Thursday, November 10, 2011

They are doing it again.

Not long ago I posted an article about how I can't stand when a Company tells me I must buy Product X for Product Z to come out.  It seems to happen in the gaming industry all the time.

Although, my predictions in that article of Nintendo of America releasing Last Story and Xenoblades in the states as an inevitability have yet to come true, it doesn't change my point in the article.

The latest offender is Ubisoft in an interview: here.

To sum it up, they are telling me to buy Rayman Origins if I want any hope in seeing Beyond Good and Evil 2.

Here is my problem.  I love Beyond Good and Evil.  I hate Rayman.

Maybe hate is too strong a word.  Indifferent perhaps is better.  Lord knows I've tried to get into Rayman.  I love BG and E so much it was impossible for me not to give the franchise a shot, but after attempting every game I just can't do it.  And I am one who is all about characters with no joints.  You remember Vectorman?  What a guy.

But Rayman just doesn't appeal to me.  I find the characters bland, and I find the gameplay handled better in the games it mimics.  Why would I ever play a Raymna game when I can play a Mario game?  There is nothing it offers that Mario doesn't.  BG and E is a Zelda clone, but it gives us something we never see in Zelda, a futuristic setting, dark setting, and characters who speak and interact.

Rayman is a silly cartoon world with wacky characters.  Mario is a silly cartoon world with wacky characters.  The difference is one features creative level design and tight controls and mechanics, and the other does not.  I'll let you figure out which is which.

To be fair, Rayman Origins looks absolutely stunning.  But that does not a good game make, and my repeated attempts at giving the franchise a chance doesn't lead me to want to get this one.  I have no desire to play it.

Now I understand some people love Rayman, and I get it.  That is fine.  I don't, and therefore, I shouldn't be expected to buy a game of a franchise I don't like to support a game in a franchise I do care about.  The fact they are made by the same person should be a moot point.


 So now when, Rayman Orgins tanks and we get no Beyond Good and Evil 2, the suits can say, "For shame on you fans!  You are the reason BG and E 2 died!  Look at what you have done!  Your hands are red in the blood of Pey'j!"

You are making Jade sad.  Stop it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya Review

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Season 1 is probably my second favorite anime of all time, just behind Evangelion, if that wasn't apparent already from my number 1 and number 2 anime girl choices.

I'm sure most fanboys/otaku/haters (I lump them all together at this point) would say I'm a bandwagon fan who likes whatever is popular.  I would take issue with this in a major way, as with both series, I just happened to stumble upon them by chance.  With Eva, I rented a single VHS from my local video store and was hooked like painkillers.  With Haruhi, my friend and I  just downloaded a random anime to watch that had started that season.  Again, hooked instantly.  I actually take pride in my ability to instantly realize when a work of fiction is going to be beloved by all (or most).  That is why I feel when people go on tares about how something is "overrated" and "only popular because they are told it is good" are talking out of their asses. 

But that is a rant for another day.

In any case, as I stated Season 1 specifically is one of my favorite series.  That is an important point, as Season 2 I do not include in that list.  The first thing that probably comes to mind when someone mentions "Haruhi Season 2" is the infamous Endless Eight story arc.  Eight episodes with the same storyline and plot but animated and voiced as if each episode was something new.  I don't think any act has ever turned a fanbase against a show so rapidly and so quickly.  And as annoying as Endless Eight was, that wasn't the main reason I didn't warm up to it.

Mostly it was about how much I didn't like Kyon anymore.  In Season 1, he is a fairly laid back guy which anyone can relate to.  He isn't a wimp or coward like many anime male leads.  He has a relatable, almost Peter Parkian (yes I just did that) aspect about him.  The Everyman.  He might complain about his life every now and again, but in the end he knows what it takes to get the girl and win the day.

After the first season I decided to read the books.  The show follows the books nearly verbatim (in a wacky order of course); With one key difference.  Kyon bitches and moans a lot more in the novels.  Nearly every other sentence is about how Haruhi is driving him up the wall.  So much so I found them hard to read after a while and stopped reading before the "Disapearance of Haruhi" novel.

When the second season got Greenlit, one surprising omission had been made to the staff. Tatsuya Ishihara was the director of the first season, and from what I can tell he was on board with Season 2 as well, however the Directing credit was actually given to Yasuhiro Takemoto.  Now I had no proof of this, but I believed what Ishihara brought to the table as Director in Season 1 was toning down Kyon's personality from the novel.  I say this because Season 2 seemed to follow the book version of Kyon to a fault.  This was my thinking all though Sesason 2, as it culminated in the worst possible outcome of Kyon nearly punching Haruhi in the face.  That scene in the book nearly killed the franchise for me, and I really hoped they would have omitted it in the show, but they didn't.

Other parts of Season 2 that left me a little cold was the absolute lack of development of some characters like Yuki Nagato, who had to endure thousands of days of Endless Eight without batting an eye.  At this point, a character who I really liked in the first season, seemed like nothing more than what she was, a lifeless alien robot.

So up until the release of "Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya", the theatrical film version of the novel, my love for the Haruhi franchise was on shaky ground.

Now that I have seen the "Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya" on glorious Blu-Ray,  I can safely say that, ladies and gentleman, Season 2, was all part of the show.  Or perhaps a better way to put it, Season 2 was a necessary evil to set up everything for the movie.

Now I don't want to shit on Season 2 too much.  It is still well written and has some really hilarious parts, but the characterization of some characters just went to a bad place.  But I see now it was intentional.

The way "Disappearance" works is sort of a reverse "It's a Wonderful Life".  After a typical day with the SOS Brigade, Kyon wakes up one day to see that Haruhi (as I'm sure you guessed from the title) has vanished.  Not only that; no one remembers her, and none of the SOS Brigade is an alien, time traveler, or esper.  In other words, his life is normal.  His life is how he has always wanted it to be: Haruhi-less.

The surprising part, given what I have just said about Season 2, is Kyon is almost instantly driven into hysterics over the absence of Haruhi.  This is what made me instantly take a liking to Kyon again.  There was never a scene of him going, "Alright! Finally the bitch is gone, now I can live my life how I want."  No, from the onset he does everything he can to bring her back, to the point of nearly ending his friendship with his two lifelong buddies when he finds out Haruhi does actually exist in some manner of speaking (although he would never admit it, Kyon is clearly a "Hos before Bros" type of guy).

By the end of it, Kyon goes through a near "End of Eva" type of self revelation about Haruhi and the SOS Brigade.  The whole film stands as a major piece of character development for Kyon.  The Kyon by the end of the film is completely different than the Kyon at the beginning, and in a movie that is what I look for in regards to character development.

Also, there is another character that gets a surprising amount of development and screen time, Yuki Nagato.  I don't want to spoil the plot, but she is the main female protagonist in this story and not Haruhi.  On top of that, Endless Eight makes sense, or at least WHY they put the audience through it.  They wanted us to feel a taste of what Yuki had to go through.  The frustration, and the anger, multiplied by 1,800 times.  We never see the frustration from Yuki in the TV series, but the culmination of those repeated days are very important to her character, and we see the result of it in this movie.  Does that make "Endless Eight" a good idea?  Probably not, but it does make it an interesting psychological experiment on the audience.  Again, not saying I condone it, but it is interesting.

So that is why I say Season 2 is a necessary evil.  It sets up the characters for this movie, at the cost of making a less enjoyable TV series.

That being said, to a Haruhi virgin, I believe the movie stands up pretty good on it's own legs.  It is an interesting and unique, Kurt Vonnegut-esque time travel story that also deals with alternate universes.  There is enough of Haruhi and the SOS Brigade at the beginning to understand the dynamic and relationships, and then the plot happens and the story unfolds and reaches a resolution at the end.  All in a pretty 3 Hour package.

However, I think it would probably be best to at least watch the first six episodes of Season 1 and the nearly essential episode "Bamboo Lead Rhapsody" from Season 2 (which is the best episode in Season 2 and maybe the entire series).

A question I asked myself after watching it was, how does this stand as a possible end to the Haruhi animated series?

I realize there are many more novels that continue the SOS Brigades adventures after this, but the way anime works isn't how popular TV shows and movies work in the West.  Sometimes things just end in the middle of the actual story, despite the popularity.

Adding to this problem is the fact that Haruhi's voice actress, the irreplaceable Aya Hirano, has come upon some tough times as of late.  Without going on too much of a rant, and it should be pointed out this goes slightly with my rant earlier about Otaku/fanboys/haters in that I think they are complete slime.  They would want to see a woman's career fail because of what she does on her free time.  If Kyon's voice actor,  Tomokazu Sugita, had been caught having sex with multiple women, or even multiple men, he would still be playing Kyon without hardly any backlash. 

Again, a rant for another day.

But back to my question.  If this is the end of the Haruhi series, I think it would work well as a conclusion.  Even though the Haruhi/Kyon relationship isn't fully completed, there is enough in the final scenes to let us use our imaginations on how it will end up.  Still, since Haruhi isn't even in this film all that much, and there are a few loose ends left by the end of the film, I think at least one more movie would really seal the deal for me.  But ONLY with Aya as Haruhi.  No Aya, no Haruhi, no deal.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hyperdiminsion Neptunia Impressions

First of all, sorry for the extreme lack of updates.  I have a baby on the way and just prepping for it has cut into most of my free time.  Imagine when he actually arrives.

Mostly, that little free time has been spent plowing through as many video games, manga and anime that I can before our little bundle of joy arrives.  The good news is that I now have a backlog of all things pop culture that I can give impressions on.

In the last couple of months I've played through such gaming gems as Dragon Quest V, Dragon Quest VIII, Disgaea 4, Shadows of the Damned, 3rd Birthday, Legend of Zelda OoT 3D, 9 Hours 9 Doors 9 Persons, Rayman 1 and 2, ICO, Onechanbara Wii, River City Ransom, and Half Minute Hero.  And played them all to completion.  So why out of all those great games am I choosing to discuss such a middle of the road game like Hyperdimension Neptunia?  While I intend to write about some of those games at a later time, I feel not a lot has been said, positive or negative, about Hyperdimension Neptunia and so I'm going to focus on that for a bit.
Green Heart (Xbox)... so sexy

Although I am an admitted fan of ecchi work, what actually drew me to Hyperdimension Neptunia (henceforth known as HN) was the set up.  The world of HN is based on a fantasy version of the current Game Industry and Console War.  The world is known as Gameindustri (not very subtle) and this world is ruled by three goddesses all based on the major console manufactures.  The Xbox 360 girl (Green Heart from Leanbox) has Big American Breasts, and has problems with overheating.  The Wii girl (Blue Heart from Lowee) doesn't seem much like Nintendo to me, but she is cute and perhaps a little childish.  The PS3 girl (Black Heart from Laystation) is cold and comes from a Steampunk land where corporations come before anything else.  All three of these goddesses from the different lands decide to get together and cast Neptune (the hypothetical Sega Next Gen console that never got made) into the land of commoners so she can no longer hang out with the cool kids.

The story is then about Neptune reclaiming her former glory and teaming up with other game companies and eventually as a supporting member that brings all three consoles together (isn't Sega great?)

As interesting as that plot sounds, it doesn't really play out like you might imagine it.  Everything is told Visual Novel style with very little CG or character interaction and description to really get a feel for the world.  The dialog is pretty hokey in the main story bits, and the fan service is nearly insulting to the audiences intelligence.

There are scenes where the girls are describing movers putting boxes in a truck like one might play Tetris or a random street fighter with big thighs destroying someones car.  We never actually see this.  What should be the gaming equivalent of Roger Rabbit is constrained into dialog boxes of cute girls talking about what we wish we could see.  That is where everything falls apart from a story standpoint.

That said, the jabs and critiques at the current console war can be pretty biting and clever, and its interesting to play a game on PS3 that so blatantly makes fun of Sony and their business practices (but no company is safe from ridicule in this game, even Sega).  So the story is worth plowing through for the commentary and snide remarks.

Neptune, our heroine
The other big problem with the game is that even though Neptune is the main character, the player never really feels a connection even though she is technically the player controlled character.  All interaction with the world is handled from menus.  No avatar running around an open world.  Within dungeons themselves each girl has a special ability that allows them to obtain special items or routes in the dungeons.  Neptune has a giant hammer that destroys some walls.  But that ability is rarely ever needed.  Another character called IF can find hidden treasure.  I can guarantee IF will be the main character you use in dungeons, if you want the rare items.  So from this standpoint, it makes IF seem like the lead character.

It's pretty bad when you choose not to play as a title character in a game.

Also, the game has some major pacing issues throughout.  Not just the story but the actually battles.  Battles are slow to start and slow to end.  Moves also can been slow at times.  This isn't a lag issue, but a design choice.  There is no need to have a spinning camera at the beginning of every fight.  It just slows down the action.

This might sound like the game is an outright disaster.  But I wanted to get the bad out of the way so I can focus on the good.

This game, despite all appearances has some of the most robust character building RPG mechanics I've ever seen in any RPG.   You are given a plethora of different moves that you can customize before, during and after battle that allows you to string together sets of moves into powerful combinations.  If you learn how to use your AP and move combos effectively, you can have two characters take out a boss, that is above your current level before the third character even gets to fight.  Or you can be completely murdered by the boss if you don't learn how to combo.  The fighting system is very similar to a turn based version of the Final Fantasy XIII fighting mechanic, except more streamlined, less confusing and more fun.  When I am fighting in HN, I'm having a blast.  I love pulling off moves, transforming and using customizable summons.

Something about the way Compa runs...
To compare it to a beloved franchise, the battle system is also very close to that of Xenogears.  With the chain moves, and the ability to summon a powerful robot to fight for you (in this case the Console Goddesses).

The customizable summons are the little icing on the cake for me.  Occasionally characters get "blank" summons.  You can then go into your hard drive and apply any picture and name to that summon.  What you are encouraged to do, and what I did, is use pictures that relate to the character.  So my Nippon Icchi girl can summon Plenair, Laharl and Etna.  Neptune (the Sega girl) can summon Sonic the Hedgehog, Kazuma from Yakuza and Ulala from Space Channel 5.  Nintendo girl summons sprites of Mario, Link, and Samus.  You get the idea.  Of course you can have the PS3 girl summon a giant penis if you want.  Any picture will work.  But I like to try and keep with the theme of the universe.

So who is this game for?

White Heart (Ps3 Girl)
If you like Visual Novels, hard core JRPGs, and generous amounts of fan service, then you will probably like this game quite a bit.  If your love for any of the above three categories falters in the least, then you will probably hate this game.  This game isn't for most people.

However, from what I've heard and read about the sequel (which is coming to the west), nearly every part of the first game that fails has been improved, including an on screen avatar to progress through the different worlds.

A lot has been made of the sexuality and loli characters, and a lot of reviews focus only on that instead of talking about the positive and negative the game actually offers.  I hope this review gives a more concise point by point of what makes this a good and a bad game.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dai Sato at AnimeFEST in Dallas

For anyone going to AnimeFEST in Dallas this weekend make sure you check the schedule for Dai Sato, and do your best to attend.

We see Sato speak every year, and I have to say it is always the highlight of attending anime conventions.  Not only has he worked on nearly every show that I hold dear (Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, Eden of the East, Eureka Seven to name a few), he always provides really good analysis and summery of the anime situation in Japan at any given time.  He states it like it is and doesn't hold back on his opinions, but he does so in an intelligent and thoughtful manner.  And also adds a good deal of humor to his lectures.

If you can find a way to attend, I think you will find it well worth the admission of the con, without even stepping foot in the dealers room.

AnimeFEST is a con I hold near and dear to my heart.  I stumbled upon it by chance many moons ago when they were very small.  They have always managed to eclipse the guests and talent of bigger cons in the area (*cough* A-Kon *cough*) and have manged to keep things under control (also unlike other cons in the area).

Not to rag on A-Kon too much (seriously though, they get bigger every year and have less and less guests every year.  How does that happen??), but AnimeFEST has always seemed like the more mature con.  The age group tends to skew a little older.  More of a college crowd, and there seems to be a lot less Naruto and Bleach cosplay (not that there is anything wrong with that). But be warned it is much smaller in scale that A-Kon if you are use to the three massive stories of Con.

You can register here for AnimeFEST

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stop blaming the fans

It seems the new cool thing to do if you are head of marketing at a major entertainment company is to blame the fans of the product you are trying to shill, as to weather said product comes out or not.

For example, today Reggie Fils-Aime, the President of Nintendo of America said depending on the sales of Xenoblade Chronicles in Europe, determines if we get it in the States.

Now, being a big fan of Japanese games, I've seen my fair share of games that I have wanted here in America (North variety) that I knew would never make it stateside.  I've imported and struggled through translations just to enjoy the game as much as I can.

But now we have a game, that fans have been demanding Nintendo to bring stateside, which now has an English localization that has been shipped to Australia and Europe, and Fils-Aime is trying to tell me the game may or may not come to America.

Stop feeding me bullshit.

The game is coming to America, and I'm sure it's been a bulleted item on his marketing press sheet that he hands out to investors for the last quarter at least.  Xenoblade, and Last Story are two games fans have been clammoring for on the Wii and Nintendo has remained coy on the subject.  Why?

Because they want to throw a big press conference and act like they are really reaching out to the fans.  "Whoop! Whoop!" for them.  All of this would have been fine, if he hadn't said the equivalent of:

"Scream hard enough fanboys or we might not release it!"

Don't act like bringing the game over here has anything to do with how vocal fans are on message boards.  Nintendo has committees of old people in suits, and focus groups, analysts, and a whole bunch of other equally worthless jobs they pay people exorbitant money for what is basically just superstitious voodoo.

This scapegoating of the fanbase has reached a limit in my opinion.  The above example is ultimately fairly harmless, and is just another way to advertise.  In the end I'm happy Nintendo is bringing these games over here, so it is easy to look past the viral marketing.  However, it is when it goes the other way that this handling of the fanbase gets dangerous.
A few weeks ago, Capcom announced that the eagerly anticipated Megaman Legends 3 is getting canned, because fans weren't vocal enough on the forums about the game.

Yet, if you look at the chain of events leading up to the canning of Megaman Legends, you can easily see this was inevitable.  After Megaman creator and Capcom president Kenji Inafune left the company, slowly every Megaman game that was in development was getting canceled.  Even in the fighting game Marvel vs. Capcom, Megaman was never added to the roster.  It was a matter of time before Legends 3 was on that chopping block as well.

Having a highly anticipated title canceled is one thing, but to go the extra mile and blame the fans for it.  That takes a lot of balls on Capcom's part.

I've honestly tried to not get on board the Capcom hate train that every one seems to be on these days, but when decisions like this are made, it makes it hard to stay a fan.

Personally, and I have nothing to back this up with, but I think this line of thinking from corporate stooges goes back to the early days of MP3 downloads and Napster.

Once it became okay to sue the people they were too old and out of touch to figure out how to market to, they started down a slippery slope where they feel we should worship them and beg and plead to them for content, instead of them finding out what the consumer wants.

And for the record, I honestly don't give two craps about Xenoblade or Megaman Legends 3.  I've never played a Megaman Legends game, and I hated all the Xenosaga games.  It just irks me to no end when company's start down these pandering marketing paths. 

Last Story however, I'm all about.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

3DS price to be cut...

Big news from Nintendo today.  The 3DS will see a 30% cut in price world wide.   From $250 to $170.   Early adopters will 20 free games as a consolation.  The value of the games is roughly the same as the price cut.  It is a fact that though the 3DS sold like gangbusters, but has only sold around 700k since april.  Many are claiming that this is proof that its heading for another Virtual Boy failure.   Personally I think its very premature to make this judgement.   The holiday season will bring the final judgement regadibg its success or failure.  Personally I love mine.  Its been my favorite gadget purchase of the last few years.  


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Battleship: The Motion Picture


There will be a Battleship movie.  Yes a movie based on the Milton Bradley board game.  Now I know what MB is thinking.  If Hasbro can make Billions licensing their hot properties to be made into major motion pictures why can't we?  Truth is they probably can.  But not with Battleship, at least not like this.  

I'm going to really try not to judge this too hard only because it's only a trailer, and we won't have a clue what it's really like until we can see it for ourselves.  That said, there are some glaring issues already.  First do we really have to have a "Hotshot dates Admiral or Generals Daughter and thus the Admiral or General has it out for him story line?"  I'm sure that at some point the Hotshot will do something to earn the Admiral's respect.  It's been done so many times.  It's a trope that should be retired or at least re-examined.  Second, it seems to have the military knowledge of "Stealth".  The Admiral says "You've gone from Enlisted to Officer quicker than any one in history."  This statement alone doesn't bode well for it's accuracy as there isn't any direct path from the enlisted ranks to being an officer.  Even Hotshots have to have a degree and be selected for Officer school.  Third the US Navy doesn't use Battleships anymore.  Not like the ones they show.  Most were retired in the 90's, the one's left have been converted to Cruise Missile platforms.  This, though I will over look until I can see the whole movies because it can be easily explained away by doing a "Down Periscope" and just make this group on an old target ship for the purposes of the exercise.  Last, it seem the real mcguffin that makes this a "Battleship" movie is that these aliens have some kind  of radar blocking device that means that this navel ship will have to shoot blind like you do in the game.  As an audience we're suppose to believe that this alien race which has conquered intersteller travel is going to be defeated by a WWII era battleship?

With that out of my system I will say I will probably go see this if anything just to see if it's as bad as it looks.  It does look fun, even if it is a stupid concept.  If they were going to make a Battleship movie they should have based it on the great Dreadnought battles during WWI.   Actual historical fights between real steels ships in the time before aircraft became the leading offensive weapon in naval combat.   Also pre-radar and thus actually fits the primise.  

I also think there are better properties for MB to make movies.  Candy Land has been in development hell for years.  It's a much better concept for a game.  Just imagine what a Wes Anderson could do with Candy Land...  

FRANK DARABONT TO LEAVE THE WALKING DEAD!

This is not a good development.  What we know is it is confirmed that he is leaving as show runner.  In season one he was serving as both writer and show runner.  This seemed to be too much for him to deal with.  It remains to be seen if he remains.  Here's hoping he stays as executive producer and writer.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Transfromers DotM and Rodimus Prime


One thing that was interesting I noticed this weekend regarding the release of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, was that ever single critic seemed to hate it so so much, but every single person I talked to who had seen it, was head over heels in love with it.  Even as I was eating dinner at a restaurant, I casually said something about Michael Bay and the waiter two tables over had to yell over, "Transformers 3 is amazing!"

It's rare to see such a massive divergence between critics and moviegoers.  The Rotten Tomato average viewers review was 92% over the weekend, while the critic meeter was 38%, to give you an idea of the massive valley between the two.

So it pretty much comes down to your own ability to look past the stuff you know in your mind is bad, and just see the stuff you came to see: Autobots vs. Decepticons.

The one thing you can say for sure about Micahel Bay films, is that you really don't have to over analyze them to find the bad parts.  They are there in your face, screaming and smoking and being racist, so it's easy to just ignore them and pay attention to the parts you like.  There is never a moment in your mind where you have to sit and think, "Is this funny?  Is this ironic?  Is this a statement about the privatization of the military?"  Nope.  It's none of those things.  It just exists.

Like the previous two films the only thing you will care about are the Transformers themselves.  And to be fair to Bay an Co., that is all we have ever cared about with Transformers.  All kids hated Spike, Sparkplug and Daniel when we were kids.  Maybe it had to do with some misplaced jealousy.  Carly we probably didn't hate because she was a girl and pretty, but it just made us even more jealous when that douche Spike married her.

And here in movie form we have the same issue, Spike (now called Sam) has grown up to be a douche, and Carly has entered the scene as a total hottie, and he still gets the girl.  In all honesty they have captured my exact same feelings for Sam that I had for Spike as a kid.  Mission accomplished I'd say.

The only characters in this movie that act human, are the robots, and they do a stellar job here.  All your favorite Decepticons are here, acting like they did in the cartoon, but don't get too excited, because chances are all your favorite characters are going to die... horribly.  But it's not a bad thing, because it does add emotional weight to the film.  In fact the Decepticons personalities are the only ones that match exactly to their cartoon counterparts.  So when they die it is like they are literally killing your childhood.

None of the Autobots match their cartoon versions.  None of them.  I was shocked when I watched the credits and saw that Wheeljack, my favorite Autobot as a kid, was in the film.  I was even more shocked to learn who it was in the film when I went home.  Wheeljack was the technical genius of the Autobots in the cartoon and had a very identifiable face and body.  Tall and sleek with a facemask and two lights on the side of his head when he spoke.  In Transformers 3 he is a bloodthirsty merc, that is short and squaty and based off of an angry Scottish guy.  That being said he was my favorite new character in the film, I just have no freaking clue why they named him Wheeljack.

They also introduced a lot of new characters that have never been in Transformer media anywhere, and I don't really get why they didn't just slap a name on them from the cartoon.  It hadn't stopped them this far.  One of these characters was a fast red sports car that had some of the best action scenes in the film, and although part of me wish they had called him Rodimus, ultimately I'm glad they didn't and just made a name up for him.  I'll get into that in a bit.

So it might sound like I didn't like the movie.  I actually did.  Like I kind of said above, albeit slightly tongue in cheek, this movie felt the most like the first two seasons of the cartoon.  Where you had a lot of camp and cheese mixed with some great action and mythology.  For what it is worth Michael Bay was a great choice to capture that same feel of an 80s cartoon show originally made to sell toys.

And then the Transformers animated movie came out and changed everything.

So now it is time to throw away our OshKosh B'gosh jeans and but on our big boy pants and have Transformers 4 really bring in the goods.

I am a hard core Transformer fan.  I grew up on Transformers, and then like all kids, when Optimus Prime was killed I slowly grew out of it.  I didn't understand what was going on in the post movie Transformer Universe.  Then I grew up, watched Beast Wars, got back into Transformers and then rewatched they original series all the way through and realized that the real story in Transformers is the animated movie and the season that followed.  That was when shit got real, for a lack of a better term.

My theory has always been that after two seasons of the original cartoon, with every episode being about Megatron doing something bad and Autobots having to twart him, the writers got bored and tired of doing the same thing and given the chance to make a feature film, decided to turn Transformers into something memorable.

They created the flawed character of Hot Rod.  The only Transformer up to that point with personality defects.  In fact all new Transformers had huge flaws in their character.  Ultra Magnus, even though he might look like Optimus, was a complete failure of a leader and had no idea how to handle multiple problems at once.  Galvatron was not the criminal mastermind that Megatron was, he was a paranoid schizophrenic who was driven by his madness.  Hot Rod/Rodimus was the chosen one, but was always burdened by his lack of experience and his failure to measure up to Optimus Prime.

This was the point where Optimus Prime became a legend.  Before, he was just a cool looking robot.  Now he was the ideal to aspire to.  A leader and legacy that none of the characters could live up to.  But that was what made the show great.  When they would overcome and come close to the greatness of Optimus, those moments made the show much more memorable than anything before.

People who aren't hard core fans, hate Rodimus Prime just because he replaced Optimus and he was partially responsible for his death, but those people haven't gone back and watched the show with fresh eyes.  Rodimus Prime is the greatest character in Transformer fiction.  If you don't believe me, watch the Season 3 episode, Dark Awakening.  Rodimus vs. Zombie Optimus Prime.  Hands down the greatest episode in the series.

Rodimus also had something few Transformers had: wit.  Most of his lines are sarcastic observations about the absurdity of their situation.  Because of that he is easier to relate to and sympathize with.

And as a fighter he is unmatched.  Watch any scene with Rodimus fighting and compare it to one of Optimus fighting.  Rodimus is more mobile and pulls off some brutal headshots and acrobatic stunts.  Optimus actually gets his ass handed to him more often then not because he is so damn bulky.  Again, Dark Awakening proves witch Prime is better in hand to hand combat.

So how did this "impressions" article about Transformers 3 turn into a love letter to Rodimus Prime?  Because at this point this is where the series needs to go.

The rumor mill is already flying, with Bay and Labeouf saying they are done, and Spielberg saying he might direct Transformers 4 himself.  I say this is perfect.

Spielberg might not be what he once was, but the man knows how to make a film to appeal to all ages, which is what we need at this point.  We need to take the franchise into the future, and have Daniel as the new human, a decedent (or son) of Sam and Carly, and his best Transformer friend is an Autobot named Hot Rod.  The Decepticons are defeated.  The stage is set of Unicron.

Basically everything is in place for a live adaptation of the animated movie.  Some things will have to be changed obviously, as most Decepticons are dead now.  But the new badness should be Unicron, and it should be Rodimus Prime to take him down in Transformers 4.

Make it happen Spielberg.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

E3 2011: Critic Vs. Lonecow


E3 is this week, and while the Zeonic Front is stuck in Texas, it doesn't mean we don't have our own opinions at what is going down over there.

Like fans the world over having this same conversation you will see below, myself and Critic had a little back and forth about what we have seen transpire at E3 so far and I thought I would reprint it here in it's entirety below: 

Critic: Nintendo probably did themselves a disservice in that they're giving us too much time too dream. At the same time the 3ds shows that they're already thinking about AR so we'll see. A submarine game where the second screen is your scope.

Lonecow: They already have that for the 3DS.  It was a launch game, and it does exactly that.  A Macross game would be cool and have a virtual music player built in so you can listen the Minmay songs as a mechanic would do while working on the ship.

Critic: Outlaw star. It could be your Melfina/galactic Layline view.

Lonecow: The dating sim opportunities are endless but Nintendo will never allow them.

Critic: Well I'm still getting a Vita. But rumor had it that they will put out a gold 3ds for zelda 25th.  I might not be able to resist that. OOT 3d...

Lonecow: Vita looks like crap. It's going to take a lot more besides Uncharted to convince me.  That thing is about as portable as a WiiU controller.

Critic: Its a little taller. But I don't think its much bigger than PSP.
 Just wait for vita2000 in a couple of years.

Im a little different than you. I don't regularly put my potable systems in my pocket. It only has to fit nicely in my bag.

So being super tiny isn't such a huge deal. It is not Lynx big.

Lonecow: It's close. I pulled out my Game Gear the other day. That thing was a beast.

Critic: Yep. Its amazing how large the game boy was.

Lonecow: The thing is, PSVita will have the same problem PSP did. Developers are going to have to spend money on budgets for games about the size of their console equivalents. Which they won't do, like they didn't for the PSP until years later when costs go down, but by then 3DS will have hundreds of games compared to the dozens on Vita. It's like the industry never learns from it's mistakes.

And while I love my PSP. There are maybe 5 games that I will hold on to and treasure. DS I have AT least 20.

It won't bomb, but it won't have nearly the library.

Critic: Someone needs to break the mold of building next gen handhelds to last gen console specs. Their goal from what I see is to create huge synergy between PS3 and Vita. Ninny has been trying to get us to use our handhelds and consoles together for 15 years. They've given up and just given us a handheld in the box.

Lonecow: And it has a better chance of working that way.

They knew no one would buy a Wii remote for the Gamecube, so they made a new system for it and everyone bought it.

No one bought Move or Kinect because you rely on a lot of people to buy it, to use with existing technology. They won't. You have to sell it to them with one package. The amount of gamers who buy a PS3 and a Vita to play games together will be a minuscule fraction compared to the people who have a WiiU and its controller since it will be all of them.

You have to get all your consumers on the same page if you want them all doing the same thing.

It's why PAC man vs. And Four Swords didn't work. People had to have GBA, the game, a Gamecube and 4 link cables.

Critic: Actually the Kinect has sold pretty well.

Lonecow: Do you know anyone who has one?

Critic: I was real close to getting one a few weeks ago. But no I don't.

They're going to push the value added thing pretty hard now. You can get Mass Effect 3. But would be EVEN BETTER if you played with kinect.

Lonecow: I will admit the Mass Effect 3 voice thing looks pretty awesome.  Still all you see on it are casual games and dance games because it doesn't have the adoption numbers of a console to justify a big title. You get a non responsive Star Wars game and an on rails Fable shooter to look forward to. If they had launched it with Xbox 720, we would get top tier games with Kinect integration, not as an afterthought.

Which to be fair, I think will be the case with Wii U third party games.  All controller features will be an after thought.

Critic: If I had a PS3. Id be tempted to get the move actually. Its 1:1 resolution is the best from what I've played.

Lonecow: So does Wii motion plus.  And Neither has that many games that use it.

Critic: More or less.  I played both the fencing game and the Frisbee game and both did exactly what I wanted them to do.  I could underhand toss the Frisbee and make it turn.  I don't thin M+ can do that.

Closing Comments:

Lonecow: I always get excited at new ways to play video games (which probably will get me pegged as a Nintendo fanboy), where a lot of people just want what they are familiar with.  I understand that.  Although I realize I'm in the minority, I actually got a fair amount of use out of my Wii.  There are a ton of great games for the Wii, but they mostly get overlooked from the abundant amount of shovelware and baby games.  So I am being optimistic about Wii U.

Though I will say, I probably won't get WiiU at launch (unless Metroid is a launch title).

I also like Sony and Microsoft, but I saw nothing worth even talking about this E3.  They can call Vita whatever they like, but it is just a PSP2 with the same problems that plagued the PSP.

Critic: To be honest I really am platform agnostic. I do think its plain that the next "Big Thing" is going to be dual screen gaming. We're seeing at least three differing methods of achieving this. In addition to Sony and Nintendos methods Onlive also demoed some duel screen gaming using iPad.

My big prediction for the next 18 months is the rise of Onlive and cloud gaming. Onlive was always a proof of concept. If it proves to be profitable it will be purchased. I'm thinking of Microsoft.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Comics You Need to Read: Hack/Slash

The Dallas Comic Con is this weekend so I've been trying to brush up on some comics that I've missed over the years.  My relationship with comics goes through a natural ebb and flow.  When I get into them, I get into them hardcore.  But I find this typically only lasts two or three months.  Usually I stop reading because I catch up to the current issue, and by the time I have to wait another month for a new issue I've lost interest completely.

Usually I just stick to Marvel Comics, but for one reason or another I stumbled upon this amazing little comic called Hack/Slash.  Actually I can tell you exactly how I came upon this comic.  I was trying to find out who drew that incredibly sexy image of Princess Leia in the article below this one.  The artist is Josh Howard, who is the man behind Dead @17.  So I went to Amazon to look up some of his stuff, and in the recommended section Hack/Slash popped up, also featuring sexy ladies (of which I am a fan if you couldn't tell) and I looked that up and here we are with me writing an article about it.

The draw for me to Hack/Slash was in it's set up.  The beautiful women are nice, but as I said Dead@17 has that as well, and couldn't pull me in properly.  In Hack/Slash, Cassie Hack is a survivor of her lunatic mother's killing spree.  She then makes it her life goal to seek out other "Slashers" and kill them before they can kill others.

Each story arc of the series has a set up like one might find in any B level Horror film.  One issue starts off with obnoxious kids on Spring Break, and a religious nutbag out to deliver them from temptation.  Another has a murdered child entering dreams and killing people in their sleep.  I think you get the idea.  Even when the set up is a clear refrence to a famous movie series, the book handles it in a unique and clever way, so ground is never tread twice.  The Slashers are essentually zombies, in that they are killed and then brought back to life with their anger, but the book never feels like "just another zombie" story.

Usually I stay away from indie books because the dialog and houmor seems forced, or amaturish at least.  This is an unfair label I know, but in my limited expereince it is what has kept me away from the Indie scene.  However, there is none of this in Hack/Slash as the wit and writing is what makes the book work.  A great premise is nothing if the characters aren't full of life.

Cassie Hack is the main character, and although she might appear as an emo goth chick with a chip on her shoulder, she is amazingly friendly and full of life.  Her past, and her mother, defines who she has become and she is tough as nails, but not once is she afraid to show her caring and compassionate side, and that's what makes her intriguing.  She is also very naive and inexperienced to the ways of the world and normal people, which becomes apparent every time she tries to have a normal relationship with someone.  It is a nice change of pace for that type of character archetype, where so often the main loner badass is great at everything, killing bad guys and making friends.  But the reality is, if someone spends all their time killing zombies with limited human interaction, they might end up a little socially awkward, which is where Cassie resides.

Cassie's only friend is a big Sloth-like (Goonies not Bear) man, named Vlad, that is a take on Jason Voorhees.  He is as gentle as a fly however (except when killing Slashers).  Usually I hate big mindless oafs, but Vlad is much deeper then he appears.  His intelligence might only be limited from him upbringing, and not so much an indicator of smarts.  Some of the best and most humorous moments come from Vlad.  Seeing the big hulking beast of a man sitting in an Internet cafe and ordering a coffee was a highlight for me.

The whole Cassie and Vlad dynamic reminds me a lot of Maxx and Julie Winters from The Maxx.  The Maxx is my favorite comic of all time, so that should be an indicator of my approval.  To be fair, Maxx is a lot more intelligent then Vlad, but they are both equally innocent souls born into the wrong body (or the wrong time period, to quote Sin City).


Also as a big fan of Evil Dead, this series is just my thing.  Over the top violence mixed with lots of great humor and characters.  If you get a chance pick up this book.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Star Wars Confessions and Rants

I love Ewoks.
I don't mind Jar Jar Binks.
I like when George Lucas adds things during rereleases.
I like the Prequels
I hate most of the Expanded Universe

These are five statements that would get me lynched with most "hardcore" Star Wars fans, but they are all statements I stand by.  Though I might have not been willing to admit them until now.

The Internet can be a dissease, and even though you don't initially agree with some of the things you read on the internet, the more you hear the hate over and over the more you begin to believe it.

Even though I walked out of every single Star Wars prequel, not only satisfied, but also wanting to see it again, for some reason over time after all the Talkbackers and trolls were done with me, I ended up hating the films.  I had become the very hater I just complained about.

Then one day a friend of mine had found the untouched version of the original saga, watched it, then said to me the next day, "Lucas really butchered the original movies."

After that comment a sleeping Rancor woke inside of me and roared, "Enough!" 

But I will get to the re-releases in a moment.  First I am going to take each of my above statements and go into depth as to why I felt the need to post this rant.

I love Ewoks.

This might be the least controversial of my statements.  Because they are part of the Holy Trilogy, like most of the original saga's faults, they get a free pass.  However, as of late it has become popular to say Return of the Jedi sucks because it has Ewoks.  I don't really get this.  Is it because they are small and cute, that make people think they can't fight Stormtroopers?  The Stormtroopers are used to fighting Jedi, Rebel Soldiers, and Battledroids (retcon anyway).  They aren't however, used to fighting little furry midgets in their homeland.  That is the most important part of the argument.  The moon of Endor is the Ewoks home, so naturally they have home field advantage.  On top of that they don't fight the Stormtroopers head on.  No, they use guerrilla warfare, which I'm sure anyone in Cuba can tell you works wonders.

Do people find them annoying?  I don't personally.  I think they are cute and charming.  And this might come back up with Jar Jar Binks, but I guess I don't get annoyed as easily as some audience members.  I certainly get annoyed by a lot of things in life, but characters obviously meant for comic relief don't grate on my nerves.  As I kid I remember C3PO annoying me much more than the Ewoks.

I don't mind Jar Jar Binks

Mostly I never heard anyone complain about Ewoks until Jar Jar showed up in Episode I and everyone was looking for similar situations in the original saga and the best they could do was Ewoks.  Again, I would say that C3PO is a much better template to Jar Jar than the Ewoks, as both were intentionally designed to be annoying.

Like C3PO, Jar Jar exists so he can make the main characters roll their eyes at his clumsiness as well as the audience.

Now notice I didn't put "I like Jar Jar", just that I don't mind him.  That is an important point to make.  I  remember after I walked out of Episode I, not giving a damn one way or another about Jar Jar Binks.  I didn't feel a bubbling loathing in the fiber of my being that made me want to cut out his tongue and parade down the street with his head on a stick, which is how most people reacted.  It wasn't until after hearing about how many people just hated him, I started to hate him too.  But honestly there was nothing in the film itself that made me feel this way.  It was all power of suggestion from Fanboys, like a Jedi mind trick, "You will hate Jar Jar Binks."  Though I guess I just called myself weak minded with that comparison.  Maybe I am, for not agreeing with everyone's unbridled hatred for a character made for children.

To be honest, my softening on my position towards Jar Jar came in Episode III.  Lucas had been so bombarded with hate mail for Jar Jar, that the clumsy Gungan only gets one second of screen time.  Even though he was a main character in the first film.  He seems so broken, not only from the death of his friends, but from his complete sidelining, that I can't help but feel a little bad for ole' Jar head.  You broke him people, I hope you are happy now (I'm guessing you are).

I like the Prequels

For this reason:














I like when George Lucas adds things during rereleases.

People bitch about anything Lucas does, just to bitch.  There is nothing, other than the whole "Han shot first" thing that makes the rereleased original saga inferior, and even that scene has been so blown out of proportion it has become a parody of itself.

Did anyone complain about Ridley Scott rereleasing Blade Runner where Decker was now an android?  No.  How is it different?  Is it because that is what Scott says he wanted originally?  Why does that matter?  In the end they are both directors of their own work and what they change is their business.  In Blade Runner the Directors Cut, Scott said he took out the Voice Over narration, because it seems cheesy, but you know what?  It actually feels more like a film noir detective film with the VO in there.  No one every questions these types of changes, so why does Star Wars get special treatment? 

It should be stated to give me a little cred that I majored in film, and so of course I WANT the original untouched version available to me, for purity sake, and for the sake of nostalgia from my childhood.  Also I am not a fan of CGI in movies (believe it or not).  But from a story perspective and making a more unified universe I hope every time I watch a rerelease of Star Wars something has changed from the last time I watched it.

I hate most of the Expanded Universe

Most of the Prequel haters come from fans of the EU novels that take place after Return of the Jedi.  And this statement will likely anger a lot of fans but it is the truth as far as I see it:

Original Trilogy > Clone Wars > Knight of the Old Republic > Prequels > Star Wars: Legacy> Dark Forces>>>>>>>>>> Rest of the EU Novels



What really needs to happen is Lucas needs to come out and say, "Everything after Return of the Jedi thus far isn't canon."

I've tried to get into the EU post-Jedi and I just can't.  It is some of the most muddled incoherant fan fiction I've seen in my entire life.  Everything the characters fought for in the movies is thrown out as Luke turns to the Dark Side, the Emperor is revived, and Boba Fett is Dick Van Dyke.

Seriously, I love Boba Fett as much as the next geek and am willing to accept he escaped the Sarlacc Pit, but the fact he settled down with the woman of his dreams and had a kid, ALL WHILE wearing the Mandalorian armor is harder to swallow than... well... Boba Fett for a Sarlacc Pit.

You can also tell the novels are heavily influnced by whatever Sci-fi show/game the writer was watching at the time.

"Hey this Starcraft game is neato!  Lets put in some Zerg into Star Wars!"  Worst idea ever.  Worse than Jar Jar swimming is a pool of Mediclorians.  But I don't know how many times some fanboy has come up to me and told me the prequels are garbage but I should read the books.  No dice.

Plus they kill Chewbacca in the books.  What a spineless move.  They all thought, "Hey this will get us attention!"  So they kill a character with no weight of gravatas to the death.  Chewy?  Really?  Kill Han Solo or Leia if you want to make an impact.  Killing Chewbacca is as lame as killing the dog in a horror film.  They don't have the balls to kill their main character so they kill the pet.




You might have noticed I made sure to clarify many times they my hate only applies to the novels set after Jedi.  Half the problem with the EU is a lot of it was written a long time ago (sadly not in a galaxy far away), when our standards were lower.  But every new writer still embraces this mess of a storyline and constantly adds on to it.  Now our tastes have become refined and there are a lot of great things being added to Star Wars canon, such as The Old Republic, and Star Wars Legacy.




But even a great idea and concept such as Legacy is mired by it's faint connections to the EU.  If you want to accept Legacy as canon, you must at least accept a crappy alien race named the Yuuzan Vong exist, and that Luke, Obi Wan, Darth Vader, the Emperor, and Yoda weren't the only ones using the Force during the Holy Trilogy.

Most of the new stories coming out based in the Star Wars universe are pretty good, but would be better if the post-Jedi slate was completely cleaned off.

So I apologize for this long winded rant, but I've had it with going on every forum where the prequels are briefly mentioned and it is just accepted without protest the the prequels are the worst thing ever.  They aren't.  There is much worse out there.

And for anyone who really truly despises the Prequels, I beg you to watch The Clone Wars.  You can nearly ignore Episodes 1 and 2 and get a better story and better characters by far.  The Anikan Skywalker in the Clone Wars is the Anikan in my mind that becomes Darth Vader.  He is much more worthy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

INITIAL D MINI REVIEW...

I know I'm nearly 15 years late on this, but this weekend I picked up Initial D First stage.  I have to say I was impressed.  It is the cliched "tournament" show; where the protagonist is alway increasing is skills to face the next impossible opponent. That said moving that genre to auto racing is a logical move.  The characers are interesting. Especially the main character Takume, who's legendary father stared to Myagi him into a skilled racer at a very young age.  Because of this Takume hates driving because he sees it as work, and cannot imagine how anyone could find racing fun. This begins to change as the series confines as he finds his passion for competion.  Overall, if you haven't see Initial D yet in the preceding decade its worth the pickup.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Making a Case for 3DS

This might come off as less of an impressions piece and more of a rant about modern gaming press, so let me just get that out of the way.

It seems most of the major sites I go to, 1UP, Gamespot and IGN, and the blogs like Kotaku, Destuctoid, and Joystiq, all suffer from the same problem. Complete and utter failure to adapt to new things.

Even the above mentioned Kotaku and Joystiq who have not been shy about dolling out the love for 3DS will almost always remark how they turn off the 3D on 3DS games and it is only used to show it off to friends. I'm here to tell you this mindset is of that of a hard cynical gamer who can't deal with anything new in the gamespace.

I've been playing Super Street Fighter IV in the 3D mode now since I got the system and that is probably the only way I will play it. Yet if you follow any review for the game they all say you will want to turn this mode off after 10 minutes. Why? It works beautifully and the 3D actually helps you judge distance of your characters. I think I am a decent Street Fighter player, and I can tell you I actually play better in this 3D mode than ever before. So why is it that every review says to turn this mode off. They can't adapt to change.

The same thing happened when the Wii came out and everyone bitched and moaned that a regular control option wasn't included. I never understood this either as I have never had any trouble controlling any Wii game. But if you watch some of the early video reviews on Gamespot of Wii games you would have think you just handed a Hadron Collider to a two year old. Complete lack of understanding of the device.

As a life long gamer myself, I have always found this failure to adapt in the gaming press mind boggling. I went from an Atari joystick, to a NES gamepad, to Super NES and Genesis, to the radically different N64, and complicated PS1 and so on and so forth. Adapting to new control styles should be in the very life blood of the gaming populace. But for some reason these last two generations of controllers with 16+ buttons is seen as the end all of controller design. But I digress as the real issue here is with the 3D.

So now for some reason the new visuals spark reason for cynicism among reviewers. And to a degree I understand completely. I am not a fan of the new 3D revolution in entertainment. The 3D TV market is already proving a huge failure as are the movies from directors who don't "get it". Say what you will about Avatar but what James Cameron was trying to prove I respect. He wanted 3D to go into the film and not pop out at you so that shots can be composed in three dimensions, where the viewers can see into the film to make the world more visceral and real. It's not about shit flying at your face. So far few films have done this successfully. Even Avatar which looked beautiful was still a sci fi action film which is usually given the 3D treatment anyway. What I want to see is a movie like Roshomon, where the 3d is used to capture the atmosphere of a certain place to make you feel like you are there hearing the story.

What I am getting at is 3D can be great when used effectively. And the 3DS is a fantastic example of this. Now you can see into the game world, and it makes the experience much more engaging. I have a real problem with judging distance in 3D games. The 3DS has really help to alleviate that. Though there are few games out yet that really can demonstrate this, still, you will no longer need to use the "shadow" of a character to tell you where he will land. To me, this is groundbreaking.

With all that said, I understand that some people just can't see 3D or have problems with it. My wife for example has a hard time and can't see the 3D on still images. I suffer from astigmatism in both eyes and have migraines fairly regularly, so you can imagine my apprehension. The first time I played it in Best Buy I did feel some discomfort. However, I no longer have any problem. Maybe my eyes just needed to get used to it. I also have no issue when looking away and looking back to the 3D screen. However I realize with everyone mileage may vary. I just want to go on record that it might not be as bad for you as some reviewers have said. For example, Jeremy Parish of 1UP has gone on record many times saying he has a vision problem that won't let him see 3D. Yet they seem to use him as their main 3DS reviewer. It's their choice of course, but that seems like a grievous mistake. Sure you can turn off the 3D, but in all the games I've played so far, the 3D helps the play experience and the review should be able to reflect this. Most sites seem to be of the mindset to ignore the 3D in 3DS games when giving a review.

I won't go into all the little devices features as they have been covered robustly everywhere else. I will say I hope Nintendo develops lots more AR games and releases a lot of AR cards of characters. Having a virtual figurine of Samus Aran might be worth price of admission alone for me.



The picture below has nothing to do with anything, other than I found it looking for Samus and thought it cute.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Introducing Touhou Tuesdays! Marisa to Alice

First of all a little side not about the severe drop in posts lately. I've been consistently traveling for work for the last two months and haven't had much downtime to sit and focus on my blog. And while I can't speak for my cohort, Critic, I know he is up to his eyeballs with his own ball of wax.

So I figured I need to start another feature to keep me somewhat on a schedule. As I've been immersed in Touhou Project for the last three months (which have been a Godsend with all the aforementioned travel), I figured a good jumping off point would be Touhou Tuesdays, where I will focus on one random Touhou Project work weather it be fanmade or official.

The game I want to focus on this time is a fanmade game called Marisa and Alice, or Marisa to Alice or MariAri. Personally I like MariAri, so it will be refereed to as such henceforth.

Like a lot of fanmade Touhou games, MariAri takes a similar game and puts a Touhou coat of paint on it and tweaks it to make it something unique. So far that is what I have loved about a lot of Touhou fanwork games. I like old school platformers like Mario, Castlevania, and Megaman, but I'd like to play different version of those games that don't always star the same cast of characters. And as I love all the girls in Touhou Project, they make great substitutes for classic gaming mascots.

MariAri is a take on a Super Famicom game that never made it to the states called Mario and Wario. In that version of the game, Mario must make his way to Luigi through a maze set up by Wario. The catch is Mario can't see because he has a bucket stuck on his head.

The premise for MariAri is similar, except you play as Alice, with Marisa's hat stuck on her head. Alice must enlist the help of her faithful doll to navigate through the maze to get to Marisa.



The puzzles are all very challenging, but with trial and error are very fun and solvable. The game is played using only your mouse, where you click on Alice to point her in the right direction. She can't jump. All she can do is walk and fall off ledges. I highly recomend using a clean and responsive mouse, otherwise the later levels will leave you very frustrated.

As I mentioned in my previous Touhou post, I'm an Alice x Marisa shipper, so of course I took a liking to this game's plot. There is actually a fairly robust story here, and thanks to the ever active Touhou community an English patch is available (here) so that us westerners can enjoy the story. A good understanding of Touhou injokes might be required, but I think it is still a cute and humorous story if you don't know that much about the characters.

Ultimately the game is great to just pick up and play a few levels when you are bored. This would be a fantastic iPhone game, but alas ZUN saw to making sure that would never happen.













Also, Max Factory, please release an Alice Figma!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow Goomba!


A Goomba I made out of snow here in Texas.

Friday, January 21, 2011

WTF is Touhou Project?

Readers of this blog won't be too surprised to learn that I like collecting figures. Recently I've tried limiting my purchases to Transformers and poseable anime figures, and those poseable action figures being mostly figma.

And in the figure market I started noticing more and more figures from something called Touhou Project. So I naturally assumed Touhou Project was an anime, but when I typed "Touhou Project Anime", the only thing that popped up was something that was clearly fanmade called "Touhou Anime Project". None of my regular haunts had an anime named Touhou streaming anywhere, so I concluded it wasn't an anime. Time to check Wikipedia:

"The Touhou Project (東方Project Tōhō Purojekuto?), also known as Toho Project or Project Shrine Maiden, is a Japanese dōjin game series focused on bullet hell shooters made by the one-man developer Team Shanghai Alice, whose sole member, known as ZUN, is responsible for all the graphics, music, and programming for the most part."

Alright, now I was starting to get somewhere. I found it incredible that a bullet hell shooter had such a following. Also reading a little bit more I realized I actually had the first five games already in a pack of PC9801 ROMs I had downloaded a while back. I played them and they were fun enough, but I still didn't see what all the fuss was about.

From the 10th games in the series:



Then I stumbled upon the Touhou Wiki and realized I had just fallen into a rabbit hole that I probably wouldn't get out of for a long time.

Before I go any further, let me back up and try to explain what is at the core of Touhou Project. First of all, as mentioned in the Wikipedia article the games, which have over 12 entries now, are all created by one guy that does everything. Not only that, he does it all really well (except for the art. More on that later). Unlike a lot of bullet hell shooters that contain bizarre unintellagable stories, the Touhou games all have really rich quirky and lovable characters. This is an important point to make to understand the fandom around Touhou. The two main leads Reimu and Marisa, a shrine maiden and witch respectively, are at the heart of Touhou Project. Reimu is a shrine maiden who is laid back, a little lazy, but extremely powerful and effective at exterminating demons. Marisa is a loud outgoing witch who is also extremely powerful, but much more destructive with her power. The two form a Yin and Yang relationship that carries through all the games. In each game a new group of female yokai appear and join the ever growing cast of characters. Now on it's 12th-ish title, the cast has grown into the dozens of cute yokai, demons, witches, fairies, maids, and lunar rabbits. That creates a lot of merchandising material, which brings us back to the plethora of figures I mentioned at the start of this post.

But that isn't where Touhou Project ends, but where it begins. A few months ago I posted an article called, "What I want (wish) from Black Rock Shooter". In it I talked about how I hoped Black Rock Shooter would do for creative writers what Hatsune Miku did for music, and that is to give artists a spring board with already created characters to do with as they want. Well it seems that Touhou Project has already accomplished this feat.

Once you start digging into the world of Touhou you will find an overwhelming amount of fan created content dedicated to the cast of characters. Manga, anime, music videos, and most notably games.

As I said before ZUN himself isn't a very good artist, so the fan works of Touhou might be one of the few instances where fan created materials actually look better then the original. And this really stands out with some of the games. Some people have made 3D Fighting games, dungeons crawlers, and old school 8bit games:






And a lot of them are really well made.

There is also a large fan collective of music videos based on the excellent music from the games.

Probably the most popular is Bad Apple:




And of course you can say fan made without mentioning fan made manga (or doujin, although doujin actually refers to everything in this article even the official games because all are produced and made by "non professionals"). Since Touhou Project consists of only female members, what you will find is a large amount of yuri doujin, some hentai and some not. There are enough hints thrown in the official games at which characters might be pared up together but nothing official, and thus this is where the fanbase goes nuts pairing up certain characters. Personally I'm a Marisa/Alice shipper myself.

So lets talk canon. Technically, like any fictional work the only thing that is canon is the original authors work, in this case ZUN, and this is still true for Touhou. BUT I personally like to see it as a "choose your own canon" type affair. The games are written in a way that doesn't necessarily contradict any fan work. Of course I'm not saying every fan work could be considered canon, that is impossible, but if I wanted to play all the official games and read all the offcial manga that is the base, and then if I wanted to include a yuri doujin of Marisa and Alice, I could consider that canon if I want. ZUN has said he supports such reasoning and I'm going to go with that. Or if I want to say Sky Arena happened in the Touhou world I'm free to think that as well.

What I'm getting at, is this isn't a situation like the Star Wars Expanded Universe that is basically all fan fiction and then Lucas comes and changes something and then it makes something in the Expanded Universe impossible. With Touhou you can pick and choose which pieces you want to fit in your customized Touhou Universe. For that I find it a very impressive venture. It goes above and beyond what is typically thought of as fanfic and makes it something more legitimate as a community.

And all that is still scratching the surface of Touhou Project. An official anime anniversary is in the works by UFOtable, though it isn't endorsed by ZUN and a lot of fans have already written it off.

Also after playing the games I highly, highly recommend reading the manga written by ZUN (but not drawn by thankfully). It is really cleverly written and gives a better insight into the characters and their daily lives.