May 2010 Archives

Geek News Roundup for 05/23/10 - This Column Is Super

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Well, Angela used her Upgrade Movable Type superpower.  This is how it looks when I type stuff now.

Chances are, if you're reading this blog, then you have a better shot at controlling your dreams than the general public does.  That's right, according to a recent study, gamers (one of the target audiences of Damage Control) are so used to controlling the virtual reality of video games that they're best equipped to control the virtual reality of their dreams.  I guess I'm a defective gamer, then.  Either that, or my superpowers involve something else entirely.

You won't need to possess the Tolerance of DRM superpower to play the upcoming Starcraft 2, according to Blizzard.  With popular opinion being that DRM sucks, it's a no brainer for Blizzard to make this kind of announcement.  Want to promote your upcoming game?  Just make a press release saying "Yeah, we're not evil like Ubisoft.  Buy our game!"

The US navy wants to utilize video games to help their troops gain the I Don't Look Like A Fat Slob superpower.  Fifteen years ago, everyone would've laughed at that statement, but thanks to Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution, you can play video games and be healthy too.  You know the obesity problem is bad when the US navy are turning to video games to solve it.

I am using the Try Not To Cringe superpower right now, because it's been announced that Mass Effect is being made into a movie.  The words "Dear", "God", and "No" come to mind.  It seems inevitable that the movie is doomed to failure, especially since Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has been getting poor reviews.  In fact, the only video game movie I'd want to watch would be the one based off of Heavy Rain that was mentioned a few months ago.

Recommended Soundtracks: Star Ocean: First Departure

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recommendedsoundtracksbanner.jpgStar Ocean, Tri-Ace's first RPG after many of the Tales of Phantasia team split from Namco, features some of Motoi Sakuraba's earlier work. He's a video game music composer whose work is either vaunted or maligned depending on what part of the internet you dare to venture to. As a person who likes his music, I'll be honest: some of his material can be gratingly bland; see any tales game, save Tales of Phantasia, for examples. Or better yet, don't; at least not initially.

But when he's usually given the task to compose a soundtrack, he puts out some good work, and we received one of our first opportunities to listen to it with Star Ocean on Super Famicom. Well, some of us did, because it was a pretty late release for the system, not to mention Enix's American arm no longer existing. It was given a fan translation for the rom used with ZSNES, or any other SNES emulator you can think of. But it was one of a few games that was a slight hassle to play because it required a patch to run properly. Then you also had the reputation of fan translations back then, which wasn't good when inane butchery like Tales of Phantasia's translations existed. That same group, Dejap, worked on it.

sofirstdepartureost_053010.jpgIt took a little over twelve years, but the game finally received an official localization in the form of its remake for PSP: Star Ocean: First Departure. This version revamped quite a few of its gameplay features, but it also used remixed iterations of the music used in the original. Interestingly enough, the music here wasn't composed for this game, but was actually released as a separate arrange soundtrack back in early 2004. The earlier soundtrack also featured some of the best tracks from the original SFC title. (The best according to who? Got me.) First Departure was given an official soundtrack release, including the SFC tracks; it also included the new opening theme, "Heart" by Asunaro, and the credits theme "Mother Ocean," the latter of which is from Star Ocean Perfect Sound Collection from 1996, a different arrange soundtrack. Yeah, the situation is a little confusing.

What makes the remixed soundtrack good is that it keeps the melodies of the original very well. Perhaps too well for some people's tastes, as it doesn't take any risks. But that's great in preserving the original intent of the game. Please keep in mind that I'm going to be jumping all around the soundtrack here, so you're going to hear some tracks from the end of the game. Don't worry, I'll warn you if you don't want to hear them.

The very Engrishy "For Achieve," is the title to this game's main battle theme. You'll, unsurprisingly, be hearing this track a lot as you play through the game. It's as upbeat and energetic as you'd expect a Sakuraba-composed battle theme to be. What's great about it is that it's composed to fit the theme of whatever place you're fighting in, be it the overworld field, a castle dungeon, or a labyrinthine cave:



"Ancient Ruin" is used for the two optional dungeons that you can tackle before hitting the main dungeon on the overworld. Its enemies are noticeably tougher than any you've faced before, and they have plenty of excellent treasures to add to either your equipment arsenal or to use for synthesis items. A dungeon of its caliber needs something epic to go with it, and this suits it well:



The final track I want to feature is one I mentioned above: "Mother Ocean." It begins with a soft piano melody, but escalates into playing a full, live recorded version of the main theme. It's by far the longest track on the OST at well over five minutes, and it needs to be that long to accompany all the credits. It's also of much higher quality than any of the other tracks, aside from the opening theme:



Star Ocean's soundtrack is a representation of some the best early work from Sakuraba, and serves as a complementary soundtrack to Tales of Phantasia. First Departure's soundtrack might be one of the most "Play-It-Safe" examples for a remixed soundtrack around, but that really doesn't matter when the tunes themselves are so good.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and Bridging the Gap Between 2D and 3D

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mvc3pic1_052910.jpgDespite the first look existing within the pages of Famitsu and Game Informer for a few weeks, the first direct feed bull screen shots were revealed for Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds a couple of days ago. When Capcom expressed their desire to make the game look similar to a comic book, they were completely serious. That's regardless of how most of the game's potential fans thought it was a little farfetched -- especially after them saying the individual character designs were actual in-game models -- and how some of them really would have liked to see the anime-style look from the previous game and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom transferred to this game.

And then you have the small-though-vocal subset of them that would love to have this thing in 2D, despite how unachievable it sadly is. I like 2D as much as any other dedicated fan, and I definitely prefer the look of Street Fighter III to Street Fighter IV -- mind you, I still think the latter looks great. But the reality is SFIII cost Capcom a lot of money, money they definitely didn't make back because of the reception towards the game. Part of that had to do with the gameplay systems, but a sadder reason for that is that a lot of people prefer 3D to 2D. The only games you'll see in 2D are games where you know the publisher will definitely recoup the cost. A game as wonderfully animated as Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is a rare sight these days.

But it might not be so bad if some companies can successfully blend the two styles together to make a 3D polygon-laden game look as visually appealing as a hand-drawn one. It's harder than it sounds, but looking at MvC3, I think we're making it there. SFIV was a nice attempt but some aspects of the looks were a little off. Specifically, some of the character models didn't look as nice as their 2D counterparts (like both Ryu and Ken, for instance). The backgrounds, save for Super Street Fighter IV's newly introduced ones and the African airport one, needed some work. But it was the first attempt at this for Capcom's fighting games, and it's well worth some respect.

mvc3pic2_052910.jpgOh pfft, like he needs a gun.

Considering how good it looks, I can understand how some fans may have a problem with the way MvC3 looks right now. The stocky-armored Iron Man of the 90s has been replaced with the lankier iteration seen in the 00s, an expected change given how Capcom wants this game to appeal to a wide of an audience as possible. I prefer the old one, honestly. Some don't like the look of the Hulk either (more specifically, his hair), but I think he looks fine. Chris Redfield is about as buff as he was in Resident Evil 5, and he needs to be if he wants to take on the Hulk. And we all know he can.

I'd also like a good look at Morrigan. Not because of what you're thinking upon reading that. I just want to see how her new comic book-style look will be represented in-game is all. Yeah.

For people who think that it doesn't look to great now, Capcom has plenty of time to refine its visuals. Street Fighter IV looked a little rough when it was first introduced back in early '08, but it came a long way in a short time. We'll probably get our first real look at the game in two weeks at E3, but these screen shots probably confirm that the Shinkuu Hadoken animation at the end of the Captivate trailer was probably in game. For pure 2D, we'll have games the Blazblue and King of Fighters titles, but this will serve as a fine alternative.
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This review is a second opinion focusing on slightly different aspects of Final Fantasy XIII. Geoff's original March review of the game of can be found here.

Final Fantasy XIII is the ultimate example of a blockbuster title that suffers from the trope, "your mileage may vary." The game either resonates with gamers who go on to immensely enjoy it, or gamers quickly find themselves giving up entirely on it. FFXIII was originally slated as a PS2 title but underwent a platform change in 2005 in preparation for a PS3 release. While early game footage was shown at E3 '06 it would be another four and a half years before the game would hit store shelves.

In that time the fans became more anxious for the game's release, especially as the PS3 experienced a serious dearth of JRPGs. The game would go on to reach ungodly levels of anticipation among RPG and PS3 fans. But when it was announced at E3 '08 that Final Fantasy XIII would also be released on the Xbox 360 outside of Japan many fans complained. The console controversy faded somewhat, only to be replaced by new controversy when it was discovered that Square's latest flagship title eschewed the open world approach of Final Fantasy XII. Instead the game featured linear dungeons, scrapped town exploration, and chucked mini-games in order to focus solely on the plot and combat system. In many fans' eyes Square turned its back on hardcore, to others Square trimmed away the bloat which had been plaguing JRPGs for years. The approach is definitely a matter of personal taste, but if you're willing to give Final Fantasy XIII a chance you'll find a current generation JRPG experience like no other.


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The idiot hero gets the cute girl early on, and then it all goes horribly wrong. Poor Snow is a victim of Murphy's Law far too often for his own good.


Cocoon is a floating paradise that sits high above the untamed world of Pulse. The floating shell in the sky is powered by magical, mechanical god-like beings known as the fal'Cie who play a day to day role in the lives of the human citizens. The fal'Cie provide sustenance and governmental direction for the people. Although Cocoon itself is a peaceful paradise it is at war with the lower world of Pulse. Citizens fear anything and everything from Pulse. The people's greatest fear are the Pulse fal'Cie and their human servants known as l'Cie. Or worse, being transformed into l'Cie themselves. L'Cie are branded by an indelible mark and gifted with supernatural abilities. Humans transformed into l'Cie are also given a task to complete by their fal'Cie masters. Failure to complete a task results in the l'Cie transforming into a grotesque, mindless zombie-like monster known as a Cie'th.

It is in this setting that a Pulse fal'Cie is discovered in a small town and the entire population is set to be relocated to the world of Pulse. Amid the chaos a newly resigned solider named Lightning and four other characters take up arms against the government purge and are incidentally transformed into Pulse l'Cie. With only a strange vision of a gigantic beast laying waste to the world the group is uncertain if their given focus is to save or destroy Cocoon. Before the outcasts can pause to consider their fate they are relentlessly hunted by the military, and feared by the citizens. In the ultimate lose, lose situation the five have to decide between saving themselves by completing their focus (and possibly destroying the world), or ignoring their focus to save the very people who now fear and hate them.


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As Hope sits slumped over in the background he's probably thinking along the lines of: Worst. Fucking. Vacation. Ever. I know I would!


The game's overall plot is satisfying at best and is full of wasted potential at worst. The beginning is strong, the middle is lacking, and if you don't follow the events recorded within the game's datalog the ending will feel incomplete. Even if you take the time to read the datalog the story's pacing still feels rushed. Worse yet, important facts and back story are limited to a light novel only released in Japan and partially fan translated into English. Character interaction and development is the real draw of the story. In the beginning many of the characters are difficult to immediately like. Fortunately, the party comes together and interacts ways more realistic than most JRPGs. For a good chunk of the game the characters can't stand one another, only adding to their angst-filled situation. Often they lash out at one another and the group splits up frequently. Eventually, everyone has an epiphany and grows closer. Given the group's original animosity toward one another the camaraderie that emerges is heartwarming to watch.

The battle system in Final Fantasy XIII is best described as fast and frantic. Only the lead character can be controlled in battle, while the AI controls the actions of the other two party members. The actions of the characters are determined by the roles they assume in battle, called paradigms. Six roles are available and range from physical attackers to damage-absorbing tanks. Varying roles can be pre-set for battle via paradigm decks, and characters can switch roles during battle, i.e. a paradigm shift. The ultimate goal in a fight is to break an enemy by filling up its chain gauge with various attacks. Some enemies can only be seriously damaged when in that broken state, i.e., a stagger. Staggered enemies are easier to deal with and can be quickly eliminated. If micromanagement via gambits were the name of the game in Final Fantasy XII, overall dictation and breaking enemies are key in XIII.


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My two favorite women of war. Lightning and her "Army of One" skill, she's such a show off. Also full ATB bar skills are the closest you'll get to limit breaks in this game.


The active time battle system has been retained, although it works slightly differently in FFXIII. Once the ATB gauge fills up actions related to a character's role can be executed. Role specific commands can be manually stockpiled or selected by the AI. Actions are determined by scanning an enemy with the Libra command and the AI will automatically select the most effective attack or ability. The ATB bar begins with two slots and reaches a maximum of five. Various techniques may take up one to five ATB bars. Fortunately, items and special techniques can still be accessed while waiting for the ATB bar to fill up. Overall, the AI in FFXIII is pretty intelligent but not without flaws. The selection of area-wide spells over more effective single enemies spells is common. The characters also have an annoying habit of clustering together on the field making them easy targets for enemies that spam area-wide attacks. Also, if your party leader goes down it's an automatic game over, a la Persona 3 and 4. Thankfully Final Fantasy XIII allows players to immediately restart a battle, effectively doing away with death as a penalty. Had the ability to restart battles immediately after death (or avoid them altogether), not been present the game's difficulty level would be insanely high instead of merely being moderate to hard.


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It would have been nice to have more than six slots for paradigm decks. It also sucks that once a party member is switched said decks automatically reset. Arg!


Traditional leveling has been scrapped in favor of overall progress via the Crystarium system. HP, strength, magic, abilities, and accessory slots are all determined by progress made on the crystarium via points known as CP. The points are gathered from defeating enemies and progress on the board is unlocked as the story dictates. The crystarium doesn't fully open until after defeating the game's final boss, giving players very little reason to seriously grind for levels--although CP is another matter. Equipment is limited to weapons and accessories. Both items can upgraded by forging parts salvaged from defeated enemies, using the dismantled parts of other items or simply buying needed parts from shops. In a maddening catch-22 money is extremely difficult to come by, and fully upgrading weapons costs lots of money. 


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Summons that transform into vehicles (a horse, race car, motorcycle, fortress, gun turret, mechanical dragon) you can ride are either stupidly bizarre or hilariously awesome. I felt they were the latter.


Final Fantasy XIII is easily one of the best looking games on the 360, and no detail is spared. Yet, it is not without its flaws when compared to the PS3 version of the game. Colors are less vibrant, noticeable video compression can be distracting on an HDTV, and slowdowns in graphically intense areas are annoying. Considering that each dual-layer DVD can hold about 6.8GB worth of data it's baffling that Square only used about 5.8GB on two of the dics. Surely, that space could have been used to ease some of the compression. Better yet, a fourth game disc would have been acceptable if it meant less compression. If you own both consoles I would highly recommend buying the PS3 version over the 360 version, especially if you own an HDTV. Other than the video compression issue both versions of the game are identical, and it's not worth buying a PS3 just to experience this game if you already own a 360.

Like the graphics, the music found in Final Fantasy XIII is beautiful. The score was composed by Masashi Hamauzu, and is a mishmash of different styles, including fully orchestrated pieces, j-pop, jazz, techno, and even a touch of rock at times. Unfortunately, many of the songs aren't very memorable and many songs are simply remixes. A few songs do stand out, including many of the game's battle, military, and j-pop themed tracks. The voice acting is also top-notch and Square Enix reanimated cut scenes specifically for the English dub to ensure nearly perfect lipsyncs. In short, while much of FFXIII's music is forgettable the voice acting is outstanding.


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A sensible token minority? Check. The chocobo chick and Vanille fully approve of Sazh.


Generally speaking, Final Fantasy XIII's entire presentation is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Unlike the many JRPGs of this generation Square Enix took a straight forward approach with FFXIII and scrapped many of the genre's dated traditions. While the approach may not sit well with many longtime fans the game gives the overall genre a needed breath of fresh air. The game itself isn't without criticism, as Square's failure to straddle the handholding in the first half of the game and the difficulty in the second half was mind boggling. I'll never understand why the first half of the game was essentially a tutorial instead of just the first two or three chapters. Additionally, forcing people to essentially read the in-game manual to fully understand the game's story didn't do anyone any favors, as the approach reeks of laziness. Despite its shortcomings, I didn't regret a single moment with this game. Final Fantasy XIII is a solid game all around and worth a try for anyone looking for a departure from the standard JRPG.


Screen shots from the Xbox 360 version of this game are courtesy of GameSpot.

Warriors and Heroes

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Square Enix was releasing a lot of great portable games not too long ago, games that kept their image up while their console line up was in the doldrums -- and still is, honestly. It's no surprise at this point that many of the most creative teams in the industry tend to keep their more risky material on the least powerful system to keep the budget down, and that happens to be the DS this generation. But that should probably be "systems," since the PSP has seen quite bit of quality material as well. But then, that seemingly perpetual flow of software just stopped.

No, not "stopped" in the sense that they stopped making quality software for the aforementioned systems. It's just that we stopped seeing them outside of Japan. It's a shame that portable games tend to not sell as well outside of Japan, which would cause most companies to scale back in their output. But a lot of Square Enix's games didn't sell for a good reason: they were too much. When fans coin the phrase "Square Enix tax," you know there's a problem.

Fortunately, those days seem behind us with Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and the game announced today: Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light.

ff4holpic_052710.jpgA lot of people, me included, didn't think that this game would make it over, despite having the name Final Fantasy in the title -- meaning instant sales in most cases. This game will make it out on October 5th, so it's well out of the way of Square Enix USA's packed schedule that started this month. They already gave us Final Fantasy XIII in early-March and Nier in late-April. But their current schedule is as follows:

May: Zilch
June: Nada
July: Nope
August: Nothing

Why a company would release so many games so close together, I just don't know. It's baffling! And don't you say "but you forgot Dragon Quest IX," since Nintendo is handling publishing and marketing for that. I don't see why I should mention it above since Square Enix USA doesn't even have the game listed on their website. They could have translated and released Saga 2 or something, but we'll have to rely on fan translations for that. The jerks. Though to be fair, it's nearly the same way in Japan, excluding Dragon Quest Monsters Battle Road Victory for Wii. Gotta make way for those Extreme Edges!

They could have released Lufia DS, too, but thankfully Natsume picked that one up. And just to keep with the tone of nostalgia -- since that's a remake of Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, which they also published in America back in the mid-90s -- they're calling it Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals. That's planned for a release this fall, but Natsume is known for delays, so don't be surprised if it doesn't make that. 

I'm still somewhat anticipating 4 Heroes of Light (though I thought Warriors sounded better, honestly) despite hearing about the flaws it has. Bothersome auto-targeting and extremely limited inventory sounds pretty dire, even if the game looks beautiful aesthetically. And it doesn't seem like it will be fixed for the western release if the interview with the producer on 1up is any indication. So, uh, here's hoping it's enjoyable regardless.
Sunday night marked the end of another successful year of Fox's Animation Domination comedy block. Unlike the myriad of network TV shows either being cancelled or simply ending (see Numb3rs, Law and Order, 24, Lost, etc.), Fox's Animation Domination is still going strong-- albeit without King of the Hill. Although I've fallen out of the loop with watching The Simpsons I'm still following Seth MacFarlane's various comedies. This year Family Guy ended its eighth season, American Dad successfully finished a fifth season, and the first season of The Cleveland Show made waves. While I'm convinced that Family Guy gets a little worse with each season since its revival, The Cleveland Show was a pleasant surprise and American Dad continues to be strangely awesome.


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The Cleveland Show successfully made it through the year, everyone should be celebrating.


Upon learning about The Cleveland Show spin off I was apprehensive. Out all the characters on Family Guy I found Cleveland Brown to be the least interesting. To me he was just the token black guy. Being a longtime fan of Seth MacFarlane's work (all the way back to his days at Hanna Barbera), I decided to give the series a try. I was happy to discover how logical the premise of the show was and how much continuity it actually shared with Family Guy. Cleveland never got much air time because of Peter Griffin's over-the-top shenanigans. Cleveland is finally fed up and forced to leave Quahog after losing his house to his ex-wife in their divorce settlement. He and his son eventually end up in his hometown of Stoolbend, Virginia. There he marries his old high school sweetheart Donna, and moves in with her two children. Between his son, Cleveland Jr. and Donna's children, Roberta and Rallo the pieces for a typical sitcom neatly fell into place.

The first few episodes of the first season lacked some of the wacky humor found in both Family Guy and American Dad but the show was solidly amusing. From the start, the show established that it would not take itself seriously, even including a funny in-show TV promo about white people who attempt to make shows for black people in the second episode. In fact, the writers always seemed aware of potential skepticism and broke the forth wall as much as possible. Halfway through the season the show began to use more of the signature humor that marks Family Guy, while adding a unique twist. The continuity between The Cleveland Show and Family Guy also aided the show greatly, as opposed to completely ignoring the seven seasons of Cleveland's history with Peter and friends. Unfortunately there was a bit of history rewriting and odd moments in the show that didn't quite match up with the said history. Cleveland Jr. is one such example. He first appeared on the early seasons of Family Guy as a thin, hyper, young boy with a clear cut case of attention deficit disorder. Suddenly he's back, calmer, smarter, several years older (while no one else has aged), and considerably fatter. No official explanation for his radical change is ever offered. Also, Cleveland claims Stoolbend as his hometown but episodes of Family Guy clearly have him spending his teenage years in Quahog as Peter's best friend. Again, no explanation is offered. Considering the show's continuity these questions are worth asking and do present an annoying lack of detail.


Cleveland rants on about why he's leaving and asks for a special favor from Lois and Bonnie. I'll file this one under les yay.


Still, the overall continuity works well. Like the show it was spun off from, this show makes liberal use of cutaways and the writers seem to enjoy poking fun at celebrities, especially black celebrities. Unlike Family Guy, Cleveland is refreshingly less of a jerk and the show captures much of the lighthearted nature that was lost with its parent show years ago. In fact, The Cleveland Show is closest fans will ever get to Family Guy returning to its pre-cancellation roots. In short, I'm glad I gave this newest series a chance and I'm looking forward to season two.  

Season eight of Family Guy kicked off with the said continuity related to Cleveland's departure. At first it was a little strange not to have Cleveland around, but after the first few episodes it felt normal. His absence could either be due to the relatively minor role he's come to play in recent years, or that his spin off show fills the gap nicely.  But in a nice surprise one of the last episodes of season eight did feature Peter and friends taking a trip to Stoolbend and inviting Cleveland along on a wacky adventure. Cleveland or not, Family has been something of a mixed bag in recent years and season eight continues the trend. Which is a shame considering how funny season started off with episodes like "Road to the Multiverse" and "Jerome is the New Black." Longtime fans of the series will note the pre-cancellation episodes of Family Guy have a very different vibe from the post-cancellation episodes. Once the series was revived it noticeably took a more mean spirited approach and seemed to dare the executives at Fox to cancel it for a third time.



An example of some of the political humor newer seasons of Family Guy now uses. Much of it is mean, but this is actually kind of tame and funny, depending on your sense of humor.


It went from being a lowbrow comedy with weird but amusing situations to an outright offensive series at times. Just about every character has taken a turn for the worst and Peter who was once a likable dumb-ass is just an outright jackass. Even the family itself became more dysfunctional as everyone's personality simply devolved. The lighthearted humor and lessons learned from said sitcom situations from the first three seasons are long gone. Additionally, the show has taken more of a political position in recent years. At times Family Guy feels less like a comedy and more like a super liberal, decidedly anti-religious platform for the writers. Those particular episodes (especially when they're devoid of any real humor) can be almost painful to watch. Still the overall entertainment value can occasionally trend toward "so wrong but kinda funny," depending on your personal tastes.


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"Something, Something, Something, Dark Side" is actually a pretty entertaining episode and a solid Star Wars parody, imagine that!


Despite my complaints and the complaints of many other fans, Family Guy manages to remain a solid series for more forgiving fans. Unlike The Simpsons, the show is in a downward spiral but the series has not yet crashed and burned. Sure, much of the magic left when Seth MacFarlane stopped doing much of the writing himself, but this series still has quite a bit of admittedly offensive humor left. Going back to series' hit or miss syndrome, I found myself completely unimpressed with the 150th episode simply titled "Brian and Stewie." Watching Brian and Stewie for nearly an hour trapped in a bank vault with an episode that consisted entirely of dialogue was not a particularly interesting fit for Family Guy. It was definitely a case of your mileage may vary. Still, the hour long season finale "Something Something, Something Dark Side" a parody of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back was actually pretty decent and made up for "Brian and Stewie" many times over. While the episode was more of a movie than anything else, it reminded me of how much I still enjoy Family Guy when the series hits its mark. That said I wouldn't be surprised if the upcoming season nine continued the downward slide of the series.

My favorite Seth MacFarlane show in recent years is American Dad. I relate it to what Matt Groening did with Futurama and how it became more interesting than The Simpsons. I've enjoyed American Dad more than I've enjoyed Family Guy in recent years. When I think about it, I initially hated the first half of season one but the series became likable when the writers ditched the overly offensive political and social humor. The series started out as biting satirical response to the George W. Bush presidency and the Far Right but tried way too hard to offend everyone. Despite being from the same studio as Family Guy, it didn't bother with any of the signature cutaways or clever lowbrow humor that marks MacFarlane's work.  Instead it relied heavily on smart political humor and to fully enjoy the show viewers had to be aware of recent politics. At the end of season one, it became clear that taking a very different approach to comedy than Family Guy was the right decision. The show took a turn for the ridiculous, and has not strayed from that territory since. Amazingly, the show is all the better for it.


I totally forgot the set up for this episode, but crack AND guns are easily the solution to life's drug gang problems.


In subsequent seasons American Dad has become more of a strange family adventure sitcom, with the occasional nod to politics. Instead of lowbrow humor, the writers have opted for something more subtle and off-the-wall. The show isn't immune to mean spirited humor, but such humor is often well placed and not done for the sake of simply being mean. Surprisingly, the characters have also grown into their own over the last five seasons. Even Stan Smith, who unlike Peter Griffin has become (slightly) less of a jerk as the seasons stretch on. Nevertheless, this show is at its best when it goes for outright weird and over-the-top situations.


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Stan appearing in the episode "Rapture's Delight" after being left behind. Getting your wife back while battling demons with Jesus is both weird and kind of awesome.

Thankfully, season five was no exception. Between Steve becoming a Vietnam War reenactment veteran to Stan being left behind during the rapture (and Stan becoming a badass bounty hunter as a result) to Roger's attempt to kill the entire family after a being insulted on his birthday, this newest season was a blast. The only thing that dampened season five was the actual airing schedule, unlike Family Guy and The Cleveland Show, American Dad went long stretches without being aired on Fox at all, including reruns. Scheduling gripes aimed at Fox aside, I'm ready for season six.


Images courtesy of the Los Angeles Times and TV @ Spreadit.org.

Mystery of the Reimaginings

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feds2logo_052510.jpgSome exciting news awaited some of us as we woke up this morning. While some of us in America were sleeping, Nintendo of Japan decided to reveal that a new Fire Emblem game was coming to DS on the franchise's portal. Quite a few of us are Fire Emblem fans too, so I'm sure they'll be delighted to hear this news.

Well, maybe they were, as a quick look at the teaser from certain fans and the Japanese press revealed that it's not actually a "new" game per se, but another remake similar in vein to the last DS title: Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. This upcoming game, given the title Fire Emblem: Shin Monshō no Nazo ~Hikari to Kage no Eiyū~ (meaning "Mystery of the Emblem: Hero of Light and Shadow), is a remake of the third Fire Emblem game released in Japan, known merely as Monshō no Nazo. This game is a direct sequel to Shadow Dragon, but it's original release in Japan wasn't that simple.

fesdpic_052510.jpgThat's Shadow Dragon. Don't panic!

Shadow Dragon may have been a remake of the first game on Famicom, but it was the second time that game was remade. It was also given a remake on Super Famicom, and released along with Mystery of the Emblem on the same cartridge. So yeah, the remake and sequel were both on the same SF cartridge. But Nintendo apparently decided to release the remakes of both games on DS separately. All we know about this game thus far is the teaser, so no one knows whether this one will include Shadow Dragon and this game on one card. It should be said, however, that the chances of this happening are minimal.

With this news, fans of Fire Emblem are both excited and disappointed, with whatever side you end up being on depending on whether you liked Shadow Dragon or not. Some fans didn't jive with the game's changes or the in-game 3D models. Hopefully, Intelligent Systems can produce a remake that doesn't split the fanbase this time around. Some people around the 'net say that the original game feels a little clunky these days, so maybe they can merely spruce up the mechanics and utilize what worked best about the last few games. If the trailer's art style is indicative of what will be in the final game (and it probably is), it looks like Masamune Shirow won't be contributing to this game.

If you're wondering why they skipped the second game, it's likely because it's a rather large departure from the usual Fire Emblem formula. In fact, it bears more of a resemblance to Sega's earlier Shining Force games. Nintendo and Intelligent Systems' plan is to apparently focus on the games that stick close to the formula.

It's pretty sad that, upon hearing this news, there will probably never be a new Fire Emblem game created from the ground up for DS with the 3DS coming soon -- despite it being one of Nintendo's most successful systems ever. The fact that there hasn't been an original Fire Emblem game in three years (Radiant Dawn on Wii) stings too. On the other hand, the fourth and fifth games are, according to fans, apparently some of the best games in the series. If they plan on remaking all of the games, this may not be so bad after all. Well, granted they don't mangle anything in the process. This new Fire Emblem game will apparently be available in Japan later this year, but who knows if it will be at Nintendo of America's E3 booth. You know, if they plan on localizing it at all.
imamac_052410.jpgUh oh, Mac Fans! Apple's "I'm a Mac" ads have been on airwaves for a good while, so long that a random person likely couldn't tell you precisely how long they've been on unless they've been analyzing them carefully. Well, Apple is officially done with them. The ads sent plenty of mixed messages, and it was uncertain as to whether it actually sold Macs or merely irritated people. The ads are already gone from Apple's website, and have been replaced with ads telling you why you want a Mac.

The manga industry has fallen on hard times lately, along with the anime industry. The most recent casualty is CMX Manga calling it quits. They will officially be a memory in July, though fate of the ongoing titles you're collecting from them have an as-yet unknown fate. Now, I'm sure there are plenty of Tenjho Tenge manga fans cheering right now, but it's never great when people lose their jobs, or when the manga industry shows further signs of weakening.

(Not to defend their silly censorship, of course.)

The PSP may be the best selling console in Japan this year, but its life has been tough outside of that country. Sony knows this, and they're not about to give up. They're currently prepping an ad campaign to let people know that this thing still has some life left in it. Hopefully they're successful, because its upcoming lineup is very good. They realized they needed to keep it alive long enough for XSEED to localize all of those Falcom games!

Pac-Man had its 30th birthday last week, and Google celebrated by having Pac-Man playable on its home page during Friday and Saturday. Chances are anyone who worked on a computer outside of the house during those two days got absolutely nothing done. It was one of the most evil, despicable things Google has ever done. And it was great.

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project set the longevity record for operating on the surface of Mars Thursday with it's still-operating rover: Opportunity. "Still-operating" is in that sentence because NASA also had another rover on Mars called "Sprit," which they lost contact with on March 22nd. Opportunity is passing a record set by NASA's Viking 1 Lander back in November of 1982. 
Header 00S2.jpg

Now, at the end of Gundam 00 Season 1, which is reviewed here,  it's pretty clear the series was opening up plotlines to delve into for the next season rather than wrapping things up nicely in a bowtie.  Having only seen Gundam series that consisted of around 50 episodes and being impressed by 00's excellent characters, action, and complex plot, I was expecting Season 2 to answer some of the main questions that lingered from season 1 while retaining the aspects that made the first season so enjoyable.

First impressions are positive, and the series started out with a lot of potential.  The main characters, especially the 4 Meisters, were reintroduced very well, preserving the characteristics they were known for and offering a slightly different side of their personality.  A good move, since a Gundam series with lousy protagonists is simply not worth watching.  The reintroduction is a natural evolution occurring in the 5 years which separate the two seasons.  Setsuna has become much more mature and assertive, while Tieria has shed much more of his previously condescending nature.  Some characters, among them Louise Harvey and Wang Liu Ming, did evolve for the worse, but this is necessary to create the strife needed for the story to build.

Resized 3.jpgPopping pills to keep your sanity is a sign that you've evolved for the worse.

A third major faction known as the Innovators is introduced as trying to continue with Aeolia Schoenberg's incomplete plan, while the 3 previous major world powers, now unified under the Earth Sphere Federation, is trying to preserve law and order through the corrupt A-Laws organization.  Due to the corruption within the A-Laws and behind-the-scenes actions of the Innovators, the story builds quickly, and because of the evolved characters' personalities, one gets an excellent combination of morality, motivation, righteousness, and action.  Pair that up with very detailed animation and solid character chemistry not only amongst Celesial Being but amongst minor characters as well, I settled down for what I thought would be another A+ anime like its predecessor.  However, around halfway into the series, cracks started to form in what had started out as the perfect handoff from Code Geass R2, which previously held 00 Season 2's time slot.

The first problem is with the Innovators, where the producers and storywriters made the same mistake that swallowed the Knights of Rounds in Code Geass R2.  The transitions amongst all main factions aren't as awkward as in Code Geass R2, but this doesn't make up much for the fact that the secondary antagonists suffer from a severe case of character underdevelopment.  For the Innovators, each member perhaps get a few lines in the entire series, and dialogue amongst them is rare, so names, appearances, and personalities feel plastered on and eventually fall off.  Each one is portrayed as "Ribbon's subordinate" rather than as their own self.  Also puzzling are their names, most of which are just random words from a dictionary.

The same case of character underdevelopment also holds true for one Meister, Allelujah Haptism, though to a much lesser extent.  In Allelujah's case, his character has been inadvertently pushed into the backseat, grown considerably softer, and whose confidence has waned after his fate at the end of season 1.  While I can understand his reasons for softening up, the fact he gets a much lesser amount of character development and screen time can't be overlooked.  The reintroduction of his alter-ego Hallelujah is welcome but was too sudden and clumsily done.  The underdevelopment of Allelujah is a tradeoff for an extreme overdevelopment of the main protagonist Setsuna F Seiei, who for season 2 plays a much larger "front and center" role as protagonist and ace pilot.  While each Meister receives an improved version of their previous Gundam in season 2, Setsuna's overpowered replacement, 00 Gundam, with all the extra accessories, just exemplifies the overattention paid to him not only as a person, but also as a pilot.  Don't get me wrong, Setsuna's a great character, but having him portrayed as the ace card in every battle is detrimental to the series as a whole.  00 should take a leaf out of Wing's book in this sense.

00 Raiser Ahead.jpgSetsuna's replacement for Gundam Exia, the Gundam 00, here with 0-Raiser attached and taking out an A-Laws Ahead unit

Despite a presence in season 1 and taking on the role of primary antagonist in season 2, the head of the Innovators, Ribbons Almark, presents an even bigger problem.  As an antagonist, one usually portrays a certain aura and has a certain plan to achieve one's goals.  For Ribbons, bits and pieces of his plan are revealed throughout the series, but that is all the viewer has to work with and one is always hoping for more details or references to what was revealed in season 1.  The foundation of the plan is poorly explained and developed, and when one plot hole gets filled, three more pop up.  Sure, there are plenty of twists and turns, as Ribbons pushes his lackeys out at Celestial Being to keep them off track.  But in doing so, he portrays himself as a puppetmaster and disconnects himself completely from the story, always taking the easy way out by having someone else do his work.  When he receives word of a setback or a failed plan, he annoyingly reacts with complete ambivalence and comes up with new plans so grandiose that one wonders where he receives the money.  It's as if he doesn't care about anything, from his subordinates, his plan, his possession of Mobile Suits, or control of the Veda supercomputer.  His expression in most of the series is of a half-grin, with absolutely no emotional or frustrated outbursts at all, which combined with a monotone voice 80% of the time he speaks leads to a dull, flat personality.

Gundam 00 Innovators.jpgRibbons Almark, the head of the Innovators group, sitting on his signature magenta couch.  From left to right in the back:  Regene Regetta, Healing Care, Devine Nova, Bring Stabity, Revive Revival.

It wasn't until 2/3 of the way into the series when plot problems began to crop up.  Plot buildup until this point was rather good, but at 2/3 of the way into a series, one usually expects key events to begin happening, stunning revelations, or a buildup to the final battle.  Instead of providing more details on Aeolia's original plan and Ribbon's attempt to make it reality or advancing key character relationships, the story repeats itself by having a second version of the Memento Mori, a superweapon which was destroyed several episodes previously.  The plot also finds time to shoehorn in a hastily-developed romance between Mary-Sue Anew Returner and Meister Lockon Stratos, whose previously charming personality now has been diluted with a serious inferiority complex.  The fact his loyalty, ability, and motives are oftentimes called into question doesn't earn him many points either, and leads him to becoming a lightning rod for criticism and hatred.  Whether the producers were distracted or tried cramming too much material into too few episodes is debatable, but what's clear is that the time they had for the last third of the series could have been better utilized.  Nonetheless, by the last episode, while some loose ends are tied up, the series manages to end with more plot holes and unanswered questions than season 1, and it's a miracle the last 3 episodes don't feel too rushed.  It was a huge sigh of relief knowing that a movie, Awakening of the Trailblazer, comes to Japan this September.

Despite several huge flaws, Gundam 00 Season 2 is still a viable watch.  It's not a complete disaster that destroys the good aspects its predecessor had like Gundam Seed Destiny because it does start out well and has a clear sense of direction.  The problem is that partway into the execution, it began to falter and just struggled to redeem itself.  Whether this was because it tried to cram in too much material or the producers got distracted, the second season should be viewed as a stepping stone to the movie, which hopefully cures at least the plot holes and the unbalanced character development, while still keeping the aspects which made the series enjoyable.  How long before it comes to the United States and what sort of release it will get remains to be seen, but it will be something for 00 fans to surely look forward to.  To hold off on the movie release, the first boxset for season 2 was released on April 6 this year, and look for the second boxset on July 6.  Otherwise, these will have to suffice:







All images are mine except for the third one, which is courtesy of Wikipedia

Recommended Soundtracks: Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact

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recommendedsoundtracksbanner.jpgThe music produced by Capcom for video games in the 90s had a unique flair, whose charm was displayed through making the best of minimal instruments. Though some composers aspired to have their music funneled though some of the best instruments available for music making, it's something most consoles during that age were incapable of. But when you think about it a little, the lower sound capabilities inherent in consoles and arcade machines actually was to our benefit; that limited technology actually pushed composers to try harder to appeal to their target audience, which mostly consisted of nerds who would seriously appreciate what they had to offer.

A shame that era is mostly long gone, and many of Capcom's games have switched genres with their embracing of new genres of video games. It's a fitting change (for most, not all); a result of the company adapting to the current video game development and publishing climate. But it's good to remember when their music was still "old school," to put it simply.

sf32ndimpactpic_051610.jpgStreet Fighter III: 2nd Impact is an interesting example here, because it was one of the last few representatives for this trend. That, and its change would be displayed in the very next game after this one released, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. You'll find around the internet that many fans abide by 3rd Strike's soundtrack over the music provided by the previous two installments, but I have a soft spot for 2nd Impact's New Age/Jazz offerings. 3rd Strike's, on the other hand, which I like just as much, embraces a mix of Hip-Hop and Jazz. Your mileage may vary on which is better, but they're both fantastic soundtracks. Hideki Okugawa and Yuji Iwai composed this game's soundtrack, while Okugawa worked on Third Strike's by himself.

Now, keep in mind that I don't consider 2nd Impact to have the best soundtrack of this type in terms of fighting games. I reserve that honor for Street Fighter Alpha 2. 2nd Impact represented the beacon of change from one style to another, hence its significance. Most of 2nd Impact's music is remixed from the first game, New Generation. But while those versions were more mellow in tone (a little too mellow), these have more of a beat to fit the genre the game is in.

It's a trademark in a fighting game to have a track that matches both its stage and character. This one, "Sao Paulo," is Sean's theme, a Brazilian character whose stage is, uh, Sao Paulo, Brazil. It is not the most Mexican-influenced song that you will hear in a video game, but it goes with the stage and the character pretty well. It's perfectly upbeat as well:



You'd probably never guess that a track that goes by the name "Sharp Eyes" would be associated with a young Japanese ninja (aka kunoichi) like Ibuki. But it's likely named for the kunai's she can throw. It's not a theme that would fit the outskirts of a Japanese ninja training village either. But that shouldn't stop anyone from concluding that it's a nice piano-laden theme. The composition itself, however, fits the character pretty well:



This last one is "Leave Alone," which is Dudley's theme, whose stage is in London, England. It's the same stage he fights in for New Generation, but this time there's plenty of activity going on in the background. This is personally my favorite remix of a theme from the last game, only slightly topping "Sharp Eyes." And it's perfectly jazzy for the character as well:



The last two characters discussed managed to make it into Super Street Fighter IV -- along with Makoto from 3rd Strike. For that game, they remixed their 3rd Strike themes for their character themes, and though that's fitting and logical (it's by far the more popular installment), I would have liked to have seen these make it in. But that's going a little overboard for this particular feature, whose ulterior motive is a love letter to the bygone days of music from Capcoms games from the mid-to-late 90s, especially their Q Sound-powered arcade fighters. If Capcom continues to make more fighting games, I think it would be nice if their music was inspired by this. It has a good chance of happening considering Okugawa still works for Capcom.

Digital Motion Stills

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While having still comics to tell a story is nothing new, an alternate version of that phenomenon has been gracing PSP games to help them tell their story in a way that differs from merely using CG cut scenes. A few companies have resorted to using digital comics as a substitute to those, with some believing they're more beneficial in telling their story. Though both the Metal Gear Solid and and Silent Hill Digital Graphic Novels are their own thing, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops was one of the first games on the system to incorporate these for its cut scenes.

Gamers accustomed to the Metal Gear series were used to having some well-directed -- and sometimes really damned lengthy -- in-game cut scenes to help aid its story. Portable Ops, however, decided to change all that, and included comic art drawn by Ashley Wood for cut scenes, along with them still having the much vaunted voice acting. The result? Not too great. There's nothing inherently wrong with substituting CG for another viable alternative, but the comic sequences in this game lacked the soul and visual splendor that its CG predecessors had. They were merely OK, but you expect more than that for a Metal Gear game.

mgspwpic_052210.jpgFortunately, this problem seems to have been rectified for the sequel, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. From only watching the intro from the demo, you can tell that they've put more work and care (and probably budget) into making the cut scenes this time around. Also, Ashley Wood's artwork is more refined here. Some fans complained about the comic book cut scenes being used again, since they felt that it has no place in a main line Metal Gear game. But I'm sure most will rescind those comments after seeing how well they work.

projectkpic_052210.jpgAnd now, we have another upcoming PSP game that will use them: Sega's upcoming Kurohyou Ryu ga Gotoku Shinshou -- loosely translated as Black Panther Yakuza New Chapter, though it likely has nothing to do with that Black Panther. Like the aforementioned titles, the next Yakuza game for PSP will use comic-style -- or manga style, in this instance -- cut scenes. Yakuza's plots could easily make for a good manga, so it should be incredibly fitting. They already look pretty good, judging from the trailer on the game's official website. It hits Japan on September 22nd, but who knows whether it will get localized. Sega's apparently happy with Yakuza 3's sales outside of Japan, and considering that they already have PSP games like Valkyria Chronicles 2 and the just-announced Phantasy Star Portable 2 in the pipeline, the chances aren't looking too bad.

It's good that both Peace Walker and the new Yakuza game came along, because without them, we would have had nothing but Portable Ops's underwhelming efforts to judge comic-style cut scenes on. Personally, after seeing these, I wouldn't have a problem seeing more of them in other portable games. And that's talking about beyond the current DS and PSP.

It Could Be the Greatest Quest

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By this time, you're probably already aware that Dragon Quest IX has been dated for North America and Europe for July 11th and July 23rd, respectively. This can only be described as "awesome." The American date is exactly the same day the Japanese version released last year, which is almost assuredly intentional. Talk about impeccable timing.

dqixart_052110.jpgDragon Quest hasn't been the most popular franchise in America, despite Square Enix's mostly brazen attempts; but this game will mark Nintendo's attempt at ingraining it into the minds of people its concept may entice. The serious has previously had success outside of Japan with Dragon Warrior I when it was being handed to Nintendo Power subscribers for free around two decades ago, and Dragon Quest VIII, which sold well with a great advertising campaign -- and a Final Fantasy XII demo in America. Despite that, it's still not as successful as it could be.

It may not become the next Pokemon on the grandest scale, but DQIX has the potential to achieve popularity if it's marketed well. The lengthy single player quest is still there, complete with you having the ability to customize all of your heroes for your party, gender and all. Given the templates seen in screen shots across the web, it looks like you'll definitely be able to make your team of Super Saiyans.

dqixboxart_052110.jpgBut the most important aspect of DQIX is the introduction of a social aspect. You no longer have to go through the quest alone, as the game can now be enjoyed with a partner, or partners, along side you. This was a template introduced back when the game was announced at the tail end of 2006, and from people who've played it, the execution of that idea is pretty fantastic. You'll also be able to share maps with strangers down the line. Unfortunately, while some of the social ideas work well within a tight-knit community like Japan, it will be a little harder to do in a country where its inhabitants are more widespread like America.

Some of us were hoping for online implementation to be added for the international release, but it doesn't seem like that will happen. That's probably because it would be tough for the DS/DS Lite to handle, with numerous WEP connections being held hostage because of massive map trading and cooperative play. The DSi, with its WPA capabilities, could have handled it, but it would have alienated much of the potential fanbase -- completely counter-intuitive to Nintendo and Square Enix's intentions.

Though Nintendo is publishing, Square Enix is handling the localization. So expect the script, which was outsourced to a group known as Plus Alpha, to have some of the same whimsical (or annoying, your mileage may vary) quirks that both Dragon Quest IV and V had on DS. It's not as if this franchise is one that takes itself seriously, so they should add to the charm it already exudes.

dqixpic_052110.jpgOh good the ganguro fairy is untouched!

With its release being under two months away, expect the marketing campaign from Nintendo do begin any time now. The fact that they actually went though getting Akira Toriyama to draw new art for the international version should hopefully show how serious they are -- seen above and on the box art, the latter complete with the Angry Kirby effect. And since Nintendo is publishing, it's free of the utterly moronic Square Enix tax! Retailers are listing a price of $34.99. If you like portable RPGs, please look forward to it. Well, if only to ensure (or further ensure?) Dragon Quest VI and Joker 2's localizations.

P.S. I'm taking the fact that it comes out the day before my birthday as a sign. Thanks Nintendo! I should get to playing IV and V on DS now.

Numb3rs Retrospect, Part 2: Numb3rs of the Beasts

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It got worse.  I'm going to feel very annoyed at CBS right now.  They've canceled Numb3rs so they can bring back an old cop show (just look at what happened to most of the recent revivals that the networks have tried), and also add a comedy based on a Twitter account to their schedule.  The game show revival I'm predicting shall have to wait another year, but I still say the networks are going to go back down the game show route for a year or two, until game shows die once more.

Cheryl Heuton wrote a pretty good post rebuking those who are wanting to train squirrels to set fires so they can leave the critters on CBS's doorstep.  But, wait, you can't tell me that CBS liked $#*! My Dad Says enough to cancel something for it.  Maybe that's something NBC would do, given their track record lately, but not CBS.  I call bullshit.

In a way, I'm kinda glad that I don't have to worry about the week the networks post their autumn schedules any more, like I've worried for the past few years.  It'll help me to focus on the better aspects of the week (for instance, a happy birthday to a certain someone whom I hope has not skipped over this entry simply because of the Numb3rs subject matter).  Also, with Numb3rs gone, the last real tether I have holding me hostage to a television schedule is gone.  The other shows I watch, I can: watch on their official website, order the DVDs since I'm usually a season behind on one particular show anyway, or download.

Now don't get me wrong: I do think of Numb3rs as one of the greatest shows of all time, but even this show had its off scripts.  I guess sometimes a writer doesn't write their best script or they're desperate to film something or they have an idea and in hindsight it turns out not as good as they first thought.  In the order they aired, here are my top five worst episodes of Numb3rs.


Structural Corruption
Season 1, Episode 4


This was actually a pretty good scene in the episode

This episode started out with Charlie arriving at the scene of what looks like a suicide, but Charlie is convinced that it's murder, and the math seems to check out.  It's just too bad that it was actually a suicide.  Such a sub-plot seems to go against everything that the show stands for, in that Charlie's mathematics don't suffer a setback like in the first couple episodes, he is instead completely wrong.  Not only that, but in the course of his investigation into what the dead student was working on, he breaks into a building to dangle a pendulum inside of it.  It made an ellipse.

The resolution at the end of the episode seems to be counterintuitive based on what I think I know about construction.  They wanted to fix a building that was going to collapse, so they added weight to the top.  What?

The episode isn't bad, but the unsatisfying end to the suicide sub-plot, plus the illogic and awkwardness of the entire story made this the only episode of the first season that sucked.  For a while, it was the only episode that sucked...


When Worlds Collide
Season 4, Episode 18


Another reason this episode sucked.  I miss you terribly, Megan.

...then this episode aired.  Aren't season finales supposed to not suck?  This one got positive reviews from critics, for some reason.  I did not like it.  Not only did most of the FBI agents suddenly turn into one-dimensional caricatures of themselves, but they pursued a stereotype of terrorism so vehemently that an innocent person was incarcerated and it forced Charlie to do something drastic that made him lose his security clearance in a rushed two minute conclusion to the episode.

The plot of the episode hinges upon the enforcement of a rule that makes no legal or moral sense.  If it actually exists on the books, it's a horrible law.  What the character in question did was send classified information to a country that he wasn't supposed to.  Yet he didn't know he wasn't supposed to do that because he's not allowed to know what's classified or not, but he was still somehow expected to know that he wasn't allowed to send his research to Pakistan.  "Yeah, we're not going to tell you the rules, but we're still going to hold you accountable if you break them."  Right.  The only thing that saved the episode from being the worst ever was that the actual terrorist wasn't from the Middle East.  He was Irish.  Which makes this only the second worst episode, not the worst.

At the end of the episode, Charlie goes ahead and sends the rest of the research to Pakistan, for it's main application is to help cultivate disease-resistant crops.  I guess improving the quality of life in Pakistan is against the law.  The American government can't stand the fact that their perceived enemies can improve their lives.  So the final scenes where Charlie gets arrested and his security clearance is removed were rushed and I didn't feel the same emotional connection to it as I did when Colby was suddenly outed as a spy for the Chinese government.  I blame the writer's strike and the shortened fourth season for this poor episode.


Trouble In Chinatown
Season 5, Episode 13

I kinda didn't want to embed any preview videos, preferring to take clips from the actual episode, but I couldn't find anything from this episode after a couple minutes of looking, and I still need to sleep.


Left turn now!

This one isn't necessarily bad, and it in fact had some very good parts to it.  It's basically about a bunch of murders of Chinese women and it turned out to be a very wicked scheme, one that definitely needed to be stopped.  What I objected to was the subplot with the psychic.  Numb3rs actor Peter MacNicol wrote the script, and I guess he didn't follow the psychic's original characterization as well as he could've, because Samuel, now called Simon for some reason, ended up stupidly stepping in front of a van while filming an abduction for the FBI.  The people in the van were also stupid: they didn't stop and smash the camera.  There was stupidity all around.

This kind of thing shouldn't have happened: the original story that Samuel... Simon... Samuel appeared in was conceived of by Peter, although it was written by someone else.  As it was pointed out by Charlie: if he was so good a psychic, then why didn't he see his own death coming?  At least this wasn't the worst episode of the bunch.


Dreamland
Season 6, Episode 6


I would've expected this kind of murder weapon to be used on CSI: Miami, not Numb3rs

Okay, this one sucked, but not as bad as this tiny fact: the show's creators have written some very good episodes for the show, and yet two of the five episodes on this list are written by them!  This episode also aired a week after what would've been the number six episode on this list, Hydra (an episode about a human clone).  What this episode is about is a military test site and a crime that supposedly did and didn't happen at the same time.  If I recall correctly, that is.  This episode was too stupid to remember.  I did not like the character from Department 44, given that he was annoying, always appeared as if from midair, does the sunglasses thing that Horatio from CSI: Miami does, and seemed to have a mental link back to wherever his base of oper- invisible cell phone.  Please stand by.

This was probably the worst of the bunch.


Ultimatum
Season 6, Episode 8


I'm kinda glad this episode was only ever shown once on CBS

This episode aired two weeks after Dreamland.  Late October to mid November 2009 was definitely a bad time to be a Numb3rs fan.  In this episode, FBI agent Ian Edgerton was caught in a frame-up and didn't help matters by holding one of the main characters hostage to try to pressure everyone else into investigating his case.  Given what happened to another FBI agent in the series, Roger Bloom, for making one error in judgement, Ian's career should've ended.  However, Ian was still an agent in the finale, so this means that certain popular characters always get special treatment over other characters.  It felt kind of cheap, especially since for a while I thought that they'd ruined Ian's character thanks to this episode.  By bringing Ian back in the Numb3rs finale, it's like the writers seemed to disregard this episode entirely, as if to regard it as non-canon.  But that's alright, I'm happy to regard it as non-canon, too.


Of course, not all episodes were bad.  In the next few days, I'll focus on the best of the best.

Numb3rs Retrospect, Part 1: Its Numb3r Was Up

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Numb3rs superheroes.jpg

With Numb3rs confirmed as canceled as of pretty much right now, it puts to end months of speculation among fans and critics alike.  What I don't get is why critics, even though they've been giving the show much praise since it first came out, would suddenly turn on the show this past year, like a dog biting its master?  Was it that bad, that they all decided it had to go?  Did they just get tired of it and decide to show love to that nice young thing on FOX?

Actually, the end of Numb3rs was long coming.  It's easy to say that it's all the critics' fault, since they were all pretty much in agreement that the show should be canceled, but there were a few other factors that contributed to it.  The critics were just calling it like it is.  First of all, like most dramas on CBS's schedule, Numb3rs was expensive to make.  The only reason it lasted six seasons instead of five was because Without A Trace was even more expensive when they were considering canceling something last year.

Truth be told, I've always considered every new season of Numb3rs to be a small miracle.  It seemed too good to be true that a show about using mathematics to solve crime would have such a wide audience.  And after small miracles five years in a row, their luck had to run out sometime.  It helped that the show's season finale, now series finale, brought many things to a close in such a satisfying way that it could work as a series finale in a pinch.  I just wish I could've seen more of Larry in the last season.

There were also other clues as to what was going to happen to Numb3rs.  Generally, when a series is given a shorter episode order, it means trouble.  Numb3rs was reduced from a full 22 episodes to 16 episodes during its last season, and the writers found they had to quickly wrap up the storylines they'd started, just like they did in the interrupted season four.  Not only that, but once Numb3rs had finished its season, it was replaced by the brand new Miami Medical, yet CBS teased and tormented fans by saying they were still considering renewal for Numb3rs (probably to keep fans from organizing a write-in campaign).  Incidentally, the new show was canceled as well.

It was reported a while back that the star of Numb3rs, David Krumholtz, was filming a pilot for FOX and that may have factored into the decision to cancel Numb3rs.  But hey, if you're going to cut episodes from a show, you gotta realize that actors have to work, too, if they want to eat.  And I'm sure some of the people working on the show weren't too happy with only taking home 8/11 of their usual paycheques when all was said and done.

Not only that, but earlier this week, it was reported that the sets were being taken down, and even the show's creator was ready to throw in the towel, convinced that the show would not receive a seventh season.

Despite those reasons, I'd like to get emotional for a moment.

Thanks a lot, you damn critics.  It's your own damn fault my Numb3rs got canceled.

There.  I think I feel better, but I'm not sure.

(Incidentally, does anyone want to follow Cheryl?  She's currently at 666 followers, the Twitter of the Beast.)

In fact, a lot of shows got the chopping block this year.  CBS seems to be giving the axe to a lot of dramas that have lasted a few years.  Ghost Whisperer and Cold Case are this year's victims as well as Numb3rs; as mentioned above, Without A Trace was dropped last year.  It could be that CBS is going to shift its focus away from dramas, or it could be cutting older dramas to make way for newer ones which cost less to make.  CBS will reveal its new autumn schedule within the next day.

With CSI still on the air, there is still a science-based crime drama for the geeks to fawn over.  It just sucks that Miami's writing sucks, and that the entire CSI franchise regularly fudges a few important details about the equipment they use to help solve crimes.  For one thing, fingerprints don't match so quickly in real life, no matter how good a computer you have.  For another... well, there's this xkcd comic strip, which can explain it better than I can.

I've always found Numb3rs to be more realistic than CSI, even during the second season when it seemed like Charlie was relying upon the supercomputer far too much.  He'd spout his simple explanation of the mathematics he was proposing to use, and then he would say he's getting the supercomputer to crunch it, or he'd say the supercomputer was already on it, etc.  Sure, it was disappointing, but at least he was still using math to solve crime even if the calculations were done in the background.  I was happy in season three, when "Call me Millie" decided to limit his use of the supercomputer.  I think the writers must've realized that the fans like it when Charlie does his own math.

Even if Numb3rs was granted a seventh season, I didn't think it would ever be granted an eighth season.  In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the drama, whether it's the crime drama, the medical drama, or anything else, is going to fall out of favour by the end of the 2010/2011 season, and that by autumn of 2012, even CSI is going to be gone.  How do I justify this bold statement?  Well, I've believed in this grand prediction since January of this year, but I've never had anything strong and solid to back up my belief until this past week, when Law & Order was canceled.  Law & Order, which lasted a couple decades and predated the modern crime drama by about half that, is gone.  Sure, the two remaining L&O shows will remain on the air for another season, and there'll be a new Los Angeles spin-off, but the original show has been dropped from NBC's autumn schedule.

Even long-running action shows like 24 were canceled this year.  So what's going on?  Will new, younger shows be considered?  Will game shows suddenly revive once more, as people hit hard by the recession desperately do whatever they can to get on these shows and win money, while television studios realize that they can pay out substantially less to contestants than they would to big name stars?  After all, Fear Factor gave out $50000 in an episode to the winning contestant, which is a lot cheaper than Charlie Sheen's rather substantial windfall per episode of Two And A Half Men.

Well, a lot of younger shows will be considered.  Turns out each network (so far) has announced their own share of new dramas, including another medical drama that is bound to fail, a legal drama that seems to be a new version of Law & Order: Trial By Jury and which promises to do right what L&O: TBJ did wrong, and a show on ABC that looks like a cross between Lost and Heroes.  Sadly, there seems to be nothing new on the schedule that would appeal to geeks like Numb3rs did, but there's good news.  One less television show (two, once Doctor Who wraps up for another year), means that there'll be more time for anime, and more time for this year's big autumn and winter game releases.  (Okay, I agree.  That's weak, even for me.)

The final season of Numb3rs releases on DVD sometime this autumn.

Geek News Roundup for 5/09/10 -- More Geeky, More...Newsy?

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livesizeeva_051810.jpgJapan, the country that brought you a live-sized Gundam, is now building a life-sized Evangelion model near Mt. Fuji. They're giving it the very basic, though slightly nonsensical, name of "Evangelion: World Life-Size EVA-01 Construction Project." It will come complete with a cockpit. This is not April, so know that I am not making this up. Given the nature of where it originated, a life-sized Evangelion is actually pretty frightening when you think about it. They're probably not building this to wage war with, but you never know with Japan these days. Even creepier: a life-size Kaworu Nagisa figure with be opening with it, which is far creepier.

You don't even have to follow video game news with any sort of frequency to know that the Nintendo DS is a big seller. But we might make history if current sales trends keep up, because if they do, the DS will be the best selling video game system ever by the end of the year, according to analysts. Not to say it doesn't deserve it either, as it provides constant entertainment for everyone, not just gamers. And it does a pretty damn good job of it.

It's good that we're moving towards non-DRM digital games, and it's something Rockstar realized when prepping Max Payne 2 for a digital release via Steam. A pity they decided to go a more dubious route and use a pirated version for an official release, which a few internet sleuths found when they delved into the game's code. I understand that they wanted to save as much money as possible with a release they assuredly wouldn't profit from, but apparently they underestimated how fastidious some PC gamers are.

You usually hear about how the NPD tracks video game sales from multiple corners of the internet, but they also track the U.S. Smartphone market, which yielded some interesting data. The Android OS managed to move past Apple to take the number two position in the market, though it's still behind RIM OS used for the Blackberry. That's no too surprising given that the other two are offered on more cell phone services than Apple, which is only offered with AT&T. Still, I'm sure someone's crying about this.

Though it was uncertain for a while, Marvel appears to be going forward with a Luke Cage film. There will be plenty of doubt as to whether they can pull it off, but here's hoping they can. But who will play Luke, though? My vote was for Michael Jai White, but he's already tied to another super hero. If people even remember (or want to remember) that movie.

Lastly, be sure to check out the Falcom Punch that was Friday's news from XSEED. I believe they call bombshells like that "badical," or something.

Tax and Spend

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Many avid fans of RPGs have noticed a pricing trend for the big boy — Square Enix's — games after the lion's share of genre releases jumped to the PSP and DS.

Many new games for the DS start at $30 or $35. Most (but not all) PSP games start at $30. But not Square Enix games. Every last one of them on either system makes their debut at $40. This tendency has led to widespread use of the phrase "Square Enix Tax" by fans bemoaning the premium pricing.

But we're not talking about that. Sure, it's a bit of a pain in the wallet that games I want cost more than the games from other developers, but I know that in a year's time the price will drop to $30 or even $20. I have no such reprieve with the REAL game taxers who, mysteriously, I've never seen or heard griped about.

This real tax? The Nintendo tax

In the Game Cube era, Nintendo was notorious for its retail pricing strategy with first-party (their own) titles: $50 until its rereleased (years later) with an ugly yellow stripe on the box (better known as "Player's Choice"). Some popular titles, like Super Smash Bros. Melee, never made it until the last year of the console's lifespan. Others, such as Mario Kart: Double Dash never made it, period.

For the Wii the same remains true.... except there are no longer any Player's Choice releases to force price drops.

Would the launch of Super Mario Galaxy 2 perhaps allow us to buy the first one for less? A week away and no news on that front. I can't wait to update this article with a photo of Galaxy and 2 side by each with twin $50 price tags.


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[UPDATE]: As seen in Best Buy (full disclosure: In a rash display of unethical photography, I moved the Super Mario Galaxy 2 display up so it could be next to the original rather than its actual position below it for easier comparison).

Ready for liftoff

While I could hem and haw over more recent titles like Mario Kart Wii or Wii Music (which is a fun toy, but it wasn't worth $50 when it came out and sure hasn't become more valuable with age), I'll go right to the point and call out the earliest-possible titles; the games which were born with the system.

The big Wii launch title, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess? First game out the door three-and-a-half years ago, still $50. Further, if you can even find a Game Cube copy new, it's $50 too.

WarioWare: Smooth Moves? Still $50.

Excite Truck? Retails for $50, too (if you can even find a retail copy).

Even on the DS, the sting is felt with Nintendo titles getting stuck at $35.

The ridiculously-titled Super Mario 64 DS? $35.

5.5-year-old launch title WarioWare: Touched! with a sequel out? $35.

Compare, if you will, to first-party PS3 launch title Resistance: Fall of Man, which debuted at $60 and has since been Greatest Hits'd with a MSRP of $30.

Best-selling

Back in the day (SNES/N64/GBA), all it would take was a million sales (or thereabouts) for Nintendo to drop a 'Player's Choice' label on the next print run of a game.

Nowadays the market is different.

114 DS games and 79 Wii titles have sold over one million copies (numbers that also count non-Nintendo titles which are irrelevant to this griping) ... and that only counts through March. Yet there the Player's Choice has been absent despite deserving titles springing up left and right. Though, worldwide sales of Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver made the million-seller point four times over — each — the first week it was on sale in the States. Perhaps a million is now a very low bar if it is possible to be jumped so quickly.

Evergreen

While the whole forever-pricing strategy does slows sales to any given person, enough buyers take the plunge to keep pushing the titles off shelves at top-price.

Does this have something to do with sales decline curves? Economically speaking, when supply is greater than demand, the so-called invisible hand of the market (better known as nervous retailers and publishers) pushes a price down until the supply can sell-out (or sell enough). But if demand stays steady the price will too in equilibrium (and if demand increases beyond supply, you get gouged on eBay). With Mario Kart Wii still selling over 600,000 units in the first quarter this year, there's probably little incentive for Nintendo to charge less. You can also see this basic financial strategy evident when a new DS model comes out only when sales of the last one slow down.

Let's take a look at sales for a recent member of the $50 club, and compare it to the game Reggie Fils-Aime called out: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

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While Call of Duty won the famous challenge, observe how much its total sales relied on its first month of sales. While both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions outsold New Super Mario Bros. Wii in November, Mario turned the tables for every month thereafter. Also note that only Mario enjoyed a holiday boost.

Unfortunately, we do not have sales figures for either version of Modern Warfare 2 for March or April. Why? Examine this third chart, the most telling of all:

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Despite not having bested the life time sales of the Xbox 360 version of Modern Warfare 2, Mario has never left the Top 10 since release — and only once dropped out of the Top 5. Modern Warfare 2 has slid down at a steady clip, eventually passing that Top 10 threshold were NPD no longer reports units sold (hence the missing bits on chart No.1 and No. 2).

A closer look at staying power shows many big hits dropping like rocks. March launches took the top 6 positions in March's NPD Top 20 (perhaps why Mario Slid out of the Top 5): God of War III, Pokémon Soul Silver, Final Fantasy XIII (PS3), Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (360), Pokémon Heart Gold and Final Fantasy XIII (360).

In April, God of War III dropped from No. 1 to No. 5, Soul Silver stayed at No. 2, Heart Gold moved up to No. 4, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 dropped from No. 4 to No. 7 and both versions of Final Fantasy XIII dropped out of the Top 20 entirely. Further, Wii Sports Resort went up to No. 6 from No. 11 and Wii Fit Plus went up one spot to No. 8. Also on the April chart: No. 13 New Super Mario Bros. ($35, 2006) and No. 18 Mario Kart Wii ($50, 2008).

Is it the quality of the games, scope of the audience, slow release cycles or something else that keeps Nintendo's games selling when even the best titles on other consoles fade away?

Frankly, Big N is probably not going to change a thing. What they're doing, while it keeps economically-disadvantaged players from having every first-party game they'd like to, works very well for the ledger.

Heavy Rain -- Losing My Mind Is Easy To Do... Where Are You?

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I'm sure gamers are sick and tired of reading Heavy Rain reviews that say that Heavy Rain is a hard game to review.  Well, you know, if gamers are into reading as many reviews as they can of a game.  Anyway, I'm here to say: it's true.  Game reviewers aren't just making excuses for not understanding the game: it really is a hard game to classify.  It plays less like a video game and more like a Choose Your Own Adventure book with quicktime events.  The way the game is set up, it's like you're watching a movie where you occasionally add your own input as to where you go and what you do.

Quicktime events have gotten a bad rap in gaming, and for good reason.  It's a cheap way to fight an enemy: instead of using skills or combos or intelligent use of a menu to defeat bad guys, you're pushing buttons at certain times.  For example, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed incorporated them to add cool finishing moves to boss fights, but there were a few fights that I was handling well enough without needing to use a finishing move.  Naturally, I messed up the finishing move and was suddenly a lot worse off, tactically.  Sometimes you don't need to do something fancy, you just need to pull the chain around your fat and ugly captor's neck and strangle him until he is dead.  Fortunately, Heavy Rain is a little more forgiving when it comes to quicktime.  Mess up on a few buttons and you might take a hit or two in a fight, but you can still win.  It's quicktime for dummies.  It's also completely necessary in this context.

Say what?  Necessary quicktime?  Yeah, the game uses a few design choices that necessitate the use of quicktime.  The game is presented like a movie, so the action is rarely from a truly first person perspective.  Scenes where a player gains full control of a character are presented in a traditional over-the-shoulder view like most JRPGs have been doing lately, and controls are contextual, depending on what you're doing and which character you're controlling.  Meanwhile, action scenes (chases, fights, etc.) are presented in a cinematic style and a player is only given a split second to react to the required input before a less desirable outcome occurs.  Enough of those can potentially cause a player to fail the scene, but it would depend on the scene.

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I'm blue, da ba de...

The game frequently autosaves, as if each choice you make and each action you perform is an important one.  Even making eggs is important!  It ties in to the trophy system, where you can earn trophies for accomplishing various objectives in the game.  Some scenes award multiple trophies for the exact same activity, but for different results.  As such, this game is meant to be replayed multiple times in order to get all the trophies, unlike games like Final Fantasy XIII where you can earn all the trophies in one playthrough, including content available to you after the end credits, if you spend hundreds of hours playing the game.

Unfortunately, the trophies are pretty much the only replay value Heavy Rain has.  The overall story remains exactly the same every time; it and the quicktime events are all the game really has.  It's like you're reading a book.  Once you figure out who the Origami Killer is, there's no surprise the second or third time around.  However, there's an important point to bring up: games like Breath of Fire and Super Mario World don't have multiple endings.  Games like Final Fantasy X and Starfox Adventures don't have multiple story branches.  And yet, when people play these games, they play them because they like the story and they like the game play.  That could certainly be the case for fans of the game, since there isn't any other real reason to replay Heavy Rain unless you like seeing 100% in your list of trophies, and also since game play does not require more than the skill required to press what buttons the game tells you to press at certain times in the scene, and even then you can get away with messing up until near the end of the game.


I think screen shots do not do this game justice, so here's some actual game play

Occasionally, you're given a choice between a few different ways to handle a scene, and if you don't make a choice, the character will either do nothing and let something happen, or they'll do what they're more likely to do.  In one case, when I was presented with a decision whether to take a narcotic or not, I was not given the option to stop my character from taking it.  Oh, it was there, but the game seemed to purposely hide it from view until it was too late to make a decision, and he ended up taking the narcotic.  I was not happy, to say the least.

What's funny is that my favourite part of the game is the tiny little detail that the writers included in one of the scenes, where a character is commenting about music she doesn't like.  She still gets the sub-genre right!  The music wasn't half bad either, so that was a bonus.  Thanks to the music, I actually felt like I was in peril for most of the game, even though death wasn't really a consequence until the end.  There was one major thing that I had a problem with until the end, but I can't really mention it without spoiling pretty much the entire point of the game, and I've probably risked spoiling it already for the more clever gamers out there who may be able to figure out exactly what I'm talking about if they play through the first few chapters of the game.  I'll just say that I was not disappointed in what I thought I was disappointed in.

The characters themselves are played well, and it's obvious that a lot of work was put into the visuals and the control scheme in order to get everything perfect.  The character models are very well done, right down to the smallest of details that the game rams down your throat every time it's loading a new chapter: one of the character's faces is presented up close on the television screen and you can see the texture of their skin.  Not only that, but whoever designed the game seems to be able to construct a nude female well enough that she looked realistic and not like those unrealistic characters you see in games like Final Fantasy VII (mostly fixed in the sequels), Tomb Raider and Dead or Alive Xtreme 2.  I never liked seeing top heavy characters or characters whose breasts each had their own physics equation.  I imagine if life were like DOA, those breasts would hurt after a while.

Heavy Rain takes place about a year and a half into the future while including game play mechanics that depend on technology suddenly leaping ahead by at least thirty years, I'll say forty, maybe fifty years.  I mean, come on.  CSI sunglasses?  (No, not Horatio's.)  And don't tell me that it's secret FBI science that is highly classified and we're not allowed to see it.  Why haven't we noticed agents wandering around crime scenes with sunglasses and a weird glove, pushing at the air with it, looking for clues?  Because it doesn't exist.  It won't exist in a year and a half.  It's a bit of a break in the reality of the story, yet I'll give this to them, even though I think they could've just as easily used current forensic science and adapted it for the game.

Anyway, this review has been hard to write, and has been very long coming.  Heavy Rain is one of those games that does things well, but is hard to quantify.  I think it would've been easier if the game had been crappy, but it's not.  It's an interesting experience and is definitely worth a rent, since you can easily play through the story at least once within the space of a rental, and you'll still get the trophy for supporting interactive drama.

Hey, wait a minute.  Aren't all games "interactive"?

*Note: this review is written after playing Heavy Rain on an easier setting.  Certain statements may not be true of the game on a harder setting.

XSEED Has Guts. Large Guts.

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I'm not much into the habit of reporting news here, feeling that no one is going to visit a blog out in the middle of nowhere instead of sites that specialize in reporting news (and spins them for free hits *cough*Kotaku*cough*). But today, there was some that was too good to be true from XSEED. They announced that they're localizing six, six games from Nihon Falcom Corporation for PSP. Utterly nuts, but it's likely the best news fans of the company, and niche gaming in general, in America have heard in a while.

Falcom, in case you're unfamiliar with their style, typically releases games on PC these days, and then ports them to specific consoles. All of the games they announced today could be described as that, except for one. A while ago, Falcom expressed interest in getting their PSP titles localized for western markets. Following that, a few clever sleuths discovered that XSEED suddenly appeared as a client on Falcom's website. Then, XSEED began giving clues (some esoteric, some seriously not) about which titles they planned on localizing through their Facebook page, their Twitter, and Siliconera. Today, they finally decided to, uh, blow their load, so to speak.

yssevenpic_051410.jpgThe first game out of the gate will be Ys SEVEN, the newest game in the franchise, and the only game they're releasing that wasn't released on PC first. It released in Japan in September of last year. Unlike the previous games, this one is completely in 3D; and I hear that it's also very good. Also, of the three, this one was the most viable candidate for localization. It releases in late-summer 2010, so look forward to it. And hopefully it doesn't release near Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, which also releases around that time.

ysoathinfelghanapic_051410.jpgAlso announced was the recently released (on April 22nd in Japan) Ys: The Oath in Felghana, a PSP port of the critically acclaimed (you know, by fans) PC game. Though you wouldn't know it from its name unless you've played the original (which actually was previously released in America on SNES, Genesis, and Turbografx-16), this is a remake of Ys III. This will be the second game to release, arriving at the end of the year.

yschronicles_051410.jpgNext is Ys I & II Chronicles, another remake of Ys I & II, which released in Japan last July. Unlike Legacy of Ys: Books I & II, localize for release on the DS last year by Atlus, these remakes were done in house at Falcom instead of being outsourced to another company. Apparently the DS versions were pretty bad remakes too, so this will be the one to look forward to playing. It releases early next year.

soranokisekifcpic_051410.jpgLastly, they're localizing The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky trilogy (aka the Sora no Kiseki trilogy). These are definitely the oldest of the bunch, with the First Chapter releasing in Japan back in September. Of 2006. I'm kind of bummed that they're calling it The Legend of Heroes, given who Bandai already ravaged that name with their reprehensible "localizations" of the Gagharv trilogy. XSEED plans to begin releasing these in 2011, and hopefully the first game will sell well enough for them to localize the second and third games. The last thing anyone wants are Shining Force III flashbacks.

So, uh, here's hoping the PSP lasts long enough so these games can be successful. It should get a boost starting next month with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and Kingdom Hearts: BBS and God of War: Ghost of Sparta should help as well later in the future. But the question is how big they will be. Hopefully this pays off for XSEED, and their relationship with Falcom won't be similar to the Marvelous Entertainment kerfuffle.

P.S. I'm personally kind of bummed that Brandish: The Dark Revenant isn't one of the games they're localizing. But I have to be thankful that someone is taking a chance on localizing these games at all. Good luck, XSEED.

Funkadelic

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What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you see a name like El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron?

elshaddaipic1_051310.jpgYou'll have to wait until E3 for some non-thumbnail screen shots, apparently.

It piqued the curiosity of everyone who saw it in the index of this week's Famitsu magazine when it was listed there. In terms of a video game, you could, at first thought, hypothesize that it's an RPG rife with religious overtones -- like many of them. In this particular instance, you could think that it's similar to one of Atlus' Megaten titles. Or, if you like to follow stories pertaining to Religion, out of interest or not, you might think about the story it originates from. But no, it's an action game being developed by Ignition Entertainment. It appears they're developing games now.

El Shaddai is Hebrew for "God Almighty," a term that originated from Exodus 6:3 in the Old Testament. It can also be translated into phrases that are, or nearly, synonymous with the aforementioned one above. This weeks Famitsu explains, according to AndriaSang (who has plenty of details), that you'll control a character named Enoch, a human who's been summoned to heaven to serve the will of the gods. It's a little tough to imagine how the name will have a meaningful impact on the game at the moment. It could probably have as much to do with that as Devil May Cry has to do with making the devil cry.

elshaddaiart_051310.jpgThe main aspect that gamers will be initially attracted to are the game's character designs and visuals. They're pretty funky in terms of style. The coloring and environments are reminiscent of something you would see in a Salvador Dali painting; it's esoteric in terms of a visual design usually expected from a video game, but that's precisely what makes them welcoming. Meanwhile, gaudy doesn't begin to describe the character designs., especially the main character's. Golly.

Takeyasu Sawaki, who previously handled some of the character design elements for the original Devil May Cry and Okami, is in charge of directing and doing the character designs for the game. The teaser provided on the official website represents the finest use of the word "teaser," but it shows that the game will be at E3. That pretty much confirms a release outside of Japan.

The worrying aspect here, aside from considering how the game will turn out, is whether Ignition can learn how to localize a game. Current examples now show they clearly don't know how to do that, but there's a chance that they could grasp that knowledge by the time this game releases. It's coming out for both Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2010 in Japan.

Why Yes, I'm Still Feeling Super

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Super Street Fighter IV made me realize that having 35 characters in a fighting game is the worst idea ever.

But only because it makes it so hard to pick one to stick with. It's overwhelming! So many different fighting styles to choose, along with so many more match-ups to learn. Don't be surprised if, upon playing this game the first few times, you'll find yourself winding around the character select screen trying to settle on someone to main. It was bad enough with 25, but add ten more and craziness ensues, especially when they all look intriguing. Most of them have the potential to be pretty good.

ssfivpic1_051210.jpgI played quite a bit with both Guy and Ibuki. I managed to rack up more wins with Guy pretty quickly, but once you really get into him, you'll begin to realize he isn't all that great. I had a lot of fun playing him in the Street Fighter Alpha titles, but his incarnation here feels a little...stiff, to put it plainly. I thought Chun-Li had a floaty jump, but Guy's makes hers look normal; and his jump is much more floaty than the Alpha games. What also hurts is that his elbow drop doesn't go diagonally down anymore, and it can be blocked in a crouching position. He's still fun to play, but ugh.

ssfivpic2_051210.jpgIbuki, on the other hand is pretty good. Maybe too good. She does take a plethora of practice, though. It took me about 40 matches to really get a grasp of her normal and special techniques. It's what happens when your character has a command list that consists of 20 unique moves. But she is quite the powerhouse. There aren't a lot of characters in the game that can get 400 HP damage from one combo without using a super or an ultra. She might be the best of the new characters. I can't super jump cancel into Ultra II to save my life, though.

ssfivpic3_051210.jpgHaving fun with Makoto in Street Fighter III: Third Strike, I decided to play with her a little here too. Her situation is the same as Guy's, except far more severe. She's nowhere near as dominant as she was in Third Strike, and it's incredibly difficult to get wins with her. That kind of makes me sad, because though she was a tough character to learn in Third Strike, she was at least competent.

ssfivpic4_051210.jpgCapcom's also doing the nice (though admittedly silly) alternate costume situation again. Again, you can't unlock these through the game itself like any other fighter, you'll have to purchase them in five for $4 packs released incrementally. Price gouging that a company like Namco or Activision would be proud of, but damn if they don't look nice. Well, most of them.

I mentioned in the review that the story overall is definitely worse, but Arcade Mode is worth playing at least once to see the credits. It's absolutely beautiful. The theme itself contains a remix of many of the most popular themes from the franchise, along with seeing the characters move in slow motion. It's heavily focused on the most popular characters in the series. And Juri, who I guess is pretty popular now. It comes across as a big tribute to Street Fighter; watching it gives off the feel that this game is the last in the franchise. Which is pretty sad.

So yeah, I'm enjoying this game. Super Street Fighter IV may not be the last game in the franchise (not if there's any justice left), but this will be my last post about it here for a while. On to Marvel vs. Capcom 3, then.
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Actually, today's news post seems rather anemic.

The struggle for video games to gain some kind of legitimacy in mainstream media continues.  In Australia (surprise, surprise), a prescription for Wii Fit was denied.  It's claimed that using government money for video games is to be ridiculed... except that Wii Fit is not a typical video game, and thus such an opinion is uninformed.  Meanwhile, others have talked about piracy and what it's doing to gaming, and propose that it's not killing gaming like the big publishers claim it is.  Even though I do have an issue with how the numbers are presented, the article does point out the problem with how the original piracy statistics were presented.

Whether or not you believe the statistics that Wolfire presented, what they've done in the past week is even more unbelievable.  For one week, they put on a special sale on their website: you could pay them however much money you want, could be a penny, could be a hundred dollars, and you got a special bundle from them featuring five games.  The experiment yielded interesting results: Mac users contributed to the bundle just as much as Linux users.  And before Windows users crow victory about how far Mac has fallen, check the statistics.  Mac hasn't fallen.  Linux has risen.  Only 52% of the total revenue from the bundle came from Windows users.  Apparently, this means that if video games were released simultaneously for all three operating systems, Mac and Linux users would have no problem paying what the games are worth, while Windows users might say "Whoa there, ten dollars is too rich for my blood."

As a final note, the donation page lists the latest updates, in that four of the five games in the bundle are going open source!

Games probably got more legitimate in the mind of the wife of one lucky gamer: Wade McGilberry is the winner of a contest that 2K Sports held in order to promote the latest version of their baseball game.  The object of the contest was that you had to pitch a perfect game and be the first to do so.  The winner would receive a million dollars.  Wade did it less than 24 hours after the contest began.

A victim of the economy was shown being escorted out of his foreclosed home by the police, live on Ustream this past week.  Whether or not the foreclosure was justified depends on who you talk to.  And last but not least, a release date for StarCraft II has been announced.

Recommended Soundtracks: Drakengard 2

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recommendedsoundtracksbanner.jpgDrakengard was an...interesting action/RPG for Playstation 2, developed by Cavia and published by Square Enix (albeit under the name Drag-on Dragoon) - the first title to be published under the "Square Enix" name in Japan. Despite seeming like a typical game in the genre and a Dynasty Warriors rip-off at first glance, it carved its own identity through how many things it did differently. Perhaps too differently, as its premise wasn't one well liked. It takes a special type to admire the work that went into the game, and its attention to detail. Oh, and its zany, twist-ridden story.

With Drakengard 2, Cavia sought to change a few things, and to address the flaws present in the original game. A pity the plot was one that was considered more typical for the genre, but that's not to say it wasn't an enjoyable ride. It, like its predecessor, was one of the most underrated games last generation.

drakengard2ostpic_050910.jpgGiven that they're both in the same franchise, you wouldn't expect their soundtracks to be too different. But they are, and wildly so. Drakengard's music, composed by Nobuyoshi Sano and Takayuki Aihara, is completely atmospheric to act as an accomplice to the bleak world the game existed in. And having a "completely atmospheric" soundtrack means that it's almost entirely unlistenable while you're not playing the game. This changed with the second game's soundtrack, whose score was more typical for the genre -- perfectly in-fitting with its story.

And it's a fantastic (though limited) score provided by Yoshiki Aoi, hence why it's featured here. The soundtrack contains music of varying theme's, signifying action, danger, and serenity. Overall, it's incredibly dramatic in scope. Given the results, it's a shame this remains Aoi's solitary work in video games.

This is the first track on the OST, "Symphonic Poem 'Forbidden Prelude'," and it gives you a signal about what moods the game and soundtrack will show. Within the track, there are periods signifying a harrowing sense of danger and peacefulness, all done with a heavenly chorus. It's a heck of an introduction, and the rest of the soundtrack thankfully reflects its quality:



"Plains of Pity" accompanies the first section you enter, and it lives up to its name: it sounds pretty sad. It's the trumpet use really helps to hammer home that affect. Also, notice the presence of a chorus prevalent here as well, though it's more subdued compared to the last track:



You may have heard "Vein of Grief" if you watched numerous trailers for the game. It's not surprising either, because it works as a good piece of accompaniment for a montage of action and dramatic sequences from the game. This track has an excellent use of trumpets, a chorus (quite a trend), and some nice drum use:



Here's hoping Aoi can return to compose another video game soundtrack, regardless of what genre it's in. Drakengard's pseudo-sequel (because it's more than a spiritual sequel), Nier, features compositions from Keiichi Okabe, who has a very lengthy resume. From what I've heard, I would also recommend that you seek out that soundtrack as well. I haven't played the game yet, since it just had to release on the same week as Super Street Fighter IV. But I hear that it's pretty good, appreciable in the way Drakengard was. Which is fitting.

Fan Fiction: a Geek News Roundup Special Report and Editorial

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That had better not be Kirk/Spock fanfic you're writing there

Much ballyhoo has been posted on the Internet about the practice of writing fan fiction,and why it is the worst evil imaginable.  Maybe not the worst, but with authors like SquirrelKing clogging up fanfiction.net, you can't help but want to purge the entire thing from existence.

It all began on Diana Gabaldon's blog last Monday, in a post about the moral dilemmas of fan fiction, and exploded from there.  She followed up with a couple more well thought out posts, and finished up with an apology to everyone who got butthurt over them, since they had all ignored what she wrote and sent her angry notes claiming that she called them all rapists.  Unfortunately, those posts are no longer available on her blog, and they probably won't be available for much longer in the Google cache.  (As a side note, it also looks like comments have been disabled on her blog.  I don't blame her.)  Also, unfortunately, Blogspot has seen fit to restrict archive.org's ability to archive their site's content, so once the Google cache is refreshed, those posts are gone forever.  Thanks, Blogspot.

Other authors have weighed in on the issue, from those who opted just to mention the discussion on their blog, to those who offered quite a bit of opinion on the matter.  Naturally, this has caused some of their comments pages to be flooded as well.

It doesn't help that the quality of fan fiction tends to be rather poor.  For every Chronicles of the Pride Lands, there are a thousand Halo: Halos in Space 2: Aliens attack (I get colon cancer just looking at that title).  The problem is that good writers are few and far between - ever notice how it's always the same writers' names on the covers of magazines like Fantasy & Science Fiction? - and most of the good writers are already writing their own stories and being published, so they don't have any desire to write about other people's characters, unless they're writing official media tie in material.  The rest of us are writing blogs and honing our talent, hoping to one day be discovered and have our names constantly appear on F&SF.

I used to write fan fiction one.  The keywords there are "used to".  I don't any more.  Not because I think that fan fiction is the work of the devil.  No, I have fanfiction.net and all the badly written Pokémon stories on Deviant Art to convince me of that.  I stopped writing it because I sucked at it.  I was too fond of writing bad self-insertion fics and I knew it.  I submitted a few based on The Pretender to a group I used to belong to, and looking back on them now, they looked like they were written by a 13 year old.  (Come to think of it, I may have been 13 years old at the time.)  They were devoid of plot and uninspired, and the version of me in the stories was little more than an ideal Gary Stu type character.  I consider it very good fortune that they've all been lost to time and the great hard drive in the sky.

What is the final word on fan fiction?  It's probably impossible to come up with one.  Some authors have no problem with it while others haven't looked kindly upon the practice.  I can't blame anyone on either side of the issue.  As for where I stand: I don't mind it as long as what's produced is good literature.  I would hate to have published a series of novels, then found out that someone wrote a piece of work featuring my characters that's not much better than Vogon poetry.

Another Unknown Realm

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majinpic_050810.jpgNamco Bandai had an intriguing-looking game to reveal at Gamescom last year in Europe, known as Majin: The Fallen Realm. It looked potentially interesting, but it was evident from the teaser that it was pretty early -- or its footage was taken from an earlier form. Game Republic, developers of the Genji titles and Folklore, is developing the game. Upon its unveiling, gamers were immediately making comparisons to Sony's The Last Guardian. While that's understandable -- both feature a young man accompanied by an otherworldly creature -- and while it's probably intentionally inspired by looking at it from a glance, it actually resembles one of Game Republic's previous games: the aforementioned Folklore.

The sad fact here is that people aren't drawing comparisons to that because most people probably haven't played (let alone seen) Folklore. A shame, because it's pretty good -- and it's not too late either! The game now known under the much better name Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom looks like a spiritual sequel to that game, with it having the same visual flair and similar character designs -- with the same character artist. This game is also headed to both Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

With this project, I have faith that Game Republic will pull something off as enjoyable as Folklore. But I'm also pessimistic enough to believe that it could become a criminally unappreciated title in the future, especially if Namco Bandai doesn't market it well enough. Its concept isn't the most original around, but hopefully the tale itself is intriguing enough that it will turn out endearing. The developer has a knack for it.

The game releases this summer worldwide, which is good, since it won't have too much competition in the way. Well, unless their definition of "summer" is "mid-September;" then it might be in trouble. Anyway, keep your eye on it. I could be incredibly wrong about its possible quality, but I think it has potential. 

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A little less than a year after its Japanese debut and several months after its European debut, the black Wii is finally arriving in North America on May 9th. Rumors of the black Wii had been circulating around the internet for several weeks, but Nintendo finally confirmed the news on Monday. Like Europe, the new Wii color will include a bundle containing the MotionPlus add-on and a copy of Wii Sports Resort, in addition to Wii Sports, the WiiMote and the nunchuk. Unlike Europe's limited edition bundle, the North American bundle will be standard and will also available in white.The bundle will sell for the same price point of $199, making it a pretty good deal for anyone who has held off on a Wii until now. Although Nintendo won't publicly say it, the company seems to be taking the threat of Sony's PlayStation Move and Microsoft's Project Natal seriously. The release couldn't come at a better time as Nintendo saw its profits decrease by 18 percent this year with further decreases expected in 2011. The fall in profits is partially blamed on hardware price drops. Still, the release of the new bundle could help with a surge of new sales. Even though profits are down for Nintendo the company is still profiting quite nicely, a position that many companies would love to be in.

Game Crazy is definitely one such company. On Monday it was confirmed that all remaining Game Crazy locations will be shuttered and liquidated within two weeks. The news comes on the heels of the last round of closings back in October 2009. 200 locations were closed as Game Crazy's parent company, Movie Gallery filled for chapter 11 bankruptcy. For many gamers Game Crazy was a great alternative to GameStop but the franchise's connection to Hollywood Video turned out to be its downfall. When the chains originally opened last decade being tied to a movie rental store wasn't a bad idea. As brick and mortar stores began to close, due mostly to competition from cheaper rental services such as Netflix, Redbox, video on demand and streaming services online, suddenly being tied to a video rental store wasn't such a smart business move. Instead separating Game Crazy from Hollywood video, Movie Gallery stuck to their business model. (To be fair, the recession hasn't helped either.) In essence, instead of expanding Game Crazy locations the franchise simply stagnated and died with Hollywood Video.

Many gamers had mixed reactions to Game Crazy. For some the chain was a great alternative to GameStop. For others, it was just a pale imitation of GameStop. My local Game Crazy here in Philadelphia was one of the first to close during October of last year. For years I enjoyed the store, as it was a fairly good alternative to GameStop and it was in reasonable walking distance from my house. The store was small but I never had a problem finding the games I wanted, and for the most part the staff was pretty friendly. Their push for pre-orders and used games was annoying at times, but it was just business. It was also the only gaming store in the area where I could still buy older games (Genesis, Dreamcast, PS1, etc) at reasonable prices without having to shop online. The pre-order bonuses were also pretty nice, including the Persona 4 one I wrote about almost two years ago. All of that is a distant memory now. But I'm still thankful for the memories and having a decent competitor to GameStop for nearly a decade.

Super Street Fighter IV -- Turning the Beat Back

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ssfivbanner.jpgSuper Street Fighter IV is what most fans of Street Fighter IV could ever want from one of the most venerable fighting game franchises today. But people reading this that are the least bit interested are probably already sold on it, and are getting their fill of the online play as we speak. So there isn't much more to say here. Go buy it.

Ah, but we live in a time where reviews are held up to a specific standard, regardless of whether that length is justified. So you'll just have to settle for this detailed review about its intricacies. Sorry.

ssfivpic1_050610.jpgA popular point of conjecture around its announcement was that SSFIV was just Capcom being Capcom. This means that the company, upon the success of the previous product, has decided to milk this game to hell until fans get seriously sick and tired of the formula. Ostensibly, it's a pretty good consideration given their penchant for it, but the fact that it actually started is silly in itself. This version has ten characters over last year's game, with balance changes made to the existing 25. The existing characters have also been given another Ultra Combo, with the game allowing you to choose your Ultra on the character select screen; in that vein, it's similar to choosing your Super Art in the Street Fighter III games. There are also five new stages (one is a redesign of an older stage) that look absolutely gorgeous and completely outclass all of the existing ones. There was plenty of variety before, but now...man. Anyone who thinks this is a typical cash-in shouldn't be taken seriously again, because they obviously can't discern the difference.

There are ten new characters here, but only two of these are brand new. Eight of them are fan favorites from previous games in the franchise. T. Hawk and Dee Jay make it in to complete the Street Fighter II cast. Though the first game went out of its way to avoid the inclusion of anything Final Fight, Guy and Cody make it in here. Adon joins the cast from the original Street Fighter, though more people know him from Street Fighter Alpha. Dudley, Ibuki, and Makoto make it in from the Street Fighter III titles. Meanwhile, Juri is the first Korean Tae Kwon Do fighter in the franchise. Oh, and she's evil. And you have Hakan, an oil wrestler who is one of the silliest characters in the franchise. It helps that's he's charmingly silly, though. They both bring unique fighting styles to the franchise, and while Juri is pretty easy to grasp, Hakan is going to require some serious practice.

ssfivpic2_050610.jpgMore importantly, Capcom fixed a critical flaw that unfortunately hampered the playability of the original: multiplayer lobbies. Being dubbed the clever name "Endless Mode" here, these lobbies allow up to eight players to gather and take turns fighting each other. It's a mode to relive the glory days of arcades with people who don't live near you. It's just that, you know, it's online. There's also a Team Battle mode that allows teams of up to four players to compete against each other.

That's enough modes to keep you playing for a while, but the most important aspect to consider are the balance changes, and they've made plenty. Sagat was a little too dominant in the last game, so he's received the heaviest changes. They've toned him down heavily, reducing his overall damage output and removing the light kick/Tiger Knee block-string shenanigans. He has one new technique, the Angry Scar, which allows him to make his next Tiger Uppercut stronger (and it's the only new move attached to an existing character). He also has more combo potential, but it's nothing that makes him as strong as he was before. Also, Ultra Combo damage has been reduced all over to help makes this game less defensive than the last one.

Everyone in the original cast has been given both buffs and nerfs in some way, with some of them just getting the former and the latter. For instance, while Rose has a very slightly nerfed backdash, she has increased damage on some normals, more combo potential, and a very useful new Ultra. And they even buffed Dan! You wouldn't believe how many air attacks his low taunt stops. Meanwhile, Fei Long, who was near the bottom of the tier list before, was given zero changes. Who knows why Capcom hates him so much, but he'll still have the name Fail Long.

ssfivpic3_050610.jpgThe online netcode overall is pretty good, being a notch better than the one found in the original. That's not to say it's lag free though. Even in a four bar match, the highest possible connection instead of five from the last game, there's still some obvious input delay problems present there. It's nothing you can't adjust to, but it's that process that can make things a little frustrating. It's no problem finding a match in Ranked, but sometimes you can be paired against people with less than stellar connections in both Endless and Team Battle modes. Online games are usually better on 360 rather than PS3, so if you had the choice of both, I'd choose the former.

The online competition so far is a pretty varied, ranging from people who obviously had a lot of experience with SFIV to people who are not yet warriors, but beginners. Oh, and if you weren't a fan of the scrubby crap that people could only get away with online (mashing reversals, turbo abuse), they're here to entertain you again. The nerfs to certain characters help with some of the inanity, but it still exists in spades. But despite all that, there are going to be a large number of people that can kick your ass legitimately too, so be prepared for that.

ssfivpic5_050610.jpgThe three fans of the single player modes are actually going to find less variety here. Arcade Mode is still as intact as it ever was, with rival scenes for every character. Unfortunately, aside from six of them, everyone from the last game still has their same rival scene. That's pretty lazy. Capcom also promised that the anime story sequences would be better this time around, but the animation itself is still spare-every-penny cheap. And though Capcom promised a better story this time around, it seriously isn't. In fact, it's worse.

The Time Attack and Survival Modes are gone, which is good since they were a serious grind. Challenge Mode is back, and though there are plenty of new challenges for each character, some are recycled for the existing ones. Just for you, the ones that are recycled are the same that gave people grief in the last game. Aren't they sweet?

The main problem with the single player is that there isn't a mode to introduce gamers new to Street Fighter to the game. Challenge Mode helps in teaching them some moves, but it also helps in teaching you combos that no one in their right mind would ever use in a real match. No one will burn their entire Super and Ultra meter for a paltry four hit combo.

ssfivpic4_050610.jpgIf you played the original, you may remember that the music for the individual stages, save a couple, was some of the blandest material to ever grace a fighting game. However, the music that played during the Rival battles in Arcade mode, which consisted of mostly remixed tracks from older games, was fantastic. The same music still graces the stages here, but you now have the option of using the remixed tracks for regular battles against human opponents. While seven characters from the previous game didn't have a rival theme, they do now. They're all quite exquisite.

Despite a few flaws that hamper its experience, Super Street Fighter IV is well worth the buy for anyone with even the slightest interest. If you enjoyed Street Fighter IV and like fighting games but haven't jumped in the pool yet, then why the heck aren't you playing this right now? And it's not at all a cash-in, as Capcom has learned their lesson. Now, if Super Street Fighter IV Turbo comes out next year, we may have to rescind that logic. Don't count on that happening, though.
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Behold the power of Facebook: messages in bottles just became easier to trace.  If you included your name and address, of course.  If you've ever tossed a message over the side of a ship, and you're on Facebook, one day someone might message you out of the blue and respond to what you wrote.  That's how to use a site correctly.  Here's how to use a site incorrectly: someone tried to auction off Dr. Kevorkian's bus on eBay.  Apparently, if you drove around a vehicle while you were working in the business of euthanasia, the vehicle is not allowed to be auctioned off on eBay.

It seems the evil way Activision treated Infinity Ward - which recently led to a half a billion dollar lawsuit - hasn't kept other companies from entering into agreements with them.  Bungie, who has developed games such as Halo, has signed a ten year agreement with them.  I'm currently taking bets on how long it takes for Activision to break the agreement and blame it all on insubordination.  Meanwhile, the Starcraft II beta is out, for those of you who have a Mac.  The PC beta was active as of February 17.

But even with that and the new World of Warcraft expansion coming out, there are those who don't want to give up on older titles.  After Microsoft pulled the plug on Live for the original Xbox, users discovered that as long as they kept their machines on and connected, they still had a haldful of Live functions left.  A handful of people wanted to play Halo 2 for as long as possible after the plug was pulled on the game, so they stayed connected since April 15.  As of this writing, they're down to four.  Connection hiccups, and overheating and freezing consoles have taken their toll on a group that was around 14 a week ago, but the group has vowed to keep playing until they're stopped by their own hardware, or by Microsoft themselves.

A few quotes from the many who have strived to keep the game alive, from the thread linked above:

"The power went out in my neighborhood on the 2nd day after they took it down. I wish you guy's luck, stay strong." -Zeta Crossfire

"I keep on getting emails from people I work with, have worked with, went to school with, play with... asking If I was the APACHE N4SIR that they have read about online. I joke with them... Do you know anyone else? (I've had and used the "Apache" name for almost 20 years) ... email, MSN, ICQ, Yahoo, Skype, ASC, OAS, <The list goes on> & at work." ... "I would like to thank the crew that I play with even to this day. Halo 2 was a time where I could be with friends and family when times were tough and just have fun..." -APACHE N4SIR

"We will keep playing until we are all forcibly removed, it could be by Microsoft, Bungie, our xboxes overheating, or just lagging out. Not for competition, not for a prize, but for the love, and memory of Halo 2." -joe campbell
But the Halo marathon doesn't have to end once the last player is disconnected forever from the game.  GamesRadar has offered the final twelve players the opportunity to beta the new Halo: Reach game.

Premium Continuum Sticks

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The Mad Catz Tournament Edition FightSticks, whose original iterations released last year to commemorate the release of Street Fighter IV, have really taken off with fans of the fighting genre. You could already tell before because of all the sticks that have released since then. But the common aspect of all the previous ones is that they were for Capcom games. And they were all Street Fighter related aside from the Marvel vs. Capcom one.

blazbluecstesticks_050210.jpgIt was about time someone else joined the mix. And that's...no, not Hori, who responded with their own version of premium sticks (the VX and V3 for 360 and PS3, respectively, and the Viewlix for both systems -- the last of which is receiving an American release) to combat Japanese gamers from importing Mad Catz's sticks - who then, in a twist, launched theirs domestically in Japan to combat Hori. No, Aksys Games has teamed up with Mad Catz to launch TE sticks for their upcoming Blazblue: Continuum Shift. The catch? Well, they're limited to 3,000, precisely 1,500 for each console. And they're $200. Wait, $200? Seriously?

I'm trying to wrap my head around exactly why it has any business being that expensive. It doesn't differ at all from the previously released sticks, aside from the artwork. And oddly enough, it's actually using the older TE template instead of the Tournament Edition "S" version used for the Super Street Fighter IV versions. The SSFIV ones also have an enhanced PCB that enables you to lock the Start, Select/Back, and Guide buttons; good thing, too, because pressing one of those at a tournament will get you immediately disqualified (though a few managers are willing to let it slide). These also retail for $50 less than the above sticks.

Also making this look like a bad deal: The original SFIV TE sticks, which the CS one is completely based on, were $100 at multiple retailers up until a few weeks ago. Some local stores that sell them may still have it for that price. Fry's may still carry them for that, for instance.

Apparently this stick is solely designed to appeal to the collector that has to have everything Blazblue or Arc System Works related, or for people who want one (or more) for the sole reason of making a profit via ebay or something when they run out. That is, if they run out. The average consumer for these is pretty savvy when it comes to shopping around, and I'm sure they won't see a practical reason to own this when they could just by a currently available one and swap the art themselves. Maybe they'll reduce the price if they don't get enough preorders by their release date of sometime in June.

blazbluehrapv3_050210.jpgIf you prefer the other flavor, Hori is releasing CS sticks in Japan, modeled after their limited time Hori Real Arcade Pro V3 and VX sticks. They're also cheaper at around $150 (the same price as the TE stick), though the fact that you'll have to import will drive the price up a little more. It also might be your only chance to get another V3 or VX instead of paying some inflated ebay prices. These will release on July 1st, the same day CS releases for consoles in Japan.

If you were the person that was in for a Blazblue themed stick, well here you have it. Just make sure to tell your landlord that you won't be able to make your next mortgage payment though.

P.S. I'm loving the image on the right of Aksys' home page advertising the stick. Either you potential 360 stick owners are getting the option to a left-handed version, or it's a definite candidate for Photoshop Disasters.
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Like March, May promises to be a blockbuster month for video games. Between Super Mario Galaxy 2, Lost Planet 2, 3D Dot Game Heroes, Alan Wake, Alpha Protocol, Red Dead Redemption, and many other titles, there's something for just about every gamer this month. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about game bundles and extras in general. May is just as sparse as April when it comes to swag.



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First up we have the hotly anticipated 360-only title, Alan Wake which will hit store shelves on May 18th. This action game is also a psychological thriller that promises to take storytelling to new heights with its TV show-like episodic approach. It's only fitting that such a long-awaited game would come with a fairly impressive limited edition bundle. The packaging itself is designed to resemble a hardcover book and is bundled with a 144-page book (that includes a short story and FBI dossiers), a soundtrack, and video commentary. For only $20 dollars more than the standard edition of the game, the limited edition looks to be a good buy for any fan who has been anticipating Alan Wake.


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Split / Second may or may not be on the minds of racing genre fans with Blur releasing in the same month. Still the premise of a racing game set within the plot of a reality TV show promises to be entertaining. Split / Second releases on May 18th and Amazon.com is offering an exclusive pre-order bonus poster (pictured above). Free posters are never a bad deal when they're included as a bonus. If you planned to buy this game on its release date ordering from Amazon seems like a reasonable deal, unless you absolutely have to have the game on May 18th.


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Nintendo fans no doubt have their eye on Super Mario Galaxy 2 which comes out on May 23rd. The game itself does not include any extras, but the official strategy guide does. The collector's edition of the official guide is hardcover and ships with a high-quality poster and a collection booklet. While some gamers may shun strategy guides, this may be a decent deal for gamers who do buy guides with their games. And at $19.79 via Amazon.com (it'll cost you $29.99 at GameStop) the guide is a reasonable price.


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You might have already finished Final Fantasy XIII or you may have stopped playing it several hours in. (Personally, I'm not far off the 70-hour mark and I still have two chapters to go.) Like the gameplay elements many gamers can't agree on the soundtrack-- it was either unremarkable or exceptional. If you found the soundtrack to be exceptional no doubt you've already acquired it in the form of a music CD or a digital download. On May 26th Square Enix will release a rearrangement simply known as the Final Fantasy XIII Soundtrack Plus. In addition to rearranged songs the CD will feature songs exclusive to the English release of the game. Play-Asia is currently offering the CD for $26.90 but it might be worth waiting on Square Enix's official North American store to offer an import at a cheaper price. So far Square hasn't stated if the site will offer the FFXIII Soundtrack Plus, but if The World Ends With You soundtracks are any indication this newest FFXIII addition will eventually be added.


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Gamers may never see a proper Chrono Trigger sequel but at least fans will finally have a chance to own figures from the game. The Chrono Trigger Formation Arts Trading Figures won't actually be released until sometime in October. However, now would probably be a good time to pre-order them to ensure you get a set, just in case they end up selling out. And the figures are hard not to like, unless you're a fan of Marle. In that case you can only hope that Square Enix decides to put out another set that includes the princess. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some pre-ordering to do.
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Well, it looks like music blogs are being targeted again, this time by the Irish Music Rights Organization.  They may be expected to pay royalties in the future for hosting mp3s that they were freely given by the artists themselves.  It doesn't sit right with me that blogs will have to pay the IMRO.  Generally, the IMRO should be the ones paying people who advertise their product.

Stephen Hawking has finally made known his thoughts about extraterrestrial creatures, and they're not good.  From what he's warned us, we might not want to embrace them with open arms.  He paints a picture not unlike Independence Day.  The movie, not the holiday.  The Canadian Defence Minister disagrees: last year he said that we've already been visited multiple times and that the aliens have been very benevolent with their technology, and this year he's saying that we shouldn't spread misinformation about our otherworldly benefactors.

The Other OS fallout continues: Sony's getting sued.  Seriously, this generation is not going very well for Sony.  On the flip side of the coin, this year is a good year for the creators of Penny Arcade: they've made the annual Time 100 list.  And it isn't enough that we play video games.  There are also video game design courses, merit badges for gaming, and even summer camps for gamers.  There are also people who dedicate years to see what happens when a score maxes out in games like, say, Bejeweled 2.

And finally, Leonard Nimoy has made a trip to Vulcan this past week... the city, not the planet.  Meanwhile, there's a new movie called Trek Nation coming up.  Looking forward to that one, myself.
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Today is May 1st and it just happens to be Saturday, so you know what that means. And no, I'm not talking about the political holiday, May Day. Today is Free Comic Book Day, an annual event that was originally started in 2002. Nationally and internationally, various independent comic book retailers give away free comic books on the first Saturday in May. The selection varies year by year, but more often than not there is something for everyone. Last year's selection included 42 titles, this year the total comes to about 33 comic books and a collectible Heroclix War Machine figure from Iron Man-- if you can find it. Let the collecting begin.

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