, yeah, but these are not million dollar development games, they are fun diversions and this is what mobile, iPhone games are all about. Pro Zombie Soccer is fun, easy to get into and has a great art style while Predators takes the Vampire Origins formula and skins it perfectly for a deep gameplay experience. Both titles are not for kids but both are worth checking out.

Monday, August 9, 2010

HaloFest for Halo Reach at GameStop

Halo: Reach is so close, so close yet so far. To tide gamers over until Reach is here GameStop has unleashed HaloFest. Taking the free stuff goodness to another level this is not just a pre-order bonus but an experience, one where Halo fans can get news, updates, enter contest and watch some sweet and funny videos. So what is HaloFest all about, let’s take a look …

It’s a Festival – The layout is a virtual fair, not clickable yet, but with a few promos to mention (below). The amount of content that will live on this page, off of this page is what makes it a true fan-fest but will fans dig it? First word needs to get out to Halo fans, especially those looking to reserve a copy of Reach, second the content has to be relevant and make fans want to come back. So let’s take a look at the content.

Pre-order – The most obvious, a link to the pre-order pages in GameStop for Halo: Reach. There is the regular Reach edition, the Limited Edition, Legendary Edition and finally the Limited Edition Halo: Reach console (sweet!). The option to submit an email for updates is a great way to stay up to speed on new content also. The number of editions and bonus content is staggering and just highlights the level of hype around Reach.

Life-sized Spartan Statue – Please note a pre-order confirmation number is needed but this is a chance to enter to win a life-size Spartan, really. Watch the making-of videos to see just how sweet these statues are.

Red vs. Blue – Oh those crazy episodes are back and special order just for HaloFest. Three exclusive episodes, one out now with two more to come, priceless fun.

This covers the content out now but there’s more to come. First is the chance to submit your story to be heard in reach and second will be Tips & Tricks from Tom “Tsquared” Taylor, pro-gamer. Tournament News will flow once competition begins as will In-Game contests so check back after the game hits. It’s really interesting to see how GameStop does with this level of coverage. Once hopes the page SEO and promo is enough to make the page a top search result and generate buzz (where is the Facebook and Twitter option) so we shall see how this goes.

Overall it’s a nice step up, a big step up, from the usual in-game free pre-order content and if it does well can gamers expect similar treatment for other triple-A titles? Let’s hope.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Last Airbender Wii Game Impression

The movie and game may be called The Last Airbender but make no mistake, this is the true Avatar. Based on Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender the movie and game roughly follow the events seen in Book 1: Water of the animated series. Unlike many movie game tie-ins The Last Airbender from THQ takes a slanted approach by putting gamers in the role of exiled Fire Nation Prince Zuko as he searches for the Avatar, the last Airbender named Aang. How does The Last Airbender hold up as a game and how does it hold up as a piece of a fan favorite franchise, let’s take a look …

Gameplay – The action switches between third-person run and beat-em-up action and some on-rails first-person shooting sequences in both single and multi-player components. Gamers progress through the game following movie events from Zuko’s perspective and learn fire and later airbending. Different movements are eased into gameplay with the remote for a more interactive experience. A bit of stealth comes into play when Zuko puts on his mask to become the Blue Spirit, a ninja alternate personality that allows Zuko to carry out his ambitions. There is an arena mode which allows gamers to take on waves of enemies but the meat of this game lies in the story mode.

Graphics – Last generation and not in a good way. Yes the Wii has graphical limitations compared to other systems but seeing titles like Mario Galaxy and MadWorld shows great looks are possible on the Wii and sadly The Last Airbender just fails to deliver. Forcing the real world look of the movie into the game leads to stiff, corpse like player models and gray, barren environments. Another game of destroying crates, good times … or not. The movie did carry a heaviness in its look and feel, darkness of war and this feeling translates in-game.

Sound – Music is decent but not worthy of a CD purchase while the voice work delivers quite well. Movie cast Dev Patel (Zuko), Noah Ringer (Aang) and Aasif Mandvi (Zhao) all lend their voices and it really helps establish the story, put some emotion into the character models. Quite a pleasant surprise that such solid voice acting was delivered on the Wii for a movie based game.

Design – Sadly as with most movie based games the look, feel and environments are set. Environments are dark, bland and not really inspired. The use of the Wii-mote for bending moves is well done but otherwise nothing new to see here folks so move on.

Miscellaneous – Fans of the cartoon and franchise will enjoy the unlockable images. There are 100 movie concept images to find lending some re-playability.

Overall, for Wii owners that are fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender this title is worth a play through after seeing the movie. For those who don’t dig the Avatar and Aang’s adventures, have no interest in seeing the movie then pass, this game is not for you. It would have been easy to craft a quick direct movie game but taking the time to flesh out Zuko’s story is a nice treat and worth attention even with the lackluster graphics. Not a bad title but one that falls into the more typical movie based games category … not bad, not great but somewhere in-between.

Nier on Xbox 360 Impression

Gotta hand it to Square Enix, they know how to create an engaging story. With Nier a father searches for a cure for his sick daughter in an apocalyptic future that, well it’s bleak folks. Make no mistake about this action role-playing game being in the same class as Kingdom Hearts. Where Kingdom Hearts, from Square Enix, nailed the gameplay and narrative on so many levels Nier sadly does not. Patience is needed to get to the creative story inside Nier, but what about the other parts, let’s take a look.

Gameplay – Assume the role of Nier as he searches for a cure to his daughter’s sickness in an apocalyptic future where man is reduced to fighting for survival while monsters, Shades, roam the land. Level up, hack-slash, fetch items and repeat to advance. It’s an action RPG driven by an engaging story that would be great in novel form. There are many quest to undertake and much leveling up to do but the repetitive environments can make this a drag. Expect lots of backtracking but with a story to drive it … just gotta get to the meaty parts.

Graphics – Don’t judge a book by its cover and in this case a game by its graphics. Nier does not look great, hell it’s not too far north of bad. The various movies released prior to launch show off an impressive Shade (bad monsters) battle that left huge hope for the overall game look but sadly no dice. The landscapes all run together and lack enough texture and detail. Ditto for the character models which is a shame since they are so unique. Nier just looks like a good first generation Xbox 360 title but knowing the breed and pedigree of Square Enix it could have been so much more.

Sound – Music is solid Square Enix fare with tranquil running around meadows tunes and action pack gotta-kill-em-all tunes. Square Enix does music right and Nier shines in this aspect. The voice acting is quite well done also with the Grimorie sounding arrogant and cocky while Nier is dark and moody when not around his daughter. The potty mouthed, shade possessed, lingerie wearing Kaine is a flipping trip but not for the young of ear. The music and voice work is excellent.

Design – Characters are great looking and unique but the Shades don’t vary too much. There are boss encounters that are pretty sweet but overall the design falls into the bland category as the graphics do. Some settings are very cool and immense but since gamers will be going back to them over and over not too much to get excited about hours into the game.

Miscellaneous – Story and characters save the day with Nier. While gameplay is repetitive, graphics this side north of fugly it’s the characters, their past and present, their voice acting that makes Nier worth playing.

Overall Nier is not great but it’s above average thanks to great voice work, a good soundtrack and characters that are as quirky as they are cool. There is some promise missed with Nier from graphics to the levels, design and number of quest to undertake but when even these items can be overlooked it’s a testament to the story underneath, something Square Enix knows how to do. Looking for a good time killer then give Nier a try but don’t expect a next-gen graphics beast that will blow you away with innovation. Solid but not spectacular.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Toradora! DVD Set 1 Special Edition Impression

Toradora! From NIS America is great! The concept of a high school romantic comedy is nothing new but the characters and animation are what make Toradora! shine. This is the second entry in the land of anime made by NIS America, known for their video game division but if this quality keeps up NIS is going to soon have a place in anime lovers hearts everywhere. What’s so great, let me count the ways ..

The Story – Ryuji Takasu may look like a delinquent thanks to his eyes but this cleaning obsessed youth is one of the most caring individuals you’ll come accorss. New classmate Taiga Aisaka puts this kindness to the test with a botched love note handoff to Takasu’s best friend Yusaku Kitamura. Quickly the two find themselves in an unlikely friendship as Takasu just happens to have a crush on Taiga’s best friend, and fellow classmate, Minori Kushieda. The two form a pact to assist each other in their love conquest only to have everyone mistake them for a couple. Funny situations become the norm and a fifth wheels joins the crew in the guise of model Ami Kawashima, Kitamura’s childhood friend. Let the relationship battles begin as Ryuji likes Minori who’s friends with Taiga who likes Kitamura who’s friends with Rtyuji who has an interesting relationship developing with Ami, Kitamura’s friend as well as Taiga. Who knew five teenagers could be this engaging.

Again the story is not original in conept but nails ‘it’ in how the characters interact, their personalities and the situations they are placed in. The settings are standard fare also with a school fare, sports competition, beach trip and first encounters. Fans of this anime type know who you are and the genre does not get much better than Toradora! Relationships and awkward encounters mixed with humor, emotion, anger and love … it’s a great formula.

The Animation & Design – Beautiful character design that keeps it real. Characters are not all overly anime in their look (big eyes, breast, legs, etc) but rather these are teenagers and their design reflects as much. The source of issue for both Ryuji and Taiga come direct from their eyes and height respectively and of course the fact Ami’s a model play direct into her design. Every outfit, uniform and setting is real world which allows the viewer to focus on the relationships and not a bad design decision. This design is brought together with good animation that again does not draw away from the characters and story in either a good or bad way. The viewer is watching school age kids go through their growth and it’s as natural as any sitcom … minus the few strange dream sequences. Favorite design for me is Taiga due in large part to her attitude, what a great match.

The Voicework & Music – The opening theme, Pre-Parade, is great and set to animation sequences that will actually excite the viewer for the story to come. It’s a beautiful mix of characters, color and logo design that will have fans singing along … if you sing Japanese. The ending theme, Vanilla Salt, is a slower pace with less animation but a catchy beat and all main characters accounted for. Again great use of color and white space. The voice work is outstanding but all in Japansee. Did NIS make the sacrifice on an English voice cast to offer more extras? We’ll look for an answer on this but be warned you will be reading a lot whilte watching. There was a time when the Japanese track was always, ALWAYS, better than the English version but those days are done. Voice talent here in the states is quite excellent now and would do nothing but enhance Toradora! for the fringe anime fan. I mean if a Prinny gets the English treatment why not the Palm-Top Tiger?

Special Edition Includes – Besides two DVD’s full of 13 great episodes, fans also receive clean opening and closing sequences and some bonus food completion animations. The box is larger due to the included full color, hardcover art book episode guide. This book shows off the beautiful design of Toradora! as well as an episode summary, key terms, character relationship maps, cast interviews and … well that’s it but what a great package.

Overall what’s not to love? The one gripe, same with Persona: Trinity Soul, is the lack of English audio. For me, no problem, I’ll read along and I urge the same from you. If you’re a fan of teenage relationship anime mixing every range of emotion then Toradora! is a must for you. The package does include a beautiful art book and great packaging along with 13 episodes but it’s not cheap, hence the term premium. Shop around to find the best deal but don’t pass on Toradora! NIS America is doing a fine job delivering anime. True fans will love these sets and the overall value while casual fans will need to take a hard look and decide if it’s for them.

Dragon Ball Season 5 DVD Impression

Dragon Ball Season 5 on DVD from FUNimation is a must have for DBZ fans. This season is the bridge from a young Goku to the insane action to come in DBZ and as quickly as Goku grows so does the series. So what happens to make this fifth season of Dragon Ball so memorable, let’s take a look.

After defeating King Piccolo the group recovers and rest while mourning the loss of close friends. But all is not lost as Goku soon learns from Koren that he can revive the Eternal Dragon and thus his friends by travelling to see the Guardian of Earth Kami. Goku makes the journey and agrees to undertake three years of training with Mr. Popo and Kami in order for the Eternal Dragon and his friends to be revived. Kami is a bit of a surprise for Goku as his and Piccolo’s origin is revealed and preparation for the next martial arts tournament begins. Goku now knows that Piccolo Jr. will be there and it’s another battle for the fate of the planet. Training complete a more grown-up Goku meets up with his friends as well as foes old and new at the tournament which takes the destruction to new levels thanks to Jr. As the battle concludes Goku sets out to marry Chi Chi and fulfill his childhood promise of marriage but a little fire is in the way.

So there you go, one tournament over, another set of training, another tournament and a marriage. Good times but not the reason for DBZ fans to dive in. What makes this a must for DBZ fans is it is Dragon Ball Z lite, like a pilot episode of a TV show … a long one but concept holds true. Dragon Ball had a heavy focus on searching for the Dragon Balls, something not done too much in season 5. The tournament is front and center again, as is training but it’s the Z style/trends this takes on that is worth mention. No longer are the fighters doing Roshi training or even Korin but now there is Kami. Training in the Time Room, going to the past, using energy and flying … these are Z styles of fighting not seen too much in DB. The look and fell, Goku is older, Chi Chi is older … all the fighters are older and set in the manner they will appear in DBZ and as bad as King Piccolo was, Piccolo Jr. brings that true bad guy center stage with the battle he brings. Another Z trend is the case of an old enemy that was tough to be coming back and being whupped up on but good. This would be Cyborg Tao, just wait till you see what Tien does to him. Aliens in the room, a nice hint at future. Hero tells Yamcha while fighting him he’s an alien, Hero being Kami in disguises trying to stop Jr. (Piccolo). Well that comment carries so much unseen weight as Kami and Piccolo are aliens and the Z Saiyans (Goku) are aliens, a nice nod to the future when the battle for earth is carried out by aliens and ½ humans, good times. The tail is also gone, just gone, and no more. Goku also shows fair play, letting Piccolo live which has huge impact on Z and is not the last time a Z fighter lets an adversary live. The battles are also way over the top with more special moves, faster fighting and more destruction. Its Dragon Ball Z lite folks.

Finally the biggest reason for DBZ fans to dig in and dig in deep is it’s new. I’ve seen all the original VHS, DVD, DVD re-release, Z Box, Kai and on and on so many times. I know the DBZ storyline, battles and action but I did not know this full battle. It’s not kiddie, it’s not young Goku (the whole time) it’s much much more, it’s Dragon Ball as it bridges the gap to Dragon Ball Z and it’s so refreshing. The animation may be dated but the voice acting and memorable characters are top notch as is the action. Not to be missed, did I mention this before? Not to be missed by any DBZ fan, it’s great and just what I was hoping it would be.