Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Book Review: The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair


Review:  #642
Title:  The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair
Series:  N/A
Author:  Lara Williamson
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The book isn’t actually about a boy who sailed the ocean in an armchair.  Rather, the title comes from a story within the book that the main character tells his little brother.  The plot follows Beckett along with his little brother Billy and his father as they abruptly move one morning into a new place, changing schools and getting away from Pearl, the father’s girlfriend.  It is a sweet story about how Beckett and Billy cope with having lost their mother many years ago and wanting to have a motherly figure around them.  Of course, things are not what they seem on the outside and this is the novel’s strongest aspect.  As the plot goes along, you start to pick up the little issues here and there until the finale where things become clear.  While it is mostly rooted in reality, there are some aspects which it doesn’t clearly explain.  It leans heavily towards the legend of the paper crane, about how making 1000 of them will grant a wish.  All in all, it was an interesting story that’s written well and has little bits of humor to keep the reader engaged.
Rating:  6/10

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Rainmaker (1997)


The Rainmaker is a legal drama film starring Matt Damon as the rookie lawyer Rudy who takes on his first case.  Not surprisingly, he is faced against insurmountable odds.  His opponent is an experienced lawyer representing a huge company.  Rudy must win the case for his client who had their legitimate insurance claim rejected eight times and requires the money for treatment of fatal leukemia.  Throughout the film, we are treated to how the inexperience of Rudy, and how he manages the less-than-ethical methods of his opponent.  Rudy stammers during court, does not know his laws off-by-heart and doesn't have much confidence.  Being constantly outclassed, the viewer has to wait patiently and sit through the painful humiliation of Rudy, before Rudy can make his comeback during the ending of the film (as he surely must).  The pacing is good and keeps you engaged, wanting to see what the next twist is going to be.  While the love interest felt a bit tacked on, The Rainmaker is a subtly clever film.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Toy Review: Transformers Generations Titans Return Gnaw


Review:  #364
Name:  Gnaw
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Generations - Titans Return
Year of Release:  2016
Size Class:  Legends (Wave 3)
Mold Status:  new

ALTERNATE MODE:


After many years, we've finally received a much needed update to the Sharkticons and of course, Gnaw himself.


Tranforming into a small shark-like monster, this is a faithful representation of the one that appeared in the original G1 movie.


This is his stronger mode and apart from the exposed robot fists on its legs, this is otherwise perfect.  Gnaw himself is fairly small though, above is a comparison against Reveal the Shield Windcharger.


As with all figures in the line, Gnaw comes with a card showcasing a piece of artwork and interestingly enough, it is depicting the alternate mode instead of the robot mode.  It makes sense since the beast mode is more iconic and recognisable.


Gnaw can interact with Titan Masters but in his case, you can fit one into the mouth (there are pegs to slot the Titan Master's legs in).


Poseability in alternate mode is okay, the arms can tilt up and down, the mouth can open (but can never close fully) and the legs are semi-decent.


This is a fantastic beast mode and to be fair, is probably the one that most people would buy it for.

TRANSFORMATION:

While simple, it is clever and elegant.  The top half of the alternate mode becomes the robot mode's legs, and then it's just a case of straightening the arms and rotating the robot head.

ROBOT MODE:


Robot mode is a little bit weaker but still pretty good.  It's instantly recognisable even though it deviates a bit from the cartoon.


The major piece of kibble are the beast mode's mouth behind his legs but they are very effective as heelspurs.  A lot of people notice the empty gap behind his torso but it isn't that horrible in hand since the figure is small and the fin serves to help cover it up somewhat.


The headsculpt is good and the size of it is proportionally bigger than normal but works for the squat robot.


He is short in this mode which suits the character.


Being such a small size there are a few compromises.  The first is that his legs are permanently bent, you cannot straighten them completely.  The second is that the shape of his elbows also makes it permanently bent (this is more for lowering parts count than a necessity of transformation).


His sole weapon is a mace/flail which was the beast mode's tail.


He can hold the weapon in either hand and it looks fantastic.  The head can rotate from side to side and most of his joints are balljoints.


A good solid robot mode but is it hampered by a few flaws.

OVERALL:

Gnaw is a good toy.  While he has flaws in robot mode, the figure itself is so charming and the beast mode is so strong that you can overlook those flaws.  While the Legends class isn't exactly the best value for money, Gnaw is a worthwhile purchase and is recommended.  Grab him while you can as people will probably be snapping him up for army-building.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Review: Dragonfly Song


Review:  #641
Title:  Dragonfly Song
Series:  N/A
Author:  Wendy Orr
Read Before:  no
Comments:  Dragonfly Song tells the story of Aissa, a cursed child who was cast away from royalty to be brought up by a farmer’s family.  However, fate is cruel and she ends up being the lowliest of slaves and being called the cursed one, most hated of all.  The plot is based upon the Greek myths of the Minotaur as Aissa is on a island where every year, a twelve year old boy and girl are offered as tributes to the Bull-King and if they survive as bull-dancers, they can bring freedom to the island.  Naturally, Aissa will be the chosen one but the novel takes a very long time to get to that point.  Instead, we see all the suffering and injustice Aissa has to endure.  Even when you think Aissa’s tables will be turned, it defies your expectations.  After all the focus on bull-dancers it is a bit disappointing when the mystery of what happens is revealed.  Nonetheless, there is a happy ending if a little bit contrived and you never feel that Aissa has gotten what she deserved for all the suffering of her childhood.  The author also had a peculiar writing style in which half of the story is told in a poem-like format which is annoying and is not good storytelling.  Nonetheless, Dragon Song is surprisingly engaging and you’d root for Aissa the whole way through.
Rating:  6.5/10

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Whole Ten Yards


A sequel to The Whole Nine Yards, all the main characters return for their next adventure.  The Whole Ten Yards remains a crime comedy however, it drops a few notch in the quality department.  Janni's father Laszlo is freed from jail and learns that his son was killed by Jimmy and Oz, he then seeks for revenge.  Unfortunately, Laszlo is also the comedic relief of the film, with unusual quirks however they don't work well.  The film needed a serious villain but instead gave us a joke.  Half the film is spent with Jimmy acting oddly and out of his character, which is completely different to the cool and composed person we saw in the previous film.  All the humor in The Whole Ten Yards is inferior and lazy, when you have to resort to fart jokes, you know that the writer ran out of ideas.  The pacing of the film is horrible and you don't care what happens to the characters early on.  Overall, The Whole Ten Yards is a poor film and a poor sequel.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Knack (PS4)


Knack is a platformer that focuses heavily on combat.  Knack was released as a PS4 launch title and expectations were high over this next-gen platformer.  Unfortunately, for something that has so much combat, the combat system is horrible.  You use one button to jump and one button to punch... that's it.  The hit detection seems off.  You can be right next to an enemy and you will not hit them because the game thinks you're facing just slightly to the side of an enemy.  You'll end up getting used to this and can compensate but it can be the cause of your death for many times over the game.


Furthermore, enemies in the game are overpowered.  Knack at most can take around three hits before he dies but more often than not, he will die in one or two hits.  Considering that there are so many enemies and many of those have continuous move sets where it's one hit after another, it is very frustrating when you constantly die.  It gets to the point where you think why the developers bothered to display a health bar when Knack dies so quickly.  The damage Knack seems to receive also feels inconsistent.  One moment you may survive three hits from an enemy and the next moment you die in one hit.


The key gimmick of the game is that Knack is comprised of relics.  These small pieces are pulled together to form a humanoid shape.  Knack changes in size depending on how many relics he absorbs and his attack increases as a result.  This is satisfying when enemies which take three to four hits when Knack was small can now be dispatched in one hit.  Sadly, even when Knack is gigantic, he still dies in one or two hits.  The size of the enemies pretty much also increase at the same rate as Knack does so the game doesn't become any easier.


You can't change the size of Knack voluntarily; they're dictated by the developer and what the levels require of you.  Knack can be comprised of various materials and this will have different effects.  Wood can burn dealing extra damage, or metal will be affected by magnets, slowing you down.  However, these are still predetermined and you have no choice of whether you want to be comprised of that type of material or not.


With all the deaths, it should be fine since it'll allow you to keep retrying, right?  Too bad the checkpoints are annoying since you are pushed too far back into the level and forced to fight through several combat sections yet again.  Considering how often you die, this is a blatant attempt to extend the game time and artificially push up the difficulty.  The frustrating combat and rubbish checkpoint system is reminiscent of Jak II but luckily it's not to that degree of horribleness.


Knack has neat aesthetics and colorful environments; this makes it feel like a classic family friendly platformer.  It's too bad that the combat leaves such a sour taste.  The level designs are extremely linear.  They are literally corridors and feels cramped.  Some of the battle arenas are fairly small which is annoying when a lot of the enemies have a wide reach in their attacks.  That being said, Knack teaches you to be patient and take the game slow.  You need to learn the enemy attack patterns and then striking when they are vulnerable.


There is a big variety of environments like the desert, jungle and cities, yet they all end up feeling the same because of the bland gameplay and repetitive level design.  The game feels too dragged on as by the time the fifth chapter comes around, you want it to end already and you weren't even halfway through the game.  It takes around 12 hours to finish the story mode.  The game lacks charm, Knack himself has a great design but the game falls flat as it is generic and has a boring story.  The story is poor since it does not lead to anywhere meaningful.


The story hints about at the history between the war of humans and goblins, as well as big mysteries surrounding the relics and ancient structures but they are not answered at all.  The ending is unsatisfying and events within the story just happen, there does not feel like there is a clear objective for the characters.  There are a lot of collectibles, well, to be fair, there are chests within the levels but more collectibles than there are chests.  This means that you will have to play the game multiple times or play the smartphone tie-in three-match game to collect them all.  Each collecible is a piece of something bigger such that if you collect all within one grouping, you can unlock gadgets and alternate versions of Knack.


Gadgets give Knack supporting abilities like extra uses of his super moves or an icon that shows up when there is a secret place nearby.  Alternative versions of Knack also have different abilities, including varying levels of stats like higher attack and defense.  Once you've cleared the game once, two modes are unlocked.  One is a time trial in which you attempt o clear a level as quickly as possible without dying.  The other mode is an arena battle where you need to survive 10 waves of increasingly difficult enemies.  Overall, Knack is a fun game that is heavily marred by poor checkpoint design, bad combat and cheap difficulty.  Knack can still be enjoyable but it is definitely not something worth paying more than $10 for.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Toy Review: Transformers Generations Combiner Wars Skywarp (Leader)


Review:  #363
Name:  Skywarp
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Generations - Combiner Wars
Year of Release:  2016
Size Class:  Leader (Wave 5)
Mold Status:  redeco of Combiner Wars Starscream, itself a retool of Generations Jetfire

JET MODE:


As expected, Skywarp transforms into a black, purple and silver jet.


This is a really nice jet mode, although the robot feet sticking out the back is a little bit disappointing.


You can see the faux cockpit for robot mode.  He features flip down front landing gear, while the two rear ones are always deployed.  A nice thing that's rare nowadays is that all three landing gear has rolling wheels.


Skywarp is a Leader classed figure and is fairly big in jet mode, although a tad bit on the lighter side.  Above is a comparison against Age of Extinction Optimus Prime.


The robot gun can be pegged underneath the nose but since it sticks out so far it looks fairly awkward.  Skywarp is not low on firepower since he has two guns underneath each wing and a pair on the underside of the jet.


Skywarp is a remold of Generations Jetfire, losing the adjustable wings and the air intakes are of a different sculpting.


While Skywarp himself doesn't come with the booster jets, they are still compatible with the figure if you have Jetfire's.


The cockpit opens up to reveal a seat inside.


As with all Combiner Wars toys, Skywarp comes with a card depicting his character artwork.


This is a fantastic jet mode with very little flaws.

TRANSFORMATION:

Converting Skywarp into robot mode isn't too hard.  Inheriting the flaw from Jetfire is how the torso snaps very securely in jet mode, takes a bit of force to pry it apart (although it does seem easier on Skywarp).  The transformation feels somewhat uninspired relying on few long pieces of plastic to rearrange the arms and legs.

ROBOT MODE:


Skywarp's robot mode is  pretty good although the purple is now only regulated to his forearms, feet and shins.


He has a bit of a backpack being the fuselage, wings and the cockpit.  Yes, Skywarp cheats during transformation with a faux cockpit for his torso.


The headsculpt is different from Jetfire's and is evocative of the character although the neutral expression kind of makes him look quite angry.


Considering that the mold was first and foremost designed as Jetfire, with a few tweaks it works surprisingly well as the Seekers.  The bulky look lends itself well to the character.


In terms of size, Skywarp looks bulkier than a few other figures in the same size class but he has a lot of hollow parts such as his thighs and forearms.  Thanks to the black plastic however, these gaps aren't as obvious.


While Skywarp loses the booster jets from Jetfire, he gains two new guns that are based off his nullrays and can peg onto the forearms.


Since they do peg onto the forearms and not the bicep area, they get in the way when bending his elbows and also look a bit weird.


Nevertheless, Skywarps looks great in robot mode and well kitted out.  The guns on his wings can point up or down depending your preferences.


His articulation is very good and since he has ankle tilts, this makes him much easier to keep balanced.


If you wish, you can swap out the bigger nullrays with his smaller guns.  Most of Skywarp's play value lies in his numerous guns.


His main weapon though is a handheld gun.


Unfortunately, the gun itself is triggerhappy since the trigger is too sensitive and loves to keep firing at the slight touch.  It has a spring loaded missile which is sadly a rare sight nowadays.


Taking all his various pieces off, Skywarp comes with seven separate guns, which is really impressive...


If you remove all his accessories the legs look a bit thin and throws off the bulky look.


There are various pegs and ports on the guns themselves and this lends well to numerous combinations of "super" guns.


While it looks neat it is quite unwieldy.


It's a shame that the jet's tailfins cannot shin down since they stick over behind his head as major visible kibble.


A robot mode that works surprisingly well for the character.

OVERALL:

Skywarp is the best reuse of the mold out of the three Seekers.  The color scheme is fantastic with swaths of silver and purple.  However, if you already have Jetfire then Skywarp doesn't really bring much new to the table.  Only recommended if you like the character or haven't gotten the mold yet.

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