Greetings, July is almost over, and before I know it, college life will be picking back up come late August. Compared to last summer's activity here on the blog, things were much more active, with not just game reviews, but also movie reviews and the first ever review of a TV series. I'm quite satisfied with how things turned out, in spite of a few hiccups. Although I plan for my reviews to be published on the Wednesday of each month, the lazy bug tried to convince me otherwise, and therefore, some came out later than expected. These delays weren't too bad, but as they say, it's best to do it now than later.
Unfortunately, I have minor bad news, the planned review for this week, a review of the anime GunXSword, has been cancelled. The reason is simple: I didn't finish the series in time. This cancellation also shows how lax I am when it comes to finishing shows; in GunXSword's case, it's taken me nearly two years to complete it, as I bought the complete series back in December of 2014, and though I was quite close, only five episodes remaining, I had forgotten so much about the plot and characters I realized that the only way to properly review it would be to go back and start at the beginning, but because there was not enough time, I decided to cancel the review altogether. The moral of the story is to never to beat around the bush to long when it comes to finishing shows, especially if it's one on the reviewing list.
With that said, what's in store for the next few months? Because college is resuming, it means that I'm back to focusing on what I do best: reviewing games. August and September will be regular business, with new game reviews as well as the continuation of Revisited, plus exclusive ones only on Cubed3, but then comes October. Much like last year, there will be reviews of horror-related films and games, with this year's theme relating to titles with a cult following, a.k.a., drive-in material. Film-wise, the subject will be the Evil Dead series, remake and television show withstanding, but I can't say much about the games, other than the last one being reviewed is a return to a familiar franchise covered once before.
November will once again involve game reviews, but in December, I will be returning to what I did this summer, two game reviews, one movie review, and one anime review, as well as the year-end favorite games of the year list and year-in-review editorial. During those two months, I'll also be preparing the schedule for 2017, and there might be a few surprises, who knows.
Two things I want to address before closing this update, the first one is in regards to the Interstellar review; for those who don't know, that movie was the first request I have taken, since the person was a good friend of mine, I had to say yes. However, readers may wonder if I will accept requests from the populace in the forthcoming future, to which I say yes, but I have to make sure that I have enough room in the schedule to allow it. When it gets closer to the year's end, I will provide more details and guidelines, but for now, wait patiently.
Lastly, as of July 25, 2016, this blog has hit 1,000 views, which nearly gave me a heart attack when I saw that number. Regardless, I say thank you to those who have read my publications, but in spite of hitting this milestone, I just want to continue on with what I do, inform and entertain. Nevertheless, I am appreciative of your support and thankful for reaching this number.
This concludes the bi-annual, tri-annual update, stick around for more from the man who strives to be the best and who was able to meet the likes of Johnny Yong Bosch and Ernie Hudson at Mississippi Comic Con 2016.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
(WARNING: MILD SPOILERS ARE AHEAD) Out in the Pacific Ocean, a ship containing large quantities of plutonium is on its course when it suddenly runs aground. The captain and crew members assume it may be an atoll, but then it starts to move; fortunately, the boat and its contents are not damaged. When an expedition is formed to search for the unknown formation, one of the people on the ship, Yoshinari Yonemori (Tsuyoshi Ihara), asks for permission to join the team, which he is granted. Meanwhile, an ornithologist named Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) is working with a police unit dispatched to Hinagame Island to investigate reports of giant birds. Sadly, they discover the village has been destroyed and everyone is dead, but they do find the creatures responsible, a flock of winged beasts known as Gyaos. In an effort to capture the monsters, Nagamine works with the government to devise a plan that involves using a baseball stadium's lights to lure them in; then, when they take the bait, they will close the stadium's roof and capture them. As this plot thread unfolds, the research team investigating the formation finds it, along with a bunch of mysterious beads and a tall slate with an unknown message implanted into the ground. Soon, the mass starts to shake and the rocks fall of, revealing to Yonemori a giant creature, which makes its way towards the stadium.
When the film begins, the pacing is quite erratic, with the movie rapidly introducing characters and plot threads that will be important later on; fortunately, by the time Gamera is introduced, the pace slows down and the film finds its right zone. Guardian of the Universe is heavily reliant on familiar tropes in regards to characters and plot details; for example, after the stadium plan is botched by Gamera's arrival, the government officials cannot decide which one is a threat to Japan, and they consider them both hostile. However, in spite of the familiarity present, where Guardian of the Universe shines is in its direction and tone. As stated earlier, this is a much serious film; in fact, its quality easily rivals any of the best entries in the Godzilla series. The human drama plays an integral part in the film, yet the filmmakers don't forget that this is a kaiju movie, and it balances out the dramatic tension with the right amount of fantasy and spectacle.
Since this is a restart to the franchise, changes have been made to both Gamera and Gyaos; in the original series, Gamera was a fire-breathing turtle who was heavy on carnage but light on backstory, but the lore this movie establishes is quite interesting. For this one, he is the product of a lost civilization and was designed to protect Earth and keep the peace; on the other hand, Gyaos represents the society's chaotic side and the repercussions of their poor behavior, similar to the roles of Godzilla and the MUTO's played in the 2014 film.
Gamera's actions also put the life of one of the characters on the line. After the first encounter between Gamera and Gyaos, the leader of the expedition, Naoya Kusanagi (Akira Onodera), reunites with his daughter Asagi Kusanagi (Ayako Fujitani). She receives one of the beads from Yonemori and as Asagi discovers, this forms a psychic connection between her and the giant turtle. The catch is that when Gamera receives damage from the army's attacks or from Gyaos, she too receives the wounds, meaning she can die if too much pain is received. This is what keeps the human story engaging, in spite of some minor issues with the plot.
As the movie progresses, the decisions the government makes come off as dumb. Even though they believe both creatures to be a problem early on, they soon decide that the winged monster isn't much of an issue, rather, it's the turtle that can fly and shoot fireballs. What makes this annoying is that even when the evidence starts to mount up against their belief, they still focus on Gamera. Thus, when Gyaos shows up in Tokyo, terrorizing the populace and making a nest out of Tokyo Tower, only then do they decide to trust Nagamine and Yonomori.
On the technical side, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe features top-notch effects work, with detailed miniature and suit effects that are a sight to behold, and it's all highlighted by the last twenty minutes of the movie, which is an entertaining climax that sees Gamera and Gyaos' final fight go all over Tokyo, both on the land and in the air, as well as briefly into space. However, certain green-screen shots of the kaiju flying, as well as the occasional usage of CG, do look noticeably dated, but these are few and far between. Although one would assume that the dub would be of poor quality, considering how dubs of kaiju films normally turn out, this one is surprisingly good. ADV Films, the original U.S. distributors, practically utilize every actor the had at the time to voice both major and minor roles; examples include Tiffany Grant, Amanda Winn Lee, Paul Sidello, and Spike Spencer, among many others; thus, this is one dub of a Japanese kaiju film that won't have you reaching for the mute button.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe takes a series that had fallen by the wayside and rejuvenates it with new life by offering a more mature storyline, while not forgetting that it's a giant monster movie through its creative and joyous fun offered by the action scenes. The end result is a film that is easily one of the best of its kind.
Final Score: 9/10
Monday, July 18, 2016
Ten years ago, developer Volition and publisher THQ introduced to the public a game known as Saints Row, a straight-and-serious open-world title; however, in the years following its release, the series gradually began to develop its own identity by putting an emphasis on pure entertainment and spectacle. The most recent entries, Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV furthered this notion by featuring VTOL's, superpowers, aliens, and Stan Bush on the fourth game's soundtrack. Yet one has to wonder where the series could go after raising the bar so high? The answer: to hell, literally.
Acting as an epilogue to Saints Row IV, Gat out of Hell sees the members of the Saints celebrating the birthday of Kenzie Kenzington, a member of their team. During the celebration, one of them brings out an Ouija board to engage in a game with the supernatural. Things get unusual when the pentagram begins to move on its own, and the next thing they know, a portal opens up, sucking in the leader of the group. As the teammates find out, the boss has been sucked into hell by Satan himself for unknown reasons; therefore, Johnny Gat and Kenzie teleport themselves into the underworld to find him. Their search leads them to Dane Vogel, the former leader of Ultor from Saints Row 2, who informs the two that Satan is throwing a wedding for his daughter and the groom is their boss. In order to rescue him and get revenge on the Prince of Darkness, the two must create mayhem and help out the likes of William Shakespeare, Vlad the Impaler, and Blackbeard if they want a chance at stopping the Devil.
Gat out of Hell's set-up is one brimming with potential, but it never fully utilizes its concept, save for a handful of moments strewn about the campaign; in fact, story and characters take a backseat in this installment, which is quite noticeable in many areas. For starters, a majority of the cutscenes happen in the form of storybook pages, which is initially amusing, but then one realizes that this allows the writers to easily skim over crucial information and have it explained to us, rather than actually show what's happening. Another problem with the minuscule narrative is that character development is barely present; the game assumes you played the previous Saints Row games and therefore, should be familiar with the likes of Johnny, Dane, or the Twins from the third installment, but without such knowledge, some people might by wondering who these characters are. Additionally, the writing is fairly weak; most of the jokes are forgettable and although hell is a setting and idea ripe with possible spoofing, not much creative liberty is taken with the locale.
As for gameplay, this latest installment repurposes a number of concepts from Saints Row IV, such as special abilities. Each character Johnny and Kenzie meets grants them an ability; said powers include super-speed and flight, a super-stomp, the ability to summon tiny demon imps that attack nearby civilians and enemies, a protective aura, and a stone blast that can immobilize foes. All of these abilities can be upgraded by collecting soul clusters scattered around hell, which is referred to as New Hades, and alternative effects for your powers can be obtained by approaching an altar and activating it with the required power. Weapons-wise, most of the firearms are recycled from the previous entry, but there are a handful of new and amusing weapons. Highlights include a grenade launcher that shoots frogs which explode when near something, an SMG that shoots locusts, and special guns based off of the Seven Deadly Sins that are obtained through hidden goals. All firearms can be upgraded in different areas such as reload speed, ammo capacity, and damage, among others.
In order to get the attention of Satan, Johnny and Kenzie must complete a large slew of goals. By causing destruction and accomplishing tasks, a meter fills up dictating the devil's wrath; as the meter progresses, he will deploy new forms of defense to try and stop the two, including missile launchers and special grenades that briefly disable their powers. The activities and other content are taken from Saints Row IV, with minor adjustments made; for example, in Insurance Fruad, renamed Torment Fraud, you take control of the banished souls and hurl them in front of traffic in order to shed years off of their time in hell, and the towers from the fourth installment are now pits filled with nodes that must be activated in order to gain full control of the spot. Disappointingly, the game, outside of a few sections, does not contain any real missions, as the side content is the main focus; as such, Gat out of Hell is very short, taking around four to five hours to beat.
Graphically, the engine Gat out of Hell utilizes is starting to show its age; although the city of New Hades is a place awash in fire and brimstone and the visual effects for explosions, weapons, etc. look decent, there's a noticeable fuzziness to the textures, which makes the game look more like a PlayStation 2 title. However, it should be noted I played the Xbox 360 version, the PlayStation 4/Xbox One versions don't look as bad, but the game still looks dated, either way you slice it. Adding to the technical inequalities are frequent audio skips in the sound effects and voice clips, and on rare occasions, the music may suddenly disappear, leaving an eerie silence. Speaking of which, the audio is hit-and-miss; despite the presence of a weak script, the voice acting is solid and similar to Burt Reynolds' cameo in Saints Row: The Third, a well-known actor makes a brief appearance in the role of a certain almighty being; unfortunately, there are no radio stations to listen to, and the composed music is very forgettable, primarily consisting of ambient, techno beats.
Saints Row: Gat out of Hell is comparable to getting dessert; after having two good meals in the form of Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV, you can't wait to see what's in store for dessert, but when you receive it, it's the steak you had prior with a few toppings on top, not only that, but its quite stale. The series is best known for providing the best in creative, over-the-top entertainment, which this game does not deliver.
Final Score: 4/10
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
In films, the phrase "so bad, it's good" refers to any works whose poor quality elicits entertainment from the viewer, rather than frustration or boredom, such movies then earn a reputation, a cult following, making it that one title everyone should see. The examples are vast and numerous, with movies such as Plan 9 from Outer Space, Troll 2, and Birdemic: Shock and Terror being some of the most well-known ones. On the other hand, video games never had such a notion in their industry, until Earth Defense Force 2017's release in 2007, which made critics and gamers alike realize it was possible for B-games to exist.
2017 has proven to be a terrible year for Earth, because an alien species known as the Ravagers has shown up with the intent of destroying human life. To combat this threat, the Earth Defense Force has been formed in order to eliminate the menace and ensure the safety of the people. As a member of the alliance known as Storm One, it's your job to go out and shoot, blow up, and burn the invading foes in the name of Earth.
Earth Defense Force 2017 is one of those titles that does not feature a huge, sprawling narrative; instead, the simplistic set-up serves as a big excuse for the carnage that is about to take place, which works well to the advantage of this title. Yet, the game subtly establishes its universe via the constant radio chatter heard in each mission; the exchanges of dialogue overheard help inform the player on what the current state of the Earth Defense Force is and how the fight is going on in other parts of the world.
At its core, the game is a simplistic, third-person run-and-gun shooter, and the controls are equally simple; Storm One can move, shoot, and roll out of harm's way. Each of the game's fifty-nine missions has one goal: kill all enemies; the locations and creatures may differ, but there is never once a shift in objectives, save for the levels that act solely as boss fights. During combat, defeated enemies will drop either health, armor, or weapons; health is self-explanatory, but on higher difficulties, it's the determining factor between life and death. Armor increases your overall health, with each unit picked up increasing life capacity by one point, so you'll want to collect as much as possible, and similar to the health pick-ups, more armor means a higher life reserve that will greatly help on the likes of Hardest or Inferno, the two highest difficulties.
Then there are the guns; at the beginning of the game, you start off with a basic assault rifle and rocket launcher, but by picking up the weapon drops, your arsenal increases greatly. Eventually, the selection of firearms grows to include a wide variety of assault rifles, shotguns, rocket and missile launchers, sniper rifles, and best of all, flamethrowers. Not every gun is useful as some weapons are mere novelty items, such as the blow torch, but the huge roster does encourage experimentation, in spite of a two-weapon limit.
To combat the Earth Defense Force are a varied and unique selection of enemies; each mission will see players confronting giant insects such as ants and spiders, robots armed with plasma cannons and rapid-fire machine guns, and flying drones. Occasionally, you'll be pitted up against a boss including the likes of a giant faux-Godzilla, a four-legged walking fortress that gives the AT-AT a run for its money, or in the last level, the mother ship itself. Additionally, the game does not hold back in enemy numbers with large swarms of bad guys that can easily overwhelm the player if they are not careful, which ensures that each firefight is fun, even if it comes at the cost of technical prowess.
Make no mistake, Earth Defense Force 2017 is an entertaining experience; this is a title that knows what it is and delivers on its promise, but it's certainly not without flaws, of which there are many. For starters, the intelligence of your allies and foes is quite erratic; one moment, the accompanying soldiers are killing bad guys left and right, but then one of them might get hung on the terrain or start shooting at a wall or an already dead enemy. Speaking of which, enemies have a frequent tendency to stray from the battlefield and head off into the distance, leaving you to rapidly roll to where they are due to the lack of a sprint button. Also, the vehicles that can be used all handle poorly, with the possible exception of the tank, yet the most egregious issue is the save system. Instead of the game auto-saving before or after each mission, players must manually save their progress, and if one forgets to do so, then they may be forced to do some serious catching up.
Visually, Earth Defense Force 2017 is not up to par with the general quality of Xbox 360 tiles; textures are bland and low-res, and on plenty of occasions, the framerate will go from stable to barely holding when there is too much onscreen action, making you think that your console might explode any second. Adding to these inequalities are the multiple glitches, some of which are amusing, such as the fact that when spaceships fall out of the sky, they sink through the environment rather than exploding on contact. Another hilarious moment worth mentioning is when I noticed on the radar that a vehicle had sunk through the environment, only to end up in the sky and plummet to the ground.
However, the flip side to these technical quirks is that the poor graphics and laughable bugs exhibit a certain charm, as the large and highly destructible environments make you feel like you're on the set of a science fiction B-movie that the game takes great inspiration from. Adding to this charm are the campy and overly dramatic voice acting and music; every line of dialogue is pure cheese, with your allies frequently spouting highly quotable one-liners including "Do you like death? Then die!" "Do you like the taste of my bullets?" and best of all, "EDF! EDF!"
Although the multiple issues would suggest that this should be a game of poor quality, they can be overlooked as Earth Defense Force 2017 is consistently entertaining through and through. The missions may get repetitive and the product lacks noticeable polish, but much like the films this game is reminiscent of, such flaws are diminished by the sheer entertainment offered.
Final Score: 8/10
Saturday, July 2, 2016
Reboots and remakes are often considered to be the death knell of creativity amongst certain individuals; they argue that taking a movie or any other work and updating it is a pointless affair since what worked in the original product is not something to be tampered with. Although this is true with most remakes, there are exceptions to the rule, but what role does Bubblegum Crisis; Tokyo 2040 play in all of this?
Originally released in 1987, the original Bubblegum Crisis is often considered to be a classic amongst fans of anime, and its success was bolstered by the fact that it was released during the blooming period of OVA's, which are straight-to-video anime releases. The show followed a group known as the Knight Sabers and their endeavors to eliminate machines called boomers that had gone corrupt and posed a threat to the city of Tokyo. Unfortunately, the series never reached full completion; instead of receiving thirteen episodes as originally intended, only eight were produced, with a follow-up, Bubblegum Crash, released to provide closure to the narrative. Nearly a decade after its release, studio AIC revived the series as Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040, a twenty-six episode television show that not only updated the look of the original title, but also gave the studio a chance to tell a complete, overarching story.
In the not-too distant future of 2040, Tokyo is enjoying a period of prosperity after disastrous earthquakes crippled the city seven years ago. Fortunately, with the assistance of the Genom Corporation and their boomers, the city has been rebuilt and made habitable for the populace. While this would imply everything is perfect, it's not; recently, boomers have started to go rogue and cause chaos in the city. When such incidents arise, the A.D. Police is called in to deal with the machines, but most of the time, their efforts are futile as a rogue boomer is capable of evolving into a much deadlier form, making them harder to kill. When things seem hopeless, the Knight Sabers come in to defeat the machine and save the city, but their efforts come with hostility from the A.D. Police, who view the group as a roadblock to their efforts. However, unbeknownst to both groups, the Genom Corporation has their own ulterior motives, with the leader, Quincy, planning to start a chain reaction of events designed to end the Knight Sabers.
When the show begins, the set-up and narrative seem simple: boomer becomes corrupt, the police try to stop it, and then the Knight Sabers show up to defeat the creature, in between these riveting sequences are plenty of scenes devoted to fleshing out the four members, all of whom are female, as well as the secondary characters and villains. Yet, as the episodes progress, the story gradually becomes more complex and intriguing as multiple questions are brought up regarding certain characters and their motives, and new plot threads are introduced as a result.
With a few exceptions, Tokyo 2040's characters are mostly compelling. The four Knight Sabers, Cilia, Priss, Nene, and Linna, are all likeable and sport interesting personalities. Cilia is the leader and founder of the group; due to reasons explained in the show, she spends most missions acting as a commander, watching and monitoring the other members and making sure everything runs smoothly, but on rare occasions, she dons her hardsuit to help the others out. In certain regards, she is reminiscent of Bruce Wayne; similar to this established character, Cilia lost both of her parents when she was a child, her mother due to illness and her father due to his involvement with a government project that comes into play later on in the series. As such, she has grown a hatred for boomers and forms the group in order to destroy what Genom has created. Furthering the similarities between Bruce and her is that she has a butler who is not only reliable but frequently gives her advice regarding what she does.
Then there's Priss, the rebel; similar to Cilia, Priss has spent most of her life without a family, and this was made even more difficult by the earthquakes that happened in Tokyo. Grown up, Priss has become a musician and is the lead singer of her own band, but in spite of her hard exterior, there is a calm personality on the inside that is exposed through the efforts of a cop named Leon, but more on him later. After Priss are Nene and Linna; Nene is the techhead and her technological expertise comes into play frequently, she's also the youngest of the group, and her age occasionally makes her feel like she is looked down upon. Linna is the new recruit; through a series of events, she joins the team and learns that becoming a vigilante is not easy business.
As one can tell, Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 is reliant on familiar archetypes for both its story and characters; each team member's personality not only distinguishes them from one another but also encompasses character traits seen before in plenty of other titles, anime or otherwise. This isn't necessarily bad as the writing is solid and as stated prior, the story is interesting, even if it does go off the rails later on in the series.
Returning to the characters, next is Leon (no, not that Leon). Leon is a member of the A.D. Police and like everyone else on the force, he sees the Knight Sabers as a threat to their organization, not just the boomers. His viewpoint of the group changes through multiple encounters with Priss, before long, he figures out she is a Knight Saber and later on, Leon finds himself helping the team out. Continuing the roster, there's Nigel, a mechanic who is responsible for designing the hardsuits; additionally, he has a personal history with Cilia, since he used to work with her father back when he was alive. Lastly, there's Maki, Cilia's younger brother; after his introduction into the cast, there's a web of intrigue built around this character as he disappeared a few years prior, only to suddenly reappear at Cilia's doorstep, but aside that, there's not much else to mention about him, other than the fact he looks like Shinji Ikari about to hit the gym; furthering this coincidence, both characters share the same voice actor, Spike Spencer.
As a whole, the protagonists are fine, but the villains are one of Tokyo 2040's weaker aspects. Quincy, the leader of Genom, is set up to be the main bad guy, but halfway through the series, his right-hand man, Mason, betrays his boss by discovering and unearthing Galatea, a genetic experiment whose prior escape attempt prompted Cilia's father to activate a device which caused the earthquakes but killed him in the process. Galatea, bearing a strong resemblance to Cilia, has the ability to control boomers, and her character is the penultimate decider of what direction the show would go; that is, off the rails.
Episodes fifteen through seventeen are a strong indicator of this notion; in these episodes, the tone is less action-packed and more reminiscent of a zombie flick, as Galatea uses her powers to resurrect all of the boomers locked in storage by the A.D. Police. This, in turn, causes them to wreak havoc on the building and the Knight Saber must work with the police to stop the infestation. This small arc is only the tip of the iceberg as later on, Galatea fuses herself with Genom's tower, turning the facility into a giant spaceship with the intent on hijacking Earth's satellites in order to have control over all boomers; thus, our heroines, with the exception of Cilia, head into space to deal with her. The end result is a final episode that is a convoluted mess filled with multiple cases of plot convenience and an ending that leaves the fate of out protagonists on an ambiguous note.
Artistically and visually, Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 looks fine but its age shows noticeably in many areas. The design of the show is good, with contemporary character designs and unique boomer concepts, but the overall quality is inconsistent; in one scene, things may look competent, but in the next there may be a noticeable lack of polish, which is especially noticeable in the stiff sequences of Priss and her band performing. The dub, produced by ADV Films, holds up well with solid performances all-around, even is there is the occasional cheesy line of dialogue.
An interesting aspect of Tokyo 2040 is how the series utilizes music not just as tracks that play in each episode, but also as a crucial element to the style of the show. Taking inspiration from rock music of the time as well as from MTV, the music and even the art style of the episode title cards have an exaggerated and at times, grungy feeling to them; further honing the importance of music is that the name of each episode is based off of the title of an album or song by a musician, generally ones involved with rock.
In spite of varying issues prevalent throughout, Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 is still a solid show. The story starts out simple but quickly becomes serious and focused as the episodes progress, even if the end result is somewhat messy, but the narrative is backed up by mostly enjoyable characters and entertaining action sequences.
Final Score: 7/10