Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How To Train Your Dragon & First Impression of the 3D Gimmick

Yesterday, I went along with several classmates to watch what turned out to be a fantastic movie:  How To Train Your Dragon.  We got into the cinema as soon as we could and got decent seats, and I was among the group that went to see the movie in 3D; another group of classmates saw an earlier, 2D showing.  This was the first time I had seen a movie in 3D, but I'll get to my feelings on that later.  For now, a review.
Let's start with what was initially the only thing that caught my interest about the movie, voice talent.  In particular, Craig Ferguson playing a role gave me a decent reason to see the film.  The main protagonist, Hiccup, also had a very amusing vocal performance.  Admittedly, I've never heard of Jay Baruchel before just now looking up who Hiccup's voice belongs to.  Regardless, he performed brilliantly in the lead role of this flick.
Gerard Butler also gave a great performance as Stoick, Hiccup's definition-of-the-viking-way father.
The animation was very well-done, which has quickly become common-place in Dream Works' animated films.  The dragons in particular are exceptionally detailed, though a few aspects of the overall aesthetics didn't sit all that well with me.  I've always been a bit stubborn about how I feel dragons should look, but this enters an area too biased for reviewing purposes.  Aside from details on the models, the actual animation part of the animation was also pretty spectacular.  The people all have personalities well-distinguished in their body language and the different species of dragons show this as well.
Toothless, in particular, has a very clear and lovable personality that shows perfectly despite the character being unable to speak (being a dragon).  As a side-note, Toothless' personality connected the movie to me on a pretty personal level due to how cat-like the dragon acted; I have a cat of my own and I deeply care about him.  Hiccup's interactions with Toothless were quick to remind me of my own experiences.
What should probably get the most credit is the story's ability to make you really care about the characters, something you might not even realize until it comes to the slight 'tear-jerker' moments.  I can't say I found any part to be really depressing but I found myself choked a couple of times.
Looking at the story overall, it's pretty great.  The plot's only downfall, and in fact the only real fault I can find with the movie, is the occasionally awkward presentation.  Two noticeable scenes come to mind; both of these ended very abruptly and leave several questions as to what would've happened immediately following them.  In other words, there are two pretty prominent cases of "Why did that scene end there?".  Other than those, a few plot details are overstated and/or feel just a little drawn-out.  Hiccup's relationship with Toothless takes a surprisingly long time to fully develop, which isn't really a bad thing considering factors like Hiccup's upbringing but it still might make viewers a bit overanxious.

That looks to be all I have to say about the film.  See it.  Also, I recommend seeing it, and other films, in 2D.  Let's take a look at why I say that.

As mentioned above, How To Train Your Dragon is the first movie I ever watched in 3D.  Now having experienced the new only real impression of it is that it's simply a bad gimmick.
To get a personal matter out of the way, I wear glasses which I need to see anything distant properly.  My sight is functional without them to the point that I can get around no problem, but small details are effectively nonexistent.  Simply put, the movie would've looked like crap if I didn't wear my prescription glasses as well as the 3D glasses over top of them.  Wearing both pairs resulted in some very noticeable stress on my eyes, so much so that I occasionally just had to look down and really clam my eyelids closed for a couple seconds.
As for a more universal issue I take with the gimmick; the edge of the screen indefinitely ruins the illusion.  Yes, things do appear truly closer and further away...before you notice that all of it cuts off at the exact same spot in your field of vision.  Because of this, the gimmick ironically made me far more aware that I was just watching a movie (ironic because it's so often pushed as being able to "bring you into the movie").  There's really nothing else that needs to be said, if a gimmick is to succeed it needs to actually be effective and not be counterproductive to the experience.
Suffice to say, I'll be sticking to seeing movies in 2D from now on.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Just a small update today.  My school year is nearing it's end so things are winding down a bit.  There's still large products to take care of but the bits in-between are a bit less thick with other work.
The weekend turned up a couple things I had been waiting for: Seasons 1-3 of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! and S.H. Figuarts Dragon Ball Kai Piccolo figure.
As of yesterday, I caught Lugia in Pokémon Soul Silver and made my way to Indigo Plateau.  In other words, I'm a bit past the halfway mark (since the Kanto league doesn't take quite as long as Johto, if it's anything like the original Gold/Silver/Crystal that is) and can hopefully have a review relatively soon.
And that's all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth Review

One game down, three to go.

Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth

Before I delve into discussing the game, I want to take a moment to focus on the mouthful of a title.  In Japan, the game was released under the title Miles Edgeworth: Perfect Prosecutor, or something along those lines.   I personally wish this change wasn't made as the original title makes considerably more sense.  Edgeworth is a prosecutor and not a defense attorney, the use of two words beginning with the same letter ('P' in this case) was a nice way of tying it with the Ace Attorney series, and the North American title is just too freaking long.  I think it's fair to assume the name change was made to ensure people knew that it was relevant to the Phoenix Wright games but I just don't think it was necessary; anyone who's played a Phoenix Wright title is fully aware of who Edgeworth is so his name in the title alone makes the connection clear.
On to the review:  I should make clear that it's hard to review a game like this based on gameplay mechanics, which goes against how I feel games should be evaluated but for this series I'll make the exception.  The way the game plays is effectively the same as all the others with a few noticeable but not very large changes.
The biggest change is that the game is no longer purely a point-and-click adventure and incorporates a little bit of third-person gameplay.  There's not much to say about it, you visibly traverse areas of the investigation rather than selecting where you want to go from a list.  It's not really more or less fun than the previous method, it's just different.
Also among the new, none of the game is placed within a trial.  In this case, you take on the role of both detective AND prosecutor; thoroughly examining scenes, gathering evidence, and performing your cross-examination/rebuttal on witness testimonies.  The mechanics of the dialogue-oriented areas of play are absolutely identical to the original Phoenix Wright title, right down to removing the ability to present profiles as evidence oddly enough.
Visuals is another area of more-of-the-same, which isn't really a bad thing but it's come to be very noticeable after the handful of titles that have already come out.  All characters have very unique designs, most being quite interesting.  Environments have plenty of detail though nothing in the generic scenery really makes much of an impression.  One complaint I can give on the graphics comes in the final case of the game.  A sprite for a wooden cart that becomes a significant part of the case, is drawn with absolutely no perspective.  In a semi-top-down game, this is a glaring flaw as it makes the cart appear not only paper-thin but as if it's constantly 'standing' on an angle.  As for the characters' sprites (not referring to their conversation portraits but rather how they appear during investigation gameplay) they're well done with plenty of nice little animations for each personality.
Last but not least: Story.  This is where the focus of the review comes.  I'm a fan of the Ace Attorney series because I highly enjoy mystery stories and the series never disappoints in delivering them.
Each case in the game is very well-constructed, having you scratching your head as you progress and hitting the oh-so-wonderful adrenaline rushes each time you figure something out.  And, of course, the witty dialogue that's carried the charm of the entire series is here too.
The game makes occasional references to other titles in the series as well, though not in a way that would force players to know what they're talking about.  However, I've not played Trials and Tribulations in ages so I was left in the dark for one reference.  It's also interesting to note that Phoenix himself never makes an appearance or is outright mentioned, but he gets his fair share of references anyway.
In the end, I can only think of a few things to say.  Certainly, this is not a game for everyone.  There are people who will be turned off by the extremely heavy dialogue which is pretty much the entire game.  Nonetheless, fans of the series and mysteries in general should have a look at this title.  The characters are fun, the stories are enjoyably intricate and the whole experience is right at home in the Ace Attorney series. Just don't expect it to be a revolutionary title.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Games Games Games

I've suddenly found myself in very deep with things.  Homework is part of it but, thankfully, it's not a large part this time!  Instead, I'm buried with games.
As I already announced in my last post, I now own both Pokémon Soul Silver and Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth.  Just today, I found myself getting yet another game regardless that I have yet to finish either of the other two.  Today I purchased Red Steel 2, and with confidence having seen GameTrailers review of it.
So far, I have 5 badges in Soul Silver, putting me about half way through the Johto League; which puts me, I guess, just under a third of the way through the game.  In Ace Attorney, I am very close to the end, so that will likely be the first of the three games I finish.
As for Red Steel 2, I've only played the first hour of the game.  Not being able to say much of the game as a whole, I'll give a quick slant on what little I've experienced.  The controls are good, which alone is a vast improvement over the first title.  The game's difficulty is a bit concerning so far.  I'm playing on the medium level (there being Easy, Medium and Ninja-level difficulties; Ninja of course game me a laugh) and I seem to only be encountering very easy endeavours.  If the jump between Medium and Hard (Ninja) is as big as it was in No More Heroes 2, then maybe there's hope I'll get to play a more satisfying experience when I come to that.
Something that I liked about Red Steel 2 right from the first teaser trailer was the appearance.  The rendering, the art-direction, the bright colours and very slick look pretty much come right from Wind Waker, which is a good thing.  Obviously the characters don't take on the toon-proportioning of Wind Waker's cast, it still manages to look very awesome.  The textures are incredibly crisp and clean, done in a way that meshes perfectly with the cell-shading.  The cell-shading itself is beautifully vivid, with nice thick colours and the perfect contrast for the shade tones.  The only gripe I have so far is every environment looks incredibly similar to the point that I'm having déja vu at only 60 minutes in.

I do plan on reviewing each title as I finish them, but for now, I haven't finished any and will hold off on any thorough opinions.
Hmm...I just remembered about Mega Man 10 as I was typing...I remain having not conquered the Wily Stages, though not for lack of trying.  I fear this one may fade into the background as I play the other 3.  Still, I'll do what I can to make sure I see to the end of it soon enough.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March Break is Serious Business

Well, my week-long break from college is now at an end.  I definitely can't say it was wasted as I knocked out a fair amount of work on certain projects during.
This week has taught me that boredom from a lack of internet can lead to making several media purchases in order to fill the void.  In other words, March Break ended up somewhat expensive for me.
-2 Dragon Ball Z Double Feature packs (movies 1-4)
-Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth - yes, I finally got it.  I'm pretty far into it as well so hopefully a review is well on its way
-Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
-Pokémon Soul Silver - technically I paid for this before the break, but it showed up at my (parents') house on Tuesday
-The Princess & The Frog (on Blu-ray)

Unfortunately, two packages I had hoped would arrive during the break did not.  Both are items I've mentioned in the previous post: Seasons 1-3 Boxset of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! and the S.H. Figuarts Dragon Ball Kai Piccolo figure.
The Piccolo toy I figured would show up later but the boxset had an expected delivery date of this past Monday, so it's a little annoying that it didn't show up at all.
Anyway, this leaves me with several items to give my slant on so we'll see what I can whip up for posts in the coming days.  See ya.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Upcoming Awesome March Break and Some Good News to Kick it Off With

So, my March Break (Spring Break, depending on your location) is this coming week and it's shaping up to be pretty damn good.  Pokemon Soul Silver should arrive sometime during, if not then shortly after.  I've also got a box set of Seasons 1-3 of Penn & Teller's Bullshit on the way which is likely to arrive on Monday if it hasn't already shown up (still in Windsor at the moment and the shipping address is my home in Chatham).  Finally, I've also ordered an S. H. Figuarts Piccolo figure; it's a toy from the Dragon Ball Kai line-up of the Figuarts brand.
Just a few moments ago I went to Amazon to check on my orders and started browsing around.  I discovered that Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid: Other M now have release dates set, both of which are much earlier than I had expected.
Mario Galaxy 2 is currently set for release on the 23rd of May, with Metroid: Other M being just over a month later on June 27th.  As I said, much earlier than I had previously guessed considering I had expected them to be coming out sometime around the holidays.
Perhaps this bodes well for different big-name Nintendo releases closer to the year's end.  *cough*Zelda Wii*cough* (please?)

Regardless, my break has effectively started and it's kicked off with some great news.
And I'm out.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hi, uh, God? Could you go ahead and add an extra day to the weekend where I can do all my homework?

Still excited for the games I need to get around to.  I've reached the Wily stages in Mega Man 10 so it shouldn't be long before I complete it.  I may or may not review it.  I'm not entirely sure how I would go about it since it's through and through a formula that has existed for over 20 years now.  Said formula just happened to be timeless.  Nonetheless, I'll give it a shot when I finish the game.
I spent the last couple hours on GameTrailers and YouTube looking at videos for Transformers: War For Cybertron, Red Steel 2, and God of War III.
Transformers hasn't seemed to hit me yet.  Being as much of a fan of the franchise as I am, I feel like I should be more excited especially since it looks like it just may be a great game...but I guess the fact that it's still a couple months off has me calm about it.
I watched GameTrailers' review of God of War III and, in spite of their high rating, I'm skeptical of it after certain issues they noted in the review.  Anyone reading should take note that I've only very briefly played one of the God of War games...and I don't even remember which of the PS2 titles it was, so there may be fans of the franchise who could comment against my skepticism.
The review noted that there's a very fixed linear path, which I don't have a huge issue with (linear games tend to be quite awesome when done properly) but the linear path combined with the use of new-found items/abilities to backtrack and travel different paths is what I find odd.  The concept of having these two mechanics together seems like the game wants to limit your exploration and yet focus on exploration at the same time.
Aside from that, the fixed camera is another concern.  A 3D action adventure game with a fixed camera is just...a bad idea.  Nonetheless, the overall scale of the more cinematic areas of the game (namely the boss fights) is just breathtaking.
Onto Red Steel 2...still very excited.  It definitely seems to trump its predecessor, though a lot of games do that.  Nonetheless, the art direction is beyond gorgeous from what I've seen and having seen several features on it from different sources (GameTrailers, YouTube, X-Play) I'm confident it'll be a very enjoyable experience.

Speaking of Red Steel 2:  I know it's unhealthy for the brain but I found myself reading comments on GameTrailers on some of the Red Steel 2 videos.  Red Steel 2 has absolutely no blood or gore to it.  There seemed to be a fair handful of people who took serious issue with that.  Personally, I don't really get it.  Honestly, it never even crossed my mind while watching the videos; realism is significantly low on the list of things I look for in a game.  If I ever needed proof that gore has been nothing more than a gimmick to sell games, I'd look no further than Mortal Kombat.  Admittedly, gore can be a guilty pleasure, particularly in tongue-in-cheek games like MadWorld and No More Heroes.  However, Mortal Kombat always attempted to be serious and, in its time of initial release, shoehorned its graphically violent nature as its largest selling point.  It worked way back then...but now there's more than enough blood and gore in video games that I figured people were able to judge games by something of more substance.  Those who have been able to have likely long since realized that Mortal Kombat is probably among the worst series in the area of popularized fighting titles.  None of the mechanics in the series are akin to what you would expect from a good fighting game.
Cruel a sentiment as it may be, at least Midway Game's bankruptcy indicates there's some hope.

Random Thought:  Another good example of blood being used for a selling point, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.  The game received a T rating and one of the reasons cited was 'animated blood'.  I have seen through this game 3 times now (played it through twice, watched my brother play it through once) and can confirm that there's absolutely no blood in it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Outdated Reviews #2: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

So, not wanting to go too long without a post, I've settled on something to talk about.  Zelda Wind Waker was a game that I, like many, was originally very skeptical of but remains to this day one of my most notable gaming experiences.  Zelda has a very tried-and-true method of development but Wind Waker introduced several little new things; some good, some definitely bad.  The change that caused the most initial controversy was the move to cel-shaded, cartoon-proportioned graphics; something I was firmly against in my 12-13-year-old state in the time leading up to release.  Nonetheless, I loved the game through and through when I first played it.
I recently completed my third run through the game, my first in the last 6 years (as I've mentioned in the past) and feel like I have a much more critical, yet still loving, view of the experience.  To get the issue out of the way, though it doesn't really seem to be an issue with anyone anymore, the cel-shaded graphics were a stylistic choice that worked very well and just looked plain awesome, realism aside.  By the time you reach the second dungeon, it starts to become very apparent why this style was chosen.  Several aspects of the gameplay, namely the use of a giant leaf (Deku Leaf) as a gliding parachute, are quirky and lighthearted and it's very hard to imagine these things taking place in a more realistic world.  Visually, nothing seems to fall short within the style; that is, pretty much everything in the game looks like how you would expect it to within the look and feel of the game, in spite of the technical limitations that come with being on a game console.  To put it simply, there's no room for complaints about the quality of the graphics; they're beautiful.
Looking at past (Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask) and future (Twilight Princess) 3D Zelda titles in the time of Wind Waker's release, the formula for the gameplay mechanics has remained fairly unchanged.  You're given three buttons (X, Y, Z) to assign tools to, A is saved for universal actions (talking, reading, rolling, etc.), and B operates the sword.  So the game is very familiar to those who played the N64 titles.  While the interface is very much the same, there are some interesting new tools to use introduced in Wind Waker.
The first main dungeon tool you get is the Grappling Hook, which isn't an entirely unique departure from items in previous games but it proves useful and a fun gadget to mess around with.  Next among the major tools you acquire is the aforementioned Deku Leaf.  This one is completely unique both being totally new to the series and thus far existing exclusively in The Wind Waker.  As I said, it is a giant leaf that's used as a parachute of sorts to glide through the air.  It also serves a second purpose; when on the ground, using the Deku Leaf will result in Link flapping it causing a fast gust of air to shoot forward.  Both of these functions are used pretty frequently in the game to solve puzzles both in and out of dungeons.
I'll leave later tools to discover for those who have yet to play the title; though the remainder of the arsenal is mostly taken from previous titles (at the moment, I can't think of any other newly introduced tools).
Something that's more or less standard for Zelda titles, right from the beginning, is the usage of magical instruments.  The Wind Waker is no exception, in this case using the titular item...The Wind Waker, a magical conductor's baton that can control the direction of the wind; among other things.  Like the Grappling Hook, the Wind Waker doesn't introduce anything thoroughly unique to the series but proves fun to use and extremely useful upon learning the Ballad of Gales; a song that let's you warp to places of high significance across the all-too-great Great Sea (the world of The Wind Waker).
That said, now would be a good time to focus on one big issue with the game:  The size of the overworld.  Large worlds are always welcome but they should have the features and tasks necessary to fill that space.  Playing through The Wind Waker, several times you'll find yourself traveling from point A to point B, a distance that could take a good few minutes to cover, with literally nothing to do.  The distance between every bit of land is simply too large.  The game would have greatly benefited from either having a smaller overworld or just having some small islands here and there to cover up some of the gaps; preferably islands with at least some rupees on them to find.
Something to note in terms of the game's somewhat apparent lack of content (in some ways) is that during development, two more dungeons were planned than the amount that were present in the final product.  This becomes awkwardly apparent when acquiring the third Goddess Pearl, the three relics required before obtaining the Master Sword (a la the Spiritual Stones of Ocarina of Time), which is simply given to you when you find and talk to a certain character.
Less apparent as a replacement for one of the scrapped dungeons, though I'd confidently wager that's what it is, is the late-game scavenger hunt for the Triforce of Courage.  In homage to the original Legend of Zelda, the Triforce of Courage (note it was the Triforce of Wisdom in the original game) is split into eight shards that you must find.  This is probably the worst endeavor of the entire adventure to experience and the most blatant and shameful length-padding I feel I've ever seen.
The shards themselves are scattered among the Great Sea, which already sets off the Annoying Alarm, and you must fish for them using the Grappling Hook, which becomes a salvage arm when used while boating.  What makes this take so long is that before you can find the shards, you have to find the charts that show where they are in the sea.  And after you find the charts, you have to decipher each one individually by paying Tingle the ludicrous amount of 398 rupees.
I'd have no problem with this part of the game if the Triforce Charts were replaced simply by the shards themselves.  You have to go through a mini-dungeon of sorts for a few of the charts anyway and forcing the player to fish for the shards feels like so much wasted time.  Not to mention, swapping the Triforce Charts with the shards would eliminate the need for Tingle to be in the game.  I have yet to find anyone who can explain why Tingle stills exists in the Zelda universe, nobody likes him.
I suppose it's unfair not to mention the Tingle Tuner which allows a second player to join the game with a Gameboy Advance hooked to the Gamecube console.  The tuner does have a few uses but none are necessary.  I like it, would not like to see it go, but it could have simply had a different name and design and be obtained from a different character.
Well, there's not too much left to say now.  I should note that for the most part, the dungeons are excellently executed with the tricky puzzles and interesting themes that one would expect from a Zelda game and then some.  Bosses, while far on the easy side in the case of most of them, are pretty interesting as well.

I think we can wrap things up now:
1.  Beautiful game
2.  Familiar, timeless control scheme
3.  Some new introductions to the series
4.  Oversized overworld
5.  Annoying *mandatory* fishing quest
6.  Great dungeons
7.  Very easy bosses

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is a game I highly recommend to those who haven't played the 2003 title, but I recommend it with an asterisk; an asterisk noting points 4 and 5.  Sad to say, the final dungeon of the game is probably not really worth putting up with fishing for the Triforce Shards, but nearly everything leading up to that is a must-play.

Monday, March 1, 2010

...and Even More Ramblings

Well, I have given up actively searching for Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, on the grounds that it's either sold out at every major retailer in my immediate area...or it's invisible.  Either way, it's too much of a headache to try to find.  For the time being, it will be a buy on sight if I happen to find it during an unrelated trip, but no more trips specifically to look for it.
The universal hype/excitement around the Olympics has irked me a little more than previous years.  I don't care about nation-based pride at all and I'm mostly indifferent to televised sports.  Usually, this means I just don't pay attention to the Olympics but it's been very hard this year being in Canada and all.  I found myself watching (ish) the final hockey game on the weekend with a friend and am still perplexed at the use of the term 'national hero'.  It's an accomplishment, sure, a big one too.  But I don't see what about winning that game made Crosby a national hero.  I mean, beyond bragging rights (and a medal), what does that really give the nation?  It's not like it advances our quality of living; something that, if a single person did accomplish, would most definitely be worthy of the term 'national hero'.  I know it's just rambling but, hey, look at the title of the post.  My point (I guess) is that a 'national hero' would be someone who did something heroic that thoroughly benefited the nation.  Winning that gold medal benefits the nation as far as the benefit of having that gold medal is worth.  Which is a lot in terms of pride for some people, but:
"Circumstances of birth should not be a source of pride" - Penn Jilette, George Carlin, etc.
I am happy to be a Canadian but not proud.  Being proud of something you had no sentient hand in accomplishing can lead to a dangerously large ego (i.e. bragging about something that you didn't have to do anything for).  I save my pride for accomplishments I set out for and consciously make.
Admittedly this is probably way more thought to the comment than the announcer himself (I don't know his name) probably gave to it.  I'm not trying to call him stupid as it was likely just something said on the spot to give impact and interest...but sometimes I get severe bouts of OCD and get carried away in my thoughts.

Ehh...I should be doing homework right now.  See ya.