Thursday, December 27, 2007

You're the Best Around! Nothin's Ever Gonna Keep ya Down...

Figured I would make a little BEST OF THE REST of 2007 thingie. FUN WORK BOREDOM TIME!

Best things I put in my mouth:
Rosati's and Cane's. WAAAAY too close to pick a winner, just don't eat both at the same time. But who ever thought I would like a Chicago based pizza over NY/Philly style?

Best moments in gaming:
Metroid Prime 3's controls. Knights of Cydonia in Guitar Hero 3. Super Paper Mario's 2d/3d flip ability. Super Mario Galaxy's star bit collecting. FINALLY beating Green Grass and High Tides on Medium drums in Rock Band. The opening level of God of War 2. Everything about Portal, especially "speedy thing go in, speedy thing come out" and of course, Still Alive.

Best movie moments:
Any time that Megan Fox appeared on screen. Superbad's "It's like a division sign" line. Charlie Wilson meets Gust in Charlie Wilson's War. 300. Luna Lovegood in HP:OotP. Beowulf in IMAX 3D.

Best on-stage moments:
Spamalot. Sarah Silverman's "old Jewish women vs young black men" bit. Dave Matthews after much consideration.


That's all I have for now. Might find some more fun to put up later, but who knows, maybe this really was everything that happened to me this year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

If you feel like dancing...

Considering I rarely talk about music here, I figured I would end 2007 with a list of my favorite music from the past 365 days or so. So, without further ado, here is my list of 2007’s best music. Click on a song’s name to listen to it on YouTube.


EDIT: Just remember that The Shins album, Wincing the Night Away was a 2007 release. I will give "Phantom Limb" the "best song named after my favorite Venture Brothers villain" award.


Best song of the year, period, end of story:
Paramore- Misery Business
Wow, where did Paramore come from? The incredibly energetic and pumping Misery Business still gets me going whenever I hear it. This is my absolute favorite song of the year, hands down. Take into account that the average age of a Paramore band member is just 19, and it makes it even more impressive. I hope Paramore isn’t a one hit wonder, and that teeny tiny Hayley keeps belting out that big voice.

Best song to sing at the top of my lungs:
Jimmy Eat World- Big Casino
Close contender for song of the year. Jimmy Eat World is back after the mediocre 2004 Futures album. The entire album, Chase the Light, is a solid effort, but Big Casino is the best song Jimmy and the boys have put out since A Praise Chorus.

Best album of the year, even if no single song stands out:
Radiohead- In Rainbows
In Rainbows has made a big impact due to it’s “screw the record companies and download the album online only” trip this year, but it is also the best overall album of the year. Just like OK Computer, Radiohead knows how to put together a complete package that acts more like 1 single 45 minute song, instead of a series of different tunes.

Best song that was written while high:
Modest Mouse- Dashboard
“Even needs have needs, tiny giants made of tinier giants. Don't wear eyelids so I don't miss the last laugh of this show.” ‘Nuff said.

Best “we don’t usually do this kind of song” song:
Linkin Park- Shadow Of The Day
Also could have won the “most fun to sing the harmonies” song. Shadow of the Day is a great softer song from Linkin Park.

Best “this sounds NOTHING like our last single” song:
Finger Eleven- Paralyzer
Everyone has felt this way before, being completely ignored by someone you want to get the attention of, and Finger Eleven put a humorous and rocking twist to the idea.

Best song that sounds nothing like our old music, but rocks anyway:
Matchbox Twenty- How Far We’ve Come
A clever music video compliments a solid performance. For those who can’t tell just by listening, the old drummer is now the rhythm guitar player.

Best sweet and heart warming song:
Ingrid Michealson- The Way I Am
Just listen to this woman sing, and you will feel the the love.

Best “who resurrected Freddy Mercury?” song:
Mika- Grace Kelly
If you thought The Darkness was the new Queen, Mika takes the crown (or is it a tiara) for the glam rock sound of the year.

Best original theme song to a TV series:
Barenaked Ladies- Big Bang
BNL doing what they do best: great harmonies, clever lyrics, and lots of energy.

Best song that makes me want to eat a lot of granola
Eddie Vedder- Hard Sun
Vedder's premier track from the Into the Wild soundtrack makes me feel like lighting a camp fire, playing the guitar in a tie-dye shirt, and having some trail mix.

Best harmony that is better than the melody:
Foo Fighters- The Pretender
Foo Fighters disappointed me with 2005’s In Your Honor double disk set (don't get me started on the need to install software to listen to it on a PC), with Best of You being the only good song out of the 20 found on the album. They came back with a vengeance on E,S,P&G. The Pretender also wins the best DLC song of the year for Guitar Hero 3. Oh, and CLICK HERE to see me brag a bit.

Best song I fell in love with in 2005 that became way too popular this year and kind of ruined the fact this was my favorite song for years:
Plain White Ts- Hey there Delilah
I think the title said it all. I have loved this song for years (the original version…) and am actually disappointed that it became so main-stream. It used to be my favorite song, but now I feel funny when I hear it on the radio. I feel like one of those indie music guys, complaining that a song is popular, but I can’t control how I feel.

Best follow up song to a breakaway hit:
Plain White Ts- Our time is Now
If you are going to get big like the PWTs, at least follow up and prevent being a one hit wonder (although, in theory, Hate was a bit of a hit). Great follow up to the explosion of Delilah.

Best “trust us, we know what we are doing” album:
Incubus- Light Grenades
Oil and Water
Dig
Anna Molly
Close contention in my mind to album of the year, but with a few less than “stellar” songs (ha, I made a funny!) Great series of fantastic singles prove that Incubus can write a lot of good music.

Friday, December 14, 2007

It's like a storm... of metal...

One of my favorite games on the original NES is Metal Storm. Haven't thought about this game in a long while, but the recent Racket Boy article about games that pushed the NES to it's limits had me reliving my younger days. Check out the "Happy Video Game Nerd" review of it below.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rock Lobster!

My desk at work rocks. Click to embiggen:




Friday, December 7, 2007

Mid-season Report Card...

Alright children, before you run off and enjoy the Chrismahanakwanzakah break, it is time to hand out report cards. Some of you did very very well this semester, and some of you are Heroes. A lot of you are not that unique, but do what you do so well that you stand out. Some of you have finally hit your stride and couldn't be doing better. So many of you are doing such a great, wonderful and incredible job. And again... some of you are Heroes. So let me hand out your report cards and see who is doing well, and who is sucking big time *cough* Heroes *cough*.

Subject: Sundays
Overall Grade: C
Mediocrity, thy name is Fox
Family Guy, Simpsons and American Dad (Fox) C- Yes, I lumped these 3 together, because they are all performing the same. A good episode peppered with 3 or 4 turds in between. American Dad is the most consistent of the bunch, but unlike Family Guy and Simpsons doesn't have any big standout episodes. Nothing to write home about, but nothing terrible either. Each gets a C.

Subject: Mondays
Overall Grade: B
Two surprises and one huge disappointment start my weeks off with confusion.
The Big Bang Theory (CBS) A- Holy crap, where did this one come from? TBBT is the Super Mario Galaxy of TV: nothing that new, nothing that unique, and nothing that original, but done so spectacularly well, it shines through the muck that surrounds it. For those out of the know, take 1 big hearted physics nerd, add 1 Aspergers roommate, a spoonful of Gynephobic Indian, a dash of smarmy Jewish gamer, and finish it off with a sweet, naive young blonde, and you get the best written dialogue this side of a Joss Whedon WGA speech. No question, an A.
Chuck (NBC) B- Chuck has surprised me. While nothing amazing yet, it has managed to capture my attention. The acting is what makes this so good, especially Zachary Levi, Joshua Gomez and, of course, the incomparable Adam Baldwin. A good action/comedy movie in TV format, and just a fun ride.
Heroes (NBC) D- What the f*&k happened here? To agree completely with another friend and fan of the show, Peter is a moron. Peter is like my pug Inky. He follows those around him blindly if treated nice, and doesn't realize his potential or what he is capable of, and will sooner piss on the floor than take the time to think about his actions. Hiro's storyline sucked just as badly. While the last 3 episodes before the finale were pretty decent and well done, it doesn't make up for the other 8 or 9. I enjoyed the ultimate Adam/Kensei storyline ending that came around, but there were just too many other issues with this season to make it salvageable. Tim Kring has promised a completely revamped 3rd chapter, as was clear by the rushed finale. Let us hope he can bring back the magic. Oh, and I could care less if Nikki is dead or not.

Subject: Tuesdays
Overall Grade: A
Tuesday nights are, as they have been since Full House aired in 1987, my favorite night of TV each week.
Reaper (CW) B- Reaper has been a mixed bag full of one trick ponies. I want to love this show more... Almost every episode follows the same formula, something that is usually reserved to children's shows. Each episode, although very similar to the last, has enough in it that is unique and special to make me look forward to this every week, but the writers better start showing something more if I am to keep watching.
House (Fox) A+ - House is currently the best program on television. 'Nuff said... but when have I been known to keep quiet? The competition that House put the applicants through was a great idea, and a lot of fun. And, not to brag, but 2 of the 3 people I said he would pick, he picked. Sometimes change is good, and House has gone through some great changes this year.

Subject: Wednesdays
Overall Grade: B-
Further proof that NBC really knows what it is doing this year.
Bionic Woman (NBC) B- -Bionic Woman is another Chuck. Nothing overly great, but just a lot of fun and a good time. It also doesn't hurt that
Michelle Ryan is not only absolutely gorgeous, but a genuinely good actress. And to confirm my suspicions, she is British, and doing a nearly flawless American accent. I would like to see more of the secondary characters get fleshed out more, and completely rid of the horrible acting of Katee Sackhoff/Sarah Corvus (sorry Battlestar fans!).

Subject: Thursdays
Overall Grade: B
Swan songs and dead ducks.
CSI (CBS) D- To quote myself, from September, "
Why do I still watch this show?" I wish I was kidding when I say that EVERY episode has AT LEAST one "big boobs" joke... I love boobs as much as the next guy (maybe more) but grow up and be a drama with good writing, not childish jokes.
30 Rock (NBC) B- This show has yet to disappoint. A Scrubs meets the Office style show, I am sad to say I missed the first half of the first season. Tina Fey is the best, Alec Baldwin is still legitimately funny, not forced, and no character is useless or not funny. Good job 30 Rock!
The Office (NBC) A- Consistently the best written show on television, despite my early whining. A true character based sitcom that is as close to perfection as you can get. I am disappointed to say that Pam's character has plateaued and is no longer a lot of fun to watch, even though she is now always forced into tight sweaters. Now that she is with Jim, she has blossomed, but has become dull. That is, however, my ONLY complaint.
Scrubs (NBC) B- Thank goodness the writers came to their senses here. Scrubs doesn't have to be one crazy and goofy joke after another. They have yet to find that magical 2nd/3rd season magic they once had, but this is a large improvement over last year's super goofy attitude. The characters are adults this year, and are realizing that themselves. It's nice to see Scrubs mellow out and go back to what made it fun in the first place.


On a serious, closing note, I just wanted to add that, despite that so many shows will not be returning to TV as soon as I would like, I completely agree with the current writers guild strike. These extremely talented men and women should be paid for everything they create, regardless of whether it airs on national TV, a website, additional DVD content, and should be paid proper royalties without question. How Hollywood has not signed a deal yet is beyond me, but I will enjoy these shows much more knowing that the amazing talent behind my favorite shows are being compensated for their amazing body of work.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Lunar: it's pronounced Loo-NAR

Those who were involved on my recent "modern JPRGs suck because they are too complicated" rants have already seen this. Two of you commented that it was "the gayest thing I have ever seen" and you aren't wrong. Who cares though?! Remember when RPGs had amazing characters, music, and gameplay, and didn't care about the wildest and craziest battle/upgrade/alchemy system possible?

Just shut up and watch, and let the memories flood back in:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Compassion, thy name is ME!

I am here in Orlando, FL, on business. This morning, while getting ready for the day, I am listening to the news. One report is of an armed robbery, where the staff was forced at gun point into the freezer (no one hurt) here in Orlando, at a drive through restaurant called Checkers. My reaction to this?

OH MY GOD! I LOVE CHECKERS! I HAVEN'T EATEN THERE IN YEARS!

My compassion knows no bounds....


Monday, November 26, 2007

The Uncharted Legend of Orange Box : Guitar Band Galaxy 3...

Sometimes as Gamers we are neglected. Nintendo is notorious for long droughts with no 1st party titles, no 2nd party titles, and very few AAA 3rd part titles. Square-Enix and Valve and Rare are known for enormous gaps between the releases of their titles. There are also times when as Gamers, we are deluged in a flood of AAA titles all at once, making it impossible to experience all of the big games all at once when they are released. A few years back we had the Hal02 vs Metroid Prime 2 vs GTA: San Andreas vs Resident Evil 4 vs 10 other lesser known great titles that no one played because of the big 4. This year, we have, in no particular order, Super Mario Galaxy, Mass Effect, Rock Band, Assassin's Creed, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, Crysis, Guitar Hero 3, Phantom Hourglass, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Orange Box, and Metroid Prime 3 and Bioshock opening the flood gates back in the early fall. That is 13 games just off the top of my head in the past 3 months. If you never felt thankful about game delays (Haze, Super Mario Kart for Wii and Super Smash Bros. Brawl) this is the time to be thankful.

So what have I been playing? You know about Metroid Prime 3, Eternal Sonata, and I toyed around with Orange Box a few weeks back. I would have written about Portal, but there was so much being written about the game, all I would have felt comfortable doing is putting up a bunch of links and telling you all to just play the damn game already. Beautiful Katamari was a big disappointment, mainly caused by a oddly high difficulty level and lack of anything original. Skate was... unique... good for the first 2 hours, but then the sudden level of perfect precision required to get ANYTHING done destroyed any chance of fun. Have I mentioned yet I am starting to get sick of sandbox style games? More on that later.

Most recently, I have spent my time waving my arms around like an idiot (more than usual) and having my forearms throb in pain, (yet become more toned than before. Damn sexy). The big three for me this holiday season are Super Mario Galaxy, Rock Band, and Guitar Hero 3. And over the 4 day holiday, that is what I did. I played 3 of this years biggest titles ad nauseum (literally in Galaxy) over the past week, and felt I would pass along my impressions.

Super Mario Galaxy: A lot has been written about SMG, and I am not in the mood to repeat myself. I am in the mood for Cain's though... mmmm.... While a great game, SMG is not my favorite game of all time, and not even my favorite Mario game of all time. It does come in 3rd behind Super Mario 64 and Super Mario World in the "Best Mario Game EVHAR!" list, but it is still just another Mario game, and not truly revolutionary in my mind. I don't mean to sound negative. It is the most fun I have had with a platformer in a long long time. The nearly perfect controls (still not a fan of the waggle), clever level design (even if 1 level is literally mirrored, and many are rather small), and constant fan service (fire flower returns, along with other power-ups, and lots of old SMB3 music) make this a real gem. A warning to the fairer sex, SMG has caused vertigo in every woman that has played or watched. Not being sexist, just a warning to those who do not enjoy vomit. Strangely enough, one of my favorite parts of SMG is the star bit collecting. Simply point your Wii-mote at the screen, and Mario will collect chunks of stars that fall to the ground and lay around the level. Taking the place of coins (they are still there too), the star bit system is a quirky little addition that is a lot of fun. I have 16 stars left to collect before I get 100%, and the later levels can be challenging. Not groundbreaking, not astounding, but perfectly executed: that is Super Mario Galaxy. Where do I see Mario going next? Despite growing tired of the idea of every game heading down this path, I would like to see a sandbox style Mario game, similar to a Metroid or GTA.

Guitar Hero 3: Yes, I already posted about this one already. After spending almost a month with this gem, I have a few more things to add, and a few things to brag about as well. Guitar Hero 3 is easily the best guitar game out on the market. After replaying a lot of Guitar Hero 1 and 2, and spending time with Rock Band, the guitar experience in Guitar Hero 3 is 2nd to none. Between the blazing difficulty, the simple online gameplay, the fantastic use of hammer-ons and pull-offs, there is no comparison. Neversoft not only did a good job, they improved in a lot of ways over what Harmonix put into place. Some of my recent GH3 highlights including beating one of the developers in an online match (coolest Achievement ever!), getting 100% on The Pretender (go DLC!), FINALLY completing Through the Fire and Flames, and actually getting through about 30% of the game on Hard (Hard is harder than hard was before). For the best solo experience around, Guitar Hero 3 is the best choice available.

Rock Band: So how does Rock Band compare to the Guitar Hero games? In this case, it is best not to compare. Rock Band is pretty damn boring in the single player guitar campaign. There are far fewer notes to play, and in first time playing through all the songs, I got 100% on 32 songs, and no less than 97% on any other on the Medium difficulty. In comparison, I have 100% on 14 songs in Guitar Hero 3. In Rock Band, I would accidentally strum where there were NO notes, even though the guitar in the song would strum 2 or 3 more times. Reptilia should be removed from the game for this specifically. While on the negative comparison track:
-There isn't an obvious Overdrive indicator (star power), and getting Overdrive with the drums can make the orange notes disappear.
-The fret board is translucent, and can be distracting, along with wild strobing and color effects.
-The individual parts, on all instruments except the mic, aren't any louder than the other parts, where Guitar Hero blasted the guitar parts so they could easily stand out.
-Hammer-ons and Pull-Offs are very hard to see and also used rarely. When there are 3 tracks up on screen (guitar, drums, bass) and the frets are even smaller, they can be nearly impossible to see, even on my 36" HD set.
-The guitar itself is less than stellar. The strum bar itself is flimsy and makes no clicking sound, the buttons are stiff and clicky, making it very hard to "roll" your fingers on the frets, and the whammy bar is far too high and too long, making it difficult to use. I will continue to use my GH3 wireless guitar, thank you very much.

Things do get better with the drums, aka the reason 75% of people who own this game bought it in the first place. The drums are damn challenging, specifically, the foot peddle. While I can breeze through any guitar part on Medium, I am barely making it through the songs with the drums. I am finally mastering Easy, getting around 95% on most songs, but as soon as I kick it up to Medium, I am only getting about 60-75% on any song. The foot peddle (the orange button for the drums, literally and metaphorically) takes a lot of getting used to, and I still have yet to find a comfortable sitting position to use in conjunction with the peddle. When you mess up, it takes a long time to get back into the rhythm, so even if I only missed 1 note, I then miss 3 or 4 more just getting back into the rhythm. The challenge so far is what makes the drums more fun than the solo guitar parts. Once I get good at the drums (I will, I hope) the single player experience will hopefully still remain fun, as the drums are a more authentic experience in Rock Band than the guitar. The drums in Rock Band are as good as the guitar in Guitar Hero 3. Physically, the drum kit is big and not as sturdy as I would like. My only real issue with them so far is that there are many dings and dents on the rims of the drum pads from when everyone first learned to play them.

However, I know what it is about Rock Band's single player mode that makes it pale in comparison to Guitar Hero, other than the nit-picking above. Guitar Hero uses songs that are guitar songs. Rock Band uses songs that are band songs. Playing these parts alone can be some fun, but is a much better single player experience with Guitar Hero, because Rock Band is about working together, and the songs are designed to work best when multiple parts are involved. No one part is the main track like in Guitar Hero, each is balanced together. Individually, the parts seem weak because they are MADE to work best when combined, which is where this games rocks, pun intended.

Playing in a band is a completely separate experience in Rock Band. Hmmm, maybe that is why they named it that... When playing as a band, everything falls into place. The easier guitar part is purposeful, because now you can pay attention to the other members of your band, bring them back if they fail out of the song, and during the breaks in the guitar parts, look over at your band mates and watch them play, just like you do in a real band. The drummer is the key member here, as someone with a less than steady beat will make it harder for the others in the band to play along because even with the TV loud, the drums themselves make a good amount of noise. The bass is still lacking, with some songs having too long of a break, or just lots of long notes instead of guitar style strumming. And there is nothing special about the singing parts, it is exactly what it sounds like, no pun intended this time. Singing on Expert is harder than I would expect, with me yet to 100% a song with singing, even on Creep or Say it Ain't So, 2 songs I know as well as my ABCs.

When all of these parts are combined, a unique experience is created. There is no other game that can create the feeling brought out by Rock Band. Unlike Guitar Hero 2 and 3's co-op modes, which is fun yet unsatisfying (the bass being the culprit), the full Rock Band experience is wild and fun, with a true sense of harmony and working-togetherness being generated. Sub par on the single player side, but incomparable to anything else available without actually learning to play an instrument. If you can find the game, afford it (nearly $200 after tax) and definitely have people in your life that will want to play with you, Rock Band is a one of a kind game.

Now my only problem will be choosing between the DLC for Rock Band and Guitar Hero if the same songs come for both....

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Some dreams never end...

It's hard to write a "review" for a game that I have such mixed feelings about. Actually, it is hard to write a review for any game, but that is besides the point. Eternal Sonata for the XBox360 was released on September 17th here in the US, and it is the reason I bought a 360 when I did. The game is a traditional Japanese RPG, and I emphasize the traditional there. Eternal Sonata is a combination of a lot of other existing RPGs, namely the Tales series from Namco and smaller parts the Dragon Quest/Warrior series from Square-Enix, Final Fantasy series and Xenosaga and Xenogears.



The gameplay is traditional RPG fare, with towns and dungeons mixed together, a turn based battle system and epic story. But each of these main elements features major flaws that prevent the game from being truly great. Battles are action based, like the Tales series, but with a few twists, namely the amount of time you have to act, and how long each action takes. As you progress through the game, your team as a whole goes up a level at predetermined times, and this changes certain battle elements, such as how long you have to attack, how much time you have to make a strategy for your turn, and if you can link special attacks together. This is a great system that slowly ramps up the difficulty, while also opening up new battle elements. The battles are always fun, and figuring out a strategy for each enemy type is lots of fun.

Visually, the game is jaw-droppingly stunning, the best looking game I have ever played. Graphical touches like butterflies and lizards crawling around, nearly on par with atmosphere set by Metroid Prime 3. Everything from the towns to the characters is imaculately detailed, even the character's pockets and shoes have a higher level of detail than I have ever seen. This looks even better in HD, and the vibrant colors are stunning. While somewhat cartoony or anime inspired, the graphics are phenomenal, fun, and fantastic. However, the good ends there.

The story is my biggest issue with the game. Without getting into details, the game world takes place in Frederic Chopin's mind as he lays on his death bed. He is one of the charcters IN the game, and knows its a dream world. You start the game with the goal of getting to the capital to discuss taxes on certain items in the world with the king. This never happens. The story takes 2 sharp turns every third of the way through, and completely changes the pace of the game. You start on a quest to talk to the king about taxes, then you want to prevent a war, then you need to stop a monster in an alternate parallel dimension. No single main plot point is ever actually resolved, making your quest seem pointless for the most part. The ending resolves nothing, and actually causes even more questions to be asked (who did Polka love, and who loved her for example) and the final quarter of the game has absolutely no story to be found whatsoever. Admittedly, the ending has a great little time-travel twist halfway through the final 45 minute cut scene, a cool "aha!" moment, but other than there, I never felt resolved with the story or characters.

The negatives don't stop there:
-Towns and dungeons are real, almost too real. No map or markers to show the entrances and exits or doors, so you may accidentally miss a room or treasure, or an entire area of the game.
-When first entering battle, you can't always see the enemies, and have to move the camera. This is annoying, especially when forced to start attacking immediately by the end of the game. This is balanced by having the same exact 2 or 3 enemies in every group in the same 1 or 2 positions in every battle. Very little variation on enemies, and by the final third of the game, there is no reason to switch characters once you have found a good strategy for your 3 favorites.
-LOOONG cutscenes, but the voice acting and visuals are so good, that sometimes it doesn't matter. Sometimes....
-The piano piece minigame is largely flawed. You can collect +-30 musical scores, and play them with random NPCs, however, there is no way of knowing WHICH piece to play unless you have a musical degree from Julliard. I have taken musical theory and can easily read music, but not even I could discern which score should be played with which character.
-Chopin takes a back seat in the story after the first few hours and just pops back up at the end. He is supposed to be the main character, but after the 2nd chapter (out of 7) he has nothing to do in the story.
-The two main side quests, or only side quests, can't really be completed until you play the game a 2nd time. You could theoretically finish the hidden dungeon your first play through, but the level of enemies ramp up so fast, it's not even fun. Also, the hidden dungeon is boring and almost feels like a random assortment of screens, where 5 floors in, you already feel lost and are no longer having fun.

Despite all of these complaints, the game is a lot of fun, especially the battles. If you don't mind being bored for the story portion, and just in general don't care about the character you will meet (of which there are too many playable for a 3 party system, another complaint) then play away. The game is fun, has a great battle engine, and is visually astonishing. Forget the story elements, or at least try not to invest too much into the outcome, and you will have a good time. Gun to my head, I would give it 3.5 stars out of 5.

Image courtesy Namco Bandai

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Once More, Once Again

Certain events stand out in people's lives. Weddings. Funerals. Births. We look back on these moments and remember, the details permanently etched into our minds. Graduation. First date. First kiss. Sometimes, these events are so powerful, they effect the way you live your life. The moon landing. Tearing down the Berlin wall. The original airing of the Buffy episode Once More With Feeling.



Ok, so some events are bigger than others. But when it comes to the greatest piece of entertainment ever created, be it theater, TV, movie or music, you will always remember the first time you experienced it. Once More With Feeling was that experience for me.

Once More With Feeling was the seventh episode of the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It aired on November 6th, 2001, on UPN. It ran for an amazing 50 minutes, 8 minutes longer than the average 1 hour TV series is allowed for air time. If there was ever any doubt that UPN wanted to give Joss Whedon anything he wanted, those extra 8 minutes are proof. Compare that to what Fox did.

There is so much good in OMWF, I can't even get into it. From the flawless music and lyrics, to the deep and meaningful metaphor, everything is as close to perfection as I could ever expect to find. Some of the most powerful imagery, from the opening Going Through the Motions scene (perfect ironic lyrics mixed with dusted vamps and demons) to Walk Through The Fire (the firetruck passing by is the best moment in TV history (and I felt an immense fan-boy moment when Joss himself admitted it was his favorite moment from the series) makes this the best 3000 seconds ever produced. Go and watch it already!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The best thing to happen on Halloween, EVHAR!

I will use as few words as possible here in order to convey my excitement, because there are too many words swirling through my head to put down on paper... or on a digital form through a keyboard... whatever. Here is the news folks: Joss Whedeon will be returning to TV, and he is bringing actress/producer Eliza Dushku and writer/producer Tim Minear along with him!

The show will be on Fox (the bad news in this story) and will be called Dollhouse. The long and short of Dollhouse is that Echo (Eliza) is one of many individuals kept in a secure laboratory. She and the others have no memories. When important or rich people need someone to fulfill a fantasy or goal, Echo and cohorts and injected with talents and memories, and thrown into the field, but remember nothing about the adventures. Echo starts remembering though, and wants to find out more.

Looks like the writers strike will make this one not come out until next fall, unless it's a short strike (extremely doubtful) and it will show up as a mid-season replacement.

E! has the full story (looks like an exclusive so far) and you can check it out by CLICKING HERE!

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go run through the streets screaming elated overtures, and join Numfar in the dance of joy.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

This is why I don't play real guitar anymore...


After battling my inner demons for a long time (my outer demons are trapped in a mystic urn) I plunked down the $100 for Guitar Hero 3 for the 360. I have been debating the GH3 on 360 vs Wii for a while (downloadable content being the deciding factor here) and also debating whether to get Rock Band and then buying GH3 on it's own later. After trying out the guitar at GameStop (yes, I dared to tread) I made the decision to just take the plunge already.

First off, the wireless guitar for the 360 is fantastic, worth the price of admission. It has the same buttons as the GH2 guitar for the PS2, but its wireless, heavier, and much easier to hold. The strum bar is also a lot more sturdy, so no more accidentally strumming up when strumming down extra hard and fast. My only complaint is the guitar strap, which has an extra sharp edge. Whenever I activate star power, I get a nice sharp poke to the neck. I actually have a mark on my neck. It has been switched out for my PS2 guitar's strap. Otherwise, best guitar peripheral I have used so far. On a side note, it has the PlayStation controller symbols (square, triangle, etc) on the neck under the buttons, but not the 360's letters. This could be because the colors correspond to the buttons on the 360 controller, but I still find it odd to find the symbols on my 360 guitar.

As for the game itself, the set list is where this style of game lives or dies, and happily, Guitar Hero 3 lives strong. The lineup still isn't as strong as the original Guitar Hero, but its better than Guitar Hero 2 (and destroys Rocks the 80s btw). I can honestly say I know 90% of the main songs in the list, and most are performed by their original bands, not an annoying cover. One point of note about the songs themselves, is even with the speakers blasting, some songs don't sound as good as their original recordings, with "Story of my Life" losing almost all of it's melodies and "aahhhs" in the background.

Actually playing the songs is a fantastic combination of both of the first Guitar Hero games. There is a lot less of that playing random notes that don't seem to correspond to the song stuff found everywhere in GH2, but it is still around. The biggest positive found in Guitar Hero 3 is the hammer ons and pull offs are even easier to... pull off than ever before. Instead of just a blank white circle instead of a black and white circle, h.o.s and p.u.s (LOL!) are shown as rings of light, making them pop out very easily. I sucked at h.o.s and p.u.s in the original GH and still didn't "rock" in GH2, but here, I have them down, and there are literally some songs that require these to be used to not fail. I'm looking at you "Cult of Personality" and "Knights of Cydonia." By the way, Knights of Cydonia, thank you Neversoft!

Guitar Hero 3 is simultaneously harder and easier than the previous games. It is easier in that the window to strum the note correctly is clearly much larger (my scores should be lower in quite a few songs) and the improved h.o.s and p.u.s make some fast sections a breeze. However, there are some weird balance issues. Songs in the 1st and 2nd sets are harder than sets 3-6, and suddenly at 7, the challenge doubles. The difficulty in the first 2 sets could be related to the complete lack of h.o.s and p.u.s but I honestly believe they are just harder. After playing through GH2 again yesterday, I can say with certainty that the first 10 songs or so are much harder this time around. This could be off putting to newer or less talented players, but I would need to play in Easy to know for certain. And yes, I have replayed the songs just to make sure i wasn't sucking at first. Story of my Life in the 1st group is harder than When You Were Young in the 3rd group. But overall, the songs are more difficult than the first two games.

There are a few other minor annoyances and improvements. On the positive side, the set lists now show the band's name without having to actually play the song to know whose song you are selecting. Also, the bonus songs have some real gems in there. On the negative side, entering your name/initials in the Quick Play mode is the biggest pain in the ass, even worse than the original Guitar Hero. Ya know those cute little sayings in between selecting the songs and playing them? You won't have time to read them, the game loads too quickly. Thats a positive and a negative. As of 12 hours after buying the game, I am still unable to register at guitarhero.com and don't seem to be the only one. I am hoping that the servers are just too busy, but I would that Activision would have planned for that. (UPDATE: next morning, same problem, can't link the accounts.) And graphically, the game is smoother and brighter, but still ugly as sin, especially the drummer, who was borrowed from the country bear jamboree at your local theme park. The drummer and audience actually distract from the experience they are so weird, with the hideous lead singer not helping at all.

I have yet to play online, so I can't judge how everything will play out there. I have completed the main career mode and am looking forward to co-op (which requires 2 guitars, not available online?!?!) and trying out the online games. I am also not sold on the versus mode, such as playing against Tom Morello, as there is little strategy, just a lot of get power up, use when opponent is playing. Overall, the game plays great and is a lot of fun, improved over Guitar Hero 2. The guys at Neversoft had some enormous shoes to fill, and did a wonderful job. I am looking forward to Rock Band more than ever now. I definitely recommend Guitar Hero 3 to anyone who... just buy the damn game already.

Oh, and Orange Button? F&#K YOU! There, I said it.

Pictures courtesy Activision and GuitarHero.com

Thursday, October 25, 2007

That classic British man in Australia geek humor...

I haven't laughed for a while. The run of this summer's movies were decent enough with Knocked Up and SuperBad, but other than watching endless reruns of Whose Line is it Anyway, I have yet to truly laugh at something humorous in quite a while. So what has suddenly been able to tickle my over sized funny bone? Why, a British geek living in Australia of course!

Once again I have been convinced that the British are currently much funnier than Americans. If my summer of watching BBC America didn't convince me, Yahtzee has finally done it. Yahtzee is a "British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder" according to The Escapist, where Yahtzee produces his Zero Punctuation! videos about video games.

These videos are the funniest things I have seen, heard or read in quite a while. They are roughly 4-5 minutes long, and are purposely (I assume) poorly animated flash cartoons with Yahtzee doing the voice overs. He reviews new, and even some older games. Yahtzee speaks at 100 miles per hour and is as dry and sarcastic you'd expect a Brit geek to be.

Do yourself a favor and watch these videos, new ones every Wednesday. You can find Zero Punction! videos by CLICKING HERE! You can also find Yahtzee's personal blog by CLICKING HERE!

Did I just review a reviewer? Yes, I suppose I did.... Feel free to do the same to me when I post my Eternal Sonata review in the next week or so. Now get out there and laugh!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I'm still here... wherever here is

Internet at home has been down a lot lately, and Cox refuses to admit the problem is on their end, so I have been slow in updating.

What have I been up to? Finished Eternal Sonata and am writing up a review for that, just started Beautiful Katamari. Enjoying some TV shows a lot less than the previous season (looking at you Heroes) and just being exhausted. That's allowed, right?

Hopefully my internet at home will be working again soon and I can start updating more. I know that everyone (the 3 of you who read this) look forward to my updates with great anticipation, so I apologize Mom, Dad and 3rd reader. Here is hoping my experiments this week can finally prove to Cox that their service is broken, not my equipment.

Monday, October 8, 2007

You got some Healfdene in my Hrothgar

The Beowulf CGI movie releases on November 16th. Looks sweet! See the official site and trailer by CLICKING HERE!





Image courtesy Paramount Pictures

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Seasons change, seasons begin

Do you know the best part about moving? Yeah? Me neither. But that is what I have been up to for all of September, and it is finally over. The moving is, but the unpacking is far from finished. The networks have also unpacked their new fall shows and season premiers. I am going to keep my opinions brief considering how much information there was. So here we are, my week in review for the season premiers!

Sunday, 09/23:
Family Guy (Fox)- Star Wars parody episode. Very very very well done. A few jokes made absolutely no sense, or fell flat, and normally I love the irreverent dance routines, but the one at the end here was stale. Overall, the best Family Guy episode since 2005.

Monday, 09/24:
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)- Cute new sitcom about a bunch of high IQ geeks meeting the hot new neighbor. It is not laugh out loud funny, and may only appeal to people like me who act like this and are friends with people like this, but the show is clever and doesn't shove it's characters in your face like other shows. A good start, and I hope to see this one do well.
Chuck (NBC)- Hard to gauge Chuck. Between TV commercial previews, online ads and previews, and before the movies previews, I have basically seen the entire first episode already without actually having to watch it. But when put together in a cohesive package, Chuck was fun, clever, funny, and a nice surprise. This show could get old fast, but I will reserve my full judgment for the new episodes.
Heroes (NBC)- Oh Tim Kring, what is your evil plan? I love Heroes, easily my favorite show last year. But when it comes to the big episodes (premiers, finales, etc) you fail to impress. Heroes was best after the first few episodes last year, and failed at the finale. The premier was just as dull as last seasons finale, with the only cool points being that Kensei being British (I think the true Kensei will end up being Hiro, which the videos on http://yamagatofellowship.org have made me believe more than anything, or, the British dude has powers) and the end with Peter having no memory and the Haitian's necklace on. Heroes is best when you are wondering what is going to happen next, what the mystery is, and admittedly, the premier is not the place to confuse new viewers. I hope and pray that Heroes can deliver a 2nd season as good, or better, than the last.

Tuesday, 09/25:
Reaper (CW)- This is my favorite new show for the season, beating out Bionic Woman. Reaper is about 21 year old Sam Oliver. He works with his best friend at a Home Depot style store, and has a huge crush on his female coworker, Andi, played by the wonderful Missy Peregrym from Heroes. Sam's parents sold his soul before he was born, and it is now Sam's task to collect souls that escaped from Hell. Reaper is a blend of Buffy and Dead Like Me especially with DLM's Delores Herbig, Christine Willes, as someone who looks to be a minor ongoing character. With Kevin Smith and Mark Gordon behind this, expect good things. Catch this show.
House (Fox)- Has House really been on for 4 seasons now? Doesn't feel that long. Ok, enough random thoughts for now. As a whole, the premier wasn't that fantastic, but had some wonderful pieces found in it. Wilson's role in this episode was wonderful, and the fact that House relied on a janitor was great. The rest of the episode felt a little flat, like I was waiting for something good to happen. Something good DID happen when House realized he was treating the wrong patient. I rarely get surprised by the final diagnosis, but this one had me stunned. And in the end, isn't House about the mystery of the patient? In this way, this was a great episode. However, just as Cuddy and Wilson are trying to tell House, the show seems like a lot less without Foreman, Cameron and Chase. Yes, I know they will be back, they are still in the credits, but between now and when they return, the writers better have something better than a crazy cops to work with.

Wednesday, 09/26
Bionic Woman (NBC)-I wasn't disappointed with Bionic Woman, but I think this should have been a 2 part premier, or at least 90 minutes. The beginning was good, the ending was good, but they didn't flesh out Jamie's character while at the facility. The other characters said out loud what she was feeling, instead of seeing Jamie go through the emotions and thought processes herself. I think Michelle Ryan is not only absolutely gorgeous (very much my type) but seems very capable of making more out of a character a lot of us think we already know. This show has the most potential of the other shows premiering this year, but I want to see a little more character development, and less reliance on 2nd tier characters telling us what the main characters are doing or feel and less reliance on special effects. And yes, I could compare this one to Buffy, but other than the "strong woman" aspect, I have yet to see much else to make them comparable to each other.

Thursday, 09/27
CSI (CBS)- Hey, remember when CSI was about the crime committed and the technology used to solve it? Yeah, me too. I knew this episode would be a thriller, and I honestly believed Sarah would die considering her trimmed down role last year, but this episode left me bored. I was reading while it was on. Why do I still watch this show?
The Office (NBC)- Next to Heroes, I was most disappointed with the Office premier, but that is probably because I had such high hopes after the fantastic season finale, and watching the season 1-2 DVDs this summer. The episode wasn't bad, just not great. The Dwight/Angela storyline felt forced and poorly acted, but the Pam/Jim storyline was dealt with very well. I think this would have been better as a 30 minute show instead of a whole hour. It is VERY rare to hear me say "I wish the show was shorter" but a sitcom should be short and concise, not filled with lots of fluff. I still love The Office, but NBC needs to rethink the shows format.

I have yet to watch Moonlight from Friday night, which is CBS's version of Angel. It is literally about a vampire running a detective agency. This week we will see 30 Rock premier, and I am looking forward to that as well. Overall, the fall premiers and season premiers were above average, better than most years, but with some low points in there. Here is hoping a great year of TV is waiting ahead.

Oh, yeah, also, I finally bought a 360 yesterday. Go me.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Metroid Prime 3: A Review

SPOILER ALERT! THAR BE SPOILERS HERE!!!

I felt like I was in high school again. I was nervous. I had done something like this before, fooled around a bit, but this was going to be something new, innovative. Everyone told me how much fun it would be, but my palms were still sweaty as I fumbled around. Samus and I had known each other such a long time, and I have loved every second we have spent together, but this was taking our relationship to the next level. And I was nervous. Thankfully, my nerves eventually died down after I dived in and had my single most rewarding gameplay experience of the year, maybe longer. Lucky for me, Metroid Prime 3 is and was everything I had been hoping it would be, and more.



Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, is the 3rd and final Prime game from Retro Studios. It is the direct sequel to the two previous games for the GameCube. MP3 closes the chapter on the "Phazon" storyline for Metroid. Phazon is a strange, radioactive, almost organic material that has appeared in the Metroid universe. The Space Pirates, Samus's enemies, have been trying to harvest Phazon around the universe since the first Prime game, and MP3 explains Phazon's origins and more.

The story in MP3 is not the main selling point, but it is fleshed out further than any other Metroid game so far. While on a mission with the Galactic Federation, a wormhole appears, and from it pours a giant squid like create, similar to the first Prime's final boss, but bigger and with Space Pirates in tow. Samus, and 3 other bounty hunters, are instructed by the ship's "Aurora Unit" to head to the nearby planet Norion to activate it's defense system to prevent the giant creature from crashing into the planet. Right before activating the defense system, Dark Samus appears and overloads all 4 hunters with a huge blast of Phazon. When Samus wakes up a month later, her suit has been fitted with an energy container called a PED, which not only helps Samus not be poisoned by the Phazon in her system, but also allows her to go into an Overdrive mode, where she shoots pure Phazon from her beam cannon.

The Aurora Unit informs Samus that the other hunters have been dispersed to neighboring planets that were also attacked by these giant space creatures, but all contact has been lost with them. It is up to Samus to find the other hunters, and destroy these "seeds" that have landed on the other planets. The Aurora Unit, is a large half-organic, half-machine computer that is shaped like a large brain. The main Aurora Unit, and several others, aid Samus in her quest. The Aurora Units are the first example of how much of MP3 is dedicated to long time fans of the series.

There are 3 big new features found in MP3. The first is related to the story, and that would be the voice acting. Most of the main characters, sans Samus, is fully voiced, a rarity from Nintendo. The voice acting is extremely well done, with only 1 or 2 cheesy moments from some no-name soldiers. The second new feature is that you actually get to climb in and take control of Samus's space ship. Not only do you climb in and choose which planet to fly to, you can also call the ship to different locations on the map to save your game, and call the ship to bomb armored walls, and even attack some enemies. I never used the ship to attack enemies, as it only works outside, and no strong enemies appear outside, but it is a great concept, and if the ability to call your ship to different map locations was not introduced, it would have made backtracking to other planets the biggest pain in the ass.



The third and biggest new feature in MP3 are the controls. This is why I was nervous. MP3 takes FULL advantage of the Wiimote and Nunchuck. In your right hand, the Wiimote acts as Samus's right hand, with "A" controlling attack, and "B" on the underside of the Wiimote for jumping. The down button on the d-pad is for missiles, the "-" lets your switch visors (you point to which visor you want to use, for a total of 3 plus the main visor) and "+" turns on the hyper mode Overdrive. The nunchuck controls Samus's left hand and has the analog stick, which controls direction, the "Z" button for lock-on, and the "C" button to go into Morphball mode. While you control leg movement with the analog stick, you choose which direction to face by pointing the Wiimote at the screen. There are 3 sensitivity settings for this, and Advanced is easily the most intuitive of the 3 settings. In the Standard and Advanced modes, you press and hold "Z" to lock on to an enemy or object, but still need to point the Wiimote correctly to shoot.

When I first started playing, I could not get comfortable with any of the sensitivity settings, and for 30 minutes, I switched between Standard and Advanced. I was constantly facing the wrong direction and felt like I was always rotating or looking somewhere I didn't want to look. I also confused the Jump and Fire button in 2 big battles. However, by the end of the Norion level, I was in control. By the final boss, I felt like I was one with the game. The game becomes so intuitive and second nature, that anyone that is making a game for the Wii should play this game to learn how it should be done. A mouse and keyboard are no longer the most precise and fun control for a first person game.

Samus starts off with most of her abilities in tact, such as double jump, morphball, and charged shot. She finds missiles very soon, and a grapple beam as well. The grapple beam is a great feature, that lets you whip the nunchuck when locked on to grab everything from handles, loose pieces of debris and panels, and even enemies shields, armor, and the enemies themselves. The grapple made your left hand just as important as your right. Other upgrades include Spiderball, Spacejump, X-Ray visor and a wave beam, even if it wasn't called that. The X-ray visor and wave beam are more nods to previous games in the series.

Graphically, MP3 is the best looking Wii game available. Assuming you aren't standing directly on top of a door or wall, every texture looks smooth and well done. The art design is also incredible, with tiny creatures crawling around everywhere, bats flying out of caves, steam shooting from pipes, lights and electronics appearing everywhere. This won't fool anyone into thinking it is a 360 or PS3 game, but if the Wii can pump out games of this caliber, I have no problem with graphics this gorgeous. Musically, MP3 sounds just as good as every other game in the series, with haunting music that sets the perfect atmosphere for every level. One small annoyance with the music was in the Pirate Homeworld level, where a weird alarmy noise would appear in the soundtrack, constantly making me think I was about to be attacked, but otherwise, a flawless and beautiful score.

Prime 3 is not a flawless game. There are a few complaints I have, the first is not a little one. About 50% of the time, doors would not open immediately. And I do not mean a 1 or 2 second delay, I mean a 5 second delay in doors opening almost half of the time. I was at one time convinced that I was trapped in a room because neither door was opening, and suddenly, 30 seconds later, one finally decided to open. I understand the door system in the Prime series is to lower load times and make the game run faster, but when I have to wait 5 seconds on every other door, that is too long. I once got up and got a drink and after sitting back down, opening the soda, and taking a sip, the door finally opened. Not always a huge hindrance, but when there are 5 Metroids frying your ass and you have 2 missiles, and a door on Valhalla refuses to open up, it is a problem.

Despite that last complaint, I only died twice in MP3. This is not a difficult game. I died once by jumping into a reactor core (my bad) and once from the boss at the end of the first full planet, Bryyo. Speaking of the bosses, all of them are a blast and one of the highlights of the game, but only the Bryyo seed boss was any challenge. Even the final 3 bosses, including 2 rather epic showdowns, were walks in the park. This is probably partially due to how intuitive the controls were, so it was easy to defeat these creatures, but I expect a fight with Ridley to be crazy hard (you fight him twice) ala the first Prime, not over in 2 minutes. Maybe I shouldn't blame the game, maybe I am just that good... I beat the game in just under 15 hours with 100% of all items collected to get the secret ending (a secret ending that last 2 seconds and is another disappointment.) A great length for a good size game, but only 2 or 3 times was I ever truly challenged. Also, every other Metroid title, especially the first Prime, created an atmosphere of isolation, of being alone. That is broken here with the military and Aurora Units constantly communicating with you. This isn't a complaint, just a comment.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is the best game I have played in at least a year. God of War 2 and Shadow of the Colossus are the last 2 games I played that rival the fun to be found in MP3. Twilight Princess was OK, but Retro Studios could show the Zelda team a few pointers. A good storyline, the best level design around, very good graphics, a cool achievement system, lots of references to other Metroid games and the best controls in any game EVER make Metroid Prime 3: Corruption an incredible experience. Ridiculously highly recommended.

4.89 stars (out of 5) yes, I can give 1/100 of stars

Images courtesy Nintendo and IGN

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Foreshadowing?

I was reading some old Penny Arcade comics during lunch, and came across this one:
http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2006/12/18

I will be picking up Metroid Prime 3 tonight, and I have a bad feeling that I may have a similar experience... and yes, I stupidly pre-ordered it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wii Virtual Console Wishlist Part 2: Soul Blazer

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is one of my favorite games of all time. Since it's release on the Virtual Console, I have played through the whole game twice, finishing it the second time in about 7 hours. LttP was released in April of 1992 for the SNES, and after playing through it more times than I can recall, I quickly became hungry for another game that follows a similar formula. The game I ended up finding was Soul Blazer.



Soul Blazer was released in December, 1992 for the SNES. It was developed by Quintet and published by Enix. It is the spiritual sequel to ActRaiser, also on the SNES, and both are considered part of the "Soul Blazer series." While ActRaiser and Soul Blazer share a lot of the same gameplay elements, and one of the main characters even share the same name between both games, Soul Blazer is not considered a true sequel. 1994's Illusion of Gaia is considered the 3rd in the "Soul Blazer series", but once again, none of the games are directly connected outside of their gameplay elements and development staff.

The gameplay in Soul Blazer is a mix between ActRaiser and A Link to the Past. You control "The Hero", an angel sent by "The Master" to release souls imprisoned by King Magridd and Deathtoll. Deathtoll offered King Magridd gold for every soul that the King imprisoned. "The Hero" enters different areas of the world, and as he defeats all of the enemies on screen or all enemies of a certain type, a soul is released back into the nearby town. The released soul can be a person, a house, or even a tree or flower.

Gameplay is very reminscent of Zelda games, in that you view everything in an overhead perspective. The controls are fairly basic and consist of swinging a sword or using magic. You could switch to new more powerful weapons and armor that you find along the way or are given to by released souls. You can later return to old dungeons and defeat previously invincible creatures to completely release all souls from an area. While very basic, the level design and graphics were unique enough to make the game stand out, looking more realistic than the cartoonish and round Zelda. Soul Blazers greatest asset though was not gameplay, but the music. The game's score is one of the best to be found on the SNES, especially in the early days of the console.

The biggest thing standing in the way of Soul Blazer being released is Square/Enix. No games from the publisher have reached the Virtual Console yet other than ActRaiser, and with Squeenix porting and remaking their flagship Final Fantasy games left and right for the DS and PSP (where is my FFVII remake?) it is looking very unlikely that the Virtual Console will see games from the publisher. I could see Square/Enix opening their own shop on the Wii, making their own rules and pricing structure, but it doesn't look promising for the immediate future. Hopefully, when Square/Enix finally does release more older games, Soul Blazer will be among their list of games.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Wii Virtual Console Wishlist Part 1: Super Metroid


I have been wanting to do this for a while, create a list of my most wanted games that should come out on the Wii's Virtual Console. I finally started to compile a list of the games I want to see, and the game I want to see the most is Super Metroid, originally released on the SNES.



One of the reasons I want to see Super Metroid so bad is a little embarrassing for me to admit. The reason is that I never got to play the game when it was first released. Well, that's a bit of a lie, I have played Super Metroid, but only for a few minutes, and never on my own console. I have watched others play Super Metroid (selfish friends) but have never owned or rented the game for me to play. I have tried to do both before, but the game was either already rented (for 4 years straight) or it cost $70 in the store, even years after it was released. When I finally found it used for $25 back in 1998, my SNES finally died, and I returned the game, unable to find a good SNES to buy. I have never been able to play Super Metroid, and the Metroid games are some of my absolute favorites of all time.

So a little about the game itself. Super Metroid was released in the US in April of 1994. It immediately became a favorite among game journalists, topping many game of the year lists, and still appears on many "best games of all time" lists. The story takes place immediately after Metroid II for the GameBoy, and follows Samus across the planet Zebes as she hunts down the space pirates, after they stole the last surviving metroid from a research facility. The game used the largest cart released up to that point for the SNES, and provided a massive world for Samus t explore.

I was hoping and praying since 2001 that Nintendo would re-release the game on the GBA, like they did with so many other games, but it never happened. We did get the amazing Metroid Zero Mission which used Super Metroid style graphics to remake the original NES Metroid game. The GBA also saw Metroid Fusion, which introduced new mechanics to the game, but dumbed it down a bit for newer players to the franchise, with a large amount of hand holding for the whole game. Sadly, Super Metroid never got it's remake.

As I am writing this, I read the following story on Kotaku: CLICK HERE! It looks like maybe Nintendo will be releasing Super Metroid to coincide with Metroid Prime 3's release at the end of the month. Good news and bad news, as I will be busy with Prime 3, so no time for Super Metroid. I am a one game kind of guy, what can I say. Hopefully this means Nintendo will be making my dreams come true sooner than expected!

Next time on my Wiishlist (HAHA!), something a little more Enixy.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Wii Virtual Console Game of the Month: JULY 2007


Do you remember how great May was for the Virtual Console? Act Raiser, Ninja Gaiden, Final Fight, Kid Chameleon, Donkey Kong Country 2, all terrific games. June and July weren't so lucky. A few decent games showed up, like F-Zero X and Dynamite Heady on the last day, but overall, both June and July were rather disappointing. There was a bright spot though. The sparkling diamond amid the rest of the faded gems was Paper Mario for the N64.

Paper Mario was originally released on February 5th, 2001 in North America on the Nintendo64. Developed by Intelligent Systems Co, an internal Nintendo development team, the game is the spiritual sequel to Super Mario RPG on the SNES. Intelligent Systems Co had previously made most of the Fire Emblem games {Japan only :( } and most famously, Super Metroid on the SNES. It was released at the very end of the N64's lifespan, as the GameCube would be released at the end of 2001. Two sequels have been released; Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for the GameCube and just earlier this year, Super Paper Mario for the Wii. You can find my review of Super Paper Mario by CLICKING HERE.

While both Thousand Year Door and Super Paper Mario used Mario's paper body for many great mechanics, the paper idea behind Paper Mario is almost entirely a visual aspect, and nothing more. The fact that Mario and friends are made of paper is only used as a graphical effect, and only once or twice used in gameplay or story telling. The world Mario lives in is mainly constructed of 3D polygons, but the characters and some items, like bushes and mushrooms, are 2D sprites, which when surrounded by the 3D items, give everything that "paper" appearance.

Paper Mario is titled such because of it's graphic style. Overall, the graphics hold up for a game made on a console 2 generations old. There are some clipping issues between the larger polygons, and many of the 2D sprites stand out more than the designers intended them to stand out. The biggest graphics issue is the text. The game is programmed in the N64's native 240i format, so when the Wii spits it out at 480p, the text is blocky, and sometimes hard to read.

Gameplay is very similar to most RPGs, but with an action twist. Yes there are turn-based battles and leveling up and items to collect, but instead of random battles or just picking attack or magic, Paper Mario gives you some additional control. You can see most enemies before a battle, even even jump on them or hit them with your hammer to get the first hit in. And once in battle, if you time your button presses right, you get extra hits on the enemies and can avoid or decrease the damage of their attacks. It's a mechanic that has been recycled in the newer Paper Mario games, and the GBA's Mario & Luigi games. It prevents the battles from getting too boring, but there are some issues where battle mechanics are concerned.

There are some balance issues in the game, specifically with the way you level up, and the strength of the enemies. When you level up (gain 100xp) you can raise your HP (hearts), MP (flowers) or Badge Points, or your accessory points. All of your special abilities are made active by equipping badges, which require badge points. You start with 3 points, and at level up, can raise your BP by 3, or your HP or FP by 5. Here is where the balance issues come into play. All of the cool abilities and powers require you equip more badges, which means you need more BP. However, without also increasing your HP and FP, the enemies will kick your butt. The logical approach, and in most RPGs, is to level up MORE to become more powerful, but in Paper Mario, once you gain a level, enemies give less XP, so after 2 levels, instead of 6XP a piece you get 1XP or NO XP at all from defeated enemies. This makes it impossible to get as strong as you would probably like to be. Instead you find yourself avoiding 99% of enemies instead of fighting, and when you do fight, you lose 25-50% of your HP. And that is nearly every battle. To compensate for your constant HP draining, healing items are CHEAP and coins come easily, but you can only carry 10 items, and you often would need to wade through and avoid lots of enemies on your way back to a store. This all could have been easily avoided if players were allowed to level up freely, and it would make sense even more, because you don't deliver more damage after leveling up, only get more HP/FP/BP. It seems very sloppy.

Despite my big gripe, the game is fun. The battles are fun, the story is simple, the game controls well, everything works very well together overall. If you can get used to the wacky balance issues and garbled text, then there is little else to detract you from enjoying the game. Although only 6 years old, this game feels older than it is, but not any less fun. I won't give a score to this review because I can't pick one. It's a 4, it's a 2, it's a 3, it changes depending on what aspects of the game I look at. Balance issues vs fun vs graphics vs timelessness, it isn't fair to give this game a number. It is the best game released in the past 2 months, so that should be more than enough of a clue as to how good the game is. And for only $10, how can you go wrong? When we look back, what matters most is that this is the game that lead the way for the greats like Super Paper Mario and the Mario & Luigi GBA games, so I will gladly tip my hat to what ends up being a fun and enjoyable game.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: A Review

SPOILER ALERT! THAR BE SPOILERS HERE!!!


I was once like you my friends, a non-believer, a skeptic, a nay sayer if you will. I knew OF this Harry Potter boy, knew of his exploits, but did not care at all about learning more, reading the books, or seeing the movie that was going to be produced. I was put off by the crazy amount of coverage a children's book was getting, various products in the stores. It was an innocent time, may of the year 2000, a time of change for me. For graduation, my best friend of 12 years bought me the first gift he had ever given me outside of a birthday. Before he gave it to me, he made me promise that I would use it for it's intended purpose, and not just put it on a shelf or give it to someone else. The gift was a book. That book was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone. Less than two months later, he and I were in line for a midnight release of the fourth book. Needless to say, I was hooked.

Last week, the fifth movie based on the fifth book of the 7 part series was released, and it is a welcome addition to the existing movies and books, and the best amalgamation of the books/movies so far. The first two movies are very literal translations of the books they are based on, with the 3rd being the best stand alone film. I didn't much care for the 4th in the series, Goblet of Fire, neither the book or the movie, a low point in the series, but had great expectations for the Order of the Phoenix's turn to be put on the big screen, and I was not disappointed.


I won't even begin to give the back story to this universe, being 5/7th of the way in already. The latest chapter for the silver screen finds Harry being called a liar by the majority of the wizarding world, most everyone not believing him when he says that Lord Voldemort has returned from beyond. If having almost everyone think you are a liar and an attention whore isn't enough, Harry's friends and family have kept their plans a secret, and he is jaded. They have reformed the Order of the Phoenix, a group of wizards out to prevent Voldemort from taking power, but are hesitant to let Harry join them. On top of that, he nearly gets thrown out of school for protecting himself against Dementors, the Ministry of Magic is interfering at life at Hogwarts, he wishes he could both help and be with his God-father, Sirius Black, and Harry's biggest pillar of support, Albus Dumbledore, is ignoring him completely. It will be Harry's hardest year at school, both physically and mentally.

The movie does an excellent job of portraying the main plot points of the book, specifically Harry's alienation from his friends and the rest of the community, the Ministry's attempt to take over Hogwarts with Delores Umbridge, and showcasing how powerful Voldemort is truly becoming. Harry goes through a lot in a little time here, from being completely alienated, having his first girlfriend, being put into a leadership role, and finding out why he survived the night his parents were killed. While Prisoner of Azkaban showed the passage of time and the progression of the movie through small scenes with changing weather and seasons, Order of the Phoenix uses some classic movie cliches such as montages and spinning newspapers. As cliche as these are, they are well done, and make this more of a movie than a movie adaptation.


The toughest part of making this into a movie is turning the 870 page book into a movie children and adults could sit through, and more importantly, enjoy. Some plot points were changed, such as the Cho storyline and Graup, some minimized like the O.W.L. exams and Occlumency, and some removed completely like Quidditch and the Quibbler, but all the changes and exemptions worked EXTREMELY well. The "Weasly is our king" story can easily be started with the next movie for example, and St Mungo's and the additional Ministry and Grimmauld Place scenes would be a lovely addition to the DVD, but did not effect the final plot of the movie. Some other nice additions not found in the book are some of Ginny's reactions, and everything about Luna Lovegood was absolutely perfect. Luna was easily my favorite part of this movie.

The fanboy in me had a very hard time finding fault like in Azkaban (Lupin so easily could have explained the map, and no explanation about James Potter and pals), and Goblet (the final test was JUST a hedge maze, and Voldemort talked for only 10 seconds) but there were a few things to nitpick about. Little things showed up, like Dumbledore not having any glasses, but they were few and far between. My biggest "complaint" is about the scene in the Ministry around the stone archway. Only existing fans of the books/movies would truly understand what happened when Bellatrix yelled what she yelled, especially because what she said was hardly understandable. The only reason I knew what she said was because of the green light that came on screen upon her yelling the spell. I knew what she said, but what I actually heard was "acblagraaaa!!!!" Barely audible. A small thing that could have made a much bigger impact. In fact, I am split on whether I liked or disliked that scene because of the change made to what takes place on/in/around the stone archway.


This was an incredibly well done movie, and more than made up for the literal take on things from Goblet of Fire. Order of the Phoenix takes its place as my second favorite Potter movie after Prisoner of Azkaban. It is very mature (as it needs to be considering the subject matter) and the art direction is on par with Azkaban, and other films like Pan's Labyrinth and 300. I still say that the Harry Potter series would be better served in a TV series or made for TV mini series, but if David Yates directs Half-Blood Prince (my favorite of the books so far) as well as he handled Order of the Phoenix, then I will be first in line to see the next movie in late 2008. Ok, who am I kidding, I was going to be the first one there anyway...

4.5 starts (out of 5)

Images courtesy IMDB.com and Warner Bros. Pictures

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Numbers Game: Part 2

Microsoft must read my blog! See my previous post by CLICKING HERE!!! Microsoft just announced they extended to warranty on the 360 to a total of 3 years for the "red ring of death" issue. Hmm... I might be buying a 360 very very soon after all! Read the links below for the full story.

Source:
Kotaku
GameSpot
Major Nelson talking with Peter Moore (MP3)

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Numbers Game

It has been a while since I have posted because not a lot has been going on outside of work. All my TV shows are on summer hiatus (except for Top Chef) and no games have come out recently. But enough has happened recently for me to put together a little post. It's time to play the numbers game!

7/7/7- I don't know what its like everywhere else in the world, but the date of July 7th, 2007 is a HUGE deal in Vegas. Every store, every casino, has some promotion for 7/7/7 and it is getting rather annoying. Every sign I see, every newspaper and magazine and half the commercials on TV are about a sale or event. Strangest thing about this? Almost NO July 4th stuff being mentioned, its all about seven seven oh seven.

360- I want an XBox360. I never wanted an original XBox, as I always felt that Microsoft was just trying to take Sega's old position in the market and messing up things for Nintendo. I believe that MS has proven themselves in the market now, and the 360 seems like the right machine for me over a PS3. I currently have a Wii and Ps2 (DS and PSP and gaming PC too) and there are games that are 360 exclusives or coming out for both PS3 and 360 that I want, and a 360 is a clear winner between the two in my opinion. There are 2 reasons I have not went out and bought one yet. The first is price. I am rather certain that MS will drop the price at/after the minE3 this month, or by the holidays. I am afraid that if I buy one today, the price will go down $100 the next day, and I will be out that hundred. The other big fear I have is the number of broken 360s I constantly hear about. From red rings of death to A/V issues, to over heating to the things just crapping out, I cannot believe how many horror stories I have heard, especially recently, about the quality of the system. Check out the following story from DailyTech: the link! I will be buying an extended warranty when I get my 360, but I am very hesitant to pick one up because of the large number of bad stories that I hear on a daily basis.

10/1- Nintendo just announced October 1st as the release date for Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the DS. This is a portable follow up to the GameCube Wind Waker. It goes without saying I will be picking the game up, but it makes me want to go back and replay Wind Waker again on my Wii because Phantom Hourglass is a direct sequel to Wind Waker. I put in at least 50 hours when I first played this game, and don't know if I want to invest that much time into a game the 2nd time. I really want to play Wind Waker again, I do, but another 50 hours just to prepare myself for the sequel is quite a bit of work. I would have gladly done this in my younger days, and looking back, cannot believe how much time I was able to invest in games before having a full time job. I may replay it just enough to re familiarize myself with the story and characters and world, but not complete it, or go after every heart piece. I will probably just play the main story line and skip the side quests.

80s- Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s will be coming out mid July, and I am sad to say I am not excited in the least. The 2 Guitar Hero games are some of my all time favorites and my boredom rarely shows up now because as soon as I get fidgety, I pick up the guitar to play. But the set list of Rock the 80s has left me sorely underwhelmed. Maybe it is because I grew up IN the 80s, and didn't listen to that kind of rock as a kid. Of the whole set list (you can check it out on IGN by CLICKING HERE!!!) only 2 or 3 of the tracks are songs I know well enough to sing, and the rest are either "oh yeah, I have heard that before" or "I have never heard this song before in my life." I will probably end up renting it (thanks GameFly) but I can't imagine putting down $50 for songs I don't know or like.

8/27- Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, has been pushed back a week, from August 20th to August 27th. Normally this would not be such a big deal to me, but I am taking some vacation time starting on the 22nd, and planned to dedicate a day or say to playing Metroid. Is it sad or pathetic that I am actually considering extending or moving my vacation time just so I can play Metroid more? I am being mature, don't plan on calling in sick or skipping, I planned this out so I would take vacation on/around the time a big game is released. The ultimate irony would be if I do move/extend my vacation, and the game sucks... I do not foresee that happening (I believe in you Retro) but all my worry and planning would be for naught.

W00t!- No numbers here, I realize that, but I did spell Woot with zeros instead of "O"s! I received the shirt I ordered during the last Woot-Off from Woot.com, the official Woot shirt, with screaming monkey proudly freaking out on the front. The shirt is a high quality t-shirt, and very comfortable (see picture below). The best part about the shirt is the instructional comic that came with it that tells you how to turn the shirt into a cape. You can view the instructions by CLICKING HERE, thanks to JesusFreke from the Woot forums for scanning the comic in. Shirt.Woot is written all over the package and it appears they will be launching a shirt site soon, similar to the wine.woot site released in the past year. Thanks again Woot.com for being the funniest friggin site around.

Click to embiggen