Friday, June 30, 2017

Ghost Team (2016)


Ghost Team is an independent comedy-thriller which unfortunately is not very good.  It states that it explores the things people believe in to escape the monotony of everyday life but what you get is a generic plot with unfunny scenes.  Louis owns a print shop who believes in the paranormal.  He decides to assemble a team to investigate an abandoned barn as he believes that there are ghosts there.  The result is a ragtag of characters who decides to join in for the most unbelievable of reasons.  The film has so many failed humor that you feel it must not be trying to be a comedy.  There are a few sequences where it tries to be horror but that fails as well.  It doesn't capture your attention at all and when the climax comes and the paranormal is revealed, it becomes disappointing.  The sudden shift in tone and content at the end is so different from before that it feels like two different films.  The only positive in Ghost Team is Justin Long and even his performance is strained.  Overall, Ghost Team is a long drawn out film that would have been better if it was shortened by at least half its current length because the pacing is off, and there is not enough happening to sustain the 85 mins that it runs for.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Book Review: Accel World 7: Armor of Catastrophe


Review:  #670
Title:  Accel World 7:  Armor of Catastrophe
Series:  Accel World - 7th volume
Author:  Reki Kawahara
Read Before:  no
Comments:  Armor of Catastrophe has a strong start in which is explores and reveals the very beginnings of Chrome Disaster and how it came to be.  Surprisingly, it is wrapped up with the Imperial Palace and has a dark story that while sad, is fairly predictable.  The telling of this took almost one quarter of the novel, so when we finally get back to Silver Crow and Ardor Maiden at the cliffhanger from volume 6, it was welcomed.  Unfortunately, the plot stalls from then on as it focuses upon Takumi and his inner self.  From this volume onwards, Accel World feels like it is starting to spiral down the trap of introducing more and more powerful items or concepts to the point where so many people is aware and utilize these kind of powers that it makes earlier fights kind of pointless.  There are still plenty of cringeworthy dialogue and irrational decisions by the characters.  That being said, the world of Accel World still remains interesting and engaging.  While we didn’t manage to get the resolution of the Chrome Disaster problem involving Silver Crow, by the end (which also ends in a cliffhanger), you can see where it is going.  In the end, Armor of Catastrophe is a tad bit bloated towards the middle with a lot of talking and not enough action, but gives enough to be satisfying.
Rating:  7/10

Monday, June 26, 2017

Grim Fandango Remastered (Vita)


Grim Fandango Remastered is an adventure game originally released for the PC in 1998.  While it was a critical hit, sales weren't as stellar.  Now, the game has been remastered for the PC, PS4 and PlayStation Vita 17 years later.  The remastering includes increased resolution and improved visuals and effects such as lighting.  However, the game retains the original's 4:3 aspect ratio which is weird at first.  There is an option though to stretch it to full widescreen and it doesn't look too bad like that.  Despite the improvements, character models can still look blocky or fuzzy in certain scenes.


Grim Fandango's gameplay is slow paced and requires patience.  You control the character Manny and can select one of two different control schemes.  The first is the "camera interactive mode" where movement is relative to the camera which is much more intuitive.  The second is the "tank mode", which is the control scheme used in the original where you turn by pressing left/right and then up to walk forward.  The majority of the gameplay sees Manny running around talking to characters to obtain hints and items.  These are then used to solve various puzzles to advance the story.  The puzzles are extremely obscure and abstract.


The trial and error element of the gameplay can be frustrating and aggravating, even when you arrive at the solution, you wonder how the player was supposed to figure that out.  It is best to use a walkthrough if you don't want to sit there stuck in puzzle after puzzle.  As the game uses pre-rendered artwork as the background, it has a fixed camera.  During sections with zoomed out scenery, it makes it really hard to see where your character is as they are very small.  Furthermore, detailed backgrounds also make it hard to make out items that you can pick up which is crucial in continuing through the game.


There were multiple times where the item you interact with blended well into the background.  It doesn't help that you need to position Manny just right in order to even interact with it in the first place, otherwise you'll just get Manny saying that there's nothing there when there is.  Unless you already know where the exits are, it is hard to tell where the places you can go are.  For example, in one section, there were stairs to the left of a lift but it is very hard to make out as it blended with the background and so you may just wander around the area for hours as you try to find the exit.


The aesthetics are the highlight of the game, with characters being calaca-like.  The story is set in the Land of the Dead, otherwise called the Eighth Underworld.  Manny is a travel-sales agent who sell packages to the newly dead as they journey to the Ninth Underworld, the Land of the Eternal Rest.  However, Manny discovers the system is rigged and accidentally sends Meche to walk to the Ninth Underworld instead.


Feeling guilty, Manny sets out to find Meche and save her.  Of course, Manny ends up involving himself into much bigger things.  The story is split into four acts, the first is setting up the game and discovering the rigged system.  The second act is a night in a city as he tries to get on board a ship.  The third is finding Meche and the final act is defeating the antagonist.  The events that occur seem a bit random at times but in the end, Grim Fandango tells an absorbing story with a good solid ending.  The frequent humor works really well every time.


There are a few bonuses including a developer commentary and also the option to switch between the remastered graphics and the original graphics at any time.  Overall, Grim Fandango Remastered is an excellent adventure game.  It tells a fun story and has excellent humor.  While the gameplay is a bit dated and the puzzles obscure, you can still enjoy the story if you use a walkthrough which only takes around ten hours to finish.  Otherwise, you can take it slow and figure out the puzzles with your own ability, gaining a massive sense of accomplishment in the process.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Book Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion Volume 3


Review:  #669
Title:  Neon Genesis Evangelion Volume 3
Series:  Neon Genesis Evangelion - 3rd volume
Author:  Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Read Before:  no
Comments:  Volume 3 doesn’t explain much in the nature of the Angels and Evas, however, it contains at least one complete story arc.  Rei as a character is investigated more as Shinji gets to know her better, and her odd mannerisms.  The real meat of the volume is when an Angel appears and begins drilling down to the HQ and with the time pressure; it is all up to Shinji to defeat it.  While Shinji still feels sorry for himself and whines from time to time, he starts to show his bravery making him more likeable.  Somehow, the volume manages to keep you glued and wanting to find out what happens next, having a good blend of tense moments and more lighthearted segments.
Rating:  6/10

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)


Max is a happy dog living with his owner until one day; she brings another dog to live with them, a huge brown dog named Duke.  Naturally they fight for their dominance and ends up lost and having to travel back to their owner.  Along the way they meet with other animals who hate other domesticated animals and humans in general, as well as their friends coming around to save them.  Unfortunately, The Secret Life of Pets’ plot is extremely formulaic and familiar.  While the animation and voice acting are strong, a lot of the humor is predictable.  The characters are your typical clich├ęs and you know that the protagonists are going to make up and become the best buddies at the end.  Even the whole angle of the villain being an extremely cute bunny but is actually capable of evil has been done to death before.  The film is good to watch if you need to kill some time but it lacks any resemblance of nuances or complexities in its execution to be something you’d watch again and again.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review: The Hungry Isle


Review:  #668
Title:  The Hungry Isle
Series:  Star of Deltora - 4th and final book
Author:  Emily Rodda
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The final book in the Star of Deltora series wraps up with Britta’s arrival at the Hungry Isle, the place where we all knew from the very first book that the story will end.  As the situation on the ship takes a turn for the worse with the crew even more certain that Britta is bringing them bad luck, they are cast out and drifts to the Hungry Isle.  Upon Britta’s meeting with the King of Tier, the master of the evil magic staff and her father Dare Larsett, the events that transpire were quick and impactful.  Surprisingly, the encounter happens in the first half of the book and finishes soon after; leaving the reader wondering what else is going to happen for the rest of the journey.  It slowly builds up momentum and when you thought the story was over, the author expertly reveals the biggest twist from the very beginning, which helps explain the happenings surrounding the King of Tier.  All those thoughts and musings of the King click into place and makes sense and this big revelation elevates the series as a whole and makes it much more worthwhile.  The Hungry Isle may not have as much of the trading theme as the previous three books but the plot twist and final wrap up of plot threads is an enjoyable and worthwhile finale.
Rating:  7.5/10

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme Vs-Force (Vita)


Mobile Suit Gundam:  Extreme Vs-Force is the first iteration of the Extreme Vs series for the PlayStation Vita.  It is an action game featuring the Mobile Suits from various Gundam series.  Unfortunately, while it was developed specifically for the Vita, there are various compromises.  The most noticeable is the poor quality graphics which seem almost PSP level.  The environments are comprised of blocky buildings and the Gundam models have severe jagged edges.  It is quite disappointing.  The combat is the meat of the game and the controls takes some getting used to in the beginning.  Each Gundam has a melee attack and a ranged attack.


In addition to the melee and ranged attack, Gundams have special attacks.  A typical model would have a special ranged and special melee but others would have additional abilities such as a jetpack, detaching armor and even transformation, all based on their anime appearances.  There are heaps of Gundam models to choose from (over 30 in total including the ones provided by updates/patches) and since each has a different moveset it's very fun to experiment and choose one that you like.  In all the game's missions, you will be fighting against other Gundams.  Gundams also can hover and boost, guard from attacks and dodge.


You will feel the limits of the Vita's lack of the two shoulder triggers though, since even when there are moves removed when compared to the Arcade and PS3 versions, executing some of the Gundam's abilities can be awkward when you need to do it quickly.  While you control the camera with the right stick, the lock-on feature is unsuitable for this type of gameplay.  Enemies are quickly jumping around everything causing the camera to swing wildly and you can't easily aim for the one you wanted to.  Most of the game is comprised of the Extreme-Vs mode which serves as the game's story mode.


There are two main types of missions, a Vs mission and a Force mission.  Vs missions are simple, you control a Gundam and the aim is to defeat all the enemies.  Unfortunately, when you get missions where it is one versus many, it is extremely aggravating as you are constantly hit by enemy projectiles and cannot retaliate.  Or when enemies gang up on the Mothership, destroying it and forcing you to lose the battle.  It is times like these where it feels unfair, it doesn't help that the first time you play a mission, you are locked to a specific Gundam which means that it would not have the stat boosts that comes from levelling up.


Force missions have a tactical element as you are now in a team.  There are bases to capture which serve as respawn points if you die (likewise for the enemy), and you can capture and lose bases.  You can direct your squads to capture bases or engage in enemy.  Mission objectives can change midway too so you have to keep an eye on what's happening.  During these missions, there are also additional effects you can activate such as increased attack power or recovering health to all your Gundams.  The costs of these effects depend on how many enemies you have already defeated.


Each missions takes place in a small area so it can feel cramped when you reach the edges so easily.  There is a time limit in missions which is usually generous enough; you rarely lose due to time running out.  That said,t he game is difficult for first time players.  You feel like your own Gundam is underpowered while your opponents' are not.  Your HP rapidly declines yet your opponents are damage sponges.  All enemies seem to love to target you even when you have heaps of allies so you can't even get shots in since dodging is so awkward you will probably rely on boosting which only has a 50/50 chance of dodging attacks.


It is frustrating at times but you can spend in-game currency to boost your Gundam's attack and defences if you end up being stuck in a particular mission, which is a small boon but feels like cheating.  An interesting side effect to the combat is that you end up having to keep your eye on multiple gauges from your weapons, to health on yourself and others.  Ammo is limited and once depleted, there is a cooldown before you can use it again so accuracy is quite important.  All Gundams used in a mission earn experience afterwards and most can level up.


Earning a level will boost the Gundam's abilities which are different for each one.  These effects make a huge different in boosting the Gundam's combat abilities and survivability.  The story is a write-off.  You are an AI called Project Force where you use virtual reality to relive certain Gundam moments, including what-if scenarios.  The reason being that by doing so, you are able to save humanity.  It's all told via dialogue and it is fairly weak with the ending being quite disappointing.  You earn in-game currency called GP by completing missions.  GP is used to unlock special levels, use buffs and recover durability of Gundams.


GP is tight in the game, you won't be amassing so much that you don't know how to spend it and will probably be replaying various missions to earn enough to unlock all levels.  One of the neat things is that the music used is also from the various anime, which gives it an authentic feeling.  Clearing just the story mode will take around 7-12 hours depending if you go for many of the side missions.  Otherwise, finishing all missions will take around 10-20 hours depending on your proficiency.


Via updates, there are two additional modes added to the base game.  The first is a Free Battle mode where you can select any unlocked Gundam and set the CPU difficult.  This is perfect for practicing your Gundam's moves.  The other mode is Course Battle which is a series of Vs battles, aiming for a higher score.  Overall, at its best, Mobile Suit Gundam:  Extreme Vs-Force is really fun, however, the beginning is filled with frustrating and unfairness for newcomers.  The game is recommended to fans of action, just don't expect to understand the story and be prepared to practice, practice, practice.

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Physical copies of the game also get seven shiny foil cards depicting various Mobile Suits.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Toy Review: figma #217 Iron Man Mark VII (The Avengers)


Review:  #386
Name:  Iron Man Mark VII
Brand:  figma (The Avengers)
Year of Release:  2014
Variations:  none as of this date

PACKAGING AND CONTENTS:


Being the main prototype suit that Tony Stark wore in The Avengers, Iron Man Mark VII comes in your standard figma box.


The back, as per usual, shows off some nice stock photos.


Taking out the tray, Iron Man comes with a few accessories including an additional four pairs of hands, and four thruster effects.


The thruster effects are made from soft translucent plastic with some paint details.


The additional hands are in various poses, and two pairs have pegs for the thruster effects to attach.


There is a cutout cardboard stand.


Not to mention the standard plastic bag to contain all the additional accessories.  To be fair, the figma box is easy enough to put everything back to not use this bag at all.


And finally, the articulated figma stand.

FIGURE:


The stock photos did not lie, Iron Man Mark VII is every bit as shiny and metallic as they showed and it looks fantastic in person.


That does mean that you need to take a bit of care when handling him as pretty much every surface is coated in paint.


The headsculpt captures the character perfectly.


The sculpted detailing of the figure is excellent.  They've captured the look perfectly.


Another impressive feat is that the joints does not stand out.  They blend in with the rest of the figure.


This is Iron Man without his back thrusters though (since those parts came in a limited edition), so that's a bit of a shame.


Iron Man is on the taller side of things.  Taller than most standard figmas, above is a comparison against Transformers Orion Pax and figma Tsugumori.


In addition to the accurate translation of characters from onscreen to toy form, the figma series prides itself on the articulation is packs into each figure.


Iron Man is no exception and he is extremely poseable, able to pull off all of his iconic poses.


One of the main negatives though is his knee caps which are on separate pieces.  They are prone to detaching (since they're thin pieces on friction joints) when posing his legs, which is annoying to keep reattaching.


The other negative, but is a necessary one, is the various softer plastic used such as above his feet, arm guards, and the attachments of his shoulder guards and collar.


The soft plastics are necessary because they need to be flexible for various poses, annoying because they feel like they're easy to break and are just ever so slightly, a different shade of red.


Iron Man uses the older style of hand connections, in that the hands have the pegs on them.  Swapping them is easy enough.  The thruster effects doubles as Iron Man's blaster effects.


The hands are full poseable and can tilt up/down, as well as rotate.  Although this is also where the soft plastic flap above the arm gets in the way.


The bottom of his feet also has peg holes for the second pair of larger thrusters for his flight.


Unfortunately, attaching the thrusters onto his feet means that the stand is not tall enough, even with the extension piece.  It makes posing a little bit more awkward.


That's it for accessories so Iron Man Mark VII is definitely on the short end in terms of what he gets.


Having him in your hand, the proportions are slightly off thanks to the elongated torso.


The torso also has multiple waist joints which is a pain to line up properly.


Despite the amazing range of motion for his feet, knees, elbows and hands, ironically, his thighs are extremely limited in both outward motion and front motion.  The thigh pads gets in the way, a lot.


Overall, the display and wow factor of figma Iron Man Mark VII more than outweighs his cons.  There was no cutbacks or compromises made in terms of sculpting and paint applications, which makes him look amazing on your shelves.

OVERALL:


figma Iron Man VII is an expensive figma, clocking in just over 7000 yen RRP.  You can see why it's so expensive thanks to the numerous paint applications and probably the licensing as well.  While it's not a perfect figma due to the limited thighs and slightly-off proportions, this is a fantastic figure.

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Thanks for reading, and here are the remaining photos taken that was not used in the main body of the review.











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