Thursday, March 31, 2011

The games of April 2011.

April - like May beyond - is almost offensively sparse. Fortunately - like May - the month is redeemed entire by one release that anyone in their right mind should be flipping out over.

It starts, however, with a little franchise that could - one of the PSP's most charming denizens.

April 12th
Patapon 3
Hype-O-Meter: High.

I have a strange relationship with the Patapon games. I've never completed one, and I adore them. When, after a few weeks or months apart, I pick the series up again, I find myself utterly seduced by the charming little characters, the energizing music, the great animation and stylish designs.

I probably put close to 30 hours into the first, I've barely scratched the second, and I will still likely find myself hard-pressed to not pick up Patapon 3 this month.

April 12th
The Incredibles
Hype-O-Meter: Day one.

I know it's not a game, but this month really needed some filler - plus, this is my favorite Pixar movie of all time, and I've been bitching ever since I upgraded to an HDTV that it was never available on Bluray.

On the 12th, it will be, and I will pay full price for a Disney movie - an almost disgusting act I am not prone to.

April 18th
Portal 2
Hype-O-Meter: Day one.

I don't care what the cynics think - I expect Portal 2 to be as thrilling, endearing, funny and smart as the original. If you don't know what Portal is, you may either find out right now or hand in your Gamer Card and get the hell out.

April 19th
Prince of Persia Trilogy HD
Hype-O-Meter: Low burn.

I love these games - we all do - and I find myself in the fortunate position of actually really, really enjoying Warrior Within (aside from the music). I must admit, I'll find it very difficult to not purchase an HD-re-release of one of the last gen's most celebrated trilogies.

April 19th
Mortal Kombat
Hype-O-Meter: Low.

I'll be honest - that demo didn't do much for me. The Mortal Kombat reboot may be better than the last few games in the series combined, but it still feels like a desperate, clawing attempt to wring a few more dubloons out of a dead name, once highly profitable.

That said, it still looks and plays pretty damn well - and hey, finishers are actually back! - but I doubt it will be any real competition for the BlazBlues or Street Fighters of the world.

Damn, April, you are leaner than DJ Qualls. You need some meat on your bones.

Hawken gameplay does indeed look pretty badass.

The internet kinda' freaked out when, on March 4th, the first trailer for first-person mech shooter Hawken debuted. It wasn't unworthy of freaking out - the fact that this was, we're told, made by a mere nine people makes it pretty remarkable - but at the time I wasn't seeing a game I felt any need to play.

Today, a gameplay trailed dropped - and now I find myself in agreement with the consensus of March 4th - Hawken looks awesome. I want this game to do well, and I want the sequel on a platform that I own.

Kupowered is a great blog, and you should check it out.

Occasionally, I'll link to someone else's blog. Rarely. Not often. Only when it serves to make the point I'm discussing in a post.

I get emails and (quickly deleted) comments, occasionally, which ask that I start following someone, or which ask me to (ugh) link-trade with them. I never, ever do this.

To do so, I feel, is offering an endorsement of their product - which I'm loathe to do. I have a few friends whose blogs I never, or almost never link to - and who aren't featured in my sidebar. Perhaps their blogs are brilliant, but I feel I'm too close to them to make an impartial judgment on that matter - so I don't.

For the sake of being inclusive, this is Mario's Blog, which he's updating far more regularly these days:
Mario G's Excellent Blog of Normality (in which he expounds on multiple subjects)
These are Blue's blogs:
Blue's Dream Catablog
(in which he recounts his dreams. He has an uncanny ability to remember them, and they're weird as hell.)

Bluesings Musings (in which he muses.)
And lately I have been reading Daisy's stuff as well. Though I have no idea who this person is, I enjoy reading it:
Gamer Girl: DaisyFAIL. (which, I trust, will one day allow me to use this image:


But back on topic! Three months ago, an internet friend I know as Darth Mogs sent me a message, asking for advice about starting a blog. After being thoroughly flattered, I offered what sage counsel I could, and kept an eye on his progress.

After a week I said to myself, "hm, he's doin' a pretty good job, here. Interesting topics, great passion, and one nice, big, meaty post every day. I don't even do that. That's pretty impressive.
I should write about that on my blog," I said.

Pfft. He's made like, a week's worth of posts. That's worth featuring? I countered.


People have written libraries and asked for a link, and you shot 'em down cold.

But he's doing a really good job...

For like six days. Wait a bit and see if he keeps it up!

So, like... three months?

Three months.

I don't know if anyone could keep up this amount of content for three months."
Except then, he did. It's been... well, it's been two months and twenty-five days - but that's damn well close enough.

Kupowered is a great blog, and you should check it out. He talks about the cool little flash games I never cover, he loves those Dynasty Warriors-style games and Yakuza, and every now and again he'll point out some weird, crazy stuff you've never heard of.

Mogs, I salute you. You are going in the sidebar - which hasn't seen a blog added to it since I created this space, and included only Professor Snugglesworth's blog (which inspired this one) and Leigh Alexander's.

Dig it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Vanillaware is making a new thing!

And just yesterday I was begging to know where the heck their next thing was! Vanillaware's next thing is Grand Knights History for the PSP! Yayyyy!

Vanillaware, you should know, is a wet dream of a developer. They specialize in gorgeous, hand-drawn, lovingly animated 2D sprites. Their first such title was Princess Crown on the Saturn (later ported to the PSP), followed by the spectacular Odin Sphere and the not-bad GrimGrimoire on PS2 and - the reason I bought a Wii - Muramasa: The Demon Blade.

Famitsu revealed the title today, and info is beginning to trickle down the craggy face of the interweb, to a degree that it may be scooped up and sipped.

Unlike every other game Vanillaware has ever made, Grand Knights History is an old-school turn-based RPG.

Right-click, open in new window/tab
to see a very blurry image.

The story takes place in a world where three factions - Union, Avalon and Logres - are competing for power. You choose your faction and take command of a squad of knights - which are sure to be gorgeous creations - and wage your war.

This may seem very been-there-done-that, but in true Vanillaware fashion, it's sure to be delicious and weird - there's something of a multiplayer component.
"The 2D characters will be animated just like in our action games, and we're also challenging ourselves to build a new type of gameplay by fusing online and offline," said Tomohiko Deguchi, project director at Vanillaware. "Most RPGs up to now involve one person or a group of friends playing together, but we're trying to set up this new kind of game, a full-on war that all the users are connected together in. It's a war RPG where not just one player, not just a few people, but all of the players are drawn together as they fight."
What's that mean? No idea - but it's Vanillaware, so it's getting day-one'd.

[update] Oooh I found screenshots! Thank you, Andriasang!

Look at that dragon! I just wanna' boss fight the crap out of it. [/update]

Lead me not unto temptation.

I can find it fine by myself, thanks. Today I went down to Best Buy to lay hands on the 3DS. To see what all the game journalists were peeing themselves over at E3 2010.

This was a risky maneuver. It's entirely possible that my current solvency - and compulsion to own shiny video game-related tech - may have resulting in spending several hundreds of my dollars.

It did not.

Like those journos - and like many of you - I picked the thing up, selected Pilotwings, and slid the slider until the image snapped into three-dimensional focus.


Much like with the DS, I just cannot see myself owning one - not with the current library, or one that I foresee.
"But dude, it's in three dee!"
Mmhm. And that's moderately interesting. As a tech demo, sure. As a "look what we can do!" it's interesting - it's glasses-less 3D - and that's cool, but I'm afraid I honestly don't see it adding much to my gaming experience, in the same way it adds next-to-nothing to the experience of viewing a film. More than that, it often results in a lesser film because artists are constantly leaning on this new extra dimension instead of making, y'know, a good movie.

I'm not saying the same will apply to 3DS games, but neither am I willing to admit that it actually has a significant and positive impact on the experience.

Yeah, no. I don't need this. Not yet, or any time soon.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

PSN update!

Let's see what we've got...

What's Moon Diver? That looks like a pretty cool logo... let's download the demo.

And let's download a video of it...

Hm. Polygonal characters. Pleh. That logo sold me a bill of goods! Where oh where are the beautiful sprite-based games? Vanillaware! Where is your next thing?

Annnd Free Realms is out. Hm. A free-to-play MMO. With a "free version." Hm. As I recall, Tycho was quite positive about it in his newspost... and Eurogamer gave the PC version a 7/10... and it's got a metascore of 79...

Hm. Sure, I'll give that a try.

Also, there's some DLC for Mass Effect 2. Nah.

[update] Annnd it won't let me in to Free Realms because it needs an update it won't let me download. Classic. [/update]

The 3DS is sellin' like gangbusters - but not to me.

Eurogamer reports that folks in the West are snapping up Nintendo's new handheld just as ravenously as our Japanese counterparts. Nintendo announced it's the best launch they've ever had in the US, while a spokesperson for HMV in the UK said "it's certainly among our fastest ever selling consoles."

As I look around the internet, a lot of people I know or writers I follow have picked one up - or plan to. Today at work I found myself successfully talking a co-worker out of buying one. When he told me of his intention to purchase the handheld, I couldn't help it - I raised an eyebrow and said
"what for?"

"It's three dee!"

"What games are you going to play on it?"

"Street Fighter IV!"

"And..? What else?"



Now, in his defense, Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition has been getting some stellar reviews - the worst I've heard about it is the button limitations of the 3DS mean some corners were cut in the control scheme. At the same time, it and Pilotwings and Nintendogs + Cats don't really strike me as killer apps. The 3DS doesn't have one - and judging by reports of its sales it doesn't need one, either. The platform is the killer app.

It's a screen that lets you view polygonal objects in 3D without glasses. It's The Cool New Thing - but as someone who primarily buys consoles to play video games on, the 3DS launch library has hardly made a compelling argument.

And part of me wants one, of course. Just to see and touch and taste the thing. It's The Cool New Thing, and I want to be able to accurately advise you on the subject... but I... can't really bring myself to admit that I want one. I can't convince myself that it's anywhere close to a good investment - not when (going on precedent) the 3DS Version 2.0 will be out next year with a price drop, the thing currently has no games I actually want to play - and the games I do find interesting are ports of great old games.

Honestly, I may buy it for Ocarina of Time and Snake Eater.

Monday, March 28, 2011

I was expecting... more.

My buddy Blue recently nabbed himself a PS3 (yay!), which prompted me to suggest we travail through a few local pawn shops to see if there were any games he simply must purchase.

At the second store we visited, I bartered the dude behind the counter into selling me Deadly Premonition and Halo 3 for twenty bucks. Deadly Premonition because everyone assures me it's so bad it's good, and Halo 3 because I enjoyed the original, and wanted to see where they'd taken the franchise.

Turns out they'd taken it to the exact same place.

Big, simple levels with big, blocky geometry and funny enemies who are pleasurable to shoot at. It's precisely the same.

I don't know what I was expecting. I guess I was expecting something on par with, well, Sony's flagship franchises. The core gameplay here is fine - great, even. It's simple and smooth and refuses to be constrained by complexity.

I wanted the story to hook me, more. I wanted the cutscene animation to invest me in this world. I wanted a world that... didn't look so shitty.

Maybe I wanted Halo: Reach, I don't know.

I'm sure I'll give it another try, eventually - but this disappoints me. I don't like that I'm not thrilled by it. I wanted to come back here and say "hey, all you PS3 gamers - Halo 3 is actually pretty damn awesome!"

Ah, well. There's always Gears 3.


...and after writing this, I kinda' kicked myself for it. I was like, "it probably wasn't cool to pick on Halo 3 for its presentation. I mean, when was it even made? Ah - 2007 - well, that's something of an excuse.

Waaaaiiit a minute - no it's not."


God of War team hiring online programmer.

This job listing over at Gamasutra spells it out - Sony Santa Monica is looking to hire a Senior Online Programmer who will be responsible for "designing and implementing systems and tools to support networking needs (such as in-game communication, client-server, match-making, leaderboards."

Of course, it's entirely possible - even likely - that Santa Monica's next game won't be a God of War title, but I'm kinda' disappointed by this. There aren't a great deal of expressly single-player franchises left, and Santa Monica's hopping on the multiplayer bandwagon.


Is this the end of an age?

Portal 2: Bot Trust trailer.

MUSIC - The Odin Sphere theme.

Man, I love this song. It just says "prepare for a gorgeous experience."

Blog maintenance day!

I'm not sure I'll do an actual post, today. A feature or a news thingie, I mean. If something comes up, I'll certainly get to it - but there's a lot of little things I've wanted to work on, around the blog, that I'm going to try to get done today.

I've basically ignored the Features section of the blog for a while - probably everything I wrote since the GotY posts needs to be put in there... [update] twenty. Twenty features between now and last year needed to be added. Durr. [/update] Also, why the hell do I still have a link to all of last year's GotY posts in the sidebar? That needs to go. And I need to add Killzone 3 to the PS3 exclusives guide - but first, it's new header time.

I think I've had Zombie Playground up for about a quarter of a year, so yeah - time for a change.

Hunting for new headers always takes a lot longer than I initially think. I did happen across an absolutely awesome image today:

A beautiful console wars painting - very cool - but it's too slender to serve as a good header. There's a link in the above image to its full-size version.

Originally, my next header was going to be my PS3's wallpaper - Rubi from Wet.

Although she shares almost nothing in common with the ladies of Sucker Punch, that movie just left such a bad taste in my mouth I decided to bench her, for now. Perhaps we'll see her again before Wet 2 drops.

I've always wanted a Mirror's Edge header, but I guess I don't want to spend the time to find a really good one (assuming a really good one exists). I must've cropped this off months ago:

I considered returning to (personal favorite) Schoolgirl Gunfight...

...but been there, done that. A Yojimbo header would be cool,

but I don't want to give new visitors the impression that this is where one goes to be put to sleep.

I did find this adorable PS3/Ico/Yorda art...

...too cute, maybe. And this one I prepped from Paranoia Agent is probably too obscure...

So that leaves us with an old screen capture I took of the Sea of Dreams teaser for BioShock 2. I like to think that's Eleanor Lamb, looking out over the sea, thinking of Rapture, clutching her Big Daddy Doll - but it could be any gangly, growing Little Sister on the verge of becoming Big.

Still, it's a lovely, lonely, beautiful image. It'll do, for now.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A good year for FPSs, so far.

Killzone 3 is awesome, Crysis 2 is pretty great and Bulletstorm is just plain fun. I'm not usually big on FPSs - last year I only played BioShock 2 (which I loved) - but 2011's had an early flood of quality shooters.

Yay us!

REVIEW - Crysis 2.

Crysis was always more about the tech that drove it than the game itself. I'm sure I heard something about it being an open-world shooter which gave the player a great deal of choice in how they approach situations - but 99% of the conversations and articles regarding the game focused on how its main purpose seemed to be kicking your gaming PC in the nuts, over and over, and how staggeringly attractive it was. I suppose this is what developer Crytek gets for naming its games after itself - Crysis, FarCry - there's a cynicism at work among the gamer consciousness that these titles are little more than tech demos to sell the developer's engine for licensing purposes.

Indeed, the original Crysis is still a gorgeous game - and anticipation was high for Crytek's console debut (FarCry 2 doesn't count, that was Ubisoft Montreal) - to the point that, prior to its release, many publications were hailing it as the best-looking console game ever.

They were, for the record, wrong. Crysis 2 on PS3 isn't a bad-looking game by any stretch of the imagination, but it falls short of the standard set by Sony's first-party studios. God of War III, Killzone 2 and Uncharted 2 can rest easy - the lapping tide of Crytek's ability strikes well below their high-water mark.

Fortunately, that's not all there is to say about Crysis 2. It's not merely a good-looking-but-not-exceptionally-so game - it's a good game. The story is largely useless, with mediocre voice work, amateurish writing and disappointing animation, but the game itself is rather refreshing, in terms of design.

They say the clothes make the man, and in this case it's all about the suit. The nanosuit - far more important than the man within it - has a growling, predatory voice of its own (unlike the player character). It's the reasonable explanation of the classic first-person shooter experience - one man manages to be the singular hero, against ridiculous odds. The suit is your minimap, your best friend, the legitimization of the requisite HUD and your most powerful weapon - the weapon of choice.

With its seething observation of "tactical options available," it prompts you to press up on the D-pad to reveal a more detailed heads-up display. Markers dotted about the level indicate weapon cashes, opportunities to flank your enemies, gain higher ground, explore, or point out a .50 cal turret begging for use.

It's also just pretty damn cool, and well-implemented. I love the way the suit talks, I love how it seems more invested in your survival than you are, I love all the little suit powers that are so perfectly easy to call upon - you're never fighting with the game to do what you want.

It's a pleasurable title to play. It's slick.

At first, it seems strange that you tap the select button to bring up your suit's customization menu, but hold it down to customize your weapon - but in practice, it works perfectly because customizing your gun never takes longer than four seconds.

Hold select, tap triangle to cycle your muzzle attachments, tap X to cycle your sight attachment, tap square to cycle your underbarrel - release select. It entirely removes the standard waiting time of menus - pick up a pistol off a dead soldier and in no time flat you've got Your pistol, made to order.

This streamlined ease-of-use extends to every mechanic the suit offers - nothing is ever more than a single or double button-tap away - and it allows you to instantly adapt to the changing conditions of a firefight, and confidently negotiate the battlefield.

It makes you feel, in a word, badass.

It's also more open than we're used to, in terms of how you achieve your goal. Crysis 2 is a linear series of open(ish) levels, but a great deal of attention is placed on vertical space. Climbing or spelunking always nets you an alternate rout, a powerful weapon, a great vantage point to snipe from.

While all these lovely powers and their strategic application are satisfying and often thrilling, they also allow a great deal of game-breaking potential. After pumping a few thousand nano-catalyst (obtained from defeated alien invaders) into my stealth abilities, I was able to essentially walk past every enemy in the game's final chapter.

At the same time, I don't really want to complain about it. The game's narrative may be a yawner, but the player's story is peppered with user-generated moments of pure awesome.

Tearing a heavy machine gun from its base, walking up to a hulking, armored alien Heavy, hearing The Suit growl "maximum armor" and pelting the beast with .50 caliber rounds while I soak up its fury - awesome. Sneaking up behind a soldier to put a knife to his throat in stealth mode, whipping around, firing up heat vision and sniping an enemy through the fog - awesome.

There are... a lot of these moments in Crysis 2, made all the more satisfying because you know you could have handled these situations in dozens of other ways.

It feels like a vital spark is missing, though. The game doesn't feel creative, inspired or very inspiring - beyond what fun the player can choose to have with the offered mechanics.

I find I can't help but compare Crysis 2 to Killzone 3, and despite its suite of sweet features and slick implementation, Crysis's firefights just end up feeling less intense, less interesting than Killzone's. Bullets don't feel as important, for some reason - though I love the way they rip through concrete pillars and walls - and even the mightiest of enemies are far less dangerous or intimidating.

Still, the nanosuit is absolutely badass, and gives you a real feeling of strength, choice and power. The gameplay is tight, the interface is slick, the graphics are well above-par and it's got a great soundtrack. There's little to complain about (beyond the story) in Crysis 2, but neither is it a title that feels very necessary - though this is not a condemnation.

It's a capable shooter - eager to please - and a respectable purchase.

-it's rather good-looking
-slick interface
-ultra-streamlined use of your suit
-makes the player feel really powerful
-open(ish) levels encourage various strategies
-the suit is very, very cool, and generally well-balanced
-every now and then you'll orchestrate a moment that feels wicked-cool
-when you go stealth mode there's an electronic purring, just like in Predator. Awesome!
-good pacing


-boring story
-mediocre script and voice work
-...which makes the game feel pretty pointless sometimes
-doesn't feel as intense as some other shooters
-enemy AI can be pretty stupid, sometimes
-eventually you can power up your suit to the point where you can just walk through the game and never worry about anything except forced combat
-it's got this auto-pop-around-cover mechanic that's pretty picky about which cover it'll let you pop from

Very good.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

MOVIE - Sucker Punch.

After I posted the first trailer for Sucker Punch, my buddy Blue and I agreed to go see it together. Earlier today, I called him.

"Are we still on for Sucker Punch tonight?"

"Yeah, totally!"

"Okay, cool. Just so you know, it's been getting really shitty reviews."


"Yeah, like really shitty. And not even so-bad-it's-good, but like, so-bad-it's-bad. Still up for it?"

"I'd like to see it and come to my own conclusions about that."

"Agreed. I think even hearing that it's bad will make it easier for us to like it. Like, when someone tells you a movie is super-awesome and you go see it, it's hard to live up to those expectations and the movie doesn't seem all that good. If we go into this expecting shit, we'll have no alternative but to be pleasantly surprised."

We were not pleasantly surprised.

Sucker Punch actually starts out with a great deal of promise. There's a fantastic, wordless, five-minute sequence in which the foundation for our story is built that really invests the audience in the central character and her primary antagonist.

Then the antagonist disappears, never to return or receive his comeuppance, and we are only allowed to know the protagonist as Baby Doll. Ech. The lead is named after a style of lingere.

But that's okay! Exploitation can work, sometimes. Snyder quite capably made dudes in fetish gear awesome in 300 - maybe it can work here too!

It doesn't.

Watching Baby Doll, Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie (the brunette) and Amber strut through fantasy war-time trenches with firearms strapped over bustiers, thigh-highs and garter belts is just...'s...

I've never used this word on the blog, before. Ever. Every time I'm about to use it, I stop myself, 'cause I worry one of my readers may have a friend or family member who they feel is slighted by the term - I want you to understand the gravity I attach to using this word:

It's retarded.

Now, to be fair, sometimes it looks awesome. Blue and I agreed, it looks awesome when it's happening in slow motion. When Baby Doll is beating up twenty-foot Samurai golems with a pistol and a Samurai sword in slo-mo? Awesome. When they're kicking the asses of steampunk mechanical Nazis? Awesome. As they're all walking along in slow motion, looking all freaky, bristling with weapons and strutting their stuff - it bypasses my bullshit detector and seems rather cool.

Then it returns to normal speed and I feel like an absolute asshole for sitting here, watching this movie. As soon as it stops being a comic book come to life, it's just insulting.

There are highlights among the cast. I've no idea who Jena Malone (Rocket - above) is, but Blue and I agreed, we just like her without being able to put a finger on why. Also, Carla Gugino is - as always - a pleasure to watch, but that's it.

That's all.

Zack Snyder clearly thinks he's trying to be rather deep with his three-layer film, but it's not clever or deep or the least bit satisfying. The ham-handed symbolism, the blunt-force trauma foreshadowing, the absolutely pointless sexual exploitation that isn't even redeemed by being entertaining...

It's a shitty movie, and I felt guilty by association - just by viewing it.

I don't mind the action sequences - they're fun enough to watch, simply due to art direction and choreography - in the same way the original cut of Advent Children was worth watching just to see Tifa beat the shit out of Loz. If someone were to cut Sucker Punch down to a fifteen-minute movie of its three fantasy action sequences?

Sure, I'd watch that. Just to see a grown woman in a Japanese schoolgirl outfit beat the crap out of twenty-foot Samurai golems again. It's got a few moments of genuine spectacle.

Beyond that, this is a pointless movie which never allows even a shred of satisfaction during the experience, and an ending that lives up to its title - but the poor titular sucker is the audience, and Zack Snyder has just belted us across the collective face.

Ode To Joy.

Y'know when you're looking at funny YouTube videos and you click on something interesting in the sidebar, and suddenly you've lost like an hour of your life? Well, I cut the process short today after poking through Meekakitty's stuff when I happened across this rendition of Ode To Joy, performed by Beaker, and decided it would never get better than this.

Three things.

Specifically, three funny video game-related videos!

First up, Angry Birds: The Movie: a Michael Bay film.

Here's Navi's Song (Hey, Listen!) by a thoroughly endearing lady who goes by Meekakitty.

And finally Indie Dreamz by Mega 64.

Sorry 'bout yesterday.

On Thursday, I worked 'till 11pm. On Friday, I had to be up at 6am to get to work for the day shift. Needless to say, I got very little sleep and was pretty damn tuckered by the time I got home yesterday - sorry for that one meager post.

MOVIE - Summer Wars.

The rabbit is really cool.

"Summer Wars? What the hell is Summer Wars?"

The title kept popping up, on Amazon. After purchasing Paranoia Agent and FLCL, the website was always pushing other stuff on me. Some Evangelion here, some Fullmetal Alchemist there - but always included would be Summer Wars.

The above cover art was all I'd ever seen of it. Clearly, this anime must be patently ridiculous - and while the ridiculous has its place, I like stuff that is more than... I hesitate to say "just entertainment" - because every novel we read, every movie we see, every game we play is can be described as such - I like anime that's trying to start a dialogue about something. To be more than I'm used to animation being.

If you're just going be be very stylish, very good-looking and very well-designed, you'd better be fucking awesome.

The above image does not do Summer Wars justice. It's not merely a visually creative title that shows a bit of spectacle here and there, like a dancer flashing some leg - it's more a slice-of-life comedy than anything, thoroughly grounded in reality.

Kenji Koiso is a timid, soft-spoken math genius. Shanghaied by the prettiest girl in school for what she promises him is "a part-time job", he gives up his work as a "code monkey" running support for online super-location Oz and follows her to her family's gorgeous, ancient country estate. It's her grandmother's ninetieth birthday, you see, and she's promised the family's grand matriarch that she will bring her boyfriend, her husband-to-be, to meet her. Oh-ho-ho! Zany comedy of errors, anyone?

At times, Summer Wars feels like Home For The Holidays or National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - a large, ensemble cast of weird extended family to be entertained by, with regular character-driven, situation-comedy laughs.

It's also Kenji's coming-of-age story. It's also a bit of a romance. It's very much about the physical, tangible world and the relationships that can only exist therein. Meanwhile, in this world of a family gathered around a long table in a beautiful old home constructed entirely of wood and paper walls, Oz exists - and the behind-the-scenes theme of the film is the competition between the virtual and the physical, between tradition and technology.

Oz is World of Warcraft, the DMV, the tax bureau, the internet, your cell phone provider, your bank - it is everything - with billions of accounts worldwide. It is the singular online location - where every video game is played - and perfectly secure, we're told.

Then one guy breaks one code, and a malicious force is given the keys to the city. Infrastructure, security - power - as every account within Oz is highjacked, more and more authority is wrenched from the hands of people, and given to this one enemy.

Our reliance on technology is turned against us - it's rather classic. A term you won't hear very often these days is "religious terror." It's why, back in the day, horror stories were spun from supernatural space. Wolf-men, unholy things like vampires and ancient Egyptian curses - the fear of that unknown. Likewise, science fiction has always used the latest advancements - the least-understood by the population at large - as the boogeyman (see: Frankenstien), and filmmakers have been trying to make the internet work as one since the early 90s.

Here, it works very well. No, it's not scary - but the film does seem to say "just think about this," as the best do.

Still, it doesn't overly rely on the flash and pomp of its wonderfully-realized virtual space. It's still a story about a boy and a girl, a big crazy family and the goings-on at a beautiful old traditional home - and the intersection of those two worlds. It reminds us that the point and purpose of technology is to enjoy and communicate with people - to protect them - and suggests we are in danger of forgetting it.

Summer Wars is far from my new favorite anime, but it's still a pleasant evening of film. Funny, smart, sometimes silly, sometimes ultracool, sometimes very touching - it's worth watching.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Alice, what have you done?

You got your cover art all over my blog!

Now, who's going to clean this up, hm?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mortal Kombat Kratos gameplay.

I haven't been particularly interested in MK since playing the hell out of II back on the SNES. I gave the demo for the reboot a try, but... meh. It's largely similar - uppercut and sweep are the same, combos are made the same, but I gotta' admit - I was expecting more out of the finishers.

They're just not... shocking or gruesome enough. I know, it sounds kinda' gross - "I want more gore!" - but in Mortal Kombat, I do. I want this game to disturb me on some fundamental level - and it doesn't.

What is a bit shocking are the x-ray moves. These are moves you spend your super bar on, and it's these that show you close-up x-rays of your opponent's ribs and skull splintering like dried out sticks - they have, effectively, taken the finishers' place.

Anyway, here's a nice, beefy gameplay trailer featuring PS3-exclusive character Kratos - which seriously makes me want to go boot up God of War III again.

Want to help Japan and get some awesome Sega merch?

Head over to the Sega of America Blog and check out all the sweet gear they're auctioning off to support post-quake-tsunami-quake-quake-in-the-process-of-a-nuclear-meltdown Japan.

There's a lot of Yakuza gear up, but there's also a signed copy of Valkyria Chronicles (plus a sealed copy) and the above gorgeous piece of promotional art from the Valkyria Chronicles launch event in San Francisco.

No Time To Explain.

Well, this looks interesting and entertaining.

Duke Nukem Forever delayed.

First off, let me say,
Aaaaahahahahahahahaaaaaaahahahah! Hahah. Hahhhh....
Then, let Gearbox President Randy Pitchford say it.

Capcom hopping on the HD-up-port bandwagon.

My buddy Mogs points out that Joystiq point out that Andriasang points out that Resident Evil: Code Veronica and the celebrated Resident Evil 4 are on their way to PS3 and 360. There's rumored to be a screenshot out there that compares Ada Wong's original look to her up-ported, HD self - but I can't find it.

I rather liked Code Veronica (though my favorite of the classic RE's is 2), and I probably put 100 hours into 4 - so I'm likely going to have to buy this.

Well... let me put that another way. I'll buy it if I end up convincing myself to buy the Prince of Persia HD collection. That will set some sort of precedent, and I'll likely be driven to pick this up as well, to keep the library suitably stocked.

[update] (Thirty seconds later). Found screenshots!

Right-click, open in new window/tab to
see the parts of the pics I cut off.

Oop! Here's some more over at Kotaku.