Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Highlander


Connor MacLeod, known as the Highlander, is an Immortal, a being who is immortal except from being decapitated.  There were Immortals throughout the ages, and they scout each other to kill, each death giving them more powers, until there is only one left.  The film skips from modern day to the past frequently which can feel disjointing.  We learnt that Connor has been alive for centuries, even having a wife in Scotland a few hundred years ago.  Over the years, he has been living in secret, assuming false identities, avoiding his fate.  However, it catches up to him and the Kurgan hunts him, those two being the only Immortals left.  The plot sounds interesting but the pacing is not ideal.  The overly long length lends to scenes which are either boring or does not add to the plot.  Sword fights are not elegant, rather they tend to be a fumbling swing of swords.  A weak fantasy film especially when there are many better ones since.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Book Review: Mission Titanic


Review:  #578
Title:  Mission Titanic
Series:  Doublecross - 1st book
Author:  Jude Watson
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The fourth series in The 39 Clues, of course, once again, a new threat arises and the Cahills, namely Amy and Dan, must beat down the threat.  Someone of powerful (again) pushes the current seat of power and becomes head of the Cahill clan through betrayal.  Then they set a challenge for the ousted Cahills to search the world and prevent disasters from happening.  The structure of the plot is too familiar and the threat is too cliché and predictable.  For all the Cahill's powers and apparently, their relations to *every* single famous person, they cannot muster enough resources to prevent or overcome this threat.  Ignoring the hyped abilities and powers of the Cahills, this was an interesting book but melodramatic to the very end.  Unfortunately, Mission Titanic just ends up being more of the same such that there are no surprises to be had.
Rating:  6/10

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Toy Review: Transformers Masterpiece MP-29 Laserwave (Shockwave)


Review:  #317
Name:  Laserwave (Shockwave)
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Masterpiece
Year of Release:  2016
Size Class:  Masterpiece
Mold Status:  new

PACKAGING AND CONTENTS:


Laserwave, otherwise known as Shockwave, is finally introduced into the Masterpiece line, especially to fill in the much needed Decepticon ranks.


He comes in a fancy box and the back of the packaging has some nice stock photos which shows how screen accuracy and poseable he is.


Being a Masterpiece figure, Shockwave naturally comes with a number of accessories.  This time however, the designer went for alternative hands, so you get a saluting right hand, a left fist, and then clear purple versions of the above as well as his left gun hand.


A mini-Shockwave gun is included, and the hose is replicated with a piece of string, which is much better than a thin piece of plastic that would break easily.


He comes with a block of plastic which acts as a stand for his gun mode and can clip onto the back of his robot mode.


The collector's card contains a fantastic piece of art and it's unfortunately that this small piece of cardboard is the only place we get to see it.


Lastly, there are Decepticon insignia stickers, you can either use the traditional Decepticon insignia or ones that's more like the G1 cartoon.

GUN MODE:


Shockwave transforms into a Cybertronian handgun, and it doesn't look too much different to the original G1 toy.  The difference here is now you get a stand to keep the gun displayed upright.


It looks good from the front and sides but not so much from the back or from above.  You can see the hollow gap from the back, and from the top, there are a lot of exposed screw holes.


You can also easily tell how Shockwave transforms and in this aspects, it's a little bit disappointing.  The "rubber" hose is now made of coiled metal so this should mean it'll last a lot longer than the original toy's rubber.


In terms of size, Shockwave is approximately the same size as a contemporary Leader classed figure.  Yes, you can also hold Shockwave in your hand and it fits perfectly, including the trigger.


If you have two spare AAA batteries, you can insert them for the light gimmick.  The barrel will light up purple, and pressing the trigger will activate the light.  Furthermore, there is a switch on the back right which allows the light to pulsate.


This is a nice handgun, and while it doesn't improve as much as other Masterpiece figures, it's still an improvement.

TRANSFORMATION:

To get Shockwave into robot mode is actually fairly simple.  The arms unfold as you'd expect, as does how the barrel collapses, this is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the figure since it doesn't do anything clever.  It is at this step that you realise that the long piece that's attached to the barrel is made of die-cast, which is what contributes to the hefty weight of the figure.  The handle and the back of the gun forms the legs and this is where Shockwave deserves the Masterpiece moniker.  Effectively the rear of the gun bulks up the legs and it's quite neat.  You'd find out that Shockwave's feet is also die-cast.

ROBOT MODE:


Shockwave's robot mode looks good, the proportions are clearly based upon the G1 cartoon as he's a bit chubby especially around the torso area.


The barrel sits on his back as expected.  It's permanently attached, unlike the original toy where you detached and set it aside for transformation.


The headsculpt is nice with his single yellow eye.  He has a lightpipe that works quite well.


Size-wise, he's a little bit shorter than Age of Extinction Leader Optimus Prime but much hefty and feels a lot more solid.


He's just a tad bit shorter than MP Soundwave.


You can transform with the pipe still attached and it looks great in robot mode.


What's even cooler is that you can rotate the right arm such as that the hose attaches to the top of the forearm.


As expected, Shockwave is very poseable, he has a few ratchets including for his shoulders, elbows and knees.


Looking at it and when initially fiddling with the figure, you'd would have thought Shockwave's hips to be the most limiting in terms of articulation but this is not the case.


His hand is jointed to open, mainly for holding his weapon.  The wrist is on a balljoint.


To peg in the mini-Shockwave gun (named the Laser Vulcan) there is a slot inside the palm.  The gun's handle can get caught sometimes and be hard to pull out.


His ankles can tilt up and down and this is a huge boon when it comes to dynamic poses.


He comes with a saluting hand but his chest is too bulky so his hand can never reach his head, :(.


Shockwave's hands are interchangeable and he comes with a normal left fist since he turns up in the cartoon in some episodes with two normal fists.


However, it just doesn't seem like Shockwave with his gun-hand.


Shockwave's normally shown with the light lavender colored hands but you can swap them for clear purple ones which looks really nice, although it makes them harder to define and pick out.


One of the reasons for the clear hands is there's another lighting gimmick in relation to his left arm.  If you have two button batteries, you can light up his left arm.


Of course, you can interchange the solid colored hand and the clear plastic hand anyway you want.


Something really surprising was that Shockwave doesn't have a waist swivel.  He has this weird waist "crunch" joint though.  This is probably to accommodate the electronics within the torso.


Lastly, the gun stand can wrap around the barrel and create a bigger backpack, but it is now show-accurate and gives Shockwave a bulkier look.


Looking from the front, you can't even tell much that it's an additional piece tacked onto him.


The most limiting piece of articulation is his knees since they can't bend as far as 90 degrees.


A fantastic robot mode that is instantly recognizable as the iconic Decepticon from the original G1 cartoon.

OVERALL:


You can be in two minds with Shockwave.  On the one hand, he doesn't improve as much as other Masterpiece figures have, but on the other, he just looks so good and is so much fun to play with.  Sure, he might be a big simple but the play value of having a toy gun that you can actually wield is cool.  The robot mode looks great and just like the cartoon model.  He doesn't have many unique meaningful accessories but on the whole, Shockwave is still worth your money.  You should import him now, who knows if he'll ever be released for the West!

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines


As long as you don't expect the awesomeness of Terminator 2, then you'll enjoy Rise of the Machines just fine.  It doesn't elaborate much more on the bleak future but it has a nice ending that makes the trilogy (at the time) come full circle, and provides closure.  The new terminator this time around is the T-X, a shapeshifting robot, however, she has a metal skeleton with liquid metal surrounding it.  The T-X is not as groundbreaking or mindbending as previous terminators but does it's job just fine.  The T-850 (Model 101) returns to protect John Connor as well as another person, and it is nice to see this outdated model still stacking up well.  Terminator 3 is mostly set pieces with minimal plot, the film begins with a great chase scene, with a lot of destruction, and it ends on a good final confrontation battle.  The film itself relies more heavily on computer effects this time around, and at times it feels that the gunfights are just there for show.  However, in the end, the movie is enjoyable and worthwhile to watch.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book Review: The Bane Chronicles


Review:  #577
Title:  The Bane Chronicles
Series:  The Mortal Instruments - companion book
Author:  Cassandra Clare; Sarah Rees Brennan; Maureen Johnson
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The Bane Chronicles is a collection of ten short stories starring… Magnus Bane.  He didn't really seem like that interesting a character in The Mortal Instruments, but apparently he must be.  To be fair, the ten stories paint a consistent picture of Magnus and while he is at times a bit exaggerated and frankly overrated, the stories were engaging and enjoyable.  We get to learn some of Magnus's past, not to the point of understanding why he acts the way he is, but what he has experienced and how he has dealt with problems.  The last few stories tended to focus too much upon Magnus and Alec's relationship, which isn't as great as it sounds because those stories are much more tame and less interesting than the adventures before it.  The other thing is how many of the important events in the series had Magnus partaking a part in it one way or another.  These stories cement the fact that Magnus has had many lovers in the past, and that not all of it worked out.  A decent collection of short stories that fleshes out a character than the main series ever did.
Rating:  7/10

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Muppet Movie


Starring the Muppets on the big screen, it tells the story of how the movie was made...  Kermit used to live in a swamp and then seeing an advert in the newspaper, decides to travel to Hollywood for an audition.  Along the way, he meets up with a few new friends and has heaps of adventure, and this movie tells that story, which is also the movie showing in the premiere at the beginning, kind of confusing.  It starts off with a fantastic musical song, and the strong soundtrack continues on for the rest of the movie, making is very enjoyable.  It had a great sense of humor and surprising cameos.  Added to the complications of the plot is that a restaurant chain owner wants to hire Kermit to perform in a ad promoting... fried frog legs, just a touch of irony there.  On the whole, the movie is interesting and fun to watch, you don't even need to be a fan of the Muppets in order to enjoy this.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Book Review: City of Fallen Angels


Review:  #576
Title:  City of Fallen Angels
Series:  The Mortal Instruments - 4th book
Author:  Cassandre Clare
Read Before:  no
Comments:  City of Glass had a sense of closure to the plot, so City of Fallen Angels feels kind of redundant.  It still ends up being a decent novel but there are many areas where it falls down.  The plot for one, feels muddled and lacks focus.  It pushes the overall story arc of the series forward but its standalone plot is very shallow.  Basically, Simon the vampire is approached by another vampire, Shadowhunters are dying mysteriously and Clary investigates something unusual.  These various plot threads end up converging into one but it isn't clever or complex.  City of Fallen Angels ramps up the romance factor too, with around 50% of its content focused around the love, feelings and relationships of Clary with Jace, Simon with Isabelle and Maia, and Alec with Magnus.  It focuses on the relationships way too much, especially when all three have the common theme of the relationship facing struggles.  Jace becomes the stereotypical teen novel lover, who hates himself and thinks he does not deserve Clary.  Alec finds out that Magnus has many loves in the past.  And Simon two-times Isabelle and Maia.  All of these are cliché and predictable, it is not enjoyable to read about their pathetic and self-depreciating thoughts anymore when you know that it does not mean anything at all in the grand scheme of things, they will forgive and stay together.  The climax of the novel was equally disappointing in that it made most of the novel feel like it didn't lead up to this moment, rather than it was setting up for later books instead.  City of Fallen Angels was still enjoyable to read, but has a lot of flaws.
Rating:  6.5/10

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines (Vita)


Oreshika:  Tainted Bloodlines is actually the sequel to the PlayStation 1999 game Ore no Shikabane wo Koete Yuke.  Now, this sequel was released in 2014 in Japan and localized in 2015 as effectively the last first-party game for the Vita.  Oreshika has a few neat concepts, the most obvious of which is the art style.  Its take on the Japanese artwork aesthetic is stunning and looks great, with beautiful environments and monster designs.  Unfortunately, while everything is rendered in 3D, the camera is fixed and there are some generic locations within the dungeons from time to time.  This is because each dungeon is split between multiple areas, separated by a small loading screen and you'll have a short generic cave route for example as a bridge between the inside of a cave and the waterfall outside.


The other interesting concept of Oreshika is the premise.  You are a clan who is cursed, your whole family and further generations can only live for a maximum of two years.  This is actually as short as it sounds before the time within the game goes by in blocks of "months".  Your characters will die by their 24th month, but usually much earlier.  You start out with three characters and then have to replenish your clan by performing the Rite of Union with gods.  You'll then have offsprings to carry on the legacy.  Throughout the duration of the game, you'll go through many generations in this manner.  There is a huge selection of gods to perform the Rite with, you see, the draw here is to keep building and improving upon your genetics as time goes on.


When performing the Rite, you want to select the gods who will either eliminate the weaknesses you have within your genes or with gods who will improve your strengths.  This gets very complicated because there are a lot of factors and stats to consider, however, you can get by through the game by just selecting the gods who seem to have the longer stat bars.  There are a lot of hidden factors in play that determines how strong your characters are going to be, which can get a bit annoying when "recessive" genes occur and you get weak characters for a while.  There's really no way to control this.  You can boost up your clan numbers through other means too, such as betrothal with outside clans, adoption and even hiring mercenaries to perform your fights for you.  Oreshika allows a lot of freedom in this aspect.


Each character you create can be taken out onto the battlefield with you, where you will fight against demons to gain experience, level up and get stronger so that you can defeat the bosses.  As your characters age, they will also weaken, bosses also only turn up in a specific month each year so you have to time your characters' strengths perfectly or postpone the progression to the next year.  Once a character dies, you'll have to level up a new one again and this is where Oreshika brings home the fact that you can't just overlevel your characters to brute force the bosses, you need to be a bit more cleverer than that and plan ahead.


Your clan owns a town and it is your mission to improve its prosperity and invest upon it with the money you earn.  You can expand item shops for more products, forge your own weapons and open up entertainment districts such as hot springs to improve stats.  As your characters keep dying, the story focuses upon Nueko, who was the one who had sacrificed herself to get your descendants at least two years of life.  You have to retrieve back the five instruments to bring back festivals to the world.  The aim of getting these instruments is to eventually get the chance to fight against the demon/god who had brought this curse upon your clan in the first place.  The story is told via 2D animation cutscenes as well as in-game rendered cutscenes.


The story isn't too bad but it can be bland and uninspired at times, causing you to lose focus and become in attentive.  Various dungeons will contain an instrument guarded by a boss.  Once you defeat the boss, more lands and new dungeons open up for you to explore, the promise of new lands and rewards keeps you going.  The dungeons are huge, and the lack of an overall map means that it is designed to get you lost, because in order to defeat a boss you will need to find them within the dungeon at the right time.  Oh, you also have a time limit on how long you can spend within the dungeon, once the timer runs out, you can either spend another month within the dungeon or leave.


The length of the time limit that dictates how long you can stay in a dungeon is dependent upon the "difficulty" setting you chose.  You can opt for a longer time limit but this means that experience earned from enemies are lower, and that enemies will be stronger.  Opting for a shorter time limit means you can level up faster but at the detriment of not being able to fully explore the dungeons in time.  You can swap between the settings though, thankfully.  Prowling within the dungeons are demons, running into them will transition you to the battle screen in a classic turn-based combat system.  You'll face up to ten demons at once with a maximum party of four characters.  You can attack with your characters, or use special abilities.


One neat feature in the battle system is the fact that you can chain together the same ability from multiple characters to increase your damage output (i.e. two characters using the same ability will cause four times the damage, while with a full party of four characters will cause eight times the damage).  Characters are also designated into one of eight classes, each with their strengths and weaknesses.  As offsprings are created, you pick the class they are in, Fencers have strong attack and defense but can only attack one enemy at a time, wile Halberdiers can attack a whole row at once but are weaker.  You get the idea.  Oreshika lulls you into a false sense of security with its difficulty in its first two bosses, before completely destroying you starting with the third boss.  From then on, it becomes a harder challenge and you need good preparation before each boss.


It is actually very frustrating and annoying at how unfair the later boss battles are, such as a particular boss gaining rapid stat boosts, while you can't even reverse the effects with your abilities.  Then another boss will overwhelm you with sheer numbers.  This ruins the game immensely and makes you not want to play as to overcome the boss, you need to create your party again and train them from scratch.  Just a big waste of time.  The difficulty spike of the final boss is too much to handle, which makes it extremely unfair and not fun.  The fact that you have to grind and grind and grind in order to build up your clan's strength (beating the previous bosses doesn't even indicate that you're half ready for the final boss), coupled with the annoying and frustrating ability of the final boss to change phases makes the game a joke and ruin whatever goodwill it had.


Overall, Oreshika:  Tainted Bloodlines is a solid game.  It doesn't have a strong tutorial system for its many game mechanics, rather it expects you to read a heap of text tutorials in your spare time.  The battle system is a classic and works well, the game mechanics are interesting and while it does get a bit difficult towards the second half of the game, it is fun and addictive.  However, the massive difficulty spike in the final boss massively ruins the game, and makes it hard to recommend this frustrating and unfair piece of software, which is a shame because it had a lot of potential and was amazingly fun and addictive during its best bits.

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