Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Graphic Novel Review: StarCraft: Ghost Academy, Vol. 1

While it's not manga from Japan we enjoy all forms of graphic novels, so when the opportunity arose to check out StarCraft: Ghost Academy from Tokyopop, I naturally took it. Based on the hyped and then dead game by Blizzard, Ghost Academy comes out next week and acts as a sequel to the novelization of StarCraft: Ghost. If you're unfamiliar with the game franchise then all you really need to know is that it's science fiction and features all kinds of ass-kicking and aliens. Ghost Academy focuses more on the human aspect, and more to the point, those with special psychic powers.

Now, before I dig too far into the review of the material housed within the pages of this book I wanted to take a second to bring up the writing style and artwork. Keith R.A. Decandido penned the script here and fans of the franchise will recall his work on the Ghost novel, Nova. He does a nice job here and the dialogue flows and pops, imbuing characters with personality. Fernando Heinz Furukawa handles the visual side of things quite deftly with some great designs and loads of detail. With that being said I must admit that while his style is very nice, a lot of the faces look exactly alike, but I should digress from nitpicking. With that out of the way, on with the review!

Much like the focus of the dead StarCraft Ghost game, Ghost Academy sees a Ghost cadet named Nova as its main protagonist. Nova is particularly promising in many regards. For starters she has a PI score of 10, which is literally off the charts by comparison to some of the other members in training. Another thing she has going for her is her quick reaction time which has saved her hide on more than one occasion. The only downside we see with Nova in this installment is the fact that she's not necessarily a team player.

While Nova stands front and center in the graphic novel she's surrounded by a host of other characters who make up what's known as Team Blue. Tosh is their leader, Kath is another senior member, Lio is just kind of there, and Aal is the newest recruit. Each of the characters brings some type of dynamic to the story here. For instance Lio is addicted to a drug called Hab and just sucks all around, Aal is a cocky privileged kid, and Kath and Tosh have a relationship. There are some other characters that share some of the spotlight in this novel as well, but in all honesty the main events follow Nova and her development.

After reading through this first installment I have to say that I truly hope the series is headed somewhere. Why do I say that? Well, nothing really happens here! It's all set up, introductions, and development of the characters, but there's really no concrete story. Sure there are little pieces of conversation that hint towards something that may be coming down the road, but the entire volume consists of Team Blue going through training courses. That's it. Even then we get badgered on the fact that Nova is better than everyone else and she'd be so much better if she would just display some teamwork.

The story so far just doesn't feel balanced and there aren't many dramatic moments. Sure we get to see Nova blow some stuff up, Aal kick some butt with kung fu, and Lio have a bad reaction to hab (Drugs are bad okay? Just say no!), but that's pretty much it. Still, there are plenty of references to the rest of the franchise and diehards will appreciate the lingo and bits and pieces of information that pop up about other species. In the end this is one that is geared more towards StarCraft fans, and not necessarily something that newcomers will be able to appreciate. Even so the story here is kind of flat and the first volume doesn't exactly take off. Here's to hoping the next installment will push things to the next level!

StarCraft: Ghost Academy receives 2.5 out of 5 PI.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Xbox 360 Review: Tekken 6

When it comes to fighting game franchises, there are a few that stand out from the days of the arcade. Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Soul Calibur are some of the more popular series that have withstood the test of time. However, Tekken is not to be forgotten. This venerable series has been around for 15 years and has seen numerous installations. Last year, the sixth Tekken hit the arcade scene and now the game has made its way to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles.

Not that a fighting game needs a story or anything, but Tekken 6 tries to piece together something. Basically, Jin Kazama has taken control of the Mishima Zaibatsu and is looking to take over the world. In charge of the Mishima, Jin essentially declares war on every other nation. Now this ticks his father, Kazuya, off and these events lead up to the formation of the King of Iron Fist Tournament 6. Around the globe fighters come together in an effort to take Jin down. There’s more to each character’s individual plot than that, but that’s up for players to discover. All gamers really need to know is that Tekken 6 offers a serviceable story that sets the stage for the battles that follow.

The setting is all well and good, but what fighting fans are probably hankering to know is how well the game plays. Tekken 6 is very much a successful game in that arena. There are a nice variety of modes to explore, some online functionality, and overall this installment keeps up in step with many of its competitors.

For starters, Tekken fans will be pleased to know that this release holds over 40 fighters. Some newcomers are available and the home release of the game includes additional content that wasn’t available in the arcades. New fighters like Alisa, Lars, and Leo help flesh out the ranks, though this reviewer does have to admit that Bob and Miguel are not the greatest. There’s even another version of Jack for this sequel as well, so his fans have something worth cheering about. No matter how many characters the game has, though, the thing that stands out the most is the fact that every fighter stands alone in regards to techniques. There are no Ken or Ryu clones like the Street Fighter series keeps pumping out. The characters in Tekken are wholly unique.

As is the case with any fighting game, Tekken 6 lives or dies by its various modes. Just having an Arcade mode and Versus mode simply does not cut it these days, and the creators of the franchise have realized that. Sure both of those perennial favorite play types are included here, but online matches, a campaign mode, and other customization features help keep gamers coming back for more. Throughout each mode, the core gameplay remains roughly the same, and though there are a few tweaks, longtime fans will likely feel right at home. This installment of Tekken feels very much like the last, for better or worse.

Players who haven’t stepped into the Tekken arena before should note that this franchise is all about memorizing combos, having perfect timing, and juggling your opponent. Sometimes battles are one-sided and when novices are facing a skilled player it will feel as if they might as well just put the controller down and walk away. The battle system takes a lot of practice and getting used to, so it’s suggested that you step into the Practice mode first to pick up some skills and attack combinations. This is only a place to start though, and after figuring out the basics it’s advisable to tackle the Ghost mode for additional training time. With the addition of bounce moves and a rage feature, you’ll definitely want to take your time with your preparations.

The Arcade mode pits you against a tier of the game’s fighters and inevitably throws you up against a ridiculously powerful end-boss. This hulking monstrosity is arguably the cheapest boss to come about in quite some time, even giving Seth from Street Fighter IV a run for his money. His moves are simply too powerful, he ignores all of your attacks, and everything he does is virtually unblockable. Needless to say this guy makes the Arcade mode more frustrating than it’s worth, even on the easiest difficulty setting.

Luckily, the Versus mode is solid and robust enough with the aforementioned wide array of characters to pick from and several different gameplay options. The same holds true for online play and this will undoubtedly bring players back time and time again. Unfortunately, latency issues with regards to the stability of the servers are a matter of concern. Most of the time, matches will be smooth enough, but connections and ping times drop inexplicably and with great frequency making the experience frustrating to say the least. It’s a gamble playing online, but that doesn’t take away the fact that it’s a lot of fun to go toe-to-toe with another human player.

When not going one on one against the CPU or another person, gamers can tackle the Scenario mode. In this variant, the game becomes a beat ‘em up of sorts as it tells a story. Players will pick a character and run through a 3D environment beating up random enemies along the way. The fighting system is built off the game’s combat engine, but it just doesn’t always work 100% of the time here. Even more problematic is the camera system which gets hung up far more often than it should. Still, anyone interested in customization will endure this mode for unlocks and money to buy items and add flair to their favorite characters.

Graphically Tekken 6 is more hit than miss, but not wholly a success. For the most part the game looks fantastic, with plenty of detailed, large character designs, smooth animations, and impressive backgrounds. Sadly however, there are times when each of those areas lets you down. Some attack animations look funny (like juggling) and even some environments are bland, though that’s certainly a minority. The Scenario mode is easily the worst looking thing in this package. The graphics are horribly dated and the aforementioned camera makes playing the mode an abysmal experience at times. Overall, Tekken 6 has blemishes for sure, but there are enough positives to overlook many of its missteps.

The sound direction is more or less everything you’d expect from a fighting game. Each hit resonates, the voice acting is fairly solid (though there are a few lame performances), and the music fits the mood well enough. While the sense of immersion isn’t as strong as in other titles, it’s very good for a fighting game entry.

Tekken 6 is a worthy installment for the franchise with a lot to offer. The fighting engine is every bit as enticing as ever, the gameplay modes are meaty enough (even though the Scenario is a let down), and the presentation will impress most of the time. Unfortunately it’s just not a complete hit out of the park. The game feels aged at times, the end-boss of the Arcade mode makes it pointless, and online play is spottier than it should be. Still, fans of this fighter will want to dig in and it’s very welcoming to newcomers as well. If you’ve grown bored with Street Fighter IV and Soul Calibur IV, give Tekken 6 a chance to find a home in your fighting roster.

Tekken 6 gets 3.5 kangaroo boxers out of 5.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wii Review: Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo

Dragon Ball is arguably the most popular anime franchise ever created. It has spawned hundreds of television episodes, over a dozen movies, and countless video games. Suffice to say, fans of the show have no short supply of ways to explore the adventures of their favorite characters. Every gaming console for the past few generations has been a home to Dragon Ball in some form or another. The most recent hit for the franchise was the fighting game series, Budokai Tenkaichi, but a new title for the Nintendo Wii aims to dethrone the previous title holder.

Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo takes fans that have cut their teeth on the Z franchise back to the roots of the show. This is a timely move on Namco Bandai's part as FUNimation has begun recently releasing the original series on DVD in America. Fans that are familiar with Dragon Ball are more likely to be knowledgeable of the Z brand, and not the first series. That means the story backing the game will feel recognizable, yet things will be skewed somewhat and feel fresh.

Basically, Revenge of King Piccolo takes place about a year after Goku decided to get out and explore the world in his quest for Dragon Balls. As fans of the series know, collecting all seven Dragon Balls grants the bearer any wish their little heart desires. It's a straightforward story that is presented in every version of the show, and this one closely follows arcs revolving around the Red Ribbon Army and King Piccolo. The plot unfolds during cut scenes and clips of animation, though the degree of success is varied. Sometimes the story is easy enough to follow, and other times it seems like it's out in left field. Then again, gamers tackling this game probably already know a fair deal about what's going on so the story is kind of a moot point.

One thing that will surprise most Dragon Ball fans right out of the gate is the fact that Revenge of King Piccolo isn't a fighting game at its core. The title is really a side-scrolling 2.5D beat 'em up and this was a nice, welcome change of pace! The gameplay in Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo is broken down into two different modes: Adventure and Tournament.

Adventure mode is truly the meat of the experience here and it's where players will spend nearly all of their time. The controls in here are fairly simplistic with one button for attack, another for jump, and the rest being used for guarding or launching special attacks. Players do have the option for different control styles too, so if they have the GameCube or Classic controllers they may use them as well. It would be advisable to switch controllers if possible because the original scheme with the nunchuk and wiimote can be a tad cumbersome and overly complicated for this type of game.

As Goku players traverse over 20 levels fighting small enemies from the series and encountering frequent bosses at the end of stages. There is a fair amount of platforming that needs to happen as well, and the game uses its 2.5D interactions nicely enough with multiple parts on the field for Goku to interact with. It's nothing we haven't seen before and in all fairness the gameplay feels very similar to something like Klonoa.

As far as the quality of the adventure itself, the game is good, but not great. There isn't an awful lot of variety and aside from the Dragon Ball motif it's not a very captivating, or lengthy experience. Let's just say that this game doesn't necessary reinvent the wheel, and that can be a polarizing thing. Some will appreciate the simplicity and nostalgic value of it all, while others will bash the game for lacking creativity. Keep that in mind when coming to a decision about whether or not to play the game.

The Tournament mode serves as little more than a fighting distraction for players that have tired of the adventure. Don't look for anything as robust as Budokai Tenkaichi because the gameplay is pulled from the Adventure mode. That means attacks are performed with basically one button and things get tiresome quickly due to repetition. Aside from playing through the game, there is also a shop that can be accessed to purchase various extras and whatnot. Fans will appreciate using their zeni to buy some trinkets and pictures to be viewed in the gallery, but this is more or less just busy work to keep kids occupied.

One key element to anime-themed games is the matter of how it all looks. Thankfully, Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo faithfully renders each of the characters. The graphics are very smooth and look precisely how fans would expect. There are times where it's almost impossible to discern that this is a video game and not an actual moment from the show. Kudos go to developer Media.Vision for creating such an authentic looking experience. The sound quality is very good as well with Japanese and English dubbing tracks being made available. The effects are solid overall and the music is exactly what one would expect from Dragon Ball. This isn't the most engrossing audible experience though, and there's not much in the way of a sense of immersion.

Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo is a nice change of pace for fans of the series that have grown tired of one fighting entry after another. The side-scrolling beat 'em up aspect is a throwback to games of yesteryear and I really appreciated that change in direction. However, the concepts backing the gameplay are too simplistic for their own good. The game winds up falling short on expectations and becomes repetitive after a short time. The tacked-on Tournament mode doesn't help matters either and it's anything but robust. Still, fans of the anime franchise will want to check this one if they own a Wii.

Dragon Ball gets 3 Balls out of 5.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

DS Review: Nostalgia

Never before has there been a more appropriately named game. Nostalgia is the latest release from Ignition Entertainment and comes from the development team of Matrix Software, who had their hands in the remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV. Going in knowing that, it’s no wondering that Nostalgia is one of the greatest role-playing games on the Nintendo DS. That’s saying something considering the system has fan-favorites such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest calling it home. But, just what makes Nostalgia so gosh-darned nostalgic? Everything.

This game brings back those memories of a sense of wonder and adventure from when you were younger. There are random battles aplenty, a flying airship, a familiar skill system, the gameplay is turn-based, and there are some familiar monster types (the first monster that you encounter is a rat for crying out loud!). The structure is also very similar to other Japanese role-playing games (JRPG) in that you have to hit a town to advance the plot, gain experience from battle, and use loot to buy equipment. The game hits just about every other expectation you’d have for an RPG.

One thing about Nostalgia that will strike players right off the bat is the setting. The game takes place in the 19th century and begins in London. The world is rife with magic and there’s a definite steampunk vibe throughout. This alternate history of the world takes you from London to other major cities in the world as you follow the exploits of Eddie Brown and his cohorts on a quest to find his lost father, Gilbert, and save the world in the process. At the start of the game Gilbert is attempting to save a girl from a mysterious cult named the Cabal and goes missing during the rescue. His airship is recovered, but his whereabouts are unknown.

To be honest, the story is kind of flat. It lacks that draw that pulls you in and aside form the rich setting, there’s really nothing dynamic about it. The plot has many stereotypes and doesn’t have the emotional development typically associated with some of the more robust RPGs. Still, the true beauty to Nostalgia is the experience as a whole, so thankfully the game isn’t being judged on the merits of its story alone.

When you begin Nostalgia, Eddie is all alone and heads off to become an Adventurer. In your first mission you’re quickly introduced to all the mechanics, and believe me when I tell you that this was completely unnecessary. Even though this is a new title, you’ll feel like you’ve played the game before. A random encounter in a dungeon reveals a turn-based combat engine. When a character steps up to the plate they can just attack, use a skill or an item, defend, or run. If you’ve played a turn-based RPG at some point since the original Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest this should be nothing new to you.

As you play through the game you’ll unlock additional party members each with their unique brand of attacks and skills. It doesn’t take long for your party’s ranks to be filled, which is a good thing because grinding and gaining levels is paramount in Nostalgia. Enemies don’t really rise in level with you, so as you fight through new environments you’ll receive more of a challenge than when you retrace some of your steps. Either way, there are still a lot of random encounters to deal with, and what Nostalgia brings to the table is a little higher than the norm in that regard. Going from point A to point B can be kind of frustrating at times, but thankfully there are save points scattered along the way that refresh your HP and MP.

One nice take on the genre is the inclusion of airship battles, which are definitely a throwback. Eddie’s floating boat is equipped with a massive sword on the front and each of your party members can man other weapons as well. During these skirmishes the enemies are larger, seemingly tougher, and come at you from in front of you and to your sides. The battle system for the airship is roughly the same as it is for regular party battles, but there is a little more strategy involved.

While the other facets of this game are, at their core, standard RPG fare, the game also gives you Skill Points to use. These can be allocated to strengthen abilities of your characters and also set them down paths for new skills to learn. As you build up some SP it’s worthwhile and necessary to head into the sub-menu from time to time to perform some upgrades. While this exact system wasn’t exactly in RPGs of yesteryear, it’s one of those alterations that makes Nostalgia feel modern in some ways. Another example of such an improvement is a ranking system that grades how you did in a battle. The better you do, the more you’re rewarded with, so there’s definitely some incentive to better yourself.

The campaign in Nostalgia is fairly linear and for the most part you’re carted from one location to the next. There is a selection of side quests to dig through and the variety is pretty good as well. Also, it’s worth mentioning that for a DS game Nostalgia has a decent length to it. You can quick save anywhere, and real save in the overworld, in towns, or at special spots in dungeons. This helps minimize the frustration of playing a handheld RPG, but you could also just close the DS as well and restore your progress when you’re ready (just be sure you have enough battery power if you do that!).

What about how the game looks? Well, things are on par with other RPGs on the DS. The top screen displays your characters and movements, while the bottom brings up vital information, battle stats, and an area map. Everything gels and it’s safe to say that if you enjoyed the work done on the Final Fantasy revisions, you’ll appreciate what was done here. Characters are large, detailed, and nicely animated, and monsters are equally impressive. Some of the environments can be a tad bland and recycled from time to time, but overall the unique designs outweigh the sparseness of textures. One thing that stands out as problemematic is the fact that some of the text in the menus and maps. It’s simply too small for the screen and the brown color palette does not make for an easy read. Despite these nitpicks Nostalgia is a solid looking game and an impressive DS title.

The sound is great as well with a soundtrack that is rich and memorable. Everything from the overworld tunes to the theme and battle music is spot on with what you’d expect, and it’s even better that it comes from a DS cart. The game’s effects are also whimsical and charming to boot.

It could be said that the game doesn’t do anything original. I mean, Matrix Software takes everything you’d expect from a classic J-RPG and rolls it into one package. The combat, exploration, and structure all scream “hey, I’ve played this before!” Despite that fact, the realization comes through as a nostalgic sensation, almost as though the developer was paying homage to the franchises that came before it. Because of that, Nostalgia is the most aptly named games in recent memory. Sure it may have its flaws, and yes it’s not the most creative RPG ever, but it’s such a joy to play that it’s an instant classic.

Nostalgia gets a 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Now playing: November 2009, Part 1

This week I'm working on a few things:

Just got my hands on Nostalgia for the DS and holy freaking crepes it's one awesome game. If you love RPGs and grew up in the 16-bit era, then man, you are in for a treat. Everything from this title exudes that nostalgic sense you get when you revisit something you adored. Never have I played a game where the title has fit so perfectly. This one is getting reviewed in the next couple of days.

Also dug into Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo for the Wii. This one is pretty solid so far and it's a worthy DB franchise fighter. I wouldn't go as far to say it's the best thing since sliced bread so far, but then again I haven't had a lot of time with it yet. Look for a review soon!

Other than those games I'm really, REALLY itching to unwrap Dragon Age. I simply can't bring myself to do it yet, because I know I'll get sucked in. Tekken is on the way as well and of course Modern Warfare 2 is just around the corner. Good God my thumbs are going to be aching from all the games!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Xbox 360 Review: Magna Carta 2

Magna Carta originally launched as a Korean RPG back in 2001. A few years later a sequel was released on the PlayStation 2, though for us here in the States it served as the first installment. The game caught on with the hardcore anime crowd and it was met with moderate success. Sadly, this was probably largely due to the fact that the game toted artwork by Hyung-Tae Kim, whose style uses buxom, beautiful girls in seductive poses. Who says sex doesn’t sell!? Even so, the game turned out to be not all that bad and there were some redeeming qualities. Is it worth another go-around though?

Magna Carta 2 follows a rather typical role-playing storyline. There’s an effeminate boy who also happens to be an amnesiac. This boy, Juto, lives on a peaceful island that finds itself smack dab between the opposing military forces of the North and South. Both armies are attempting to find something on the island known as a Guardian, and Juto gets caught up in events beyond his control. Soon enough he vows revenge against the North and joins the Southern forces to aid a Princess named Zephie. Together, along with some other party members, they do what they can to stop the Northern forces, destroy Guardians, and unlock parts of the past.

There is more to the plot in Magna Carta 2 than just that description alone, but in all honesty this game is a slow burn. Many key plot points are not revealed until much later in the story and as you progress you’ll receive tiny morsels to sate your appetite. Even so, the plot here is nothing to fascinating and it’s not entirely original either. That combined with the fact that it takes forever to progress the story leaves much of Magna Carta 2 feeling dry. Sadly the gameplay doesn’t do much to stave off that impression.

For all intents and purposes Magna Carta 2 is an action-RPG. You run around the world environment in real time and can enter and exit combat as you see fit. Your proximity to an enemy dictates whether or not you’ll be able to hit them and there’s no such thing as turn-based actions here. Instead of giving your free reign to do as you please though, there is a stamina meter that allows you a limited amount of attacks and special skills. Because of that, it’s safe to say that this game isn’t exactly a dungeon crawler, but rather a hybrid that also feels like an MMORPG in a way. It’s an interesting system that works towards the game’s favor.

Combat definitely takes the center stage here, and there are many nuances that come into play. For instance there’s a system known as Chain Break, which allows you to snap characters out of an exhausted state when they use too much stamina. This is essential in big battles, especially during boss fights and it’s important to listen to what the tutorial tells you about this when you come upon it. Otherwise all you really need to know is that in order to do special attacks you have to connect regular ones. The more regular attacks you do, the more “Kan” you build up. Kan is basically this game’s word for skill points, and it dictates all super attacks and magic skills that you may feel like unleashing on your enemies. The nice thing is Kan sticks with you after a battle and it lends itself to some strategy for going into the next fight.

While there is a fair amount of strategy to employ here, and some challenge built into the system, the combat just isn’t very lively. This isn’t the kind of game where you can level grind for hours on end and still be excited to take the next step. Fighting feels like a means to an end here and often times it’s kind of a chore to stop and battle in between objectives. That’s because each battle boils down to using the same mechanics, swapping between the same characters, and using Chain Break to reset your party’s stamina. It’s a very formulaic set up that doesn’t allow for trying new things.

Exploring the game is another thing that makes Magna Carta 2 feel somewhat like an MMORPG. You run around a city, over-world, or dungeon running into NPCs and getting questions from them. The amount of side and story quests is pretty hefty and there’s a nice experience and monetary reward that follows each. Some quests even net you handy items.

Speaking of items, there is the matter of equipment to bring up. Each character has a choice of two weapons they can use, a piece of armor, and two accessories. As far as the weapons are concerned they vary by style. For instance the hero, Juto, can use a one-handed sword technique, or a two-handed one. Argo, a party member, can use a hammer or axe, and Zephie can use a rod or fan. For each character depending upon the weapon you choose, different skills will become available. As an example, if Zephie is using a rod she’s more dedicated to healing, while the fan is more for attacking. There’s a nifty Skill Tree for each character that allows you to allocate points and unlock new abilities for each weapon style. The system is fairly deep and allows for some nice customization early on.

Adding to the customization level is something called Enhancements. These are basically the Materia (from Final Fantasy VII) of Magna Carta 2. There are orbs called Kamons that can be equipped to each weapon and they have stat boosting effects. Exploring which ones work best for the different weapons and each characters fighting style definitely leaves room for interpretation and uniqueness.

Aside from the nice customization options and mildly entertaining combat system, Magna Carta 2 is little better than your average RPG. The game is incredibly linear, despite the side quests, and the story takes far too long to develop before it starts to become interesting. All in all the game just doesn’t feel like that much of an improvement over the original, and it’s not strong enough to go toe-to-toe with some of the Xbox 360’s other RPG games such as Lost Odyssey, Star Ocean, Blue Dragon, and Infinite Undiscovery.

The gameplay doesn’t necessarily rise above the pack, and I hate to admit it, but the graphics don’t really either. The overall character design are nice, even if they don’t particularly match Kim’s gorgeous style. The world design, however, is rather static and kind of boring. Nearly every environment is lifeless to the point it looks like it could have been plucked from ye olde RPG. Adding to that are some muddied textures, a lack of finer detail, and an incredible amount of pop-in that occurs as backgrounds load. The game just looks like it’s been in gestation for far too long and simply doesn’t pack the punch some of the aforementioned RPGs do.

Thankfully the sound fairs much better. The voice cast really brings the game to life in a way that few other games can mimic. The roster is full of anime greats such as Steve Blum, Travis Willingham, and Laura Baily. The list goes on, really, and I have to say that the cast brings a tremendous amount of personality to an otherwise dull plot and script. The music is good, but standard RPG fare, as are the sound effects. During battle there is a nice use of the soundfield though, and some boss fights truly come to life, like the one against two giant sea monsters that appear on both sides of you.

Overall Magna Carta 2 isn’t a horrible game, but it’s not one that really makes you stand up and cheer either. It’ll tide over RPG enthusiasts with its game-by-numbers structure and may be enough to entice players to pick up the first game if they didn’t. However, you have to blindly dedicate yourself to the game in order to get anywhere with it. The plot takes forever to get going and the gameplay never picks up in speed. If you’re looking for an RPG to hold you over until the next big thing then consider this one a light recommendation.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blu-ray Review: Devil May Cry The Complete Series

These days it seems that if anything becomes popular in one medium it's going to appear in another. Movies turn into games, anime turns into movies, anime turns into games, and games turn into anime. That last one is what we're looking at today with the release of Devil May Cry: The Animated Series Complete Collection by FUNimation. Originally a part of the ADV Films brand back in the day, this one jumped ship and has found its way onto Blu-ray thanks to the good folks over at FUNimation. With the high definition anime market being slim pickings it's always a good thing to see a publisher support the format. With that in mind, is Devil May Cry really worth the plunge?

If you've played any of the four Devil May Cry games then I'm sure you're probably very interested in this title. The short answer to the question proposed above is "Yes, it's worth checking out", but it's not a resounding recommendation. The show has its flaws and it's not as solid of an interpretation of the franchise as one might hope. Sure it still kicks a lot of ass and many of the characters are familiar. There's just a sense that it doesn't quite live up to its fullest potential, and that's ultimately what keeps it from excelling.

The show opens up and introduces us to a crazy mixed up world where demons and humans seem to coexist for better or worse. There are demons that prey on humans, demons who love humans, and demons who pretend to be humans. Unfortunately that's really the only explanation we get regarding the plot of the series and if you're not too familiar with the franchise some things will be lost on you. Basically it's all set in the human world, there just happen to be devils living in it. Then again, it's not like there was much exposition about the world in the game series either, but I digress. Right from the get-go we're introduced to all around bad ass, Dante. He's a stylish to a fault machismo demon hunter whose tools of the trade are a sick looking sword and a pair of pistols. It's his personality that arguably sets the tone for the anime (and game as well).

Dante is the byproduct of an interspecies romance between a demon and a human female. He retains the best of both worlds and uses his abilities to help those in need, for a price. He attempts to run a legitimate business of being a monster slaying mercenary, but in all fairness it hardly pays the bills. Or, at least it might, but he isn't very good with money. He relies on a virtually useless agent and some acquaintances to find work, but in the meantime he has to baby sit some kid he rescued. This becomes a source of humor of sorts as the girl, Patty, is quite the polar opposite of Dante in every way.

More interesting than Patty is the introduction of Trish and Lady early on. Lady is a fellow devil hunter who is more or less Dante's equal in many regards, though most of the time she seems to have her own agenda. Trish on the other hand is essentially a physical clone of Dante's mother and is played off as such many times here. She is basically his age but nags him every now and then about his living habits. These two characters play nicely off Dante, but their relationship isn't enough to drive the series. What does keep this show going? Filler. Lots and lots of filler.

Aside from the occasional blip of a larger story scattered about, the entirety of Devil May Cry's twelve episodes is comprised of episodic stories. Something goes down, Dante is hired, and some demon winds up getting its ass kicked in the process. I'm not going to deny that it's fun for short bursts of action-oriented anime, but the story simply feels too shallow for its own good some times. With that being said I must admit that the show is incredibly sexy. The art direction is phenomenal and some of the fights here are truly brutal. Because of that I'd say this is a fun diversion if you appreciated the game series, but not nearly the full-blown, standalone anime it could have been.

Devil May Cry gets 3 stylish, sexy points out of 5.

For a full dissection of the quality of video and audio, as well as what this boxed set includes for bonus features, please check out my full review at DVD Talk.

Xbox 360 Review: Wolfenstein

There's no denying that Wolfenstein is one of the oldest first person shooting franchise on the market today. It's been around since the early days of 3-D gaming and has seen many installments across several consoles since then. The last time we stepped foot inside the supernatural world where Nazis have made contact with a demonic dimension was back on the original Xbox in Return to Castle Wolfenstein. That game offered all around solid FPS action for the single player and a decent multiplayer component that was rather fresh for its day and age. Now that we're into the next generation it would seem that Wolfenstein still has more ghoulish stories to tell, but the real question is whether or not this classic series can still hold its own in today's market.

The story in Wolfenstein is rather straightforward and very hit or miss much of the time while you're playing through the single player campaign. Basically you follow the exploits of a spy known as B.J. (tee-hee) who is deep behind enemy territory and in the middle of some serious X-files-like happenings. Basically B.J. (tee-hee) gets involved with a Nazi plot that opens up a portal and lets all kinds of unnatural things into our world. Queue up an amulet that allows B.J. (tee-hee) to gain powers from the dimension known as the Veil, and you have a nice little romp through World War II with supernatural powers at your fingertips. The story doesn't really do much to draw you in, but rather it's more of an atmospheric setting that gets the premise going and lets the world around you tell its tale. It's minimalist and not very effective, but there are some cool moments scattered throughout.

Thankfully the single play component is rather meaty in terms of depth and scope. You start out on a rather linear mission and are given the gist of what you need to accomplish, what's going on, etc. From there the game opens up a bit and allows you the chance to develop your powers, accept new missions, and upgrade your equipment. It's set up in a quasi-Grand Theft Auto kind of deal and there are different waypoint markets on a map that indicate objectives as well as people and places of interest. It's not incredibly immersive by any stretch of the imagination, but it's different enough for an FPS title that it feels somewhat fresh, if not clumsily integrated.

The single player will undoubtedly take up most of your time in Wolfenstein. Thankfully the campaign lasts a decent amount of time and the flow of gameplay varies enough to keep the pacing from getting too dry. There are a few difficulty modes to choose from and the challenge certainly scales and varies as you're introduced to new enemy types and given better abilities. You're also forced to think on your feet quite a bit. For instance you'll be slowing down time in the midst of shootouts to allow yourself to dodge bullets, using the Veil powers to show hidden enemies, and trying to find the best ways to get around obstacles all at the same time. It can be a little busy at points, but that's part of the charm really. It keeps you on your toes and you'll get the feeling that you're being pushed along.

Adding to the sense that things continually build in the single player game is the weaponry that becomes available to you. Sure you'll get a basic set of goods at the start, but slowly other more unique armaments are dropped on your lap. There's some top level stuff here that is an absolutely blast to use.

With all of that being said, the single player is easily the highlight of this game. It's a well-polished machine that stays fun from start to finish and it shows that a fair amount of ingenuity went into it. Sure there are the occasional glitches, but the gameplay feels right and the campaign feels fresh by many standards. Of course with that being said we're killing Nazis here and we've been doing that for far too long. Some of the punches feel desensitized and because of that, aspects of the single player game can feel underwhelming.

Speaking of under-whelming things in Wolfenstein; the multiplayer component feels like a tacked on afterthought. It's riddled with problems from the ground up and doesn't even look or play the same as the single player campaign. What you have here is a very basic set of gameplay types ranging from objectives to team Deathmatch. Beyond the modes of multiplayer there really are no options to fiddle with aside from turning friendly fire on and off, selecting a stage, and determining how long matches will last.

There is a decent set of maps to pick from, but in all honesty they all feel very similar. With a few exceptions you'll really find it hard to decide whether or not one map is better than another. They're all kind of bland and ultimately boring. Actually, that's really how the gameplay is anyways. There's precious little added to Wolfenstein to give it legs to stand on, though some additions do help ease the pain.

There are three character classes: Engineer, Medic, and Soldier. Each has a basic weapon set, though the Soldier has access to other armaments such as Panzer and Flamethrower. All three classes has a specific responsibility such as the Medic's need to heal, Engineer's ability to supply ammo, and Soldier's penchant for killing. Adding to that is the fact that there are different Veil powers and the ability to upgrade aspects of your avatar. The unfortunate part here is that new players are at a total disadvantage when going up against higher ranked ones. Until you get some upgrades your bullets will basically bounce off anyone who is ranked 30 or higher and it will only take about 2 bullets to knock you out. Sounds fun, right? Thing again!

The unfortunate part is that even once you play enough to upgrade your weapons, get some armor, and power up your Veil abilities it still won't matter. The game is plagued by lag issues and it's incredibly unstable. In just about every match you'll experience lag or network errors of some kind and it can be extremely frustrating. Adding to that is the fact that even if you play enough to win money and buy upgrades, sometimes the network will forget all of that and reset you to zero. It's a killer to say the least.

Graphically Wolfenstein has two different styles. The single player game looks great with some nice textures, solid animation, and a dramatic use of lighting which all comes together to help create an impressive atmosphere. The multiplayer, however, is the exact opposite. It's ugly. Real ugly. Seriously, it's almost like the game was developed with two different engines and the one used for multiplayer is the red-headed stepchild. Generic character models, muddy textures, boring weapons, and weak effects ruin the experience. At least the single player campaign is nice to look at!

As far as the audio is concerned things don't get much better. The voice acting is pretty bad, the music is cliché, and the sound effects don't exactly do much to improve the experience. On top of all that, the volume controls out of the box are horrifically flat and loud. I had to drop my system's volume by more than twenty points in order to have it at the same level every other game in my collection at. There are also some rather obnoxious pitches in the volume as well as other glitches such as voices that cut out, static, and missing effects.

Ultimately Wolfenstein isn't a game worth running out and buying. We've been killing Nazis, zombie Nazis, and demon Nazis for so long that what Wolfenstein brings to the table feels terribly cliché. The adding of supernatural powers to play with is a plus and I really appreciated the dynamic weapons brought to the table in the single player campaign. If you're just in it for the single player then I'd say this one is a very worthwhile rental. It's not the best at what it does, but it's fun and diverse enough to keep FPS fans happy until the credits role. If you do happen to check the game out, though, don't bother with the multiplayer aspect. It's painful to experience sometimes and it just sucks the fun right out of the room.

Wolfenstein gets 3.5 dead Nazis out of 5.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

DVD Review: Transformers 25th Anniversary "Matrix of Leadership" Edition

Back in July, Shout! Factory released a boxed set of one of the most iconic cartoon television series of all time. With sixteen DVDs, all 98 episodes, cool pack-ins, and hours of bonus content, the Transformers: 25th Anniversary "Matrix of Leadership" Edition was a force to be reckoned with. It was available through Shout! exclusively for a short time and will be hitting other retailers this week. At an MSRP of $169.99 the price tag is kind of hefty, especially for fans who own the original Rhino release, but the cost of admission is oh so worth it. This is one of the most revered shows from the 80's and it is one of the cartoon franchises that actually withstood the test of time.

Due to the fact that I spent a greater part of my childhood watching Transformers and playing with the toys (I still have all of them somewhere), it's only natural that I look fondly on those memories. Over the past few years we've all had the opportunity to take a look at things we used to enjoy when we were younger. Whether they were TV shows, cartoons, or films, several classics have hit DVD recently. For better or worse these are all just what we remember them being. Sometimes we may shake our heads in disbelief that we used to watch a particular program, or just chuckle at the ridiculousness of it all, but I have to say Transformers has remained as awesomely entertaining as I recall. Sure there may be bits that defy logic and seem corny, but we're talking about sentient robots from another planet who can transform into cars. Logic be damned.

Transformers originally came out in 1984 after Hasbro was looking for a new toy-line to capitalize on. Their attention turned to Japan and soon enough the idea for Transformers was born. Though several series have come out over the years (and we all know about the live-action movie franchise), the one that is revered the most is the original (sometimes referred to as "Generation 1"), which is what we have in hand today.

Transformers' original series ran from 1984 to 1987 and wrapped up with four seasons, 98 episodes, and an animated movie (which is not included here unfortunately). The show, like many others, featured episodic adventures from week to week with the occasional overarching plotline to give things a more thematic feel to them. The quality of the episodes ranged dramatically as you'd expect and there was something of a decline towards the latter half of the series. Still, no matter how bad the episodes got they were entertaining and worth celebrating for the sake of nostalgia.

The series begins on a planet far away called Cybertron. This high-tech world is in the midst of chaos as its two entities; the Autobots and Decepticons, are locked in battle for control of the world. The key here is energy and in order to find new sources of it the Autobots leave Cybertron, only to be pursued by their foes. They make their way through an asteroid field and crash on a seemingly uninhabited planet. Every robot is more or less destroyed in an instant, and it's not until four million years have passed that suitable technology has been created on the planet to initiate repairs. The Autobots and Decepticons are brought back to life and I'm sure you can guess by this point that the planet in question is Earth.

Soon after their revival, the Decepticons begin plundering Earth's resources to construct a shuttle that will take them back home. In the mind of their leader, Megatron, the Autobots are history and now there's nothing standing before him in his quest to rule the universe. Fortunately for us the Autobots survived as well and their leader, Optimus Prime, heads the charge and organizes his troops to protect our planet and stop Megatron in the process. This is the basic story found in the three part episode "More Than Meets the Eye" that sets up Transformers, introduces the core characters, and gets the ball rolling for things to come.

After the premier, the first few episodes of the series feature some formulaic one-shot stories that depict Megatron concocting ways to destroy the Autobots, or endanger Earth. Naturally the good guys prevail in the end in just about every episode. This is typical for something of the 80's Saturday morning variety, but things get interesting as more characters are introduced. In the episodes that follow, Skyfire and the Dinobots (Grimlock, Slag, and Sludge) are brought into the fold and shake things up a bit. This is followed by another solid three-parter entitled, "The Ultimate Doom", which sees Megatron gaining control of humanity via mind-control and working on bring Cybertron into Earths' orbit. Let's just say he dreams big and has the resources to pull something like this off.

After those episodes more characters are introduced such as the Insecticons and Constructicons. These episodes all lead up to the anticlimactic conclusion of the first season, though to be fair the transition into the second season is virtually seamless. This second season is where the bulk of Transformers' episodes came from and will undoubtedly be what you recall the most.

There are a couple of interesting episodes to kick the season off here and then things get silly with "Dinobot Island". I say silly because Prime sends the Dinobots to an island full of temporal rifts, which leads to the Decepticons unlocking some of its power and unleashing cowboys and pirates across the globe. From there some standout episodes such as "Changing Gears", "A Prime Problem", and "Attack of the Autobots" come through. There are a few mediocre ones in between and a couple of two-part episodes as well. Right up through to the end, the second season is a blast and the good far outweighs the bad.

It's at this point that the animated movie came out (you can find DVDTalk's review here) and brought about a certain climax that I won't discuss. All I'm going to say is that Optimus Prime takes his leave of the series for now and things are left in the hands of Rodimus Prime. The third season picks up with a five-part story called "The Five Faces of Darkness". This was really good and introduced a whole bunch of new faces, both good and evil. From here the show kind of meanders around for a bit up until the end, with the noteworthy "Return of Optimus Prime" making the journey worthwhile.

Now, as entertaining as Transformers is, there's no denying that the idea for the show and its characters were born out of the desire to sell a toy product to kids. We saw it with G.I. Joe, He-Man, and several other cartoons from the time period. Out of all of them though, I truly feel that Transformers was the only one to successfully withstand the test of time. Again, there are several cheesy bits to be found within the 98 episodes found in this boxed set, but the bulk of the collection is every bit as good as you remember it being. That's something truly special.

To read the rest of the review including a dissection of the Packaging, Video, Audio, and Supplemental Features please continue to the full review at DVD Talk.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Xbox 360 Impressions: Magna Carta 2

So, Magna Carta 2 just showed up on my doorstep complete with 360 Faceplate, Art book, and, um, a bigger art book. Before cracking the game open my initial impressions were, "Hey! Bewbs! Sexy legs!" I mean, just look at the art direction by Kim Hyung Tae...

Unfortunately the game's graphics don't actually match the perverse finesse that Tae can bring through his illustrations. Still, the graphics don't seem to be all that bad. A little bland, some choppy animations, and it's a little soft on the details, but it's not "bad" looking. The cut scenes are rather underwhelming though, and I can't help shake the feeling that this game was in gestation for a while. Things just seem kind of dated from a visual standpoint. The audio, however, is pretty solid. With a dub that's holding up pretty well (full of English anime dub vets such as Steve Blum, Laura Bailey, and Travis Willingham) and a decent RPG soundtrack, this piece of the puzzle fits just fine.

Now, this is a long haul kind of RPG, I'd imagine. Considering I'm only a couple of hours in please keep in mind these are just my initial impressions of the game. And those initial impressions are... it's kind of boring.

Some games just grab you right out of the gate and others are a slow burn that take their time drawing you in. Magna Carta 2 is the latter.

You start off as an amnesiac named Juto living on an island. The big mystery is you have some fear of real swords and resign yourself to weilding a stick (it's not that big though, and Juto doesn't talk softly). Shortly after the game picks up and you kill some crabs with your wooden sword (generally you need medication to get rid of crabs, but I guess a piece of wood works as well) all hell breaks loose. It would seem that the island is smack dab in the middle of two opposing military forces, originally named North and South. Seriously, whoever came up with that one is a genius. Well, the island has something on it known as a Guardian that the North wants, and the South wants to prevent them from having.

From the South area a princess with a name that eludes me right now (she's the sexy girl above) and a massive beastly guy named Argo come to town for some directions. One thing leads to another and Juto is playing tourguide for these two. It would appear that his friend Melissa has headed off to the caves where the Guardian is, and that's where the Northerners are, so yeah... Well, Junto tweaks during a fight against the Guardian and gives us a hint at the past he can't remember. Queue up some dry conversations, another battle, and the death of someone close to Juto (I'll give you a hint, it's not Santa Claus), and the game sets you on the path to confront the North as a part of the South. Like I said I'm only a couple of hours into the game and none of the story is really popping yet.

The gameplay is pretty straightforward, action-RPG fair as well. You run around a world map and take on quests similar to what you would do in an MMORPG. You can also enter and exit combat at any point when you come across an enemy. This is fine as well, but nothing original really. You also have standard attacks that fill up a guage which allows you to use special attacks. If you use too many attacks without giving your character much of a break then you'll enter something known as Overdrive, which increases power, quickly followed by Overheat, which freezes the character for a time. This can be exploited once you use other party members and you can string together attacks and increase damage. There seems to be some potential here, so I look forward to getting into that some more (after 2 hours I JUST got to a point where I have other party members to use).

I'm really just barely scratching the surface of what this game has to offer, but right now I have to say that I'm not really feeling it. I mean, it's not bad, but it's not exactly something that's making me feel the pull to go back and play. Hopefully that opinion will change as I get further into it and explore more of the world, see the combat system more, and some of the story unfolds. Until then, leave this one on your radar if you enjoyed the first game on the PS2, or if you're just looking for a new RPG. Then again, with Dragon Age: Origins just around the corner Magna Carta 2 may not really take off with the populous.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Xbox 360 Review: Dark Sector

Okay, okay, I realize that Dark Sector actually came out in March of 2008. You know what though? I just picked it up for a measely seven bucks on eBay. I figured what the hell. For the cost of a super-sized Big Mac meal at McD's I'd give the game a shot. Turns out I liked it quite a bit!

In Dark Sector you play as...okay, I didn't actually pay attention to the cut scenes, they were pretty bad. Let's just say you play as a super-secret spy sent to some place full of people with bad Russian accents. Some type of virus, or something, has been released that is turning the populous into zombie-like creatures of varying degrees of insanity. Some are little more than bloated farmers with shovels while others are gray-skinned alien-looking-things with...shovels. There are also some guys with guns who like to shoot at you and these shovel-packing zombies.

The gameplay more or less feels like a hybrid of other, more popular titles. The shooting and exploring feels very similar to Resident Evil 4, but the cover mechanic and simulated roadie-run give Dark Sector a definite Gears of War feeling. There's also a nice survival horror tint to everything and there are plenty of puzzles to rack your brain over as well.

The game infects you with this virus early on. So instead of being a random spy with a gun, you're given a bitchin glaive that acts like a boomerang. You can throw it to your heart's content and as the game progresses it even powers up. You can remote control it, power up the shot, or infuse it with elements such as fire, electricity, and ice. On top of that you can also use pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles. Further powers bestowed upon you include a shield that deflects projectiles and the ability to become invisible for a short period of time. The only problem with some of the latter powers is that you don't really get them until past the halfway point. You'll feel like "oh cool! I can turn invisible now!" just before the game ends so that's kind of disappointing.

Dark Sector is made up of 10 Chapters and most all of those Chapters ends with a slick boss fight. There's a massive guy you have to take down in a church, an invisible monster you have to outsmart, and a slightly more powerful nemesis infected with the same strand of the virus as you. All in all there's some nice variety here with regards to the bosses, though I must admit that I was let down due to the "rinse, wash, and repeat" strategy it took to beat most of them. The same can be said for the regular enemies of the game. While they offer a nice challenge at points, the AI isn't the brightest and each firefight is approached in the same manner. The only thing that changes is the amount of enemies thrown at you at a time. Despite that, the powers the game gives you makes each battle feel rewarding in its own way.

Now, let's just make it clear that Dark Sector is a fun game to play. The powers are a blast to exploit and the overall action the game promotes is quite solid. The campaign actually takes roughly 7 to 8 hours and offers up a nice bit of challenge even on the normal difficulty setting. With that being said there are the aforementioned flaws that stand out, but a few others as well. The game glitches frequently and you'll often get shot through walls by enemies, see bodies floating in mid air, and even watch as enemies walk right through explosions almost as if they didn't even happen. It's kind of frustrating to say the least and the game definitely could have used some more polish.

If you have a few bucks kicking around you could do far, far worse than Dark Sector. Sure nobody plays online anymore, but the single player campaign is a pretty good time and the achievements are easy to get. I'm glad I picked this one up and really got a kick out of the vision the development team brought to the game. Granted the "vision" was more or less to copy what other games have done, but the setting is interesting and I rather enjoyed the powers the protagonist is packing.

Dark Sector gets 3 decapitated heads out of 5.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This past week

Okay, so this past week has been kind of insane at my real job. My choice for the week was either to talk about games or play them.... I think you can guess which way I went.

Just wrapped up Halo 3: ODST with 1,000 out of 1,000. Woo hoo! In case you're having a hard time with the audio files I wanted to pass along a link that helped me out significantly. That was the last achievement I had to get and with this map in hand, er, on my laptop, I was able to pull it together in about an hour. Oh, and if you're trying for the achievements Deja Vu and Endure are every bit as difficult as you'd think they would be. Classic is relatively simple though. Just do the Uplift Reserve mission and drive past everything.

What's next for me? Well, I'm thinking about going through some of the backlog titles again. However, there are several games on the way in October that will simply/hopefully be too good to pass up.

Uncharted 2 looks sick and I can't wait to get my hands on that one. I loved the first game and definitely will see what Naughty Dog has cooked up for the sequel. I mean, this is what Indiana Jones games should be, but aren't. Hopefully Drake won't nuke the fridge.

MagnaCarta 2. This follow up to the PlayStation 2 RPG features some awesome art design by Korean artist Hyung-Tae Kim. The first game was a decent adventure and the second looks to be on par with expectations. What are the expectations you ask? How about efeminate heroes and ridonkulously busty heroines in skimpy attire?

Borderlands. This one has had a fascinating development cycle and I love the new art style. The whole apocalyptic vibe from the atmosphere looks really cool as well. This is definitely one I'll be checking out.

Oh, and Forza 3, DJ Hero, and some game called Tekken 6 will be out as well by the time Halloween roles around. Looks like it's going to be a good month! Personally I can't wait for November though. Bring on Modern Warfare 2 and Dragon Age!

Toad out.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Xbox 360 Review: Halo 3: ODST

Halo 3: ODST has taken over my life.

Ever since the game came out I have found time to play it every single day, which is kind of unusual considering my otherwise hectic schedule. With that being said I have some mixed feelings about the game.

Campaign: So the campaign is pretty good. The story is nestled well into the Halo universe and there's no denying the atmosphere is incredible. Basically it follows the exploits of an elite team of ODSTs (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper) on a special mission. Things go wrong as they are on their way down to the streets of Mombasa and the squad is separated from each other. As the Rookie of the squad you scour the darkly lit streets by yourself trying to find your fellow ODSTs. As you come across "beacons" you'll experience a flashback that puts you in the shoes of the other members are varying points. The game deftly strings the different stories together and the characters are interesting enough to pull the rest of the experience together. The thing that's important to note is that you won't miss Master Chief and Cortana. Things are handled so well here that the Halo motif is kept intact without the famed Spartan.

The gameplay is traditional Halo, except the ODST members do not regain health and they have a visor that helps in darkly lit areas. This all means you have to play the game differently, since you can run in guns blazing Rambo style and expect to make it out unscaythed. Imagine going up against a Hunter on Legendary as a significantly more human player. It's kind of scary.

Now, when you play the campaign you have the option to go at it solo or with some help, should you happen to have some friends to play with. Both play out like you'd expect, though the additional team members definitely helps through some of the tougher parts. With that being said two friends and I plowed through the campaign on Normal in about 3 hours. That's the negative aspect of the campaign game. It's just not long enough. And at the end it also kind of, well, just ends. Let's just say it leaves you wanting more.

Firefight is the other mode you'll find on the ODST disc. This one is an interesting mode very similar to Gears of War's Horde mode. Basically you and some buddies go up against wave after wave of Covenant. Five waves make up a round and 3 rounds make up a set. As the rounds progress the game turns more skulls on to increase the challenge. The amount and difficulty of enemies also progressively increases. Running low on ammo and getting swarmed by Hunters and hammer-wielding brutes is more than challenging enough. Oh, and you also share the amount of lives and there's a cumulative score that increases with each kill. The problem with this mode? You can't search for games. You can only play with people on your friends list and that can leave you high and dry sometimes. Come on Bungie! Give us the ability to find Firefight members!

There's a second disc included here, but all that is featured there is the complete Halo 3 multiplayer. I must admit I haven't played this since 2007, and after joining a match only to have my eardrums blown out by someone screaming obsenities and racial slurs, I was reminded why I stopped playing. There are good and bad here of course, but you really have to pick and choose when you play and what you play. The multiplayer component is still incredibly solid and fun so it's a good addition.

All in all, Halo 3: ODST is more than just an afterthought of marketing ploy. It's a well-produced game that expands the Halo universe even more than the main franchise has done. I'm in love with Firefight and am always up for helping someone through the campaign. Drop me a line if you're looking for another teammate since, after all, you can't exactly search for one through the game.

Halo 3: ODST gets 4 sticky grenades out of 5.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Oldie, but goodie

So, I've been without internet for a while. Funny thing is it was the router that died, and yet it worked for the 360, not my PC or laptop. Huh. Anyways, this time away from all my world wide web internets surfing has had me climbing the walls looking for something to do. Lucky for me I have a boatload of backlog titles that have accumulated over the years! The other day I pulled out Culdcept Saga for the Xbox 360.

In case you missed it, Culdcept Saga came out in 2008. It's the successor to the original game for the PlayStation 2, but in all fairness both versions are roughly the same. Basically it's like Monopoly met Magic: The Gathering and had a wild night of lust that resulted in a baby being popped out. Just had a mental image of Uncle Pennyworth getting it on an elf. Anyways....

So yeah, Culdcept Saga. FREAKING AMAZING! I loved the original for the PlayStation 2 and this version is every bit as addicting and fun to play. You basically have a deck of cards full of creatures, items, and spells. With that deck you go up against the CPU (or another player via Xbox Live....oh, wait, that feature is no longer available) and that match takes place on a gameboard. Each player takes turns on the field. Basically you role the die, move, and play a card. If you land on a block where your opponent has set up a hotel...er, creature... you can either pay the toll or fight for the land with one of your creatures.

Each game has a set winning condition, where you basically rack up a required amount of Magic Points and complete a round around the board. Whether you win or lose, your given cards to edit your deck with. There's a great deal of customization in Culdcept Saga and you can really tweak and change whatever you want. There are a ton of cards to dig through and you can save multiple decks. Awesome!

Not so awesome is the fact that the Achievements suck. In order to get any Gamescore in this game you're going to work for it for, oh, about 200 hours or so? Even then the lack of online play eliminates those aspects anyways. Then again, I'm not playing Culdcept for the achievements. It's a great game for anyone who was ever a fan of tabletop card games like Magic.

Rank: 4 magical cards out of 5.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Just Chillin'

No real updates today. Just posting a quick little doodle! Toad's chair is mighty cumfy! (Don't let the snot color fool you.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Quick DVD Review: Second Skin

I just sat down to watch Second Skin, and I gotta say that I was impressed and surprised! This 2008 film released by Liberation Entertainment and Directed by Juan Carlos Peneiro Escoriaza (try saying that 10 times fast) focuses on the addiction of MMORPGs and how the genre has affected the lives of gamers across the globe.

The good and bad angles are brought into light during this film. On the good side of things you'll see a couple hook up after playing Everquest II together, a group of gamers who all moved in together and lived happily ever after, and people hanging out in a digital world when they couldn't in real life. On the flipside there's a guy here whose life was destroyed by his addiction to WoW, there's an extensive look at Chinese goldfarmers, and you'll even see some people's relationships strained due to WoW.

Second Skin is insightful, thought-provoking, and entertaining. More importantly it's fair. The people in this film are exactly like people you know (think pudgy narcaleptic geek), and you really get a good sense of the mentality that goes into making an MMORPG addict. If you're interested in the content even just a little bit you should check this DVD out. It's definitely a good watch!

Link: http://www.secondskinfilm.com/

A Complex Shadow

You know the old story.Guy and girlfriend go on a hiking trip. Girl gets kidnapped by a militant group hellbent on destroying America. Guy grows a pair, ponies up, and takes on a whole army single handedly. The classics never get old, do they?

Okay, so Shadow Complex isn't going to be winning anyone over with its thought-provoking, Shakespearean plot. You know what though? Who the hell cares! This $15 XBLA title that was released about a month ago is without a doubt one of the greatest side-scrolling experiences of the past decade. It's part Metroid (think power-up system, map, and accessibility), part Metal Gear Solid (you sneak around a lot - sorry, not cardboard boxes), and all kick-ass (you, well, kick a lot of ass).

While you start out with just a pistol, a backpack, and presumably a couple of protein bars for the hike (Caramel Nut Balance Bars for the win), you eventually get assault weapons, grenades, and experimental gear that would put James Bond to shame. The game really goes out of its way to give you power and let you do what you want with it. Experimenting with the best ways to kill unwitting soldiers is arguably one of the time killers with Shadow Complex. Unfortunately aside from that the game is too damn short. For $15 you get a whole lot of fun but if you just blast your way through you can easily beat it in a couple of hours, if not less. Despite that it's definitely worth the buy, but don't expect to be coming back to this one much after you beat it.

Riddle me this. Riddle me that.

Who's afraid of the big bad Bat?

So, I just finished up the Normal difficulty of Batman: Arkham Asylum on the Xbox 360. This game turned out to be everything I ever wanted from a Batman game. Awesome gameplay, great boss fights, strong pacing, and it was steeped in comic book lore pulled straight from the pages of DC's archives. It did the franchise proud, which is something you really can't say too often unfortunately. Oh, and Ivy. Sweet, sweet Ivy....

After beating the game and tracking down all 240 riddles on the island I've been spending some time with the Challenge Mode. The combat mode is a great stress reliever and the predator challenges really get those brain cells fired up. You know what's better? More content on the way! The Insane Night Map Pack will be coming out on 9/17 and will feature some more freeflow combat.

I've got a feeling Batman will stay in the 360 for a little while longer. At least until I get through the Challenges and maybe play the Hard difficulty. Then again, by that point Halo 3: ODST will probably be out.