Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Top 5 Alternate Universe Gundam series

As I'm sure many of you are well aware, I am a huge fan of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. I began watching 08th MS Team and G Gundam during Toonami's heyday, and jumped back in with 0083: Stardust Memory when I resumed watching anime on a regular basis a few years ago. Generally speaking, I am partial to the Universal Century series. I've found that - while not all are created equal - they do tend to trump the alternate universe series in terms of consistent plot development and likeable characters. However, I have viewed all of the alternate universe anime, save for Gundam AGE, and found a few series that really stood out to me as being impeccably well done and especially entertaining.

#5 - Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz: I should preface this by stating that I do not care much for the Gundam Wing series. The characters were so bland and one-dimensional and the plot ran in circles for nearly the entire run. Endless Waltz managed to turn all of that around to create a follow-up story that was not just stomachable, it was downright awesome. I find it curious that one hour and a half film did more to make me feel for and care about a small cast of characters than an entire forty-nine episode series did, and I wonder how much different Gundam Wing would have been had they cut out all the monologuing, emo Heero moments, and declarations of "it's a Gundam!" to focus instead on balancing the action and fun factor as well as Endless Waltz managed to.

#4 - Gundam 00: The second-most recent alternate universe series, Gundam 00 break from the military strategies so prominent in the Universal Century, but does not force ridiculous mobile suit designs on viewers. Instead, Gundam 00 presents a perfect balance between the stylized and realistic sensibilities, and is host to some of the most creative yet practical mobile suit designs to date. Giant robots aside, the concept of a unified world that is so frequently visited between the two seasons is very probable, considering the chronology of the series. While each season has its up and downs, the element of mystery surrounding the Gundam Meisters, Veda, and the Innovators keeps the experience interesting, and the fact that the plot allows characters to develop through both successes and failures adds a human level to the story.

#3 - After War Gundam X: To be completely honest, the execution of Gundam 00's story is probably done with fewer flaws. But Gundam X is such a bold and different Gundam series that I can't help but place it near the top of the stack. The ravaged Earth that resulted from a series of colony drops presents an incredibly cool setting that shapes the characters, forcing them to adapt to a wasteland of a planet. Garrod Ran is not only one of the youngest lead pilots to date, he's also one of the funniest. His relationship with Tifa Adil makes for one of the cutest and endearing romantic subplots in all of Gundam. Gundam X presents a perfect balance of fun action scenes and serious plot, with a younger cast trying to learn from the mistakes of the previous generation.

#2 - Gundam SEED Stargazer: A spinoff that deserves recognition as its own sequel series in the Gundam SEED storyline, this three episode OVA accomplishes so much in so little time. It chronicles the events that follow the Break the World Incident from SEED Destiny. Earth is subjected to both social and environmental chaos, and the DSSD races against time to complete their deep-space exploration Gundam, the Stargazer, before the forces of Phantom Pain find and destroy it. It's a unique series in the SEED universe, not only because of its notably darker tone, but because neither side is explicitly stated to be 'good' or 'bad'. The events that unfold are left entirely up to viewer discretion.

#1 - Turn A Gundam: The most daring Gundam series of them all, Turn A takes place in a retro-future where technology has reverted to roughly the same level as it was during World War I. Biplanes fly alongside mobile suits as the Moonrace humans return to Earth in hopes of claiming a territory for their own settlement. Unfortunately, not all of the Moonrace believe in the same strategy, and it quickly becomes apparent that a number of individuals share a stake in how this landmark meeting of Moonrace and Earth dwellers will ultimately play out. The rich culture cultivated in the anime, combined with the multiple layers that drive the primary conflict makes for a genuinely excellent story. But what really tops it all off is the brilliant cast of incredibly diverse characters - lead pilot Loran Cehack among the best of the best. Loran wishes that the Moonrace and Earth dwellers could all live in peace, but he also realizes that sometimes difficult decisions must be made in order to come to a peaceful resolution. He is perhaps the most believably human lead character in any Gundam series to date, and - gorgeous animation and breathtaking soundtrack aside - makes the entire experience of viewing Turn A Gundam so wondrous and memorable.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Anime review: Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation is a retelling of the 1985 sequel to the classic Mobile Suit Gundam. This version of Zeta Gundam is compressed from the original fifty episode format to three feature length films. The first film, Heirs to the Stars, run approximately an hour and a half, while the second and third films - Lovers and Love is the Pulse of the Stars, respectively - each run about 100 minutes.

The updated animation style - which looks downright gorgeous - was highlighted in nearly every promotional piece for this film trilogy. Lighting effects are handled superbly, the colors of the various mobile suits really pop against the dark backdrop of space, and the motions of both characters and mobile suits appear very fluid. What is rather curious, though, is the fact that only about one third of the footage in the first film is rendered in this new style. The rest is retained from the old 1985 hand drawn animation. The transition between the two is quite random throughout, with full scenes shifting back and forth multiple times in a matter of minutes. Both Lovers and Love is the Pulse of the Stars see more of this new animation style included, with roughly fifty to sixty percent of either film's footage receiving the facelift. But the fact that Bandai went to the trouble of rendering such a substantial amount of footage as such begs the question as to why they did not do this for the entirety of all three films. Also, there is a rather grainy filter over all of the 1980s footage, which was hardly noticeable on the Anime Legends collections of the full anime series.

Obviously the faster pacing of three films versus a fifty episode series calls for some substantial editing. Thankfully, all of the shortened scenes maintain a smooth flow with the grand story, and the few plot points that see minor alterations feel right at home. There are a few minor things that lack explanation, like where the Hyaku Shiki came from and when the Gundam Mk II was painted in AEUG colors, but nothing that throws off the plot. The one scene that does feel like it might have been beneficial for them to include, however, is Lt. Quattro's speech before the Earth Federation.

The film takes a sort of "pick-and-choose" approach when determining which subplots are most important. Amuro's involvement in the series was prominent at a few key points, but has been scaled back even more for these films. Four and Kamille's meeting is left mostly intact, and their romance develops well enough. But the capabilities of the Psycho Gundam are hardly shown off at all, and viewers who are unfamiliar with the series will likely not understand why the AEUG perceives it as such a huge threat. The history of Haman Karn and Lt. Quattro is quickly glossed over, and the brief conflict that Kamille brings up over the Lt. Quattro's identity never comes to fruition.

The new animation is at its best when the setting requires a high level of detail, like the Hong Kong cityscape, or when mobile suits are engaged in dynamic combat, like when Lt. Quattro and Kamille take on the Asshimar. The 1985 soundtrack is carried over, with new intro tunes performed by Gackt. Whoever was in charge of determining where the cut off points for each film should be did a phenomenal job, and the pacing throughout is darn near perfect because of this. The ending has been altered slightly to provide some more concrete wrap-ups for some of the minor characters, as well as present a slightly happier ending for the main cast. While I'm normally not much a fan of these sorts of compilation films, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation does well to cover all of the bases it needs to and deliver a successful shorthand version of the events of the 1985 anime. It might not have as much time to spend on developing the characters or plot, but it's a fun viewing experience - especially for fans of the series who want a quick and easy means for revisiting the glory days of the AEUG vs. the Titans.

My rating: 8.25 (out of 10)

New trailer for A Link to the Past Zeldamotion anime

The Zeldamotion fan project at Aeipathy Industries has released a new trailer for their animated take on the story of A Link to the Past. This version of A Link to the Past is said to be based primarily off the manga adaptation, which features a number of characters not found in the SNES game. The character designs appear to draw a lot of inspiration from the manga roots and retain a traditional anime style. But much of the footage also appears to blend that with a sort of motion comic approach. I'm already digging Todd Haberkorn's voice for Link, and I can't wait to see the full project once it is completed

Friday, July 20, 2012

Rant: The "Subs vs. Dubs" Debate

I guess I really never noticed this point of debate back when I first started watching anime on Toonami. I would come home after school, flip on the television, and indulge in Ronin Warriors, Outlaw Star, Mobile Suit Gundam: 08th MS Team, and Dragonball Z. Frankly, my friends and I were plenty content with having access to these shows to concern ourselves with the possibility of watching it in a different language. But after I began watching anime on a regular basis post-high school, I've noticed how often some people feel the need to raise a stink about the "subs vs. dubs" debate.

It honestly baffles me that some people will constantly go out of their way to whine about the choices of voice actors when the dub of an anime is announced. I notice this frequently on YouTube, as I subscribe to Funimation and they upload previews of their recently acquired anime. Generally speaking, these comments prove very silly, like "this is terrible" or "they ruined the series", and are hardly ever followed up with any legitimate explanation as to why the poster disapproves. As far as I can tell, it's a simple matter of taste.

Which brings me to my main point - if these anime fans dislike the dub so much, why do they not just buy the DVDs and change the language selection to Japanese? It takes literally five seconds to navigate a DVD menu and select another language setting. I realize that when anime first came stateside, it was released on VHS, and that meant that the language setting was generally defaulted to the English dub for ease of access. But it's the year 2012. The few anime DVDs that come stateside with only one language setting are almost always presented in Japanese with English subtitles (ala the Zeta Gundam: A New Translation films).

To all the complainers out there: quit your whining and motivate your lazy self enough to click a few buttons on the remote control. Your argument is entirely invalid, and I have a sneaking suspicion that your circle of like-minded individuals are those who will never be pleased no matter what companies like Funimation, Bandai, and Viz do with the dubbing process. I will admit there are some anime series that I can't stand watching in English because of the way the voice actors deliver their lines. But I just make the switch and avoid any unnecessary fuss about it. Please do the rest of the anime community a favor and follow suit.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wii review: No More Heroes

Travis Touchdown is a socially awkward otaku who just happens to have some serious skill wielding a beam katana. After blowing all of his money at the bar one night, he decides to take up the offer presented by Sylvia Christel to enter the United Assassin's Association. Travis has two goals in mind: become the number one ranked assassin in Santa Destroy, and get Sylvia in bed with him. After defeating Helter Skelter, Travis is qualified to challenge the remaining ten assassins, each of whom utilizes a different style of combat.

No More Heroes plays out as sort of a "greatest hits" series of boss fights. Each boss is preceded by a short level wherein Travis must take down weaker henchmen. As the game progresses, these areas become longer and the henchmen become stronger, equipping themselves with blunt objects and firearms. When it comes to the actual boss fights, though, the game does not disappoint. Some of the other assassin's use a more straightforward approach, while others utilize their environment. Some are able to use ranged attack, while others prove deadly at close-quarters. Each of the boss characters is quite well-developed and carries a strong presence - fights against Destroyman, Bad Girl, and Harvey Moiseiwitsch Volodarskii will be just as memorable as their names.

The pace does slow down in-between boss fights, as Travis must earn enough money to qualify to enter each. At first, Travis is only able to access side jobs that range from collecting coconuts to mowing lawns to picking up trash. And while those descriptions don't sound particularly enticing, the way the game utilizes the motion controls makes them mildly entertaining. The fact that each side job only lasts a brief while keeps them from getting stale too quickly.

After properly completing a side job, Travis' employer will inform him that there are assassination gigs accessible at various locales in Santa Destroy. The first few prove incredibly straightforward - either kill a specific target or take out everyone in the area. Later assassination missions will add further restrictions, like taking out a line of enemies by hitting a baseball at them with your beam katana or only using wrestling moves. The more strict the rules of an assassination mission, the more money Travis will earn. After a few times running the routine of side job-assassination mission-boss fight, it's easy to pin down a rhythm to quickly earn the required funds.

Aside from putting his money toward the next fight, Travis can visit a number of locales around Santa Destroy. At Area 51, Travis can pick up some new clothes, and at Thunder Ryu's gym he can pay for lessons to improve his physical stats. Travis can also visit the lab of Dr. Naomi, a woman who develops new models of beam katanas. Back at Travis' motel room, he can kill time playing the game-within-a-game known as Bizarre Jelly, help his overweight cat exercise, swap the models of beam katanas he has amassed, and save the game by sitting on the toilet.

The first time Travis sits down on the toilet is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this game's unique sense of style. It's chock full of humor, from references to other video games and anime, to Travis occasionally breaking the fourth wall. Character designs and environments are bright and colorful, while the soundtrack is an awesome culmination of techno, rock, chiptune, and even a few metal songs.

The motion controls are worked into nearly every nook and cranny of the experience. Swinging the Wiimote lets Travis strike with his beam katana, wiggling it back and forth will recharge it when his batteries are low, and a combination of the Wiimote and Nunchuk allows him to take down enemies with a variety of wrestling maneuvers. In the event that Travis locks swords with his opponent, a prompt will appear indicating the Wiimote be spun in a certain direction in order to gain the upper hand. When Travis reduces the health bar of one enemy to zero, a prompt will appear indicating he swing either vertically or horizontally. This attack can take out not only the main enemy being targeted, but also those nearby. Each time Travis gets a kill, a small slot machine will roll at the bottom of the screen, with a winning combo granting Travis brief use of a handful of powered-up attacks.

The Wiimote will need to be tilted from side to side in order to steer the lawnmower, and back-and-forth motions with the Wiimote and Nunchuck will help Travis exercise. Only when Travis is driving his futuristic motorcycle around town does the game suffer from less-than-spectacular controls. Sometimes the bike will boost with only a small amount of acceleration applied, and bumping into practically anything and everything will send Travis flying out of his seat. Navigating Santa Destroy is easy enough - the map is only so large. But there isn't much interesting to look at outside of the key locales.

The story does not take itself too seriously, but develops at a steady pace that allows players to gain a better understanding of who Travis Touchdown is and how his character evolves from the moment he sets out to become number one to the moment he enters the final boss fight. The side jobs are a bit lackluster, and the transition from fast and intense boss fight to slow and careful work proves a bit of an annoyance at first. That said, the boss fights are outstanding - as varied and as enjoyable as something like The Legend of Zelda series could dish out. No More Heroes is one wild ride - an incredible gaming experience that is also beautifully creative. The unique blend of action and style Suda 51 brings forth in No More Heroes leads it to be as much of a video game as it is a work of art.

My rating: 9.5 (out of 10)

Deadpool video game announced

High Moon Studios, the developers of Transformers: War for Cybertron, are making a Deadpool video game. Based on what little footage is presented in this trailer, it looks like a sort of action brawler, not unlike Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Asylum, though Deadpool is more reliant on his guns and katanas. I will need to see significantly more gameplay before I make any sort of call on whether I feel this game merits a purchase, but High Moon certainly has Deadpool's style and humor nailed down. I hope they find some creative ways to have Deadpool break the fourth wall - he was plenty entertaining in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but it would be great to see him go all out in his own game.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Anime review: Redline

JP is a racer in the Yellowline circuit, but dreams of making it big in the Redline, where the vehicles drive at ludicrous speeds and there are no rules against harming the competition. Unfortunately, his history in dealing with the mafia and his partner Frisbee's constantly sabotaging JP's chances make that opportunity seem out of his reach. That is, until two racers who qualified for the Redline race drop out due to its being held on the hostile planet of Roboworld. JP seizes this window of opportunity and decks out his Trans-Am 2000 with an all new engine and extra turbo in hopes of beating the competition - most of whom drive much newer and seemingly more capable vehicles.

Redline comes from Mad House, and is a very visually pleasing film. The art style is heavily stylized, with character and environment designs appearing to hold some level of inspiration from American comic books. The ridiculous-yet-awesome race scenarios and vehicle designs, as well as the entire premise of Redline are something of a hybrid of Speed Racer and F-Zero. Each vehicle and driver takes to the track with a different tactic in mind, while the inhabitants of the alien worlds seem deeply invested in this dangerous sport. The soundtrack is super catchy and pretty kickin' throughout, even if there are only a handful of tunes, most of which are repeated at least once before the film's end.

The first half of Redline behaves similar to Star Wars: A New Hope in the sense that it balances the duties of focusing on the story while building this alien universe around it. There are a few vulgarities early on, and a couple nasty crashes, but by and large, it seems like an action-packed film for all ages. But when the second half rolls around, it takes on a much grittier and more adult tone. The film only runs a little over an hour and a half, and the shift to brief nudity, a handful of sexual references, and a few more swear words is both sudden and clunky.

Also with regards to the length of the film, Redline feels like it could spare to be much longer. JP's backstory is covered fairly well - we find out everything that we need to about his history racing and dealing with the mafia before the story's conclusion. But there is a lot of time spent covering the Roboworld government trying to stop the race from being held on their home planet. What should have been a mildly interesting subplot becomes the centerpiece for a large portion of the movie and draws away from the action. The fact that there are only two full-on race scenes in the entire film does not aid this.

Redline is a quick and easy watch. To be honest, it is a very visually entertaining experience. As far as the story is concerned, it does a decent job of staying self-contained. By the time the credits roll, all of the questions that need answering are, though there isn't any time spent on a wrap-up and the last few lines of dialogue are quite cliché. Redline is missing enough content to keep it at the level of "good", restraining it from getting anywhere near "great".

My rating: 7.25 (out of 10)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Anime update: The Dollars

I mentioned back in April that my anime lineup for this summer was going to be rather free-form in comparison to the video games I planned to play and review. And that has certainly proven true thus far. Cowboy Bebop was a relatively quick watch and a fun one at that, while Durarara!! was a sort of spur-of-the-moment choice that has proven thoroughly entertaining thus far. I only have six episodes of Durarara!! left to watch, so I will certainly have that series reviewed before the end of the month. Also, I watched Redline this afternoon, and should have my review for that posted sometime this weekend.

I stated in my summer anime forecast that I had plans to continue viewing Victory Gundam. This still holds true, though it may be pushed back to Autumn in favor of my completing Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. At the very latest, I hope to have FMA: Brotherhood completed and reviewed before the end of August. Sometime shortly thereafter, I will review Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos.

There are still a few series/films floating in the mix, including the Iron Man anime and Tekkon Kinkreet. Also, despite my early impressions that I would probably drop Deadman Wonderland, I will continue to support Toonami by viewing both it and Casshern Sins in their entirety. I love Casshern Sins, and even though Deadman Wonderland isn't quite my cup of tea, I think it is good for me to broaden my horizons a bit.

I recently saw a trailer for Funimation's re-release of Serial Experiments Lain and it looks wicked awesome - trippy as anything, but a very interesting concept. I got the same sort of vibe from it that I got the first time I watch Neon Genesis Evangelion. I know not everyone is a fan of anime that messes with your head, but I am. So I will certainly be looking into that one some more, and possibly buying the DVDs when they release. Ghost Hound looked interesting - I'll have to check out a few episodes to test those waters. Also, my purchasing season three of Sgt. Frog is merely a matter of time. I do love that show - easily one of the funniest series I've ever watched.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Anime adaptation of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past in the works

Today, Zelda Dungeon informed us that there is a Legend of Zelda anime in the works. Reportedly, it will be based off the manga adaptation of A Link to the Past, and Vic Mignogna and Todd Haberkorn are listed as two of the voice actors. Though it's not necessarily my favorite entry in the series, A Link to the Past is a great adventure game and the manga adaptation was a very fun read. It will be interesting to see how this all pans out - how much Link will talk throughout the anime, how involved the character of Ghanti will be, and how many episodes the series will last.

If I had to take a guess, I would assume it would be an OVA, along the lines of six to ten episodes. That way they have plenty of time to cover everything in the manga version, while amping up the boss fights and dungeon exploration scenes. With any luck, this may open the door to other Zelda games/manga getting their own anime adaptations. I'm sure an anime version of Ocarina of Time would draw in tons of fans, while Wind Waker and Skyward Sword's stories and artistic directions would make for exciting viewing experiences. And if this goes exceedingly well, perhaps Nintendo would consider anime adaptations of some of their other franchises. I absolutely loved the short Metroid Prime comic series that was tied to the first Prime game, and I think that could make a great anime series too.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

DS review: Final Fantasy IV

Originally released in 1991 and first known stateside as Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy IV played a key role in setting the popular RPG series on the road to stardom, bringing a number of important gameplay mechanics and story elements into play that would heavily influence future Final Fantasy titles. As part of Square Enix's celebration of the series' twentieth anniversary, Final Fantasy IV saw a complete overhaul for a re-release on the DS. What resulted is a handheld version that feels fresh and up-to-date with current RPGs, but still retains its 1990s roots.

The story of Final Fantasy IV sticks close to the classic medieval fantasy origins of the RPG genre. It follows the story of the dark knight Cecil as he uncovers a plot by Golbez, who plans to steal all the crystals in the land and place both king and country under his influence. Upon witnessing the terror and destruction that Golbez's forces are capable of, Cecil questions his own motives for defending the country he formerly believed to be of pure intent. During his journey of re-discovering who he is and what he stands for, Cecil carries on a friendship/rivalry with his fellow knight Kain Highwind, has romantic ties with Rosa, and even becomes something of an adoptive elder brother to Rydia of the Mist. A host of other characters also join the fight against Golbez, including tough-as-nails engineer Cid, cocky ninja Edge, calm and collected monk warrior Yang, old sage Tellah, brother and sister duo Palom and Porom, and the rather effeminate bard Edward.

During the first half of the game, members of the party will frequently swap in and out due to scripted events. It can be a bit frustrating at times, when you have finally gotten used to the combat style of a certain character, only to have them suddenly whisked away. But the primary reason for this is to familiarize you with the many different approaches to combat. The game takes its time with each one to make certain you are fully confident in your abilities going forth. It may sound like hand-holding, but it is something that should be much appreciated when things heat up during the second half of the game.

Even though there are quite a few characters that accompany Cecil during his travels, Kain, Rosa, Rydia are easily the most important to the main story. That said, the rest of the cast proves genuinely entertaining, with Edward being the only character that falls a bit flat in comparison to the rest. Edward's confrontation with Tellah adds a bit of conflict to the story, but as a whole he seems a less-than-necessary inclusion. There are a number of melodramatic moments that pop up as the story unfolds, and a few lines do seem a tad cheesy. But by and large, the experience is quite enjoyable as a classic fantasy tale.

Each dungeon and cave holds a varying number of treasures and items that can be added to your inventory. These include useable items like potions and phoenix downs, valuables that can be sold, and weapons. While early weapons obviously won't be as strong as those picked up later on, there is a nice amount of customization allowed. While some weapons may have comparable offensive and defensive stats, they may also be ascribed elemental powers. For example, one of Kain's lances may have a strong offense stat, while another might be slightly weaker but capable of dealing out fire attacks. Such weapons can prove invaluable in certain environments that are crawling with element-specific enemies.

The combat system is a combination of sorts between turn-based and real-time. While each character must recharge their ATB gauge before they are allowed to attack, the battle will continue on whether you have instructed your party members to carry out any moves or not. It forces you to stay on your toes with each encounter, making some of the boss fights intense. It's possibly the best combat system in the entire Final Fantasy series, as well as one of the best in any JRPG.

There are times where the trial-and-error method will see successive uses as you come across seemingly impossible boss encounters. Most of these moments do not come into play until the second half of the game, though there are more than just a few of them. But what might seem initially frustrating to the point where you are prepared to toss your DS across the room are actually cleverly designed gameplay elements retained from the original release - from a time when game strategies were not readily available online. In that respect, this version of Final Fantasy IV, just like the original, caters to gamers of the late 1980s/early 1990s.

There is an optional side-quest tied to each dungeon area. If you explore every inch of a floor and complete the map, you will be rewarded with items like potions or phoenix down. Also, most dungeons will include at least one (if not multiple) areas set aside for the party to set up a tent and rest to recharge both their health and magic. A few of the towns will include hidden treasures, but for the most part, these areas serve as pit stops for you to stock up on supplies and rest before the next leg of the journey.

The soundtrack has been beautifully remastered for the DS release. It capture the classic fantasy essence perfectly. Though many of the tunes may not be as boisterous or as complex of compositions as those in later Final Fantasy titles, Final Fantasy IV's soundtrack is still a fantastic accompaniment to the adventure. The artistic approach is divided between two styles. While the introductory cutscene depicts each and every character as gorgeously-rendered and highly-detailed, their in-game counterparts are somewhat cartoony; almost chibi style. It's an odd combination, to be sure, but after a while the distinction wears off and the in-game models become endearing.

Final Fantasy IV isn't terribly long when compared to other games in the series. One playthrough will last roughly twenty to thirty hours, depending on how much time is spent exploring the caves and dungeons. But it is a great experience from start to finish. The characters are charming, the atmosphere sublime, and the combat as close to perfect as any RPG could hope to get. Final Fantasy IV has quickly climbed the ranks to become one of my favorite handheld games of all time.

My rating: 9.25 (out of 10)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Release date for Pokémon Black Version 2 and White Version 2

Pokémon Black Version 2 and White Version 2 now have an official North American release date - October 7th, 2012. Below is the first English trailer for the sequel games. It basically shows off the same footage that the early Japanese trailers did, and it isn't very long. But frankly, I'm just happy that we finally know when these two games are coming out, because I loved playing through White version.

Anime review: Cowboy Bebop

Among the classic anime I set out to watch over the course of 2012 was Cowboy Bebop. For me, it ranked as one of the most important anime to watch over the summer months. I had seen a handful of episodes on Adult Swim, but never back-to-back, and never in the proper order. Eagerly, I journeyed across the stars in the company of Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed, and Ein as they sought one bounty after another.

For those unfamiliar with Cowboy Bebop, the story begins with Spike and Jet as they chase after bounties across the galaxy. The story begins in the moment, and is very action packed during the first few episodes. During this time, they meet Faye and Ein (a sassy femme fatale and energetic Corgi respectively), both of whom ultimately join Spike and Jet to help build a stronger presence in the interstellar bounty hunter ring. Later on, the quirky and often comedic Ed boards their ship, the Bebop, lending her skills with computers to their cause.

The crew behaves as a sort of dysfunctional family - Spike and Jet are initially opposed to taking on any long-term passengers, while Faye frequently ignores their suggestions, and Ed will perform a few last-minute rescues. But their rag-tag nature is what makes them so lovable. As the series progresses, more and more of each character's past is gradually revealed, and the better part of the second half of the series is spent juggling these backstories until each one comes full-circle. To that end, Cowboy Bebop does a magnificent job of balancing the stylish action scenes with honest and human stories.

There is a different vision at play with each planet. Some are dusty wild west-style towns, others are highly industrial complexes, and one of the stops the Bebop makes is at a massive casino space station. The soundtrack is heavy on jazz music, from more traditional saxophone and trumpet pieces to experimental ones. But perhaps the best tunes come from other genres – tribal drums, electric guitar riffs, and chanting choirs accompany some of the most memorable and emotional moments of the show. All of this perpetuates the unique style Cowboy Bebop sets out to create. It is simply one of the most entertaining space operas to indulge in.

The animation is solid for its time. The last few episodes take a noticeable step up from the rest. Occasionally, some 3D models will be thrown into the traditionally animated environments. The way they are rendered makes them look a bit aged, but nowhere near as out-of-place as in something like Blue Submarine No. 6.

On the topic of those last few episodes, the two-part finale carries a much darker and more serious tone to it than all of the preceding ones. To a degree, it makes sense, as it serves to wrap up a tale that has been weaving in and out of the series since the beginning. But the fact that it is the only part of the series that is crafted in such a manner leads it to feel a little rough and lacking the signature Bebop style. There is also a subplot that comes to fruition in a most disappointing manner therein.

While there are only a few recurring characters outside of the main cast, each is fleshed out fairly well. Those that only show up for a single episode are generally quite memorable, whether it is because they are a hardened freight runner, an overweight mushroom salesman, or a goofball cowboy caricature. Still, the heart of the story belongs with the five main characters, and the creators of Cowboy Bebop should be commended for creating such a perfect group – especially since one of them only ever barks. Whether it is an action fix you’re after or a well-scripted story, Cowboy Bebop should satisfy both.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

3DS review: Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition

After the positive reception Super Street Fighter IV received after its console releases, Capcom re-released it for Nintendo’s 3DS, with a few tweaks here and there. Surprisingly, the 3DS is quickly becoming a welcome home to many a handheld fighting game, and having thoroughly enjoyed Super Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition, I figured this was the next logical entry to take a crack at.

From the moment you fire up Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, all thirty-five playable characters are available for use. A wide variety of play styles is accounted for, and every player should be able to find at someone that fits their specific approach to combat. The downside to this is that it significantly reduces the replay value. Were there a handful of characters that needed to be unlocked before use, it would have expanded the gaming experience substantially, but there is only so much that can be drawn from character stories that are comprised of two cutscenes a piece and a trophy collection.

The main arcade mode follows each character’s individual involvement with S.I.N. and Shadaloo, though the majority of the experience is spent in combat. This allows for the arcade experience to move along at a nice pace. The final boss fight against Seth feels both challenging a balanced – a step in the right direction after Third Strike’s lopsided final fight against Gil. Five levels of difficulty are available, and the graduation from one to the next feels consistent and fair. Players can also pick up single matches, either against a CPU or online against another player. The car crushing and barrel smashing minigames are available for play at any time, while a series of challenges can be accessed to hone each character’s individual moves.

The 3D effect is used in two different ways. While viewing in the standard side-scrolling fighter mode, the depth perception increases, better defining the distance between the fighters, the backdrop, and any environmental objects. Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition also allows players to play a match in an over-the-shoulder mode meant to create a more cinematic approach to the fight. While it is an interesting idea, the standard tried-and-true camera angle proves more practical and convenient.

Overall, the game looks quite nice. The level of detail is obviously downgraded from the console versions of Super Street Fighter IV, but the colorful comic book-style character models and their fluid motions make the visuals very smooth. None of the environmental objects move, but backgrounds are decorated with a range of spectators, brightly colored cars, and solid lighting effects. The soundtrack is catchy and presents a variety of musical styles, though it is not as bold and experimental as Third Strike’s.

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition presents a fun handheld fighting experience. It is easy to jump into, though increasing the difficulty setting will be sure to please veterans of the series. Though the replay factor is somewhat lacking and the number of gameplay modes pretty standard, it is impressive that Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition runs so smoothly on a handheld.

My rating: 8 (out of 10)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...