Monday, April 30, 2007

Eureka Seven: Adult Swim Finale and Overall Impressions


No Pantsu shot for you!

Adult Swim aired the final episode of Eureka Seven this past Saturday, simultaneously making me happy, mad, and confused. Confused is to be expected when it comes to Eureka Seven, and happy comes quite easily too. The mad part is something that really surprised me, but this has been the 3rd time this year that Adult Swim has really irked me (ENOUGH with the April Fools weekends and InuYasha movie marathons!), so I shouldn't be TOO surprised. But let's discuss Eureka Seven first, and what Adult Swim did WITH Eureka Seven in a little while.

Eureka Seven is a Japanese anime series from Japan.... where redundancy runs free.... Eureka Seven is/was/will be produced by Bones, most notably the studio behind Fullmetal Alchemist. Bones was formed from members of Sunrise, a subsidiary of Bandai, the studio behind the Gundam series and about 50% of the anime most people have heard of. They loves them their mechs. They decided to produce a mecha anime after FMA, and wanted to use the designs of Shoji Kawamori (Macross). After a few rejected attempts to get E7 off the ground, Bones finally gave it the go ahead.

Eureka Seven tells the story of young Renton Thurston, the teenage son of the hero Adrock Thurston, a military researcher who sacrificed himself to save the world. Renton leads a relatively boring life with his grandfather repairing machines. He dreams about being like his hero, Holland Novak, the popular lifter (sky surfer, no rivers/lakes/oceans) and lifting all the time. As luck would have it (or as the writers would have it) an LFO (mecha) , named Nirvash, crashes into Renton's home. The LFO is piloted Eureka, a young, enigmatic teenage girl with mint green hair and little emotion. She is part of Gekkostate, the group that Holland leads. Renton immediately falls in love with Eureka and decides to follow Gekkostate after making a delivery for his grandfather to Holland and Eureka.


That was the simple part of the story. The overall arc is about the Scub Coral/Coralians, a sentient alien life living as part of the planet, the military's attempt to deal with the Scub Coral, Gekkostate's fight against the military (former military members themselves) and the love between Eureka and Renton. The last one is the big theme here folks. Eureka is not your average teenage girl (is there such a thing!?!?) and her peculiar behavior and mysterious demeanor make Renton want to get to know her even more. It is revealed late in the show that Eureka is actually a way for humans and Coralians to comunicate with each other, and they need to find a way to save the world from impending doom.

This was a very confusing show, even by anime standards. The localization team deserve "mad props" for translating some of the weirdest dialogue I have ever heard, and for making sense of what is a confoundedly confusing plot. I had no idea what was going on until episode 40, and this is a 50 episode show, but it does all make sense (more or less) by the end. The important themes are there (love, brotherhood, duty, humanity) and easy to see, even if you don't understand what a Control Cluster, Coralian, or Trappars are. I almost walked away from this show after the first 2 or 3 episodes because of how random and unclear the story was, but I am glad I stuck around. I am sad that I won't get to see Renton and Eureka every week now, that I won't know how Holland and Talho end up later in life, or where Anemone and Dominic are headed in their lives.

The finale was bittersweet, but Adult Swim edited out a good 5 minutes of content, so most viewers will never know how the show ACTUALLY ended. But first the good. Everything ended the way I hoped it would. Renton and Eureka end up together (and finally kiss (who says "I love you" before ever even kissing anyway? (yes, I know they are 15/16 in the show, but c'mon))), all the good people survive, there is a good twist with a character that was onboard the Gekko, and everything just felt right about the way it came together. No big surprises, no OMG!!1!!!one!! moments, and nothing too flashy or emotional. Think of how you wanted NGEvangelion to end (as compared to how it actually ended (before the OVAs)), and that is how well put together Eureka Seven's ending was. I loved how they matured Renton and Eureka physically to go along with their emotional growth as well.

Where Adult Swim thought the ending ended... or ending started.... whatever...

Adult Swim made me like the ending a lot less. Eureka had a monologue at the opening of the episode, and Adult Swim cut that out and replaced it with the normal "Sakura" theme opening, so when the show actually starts, there is 60 seconds of lost footage about exactly where Eureka went at the end of the last show. Then there is the ending.... the ending SHOULD have been a 4 minute epilogue starring Renton's grandpa and the 3 kids, but once again, Adult Swim just aired the normal ending theme. This shocked me. Adult Swim usually tries to respect the source material, and has done a great job with it, especially where Eureka Seven is concerned. They starting airing the "American Cowboy" warning before the show several months back so that they could show the actual blood and violence in the episodes, so you know they WANTED to show as much content as possible. So where did this horrible edit come from? Apparently, they would rather show 3 commercials for ATHFCMFFT instead of the show.... I have sent them an email with much finger wagging.

Once again, I am sad to see the story of Renton and Eureka (and Nirvash) end. I hope the manga does the show justice, because I would gladly start reading it. This is a great series that doesn't take itself too seriously like other mecha shows do. Fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion and RaxPhaleon (SP? don't care) will definitely enjoy. The DVDs are out (most anyway) and they won some awards. Eureka Seven has become one of my favorite animes, but still a long way from the top (don't worry, FMA, you are king). Boo-urns on Adult Swim for butchering the last episode, but if it weren't for them, I wouldn't have even heard of this show..... so I don't know where to go with that.... I am left a bit confused on how to feel on that topic.... confused.... a comforting place for Eureka Seven fans.


Sad to see you leave too....

This one had me laughing....

A guy trying to use Vista's voice recognition feature to do a little typing.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Super Paper Mario: A Review


Nintendo loves Mario. Nintendo knows that YOU love Mario. So what does Nintendo do? They release a lot of games that feature Mario. From RPGS (Paper Mario) to basketball (Mario Hoops) to racing (Mario Kart) to party games (Mario Party) and puzzle games (Mario Vs Donkey Kong), there is always a new game starring or featuring Mario on its way. While none of these games are bad, and some, like the Mario Kart series are great, they do not feature Mario doing what Mario does best; plumbing.

Ok, not true, Mario is a platforming star. Plumbing is just a convenient cover story. He runs, jumps, stomps and flies around mushroom laden lands filled with turtles and monsters trying to save the princess. That is the Mario we love best. Nintendo knows this. They proved that they know that with The New Super Mario Bros. on the DS last year. But just releasing new levels using the same old mechanics doesn't work like it did back in the cartridge days, so Nintendo has again made a Mario cocktail. A dash of platforming, an ounce of RPG, a dollop of Wii. That is what goes into the delicious drink that is Super Paper Mario.

We have seen Mario in RPGs before, from the SNES Super Mario RPG, to the GBA/DS Mario & Luigi games, to 2004's Thousand Year Door on the GameCube. They all mixed RPG standards (turn based battles, leveling up, items and weapons) with the Mario platforming formula. They were all RPGs first, and Mario games second. Super Paper Mario is different. Super Paper Mario is a platforming game, with some RPG features added in. It may be better to describe Super Paper Mario as a platform/adventure game more than a platformer, but the heart of this game is all about the platforming.

GO FROM 2D....

TO 3D!

Super Paper Mario looks great. Bright, vibrant colors cover every surface on the screen. The core gameplay mechanic in Super Paper Mario is flipping from the traditional, side scrolling, 2D view, over to a 3D view of the same scene (see pix above). All of the sprites look alive and colorful, but some of the 3D falls flat. I realize there is a specific artistic theme to the game, but some of the 3D just looks out of place. The draw distance acts funny sometimes, drawing only hollow squares instead of solid shapes, and in some cases, the majority of the screen is just a big black or blue background. It would have been nice if when switching to 3D, the foreground had some more character to it, or showed distant lands or other scenery, but instead there is just a big blue blank sky.

My complaint about the visuals ends there. Every character is drawn beautifully and is well animated. Lines are thick and black, and stand out well, creating a very nice cartoon environment. One great effect is when you first enter a level, the background is drawn in as black lines, and the other shapes and colors then fill in. The level design is the best part though. Extremely clever level design can be found on every screen. The first world of the game even pays tribute to the original NES Mario game by replicating many of the scenes, brick by brick, goomba by goomba. This game will not win any awards for graphics, but it has the perfect visuals to compliment the style of gameplay.

4 Stars (out of 5)

Sound in a Mario game can be both a big deal, and a non-event. While I may not remember a single tune from 99% of the Mario games released, the original themes from the NES games (and SNES Super Mario World) are permanently embedded into my memory and always great to listen to. Nintendo pays homage to these original themes in all of the new music in Super Paper Mario. The music samples and recycles almost all of the original themes from the NES Mario games. But other than those moments when you recognize that familiar tune, you will hardly notice that any music is playing at all. This can be seen as a good thing, as the music never distracts from the gameplay, but it would be nice to here something other than MIDI tunes coming out of my TVs speakers.

The same can be said in the rest of the sound department. The classic jump, bonk, bump, and bang noises from every other Mario game are here (the good) but the sounds of the characters talking (not voice acting) and the sound of text scrolling are either forgettable or just annoying (the bad). While there is nothing inherently bad to say about the sound, almost everything here is a throw-away. Not bad, just not great.

3.5 Stars (out of 5)

Gameplay is where the game shines the most, but also brings up my three biggest disappointments in the game. The positive first. This is one fun game. I often found myself thinking "just one more level" before saving and turning the Wii off. For the most part, Mario controls like he always has. He runs and can jump on enemies to damage them, or uses his head/fist to bust open bricks and ? blocks. By pressing the A button on the Wiimote (held horizontally in both hands, like a classic controller) you flip from 2D to 3D (see above) and can avoid hazards blocking your way, get past enemies, or walk into the background to get past a previously unjumpable gap. Its a great gameplay mechanic that I would love to see in a sequel.

The other great new feature in the game are the Pixls you collect/meet along the way. Pixls are.... things.... that have special abilities to help Mario prevent Count Bleck from ending the world (there is SOME story to the game, but barely worth mentioning). Tippi lets you point the Wiimote at the screen to find hidden items or get info on a monster, Thoreau lets you pick up and throw enemies and items, and Boomer who is a small bomb that can damage enemies and the enviroment. For the most part, you will be using Thoreau, Boomer, and one or two others, but there are others like
Carrie, who lets you float over dangerous spikes that are needed very rarely, if only once or twice.

Speaking of useless, you can play as characters other than Mario! There are 4 characters total, and Peach and Bowser join you early on before leaving for their honeymoon (not joking, play the game) and you can freely switch between the two at any time. This brings up 2 of my 3 complaints. The other characters you can switch to are practically useless 99% of the time. Except for rare occasions when you need Peach to float over a large chasm, or Bowser to set something on fire, you will always want to use Mario. Not only does Mario control better, but you can't flip from 2D to 3D with any other character. Its more annoying having to switch than if I could just play as Mario.

Which brings me to my second, and biggest complaint: the controls. For the most part, the game controls beautifully. It takes SOME getting used to pressing A next to the d-pad for the 2d/3d flip, but it becomes second nature after some time (but more time than it should). The 1 button jumps, and 2 uses your currently selected Pixl. The problem comes in when you want to switch Pixls or characters, or use an item. You can press the + button to gain access to the main menu, but its very unnatural to reach to the middle of the Wiimote. To get access to the Pixl/character/item quick select menu, you have to press 1 and 2 together. At first, this was very frustrating. And even after almost 30 hours, it never felt right and could become a distraction. The B button on the Wiimote's bottom went totally unused, and the - button was used to show the control scheme. 2 wasted buttons. This game would have controlled perfectly if you could have used the Wii Classic Controller, but then you would lose the pointer functionality, and the occasional need to shake the Wiimote. The shaking function was stupid (get a little extra experience if you shake the Wiimote after jumping on an enemy) and it would have been just as easy to pick up the Wiimote to use the pointer. When a game gets distracting, I stop having as much fun.

My third and last complaint is less of a complaint, but more of a disappointment in a lack of feature. Every time I got a new Pixl, I wanted to go back to each level and use it to unlock secrets, but there are very very few secrets of this nature. Other than a character card here or there (you can collect character cards to deal extra damage to enemies) and a miniature bakery supply store (again, not joking) there was no need to revisit levels. There are only 2 side quests in the entire game, a fetch quest and a 100 level dungeon, and both are tedious and boring.

But none of that really matters, because this game is fun. Gaining points to level up and using items to heal and damage enemies are the biggest RPG elements, and both are a welcome addition. Control annoyances aside, I wish this game was longer and had larger worlds so I could keep playing. Forgiving the clearly rushed control scheme, the game is the most fun I have had with Mario in a long time, with the exception of the DS game. Fun conquers all, so the little gripes don't add up to that much.

4 Stars (out of 5)

Nintendo knows what they are doing when they go back to their roots. This is a fun game that can last a good 20-30 hours. The Wii functionality was more forced than a neccessary addition (this was originally for GameCube, not Wii) and I think the game would have played better on the GameCube when all is said and done. Some of the other complaints about too much dialogue is true for the first few hours, but gets better as the game progresses, but the script for the game is extremely well done as well, with the exception of too many mustache jokes. There are a lot of in-jokes (I AM ERROR) and plenty of fan service too.

Fans of platformers should definitely pick this one up. There are some annoying quirks that get in the way of making this a perfect game (does one exist?) but the amount of fun you'll have when playing will making you forget about the little stumbles along the way. Highly recommended, go out and play!

Overall score: 4 Stars (out of 5)

(images courtesy Nintendo)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

GameStop Service: Part II

Super Paper Mario was released today for the Wii (review coming soon!) and Circuit City had a great deal! If the game was not on their shelves by 2pm, then you got a $20 gift card and they would call you when the game came in. You can read all about that story by CLICKING HERE!!!

I called Circuit City on my lunch, and the game was already released, plenty of units available. No need to go there now, so I decided to go to my local GameStop, because I am a glutton for punishment. I walk inside, and am greeted by "the boobs" girl from last month. (For "the boobs" girl story, CLICK HERE! ) "How can I help you" she asks in her intentionally bouncy way? "I am here to grab a copy of Super Paper Mario" I tell her. "Oh, did you reserve a copy" she asks, again, with the same obvious bounce. "No, I did not." Most of you who know me, and/or know GameStop, already know what is happening here. "Oh, I'm sorry" she frowns, "but I don't know if we have any extra copies to sell if you didn't pre-order. I will have to count them out and see if there are extras"

I had had enough. I am sick of this "pre-order everything" deal at GameStop. I got upset. "OK, that's fine" I snorted, "I will just walk across the parking lot to Wal*Mart and grab a copy there. OR, I could go a half mile down the road and grab a copy at Circuit City. OR I can drive to Best Buy a mile north and grab a copy there! Thanks though!" I turn around, big grin, and start to walk off."

"WAIT!" I seemed to have hit a nerve with "the boobs" girl. Bad choice of words.... regardless.... "WAIT! I should have enough! You can have this one!"

"Ok, ring me up." What? I didn't ACTUALLY plan on leaving unless they wouldn't sell me a copy. I WANT to support my local game store. I just wish they taught their employees differently! I actually wouldn't mind if they JUST asked "is there anything you would like to reserve today" while ringing me up, but they don't do that. They ask as soon as I come in (welcome, are you here to pick up a reservation?), when I ask about a specific product (did you know you can reserve the sequel today?), when I MENTION an upcoming game (you should reserve that today, so you are guaranteed a copy!) or when I even LOOK at "the boobs" girl (would you like to reserve the new DOA game?). I am constantly barraged by their pre-order antics!

"The boobs" girl didn't actually ring me up at first. She said her coworker (the idiot from last month) would get me. He ended up being a little too busy harassing his customer though. He would not ring this girls order up! "For only $7 more you can get the membership and the subscription to the magazine! Your total would be $102 instead of $95! Only $7 more!" 5 times he asked, in a row, with the girl flat out saying no every time. He just stood there asking again "for only $7 more" with me, and another customer, standing their with product in hand, not caring that other people needed to be helped. I gave "the boobs" girl a dirty look (not THAT kind of dirty look), and she finally conceded and rung me up personally.

"Is there anything you would like to reserve for the Wii while I am ringing you up?" The bouncing distracted me, but naught only for a second. "No, thank you."

"Ok, enjoy your game! See you again soon!" I have a bad feeling she isn't wrong...

Friday, April 6, 2007

Buffy Season 8 Comic: Issues 1 & 2 Review


When you were a kid, did you ever have a best friend, or a pet, and one day, that friend moved away or the pet passed on? Yeah, you knew it was coming. The friend told you months in advance, or the pet was very sick. It didn't make it any easier though.... Well, did that best friend or beloved pet every come back!? No, because Steven King taught us resurrecting animals never turns out well.... or something like that. But for me, it has happenned! My once lost best friend slash cuddly animal (not a bunny) has returned, and that pet's name is Buffy!

Ok, catch-up time! The 7th and final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended on May 20th, 2003. After moving over from the WB to UPN, the show took a very different turn. The 6th season was very dark, and put the Scoobies into very adult situations involving addiction, sex, abandonment, sex, marriage, sex, and money. And sex. While the 6th season gave us the perfect 52 minutes of entertainment with the musical episode "Once More With Feeling" many critics and fans never really enjoyed this season because of its dark themes and the major absence of humor. While it was not my favorite season (ironically, my 6th favorite overall), there was still a lot to love aside from OMWF. The 7th season was all about changes again. It was a return to the themes of the first season; how hard high school is, pure evil, what it means to be a slayer. The 7th and last season ended with a bang, as Buffy (and thanks to Willow's magic and an ancient slayer weapn, a hundred or new slayers) sealed the Hellmouth and caused Sunnydale to collapse upon itself leaving nothing but a crater behind. The last scene was an optimistic Buffy realizing she has the chance to live a better life, now that so many other Slayers are now empowered. Did I mention Buffy was the Slayer? She is, its true!

The comic is the official 8th season, with the first story arc and overall them for the series written by Buffy creator, Joss Whedon, with different sections and arcs written and inked by different writers and artists. For those of you who do not know who Joss Whedon is, stop reading this right now and stop breathing too, you have no right to live. The first two issues are pure Whedon humor. The dialog is straight from the show, and I can hear the actor's voice in my head as I read. Nothing seems out of place or wrong. This is the Buffyverse on paper. Which is what leads me to my favorite thing about the comic so far: fan service.

Everything about the first two issues screams fan service. Yes, there is a story here that anyone can enjoy, even if they only watched a few episodes, or stopped watching at the end of the 5th season... but why would you do that? What makes the comic work the best is the dialog that is written for each character, and the little in jokes that they say. Xander telling Buffy she is "five by five" or Andrew telling his group of Slayers to never use guns (which there seems to be some debate over this conversation). The best part being Willow appearing at the very end of the 2nd issue, when a witch declares she is unstoppable, and saying "as a good friend once said, 'I would like to test that theory."' Each of these moments is a little gift to the shows biggest fans. Oh, and Giant Dawn? I love Giant Dawn. Dawn always wants to be the biggest thing around, get all the attention, have everyone think about her... and she got that wish granted. Dawn does not learn her lessons very well....

The next best thing about the comics is the delivery of the surprises and powerful moments. Whedon is a master at laying out a comic. When you read something at the bottom of the right page, you will be truly curious or shocked. When you turn the page to see the splash or next part, Whedon proves how creative he is with laying out the panels in the perfect order. He has an incredible sense of framing and creating the right moment, whether it is on the TV screen, or comic book page.

So what is the story with the story? The comic takes place an unknown amount of time after the series ended (2-3 years?). All of the potential Slayers from season 7 now have powers, and most have been split into several teams. Xander and Buffy have a large group in Scottland, Giles has his group, and even Andrew has a team at his disposal. All the teams have high tech gadgetry and weapons, and I have no idea where they got the money and time to get this organized. Hopefully that will be revealed at some point. The story is the same as the TV series; Buffy and the Scoobies dealing with their daily lives, but in a whole new, grander setting. Buffy misses sex (great muppety Odin does she miss the sex!) and wishes Dawn trusted her, Xander is loving being Mr Military/Agent Fury (he acts like he enjoys having to wear the eyepatch), Andrew has a group of people who respect him and want to be around him (even though he answers serious questions with Star Wars metaphors) Giles is being all Watchery in Europe, and Dawn.... is a giant.... didn't we cover that already? You have a horrible memory. And Willow has just appeared on the last page of the 2nd issue. We covered that already too. Did you forget to take your Ginkgo?

There are 2 Big Bads so far; the US Military (or is it?!) and Amy the witch. The military found the Sunnydale crater, and Amy inside of it. They want to take out Buffy and all the Slayers, afraid they are some new terrorist organization. Amy wants to help them. She puts Buffy into a sleep she can't wake up from as thousands of zombies raid the castle (there's a castle now!). The pace has been somewhat slow for a comic so far, but the last 10 pages of the 2nd issue moved things along at a good pace. And each issue ends in a famous Whedon cliffhanger.

The next issue comes out on May 2nd, and I cannot wait. After 4 years of no Buffy, 3 with no Angel, and 2 with no Firefly/Serenity, Whedon steps up and delivers big time in a great new format. While he may not be a stranger to making comics, his brilliant humor and passion shine through amazingly in just 64 pages. I of course recommend reading the series, but those who are going to have already picked up their copies of the first two issues by now (first issue in its 2nd printing). May 2nd never seemed so far away.... ya know, except for on May 3rd, cause then its a whole year and stuff.

5 Stars (out of 5)

(images courtesy Dark Horse)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Dumb Quote of the Day

The following conversation is real. It took place at 7:00am on Tuesday, April 3rd. The names have been changed for the protection of the stupid.

Me: Technical Support, how can I help you?
Caller: Hi, my name is Jenna! I am scheduled for the conference call today. I thought I would get an email with all the info an hour before it starts, and I haven't received that yet.
Me: Yes, you are correct. However, the training does not start until 10am, so the email will be sent out one hour before then, around 9am, so in about 2 hours.
Caller: Ok, but I am on your website now, and it says 10am Pacific/1pm Eastern is when it starts.
Me: Correct, 10am Pacific. On the west coast, where we are located, it is only 7am.
Caller: Oh, no one told me thats what Pacific means.

Nice lady, very kind, but just had no comprehension over the different time zones.