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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Front Mission Evolved on PS3 Impression

A new direction for Front Mission with Evolved

The Front Mission franchise is one of Square Enix hidden gems. This is not due to limited exposure but rather the genre it falls under. Strategy role-playing games (S-RPG) require hours of dedication, customization of characters/vehicles and the replaying of battles lost due to slight miscalculations. Time intensive and detailed is what Front Mission is all about. The mech (Wanzer) based franchise has always been solid so when a third-person action game was announced fans of the franchise and gamers in general were left to wonder ‘what’s up’? The answer is Front Mission Evolved. Taking a franchise out of its comfort zone is risky (ask Mortal Kombat and Tekken) so the question is will Square Enix benefit from moving out of the S-RPG arena and into third-person action? Let’s take a look.

Gameplay – The future, corporate and political strife, battle with giant mechs called Wanzers, mucho customization. Welcome to Front Mission Evolved where gamers take control of a Wanzer (mech) in third-person view and fight their way from objective to objective and checkpoint to checkpoint. The story, characters and settings just serve as window dressing for what’s a deep Wanzer customization exercise, something fans of the franchise in its original format will be very familiar with. The series moves into a very, very Armored Core direction with core multiplayer components in place. The Wanzers feel too slow and heavy at times and while there are boost abilities the initial experience can be a bit draining. Customization takes to a new level for the franchise as gamers have control over the weapons they equip in battles and can feel the pleasure of a well placed shot or blunt trauma beatdown. There are also on foot segments that … well let’s not talk about those, why get out of a powerful Wanzer.

Graphics – The stars of the show; the Wanzers. These mechs look great, detailed and can be customized to no end. Sadly this is the shining graphic achievement in Front Mission Evolved as the environments are bland and fairly standard destroyed city/base/land settings while the characters are generic and not very eye catching. Wanzers great, customization great, everything else so-so.

Sound – Lots of things blowing up but good. The soundtrack blends into the background without much fanfare while the weapons, Wanzer and overall destructive sounds take center stage and do a good job along the way. The voice work is overacted at times but fits the overly political meets personal story. Listen, Front Mission is all about customization and action and the sound delivers what’s needed on this front.

Design – Taking a solid S-RPG and moving it into a very Armored Core format works and it feels much like Armored Core. The amount of customization and Wanzer design is great and should please series fans but the ‘first-stab’ at a detailed third-person environment falls flat. Nothing really grabs the gamer as outstanding in the overall design.

Miscellaneous – Titles like Mortal Kombat and Tekken have tried to move outside their normal genre and failed but Square Enix seems to have found a nice middle ground with Front Mission Evolved. The move works and while not spectacular this is a good first offering in a lacking genre (mech genre folks, mech)

Overall Front Mission Evolved is not a bad game by any stretch. It’s the first romp into a new format for an established franchise that works fairly well. The Wanzer’s controls are tight, mechs look good and are very deeply customizable but the story, characters and environments are bland and need work. A good first effort that should not turn off franchise fans but will turn off S-RPG fans for obvious reasons. In a deep holiday seasons there are limits on mech action which is good for Front Mission Evolved, so it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halo: Reach Impression


Halo: Reach is the peak of Spartan gaming

Teased with ‘other’ Spartans in Halo Wars and ODST troopers in Halo ODST gamers finally get a chance to step into the Mjolnir of really real Spartans, ones they’ve read about in Halo: The Fall of Reach and Halo: Ghost of Onyx (just to name two novels). Yes, Halo: Reach for Xbox 360 has been out for a few weeks and yes it’s fricking sweet but does it warrant new fans to finally take a look? Is there enough steam for series fans? Is this just a touched up ODST? Fine questions all, let’s get cracking on answering.

Gameplay – Long established, Reach is a first-person shooter with vehicular piloting/shooting thrown in. In these moments the action switches to a third-person view for driving/flying/shooting assistance. Fans and even noobs know what to expected from the core gameplay that is oh so polished. Ever movement, button press, action feels refined thanks to the history of this gaming engine and the development team. The new flying segments feel like a natural upgrade also. The multiplayer shines with a hefty offering of match types and will keeps fans playing for months. The campaign mode fires up and never lets down from the word go with action that transitions quickly from (rare) skirmishes to the all out invasion that is the tale of Reach. It’s a sad tale but one gamers will dig while the customization on multiplayer means no more canned teams/unit types, it’s all about upgrading this time around.

Graphics – Best looking game on 360? Top 3 no doubt but close to the best as the levels look amazing, offer a sense of scale that is breathtaking especially when the full scope of the invasion is digested by gamers. Every Covenant has received a facelift and the level of detail is spectacular even on items in the distance. The Spartans of Noble team look amazing and show that there is more than just Master Chief in this group of bad mo-fo’s.

Sound – As iconic as Star Wars and Mario, yes the compositions of Marty O’Donnell amaze and set the stage with sweeping tunes that excite the action and highlight the despair. Reach is a soundtrack to be owned. The voice work is outstanding and breathes life into these godlike figures in the same manner as the novels do. They are not all mission, order driven machines as Master Chief is (mostly that is).

Design – Single player campaign mixes up the action in ways no other Halo has by taking gamers seamlessly from action type to action type and back. Sitting in a turret then down on the ground and up in zero-g. Its seamless folks, very, very well done, great design here. The multiplayer creation options have been upgraded so grading the design here is pointless as it’s on the gamer to stretch the limits as few other games allow. A rock solid single player experience with one of the deepest, most polished multiplayer … that’s solid gaming design that a title like Reach needs to deliver.

Miscellaneous – Reach, a major blow to the mankind that is told in Halo: The Fall of Reach from Tor Books. In this tale of Master Chief’s rise the story of what happens planet side is only touched on and this epic battle is referenced so many times in other Halo novels, comics, animation and games. Finally getting a chance to go planet side, to see what happens is epic and sad. To fully experience the emotion of the single player campaign the other Halo media types need to be digested, this is the true Halo experience.

Overall Halo: Reach answers yes (and one no) to all the questions above and then some. Those yet to taste the Halo universe are provide a gorgeous, deep and engaging title that provides all the back-story needed and actually takes place before the first Halo on Xbox. The multiplayer is polished and amazing; this is really the pinnacle of Halo so jump in fresh. For series fans what is there to complain about? Go ahead, list complaints as there are no real ones. The formula has been taken through Halo 1-3, ODST and is now just a polished beast of a game. No, ODST is not in the house. While a fun romp ODST was all about the average man and what fun is that when there are planet invading scenarios and super soldiers to take command of.

Halo: Reach is a must have for all age appropriate gamers that own an Xbox 360. Outstanding single player meets deep multiplayer in one of the must have titles in 2010 and beyond. Yup, that good.

Disney's Epic Mickey Gameplay Trailer

Take a look at some of Mickey's Epic action on the Nintendo Wii

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Star Wars: The Old Republic Dark Horse comic Impression


Dark Horse provides the prequel comic for BioWare’s upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic

Even with a game like Star Wars: The Old Republic which will be full of history and back-story there is always room for more outlets to tell the tale. Enter Dark Horse and their three issue Star Wars: The Old Republic: Threat of Peace comic which introduces the main players, conspiracies and a few settings in which gamers will immerse themselves. The question is why should gamers care, what is the point of reading these comics? What about the comics themselves? How does the art stack up, the characters and writing, all solid or no? Well, let’s take a look.

The Story – After centuries spent on the outer reaches of the galaxy the Sith Empire has returned to wage war on the Jedi and the Senate they serve. With both sides spread across the galaxy engaging in battle that ends in stalemates the Sith Dark Council decides to extend an offer of peace to the Galactic Senate. The question is can it be trusted or is the ensuing cease fire just a way for the Sith to move their forces in secret? The two sides meet on Alderaan to discuss the treaty but not everyone involved believes the proposition. As Sith Lords with their own agenda invade Corusant many are swept up in conspiracy filled agendas. As the war begins anew Jedi and Sith will clash with bounty hunters and senate soldiers thrown into the fray and nothing in the Old Republic is safe.

High level view of the story setting the stage but the story does much more than by introducing the key players in the upcoming BioWare game. Meeting Jedi Satele Shan, Bounty Hunter Braden and Lt. Tavis makes these books worth the read. These are just three of the characters, main ones in these comics, that set the stage for what to expect in The Old Republic. They show a few of the character classes, how they interact and how unique this game will be. Different personalities, agendas, settings … it’s all laid out here for fans itching to get into the game. The comics do a good job of setting the stage for such a grand story.

The Design & Art – The look and feel of the Old Republic has been established for years and seen in the Knights of the Old Republic games and comics. Jedi, Sith, troopers and bounty hunters all have unique attributes within a set mold and this can also be expected of the game. The art is very, very solid with a realistic look to each character and setting. TOR won’t win any awards on its art but it gets the job done and looks way better than some of the previous Star Wars comic art. Good effort and shows Dark Horse did not mail it in on this series to make a buck.

Why Gamers Should Care – Characters, planets, settings, design, story … the beginning for The Old Republic video game. When it comes to a game like TOR fans expect an engaging story, which they will get, but having a chance to expand that story in a good comic, well that just can’t be missed.

Overall having read prior Dark Horse Star Wars comics and seen the variety of art from poor to outstanding, The Old Republic finds a nice niche above middle ground. The story is solid but the game will be needed to complete it while the art is better than average. There is solid pacing and readers get a taste of all aspects of conspiracy in TOR. The game is going to be outstanding and the comic has set the stage.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow on PS3 Impression

A solid 3D Castlevania rocks the PlayStation 3 with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Is it possible for a new Castlevania to fly under the radar? It seems like due to past failures of moving Castlevania into 3D the new adventure, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, did not get the pub it deserves. This is a solid 3D outing for the franchise and while it has its issues and much newness for the franchise it’s a solid game that any third-person fan-boy can dig, regardless of background. What makes this a solid entry for gamers to take on this Halloween season, let’s take a look.

Gameplay – It’s a new take on Castlevania in 3D, done right and taken outside the castle. Fans of God of War, Dante’s Inferno and Bayonetta will feel right at home in this third-person adventure. Gamers assume the role of Gabriel, a man on a mission and sadness in his heart, one that sees him taking on the tides of darkness sweeping the globe. Environments range from frozen winter to swamps full of poisonous mist and of course castles. A handy cross/whip which can be upgraded is the weapon of choice with secondary weapons supported (love daggers and holy water) while Gabriel can also wield magic. Gabriel is a Belmont, one out to kill the Dark Lords, not only the Drac we love. Know this gamers, Lords of Shadow is a new entry in the franchise not a revamp of what’s been done before so enjoy the ties to the franchise past but get ready for a truly next-gen 3D adventure that will devour hours and days of gameplay time.

Graphics – Characters retain a very Castlevania look while the settings are unique, detailed and luscious to traverse. The real world mergers with the land of old gods, like Pan, in settings that need to be experienced in true HD. The cut-scenes look outstanding which is fitting as everything about this game looks good, really solid.

Sound – Haunting and oh so delicious. Patrick Stewart delivers an audio feast while Gabriel shows the emotion and accent needed. As good as the voice acting is the score is a mixture of gothic sadness, mystery and Celtic lore weaved beautifully together. The lack of sound also helps to set the mood as all that can be heard is nature. The standard for Castlevania was set with Symphony of the Night but for the first time since another Castlevania is setting new standards.

Design – Easy to call this a God of War clone but this is not a knock. There are well used timed events and amazingly fun creature designs. Hack and slash, scale giant beast and dodge while enjoying the best 3D Castlevania yet. While this last comment may not be saying much given Castlevania’s history in 3D, Lords of Shadow finally realizes what the franchise should be in 3D. Including Kojima Productions was a brilliant move as was taking a good portion of the adventure outdoors in levels that just beg to be replayed with multiple paths and percentages to achieve completion.

Miscellaneous – Life if good for Castlevania fans. Not only do they get the solid Lords of Shadow but console gamers can download and play with a buddy in Castlevania: Harmony of Despair and iPhone owners can put a puzzling spin on the franchise with Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night. These two titles offer a new take on the excellent franchise. Jump online with Harmony of Despair and fight with friends, strangers or nobody in boss oriented levels then fire up the iPhone for some puzzle battles set to Alucard’s adventures in the ol’ castle. Addictive and oh so fun.

Overall Gabriel don’t need to collect no stinking items or do much exploring. He needs to upgrade his weapons, take the most obvious path to complete his objective and look visually stunning doing it. It’s Castlevania but pulls nice slices from many awesome games such as God of War and pulls it off gracefully. The mixture of established gaming elements weaved into a decent story, outstanding voice acting and a visual feast offers gamers a great chance to turn it off and enjoy a truly enjoyable game. While not perfect Lords of Shadow delivers in so many ways. This gamer loves Castlevania but any gamer can love Lords of Shadow.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Spice and Wolf Season 1 DVD Impression


FUNimation serves up an anime about commerce and wolf spirits

Can an anime that sounds more like a backwoods cooking recipe really be that engaging? Spice and Wolf Season 1 on DVD from FUNimation is an interesting bird as it gets into some interesting merchant politics then tosses in … well let’s take a look shall we.

Lawrence comes and goes, taking his goods to the proper location for the most profit. He’s a merchant and must be shrewd in his dealings utilizing a keen business sense to stay in the black and he gets a bit of assistance. During an annual seasonal festival Lawrence stumbles across a naked girl with the ears and tail of a wolf and before he knows it he has a new partner, the harvest goddess Holo. The two strike an agreement that will see Holo travel with Lawrence to her northern home. Their journey sees the two encounter shady business dealings, the devaluing of certain materials along with a mob out for Holo’s head. Being setup to fail by corrupt business partners Lawrence and Holo must take desperate measures to avoid imprisonment. The journey is just beginning for this unlikely pair nicknamed Spice and Wolf.

First thing that may put viewers off about this series is the setting. A travelling merchant is not the most engaging pitch angle for an anime. Thing is in a very odd way it works. The strong animation, detail and character design helps as does solid voice acting but it’s the story that is both curious and engaging. Lawrence gets into pretty vivid detail on trading, the life of a merchant, what to beware of; how gold can be devalued … it’s a grand lesson that does not always feel entertaining. Think of this as the episode of a sports anime where they explain the rules. Just like a sports anime the action picks up which is the other half of the quirkiness. The shady business dealings are the fuel but Holo’s transformations are the fire. She is a wolf deity and can take on a pretty savage form, which she does to great effect. So viewers get a dose of trading teaching mixed in with some more super natural adventuring. Wrap this up with a budding relationship, a friendly bond, and you get one unique anime.

I don’t really know how to categorize Spice and Wolf. I love the animation quality and voice work but the odd pacing keeps throwing me off. Is it going to go all super natural with cool action or become a merchant simulation, or a relationship cross specials? I’d recommended checking out 1-2 episodes online before purchasing. It’s not a bad anime by any stretch but rather it’s unique.

Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: Cosmic Destruction on DS Impression

A gamer’s look at Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: Cosmic Destruction for the Nintendo DS

Licensed games are 100% created with the goal of targeting and reaching that core fan base. Give them an interactive experience with the characters and worlds they love. Another goal of these titles is to reach non-franchise fans, those gamers interested in the genre from fighting games to action games. Dragon Ball Z introduced fighting fans to a great anime gaming experience while the recent Batman: Arkham Asylum takes the Dark Knight into the realm of Game of the Year, but there are the others. Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: Cosmic Destruction for the Nintendo DS falls into the first category as an action game. Fans will dig many of the features and story but for those unfamiliar with young master Tenison and his past, well what is there to love? Let’s take a look.

Gameplay – Ben has the new Ultimatrix with 15 new alien forms and plenty of bad guys to test them out on. Run right, left, jump/fly up and down and use a variety of powers to move through levels and beat said bad guys. This is old school gaming that utilizes the DS touch screen to change and activate powers/aliens. The story centers around moving around the globe to collect Galvan artifacts that (wait for it) will help save the world. It’s like playing an episode of Ben 10 Ultimate Alien.

Graphics – Images pulled from the cartoon look sharp but the 3D on 2D in-game characters and bad guys do resemble their on screen counterparts but lack detail and move awkwardly. The environments have some cool depth effects but are generic even in the globe spanning locations of Tokyo, Paris and Rome.

Sound – Limited voicework from the cartoon with not spectacular but not bad sounds adds up to a blah and bland soundtrack. Put on the earphones and enjoy some MP3 tunes instead of this audio experience.

Design – Fairly basic level design that does a good job making the gamer utilize Ben’s various powers. The overall look and feel of the game is already established so no design notes there.

Miscellaneous – For fans it’s gotta be the new storyline penned by the same folks responsible for the cartoon. Can’t go wrong with new content in a series fans love.

Overall Ben 10 fans, the young ones, will enjoy this extension of the franchise. There are enough DS touch screen uses to keep the hand movement is interesting and the unique story is like a bonus episode. Non fans should not bother as there is not back-story on established characters and the real juice in this cart is taking control of Ben and seeing familiar faces from the cartoon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Marvel Bishoujo from Kotobukiya in 2011


Wonder Woman and Rogue Highlight some amazing Kotobukiya 2011 statues

Coming next year from Kotobukiya are a few very, very sweet Marvel, DC and Star Wars figures. These are incredible statues, not action figures, but pieces to display. Enjoy the images below and check out the following product details. I’ve reviewed these in the past and am amazed at the quality and materials used.

A Kotobukiya Japanese import! Celebrating this year’s 75th Anniversary of DC Comics, the DC Comics Bishoujo Collection (combining DC’s super heroines and villains with traditional Japanese styling’s) continues with the prettiest member of DC’s “Trinity” Wonder Woman! Since her comic book debut in 1941, Princess Diana has been an icon of female power, intelligence, and grace. Arriving in “man’s world” from the Amazonian island home of Themyscira, Diana donned a red, white and blue costume to protect the world as Wonder Woman! The timeless character appears for the first time in the Japanese bishoujo (pretty girl) style inspired by Japan’s renowned illustrator Shunya Yamashita.

Joining the Gotham City duo of Batgirl and Catwoman in the DC Comics Bishoujo Collection, Wonder Woman is truly a force to be reckoned with. The every-dynamic Amazon stands surrounded by her full panoply of weapons and equipment, ready to face any threat. Dressed in her iconic and colorful costume, the muscular and buxom Wonder Woman shows plenty of skin and looks sexier than ever! Diana holds her magical Lasso of Truth in both hands, ready to capture you and force you to tell her all your secrets. As with her compatriots, Wonder Woman has an incredible Bishoujo-styled face which is framed perfectly by her flowing long black hair and tiara.

Wonder Woman is constructed of high-quality PVC plastic and stands just over 9 inches tall (in the magnificent 1/7 scale) atop an exclusive Amazonian base complete with her spears, shield, cape, and helmet! No Bishoujo collection will be complete without her. Available in May.

X-Force X-23 Fine Art Status
A Kotobukiya Japanese import! X-Force is the hottest mutant team right now in the Marvel Universe, with the current launch of Uncanny X-Force burning up the shelves everywhere. Teaming up the most vicious and morally flexible heroes, Wolverine leads the ultimate strike force willing to do anything, at any time to protect the world’s mutant population. Kotobukiya is proud to present the first member of an all-new X-Force lineup of Fine Art Statues, X-23! Appearing first in the television series X-Men: Evolution in 2003, X-23 was later introduced to the Marvel Comics universe. She is no less than a female clone of Wolverine, created to be a deadly weapon and outfitted with adamantium-coated claws in her hands and feet! After discovering her true identity and joining the good guys, Laura has become a key member of X-Force.

The deadly mutant is mission-ready, scouting out her target before a precision strike. Standing ever alert, X-23 wears her current X-Force uniform complete with skin-tight suit (that leaves her midriff bare), belt, bracelet, and intricately laced boots. Laura’s trademark weapons, her claws, are unsheathed; two stand out from each hand while a solitary spur extends from her left foot. The ultra smooth adamantium blades stand out in stark contrast to the intricate sculpting and texture of her body, complete with musculature and clothing effects. The expert tracker comes with two heads so you can display her as you prefer: wearing her mask and a teeth-baring grin or sans mask and a more serene look on her face!

Sculpted by Erick Sosa, X-23 stands approximately 11 inches tall (1/6 scale) perched atop a New York City building rooftop. Catch her now, because she is just the first a new X-Force series bringing your favorite mutants to life! Available in May.

X-Men Danger Room Sessions Rogue Fine Art Status
A Kotobukiya Japanese import! The amazing X-Men Danger Room Sessions Fine Art Statue series continues with its fourth member and one of the most powerful mutants in existence, Rogue! Born Anna Marie in Mississippi, the young girl’s mutant powers first manifested during a kiss with her childhood boyfriend. Suddenly she found herself absorbing his life energy, and subsequently ran away, taking the nickname Rogue in the process. When touching a mutant, she absorbs powers in addition to memories and skills, making her incredibly powerful and incredibly dangerous. During her early career she battled the current Ms. Marvel and seemingly absorbed her flight and super strength permanently. She has been a steadfast member of various X-Men teams for years, and of course that means she’s spent quite a bit of time in the Danger Room. Ever since the early days of Marvel Comics’ mutant adventures, “X” teams have trained together in the ultra high tech facility known as the Danger Room, equipped with state of the art adaptive combat and athletics routines that challenge each participant in unique ways. The training facility has been featured prominently in X-Men comics over the years, as well as in various cartoons and the third X-Men film.

Based on a concept from the artistic pair of Manuel and Leo Silva, Rogue embodies both power and beauty. The spirited mutant is posed dynamically flying in the air, with one foot barely resting on the smashed face of her previous opponent. Meanwhile, Rogue wields a chunk of the Sentinel’s brain as a weapon, preparing to hurl it into the next one to challenge her. The mutant hero’s classic costume is beautifully recreated, with the bright green and yellow of the bodysuit standing out within her dark brown jacket. Always enthusiastic in the heat of battle, Rogue’s face is perfectly sculpted to show off her fighting spirit!

At nearly 12 inches tall, Rogue is perfectly in scale (1/6) with the other Danger Room Sessions members Wolverine, Psylocke, and Sabretooth. Sculpted by Erick Sosa, the X-Man is completed by her amazing Sentinel face base on top of a mechanical projector. Every mutant in the Danger Room Sessions series is mounted on a unique Danger Room holographic environment with translucent parts that glow with a built-in LED light in the base. Available in July.

Marvel X Black Cat Bishoujo Statue
A Kotobukiya Japanese import! Joining the rest of the amazing beauties of the Marvel Comics universe in the revolutionary Marvel X Bishoujo Collection (combining iconic super heroines and villains with traditional Japanese stylings) is the sexy sometimes ally and girlfriend of Spider-Man, Black Cat! A cat burglar by trade, Felicia Hardy has gone in and out of a life of crime to fight true evil on many occasions, including with the new Heroes for Hire. Black Cat comes to life in the Japanese Bishoujo (pretty girl) style based on original character art by illustrator Shunya Yamashita, and is the first in the series to be enlarged to the 1/7th scale.

Black Cat is one of Marvel Comics' most beloved beauties, first appearing in the pages of the Amazing Spider-Man in 1979. She is captured here in mid-leap across the skies of New York, a sultry combination of her comic book look and the bishoujo style. Leaning on one leg, Black Cat twists and balances herself in an alluring pose made all the better by her skintight costume complete with fringes at the neck, elbows, and knees. Her incredible mane of white hair flies out beside her in long tendrils that only slightly cover her striking Bishoujo-styled face (complete with authentic mask)!

Black Cat stands just over 9 inches tall (in the new Marvel x Bishoujo 1/7th scale) atop an exclusive display base consisting of a miniature building in deep perspective and an adorable plush Spider-Man. Sculpted by Takashi "GILL GILL" Tsukada, Black Cat is taking this Bishoujo line to all new heights!

Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back Darth Vader ArtFX+ Status
A Kotobukiya Japanese import! The hit line of smaller scale Star Wars ARTFX+ Statues continues with more of your favorite heroes and villains from the original films in the all new Saga Collection! Joining the initial releases of Boba Fett and the Stormtrooper 2-Pack comes none other than the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader!

Ruthless and powerful, Darth Vader stands at the ready with the knowledge that his mastery over the Force can overcome any enemy. His classic armored suit has every detail you’ve come to know and love since Empire Strikes Back was first released 30 years ago. Intricate sculpting brings out the different parts of his chest piece and belt module, while his gloves are accurately textured. Of course, the most attention to detail was put into recreating Vader’s helmet! Darth Vader has a standard stance standing tall with his hands at his belt, though he does come with bonus arm parts for alternate poses. And, like the other ARTFX+ Statues, he has magnets in his feet for display on the included base!

ARTFX+ Statues are fun-to-assemble pre-painted snap-fit kits that can be easily put together in seconds without glue or modeling skill. Darth Vader stands approximately 8 inches tall (1/10th scale) and is the perfect centerpiece for your Saga Collection! Available in May.

So there it is, some very fine looking ladies and one dark and dreary guy to light up collectors shelves everywhere in 2011. Very excited, check out more at kotous.com.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

10 Most Visually Stunning Video Games

Web Design Schools Guide checks in with an article strong in supporting video games as art. From BioShock to Mass Effect, this list of the 10 Most Visually Stunning Video Games warrants debate and is a great example of how games are just pretty. Includes video and explantaions of why each game is listed so go and check it out now ... NOW!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West on Xbox 360 Impression

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a retelling, loosely, based on the 400 year old Chinese novel Journey to the West. This spin puts games in control of a rugged young lad named Monkey as he is … enlisted to help the tech savvy Trip get home, over 300 miles away in the Western direction. As the story unfolds gamers will see a vision of America full of ruin 150 years in the future, that is if they take the journey. Will Enslaved deliver an epic adventure, let’s find out.

Gameplay – Far future, civilization in ruin, killer robots and slave traders on the prowl and gamers are put smack dab in the middle of one of these slave ships. Gamers take control of the buff, strong, agile Monkey who breaks out of his cell/capsule thanks to the escape of the tech savvy Trip. As the two escape the soon to be crashed slave ship, in New York, a unique adventure is about to begin. Gamers control the now enslaved (title, ah!) Monkey as he’s wakes from the crash. He has a slave headband, modified by Trip, on and the girl is determined to get back to her village 300 miles away. The headband is tied to Trip’s vitals, if she dies so does Monkey. Now the journey begins and gamers will be confronted with vast landscapes, killer robots and engaging puzzles. The main objective is to get from point A to B using Monkey to remove obstacles and get Trip around safe and sound. Trip is no pushover as her technological expertise allows for hacking of robots and more. There are camera and control issues but overall it’s an epic quest to get Trip home.

Graphics – The landscapes are graceful and harsh depicting the fall of civilization and emergence of nature. The settings are stunning at times which makes up for the mostly repetitive looking killer robots. The characters look good, are unique in design but when Trip’s hair melts into her shoulder, well there’s not really an excuse for that pop in/out. The game looks great in HD but it makes the little glitches (rare but there) all the more puzzling and noticeable.

Sound – The banter between Monkey and Trip starts off rough but shines in the end. Monkey carries the day in what is a solid voice acted game. The explosions, effect sounds do the job and the score has some trippy and catchy tunes, a few of which feel very suited for a lounge with Red Bull and vodka in hand (people still drink those right?)

Design – Trip holds the potential to be such an annoyance but she’s actually useful, not a burden for Monkey or gamers. She is the brains to the brawn of Monkey and creating puzzles and ways to use technology to solve them is well done and manages to stay fresh … expect for the recycled ‘Monkey lift object, Trip run under’ animations. A huge joy for this gamer was seeing the wasteland of America, a treat in post-apocalyptic movies and games. Well done, visually stunning at times and fun to navigate.

Miscellaneous – If gamers snagged a copy the Marvel published Enslaved mini comic gives a different look at the escape which opens the game as well as some background on each character. The art style in these four short stories vary and really don’t match the better design in the game but it’s a very nice accompanying piece of storytelling. The included concept art speaks to the epic landscapes found in-game.

Overall the stage is set for an epic journey with two very interesting characters, great voice acting, catchy music, beautiful landscapes, settings and graphics with one tiny little hitch. The camera and controls feel wonky, like an early preview build of the game. Monkey does not control as smoothly as a game of this billing would imply but the camera is the biggest knock since its set and limits gameplay options at times. These are neither minor, nor major annoyances from what is an overall solid and enjoyable game. Not much reason to re-journey once complete but a heck of a time on this trip with Trip and Monkey.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Metroid Other M Impression

Samus, much like Mario, dominated the 2D gaming landscape then made a successful transition to 3D, in first-person shooter mode even. Unlike Mario Samus and the Metroid franchise has been waiting for that current generation killer app, that title that takes Metroid to another level in the same manner that Galaxy launched Mario to new levels. Enter Metroid: Other M for the Nintendo Wii. Is Other M the title Metroid fans have been waiting for? Is Samus going to take the franchise into another glorious direction or will she stumble, lost in space? Let's find out shall we.

Gameplay – Picking up where Samus left off in 1994, this adventure reveals more about the woman in the suite while keeping the action expected from a Metroid title front and center in both third-person and first-person perspectives. The game unfolds as Samus investigates a distress call on a space station, encounters the Galactic Federation and reveals many key elements of her past related to both the station, the Federation and a certain captain. The game progresses in third-person mode and the first-person perspective is needed only for shooting (never mind that gamers can’t move in this mode). Yes it’s a change from the normal Metroid but so was Prime when it came out and they got the formula right.

Graphics – The environments look and feel Metroid (very alien) while ship sequences are cold in a realistic way. Creatures look familiar with some great new boss encounters and of course Samus looks amazing, best game look yet. The graphics shine, one of the better aspects of the game. The lighting effects, monster colors, environments all look great. Outside of the Super Mario Galaxy games on Wii gamers will be very hard pressed to find a better looking title on Wii.

Sound – Overall the voice work is solid with a few bossy/cheesy performances but it moves the story along. The soundtrack, background music, weapons and environment effects are so icon and sound great. Like Mario and Zelda the Metroid franchise has very iconic tunes that tie every game together. Other M is no exception and it helps gamers adapt to the new third-person, first-person hybrid gameplay. Solid sound, solid.

Design – Levels are as fun and engaging as ever with upgrades and weapons needed to advance to new levels (done by permission this time rather than finding an upgrade). The boss encounters are solid but it’s the mixture of gameplay types that warrants discussion. The move to a third-person, 3D setting is very, very welcome but mixing in first-person turn-the-Wii-controller to shoot missiles action is … interesting. At first it’s a bit tough to get a handle on but soon gamers will be running, loading, turning, firing and repeating. It’s really a love or hate aspect since it require more than just button presses. It works but could use some refinement.

Miscellaneous – The continued story of Samus. No matter where the story point’s fall this is one bounty hunter who gamers love learning more about. She’s a strong female figure with 8-bit ties to gaming’s history so why can’t she get more love?

Overall, we’re part way there when asking is Other M does for Samus what Galaxy did for Mario. It’s a great Wii effort, a fun and action packed game with many great Metroid elements (exploring, shooting) enhanced with a deeper story but it’s still not on the level of Galaxy. There are better ways to switch from third to first-person, there have to be, other than stopping and basically becoming an immobile turret. Why not allow movements in first-person with the nunchuck? This is the biggest gripe which should be noted but will not take away from a good gameplay experience that builds on the legend of one of gaming’s greatest hero’s, period.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Q3 2010 gaming report - Nintendo Wii and DS

Nintendo continues to rollout a ton of games on both the Wii and DS and while there are a number of throw away type of titles there are quite a few gems mixed into the bunch. The secret is knowing which games rock and which should be avoided. For the third quarter of 2010 both the Wii and DS had strong showings. Just how strong and are they in line with prior quarters in the types of games released, let’s take a look. 

Nintendo Wii – Traditional games! An RPG, new Metroid and some side-scrolling action … yup it’s true, the Wii is getting titles that continue to be family friendly but will please the ‘hardcore’ gamer. A traditional J-RPG, LoTR adventure and some Great One sports action surround a new Samus adventure. 
  • Club Penguin Game Day! - Collections of mini-games on Wii are in no short supply but ones with the backing of a solid online franchise are. Club Penguin is fun for all ages (cliché but true) and offers up plenty of reason to play for fans of Club Penguin. 
  • The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest - Aragorn, keeping Middle-earth relevant with a solid action adventure game that looks and controls well on the Wii and will please franchise fans. The cartoony look works surprisingly well except for spiders, spiders are just gross. 
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold - The Videogame - This side perspective 2D adventure feels more like a downloadable game but it delivers excellent gameplay, vivid graphics and great voice acting. For DC comic fans this is the Wii title to own with a large cast from the animated adventures. 
  • NHL Slapshot - Besides a great commercial, NHL Slapshot offers up fun arcade hockey with the Great One as its headliner. Perfect for the simpler style of play on the Wii. 
  • Metroid: Other M - Adding more to the history of Samus, Other M mixes in 3D gameplay and first-person shooting segments that are both brilliant and grand to play while also frustrating at times. Not to be missed by Metroid fans but also not on par with what Nintendo usually delivers on the Wii. 
  • Arc Rise Fantasia - A true J-RPG (Japanese role-playing game) on the Wii. Best played with the classic controller, Arc Rise Fantasia is a throwback to a genre that dominated the 16-bit scene and one sadly lacking on the Wii. 
  • Ivy the Kiwi - Love the visual storybook style that meshes well with platforming gaming perfect for kids and adults to share. 
Nintendo DS – Yes there are tons of puzzle games, nice mix of education games but it just seems the DS shines the best with RPG’s of all types. Three make the list below along with one of the most creative, unique puzzles series around. 
  • Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City - It's more of the same which is a good thing. The DS is perfect for mapping out dungeons and while the story is shallow this title is all about the level grinding, exploration, time killing fun many gamers grew up with. Ah the days of grids and Bards Tale. 
  • Professor Layton and the Unwound Future - Mix a great art style with decent story and outstanding mixture of puzzles and gamers get a 'must-have' for owning the DS. Professor Layton has found its niche on the DS and future releases should be watched and played ... period. 
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold - The Videogame - Old-school 2D DC Universe action set in the Brace and the Bold timeframe. Fun, great for fans, young, old ... anyone looking for a great distraction. Perfect for the Wii and one can hope this makes its way as a download on PS3 and Xbox 360. 
  • Monster Rancher DS - Innovative on PlayStation but feeling its age a bit. Anytime a game puts 'DS' on its name there's a good bet it's a direct port or slight update to the new system. Monster Rancher does have a solid following so it's worth checking out for fans but also for younger gamers who have never played before. 
  • Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies - Ninth installment in the storied franchise that just delivers the RPG goodness and beautiful Toriyama art style. Looking for a great RPG experience on DS, look no further.
Overall it was more of the same for both the Wii and DS. The Wii gets a B as it continues to rollout solid, traditional games in addition to its unique party and casual games. A better showing from Metroid would have warranted an A, but there is always Metroid: Other M+. The DS also checks in with a B. Solid titles but nothing truly game of the year worthy. Nintendo is consistent, keeps on rolling with great mixture of titles and rarely shows any drops. It’s a great time of year to be a gamer and the holidays are creeping closer.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Harmonix Releases Rock Band Music Finder Widget

To help fans keep track of all the music available through the Rock Band Music Store, Harmonix has released a new embeddable widget that shows all 2,000 songs in a variety of sortable ways, including by artist, song title, genre and decade.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Q3 2010 gaming report - PS3, Xbox 360 and PSP

Another quarter ends, another round of games get ready to be added to trade-in bins, put on holiday wish list or add themselves to a gamer’s favorite’s library. So which is it? How did the third quarter of 2010 do? The first quarter usually sees a few straggler top tier titles left over from the holidays while Q2 hits in middle summer but has recently seen a nice release list but the third quarter, this is when the holiday buzz begins. Game shows are in full swing, the weather begins to turn chilly ... in most cities at least, and gamers begin to dream of holiday shopping list. Which games in Q3 are going to make the holiday gamer list, lets take a look beginning with the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PSP and some multi-platform titles.

Multi-platform – This group of games appear on the PS3, 360, Wii, DS, PSP … not all but on any of them. They are solid games that shine on many systems so take into consideration for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 then see if they show up on other systems. 
  • Dead Rising 2 - More zombies and this time it's all about winning the game show. Can't help but think about Arnie in The Running Man.
  •  Tom Clancy's HAWX 2 - Ace Combat still rules the sky but the spelling challenged Tom Clancy combat series is gaining ground ... air.
  •  R.U.S.E. - Zoom in, zoom out (no, not a Karate Kid simulation). This World War II simulation gets gamers in close to the strategic battles and allows for sweet zooming out. A PC staple, the genre that is, and now making it's way onto console. 
  • Front Mission Evolved - Huge shift from strategic RPG to first-person, third-person hybrid marks a big, BIG change in direction for the franchise. Solid FPS but won't detract from the Halo: Reach's of the world but still a nice new mech entry that shows Square Enix will try something new and do it successfully. Now can we get a download, HD upgrade for Einhander??? 
  • BlazBlue: Continuum Shift - Under the radar, buried behind the vs. titles being put out by Capcom but BlazBlue delivers an even more refined gameplay experience than it's first entry, look amazing in HD and is just fun to play. No fighting game fan should be without. 
  •  Mafia II - Be the boss in the 1940's. It would be easy to write this off as a GTA clone but that's a true disservice. Hours of brutal mafia action await for fans of this gaming era. 
  • Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions - Truly like four games in 1 with great controls mixed into four unique Spidey universes and graphical styles. Web-heads will dig this puppy.
  • Madden NFL 11 - It's more Madden but the quicker gameplay enhances the casual gamer’s experience. Not having to pour through playbooks saves hours to time. Hardcore gamers can still dig deep into playbooks but now the other side gets a wag. 
  • Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock - Worth mentioning as Guitar Hero remains fun but now it's spaced out a bit better. Not releasing a new title every 3 weeks works for sales. 
Downloadable Games – A new section as these games are getting deeper, bigger and better. They give more life to older franchises and keep alive a gaming era long gone at a reasonable price. 
  • Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light - Lara goes all Diablo on gamers with a new buddy and gets back to fun gameplay that rocks. A great way to expand the Tomb Raider franchise without failing on a full retail game that just misses. 
  • Shank - Stylized Flash look reminiscent of Samurai Jack in style but full of blood and guts perfect for a Tarantino film. Some very cool, original visuals. 
  • DeathSpank - Lighthearted and humorous adventure that reminds this gamer of Army of Darkness in setting and humor. With one add-on already out a good download choice.
  • Space Invaders Infinity Gene - Visual amazing in HD and a great download that keeps the tired and true Space Invaders formula and just updates in all the right ways. So much fun to play. 
  • Castlevania: Harmony of Despair - Characters from across the full Castlevania gaming scope in the 2D environment perfected in Symphony of the Night. Takes a little getting used too but jumping in with friends online shows how this download shines. It's Castlevania but ... different. 
Xbox 360 – Two exclusives but one, Reach, is a beautiful piece of gaming creation that may not have received they hype a Halo 3 did but is not less a game, not even close and could be argued as better as it’s focus is on personality filled team of Spartans and not just one master.
  • Halo: Reach - How can a game with a known sad ending be so freaking amazing? Master Chief may be the face of the franchise but he was not the only Spartan. This tale of Noble team gives just a taste of the story telling goodness that lives in the novels ... plot holes aside. 
  • Crackdown 2 - More like a 1.5 than a true sequel gamers get the same gameplay with a few different settings (zombie things vs. gangs). Still a lot of fun with tons of achievements but nothing groundbreaking. 
PlayStation 3 – Watch out Wii, there’s a new motion control in town and it’s in HD. The big news is the PlayStation Move and the holidays will tell the patch this new controller is to take. With time to get games out on market and the possibility of downloadable, cheaper, motion games the sky is the limit for Sony. 
  • PlayStation Move & Sports Champions - Motion controls are solid and familiar (thanks Wii). While there are other titles out, Sports Champions is the flavor to talk about with a variety of gameplay styles and controller uses. While there are many who will say this is Wii on PS3, just wait until developers get a handle for how to mix in traditional gameplay with these new controls and all with the power of PS3. S.O.C.O.M. is going to be sick (we hope, please let it be sick).
  • Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland - Like RPG's? Like mixing and matching things? Like HD games? Guess this is the game for you as Atelier offers up alchematic fun on the PS3 with anime inspired visuals and gameplay that is traditional RPG. 
PSP – Whew, longer list this quarter but one that would usually shorten when getting to the PSP … but not so now. The PSP saw some it’s best titles to date and quite a few of them. There is a heavy RPG flavor but it’s one that taste oh so delicious.
  • Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep - Fans of the franchise will LOVE Birth by Sleep. Previous games are explained and the three story arcs unfold with great gameplay and beautiful graphics. The voicework and soundtrack is splendid. Square Enix knows how to make PSP games. 
  • Valkyria Chronicles II - The sequel to the PS3 gem retains the same gameplay and graphical look while continuing the story. Great follow-up.
  •  Ace Combat: Joint Assault - Ace Combat on the go with better graphics and more planes. 
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable - An upgrade to the PS2 original (and FES expansion). Now play as a boy or girl and guide the action much faster while engaging in more social, new social, interactions. This is still one of the best RPG's on the market with beautiful character design and a kicking soundtrack. Love Persona.
  • Ys Seven - Action role-playing on the PSP yet again with another Ys release. In the same manner that DragonQuest is finally getting proper release in the states so now is Ys which has long been a solid franchise in Japan. The next title is already scheduled and with bonus soundtrack and art book this is not a title to miss. 
  • Cladun: This is an RPG - Old-school RPG in look, feel ... everything but dang if it's not a fun download for the PSP. 
Overall this is going to be one hell of a holiday season based on the releases in this three month window. With more great titles to come in Q4 and new controllers to expand gaming the console war is in full swing and gamers win. The Xbox 360 gets an A for a solid Halo: Reach release and a slew of solid multi-platform titles while the PlayStation 3 clocks in with a B+ thanks to the creativity of Move and better downloadable games (which also helped 360). The PSP is an A with such a strong showing. High grades all around and much to be seen in Q4, but before we get there a look at Nintendo Wii and DS is needed.

New GameStop Promo’s for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and Call of Duty: Black Ops

As the air begins to chill and leaves change color the season for holiday game shopping begins. With the close of the third quarter (July, August, September) gamers are in the home stretch of creating their holiday gaming wish list, something retailers begin to salivate about. How to entice? How to get a get a pre-order? The answer is no longer just advertising, now it’s about free content, CD’s, in-game exclusives and even social media give-aways. GameStop and Amazon lead the charge in this aspect and going forward we will take a look at these new promos as they come across. While not every deal will be covered we will hit unique ones and what they offer. So without further waiting let the holiday enticements begin.

Assassin’s Creed Project Legacy – A social role-playing game on Facebook. How’s it work? Gamers play on Facebook and sync with their console version of the game to unlock hidden features. This includes 25 exclusive missions in Assassin’s Creed Project Legacy which is part of the PC to console sync and console to PC sync. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood launches for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on November 16, 2010, so this gives fans a chance to get into the universe a bit early.

What’s the appeal? Besides being available to gamers early it gives much insight into the interesting world of Assassin’s Creed. A very nice teaser for fans who of course also get a nice more traditional pre-order in the form of an exclusive multiplayer character, Harlequin (at GameStop). So a chance to play online now in the Assassin’s Creed universe with un-lockable, good times and great use of social media.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Sweepstakes – Rewarded for doing a pre-order either in-store or online. CoD has a very solid, loyal following and when they pre-order they get the chance to win one of more than one million CoD: Black Ops inspired prizes, very solid reward. This runs through November 9th and from an outsiders view

What’s the appeal? Easy actually as gamers are already pre-ordering this soon to be sick title so why not win some swag. The prizes change every day and are plain sick (prestige edition PS3) to cool (shoulder bag). A bit tricky for the gift givers so don’t throw out that receipt, it’s needed to enter.

The season is here, let the enticements begin.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Manga for the Beginner Shoujo Impression

Growing up, the aspiring comic artist I was I dabbled in manga style animation thanks in large part to series such as Robotech and Voltron. There were a number of sources to learn such as a Robotech specific comic book format ‘learning’ comic but nothing, nothing on the level of Manga for the Beginner Shoujo by Christopher Hart. Printed with very high quality paper this is not just a learning guide for one of the most popular forms of manga but one heck of a reference guide to the largely female audience shoujo style. So what does Christopher Hart teach aspiring shoujo artist? Let’s take a look

What makes up a great learning and reference book … chapter breakdown time …

Introduction – There’s more than just manga? Yup, shoujo is a very specific type of manga with a targeted audience. Learn about it in this chapter that does a solid job explaining the genre without using examples (thus showing favoritism).

The Shoujo Face – Nine sections that outline the difference in shoujo style faces vs. other manga styles then break down the eyes, profile views of the face, hair, expressions and even hats. A great review and explanation of how to create that unique look that is shoujo.

Female Bodies and Motion – Nailed the head, now time to get the body type right and incorporate the proper pose and overall shoujo look. Five unique sections to get started.

The Shoujo Girls – For the fan-boy in all of us, the breakdown of shoujo character types. Cat-girls, magical girl, tennis player, fairy, sci-fi, evil and a few more types round out nine total girl types. Just as with the previous two sections there are explanations of each section, this time centered around the types of girls. See how to draw the basic body style then fill in detail and gets tons of tips along the way.

The Shoujo Boys – Higher level categories that tackle the young teen, older teen and super-elegant boy types found in shoujo manga. From sporty to fantasy character types the boy get the same breakdown as the girls with detailed explanations. Great counterbalance to the shoujo girls section.

The Key to Successful Drawing – Manga for the Beginner Shoujo doesn’t just show fans how to draw but takes it to a new level with the tips provided. While there have been tips in every section so far they’ve been confined to the subject at hand. This chapter advises on the intricacies of how to make drawings more engaging. Have a character do a secondary action, don’t just walk but walk and talk on a phone. Bring characters to life so all the hard work put into the design of the character is not wasted on them standing around. Great resource that needs to be studied and not just by shoujo artist.

Putting it all Together – In a sense yes, but could also have been called ‘to be continued’. Now that all the intricacies of shoujo manga have been covered it’s really up to the artist to determine the story, settings and layout. This chapter will help with these details by giving tips, not a true blueprint but tips that any artist can find handy.

Overall I loved Manga for the Beginner Shoujo. I no longer fool myself with dreams of being an artist but I do love the genre and this is now one of my favorite reference guides on the genre. Fans of shoujo manga will love the explanations of the genre while those with talent can take their creations to the next level. It’s a great teaching guide Mr. Hart has created and a beautiful reference guide for any manga fan.

Corpse Princess Shikabane Hime DVD Impression

Despite an odd title, Corpse Princess Shikabane Hime from FUNimation is one rock solid anime full of mature action that's on par with both Tokyo Majin and Persona: Trinity Soul in it's look, feel and overall storytelling. The title may sound like a B-movie being a princess of corpses and all but the title is anything but. Why is judging a book by its cover bad for this shikabane hunter, lets take a look.

Die with strong enough regrets and it's possible to be reborn as a shikabane, a spirit that's evil an twisted, needing to be wiped out before humans are hurt or worse. Enter Makina Hoshino, a living dead girl also referred to as a Shikabane Hime. Paired with a Buddhist priest, Keisei Tagami, Makina hunts down shikabane and eliminates them in order to gain access to heaven. By killing, or re-killing 108 shikabane then Makina, and those like her can enter heaven. There are more like Makina, shikabane themselves but ones who have kept part of their humanity in order to hunt. MAC-11 machine guns are Makina's weapon of choice as firepower to the brain is the one way to destroy other shikabane. Things get complicated for Makina as Keisei's younger brother (not by blood) Ouri Kagami soon encounters her in battle and is not scared. The two begin to grow closer as conspiracies grow, come to light around all the contracted monks, their shikabane hime and a deadly group called the Seven Stars. The origins and truth behind these corpse princesses will come to light and for those involved life, and death will never be the same.

Damn I want to tell you more. This series starts with a narrower look at Makina and Ouri but quickly expands to incorporate the larger Contracted Monk organization, multiple shikabane hime, a few freelance monks and of course the Seven Stars. The story also shifts to place Ouri front and center as star 1A to the 1B that is Makina. It does not get overly complicated but viewers will need to play attention. The story ramps up at a very nice pace introducing characters and concepts then unfolds into the larger paranormal world. Much like Tokyo Majin and Persona: Trinity Soul, Corpse Princess has a deep and dark past and various layers of gray on factions and their purpose. The characters are varied and interesting. The art style looks simple at first but delivers the action. The action gets pretty insane at times with great sequences of acrobatics and gun battles. The character designs are interesting as they are not as 'cool' as the series mentioned but still have an air of bad-ass about them that is enhanced due to the story and action.

Overall, while I found the title Corpse Princess a bit off this was an amazing and awesome viewing experience. The story made me want more, the outcomes and plot points are anything but predictable. The characters are awesome with good back-story and solid design while the action keeps going throughout the series. Rock solid but not lacking on the violence, so keep this in mind when purchasing. Highly recommended.

Initial D First Stage DVD Impression

Initial D First Stage on DVD is by no means a brand new series, but seeing release recently by FUNimation made this anime fan pick up a genre long passed over and wow am I happy. Simple put this series is about street racing, specifically mountain-pass drift street racing. So why after all these years am I geeked for Initial D? The story centers around the mentioned street racing and how teenage Takumi Fujiwara gets involved in the underground battles. Takumi's father owns a tofu story and since he was young Takumi has been making the evening deliveries. Over the years, without knowing it, he's honed his driving skills. Once evening another racer, Keisuke Takahashi of the Red Suns racing team sees and challenges the Ghost of Akina (name given to the unknown Takumi). Urged by his friends and former street racing father, Takumi takes part in the race using is AE Eight-Six. Knowing the mountain like the back of his hand Takumi wins but the challenges are just beginning. Welcome to the world of drift street racing Takumi, could you be the best?

Simple concept, yes but one executed awesomely. Funny thing is the animation, character design are dated and feel dated. Like watching some Lupin from back in the day and even looking at anime of the late 90's, Initial D was not that pretty to look at. The cars are done with some early animation meets computer stuff (yes, stuff is a technical term). So I've just said the animation and character design is not that great while the story is pretty straightforward, so what gives? Why am I geeked about Initial D? The flow folks, the flow! The Euro inspired J-pop, J-rap music is still sick and matches the racing action perfectly. The story takes the sports concept of raw protege and puts it on four wheels ... it's just plain sweet. The racing, learning about cars and yes they teach you about cars, the family history, other racers and styles ... it's the flow of all of this that makes Initial D so very relevant even now.

There will be anime fans who just don't dig this genre, so pay attention. It's an anime about racing cars. Sound interesting then check it out but if not don't waste your money then complain. Initial D keeps the action grounded in reality from race types to cars. It's solid anime fun that I'm taking for a second drive, a third drive, a fourth ... well you get the point. Watch if on Hulu and decide if you've missed a gem, sadly this was true for me.