Saturday, June 30, 2012

Top 5 Legend of Zelda games

It's no secret that I absolutely love the Legend of Zelda series. For years, it has been my single favorite video game series, though certain games therein rank higher than others. The Legend of Zelda series has always excelled at presenting a wonderful adventure gaming experience, though some of the titles in the long-running franchise go above and beyond. Below is a list of my five favorites - the absolute best of the best, as far as I am concerned.

#5 - Wind Waker: To be completely honest, I was highly skeptical of Wind Waker when it debuted, sporting cartoony cel-shaded graphics. But what appeared to be a game largely aimed at children proved to carry across one of the most endearing and mature coming-of-age stories the series has ever exhibited. The fact that it continued on the story of Ocarina of Time hit a nostalgic sweet spot for me, while the vast expanse of the ocean and its many islands continually fed my hunger for adventure.

The game paced itself very well, though the sluggish quest for the shattered triforce pieces proved a bump in the road. The dungeons proved varied and creative, the sidequests were in abundance, and the characters were lovable. Wind Waker was a breath of fresh air - not just for the Zelda series, but for adventure gaming as a genre.

#4 - Majora's Mask: Another Zelda title that is heavy on artistic direction, Majora's Mask is frankly one of the eeriest games I have ever played. It is also one of the most challenging, and the lack of direction the game provides early on prevents it from earning a higher ranking on this list. Still, it does just as well as Wind Waker with regards to delivering an enjoyable story and presenting a bevy of sidequests.

In fact, Majora's Mask is largely dependent on sidequests. More than half the experience would be lost without their inclusion, and forcing players to seek out new items and locales broadens the story with each step taken. There are so many memorable characters and events that are unveiled as part of the exploration. And to put icing on the cake, the soundtrack to Majora's Mask is one of my all-time favorites. Give the Stone Temple Tower and Deku Palace tunes a listen and you'll know why.

#3 - Skyward Sword: Prior to its release, a number of sources touted Skyward Sword as having the potential to trump Ocarina of Time as the best in the series. Every trailer that I saw for Skyward Sword building up to the release date increased my excitement - from footage of boss fights with Koloktos and Lord Ghirahim to items like the Beetle and Double Clawshot, the game looked like a ton of fun. That, coupled with the fact that it was a prequel to Ocarina of Time, made me the most hyped for a game release in the better part of a decade.

For those who have read my review of Skyward Sword, it goes without saying that this game did not disappoint. It succeeded in every gameplay aspect I could have hoped for, while throwing me some welcome curveballs like the Timeshift Stones, which made the gameplay more dynamic and thought-provoking. The story was delivered in a gorgeous manner, and despite the overworld hub setup, every inch of the land that would one day come to be known as Hyrule looked breathtakingly gorgeous. Each boss fight was different and presented equal parts challenge and fun, while the final showdown was just as epic as it was intense.

#2 - Oracle of Ages: I loved both of the Oracle games - to this day, I can only think of a few handheld releases that even come close to these two in terms of clever design and overall fun factor. While the Rod of Seasons may have aided Oracle of Seasons in crafting a more visually pleasing look and well-designed overworld, Oracle of Ages had arguably the better dungeon layouts and boss fights. The items were plentiful, and each saw pretty even usage. The whole idea of correcting the course of history by travelling back in time was entertaining and engaging, and Veran proved to be a devilishly perfect villain. The sidequests may not have been as memorable as those found in the console Zelda titles, but there was still a lot to do in the land of Labrynna.

#1 - Ocarina of Time: This number one spot should come as no surprise. I have found many games that have come very close to Ocarina of Time - Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Shadow of the Colossus, Metroid Prime - but none have yet managed to dethrone it as my favorite game of all time (and subsequently, my favorite Zelda game). What Ocarina of Time managed to accomplish for the day of its release is astounding. The dungeons are about as close to perfect as one can get, even with the Water Temple's reputation of being particularly frustrating. Link's story is a great fantasy tale; one truly deserving of all the praise it has earned over the years since Ocarina of Time's original debut.

Before anyone plays the nostalgia card, let me be clear on one thing: every two to three years, I sit down and play through Ocarina of Time. I do this not only because I love the game just as much today as I did when I first played it, but to remind myself of what a perfect game is. Whether it is on the N64, Virtual Console, or 3DS version, Ocarina of Time is simply a classic - one of those rare games that every gamer owes it to themselves to play.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Anime review: Ghost in the Shell

Among the classic anime that I wanted to watch this year was Ghost in the Shell, a film that is well-known for inspiring the Matrix films, but has earned a strong fan following all its own. So strong, in fact, that the Ghost in the Shell story has since expanded into one sequel film, two seasons of Stand Alone Complex, and a few more films tied into that series. Taking into account how important many considered the original Ghost in the Shell to be to the anime medium for the day of its release, as well as my own fascination with the sci-fi genre, it seemed quite clear that this film would be a must-watch for me.

Ghost in the Shell is set in a futuristic city where practically every human is part machine, thanks to the ghost system that allows for instant brainwave communications. The story follows the three squadmates Motoko Kusanagi, Batou, and Ishikawa, as they try to unravel the mystery of someone or something known as the Puppet Master. The Puppet Master is hacking into the ghosts of various people and causing them to act on its behalf, hacking into terminals and affecting other people in turn. To that end, the first half of the film is very much as suspenseful detective caper, with frequent chase scenes providing the action.

The story only ever concerns itself with one major theme, which is the concept of where man and machine are distinguishable from one another. It's not a wildly original theme, considering how many science fiction works prior to Ghost in the Shell concerned themselves with the same questions raised herein. It is good that Ghost in the Shell maintains its focus throughout - it explores this idea almost exclusively through the eyes of the three main characters, and as such the film provides a very clear sense of their experiences with the issues raised regarding it. But in turn, there are practically no other true characters to speak of. Anyone else that makes an appearance in the film - save for the Puppet Master - is simply a plot device wearing a face. None of the "minor characters" see any development, and most only earn a few minutes of screen time.

The soundtrack is not particularly memorable, though its style rings very close to the company of Akira, another prominent sci-fi anime classic, as both utilize a combination of old orient sounds with industrial techno music. The animation is really impressive when Kusanagi and Batou head to the outskirts of town. The attention to detail and vivid colors in that scene are very pleasing to the eyes. When they return to the city center, however, blue and grey skyscrapers don't exactly present the most exciting backdrop.

Characters move very fluidly during fight scenes and chases. But during conversation, they are stoic and stiff. On the one hand, this makes sense, given the fact that Kusanagi and Batou are largely comprised of robotic parts. But their blank stares and basic open-close jaw motions prove quite boring after a while. There is also a lot of nudity throughout the film, which rarely feels cohesive with the direction of the plot. There's no symbolism associated with it like in Neon Genesis Evangelion. It's nudity for the sake of coming across as edgy.

While the aforementioned theme of the increasingly blurred lines between man and machine proves easily the best part of Ghost in the Shell, its presentation does not hold a candle to the way in which other works like I, Robot or even The Matrix approach it. Ghost in the Shell covers familiar ideas, and only at their most basic levels. The film also leaves nearly every question it raises unanswered. Just when Kusanagi's story is getting really good, the film comes to an abrupt halt. As a concept, Ghost in the Shell is kind of cool. As a full-fledged film, Ghost in the Shell is incomplete and behind the times, even for its original 1995 release.

My rating: 6.5 (out of 10)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Watch Dogs E3 gameplay trailer

One of the sleeper hits from E3 that many people have been talking about is Watch Dogs, a new game from Ubisoft. It's a sort of man vs. computers scenario, but with a contemporary setting and implications that ring close to our own real present-day world. Graphically, the game looks gorgeous, and the gameplay seems both stealth-based and tactical. I'm a big fan of this whole idea of hiding in plain sight and using the environment to your advantage. I'll be keeping my eye on Watch Dogs as more information is revealed.

Story trailer:

Gameplay trailer:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Xbox 360 review: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

Before releasing their first full game in the Halo series, 343 Industries revisited the original Halo: Combat Evolved, updating the graphics and soundtrack to bring it up to speed with current-gen games. The result is Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, a game which seeks to both appease fans of the original Xbox blockbuster and tide the community over until the release of Halo 4. Halo: Anniversary is nowhere near as bold an undertaking as previous entries in the series, but it is a project that required careful attention from the team at 343 Industries, lest they screw up one of the most popular games of all time and anger the fanbase.

The story and level design remains entirely faithful to the original Halo: CE, save for the obvious graphical facelift and the inclusion of terminals and skulls. As with Halo 3, the skulls must be collected from various hidden locations throughout the game, and can then be used to alter aspects of gameplay, such as the amount of ammo found in weapons and the disabling of Master Chief's radar. The terminals behave somewhat differently, however, as they feature fully animated sequences chronicling 343 Guilty Spark's time on Alpha Halo following the disappearance of the Forerunners but prior to The Pillar of Autumn's arrival. 343 Industries stated prior to Halo: Anniversary's release, these terminal videos hold ties to the story of Halo 4, but to what end exactly is something that remains to be seen.

As for the bulk of the gameplay, Halo: Anniversary controls significantly less smoothly than any of the Xbox 360 releases, but holds up fairly well for a game originally released in 2001. Splash damage radiuses are often inconsistent, while grenades have a significant delay before detonating. The Assault Rifle's range is decent, and it serves as one of the best long-range weapons next to the needler and sniper rifle. Vehicles tend to slide around while Master Chief is trying to exit them, which can be an annoyance when attempting hairpin turns or pinpoint accuracy on the higher difficulty settings.

As stated earlier, the graphics have seen a massive overhaul. There are so many fine details worked into every environment, from the Forerunner architecture and the inside of the Covenant ship Truth and Reconciliation. Halo: Anniversary is easily the most stylized and artistically-driven of all the Halo games released to date, and these two elements make the entire experience incredibly visually pleasing. In reality, the graphics are not as impressive as many current-gen games - Halo: Anniversary actually falls somewhere between Halo 3 and Halo: Reach in terms of its overall presentation. The dialogue is the same, and the marines will utter cheesy dialogue at times, but it all sounds much clearer than on the original Xbox. The soundtrack takes to the classic tunes, with a new twist for each. The Installation 04 theme has a very tribal sound to it, which is fitting, and the Honest Negotiation Suite has a powerful driving horn part that is followed by some gorgeous vocals. Meanwhile some of the other tunes are a bit more subtle and, as a result, are not quite as instantly memorable.

343 Industries has included the original Halo: Combat Evolved as a bonus for those who insist on playing the game as it originally was. The graphics can be changed at any time during the campaign with the press of the 'back' button on the 360 controller. While it is fun to switch back and forth a few times to see just how far the series has come since its debut, there is one feature of the updated Anniversary graphics that truly stands out - the lighting. Many of the environments in the original Halo are so dark that visibility ranges from low to nearly-impossible-to-see-anything. It's a nice inclusion for nostalgia's sake. But when navigating the underground tunnels of Alpha Halo, the new graphics are practically a requirement.

The original Halo's multiplayer element has been removed in favor of six multiplayer maps and one firefight map as re-imagined in Halo: Reach. All of the included maps are carried over from Combat Evolved, save for Headlong and Timberland, which originate from Halo 2 and Halo: PC respectively. It's a smart move on the part of 343 Industries, as sustaining the Reach multiplayer base means they do not have to compete with themselves. The maps can be played from either the Anniversary disc (where only those maps will be accessible) or from the Reach multiplayer (where they stand out as some of the best maps in any of the playlists). Also included is the Library, which catalogues any vehicles and species players scan in-game while using the Kinect. It is a feature that is entertaining for a brief while, but seems to be aimed primarily at players who are largely unfamiliar with the Halo universe.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is not a groundbreaking title in the wildly popular series. The campaign is fun to revisit, but serves as a reminder to just how far the experience has come since Master Chief first set foot on the ring world. Halo: Anniversary was really only ever intended to present an updated version of the original Halo, not a grand reimagining. And to that end, it is quite successful.

My rating: 8 (out of 10)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Batman: Arkham City E3 WiiU interview and gameplay

I have not yet played Arkham City, but I've heard only positive things about it. Arkham Asylum was a lot of fun, and while I've been meaning to play the sequel, I might just hold out until the WiiU version releases. The use of the touch screen controller as Batman's gadgets looks really cool, and it seems quite convenient to have all of the menu items accessible on the controller screen instead of requiring the game be paused to get at these.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pikmin 3 E3 gameplay

This is the game I was most looking forward to at this year's E3. I absolutely loved the first two games and the evolution of the gameplay that came along with Pikmin 2. While I hope Nintendo reveals some more enemy designs in the coming months, the ones highlighted here do look pretty cool. The overall look of the game is beautiful, and I can't wait to see how the details of other environments pop on the screen thanks to the WiiU's hardware. The strategy element of Pikmin 3 seems perfectly suited to the WiiU, and will hopefully prove one of the best early titles on the console.

Also, Pikmin 3 is the main reason I plan to purchase a WiiU sometime after it hits store shelves, though knowing Arkham City and Assassin's Creed III will be in the lineup certainly doesn't hurt.

Star Wars 1313 E3 interview and gameplay

This new Star Wars game follows a bounty hunter on Courascant, and (as the developers put it) seeks to deliver a dark and gritty Star Wars experience. It seems like an interesting concept, and the game certainly looks grqaphically impressive. I just wish they had gone out of their way to show more gameplay. The action and shooting sequences highlighted here are both brief and sort of generic. However, Star Wars 1313 still has plenty of time to show off. Perhaps it has a few more cards up its sleeve.

Monday, June 4, 2012

DmC: Devil May Cry E3 trailer

The new Devil May Cry is looking so much cooler with each new trailer. I get the sense that a lot of people have warmed up to this new game over time. Granted, it's still not the same Dante from the older games, but I never felt that was necessarily a bad thing. I think this new direction for the series will prove quite entertaining. And thank goodness, we finally have a release date confirmed - January 15, 2013. Smokin'.

ZombiU E3 trailer

Looks like Ubisoft has been cooking up a new game for the Wii U. It is titled ZombiU, and is set in London where (you guessed it) a zombie breakout has occurred. While no actual gameplay has been shown yet, this trailer does a great job of showing just how impressive the graphics will look on Nintendo's new system. Despite the overall vibe of the trailer ringing very close to that of Dead Island's teaser, I think the fact that every scene is presented as a still shot is the best choice possible, since it allows us to better view the ridiculous amount of detail worked into everything.

Assassin's Creed III E3 gameplay

Believe it or not, I've actually never played much of the Assassin's Creed games before. I got a taste of the first game, which wasn't really my style, though the second looked interesting enough. I guess I just always found other titles that looked more appealing. But Assassin's Creed III is the first game in the series that really stands out to me, largely because of the setting. The Revolutionary War era is a time period rarely explored in video games, and while Assassin's Creed III is certain to add plenty of elements that are entirely fictionalized, the idea in and of itself just seems cool to me. I don't know if I'm actually going to buy this game or not, but I am pretty impressed with how seamlessly the gameplay transitions from stealth to action.

Halo 4 E3 gameplay

Finally, we get some footage of Master Chief in action. And holy crap, does Halo 4 look gorgeous. I'm still very curious as to where the story will go, but the fact that Chief and Cortana make contact with the UNSC ship Infinity gives me hope that the story will draw out more of who John-117 is at his core. I imagine we will see more of these new enemies as the November release date draws closer. I was a little uncertain as to how well 343 Industries would handle the Halo story following the events of Halo 3, but I'm sold now. Time to go pre-order my copy.

Jet Set Radio E3 gameplay trailer

More gameplay footage, with a few of the game's stellar tunes highlighted. I must say, from a graphical standpoint, this game has aged very well, which is probably due in large part to the cel-shading. Still no release date announced, but at present it looks as though Jet Set Radio might be part of Microsoft's Summer of Arcade lineup for 2012.

Resident Evil 6 E3 gameplay trailer

The female antagonist has now been confirmed to be Ada Wong, which makes sense in the grand scheme of the Resident Evil story. The environments highlighted here look even cooler than the ones we've seen in previous trailers, due in part to the fact that they provide dynamic gameplay. The plane tilts back and forth as Leon shoots down infected passengers, while the bodies littering the underwater area look delightfully creepy. Prior to this trailer, we had a general idea of where the story was headed and who the heroes were, but this one focuses more on the villains and different enemy types.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Metroplex E3 trailer

Metroplex finally gets his reveal, and Jazz and Shockwave both make brief appearances. I can't wait to see the giant city-of-an-Autobot in the actual gameplay.

Dishonored E3 gameplay trailer

I saw the teaser trailer for Dishonored earlier this year and was rather indifferent toward it, but now it has my full attention. If I'm being completely honest, the gameplay does look like it borrows heavily from Bioshock, and there even seem to be some elements inspired by Assassin's Creed. Heck, the semi-cel-shaded graphical style looks almost exactly like that of Bioshock Infinite. But this trailer is so full of atmosphere that I can't help but be excited to find out more between now and the October 9th release date. The fact that Bethesda is tied to the game is a plus.

Also, is it just me, or do those walker things look vaguely similar to the Striders from Half-Life 2?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

DLC review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode Metal

For anyone who purchased Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I and Episode II on the same console, SEGA provided a bonus game, titled Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode Metal. It puts players in control of Metal Sonic, exploring just how he came to be revived by Dr. Robotnik as well as how he managed to track down Sonic and Tails. The story begins with Metal Sonic lying broken and battered on the Stardust Speedway from Sonic CD, a stage which has been gorgeously rendered in the Sonic 4 engine. Robotnik swiftly fixes up his creation, then sends him off to find a new source of power.

The game's introductory sequence is simple enough, but it does a great job of drawing you into the story of Metal Sonic. Unfortunately, nearly everything that follows is borderline-disastrous. Episode Metal, though accessible from the menu of Sonic 4: Episode II, is run entirely on the engine that was used for Sonic 4: Episode I. Whereas Sonic controlled less smoothly in the first episode, Metal Sonic does not slow down as quickly as one would hope and manages to crash into just about everything in his path.

Each level that Metal Sonic traverses only lasts a single act. However, each of these levels is recycled from Sonic 4: Episode I. He will revisit Splash Hill Zone, Casino Street Zone, Lost Labyrinth Zone, and Mad Gear Zone, albeit in a somewhat reverse order. Lost Labyrinth Zone proves the most enjoyable of the bunch, as the rolling boulder puzzle element has been kept intact. Any puzzle elements from the other stages have been removed in favor of more linear pathways. While this does move Metal Sonic through each stage more quickly, it does not allow for much freedom in choosing alternate routes and effectively removes the entire challenge factor.

It's a good thing that SEGA included Sonic 4: Episode Metal as a free bonus, because no one should ever have to fork over money to play this mess of a Sonic title. It is true that Episode Metal was never intended to be as full and fleshed out a product as either Sonic 4: Episode I or Episode II. But it seems like SEGA put forth as little effort as possible into Episode Metal. Metal Sonic's controls are very clunky, the same levels are recycled in a lazy manner, and there are no boss fights. Episode Metal's one saving grace is that it takes than a half an hour to complete.

My rating: 5.5 (out of 10)

XBLA review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II picks up, naturally, where Episode I left off. Sonic and Tails are still in pursuit of Dr. Robotnik, chasing him across four new zones, each with three stages and one boss fight a piece. Aside from his new mechanical weapons, Robotnik has a surprise in store for the game's heroes - Metal Sonic has been revived, and is eager for revenge.

Whereas Sonic 4: Episode I was intended to be a general throwback to the Genesis-era Sonic games, Episode II pays homage to Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and (to a lesser extent) Sonic CD. The inclusion of Tails allows for cooperative online play as well as some new combo attacks. These combos allow Sonic and Tails to avoid giant pits by flying over them and crushing obstacles by spinning forward in a giant wheel attack. The combo attacks are only used every so often, so it doesn't feel like the duo relies too heavily on them. That said, when they are in use it makes the gameplay a bit more dynamic. Sonic 4: Episode II is one of the few instances in recent years where Tails' inclusion actually feels worthwhile.

The look of Episode II is a massive improvement over Episode I. Everything is rendered with 3D models, and there is plenty of detail and color worked into every level. The lighting and water effects are nice, and the level designs feel far more original than in Episode I. The soundtrack isn't exactly full of standout tunes, but does not rank among the series worst either. Many of the songs in-game are repetitive, catchy, but not overly memorable. Metal Sonic's new theme is one of the more enjoyable listens.

The boss fights do well to incorporate the environment in creative and fun ways that present a significant challenge, but never to the degree where you want to pull your hair out in frustration. There is certainly an element of trial-and-error, and old-school Sonic fans will probably be quick to catch on to the strategy for taking down each boss. Still, climbing boxes as Robotnik scales a mineshaft in a crawling mech or looping around rings as you make your way toward a central control pod present memorable boss encounters. In the past, boss fights against Metal Sonic have often been among the best in the entire Sonic the Hedgehog series. Episode II pits Sonic against Metal Sonic three times, and while none of these face-offs are as impressive as the race in Sonic CD or Sonic Generations, they are still pretty well planned out.

There are a very few moments where the game hiccups and the lock-on attack does not seem to want to cooperate. It only happened to me in a few specific points late in the game, but at points where said attack was entirely necessary to advance through a level. For the most part, though, Sonic controls perhaps the best in Episode II when compared to any of the other side-scrolling games in the series, due to both the responsiveness of the Xbox 360 controller and the fluid motions of Sonic's character model.

The bonus stages take on what is essentially the same style they had in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - a race down a track to collect a set number of rings before passing through a checkpoint. It's not the most exciting process in the world, but it's more intuitive and faster-paced than the bonus stage mini-game from Sonic 4: Episode I. The final stage completely does away with the "greatest hits" style of repeating all of the boss fights in rapid succession, and instead has two boss fights - one against against Metal Sonic and the other against Dr. Robotnik. The end of Sonic 4: Episode II is built up well and feels like the climactic conclusion the game deserves.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II is not perfect. In the same fashion as Episode I, it only lasts a little over an hour. But nearly everything Episode II manages to do correctly acts as a vast improvement over Episode I. It controls wonderfully, there's a nice variety presented in the gameplay, and the design is far more original than Episode I's copy-and-paste approach. It may still fall short of the legacy of the original two Genesis Sonic games, but Sonic 4: Episode II is a fun trip back to simpler days of side-scrolling action.

My rating: 8.25 (out of 10)

Top five video games and anime of 2012 - Spring contenders

As has become a tradition over the past few years, I will once again be doing a recap at the end of this year of all the anime I've watched and all the video games I've played in 2012. As June is now under way, I feel that I have a strong indication of which titles from those two categories have a good chance of being labeled by me as the five best by the end of the year. The anime and video game titles listed below are not guaranteed to make into the top five of either category, as there are still others I have yet to experience during the remainder of the year. But I do feel that they presently have a good chance at making the cut.

- Video games -

Super Mario 3D Land - In all honestly, this was the most fun I've had with a Mario game since Super Mario 64. That said, I've always been partial to the free-roam Mario games versus the side-scrolling platformers. The way Nintendo has utilized the 3D hardware with this game is fantastic, and despite the fact that the boss fights are a bit redundant, smart level design and impressive replay value make up for it.

Pokémon Black and White - I think it's safe to say that this game is in the top five for certain. I jumped back on board the Pokémon bandwagon with Soul Silver version, and White version proved a fantastic follow-up. There is as much emphasis on strategy as there is on freedom f choosing your team members, and the game presents a great balance of challenge and fun. Though the gym leader battles seem to become easier as the game progresses, the Elite Four battles are epic. The story is rather well-scripted, and Unova feels more alive and teeming with activity than the regions from previous games.

Resident Evil Revelations - Another game that is almost certain to make it to the top five, Resident Evil Revelations is the best Resident Evil title I've played since RE4. It brings back classic horror elements of the older games by placing Jill Valentine and company onboard a cruise ship infested with a new type of zombie. The ocean life theme is a great new direction for the series to take, as creatures that resemble coral, fish, and crabs are as cool to look at as they are terrifying to encounter. Raid Mode presents a fresh new spin on Mercenaries-style gameplay, and the whole package presents what it easily one of the best handheld gaming experiences I have had to date.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker - I am not considering the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection in its entirety as eligible for the top five, due in part to the fact that I have previously played MGS2 and MGS3. Peace Walker, on the other hand, is an entirely new beast to me, as I never owned a PSP. Frankly, it is half the reason I purchased the HD Collection, and I find the freedom allowed in its gameplay intriguing. Certainly Peace Walker is not as pretty to look at as either of the two other games, but it is a very full and satisfying experience from beginning to end, and serves as a fitting sequel to the events of Snake Eater.

- Anime -

Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor - It's might not be as good as the original Darker Than Black, but it's a damn good follow-up just the same. Gemini of the Meteor provides a fresh perspective on the relationship between humans and contractors by presenting the story from the point of view of Suou Pavlichenko, a young girl living in Russia. Hei is still important to the story, but take a back seat for the first half of Gemini of the Meteor. It still carries the vibe of the original Darker Than Black, but some of the subject matter and the soundtrack allow Gemini of the Meteor to identify itself as something that is equally similar and different. The staff put some careful thought into this series instead of churning out a crappy, rushed sequel.

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam - One of my biggest goals with regards to choosing anime to watch in 2012 was picking out many of the classics I missed out on back in the day. Zeta Gundam is essentially the Empire Strikes Back of the original Gundam storyline. As an anime from the 80s, it is not as clean as more modern series. There is plenty of cheesy dialogue and teenage angst. But what it accomplished for its time is truly impressive. The older Gundam series are the primary reason mecha anime is so popular today. Zeta Gundam's story is very well planned, the animation gets better with each episode, and all in all its just plain fun classic sci-fi.

Akira - Another classic, one viewing of Akira made it clear just how much of an impression this film left on the sci-fi anime genre. It's a dark and wonderful look into both the fantastical futuristic city and the practical relationships humans share. The hand-drawn animation is downright gorgeous for its time, and the soundtrack isn't far behind. Trying to explain Akira to someone does not do the film justice. It is something that must be experience to be fully understood.

Cowboy Bebop - This series manages to balance a great storyline with a very distinct musical and artistic style. The end result is one of the most entertaining and just plain fun series from the mid to late 1990s. Spike, Jet, Faye, and Ed play off one another wonderfully, with each presenting a distinctly different personality. The show places emphasis on creating a new subgenre of the sci-fi anime, but just as often succeeds at delivering a very genuine and human story. The show has lots of funny scenes, plenty of action, and even a few sad moments that round out the whole viewing experience.

Toonami - week two impressions

As most of Toonami's shows were carried over from the Adult Swim anime lineup, I'm going to be focusing primarily on the two new ones with each of these Toonami-related posts. Those shows are, of course, Deadman Wonderland and Casshern Sins. Both have a notably darker tone than any anime previously run on Toonami, as well as a generally darker tone than the other shows currently in the lineup. With Deadman Wonderland, this is due to the fact that the show takes place in a creepy and rather messed up prison facility where the prisoners can earn money for food by participating in events viewed by the public. Deadman Wonderland also happens to be rated TV-MA. Casshern Sins, on the other hand, has a dark atmosphere because the story is set in a world where the humans have long been dead, and the robots that remain face an inevitable doom. Apparently this is all due to something Casshern did, though he does not seem to recall what exactly transpired.

Although only two episodes of either show have aired, I'm already partial to Casshern Sins over Deadman Wonderland. Casshern Sins has done a great job thus far of creating this post-apocalyptic world (which looks hauntingly gorgeous), as well as giving us an idea of how life operates with all the robots knowing they face extinction. Many of the robots have adopted human emotions, though they themselves are not entirely certain how or why. Viewing this second episode, I got a clear sense of how fragile these robots can be, both physically and emotionally, as many of them became violent during their final moments. Now that Casshern has seen the decay and destruction that has come as a result of whatever it is he did, I will be very curious to see what he does with his own remaining time (assuming he faces the same countdown as all of the other robots).

I generally avoid shows like Deadman Wonderland - shows that are violent, bloody, and vulgar just for the sake of being violent, bloody, and vulgar. It's not the worst anime I've ever seen; in fact, there are some elements that I like, most notably the characterization of Shiro. The whole premise of the series gets some points for originality as well. Frankly, this week's episode had more coherence than the premiere (wherein the explanation of what sort of falsified proof that Ganta was capable of murdering an entire classroom of kids was completely ignored). And it does feel like the series is moving forward. But I don't think the story is headed in any direction I'm interested in following. That said, there were plenty of shows aired on the original Toonami that I never cared for - Big O, Blue Sub No. 6, and Gundam Wing to name a few. And I always felt that was one of the things that made Toonami great during its heyday; even though I might not have enjoyed all of the anime that was aired, there was plenty of variety for everyone.

As for the other four shows, I do feel that Cartoon Network is using them as placeholders for the time being. I can't see them ever getting rid of Bleach, since it is still a very popular series. I would guess that they would allow Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood to complete its run from here to the end of the series before they considered getting rid of it. Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop, however, might be different cases. As it runs later at night and doesn't have quite the large fan following of either Bleach or FMA: Brotherhood, Ghost in the Shell probably has a good chance of being replaced with something new. And Adult Swim has run through the entire Cowboy Bebop series so many times over since the programming block started that I think it's safe to say that will be the first show to be swapped out of the lineup.

I don't have many suggestions for shows that Toonami could pick up - frankly, I'd rather they surprise me. But if I had to pick a couple, I would first and foremost recommend Darker Than Black. It would certainly fit with the more mature audience Toonami is being aimed at. The other would be Gundam 00. Since Gundam Unicorn is not yet finished, and as each episode of that series is an hour long, it wouldn't really make sense for Toonami to pick it up. Gundam 00, however, is aimed at the mid-teen audience and is easily one of the best alternate universe Gundam series around. I know Syfy ran Gundam 00 a couple of years ago, but the series is still relatively fresh and would be a good way for Toonami to carry on the Gundam legacy from days gone by. With all that in mind, I'm sure there more than a few of the Toonami faithful who have already seen Gundam 00, and if Toonami would rather go about airing a different mecha anime, I will certainly give it a chance.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Pre-E3 trailer for Zone of the Enders: HD Collection

Last year, Konami announced plans to release the first two Zone of the Enders games in an HD collection, much like they did with the Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill games. Now they have revealed the trailer for the collection as well as the new anime-style intro sequence, made by Sunrise. Zone of the Enders is a series that I missed out on during its original release, due in large part to limited releases of the games and the fact that the game did not gain the reputation it has today until quite some time after it came out. I'm a huge fan of Hideo Kojima's work with the Metal Gear Solid series, and I happen to enjoy mecha anime, so you can bet I will be purchasing this HD collection when it hits store shelves before the end of the year.

Here is the newly-animated intro.

Also, in case you didn't hear, Kojima is releasing the HD collection as part of the build-up to a brand new entry into the Zone of the Enders series. Freaking awesome.

Pre-E3 trailer for Tomb Raider

Last year Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics showed off their vision for a new Tomb Raider. It featured a younger Lara Croft instead of the seasoned adventurer from the older games. This new trailer continues that theme with a look into the fear and anxiety Lara experiences as she and her party and trapped on an island and are kidnapped by some unknown group of people. While last year's reveal trailer made it seem as though this new Tomb Raider would be heavy on the action and adventure elements, this new gameplay trailer seems to imply that some survival-horror elements may also be at play. I love the environment designs shown thus far. I never played many of the older Tomb Raider games, but the atmosphere in this one really appeals to me. That said, I could do without the amount of screaming and crying that Lara exhibits here. I'll have to keep my eye on Tomb Raider it as more information is released.

Pre-E3 trailer for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Konami has released their pre-E3 2012 trailer for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. We get to see some more of the actual gameplay, and an idea of the direction the story will take since it is set post-MGS4. I really like the design of some of the envionments highlighted in this trailer. Here's to hoping Konami gives us more details on the game at E3 (like a release date, maybe?).

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