Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Child of Eden Review

Child of Eden is the spiritual successor to Rez, a rhythm on-rails shooter from the mind of Designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Set in the future. A woman named Lumi gained vast amounts of knowledge throughout the galaxy. Upon her passing her persona and memories were stored in a super computer known as Eden. A mysterious virus that aims to destroy Lumi strikes Eden.

Like it’s predecessor Rez, Child of Eden is all about visual representations of music. Controlling only a reticule you’ve got to blast various highlighted objects in order to progress. Clearing Eden of infections purifies each area, then you can move on. All illuminated enemies – anything ranging from animals to mechanics – that are destroyed enhances the audio; transitioning from Pop, Trance, House, and Electronic music all within the same level.

It’s a very relaxing game, when sitting on the couch and playing. The Kinect can be used instead of a controller. Using only your hands to highlight and shoot enemies is a surreal experience; it really feels like you’re a conductor leading the music on. 

Most areas end with a boss fight that can be quite difficult, especially with the Kinect.

Is Child of Eden a reason to own a Kincet? Simply put, no. It’s a very short game. Shorter than Rez, which is surprising – both of which can be beaten in one sitting, but Rez’s levels stretch into the 20 minute range, Child of Eden’s are only around 10 minutes. It wouldn’t be an issue if Child of Eden were twenty bucks, maybe thirty. At almost full retail price, it’s tough to recommend Child of Eden over Rez, which is only ten dollars on Xbox Live, and is a superior game.

Child of Eden is beautiful. A vibrant color scheme is complimented by fantastic vision. You’ll soar through stars – everything having a transparent “glow”, or a wireframe outline, with a flood of particle effects littering the screen. It feels like you’re playing the best screen-saver ever, really!

Your taste in music plays the biggest role in whether or not you’ll like Child of Eden. Child of Eden is very Japanese Pop music at times, it does dabble in some other forms but it doesn’t stray too far. Because I’m not much of a fan of this type of music – Rez had more deep bass tones more akin to Electronica -- most songs / levels were indistinguishable from one another. The first 3 stages really blend together, it doesn’t help that you hear “Fly away” repeatedly throughout some songs, really making them tonally similar.

Your preference on a controller or Kinect does factor into difficulty. I found playing with the Kinect not ideal; it’s a fun experience. I prefer sitting down with a controller in my hands. Some of the latter stages really demand the precise input of a controller, something you just can’t accomplish by waving your arms around.

If you already have a Kinect, then Child of Eden is a must buy. Using the Kinect to basically paint music is a wonderful time. While not necessary, a controller can be used for some of the more “twitch” based moments. 

Even the Main Menu has captivating visuals and sound.

It’s short. which is unfortunate. Replay value is high, but the unlocks are minimal. There are a few trippy visual filters, a sound mixer, and a nice survival mode (which may have the best combination of visuals and audio). A Kinect enabled version of Rez unlocked upon completion of Child of Eden would have been a nice treat. And I wonder why that wasn’t an obvious inclusion?

Child of Eden is fun, for a short time. And if you can get passed its literal shortcomings then there’s a lot to like. If you’re a big fan of J-Pop, more so than the Electronic mix that Rez showcased, then you may like it even more. I’ d recommend Rez first. It’s a longer game and I feel the music has a broader appeal. Still, if you have a Kinect Child of Eden is unique and great fun. For those expecting a drastic step above Rez, temper your enthusiasm. It’s still good, just not great.  

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Best of the Best Part 1

With most of episodes I’m going to have a “best of” compilation clip which some of the awesome MST3K fans have uploaded to Youtube.

Space Mutiny

A colonized ship travels through space, yet some of the inhabitants are unhappy with their existence. It’s mutiny…but it’s in space. Dare I say its Space Mutiny? Only a guy with so many muscles he can’t properly wipe his ass can save the inhabitants of this ship.

By a far margin, this is the best episode of Mystery Science Theater. There’s some – like Prince of Space that hold a special place for me – but most agree nothing is like Space Mutiny. It’s such a bad movie on it’s own; with Mike and the bots it becomes an infinitely watchable movie…I’ve seen it countless times, and it still makes me laugh. From the ships captain looking like Santa Claus, to the many names for David Ryder, there’s more LPM’s (Laughs Per Minute…. or even LPS, Laughs Per Second) than almost any other MST3K episode. Still this one is great from beginning to end. The entire movie needs to be watched, as there are just too many jokes.

Favorite Quote:

“Hey, she’s dead!”

Prince of Space

The malicious leader of planet Krankor has come to…well I’m not sure, something about needing a new type of fuel for space travel? Honestly I don’t know. Prince of Space is an acid trip of a movie. Strait from Japan, with the worst English dub available, this one is a piece of work.

Whether or not this was actually a good movie before it was translated is debatable. I’d say it wasn’t. Prince of Space tries to thwart The Dictator or Krankor – Mike and the bots just refer to him directly as Krankor. From Krankor’s ill-conceived plan, to the Prince of Space shooting people with what appears to be a grill lighter, this one is a superb B-movie. I rank it right up there with Space Mutiny for having the most LPM, but the travesty of a English re-dub is what really makes this one hilarious.

Favorite Quote:

“Is that a man?”

Crow: “Yeah, believe it or not!”

Riding With Death

Riding with Death is a pieced together show that failed to catch on; starring “cool as a cucumber” Ben Murphy and a cast that wishes it would stay the 70s for eternity. Jive talking, strait walking, and calling people “turkeys” were apparently the thing in the 70s. Riding with Death is like a time machine in that regard.
While it’s certainly a shoddy pieced together film, at least it wasn’t a long running mediocre TV series. That’s good, I guess. Ben Murphy was supposed to be the next big thing, or so the producers hoped. He can turn invisible and punch a person, that’s something. He also has the ability to befriend morons, and has a bun-headed ditzy girlfriend. The botched editing is one of the sticking points with this one, both episodes are loosely “bubble-gummed” together. Who cares though? Ben Murphy is the suave; jive talking foul that can carry any show. Oh, wait that didn’t happen. Too bad, yea turkeys!

Favorite Quote:

“The rare ‘Male Camel toe’”

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

Starring Adam’s Families Raul Julia, who plays Aram Fingal in a movie that’s supposed to draw parallels to Casablanca – this steamer is possibly the best movie ever watched on MST3K…really it is, that’s just not saying anything. It’s still god-awful. I still don’t know what this movie was really about. Set in the future people have there minds “doppled” or transported into animals. Kind of like the Matrix, but instead of becoming “The One” you become a monkey. Who wouldn’t want that?

Instead Aram Fingal’s brain is lost in some super computer and he tries to outwit the system, and sabotage a corrupt corporation. Really it’s the hammy parallels that it steals from the classic film Casablanca that are so cringe worthy you want to vomit. Still the MST3K crew does this one justice as it’s got few dull moments thanks to the sheer number of stupid things that happen in this film. All I can say is if people are this dumb in the future, sign me up to have my brain transplanted with an elephant.

Favorite Quote:

“Just relax”

Mike” “I’m just going to bandsaw the top of your head off”

Agent for H.A.R.M

An American version of James Bond, only our hero spends little time globetrotting or wearing a tuxedo; instead he wears a cardigan/ sweater vest and just spends the entire film in an apartment. I’m not lying, that’s the entire film. Oh, but this ones a treat. H.A.R.M agent Adam Chance is so un-charismatic it’s painful; delivering stale line reads and having the glib smirk of a man that thinks he’s charming. Adam you’re just an ass!

Luckily Adam’s biggest foes are a midget and Prince. Not formidable, but H.A.R.M agents seem to posses the ability to stretch things out to needless lengths. From the final fight scene with Chance on a motorcycle playing chicken with a plane, to a villain that employs the “look over there” trick to great success, this is a cinematic turd that can’t be missed.

Favorite Quote:

Crow: “Was that the ghost of a cow?”

Escape 2000

Set in the Bronx…uhm the Bronx is located in Italy, right? Well in this film it is. The constant chant of “Leave the Bronx” is the general theme, and storyline for this film. Our hero, if you can call him that is named Trash, Moon W. Trash to be exact. Along with his friend Toblerone they aren’t leaving the Bronx. Besides they couldn’t possibly leave behind all their oily rags and garbage, such things are true valuables.

I’m not even sure this film had a script; most of the actors seem to be just crapping their lines out nonsensically. The people of the Bronx are being forcibly removed and gay Nazis seem to really be the only defense. Italy’s view of New York is strained to say the least.

I love this one for the awful acting, the terrible location (looks like they just filmed in the nearest dump), and the awesome Vampire/ Rat women reporter that is one of the central characters. Mike and the bots are constantly remarking on how she looks like Nosferatu, and they’re not too far off. God must have dropped the mold when he made her, and the stomped on it.

Favorite Quote:

“Things are looking bad”

Servo: “I’ll say!”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mystery Science Theater 3000 best of the best

An Introduction

I love Mystery Science Theater 3000 (abbreviated MST3K, by most fans), albeit I wasn’t that into it for many years. I always saw it in a passing glance, but never pursued it until after it had already ran its course on television. The advent of Youtube, has made the show live on, and garner an audience that still deeply enjoys it. For those who don’t know, MST3K has a simple, yet strange premise. A host and his two robot friends sit down and watch B-movie style films and just rip them apart; pointing out inaccuracies and just plain making fun of the bad acting or plot holes.

The host is either Mike or Joel -- depending on the seasons that you watch. Crow T. Robot a gold metallic semi-humanoid and Tom Servo, who is essentially a talking gumball machine, make out the main cast. All three are silhouetted against a movie projector and we just sit back and watch the cinematic train wreck they put before us.

It’s a comedic delight. Some movies are just terrible and need little “riffing” on, like cult favorite Manos: Hands of Fate or Red Zone Cuba – yet the added commentary is so well written and delivered it’s like you and a group of friends are sitting watching it together.

Joel, the original host, on the left; Mike on the right. Crow is the gold robot, Servo is well...a gumball machine, not hard to miss!

The show had a good decade long run, from the 80s to late 90s and stayed relatively true to the same format throughout.

Joel Hodgson was the original host, but I, like many find myself partial to the second half of the series when Mike Nelson became the host. It might be because Mike had been one of the main writers of the show and understood the timing and context of the jokes he had written for each scene – ultimately I just found him much more engaging a person. Sorry Joel.

Tom Servo and Crow T. Robots’ voice actors and puppeteers changed over the years as well. Many consider Kevin Murphy the only Tom Servo there really is, as he played the character the longest. When it comes to Crow I tend to fall into the line of liking Bill Corbett a little better than series’ original Tom Beaulieu, both brought something different to the role, neither outshined the other too much.

Aside from the general movie riffing there were host segments that acted as filler between movie breaks. The show was relatively low budget (most of the revenue was used for movie rights) but it had a sense of uniqueness. It felt like this little thing that not a lot of people knew about. A show that only you and few others watched.

That’s held true throughout the years. The humor is distinctly MST3K, and not everybody is in to it. Some of the jokes don’t reach a younger audience (I’m 25 and some of them go over my head), but when a movie is truly terrible it doesn’t take much – sometimes Mike and the bots just laughing at a scene is enough to bring tears to your eyes.

So here’s what I’ve got planned. I made a list of what I think are the must watch episodes, narrowed down from a rather surprising list of 50. I was shocked at how many were from the Mike Nelson and Bill Corbett era, but hey, when it’s a great episode it’s great regardless who’s host or puppeteer. 

ah, the 80s when you could go outside looking like this and everybody was okay with it.

The “Mystery Science Theater best of the best” will be spread out into five different parts. Listing about six different episodes each.

I’m pretty excited actually, as I get to go back and re-watch some of my favorites (as if I don’t watch them enough already), only know I hope to introduce others to the show. Like I’d mentioned before I didn’t start watching MST3K until it was off the air. Sometime around college is when I really got into it. Still the show is funny even today. It’s never too late to see a great series and MST3K is distinct enough to warrant anyone’s attention.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Game of Thrones: Fire and Blood

Any season should end with a spectacle. Something big that gets watchers talking, and those who aren’t fans interested in the show. If you’re not a fan after this episode, then it’s not going to click with you. Because this was one the best endings to a season –and in many ways series finale – that I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Yes, there were a lot of characters to follow; the episode definitely jumps around, but it needs to be done. Setting up things for the next season – the second book in the series, “A Clash of Kings”– is unavoidable. Still, it was no less entertaining.

From the opening shot where globs of Ned Stark’s blood drip from the sword that just severed his head; to the fantastic end sequence that made my heart race. This episode was the way you set things in motion, without boring people to death.

“Clash of Kings” is about the individual journeys that singular characters embark on. The war for the throne is still a major backdrop, but Daenerys, Arya, and Jon Snow’s individual tales are what set the second book apart from “Game of Thrones.” In a good way, trust me.

I love how there’s this build up for who shall claim the crown as the rightful ruler of Westeros and it’s not even relevant to the rest of the world. What lies beyond the Wall is the true danger, not who should be king. Even so Daenerys is the rightful Queen, and proves that she has claim that goes far deeper than blood.

The inner workings of what led to Ned Stark’s death are fascinating. Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, Varys “ The Spider”, and even Maester Pycelle seemed to have had a hand in some form or another leading to Ned’s demise. Not necessarily directly, but they’re schemers and I love how even minor players have such big roles. Or how side characters really have to be watched, it’s intricacies, the little things that make A Song of Ice and Fire so compelling. 

I’m still astounded in one aspect of the entire series: the child actors aren’t terrible. They are a huge part of this story and they are able to carry scenes so well. I have to attribute that to directing, they are fine young actors I’m sure. Still it’s difficult to direct kids, it can turn out disastrous. It can be Phantom Menace or it can be E.T. Game of Thrones is the latter for sure; it receives great performances from actors I’ve never seen before, but will see in some capacity for years to come I believe. 

The small troubles I once had with the show are all but gone. The scope doesn’t matter so much. I was so caught up in the jarring transition from the wide establishing shot’s then the quick move to a small room or corridor. It felt so small. You establish these grandiose places yet we’re never outside, and if we are it’s a small courtyard or a barn or something.
Those feelings flew away from me as I was entrenched in each sequence. It’s very political, and the second book is similar, but it’s more then just talking. People are fighting tooth and nail, not with swords, but with words.

Jaime Lannister lost to Robb Stark in the field. But when confronted by Catelyn Stark, completely blooded and bruised he was still fighting back, with his tongue not his hands. Catelyn and he had a verbal sparring match, and Jamie came out the victor. He actually made Catelyn misjudge what she was doing at the moment, thinking what was the point of beating a man that just doesn’t care. Ah, but Jaime does care, he just uses his wit and a tongue sharper then any blade to avoid anymore physical abuse.

There are plenty of action scenes in Game of Thrones, it’s a clash of words though, not steel.

Being drawn to each story that’s being thrown at you – and there are many – is tough, especially when you realize that not all the individual tales may converge together and become one. Arya is on here own. Jon isn’t coming to his brother’s rescue. Bran is alone at Winterfell. Sansa is being humiliated and punished by King Joffrey, and Daenerys tries to establish her rule. All are separate stories. Some, like Arya’s story don’t affect the others in the least. You have to take that for what it’s worth.

Evil does win more often then not in George R.R. Martin’s world. Making the little triumphs of good – or who we believe to be good – much more special, little things like someone standing up for Arya right after she loses her father, or Sansa not playing the naive girl and spitting venom at Joffrey. It’s the little things in life that are just. 

Game of Thrones had a mixed start for me. I complained about the special effects, or lack of them; the small scale, despite the budget being undoubtedly high. And other issues like the diminished roles of the Stark’s Dire Wolves. All that took a back seat to the acting and great writing. I enjoyed the novel; I may have liked the series better. I know I did.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next season. Hopefully HBO goes even grander in scale and scope and really spends time and money on the sets to make them really pop. If the final scene is any indication we will be seeing a bigger emphasis on CG, which will be necessary in some key areas, since each book becomes far more un-earthly or should I say magical, in time.

While Game of Thrones isn’t for everybody – trying to describe it to someone who may be interested is a chore, “uhm, there’s a lot of talking…I hope you like that?” For those that aren’t scared off by the sheer political-ness of it will find enjoyment. And fans, like me, couldn’t have expected – even with a theatrical adaptation – a more faithful telling of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters Review

This will undoubtedly be my shortest review. If you’ve played any “beat um up” or Action game – the complexity consisting of choosing to use a light attack or heavy attack, such choice. -- You already played this game. I’m too big of a Green Lantern fan to let the first video game starring the glowing spandex wearing superhero pass me by.

I guess this is where I should explain some of the story. Whatever. Manhunters – a race of bounty hunting robots, created by the Guardians of the Universe, before the Green Lantern Corps – have returned to destroy Oa and enforce justice on the galaxy. In the rudest way possible it seems. Hal Jordan, newly minted Green Lantern is ready to bust some robotic heads. Ryan Reynolds lends his voice and likeness to Hal Jordan – mostly yelling out his lines as if the game was designed for the hearing impaired. Still his performance is godly compared to Tobey Maguire’s hackneyed voiceover from Spider-Man 2. If you’re getting paid, at least try to sound sincere. 

The games average in every sense of the word. The face buttons consist of light and heavy attacks and gasp! You can alternate between them! Dah, dah, dah, dahhhhh! Spectacular, I know.

The combat is solid – which is good because you wouldn’t get any satisfaction from solving any of the so-called puzzles that would only challenge a baby still in the womb. 

If all else fails, use Mace Storm until the credits roll!

What little depth and uniqueness this game possesses comes from the special attacks or constructs the Green Lantern can create. Create not being the best term to use; as you don’t create them so much as assign them to a face button then input the command and watch the ensuing carnage.

The game does get quite fun towards the end –after you’ve upgraded everything – you really feel like a badass; transforming into a giant Mech and stomping enemies, mowing them down with a Gatling gun, or throwing a frickin’ F-16 Fighter Jet in their faces, it’s all very satisfying.

As one would expect this is not a long game. Consisting of only ten levels. Three of which are on-rails shooter types akin to Star Fox or Panzer Dragoon, only without most of the fun and not requiring any skill. It’s by no means a hard game at all – the hardest difficulty is a cakewalk even without a co-op buddy to help you. Yeah, if you like a second player can join in on the ring-slinging willpower action. But the lack of challenge as you just chew threw enemies like a plate of hot wings at a tailgate is all too evident.

The visuals and sound design are less then noteworthy. Some of the effects are cool. The constructs are intricately designed and the animations are very smooth and fluid. When you’re completely powered the screen just becomes a swarm of green light cascading across the screen, it’s pretty flashy.

It would be nice if there were at least some incentive to play through it more then once, considering it’s length. A harder difficulty or a score attack mode would have been nice. Unlocking the classic Green Lantern suit could have been cool. The collectables are minimal as well, most can be found without traveling to far from the beaten path. Finding a collectable in this game is about as close as you’ll come to having to backtrack, while some may like the linearity, a little exploration couldn’t have hurt. 

That Manhunter was literally hours away from retirement.

Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters is a forgettable game to say the most. And the movie seems to be along the same lines, as the reviews start pouring in. While I doubt we’ll get another Green Lantern movie –a script for a sequel was being worked on before the first film even finished production, maybe next time you should concentrate on the present, guys – It would be nice to get another Green Lantern game. One the stays true to the creativity that makes Green Lantern so special. For now we have this…meh.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Game of Thrones: 3 in 1 Review

I hadn’t had much of a chance to watch Game of Thrones, missing the last 3 episodes. Since I’m so invested in the show that I wasn’t going to stop watching – I instead just watched them all together. While it may not have been the best way to view each (some of the episodes bleed together so I’ve had to refresh my memory of each one individually) but it had to be done. I’ll give a brief thought on each: episode 7, 8, and 9. When episode 10 comes out this week I’ll give an overview of the entire season.

Episode 7: You Win or You Die

Seeing Tywin Lannister (who plays a much larger role in the latter books) talking to his son Jaime and demand that he become the man he always wanted him to be was a griping scene. Tywin is known for having words that cut like steel, and a stare as cold as ice. I couldn’t have chosen a better actor…well maybe Bill Nighy, but that’s because he should be in every movie!

Jaime Lannister’s relationship with his father is a contentious one. Jaime never seeks the approval of the people of Westeros, yet inside being called “Kingslayer” eats away at him. Jaime wears armor – not the kind you fight with – he wears armor of arrogance and confidence; which is just a mask to hide doubts he has about himself.

Where the episode really shines is Ned Stark confronting Cersei about her infidelity. Not a single one of Robert’s sons are actually his own blood. Cersei is a manipulative bitch, yet you almost feel for her when she see speaks about how Robert treated her on their wedding night. Arrogance runs through Lannister veins like blood though, and Cersei doesn’t flinch when told by Ned to flee King’s Landing.

It’s around this part in the book (and it carries over into the show as one would expect) seemingly everybody on the King’s council knew about Cersei and Jaime. Everybody except Robert and Ned. Ned seems out of the loop on all things. And doesn’t realize that he’s been playing the so called “Game of Thrones” since he entered King’s Landing, and that he’s already lost.

This is the beginning of a “Clash of Kings” as far as plot set-up for season 2 (or rather book 2) is concerned. As Robert lay dying for a hunting trip gone awry, Joffrey takes the crown. Renly, Robert’s brother declares he should be King; the Dothraki prepare to cross the sea to Westeros, and Jon Snow becomes squire to Lord Commander Mormont of the Wall.

Betrayal, and bending the knee to a false King are the themes of the next few episodes – Ned Stark will have none of it though. His pride is admirable. Yet it’s his undoing ultimately. It’s really these last 3 episodes that separate A Song of Ice and Fire from the rest of Fantasy stories out there; it’s not a story of happy endings and righteousness. It’s a sad, sometimes depressing story, where anyone and everyone can be killed.

Episode 8: The Pointy End

Why trust anybody in George R.R. Martin’s Fantasy series? They just betray you in the end. Still there is a sense of satisfaction when a little good happens. Namely Arya Stark’s dancing/ sword fighting/ really hammy actor Syrio Forel defends her so she can escape capture. Or the Northern Bannermen responding to the call of war to free Ned Star and his daughters. Still there are some frustrating parts…

Sansa, oh Sansa so gullible Cersei plays her like a frickin fiddle it’s really sad. What is Ned to do really? He’s no superhero; nobody is going to rescue him. It’s a sad state of affairs. And Robb Stark, Ned’s son, marches to help his family. There’s always that feeling of, “What good is that going to do” in George R.R. Martins world, nothing ever seems to go the way one would initially think. That’s what makes it fun, no? A writer keeping you on your toes is certainly better them an entire chapter dedicated to talking about how awesome Hobbits are.

The three stories: the events in King’s Landing, Daenerys life across the sea, and Jon Snow on the Wall are really no closer to converging. Sad to say that to someone expecting that all stories would lead to a culmination. That’s just not the case.

War is starting. It’s easy to feel for Lady Catelyn as she witnesses her eldest son take command and ride to war. It has to be hard for a mother to see such a thing. Catelyn isn’t helpless though as she represents the audience in some ways; a person just caught in the moment, but a person that still has some influence and power. People are still very human in George R. R Martin’s books, and they do make mistakes, be it Robb, Sansa, Arya, or Jon Snow it’s easy to attach yourself to characters when you see how flawed they can be. That’s really what Game of Thrones is about, humanity in it’s many flawed states.

Episode 9: Baelor

It’s hard not to cry at the end of this one – wait since I’m a man lets say, “I got a little emotional” yeah, that sounds better! Oh who am I kidding? Me eyes were really watering up near the end. My glasses were foggier than the windows in a fat man’s car.

I can’t not talk about SPOILERS so…that’s what I’m going to do. Talk about them; or write about them to be more precise.

Surprise is the general reaction at the end -- aside from utter sadness – following Ned Stark for so long only to have him getting the Thanksgiving turkey treatment is more than most stories are willing to do. Really I was told before I read A Song of Ice and Fire to not get too attached to anybody. What? Then why read it?

You see, despite Martin’s penchant for killing prominent people in his novels you can’t help but get emotionally invested in their lives. That makes it all the more impactful when you see that person’s head roll down a staircase.

A Game of Thrones is like the anti-Star Wars prequels; they are both centered around politics, but we are supposed to care about the lives of the people involved. The Star Wars prequels failed because we never got to see relationships build, or the progression of a character – we were just told that Obi-Wan and Anakin were friends and you just have to take their word for it. It’s bad writing, and bad character development that led to people not giving a rat’s ass about Star Wars by the end of the prequels.

Game of Thrones avoids this. George R.R. Martin doesn’t gloss over an arc in someone’s story or even mundane things that may seem trivial to other writers that know they’re going to kill that character in the end. Martin is an architect that is going to build the most fantastical skyscraper you’ve ever seen, only to have it blown up before completion. As an observer you say, why? But building something only to have it destroyed is the easiest way to tell a story that sticks in a person’s mind.

Episode 9, “Baelor”, is the best in the season for the aforementioned reasons. It takes your heart and twists it. From life to death, the land of Westeros is harsher than anything you’d find in most Fantasy books. I literally got chills when watching Daenerys being carried into the tent were Khal Drogo was dying and a blood mage was supposedly curing him. I know the outcome. That doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

You really can’t pick sides in A Game of Thrones. As Tyrion Lannister (who is considered an attempted murderer by the Starks) is just as easy to take pity upon as those who are considered so called “good-guys”. Ah, but that’s it, there are no “good-guys” really, just people. Varys is a good example of a person who falls into the moral grey area. He’s neither good nor bad, he just is.

The tone is dark already. Anybody who has read the novels knows that it becomes far darker, and I wonder how that is going to be handled in the next season. 

I thought some of Robb’s battles were going to be shown, as there’s been a surprising lack of action. Not surprising because that’s not what A Song of Ice and Fire is about. I’m surprised that obligatory action scenes weren’t just thrown in to spice things up to bring in the casual audience. Kudos to HBO for not turning Game of Thrones into a linier action show, which they easily could have done.

While it’s not over – there’s one more episode to go – I have to say this is one of the best adaptations of anything I’ve ever seen. It’s an incredibly faithful recreation. It didn’t start out as such. I thought it seemed very renaissance fair in the first few episodes, and Westeros seemed so small and claustrophobic. Now the little grievances don’t matter, since the acting is so phenomenal. A truly great show, even if the novels didn’t exist as reference, it would still be amazing – such a win.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Green Lantern Emerald Knights Review

A movie that’s just all origin stories isn’t something I’d pitch to a producer. Really that’s the extent of the entire animated film Green Lantern Emerald Knights. It also confuses me in relation to the previous animated film Green Lantern First Flight, which shares the same art style, and what I thought was the same continuity. Yet Sinestro is a member of the Green Lantern Corps again…so it can’t be the sequel to First Flight. If that’s the case then why use the same art style, it makes it seem like both movies are interrelated; instead they’re not and it just comes off kind of misleading. Wasn’t Sinestro evil in the last film? What the hell is going on?

Krona, a powerful being that created the Anti-Matter Universe has somehow risen to once again torment the galaxy. The Guardians dispatch their Green Lantern Corps to subdue Krona. This really isn’t the main story, but the movie instead is split into 4 different origin stories about different members of the Corps.

Many of the stories are directly adapted from one-off Green Lantern issues like, “Mogo doesn’t socialize” and “New Blood”, which tells the story of how Kilowog was trained upon becoming a Lantern. This really isn’t a movie for those who already read these tales. Sure the fight scenes are pretty entertaining, but far too often most of the Lanterns just use their rings as laser guns: just blasting at foes and not creating fanciful objects, you know, the reason why Green Lantern is fun to read in the first place. 

"Can I bench-press you"?

That’s not to say that the various origins we are shown aren’t well written, voice acted, and they do make you form more of an emotional attachment to minor characters. Yet I thought that each Lantern that had his or her own story told was going to do something relevant in the final-scene. Not the case, it just feels like filler. The threat of Krona coming back is largely irrelevant to the film, it’s just kind of happens and then it’s dealt with rather quickly.

I think my biggest problem with both Emerald Knights and the previous film Final Flight is that both scream to me that DC should just make a animated Green Lantern television series; but their waiting to see how the Green Lantern movie performs before they decide to go that route. So they just keep throwing out random Green Lantern films that aren’t even the best stories featured in the DC Comic series. If you don’t make a TV series at least change the animation for the next film.

The characters are way too bulky; Hal Jordan is three times bigger than he should be -- looking completely “roided” out. And others like Kilowog are just unappealing to look at -- it’s not like the animation comes from budget constraints -- the art style is a conscious choice, and it’s just not appropriate.

PEW PEW...LASERS! Fun right? No, the word is boring.

All-in-all Green Lantern Emerald Knights just feels like a series of episodes strung loosely together to form a decent movie. And it’s definitely not the best product DC could have put out. There’s way more interesting things that the Green Lantern movies can be doing then just telling a series of origins and then calling it a day. It’s just a waste.

Friday, June 10, 2011

E3 2011 Thoughts

As E3 comes to a close it’s good to finally get a look at games we’ve only seen hints of. First the press conferences. I was more excited to see what Nintendo had in store for us: the fans that had left for greener pastures that is. The Wii U looks like it has some great concepts, concepts indeed. Actual games weren’t shown. Nothing was indicative of the final tech that the console will showcase a year from now. An HD Zelda mock-up was demoed but even that didn’t really jazz me up.

I do like that you can transfer the games from TV to the controller. But I can’t say I want to play the games like that very often, if at all. Using the Wii U to enhance the motion controls that the original Wii established doesn’t get me going either. I don’t need to shoot Mii’s out of windows, or simulate playing golf. That’s all been done before. I’m done with motion controls.

Zelda Skyward Sword was so underwhelming I didn’t even finish watching the demo. I think the Wii is completely dead to me at this point. Zelda isn’t going to change that. It doesn’t help matters that the game is just ugly to look at.

There was a lot of hardware on display. More from the 3DS; the Wii U was obviously shown—with mostly tech demos. And the NGP now called the Vita showed how you can cram and the power of a PS3 into something you could fit in a taco shell. The games are what I focused on throughout most of E3. 

Powerful or not--the controller is what separates Wii U from the rest.

Microsoft and Sony stuck to their respective guns and just kept the sequels coming. Uncharted 3, Gear of War 3, Modern Warfare 3, Mass Effect 3…so many 3’s my head it spinning!

I actually wasn’t too enthralled by what I saw from Modern Warfare 3. Battlefield blows it completely out of the water from a graphical standpoint and even captures that realistic military perspective far better than what I saw from MW3. That’s just the singelplayer though. As I could care less about Battlefields’ multiplayer, it’s just not my thing. But until Infinity Ward shows some multiplayer footage everybody is going to be talking about how disappointing a showing Modern Warfare 3 was.

There’s a host of great games I really want to see more of. The, “Give them to me now” games. Sure I’m going to probably spend an ungodly amount of hours with Modern Warfare 3, but games like Rayman Origins, Star Wars the Old Republic, and Batman Arkham City are the ones I want this very moment.

Rayman Origins is absolutely gorgeous. Like a living pop-up book, or a hand drawn painting come to life; the colors are so vibrant they’d make a blind person see. It does just look like a standard platformer. I’m okay with that, and a lot of people are. It is going to draw comparisons to New Super Mario Bros. because of it’s emphasis on cooperative play, or lack of co-op as I never found New Super Mario Bros. to be very fun with another person. Hopefully it’s not dependent that I have someone with me in order to complete certain levels.

Rayman Origins is gorgeous, still shots don't do it enough justice.

I thought having Batman in an open world might just be a misstep for the sequel to the surprisingly good Batman Arkham Asylum. I appear to be completely wrong. Bat grapping off buildings to gain momentum, and soaring around the city and dive-bombing onto unsuspecting enemies looks fantastic. Gotham is Batman’s city, and it looks like he has all the tools to make traversal around the open expanses addictive. Here’s hoping gliding around Gotham is as fun as swinging in Spider-Man 2…yeah Spider-Man 2 was really awful in certain areas, but swinging was damn good fun. Gliding in Batman looks to be one of those great traversal mechanics, like freerunning in Assassins Creed…but you’re Batman so it’s way cooler.

EA looks like it’s got its finger on the pulse of the SSX fan. They know what we want. Not a simulation. We want that Tricky-ness from the original games. The over-the-top arcade style racing and motif that SSX was known for. Big air and even bigger tricks. Fast and adrenalin-fueled racing down the side of a mountain. I’m not sure about the Survive It mode, in which you have to escape an avalanche—riding from the summit to the base of the mountain. The camera’s overhead perspective, and having to ride towards to screen really isn’t something I want to do. But we shall see.

Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is my most anticipated game of 2011. Bethesda designs a world, that’s what they do. You can almost live in them; it’s a living breathing environment with so much to do it can be overwhelming. It does look a lot like Oblivion. I was under the impression that the combat had been significantly overhauled, that doesn’t seem like the case. At times the game slows down when delivering a killing blow to an enemy, and there are some brutal finishing kills when up close and personal. But he base combat still has you swinging around your sword chopping wildly at enemies and them only vaguely flinching even with the hardest hits. There needs to be more weight with each hit you deliver in order to make it actually feel like you’re holding a sword. 

Too...many...games...ending in "3" this year [head explodes].

But Bethesda games don’t always show very well. We’ve got to play them to really get a good feeling for how things work. Still I was hoping for something innovative to combat like the V.A.T.S system that Bethesda had for Fallout 3. The game is still a ways off, so things may tighten upon release. Assuming it actually comes out this year, I still have my doubts.

E3 2011 had some good moments; some good hardware showings and games that I really can’t wait to play. But a lot of those are games that won’t be out until next year. Almost everything I’m going to play this year is a sequel to something or the third in a series. It’s starting to become a grind. But games like Rayman Origins and Tomb Raider are what will make this years E3 memorable.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Some Kung Fu flicks

 Legend of the Drunken Master/ Drunken Master 2

Still my favorite Jackie Chan movie. Many of his films are geared towards stunts and using the environment to fight—Legend of the Drunken Master/ Drunken Master 2 is all about kicking ass and doing it while drunk—what could be better? Jackie Chan is an artist with a fist, you just don’t get to see it much, especially now as…well he is gettin’ up there in age!

Drunken Master 2 was Jackie at his best. Using a style of Kung Fu, called Drunken Boxing, in which the fighter mimics the moves of a drunkard during combat. From the opening fight scene underneath a train, that is so damn fast I discover something new every time I watch it. To the best final fight in any movie I’ve ever witnessed.

The final scene is just a great showcase of sustained Martial Arts between two very well trained athletes. The movie does play up some more fanciful aspects, such as Jackie having to be intoxicated in order to win, but it does spice things up—it is a Jackie Chan movie after all, so it’s always going to have a lighter side to it. Still the ending is more about Tae Kwon Do versus Drunken Kung-Fu, it’s just kicks and punches being thrown. The stunts are still there; Jackie actually crawls threw flaming charcoal at one point. It’s about the fight scenes though, and Drunken Master 2 is one of the best.

Ong Bak

Brutal. So brutal. Every hit is a bone-crunching devastator in Ong Bak. It looks real! Every knee and elbow Tony Jaa throws has such force to it. It looks like he’s actually beating the crap out of people. It’s such a visceral fighting movie to watch. Ong Bak showcases a unique style of Kickboxing in which Jaa strikes with both his legs and arms at the same time; diving at people and slamming his knees and elbows right into someone is so animalistic. 

There are numerous fight scenes in a club in which Jaa has to match against different styles, besting all of them with his furious and traumatizing punches and kicks. It’s a hard-hitting movie, and the final scenes of the film actually have some cringe worthy moments of sheer violence. It’s hardcore and fantastic, a real Martial Arts feast for the eyes. The sequels aren’t so hot, but the original is one of the best Action movies out there.

5 Deadly Venoms

Honestly the concept for this movie is better than the film itself, as it really doesn’t have that many fight scenes to speak of. The movie opens with a dying master telling his last student about each previous person he’s taught—each having his own unique style. I mentioned the concept is why I enjoy this film, and the intro, in which we are shown each of the 5 Deadly Venom’s is what makes it interesting. The student must track down each practitioner of the Deadly Venom styles: Centipede, Scorpion, Lizard, Toad, and Snake.

It’s a Martial Arts film from the 70s so a lot of the fights are slower and the choreography isn’t very complex; it’s also got that corny dialogue that only comes from very bad translations to English. Yet I’ve always liked corny Kung Fu movies, and Five Deadly Venoms is right there with the One Armed Boxer and Master of the Flying Guillotine. Not a great movie from top to bottom, but it has it’s moments…. plus the Wu-Tang Clan took a lot of influence from this film so the quotes are awesome for Wu-Tang fans wondering where they came from in the first place.

Zatoichi Blind Samurai

I’m not actually going to be specific with this one, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the Zatoichi films…older ones starring Sintaro Katsu mostly. There are so many films from the 60s all the way to the 80s so there’s a lot to choose from. Most of the films just feature Zatoichi—a blind nomad samurai—traveling from village to village helping the underprivileged from thugs and otherwise nefarious characters…but he really just kills a lot of people! Slicing people with the hidden sword in his walking staff.

Zatoichi, Darkness Is His Ally (made in 1989) might be my favorite because it’s really just more bloody and savage than its predecessors. The final scene having Zatoichi just stumbling around killing every person he finds; even killing a guy while he’s trying to take a piss---mean, but that’s what he does.  Zatoichi isn’t really a Kung Fu series, but it’s close enough. Seeing these films may make you distrust blind people with walking canes. Turn your back on them and you might find yourself without a head!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Batman: Year One

Writer: Frank Miller
Pencils: Dave Mazzucchelli
Inking: Richmond Lewis

Telling an origin story is nothing new. But when I was told to read, “The greatest origin story—and Batman comic ever!” by a friend—I felt it had to be done. Batman: Year One isn’t just a retelling of how Batman became Batman; it’s just as much about Bats as it is Commissioner Gordon—then Lieutenant Gordon.

Gordon and Batman’s stories run parallel to one another. They’re such similar people—and have similar goals—but how they go about doing that is what separates them. Yet both need each other to succeed.

Gordon is just as integral a part of who Batman is as any of his friends and partners. Both Gordon and Batman will never relinquish the city of Gotham to criminals, no matter how things become. It’s that conviction in justice that forms their relationship.

I’ve always found the art-style from 80s comics to be so appealing. It’s simplistic, and dark: less about color, and more about tone. Yes the color is there, but it’s used in unusual ways: reds, purples, and high colors illuminate the darkness of night, while day by contrast is otherwise colorless. It’s just a beautiful comic—I don’t see it as old art either, it’s just a different style; a different age. Like Watchmen, the art is timeless. 

I love the art from 80s comics.

I’m a novice to Frank Miller’s writing—Batman: Year One being the first of Millers I’ve read.  He has a great way of seeing things and conveying them to the reader. Most dialogue is told through the inner thoughts of Batman and Gordon. The stress and struggles both men have to go through in order to clean the streets of Gotham is so…human.

Frank Miller humanizes a man who decides to dress up in tights and jump from rooftops. Batman has vulnerability, he’s not Superman, he’s just a guy in a suit. And Gordon isn’t a squeaky clean cop either, he’s made mistakes and even makes things worse in some cases, but he stays relatable nonetheless. They’re both heroes, but never are they shown without their flaws.

When a character is struggling they aren’t going to be able to form complete sentences, they stammer and otherwise speak quickly. Many of Batman’s thoughts are disjointed blurbs of thought: a quick few words and then strait to getting things done. No need to read an entire paragraph of dialogue or mounds of exposition. Batman: Year One is a lean concise origin story that doesn’t meander around. It just gets to the point. 

If I could recommend two graphic novels that a first time comic reader should seek out it would be Batman: Year One and Watchmen, in that order. Now, Watchmen has more to say overall, and was very influential on comics as a respected medium, but Batman is so iconic that I'd tell people to start off with a character they already have a grasp of. I can’t recommend Batman: Year One enough. It should be a comic that everybody reads before all others.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

L.A. Noire Review

L.A. Noire is a unique game. Team Bondi strived for that as their goal, and in some regards it is very unique. Playing as a police officer, as opposed to a maniac shooting up a city or a wild west vigilante--L.A. Noire strikes for something different…but I’m torn on what that is exactly.

You play as Cole Phelps, a veteran of WWII. Joining the police force is Phelps way of continuing to serve his country and make a name for himself. Even that is a shadow of the true underlying story that goes deep, and asks questions about a character we get an uneasy resolution to.

Phelps rises from simple beat cop to full LAPD Detective; getting promoted faster than even he can comprehend. L.A. Noire is episodic in nature: each case having a title like, “The Black Caesar” or “The Red Lipstick Murder”. And Phelps is assigned to five different divisions throughout the course of the game: Patrol, Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. Some cases—like Homicide—actually show how the murder happened beforehand, albeit without showing the suspect and giving little detail about the situation. L.A. Noire has a great tone and embraces it’s 40s setting beautifully.

Like many Rockstar games, Team Bondi spend countless man-hours recreating 1940s post war Los Angels. The streets of L.A. are vibrant and dangerous; everybody is trying to make a name for themselves—at any cost.

We’ve strived for realism in most CG media since I could remember. Movies have reached new strides, yet video games still walk the “uncanny valley” line, between too real and not realistic enough.

L.A. Noire straddles that line with its MotionScan tech.

If you’re not a fan of semi-creepy floating talking heads, then L.A. Noire will probably be too much for you. I never found it too distracting. Besides being able to see every wrinkle in someone's face and actually tell what may be going on in their heads is a crazy concept, and it works--for the most part. 

The interrogation scenes are where L.A. Noire shines. Reading a person’s face and trying to catch them in a lie isn’t as easy as one may think. After surveying a crime scene—which isn’t nearly as tough as you may think because most clues are pointed out with a rumble on your controller, followed by and audio cue once all clues are found in a crime scene—the interview process can take place. Sure you can question a suspect before finding all the evidence, but it will only make the process more difficult.

Interrogation is great when you're right; frustrating as hell when you're wrong.

While interviewing a P.O.I (person of interest) you have the options to decide whether or not there are telling truth; you doubt their word; or they are outright lying to your face. Truth is a rarely used option, I found, as most of the suspects do have something to hide. Doubt is all about intuition and whether or not you have that gut feeling that an interviewee isn’t being truthful. And the final option, lie, should be whipped out only when you have hard evidence to back your claims.

The back-and-fourth questioning process is the best part of L.A. Noire. And the most frustrating, it really sucks to get a question wrong and have your suspect clam up. But you don’t actually fail a case if this happens; you just have to look elsewhere for your information. That somewhat defeats the purpose questioning someone in the first place. If I can go elsewhere for my information, what does it matter whether or not I get the info from the suspect? You can just move on with the case.  

L.A. Noire is still an open world GTA-style Rockstar game. You’re a cop though; so running over civilians may be frowned upon. Still it seems unnecessary in some regards to have such a big world when you’re investigating such small areas. The game could have just been broken up into episodes and cutscenes and it wouldn’t have changed much of the atmosphere, negatively or positively. The open world just seems wasted.

Outside of the main cases there are a few side missions that can be done. Most are rinse and repeat affairs. Responding to dispatch calls about an armed robbery, theft, or a simple dispute. All of these street crimes end in three ways: either you chase a perp. on foot, in a car, or it’s a shootout. It’s somewhat unsettling that almost all the street crimes have to end with you shooting the suspect. Aren’t you supposed to be a cop? Instead no matter where you shoot someone they always end up dying. You can fire a warning shot during a foot chase sequence, but it isn’t always an option.

I previously mentioned my unease. This is most evident in the Homicide cases—which are the main chunk of the games’ content. Like the “The Golden Butterfly”, in which no matter what you do the outcome will result in you accusing the wrong person; not saying they’re completely innocent, but the actually perpetrator is still at large. And it actually eats away at you. I felt cheated at the end of the Homicide Detective cases and at the end of the game for that matter. Everything just seems unresolved.

Aside from the tons of blood, the car's in great working condition.

My biggest problem with L.A. Noire is that you’re not really dynamically figuring out cases. You’re being led by a string. There’s a serial killer on the loose but instead you spent hours of game time apprehending the wrong murders. It’s blatantly obvious that something much more sinister is going on; and all you seem to do is just arrest the wrong people. Most of the cases just seem pointless. And Phelps feels the same way in some instances. So why do the cases end with me having to blame someone. Why can’t I challenge authority and state, “You know what, this guy isn’t the murderer we’re looking for; the murderer is still out there!”

I just felt throughout a lot of the game I was just going through the motions. I know that I’m not going to catch the real killer, so the sense of accomplishment I feel from solving a case isn’t there. And a game that centers on detective work should have that feeling of accomplishment for cracking a case.

Sure some of the people you arrest are insane, there’s no argument there. Still there is always a hole that never get’s filled, and that empty void tries on my patience sometime. Phelps should have investigated the outcome of his cases more than, well…not at all! He is so enamored by his rise through the ranks of the LAPD that he just goes with it. He thinks he’s cleaning up the streets; as the one playing the game, Phelps naiveté is annoying at times. And by the end of the game he’s just unlikeable.

SPOILER: Yes, eventually you do catch the actually killer that’s behind most of the crimes during your run as a Homicide Detective. But that doesn’t make up for the pointlessness of all the cases prior to the final outcome. I just felt it was along time coming. And I was tired of wasting my time on obviously wrong convictions. The feeling of something left unfinished continues from that point on. Homicide, Vice squad, and Arson are all left virtual unresolved. For lack of a better term—it’s bullshit!

As the game progresses Phelps actually becomes an unlikable dickhead.

The Vice cases are the best in the game. They’re more intricate: more people to talk to, locations to visit, and more clues and puzzles to sift through. You feel more like a detective, and less like you’re just a lap dog.

Unfortunately one of the best cases is called “The Naked City”, too bad if you buy the game used you most likely won’t get access to this case. Which stinks as it’s one of the most interestingly written, acted, and the interrogation scenes are some of the toughest. It’s just very well done. Too bad it’s DLC.

L.A. Noire is still like nothing I’ve played before. Yet I wanted to be a real detective, solving crimes. But for the first time in a Rockstar game the story just gets in the way for me. And the ending is so anticlimactic I may end up downright hating it upon retrospect.

Interrogation, and the new MotionScan technology give life to L.A. Noire. And the post WWII Los Angeles ambience is something to behold. But the pointlessness of some of the cases you have to do, an open world that doesn’t really need to exist, and a story that just gets a little too muddied down leaves me a little disappointed. L.A. Noire is ambitious in some areas, and just downright average in others. It’s those other areas that would have made this game truly great; unfortunately L.A. Noire is the case of a game that goes unsolved.