Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: Mission Hindenburg


Review:  #621
Title:  Mission Hindenburg
Series:  Doublecross - 2nd book
Author:  C. Alexander London
Read Before:  no
Comments:  Mission Hindenburg manages to maintain its plot and also plausibility throughout the whole way, which is an impressive achievement considering the series was straying more and more towards the impossible.  While there were still a lot of moments where the power of the Cahills was over-exaggerated to the point of being ridiculous the plot manages to capture your attention and keep you wanting to find out more.  The Outcast is trying to recreate another disaster and Amy, Dan and their team must stop it at all costs.  The hook of this installment is the identity of the Outcast, where they do end up revealing it right at the end of the book (there is a lot of foreshadowing though so their identity isn’t as big of a surprise as you might have hoped).
Rating:  6/10

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Killing Season (2013)


Killing Season takes place in the Appalachian Mountains, in which a former Serbian soldier (played by John Travolta) seeks revenge on a former American soldier (played by Robert De Niro).  It is a one on one battle between the two within the woods, using weapons such as bow and arrow, knives and eventually firearms.  This sounds great for a thrilling cat and mouse chase but in the end, the film lets you down through its boring scenes, lacking motivation and each character receives injuries that they shrug off but which would have incapacitated them.  It is hard to empathize with the two characters and so little happens that you'll soon find something else to distract yourself with.  The film is short at 90 minutes long but that may be the longest 90 minutes you'll experience.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Toy Review: Transformers Masterpiece MP-11NT Thrust


Review:  #346
Name:  Thrust
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Masterpiece
Year of Release:  2016
Size Class:  Masterpiece
Mold Status:  retool of Masterpiece Ramjet, itself a retool of MP-11 Starscream

PACKAGING AND CONTENTS:


Like all Masterpiece figures, Thrust comes in a huge fancy black box that showcases the premium nature of this figure.


Thrust is a TakaraTomy Mall exclusive, meaning that he was actually quite hard to come by via your normal Japanese online stores.  Thankfully, Asia also had a run which makes Thrust much easier to find.


Taking him out of the box you can see that the box is big for no reason.  Thrust himself doesn't take up much space.  The box is so thick too, they could have cut at least 25% of the volume easily.


Thrust is also a bit bare-bones on accessories, especially compared to recent Masterpieces like Ironhide and Shockwave.  Sporting only two accessories, the first are the thicker bombs for jet mode.


The second is a translucent pilot.  Not sure why they bothered keeping this accessory as it is completely useless.  Would have preferred they included the display stand instead.


Lastly, there is an instructions booklet in booklet form this time, and a character card.

JET MODE:


Thrust is a modified F-15 with VTOL wings and a black, grey and burgundy color scheme.  While not practical in real life, this is a fantastic jet.


There is a lot of sculpted detailing and the remolding works well.  Some might find the color scheme weird, especially with the black clashing with the grey, but it is based off the cartoon although the shading of the black is off.


In terms of size Thrust is approximately Leader sized, probably a bit bigger though.  Above is Combiner Wars Megatron for reference.


The new VTOL fans can be turned by hand and unlike the Generations Deluxe figure from a few years ago, it is molded onto the wings.


Based off the original MP-03 Starscream, this is a very sleek jet although the remolding has caused some transformation gaps to appears such as the sides of the jet but overall, still very decent and great looking.  The thinner nullrays are on the sides of the jet which is annoying since they are jointed by three pieces and does not actually peg into place.  He has flip down landing gear with rolling wheels.


Being a remold, he retains all the jet display gimmicks of the original, the first being that the nose cone folds out for a radar dish.


The second is that part of the fuselage folds up, as a braking measure I'd suppose.


The cockpit can open and you can place the small pilot inside.  The pilot doesn't peg anywhere so he will rattle around if you pick Thrust up.


The back flaps open up to reveal the thruster engines.


The thrusters of which are on balljoints and can be aimed up or down.


Lastly, the air intakes can be folded down.  A lot of these joints are also used for transformation mind you.


The rich vibrant colors of the plastic and paint together works amazingly well and Thrust looks stunning in this mode.


A fantastic jet mode that's worthy of the Masterpiece moniker.

TRANSFORMATION:

Transformation is largely the same as the original MP-03 figure.  Thrust is complicated with a few trickier sections since the clearances aren't that great, especially his torso pieces.  There are a few additional steps thanks to the remolding, including that his wings are now jointed in several places and can be slid higher, fold upon itself and rotate.  Overall, the transformation isn't too difficult once you get the hang of it.  Basically, the sides of the plane become his arms, the rear extends to form the robot legs, and the top collapses to form the torso.  The way the nosecone head was incorporated was a clever touch (the robot head doesn't use the actual nosecone but it is close enough).

ROBOT MODE:


The robot mode, once again, is very cartoon accurate, right down to the large bulky kneepads.


He carries a huge amount of kibble, not least of which are the wings on his sides, which is accurate to the character design so you can't hold it against him.  The fuselage and nosecone on his back is another matter as they do NOT peg in at all, being loose pieces.  This is extremely disappointing considering it hinders the robot's stability and also the fact that the original mold of Starscream had them pegged together so it is a huge step backwards.


The headsculpt is pretty good but a bit generic with the grimace and just overall blank look.  The eyes have a metallic gold layer to help reflect some light and make it stand out.


In terms of size, he is more on par with standard Leader sized figures now but much heavier and bulkier.


While he generally looks quite good, there are some angles where the proportions seems off.  It's like his upper body is too thin compared to the lower portion.  This isn't helped by the wings now being situated below waist height.


A quick comparison with the original Starscream and you can see all the small improvements to the mold, including better feet, streamlined arms, removal of the tailfin waist kibble and a rotated cockpit for his torso for better proportions.


He has separate thinner nullrays but the annoying thing about these is that they are on balljoints and are segmented into three pieces.  This means that they can dislodge easily when posing Thrust.


Thrust retains the super articulated hands with a double jointed index finger, a single jointed thumb, and then all the other fingers double jointed as one piece.  Thankfully, the index finger seems to be more resistant to popping off than the original.


Thrust has a major flaw, that pretty much ruins the figure.  He has a loose waist.  This was an issue on the original but it is even worse here.  Not only does it loosely swivel side to side, but it also tilts forwards and back.  It is unbelievable that the designer allowed this to past.  It feels like such an oversight when a simple locking system with the nosecone kibble would have fixed it easily.  As it is, Thrust will flop when you pick him up.


Interestingly, the jet wings don't get in the way at all.  His heelspurs are also stable enough to keep him balances in a variety of poses.  That said, his outward hip movement is limited but the waist flaps, as is his forward and back hip movement.


There are hidden missile pods you can reveal but flipping open the air intakes which is a nice feature.


The color scheme in this mode remains fantastic, although the random purple on his kneepads are kinda out of place, but in line with how he was portrayed in the cartoon.


His arms have a huge range of motion which makes up for the limited legs.  Thrust has wrist swivels too.  His head can be floaty since it is only a balljoint attached to a small piece that swings up.


A stunning robot mode for display only since any fiddling and you will get annoyed at his loose floppy waist.

OVERALL:


A Masterpiece version of Thrust was long time coming ever since the original Masterpiece Starscream was released.  It has taken many years but he is finally here.  Unfortunately, he is not without his flaws, the largest of which is the loose waist which seemed like such an easy fix if only TakaraTomy bothered.  The color scheme may put some people off but he looks and feels really good once in hand.  The only other big negative is the price.  Being so expensive for a mold that's been redecoed and retooled so many times, as well as so limited in accessories, Thrust is hard to stomach considering he's twice as expensive as say Masterpiece Ironhide but not as cleverly engineered or as many accessories.  Thrust is only recommended if you wanted to complete the (expensive) Masterpiece Coneheads or you like the character.

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For other Transformers reviews, have a look at this page.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Book Review: Cage of Eden Volume 17


Review:  #620
Title:  Cage of Eden Volume 17
Series:  Cage of Eden - 17th volume
Author:  Yoshinobu Yamada
Read Before:  no
Comments:  In an effort to ramp up the stakes and put the group into more dangerous encounters, the author has ended up throwing all sense of realism out the window and just throws in what is effectively a mythical creature.  Yarai and Sengoku are thrown into a battle to the death that was teased constantly in previous volumes but this is apparently not the one that was envisioned by Mami.  The encounter with the mythical beast seems very one-sided as the beast is overpowered yet of course, no one yet dies after seemingly being hit by some serious blows.  The ending is on a cliffhanger but by this point, you know that no more characters are going to die and it’s really just how they will defeat the monster.  The design of the monster is exaggerated and looks weird.  Volume 17 takes Cage of Eden from a story with a low possibility of happening to something that’s quite improbably now.
Rating:  6/10

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Beastie Bay (Android)


Beastie Bay is Kairosoft's first freemium game and just like all their other games, it is a simulation where you own your own island and develop it into a tourist area.  Beastie Bay combines Pokemon-style gameplay where you will explore various areas and fight monsters with your own.  Monsters can be convinced to join you after weakening them through battle.  Once they join you, they will live on your island and help build the island through producing food, collecting materials and earning gold from tourists.  Since the monster capture mechanics forms such a large part of the gameplay, the game offers a huge variety of monsters.  There are a total of 91 unique monsters and most of them can be captured.  That said, unfortunately there is a limit to how many monsters you can capture in total, which is nowhere near the amount of unique monsters there are, so you will definitely have to pick and choose your favorites.


Monsters level up through fighting others and gaining levels.  Levelling up will boost their stats and gain special attacks.  Furthermore, monsters have various numbers of equipment slots for other stat boosts.  Not all monsters are equal though, you will need to regularly capture monsters and replace your party members with stronger ones.  As you explore your island and various areas, those areas are unlocked for you to be able to build and expand upon.  Eventually, you will be able to explore other faraway islands in the vicinity.  In the simulation aspect, there are a variety of buildings to increase the appeal of your island, including a lighthouse, zoos and shops.  Your own monsters' buildings can be upgraded to better tourist attractions which earn more gold.  While other people that you save while exploring the islands can live on your island too, creating more unique shops.


There are a variety of factors sch as Civilisation points and Nature points that take into account what is surrounding each building, these points dictate whether it can be upgraded to something better or not.  Certain combinations will also yield specific upgraded buildings so it's worthwhile to keep experimenting.  As you unlock and explore other islands, you save the natives from the monsters and allow those residents to visit your islands as tourists.  You earn money from them and can use the money to purchase more items, equipment or invest in other islands to build infrastructure such as a bridge, high speed train or helicopter pads to further increase the number of tourists that can visit.  Beastie Bay survives on displaying ads on the bottom of the screen but it doesn't end there since there is a premium currency.  The premium currency can be earned in-game or purchased with real money.


The premium currency is harder to come by during the early parts of the game but you can earn 1 Gold Coin for every seven minutes of in-game time (excluding time spent in menus).  However, there is a way to farm the premium currency post-game so you do not need to spend real money to complete the game.  The game's pacing is slow in the beginning as you need to explore areas to unlock unique buildings and this can take a while as you level up.  You will also be short on in-game fictional currency but once you've unlocked a few islands and have a steady flow of tourists, it is much easier and you'll be able to reap in the money.  The fact that you can purchase a fast mode early on makes it all the more easier.  The game "ends" after 5 in-game years where you will get a high score.  You can keep playing as long as you want afterwards though and complete everything the game has to offer.


Beastie Bay has your typical Kairosoft 16-bit type graphics with sprites.  It looks good and suits the game very well.  Menus are also easy to manage and you can pull up a virtual d-pad if the touch menus become too cumbersome.  Overall, Beastie Bay is a fantastic and addictive game.  Don't let the freemium model put you off since there are no annoying paywalls or time limits imposed, you can play the game at your own pace whether it be 10 mins at a time or in 3 hour chunks.  Once you dive deep into it, you come to realize how complete the underlying game mechanics are and how much strategy you can use in order to reap in everything the game has to offer.  Beastie Bay is highly recommended for those who want a fun simple to learn simulation game that mixes in a bit of the addicting Pokemon formula.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

John Wick


John Wick stars Keanu Reeves as an ex-hitman who has retired and living a different life.  The film starts with the funeral of his wife a few years later.  His wife's parting gift was a puppy and he gradually adjusts to his loss.  Of course, soon after, Russian gang members take a liking to his car, ends up breaking into his house and stealing the car, as well as killing the puppy.  This spirals into the main plot, John Wick getting revenge for this injustice and unforgivable act.  The film moves at a brisk pace, and since John Wick was one of the best hitman there ever was, with his name well-known and feared, he tracks down the gang members to kill them.  There is a huge body count in the film because his target is the son of the head of the Russian crime syndicate.  The revenge theme works well and keeps the viewer engaged throughout the whole film.  The action set pieces were fantastic, although John Wick ends up requiring help from other people which kind of diluted his overpowered nature.  When the revenge is complete, it felt it was over too quickly since the whole film led up to that moment but it was finished with just a shot.  The ending dragged on a little bit but overall, John Wick is an enjoyable film.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Toy Review: Transformers Legends LG-27 Blaster


Review:  #345
Name:  Blaster
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Autobot
Line:  Legends
Year of Release:  2016
Size Class:  Leader
Mold Status:  new

PACKAGING AND CONTENTS:


The Japanese version of Titans Return Blaster was released as part of the Legends line and comes in a very nice box, with the renaming of the Titan Master as a Head Master.


The back shows off the official shots and gimmicks of the figure as well as a nice piece of cover artwork.


The instructions fold-out also includes four pages of comics.  Unlike some other figures in the line, Legends Blaster doesn't come with anything new compared to the Hasbro release.

HEAD MASTER:


Let's get the Head Master out of the way first.  He doesn't have a separate name so he's really still just Blaster.


He wears the bigger robot's face on his back in plain sight.  The colors are based off Twincast.


Interestingly, he has red paints hands, as well as three separate colors of paint for his head.  Articulation is limited as expected and not really different to the other Head Masters of the line.

DEVICE DECK MODE:


Device deck mode, otherwise known as the boombox mode, looks good.  The main difference with the Legends version is the paint applications and generally speaking, this version is leaps and bounds better.


The back is relatively smooth although the gun awkwardly plugs there.  You can point the gun upwards like an antenna but it's an awkward placement for sure.


Being a Leader classed figure, Blaster is fairly large.  He compares well to Combiner Wars Megatron but note that Blaster is more hollow and not life-sized compared to a real boombox.


The cover of the tape deck can open via a blue button revealing the white tape inside.  The cover is springloaded and closes with a satisfying click.


The tape thing is weird as you don't really know what it is supposed to be.  It does have a play/pause button molded so it looks like it may be a MP3 player without a screen?


Nevertheless, this becomes a rocket-powered sled or some such but plugging the gun onto the side and situating the Head Master onto the seat.


If you have one of the Legends-classed figures of the line like Rewind, they also fit into the tape deck in tape mode.  This is a really neat element of interactivity.


Truth be told, yes, this mode is basically a folded up robot with no attempt to hide the robot torso and waist but it is still recognizable and works well.


A solid alternate mode and rare for a contemporary line where most turn into jets and sports cars.

TRANSFORMATION (BASE MODE):

Transformation into base mode is very simple, you unfold everything.  It is at this point that you realize that the figure has many panels in order to accommodate this third mode, which is a shame.  Therefore, Blaster also relies heavily on pegs to keep hold everything together.  In this configuration, you have half-transformed Blaster into robot mode.

BATTLE STATION BASE MODE:


All Leader-classed figures in the Titans Return line (and so by extension, the redecoes within the Legends line) have the gimmick of third-modes being bases.  Blaster's works better than expected but at the end of the day, it still boils down to an unfolded robot.


There are some neat painted details such as on the pads to give it some extra visual flair than just the inside of a robot leg.


There's a few areas for Head Masters to interact, the first of which is the targeting cockpit area for the gun.


The second is the rocket-sled / tape thingie at the top of the base.  Situating a Head Master there makes it look like they are controlling the three missile launchers below.


Having a bunch of Titans Return vehicles as well as Head Masters makes the base much livelier and working better as the scale is okay.  The base needs to be bigger for it to actually work as a base, because right now it's more of an enhanced armament.  Also note that if you have Fortress Maximus, Blaster's base mode can attach to the side although it's nothing special.

TRANSFORMATION (ROBOT MODE):


Going to robot mode is fun.  Overall, he is very basic to convert but it works well.  The folding the legs together can be a bit tricky the first time around as you try and get the clearance right but everything pegs together so perfectly that it is elegant.  The blocky nature of the toy helps too in manipulating the pieces.

ROBOT MODE:


Robot mode is truly where Blaster shines as he is a perfect update to the original G1 toy, but now with better proportions and articulation.


He doesn't have much kibble, the only significant piece is the handle but even then, it doesn't get in the way of anything.


The Titan Master's head is kind of weird and looks off with the squinty eyes and grimace.


Due to being such a large figure that the normal head would be too small, Blaster has a helmet that adds the iconic visor and bulks it up while still retaining full head articulation.  A neat element is that the visor is clear plastic which lines up with the blue painted crest of the smaller head, making it seem like he is looking out.


As you may have picked up, Blaster is bulky looking, and in terms of height, he doesn't lose at all to other Leaders.  Granted, he is a little bit more hollow due to how he transforms and then inclusion of the third-mode but Blaster feels good in your hands.


Despite his chunky exterior, Blaster's articulation is fantastic.  Unfortunately, he has no waist swivel due to transformation but otherwise, hardly any restrictions at all.


The ankles also have hinges and tilts to help him keep his balance in a variety of poses.


His weapon is a single gun which seems a bit too thin compared to the bulkiest of his body.


The gun when not in use can be pegged on his back, the same spot as in boombox mode.


He can hold the gun in either hand but doesn't have wrist articulation, however, Blaster can still pull off some neat poses.


The benefit of the Legends version of this figure is that much better paint applications and also the plastic used (i.e. none of that ugly "Hasbro grey" that makes the figure look like a prototype or a cheap knock-off).  This alone manages to make the figure twice as nice.


The tape deck is still fully functioning in this mode and helps create the illusion of missile launchers from his chest.


Naturally, this means that his "tapes" Rewind and Stripes can also fit in robot mode.


At this large size, most of Blaster's joints are ratchets which helps with the stability and the more solid feel of the figure.


A fantastic robot mode and the clear winner of this figure.

OVERALL:


Blaster is a great figure and good update to the G1 toy.  While the mold itself is solid, this Japanese Legends version has superior paint applications that puts the figure closer to perfection.  Of course, whether the price premium is worth it is up to you but Blaster is definitely a figure to recommend.

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