Monday, July 31, 2017

Skylanders: SuperChargers (PS4)

Skylanders:  SuperChargers is the fifth game in the Skylanders series and is the iteration released in 2015.  It retains the usage of physical figurines to interact with the game via NFC and a "Portal of Power".

PACKAGING AND CONTENTS:


SuperChargers comes only in a Starter Pack, at least physically.  You can purchase the game digitally and you'll get a digital version of Hot Streak and Spitfire which is required in order to complete the game.


You can use the same Portal from Giants onwards, although if you want to use Traps, then you'll either need the Portal from Trap Team or the SuperChargers Starter Pack.


SuperChargers comes with three figures.


The first and most notable, which is in line with the theme this year, is Hot Streak, a vehicle.


There's a bit of added playability with the vehicles as their wheels roll.


Next is the new character, and a "SuperCharger", Spitfire.


Interestingly, the whole figure is cast from soft transparent plastic, with a lot of paint to show off the detailing.  One thing to Activision is that they have spared no expense in the paint and sculpting.


Lastly, it is everyone's old favorite, Super Shot Stealth Elf.


This time, she lugs around a cannon that spits knives.


Naturally, the Starter Pack includes a Portal of Power, this year's Portal is shaped in the form of an engine block with flames coming out of the exhaust.


It is thinner and lighter than ever, and has a Trap slot as well.  However, the reason for being able to be slimmer is the exclusion of lights and sounds.


There is also a poster showing off the new figurines.


And lastly, it comes with Battlecast cards of the two characters included with the pack.

THE GAME:


Skylanders:  SuperChargers is the fifth game in the series.  As part of the toys-to-life genre, you place physical figures onto the "Portal of Powers" in order to transport the character into the world of Skylands on your screen for you to control and battle enemies.  SuperChargers remains as a platformer with simple hack and slash gameplay.  The major change in this instalment is the addition of vehicles and heavier emphasis on racing segments.  Approximately 50% of the time spent in the game will be in vehicular gameplay.


The combat system has not changed at all.  Each Skylander has three attacks that can be upgraded with more moves and powers using the treasure that you collect throughout the levels.  Skylanders can jump and that's pretty much about it.  The game has a fixed camera so it can feel restrictive in the beginning where you can't look around.  The fixed camera is used to the game's advantage to hide treasure at first glance.  Skylanders can level up through defeating enemies.  The Starter Pack comes with Spitfire, Super Shot Stealth Elf (once again) and the vehicle Hot Streak.  Each Skylander has their own branching ability tree which gives incentive to keep swapping the Skylander to unlock new abilities and movesets.


You can use any Portal from previous instalments except from the first game Skylanders:  Spyro's Adventure, and all figures are backwards compatible.  Therefore, if you already have some Skylanders from previous games, you can use them in SuperChargers which is fantastic.  Traps from the previous game are used to unlock items called Skystones, but you cannot use the trapped villains anymore.  The vehicle segments include free-for-all combat, although due to the fixed camera, turning takes some getting used to in the beginning.


Vehicles don't control like RC cars, rather, it's relative to the camera.  You push in the direction you want to go irrespective of which direction the vehicle is currently facing at the time.  The other vehicle segment is races on a linear track with a few alternate paths.  They are fun although initially, they don't give you a good sense of speed; it gets better in the later levels.  The driving mechanics are easy to handle and are similar to kart racers but it is nowhere near as good as dedicated kart-racing games such as the almighty Mario Kart.


The graphics are colorful and the best yet in the series, finally feeling like it is using some of the extra power of the PS4 compared to the PS3.  Unfortunately, first impressions are that the pacing in SuperChargers is slower and the level designs are weaker than in previous instalments.  A lot of the fun comes from defeating waves of enemies.  Whilst it got somewhat stale with how much combat there was in previous games, in SuperChargers, they dialled down the amount of combat so much that it becomes quite boring instead.


Thankfully, the game overcomes the boringness by mixing up the gameplay mechanics from time to time, including a sidescroller level.  The second half of the game is also much more imaginative and fun to explore, as they are filled with nooks and crannies for hidden treasures.  As with previous games, there are certain parts of levels which are locked out.  These locked gates are not based on a Skylander's elements anymore, but rather they are locked out based on vehicles, which comes in one of three types:  Land, Sky and Sea, as well as the element of these vehicles.


The Starter Pack comes with a Land vehicle, which is required to complete the story, however, if you have any of the other vehicles, they can sometimes provide alternate ways to finish the level.  It's not so bad and the locked out content feels less intrusive than previous Skylanders games.  The story is simple but is excellently told.  Kaos has captured Eon, and you, as the Portal Master, must free him.  Kaos has also unleashed The Darkness, who is in the sky attempting to swallow the whole world.  The Player, controlling the Skylander, along with most of the characters from the previous games, travel around Skylands to find items in order to defeat The Darkness.


There is a lot of humor here which works really well.  There were a few detours at certain points in the plot where you don't really care but on the whole, the charming characters carry the weight and keep the player engaged.  The ending was a good twist, allowing the game to go out with a grand finale.  There are a total of 51 levels.  It sounds like a lot but these levels are fairly short, although still requiring around 10-15 hours to finish the story.  There are heaps of collectibles, in addition to the familiar collectibles such as treasures (for purchasing), Winged Sapphires (for discounts), Legendary Treasures (ornaments), Skystones (for the minigame) and Power Gems (additional abilities for specific Skylanders), you now have specific collectibles for vehicle upgrades.


There's a minigame called Skystones Overdrive, which is simple to learn and very fun.  You can expand the deck via defeating opponents and collectibles.  Lastly, there is a cooperative play for a second player, online racing and single player racing.  There's a lot of content here.  Overall, Skylanders:  SuperChargers is a fun game that's a breath of fresh air to all the realistic games or games with complicated controls.  While the toys-to-life genre is gimmicked, SuperChargers is fantastic and you don't really require anything in addition to the Starter Pack to fully enjoy it.  SuperChargers is another strong instalment to the franchise.

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book Review: The Hammer of Thor


Review:  #677
Title:  The Hammer of Thor
Series:  Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard - 2nd book
Author:  Rick Riordan
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The second book of the Gods of Asgard series is a tad above the first purely because there is no further set up required.  The plot, as the title suggests, has Magnus and his friends retrieving Thor’s hammer before it is too late and Loki becomes free to destroy the world.  Unfortunately, the author’s style of writing has outgrown its welcome and become stale in the process.  The plot is repetitive and clich├ęd, there are no more surprises left.  The author tries to throw spanners into the works and amazing twists but they are all predictable.  There’s even a hint of desperation when the novel ends with basically guaranteeing a crossover with Percy Jackson’s world in the next book more than just a cameo.  When you have to start pulling your most well known character in another series as a drawcard, then you’re running out of hooks for your readers.  Not to say that Magnus, Sam and the newcomer Alex are unlikeable characters but they’re just uninteresting, there’s a hint of romance between Magnus and Alex but it’s so obvious that it’s just not fun to read about.  The repetitive humour, constant fart jokes and reducing all the gods into pathetic versions in an attempt to “update” them, it feels even worse now.  The author is capable of so much more but now he is trying too hard to be “current” and funny that it’s backfiring.  The Hammer of Thor is not a horrible novel by any means but now it is definitely becoming derivative of the author’s earlier works.
Rating:  6/10

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Iron Giant (1999)


The Iron Giant is a traditionally animated tale of the friendship between a giant robot and a little boy.  Set in 1957, a "meteor" crash lands into the ocean and through chance, a boy named Hogarth discovers that it is in actuality a giant robot.  Mysterious in its own ways, having lost its memories, we never learn where it came from and what its purpose was.  However, surprisingly, you feel it doesn't matter so much because the plot is about how the two develop a strong friendship.  It is impressive that in such a short amount of time, the viewer feels as strongly about the two as they do themselves.  As you watch the giant learn to speak discrete words, learn about death and other horrors of reality, every step of the journey feels like a treasured moment.  It helps that the animation is top-notch.  The villain is quite annoying and never redeems themselves though and is the weaker aspect of the film.  It blends in humor at appropriate moments, making it natural and enjoyable.  The Iron Giant is a touching film that will leave a smile on your face at the ending scene.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Toy Review: Transformers The Last Knight Premier Edition Hound (Voyager)


Review:  #392
Name:  Hound
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Autobot
Line:  The Last Knight
Year of Release:  2017
Size Class:  Voyager (Wave 2)
Mold Status:  new

ALTERNATE MODE:


Hound transforms into a backless Mercedes Unimog tactical vehicle in a camo green color scheme.


This is a decent vehicle mode which looks distinctive and accurate.  There is paint on the tyres to simulate mud.  Hound does lack a bit in the paint department for the sculpted details so can look a bit bland.


Hound is quite big, above is a comparison against Generations Titans Return Voyager Megatron (in tank mode).


The gun assembly attaches onto the back, like a pair of anti-aircraft guns.


Hound has painted windows.  The panels hold together securely once you have properly snap the all into place.  The sides in particular are somewhat annoying initially to align.


A strong vehicle mode.  While the lack of intricate paint applications does make him a bit bland from certain angles, it also fits with the military theme.

TRANSFORMATION:

Getting Hound into robot mode (and vice versa) isn't too difficult, it is just the right level of complexity.  Like a lot of movie toys, the vehicle mode folds inside out to reveal the robot (due to the lack of obvious vehicle kibble in robot mode in the character designs).  There's really nothing spectacular about the transformation scheme, the front forms the legs and the sides form the arms.

ROBOT MODE:


Hound's robot mode is recognisable as the old chubby ageing bot with a big gut.


He has bits of the sides of the vehicle as kibble on his back, and the vehicle front on the back of his legs which is more troubling.


The headsculpt is very organic, that's the problem with the movie designs these days, they're too human-inspired.  Either way, they bothered to paint his beard black.


A gimmick here is that the top of his head can detach, just like in the movie, mimicking a soldier taking off their hat.  It's a tight fit so requires some force to detach the first time.


Hound is a little bit shorter than your typical Voyager but he is wide and bulky.


There amount of sculpted detailing is impressive.  His belt and chest in particular are filled with grenades and pouches (again, very un-robotic).


Poseability is Hound's weakest aspect but only because of his body type.  His legs in particular are short and stubby.


The wheels as feet is annoying since they don't lock and are too loose for their own good.  He also lacks heelspurs so stability is an issue if he isn't standing up straight in a neutral pose.


If you keep the weapon combined, the it's a huge quad-barrelled weapon.


The combined weapon is a bit big for Hound to wield but looks powerful.


When no in use, it can attach onto his back as storage.


Otherwise, the weapon can break into five pieces, although one piece is just a connector piece and isn't suppose to be used as a weapon.


First off are two double-barrelled guns, the other pieces can be pegged onto his shoulder pieces.


Hound then has a pair of secondary smaller guns.


Arm articulation is great which makes the disappointing leg articulation all the worse.


An average robot mode, the biggest boon is the versatility of the weapons.

OVERALL:

Hound is an okay toy.  The vehicle mode is great but the robot mode disappoints.  It's accurate to the character model but the limited legs really kills the figure, especially the lack of heelspurs and the loose wheel-feet.  While the best rendition of the character, only get if cheap.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Book Review: The Hidden Oracle


Review:  #676
Title:  The Hidden Oracle
Series:  The Trials of Apollo - 1st book
Author:  Rick Riordan
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The Hidden Oracle is the beginning of the third series set within the Percy Jackson world, taking place a few months after where Heroes of Olympus ended.  Unfortunately, a short way into the novel you come to realize that the plot structure is exactly the same as the previous two series, with the same style of meeting Greek and Roman mythological creatures updated for modern times, getting a prophecy and going on a quest to save the world.  The twist this time is that the protagonist is the god Apollo himself, cast down and stripped of all powers.  As a mortal, he is weak but from time to time, he can summon up remnants of his powers. The pop culture references remain overwhelming and out of place at times, as if the author is trying too hard to make it relevant and connect with the younger audiences.  You’d also notice that characters are written in such a way that they are all trendy and cool but feels forced and contrived.  Surprisingly, the plot doesn’t take Apollo to many places, it is mainly confined to Camp Half-Blood and the areas surrounding it.  After halfway and feel like the plot still hasn’t started, with it being repetitive, it changes for the better and becomes more exciting especially when the author starts revealing some of the masterminds behind the evil plans.  Once Apollo dials down his ego (which was only funny half the time anyway), he becomes a lot more likeable.  The return of many characters makes it confusing to remember who is who and while the return of one character at the end of the novel is supposed to be one of joy and awesomeness, the forced trendiness comes to the forefront again and makes it harder to like the scene.  All in all, The Hidden Oracle is surprisingly better than expected but the familiar structure of the plot, direction of the humor and style of writing has overstayed its welcome after four series (Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles and Magnus Chase).
Rating:  6.5/10

Monday, July 24, 2017

Prince of Persia (PS3)


Prince of Persia, which was released in 2008 for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, is a reboot of the series.  It features gorgeous graphics that's a cross between cel-shaded and watercolor inspired.  This is a platforming game and it has been updated for the new hardware compared to the previous generation.  You control the Prince, who is very nimble and can wall run, climb structures, leap from ledges, swing around and various other kinds of maneuvres.  However, if you're used to the Assassin's Creed games though, it will take a short while to get accustomed to the controls and the pathways are more clearly defined and restrictive.  Regardless, it is heaps of fun and definitely the best part of the game.  The other type of gameplay is the combat which is an interesting affair since it is comprised of one-on-one battles.  Once engaged against an enemy, their health bar will show on the bottom of the screen and you need to chain together combos from various different attacks mapped to the face buttons:  sword, gauntlet, acrobatic and magic.

The Prince can also dodge, deflect attacks and counter.  It is timing based but very easy to get the hang of and since it's one-on-one battles, enemy encounters never get too numerous, striking a good balance.  Prince of Persia was touted as an easy game when it was released; the reason for this is that the Prince can never die.  You have a partner called Elika, who can wield magical powers and she will always be there to save you and bring you back to the last platform you were standing on.  In come though, this will heal the enemy as penalty.  This safeguard makes the game not stressful and a great one to play to relax.  The game has a set structure in that you will enter a new area, travel a short platforming distance to approach the boss and defeat it, before the whole area unlocks and you can now search for the collectibles of the game, called Light Seeds.

There are 1001 Light Seeds to collect which may sound daunting, but most are in plain view and along the main pathway.  You can easily collect 900 of them without too much trouble.  Boss battles plays out similarly to normal enemy encounters and the variety of boss designs are low because you primarily face the same four bosses multiple times.  Although during each encounter, their attack patterns slightly change and become harder, the key concepts are the same and it ends up getting repetitive.  Enemies can also enter a powered up state where you have to use a specific attack to break them out of it.  This is annoying when you're forced to lead an attack with a shorter range as all other attacks would be ineffective.  There are a total of four major areas/themes to explore, each corresponding to a domain of each of the boss.  You can approach the areas in any order you'd like, assuming you've unlocked them, but you can unlock the areas in any order too.

Note though, that the areas you leave for later will have additional obstacles added in the form of moving black blobs to increase the difficulty, forcing you to time your jumps correctly.  There are magical plates in the environment where once you've reached it, it boosts you to various areas.  It feels gimmicky since it causes the character to zoom around the place but with the bare minimum of input from the player.  You can fast travel back to previous completed areas which helps cut down the time for needless traversing.  There are also puzzle sections which slow down the fast paced gameplay and they are annoying requiring you to turn handles in a specific order.  It would have been better if they were omitted from the game.  With a total of 16 areas, plus 4 boss areas and the final boss, there is a lot of area to traverse.  That said, you can easily get burnt out towards the end especially with the long magical plates sections where you have to repeat from the checkpoint if you fail.

Prince of Persia has a simple story in which the Prince is returning with a lot of gold when his donkey runs away and he encounters Elika.  It turns out that her father unleashed the evil god of darkness Ahriman, who threatens to destroy the world.  To seal the god back, they have to heal all of the fertile grounds in the land and beat back Ahriman's corrupted leaders.  There is plenty of good humor, especially the wisecracks made by the main character.  The chemistry behind him and Elika is very good.  The ending was a surprise and felt like it didn't fit with the rest of the game but once you think about it and let it process, it held a deeper meaning.  Overall, Prince of Persia is a fantastically fun and engaging game to play.  When you flawlessly execute the Prince's platforming abilities, and even with the odd occasion of him not doing what you wanted him to do, it gives you a rush and sense of satisfaction.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Toy Review: Transformers Generations Titans Return Topspin & Freezeout


Review:  #391
Name:  Topspin & Freezeout
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Autobot
Line:  Generations - Titans Return
Year of Release:  2017
Size Class:  Deluxe (Wave 4)
Mold Status:  new

FREEZEOUT:


Starting out with the Titan Master first, Freezeout is one that comes with Topspin and like a lot of the other Titan Masters in the line, he is completely unpainted.


The robot head is visible on the back.  The articulation is limited to the balljointed arms and head.


The headsculpt has a watery theme to it with something that looks like a breathing apparatus.

ALTERNATE MODE:


Topspin transforms into a spaceship/underwater vehicle.  It's hard to actually tell what it is other than it looks amazing.


There are propellers on the back and the front-half is painted with silver and white.


As with all figures in this line, there is a card showcasing artwork.


Topspin is a bulky and hefty Deluxe figure, we haven't had something like this for a while.  Above is a comparison against DOTM Jolt.


The main place that interacts with Titan Masters is the cockpit, which opens.  You have to pull the sides out to get a good grip to pull it up though.


The guns can snap together to form a seat.


A stellar vehicle mode that's also a great homage to the original.

TRANSFORMATION:

Pleasantly complex and fun, Topspin's transformation involves a few more twists (literally) than you'd expect.  It makes it much more interesting and satisfying.  While the general gist is still the back extends to form the legs, and the sides pull out to form the arms, how it actually does it is a little bit more involved.

ROBOT MODE:


Topspin's robot mode is strong and looks stellar with the chunkiness.


He has a bit of kibble on his back being part of the cockpit and the vehicle's front prongs.  The wings on his shoulders doesn't fold back fully so they will stick out either way.


The headsculpt is great with a metallic blue visor and silver face.


Again, he is tall and bulky in robot mode and while his forearms, shins and torso are hollow, he doesn't feel like it.


Poseability is good, Topspin lacks a waist swivel due to transformation but everything else has a wide range.


His large feet allows him to be stable in a lot of poses.  The feet has up/down motion thanks to the transformation joint but not side to side.


Topspin's weapons are a pair of guns, both of which are covered in silver paint.


He can hold a weapon in either hand and to accommodate the Titan Master gimmick, one side of the gun is molded nicely while the other is filled with hollow bits.


While the white and blue are all unpainted plastic, what little paint he has in robot mode help bring out the sculpting.


A fantastic robot mode for a fairly obscure character.

OVERALL:

Topspin is a fantastic toy.  He has two strong modes connected via a clever transformation scheme.  He feels great in your hands and has all the play value that the line offers including various spots of interaction with Titan Masters and a wide range of articulation.  One of the best in the Titans Return line, Topspin is a must-have.

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