Sunday, August 28, 2011

Retro Review: Castlevania: Bloodlines (Sega Genesis)

After years of knowing of this game's existence, but never getting to actually play it, I tracked down a good copy on ebay, and got to town. For those who don't know, this game was released about 3 years after Super Castlevania IV, and was the only Castlevania title released on the Genesis/Mega Drive. One more fun thing to note is that while the game was given a "GA" (General Audiences) rating, this game hosted a considerable amount of blood and gore. The European and Australian versions decided to keep the rating, but also took out all of the violence in the process. This game attempted to bridge the Castlevania games together with the original Bram Stroker's Dracula novel. Needless to say, we're in for one hell of an interesting experiment here.

So what's this title actually about? Well, the plot is immediately different from past Castlevnia titles right off the bat, as this game takes place after Dracula's defeat in 1897. The game takes place during 1917, where a beautiful woman (Elizabeth Bartley) has been revived by Drolta Tzuentes, and conducted an unholy ceremony amongst the chaos of WWI, to possess human souls from Europe in order to bring about the resurrection of her uncle, Count Dracula. Que the beginning. You are given the choice to play as John Morris, descendant of the Belmont and Morris families, or Eric Lecarde, a victim of Elizabeth's ceremony who's girlfriend became a vampire after Elizabeth's revival.

Each campaign plays the same, but the two characters play slightly different from each other. John uses the whip that all Castlevania players are accustomed to. It can lunge in all directions and all abilities are pretty much the same as you remember from other entries in the series. Eric is a bit different however. He maneuvers in the same ways as John, except that instead of a whip, he uses a large spear. This spear is not as quick as the whip, but can reach a slightly greater distance and overall be a much more effective weapon. It's because of this that I feel the game is actually generally easier to play as Eric than as John, though I consider John to be the character more true to the series' roots.

The environments are also a serious departure from other entries in the Castlevnia line. The first stage still pits you in Dracula's castle in Romania, however, every other stage takes place in a different European country, such as Italy, Germany, and France. While these locations are very interesting and bring a new light to the series, some may find them a bit ridiculous. It's... kind of hard to take a game seriously when you're essentially fighting skeleton soldiers in a German weapon's factory. That said, I doubt many will complain when they see how much innovation this title really contains. The game has some excellent effects, such as reflections in the water of the Atlantis stage, and the tower of Pisa literally swaying as you navigate it. The final stage is especially of note, as parts of the level's screen literally separate, making the platforming much more difficult. There's also a section of the final stage in which you are forced to move upside-down to navigate more platforms. This reminded me of the Death Egg stage in Sonic & Knuckles, as well as parts of Sonic CD, where you were also forced to move upside-down through platforms to progress. (Interesting to note, Sonic & Knuckles came out about 7 months after this title.)

Even with the changes of environments, this is Castlevania to the core and a must-play for fans of the series. The bosses and mini-bosses are all very well-crafted and very challenging. The game even features an expert mode for those who don't think the normal mode is punishing enough. This is just as relevant and important as any other titles of the series, and something any Castlevania fan, as well as any fan of action-platformers in general can appreciate. I don't know if I'd put it above Super Castlevania IV, but this one title that should NOT be counted out.

9 out of 10 candles randomly hanging up on the wall.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Comic Book Reviews 8/21/2011

Instead of writing a bunch of long and drawn-out reviews for all the comics I’ve been reading, I’ve decided to write some slightly more condensed versions in order to get all my main points across while being able to review more books at the same time. If you think this style is better, or simply prefer the other, feel free to let me know. I’m always up for suggestions and such.

Batman: Arkham City (Issues #1-4 of 5 Limited) – I’m not one who reads many video-game based comic books these days, as I came out mostly disappointed with the results (Almost any Halo comic outside of the graphic novel itself, Gears of War, etc.; just hasn’t been my cup of tea). I decided to give it a try anyway however, as soon as I caught glimpse that Paul Dini was the writer (he wrote the animated series, as well as numerous classic issues of Detective Comics and other books). This decision ended up paying off, as the storyline has not only been solid on its own, but the information and foreshadowing it provides more than makes it worth the price of admission. It will entertain you and get you excited for the new game coming out. What more could you ask for?

Lady Mechanika (Issues #1-2) – When I had first seen the artwork for this title, I knew I was going to have to give it a try, simply for the artwork alone. An action series about a half-mechanical woman hunting down werewolves and such, trying to discover the mysteries behind her dark past, and a setting of London in the 1800’s all wrapped up in a beautiful steam-punk setting? Yes please! I was very pleasantly surprised with what I got with this title so far (even if the delayed release schedule seems to get more and more ridiculous). Nothing that’s happened in the series so far has felt irrelevant or unnecessary in any way, shape, or form (including an important character referenced in issues #0, which I will now have to track down to fully understand). For only having two issues so far, this series has already got me hooked and eagerly awaiting the third. Surprisingly not gimmicky like I was expecting, this series is more than worth looking into.

Silver Surfer (Vol. 5 Issues #1-5 Limited) – I’ve always been a fan of the Surfer, ever since I saw his appearance in the original Fantastic Four series and cartoon, and even his own solo cartoon (short-lived as it was). I went into this new mini-series with no prior background knowledge of what direction this new story would be going in. The last Silver Surfer story I read was JM Straczynski’s “Silver Surfer: Requiem,” a beautiful story of surfer Norrin Radd’s final moments of life. All I knew about this latest was that it took place during present time Marvel continuity. Based on the cover (as with almost all Silver Surfer stories in general), I was expecting another journey across the cosmos. What I got from the first issue was a very unexpected plot twist, followed by four more issues of sheer fascination on my end. Trust me when I say that this is not the kind of story you would expect from a character like this, or a book like this, and you’ll come out very satisfied as a result.

Sonic the Hedgehog (Issues #225-227) – I admit that when I was younger, Sonic the Hedgehog was one of the first comics I ever started reading monthly. This was mainly due to my love of the original Sega Genesis games and my appreciation for the ABC cartoon (also known today as SATAM to separate it from the other Sonic cartoons like Underground). That said, I have not actually picked up a Sonic comic since about issue 75 or so. Once the books started getting more like the Dreamcast Sonic games, I lost quite a bit of interest. I picked up this new story on a whim, as well as its mention on the covers of being for Sonic’s 25th anniversary. My reaction was mostly positive after all. Similar to the DC revamp going on now, issue 225 was made to set up for a bit of a reboot itself. After going through many MANY details, some even pertaining back to when I was reading the book as a kid, the series begins sort of a new start with the aptly titled “Genesis” story arc. Each cover for the issues in this mini-series (minus the fourth and final part), are spoofs of the original Sega Genesis game box covers, which are certainly amusing in the nostalgic way, and a good way to get the attention of those considering jumping back on. The artwork is also very impressive for a title of this type. Archie comics still seems to know exactly what it’s doing here, and I admit this is a reboot I may end up getting back into this series over.

IDW’s The Cape: Legacy Edition (One-Shot) – Not to be confused with the TV series that premiered earlier this year, this one-shot issue is based off a short story that was written by Joe Hill in 2005. This re-release also includes the original prose story, as well as the announcement of a new mini-series that will be starting up soon. This book was nominated for an Eisner award, and once you read it, you’ll know why. This story is Twilight Zone creepy, and I mean that in the best way possible. The best way to go into this one is to know as little as possible, and that’s how I’ll leave it for everyone here. This is one of the biggest and most refreshing surprises in comics for me this year.

Once I finish up with Flashpoint and its many tie-ins, as well as all of the current Amazing Spider-Man issues, I’ll be reviewing all of those and some classic (and not so classic) stories of comic’s past. Until then!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

This Weekend

Just thought I'd give some quick updates on life and such, as well as what types of posts you can expect from me next.

Life: Coming back from New Hampshire was nice this year, as I had a wonderful girl waiting for me when I got back, and friends I got to see after. I didn't feel stressed to go back to work either (as I actually really enjoy my job and especially like all the people I work with). My friend also recently started a new Dungeons and Dragons campaign, so it's even nicer to finally get back into it after so long.

Comics: I'm still playing a huge game of catch up with comics right now. This is mainly due to the fact that I'm reading a large mix of both old and new issues, bringing the pile even higher. I still intend to write a review for the first few issues of Lady Mechanika when I get the chance, as I think it's a title worth mentioning here, that may have slipped a few radars. I'd also like to catch up on all of the Flashpoint tie-ins before the new 52 #1 issues come out. Amazing Spider-Man is also calling me still.

Video Games: I'd still like to write an Epic Mickey review, which I completely forgot about until maybe a day ago. However, I've also been on a big retro kick lately with my gaming. This revolves around my newly replaced Sega Genesis and even more recently purchased Sega 32X. I'll be writing plenty of retro reviews for the games on both of these platforms if everyone likes. I've got a great amount to add and everything.

Books: Right now I'm currently reading Grant Morrison's new book, Supergods. A nice little run-down of comic history, with info on each's impact on the comic book universe. I might want to start either Catching Fire, Legend of the Guardians, or The Great Gatsby next. Time will tell.

I'd say those are all the biggest things going on at the moment. Haven't had as much time for shows and things as I might like, but I know I'll get back to form eventually too. And I suppose there you have it. Any questions or comments on my progress, I'd certainly love to hear from you all, as always. Have a good week everyone!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Retro Review: Granada (Sega Genesis)

After writing an indie game review, I thought it would also be a nice idea to start reviewing older titles from older systems. I love trying games that are new or classic to me, regardless of what platform. I think the best way to go about these is to pick titles many may have either missed out on or simply never heard of. If anyone reading has any suggestions of overlooked games they'd like me to review (whether old or new), feel free to let me know, and I'll see what I can do.

In the meantime, I'd like to talk about a title that I feel many have likely missed out on. Granada for the Sega Genesis (or the Sharp X68000 in the form of 3 floppy disks... I have no life...) is a shoot em' up title, made in 1990. You control a small tank in a bird's eye view, as you make your way through different maps in each level, to seek and destroy enemy tanks and weapon stations before fighting a giant robot boss battle at the end of each. Is this a tired formula? Perhaps, but that's not what makes this game so interesting and innovative to me (at least, for the time it was created).

We'll start with the controls, as this is one of the most unique things about this game right off the bat. You use the D-Pad to move your tank around and it fires shots in the direction that you move with a rapid-fire cannon, using the A button. The B button actually holds your tank in the direction you are facing, while still allowing you to move wherever you want. This button single-handedly adds a huge deal of depth to the game, as it allows you to continue to dodge enemy fire, while firing in whatever direction you have the tank pointing in. It will feel a little off-putting at first, especially since you'll be holding down the A button at the same time more often than not, but just like say, the original Doom, you'll learn the ropes quite quickly. The C button is used for your power shot. Admittedly, it looks kind of dinky for a "power shot," but I found it very effective, especially against the boss robots. Learning to master these controls actually allow for quite a bit of mobility once you get the hang of things. It's no Geometry Wars, but it's hard to fault a game from 1990 for having a system that works almost as well.

Two more gameplay mechanics really helped caught my eye. The first is the fact that unlike most shooters where you simply ride along from point A to point B, you have complete control over the direction you will take. Each stage requires you to move along a decently-sized map of the area, find all the enemy tanks and turrets, and destroy them all, causing the boss robot to come out. Free-reign in a game such as this is truly something memorable, as this was not exactly a popular concept at the time. The second mechanic that got my attention was the radar screen, displayed almost like a mini-map on the bottom right corner of your screen. While it won't tell you exactly where you need to go, it will tell you where the remaining enemy tanks and guns are that you need to destroy, in order to bring out the boss robot.

I'm also happy to say that this game produced quite an epic scale for its boss encounters. The first boss robot you encounter begins jumping all around the stage in its attempt to crush you. The second involves a floating robot that won't reveal its weak spot until the moment you stop shooting at it, something that took me quite a while to figure out. The fights that follow are just as, if not more creative.

While the graphical and sound departments weren't quite as memorable (very average really; nothing you haven't seen or heard once before), it was made up for by just the sheer range of stages you play in. One stage includes a gigantic flying airplane, and another, an elevated city. Just like the boss robots, one can easily see just how much work was really put into the overall experience.

Being impressed by an older Sega Genesis title (especially a shooter) is simply not something that happens to me, and yet I can't help but be drawn by all the unique features and enemies you face as you progress from stage to state. Truly a hidden gem in the desert.

9 pulverizing tanks out of 10

As always thank you for reading this review, and once again, if you have any "hidden gems" of your own you'd like me to review, please send the details out to me and I'll take all suggestions seriously. Goodnight everybody!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Indie Game Review: A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda

This is the first indie game review I’ve ever posted on my blog, and I am happy to say that this is only going to be the start of the reviews I write for indie games here. I feel that indie titles are just as, if not more important than many of the big-budget projects we’re getting each year. I thought I would start by reviewing a game that not many may have actually heard of yet, but should definitely check out if they are a fan of games like Mega Man, Mega Man X, Contra, Gunstar Heroes, Metroid, Castlevania, and the like. That game is A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda for the PC.

A little info about this game before I go into the specifics: It was created using the XNA engine (this is Microsoft Xbox’s development toolkit), meaning that it also incorporates the Xbox 360 controller if you have a wired Xbox 360 controller or a wireless controller with the wi-fi adapter for it. This is my preferred method for the game, as I will soon talk about. This game also won Microsofts XNA Dream-Build-Play contest, which means it will soon become an Xbox Live indie title for download soon if you prefer to play it there. One final detail I’ll mention here is that this game is supposed to be the first of an episodic series. This would make sense, as there are only 5 missions in this first installment, with a very static ending, with promise of much more to come. And now, without further adieu, I will go into the game itself.

The story of this game is relatively simple, since that’s not so much the biggest selling point here (though I will say I find it to be much more detailed than it could have been for this type of game, and I applaud it for that). In the future, man developed a “Junk Sector” above the Earth. The use of this sector is pretty much as it sounds. A falling object crashes into this sector, releasing some type of gas that seems to possess all of the machines in the sector. A team goes to investigate, but gets apprehended by the machines. One man manages to send a sample of the gas to the Earth for testing, just before being caught himself. With this data, the Earth’s scientists create a robot with a built-in immunity for the gas. This robot is known as A.R.E.S. The story does what it needs to. It sets up the premise and the motivation to fight perfectly, and that’s really all I wanted from this kind of title in the first place.

The graphics of this game are surprisingly gorgeous for an indie title of this type. The characters all look very slick and run smoothly on the screen. The frame rate is very smooth as well thankfully, as you’re going to need it for the furious enemies and bosses ahead. Each boss fight in the game is quite large and menacing, with little room for error (especially on Hard Mode, which you may want to be sure you’re ready for before taking the plunge). Their appearances will certainly intimidate, as most of them nearly cover the entire screen.

The sound and audio tracks for this game are quite nice and effective. The sound effects are top notch for a project of this type. You’ll hear all the usual sounds of shots being fired and robotic movements keeping the scenery in the background alive and well. The audio soundtrack is something truly impressive. I haven’t heard a game soundtrack with so many rock and synth tunes thrown in a mix together, but they flow perfectly here and set the stage quite well.

In this paragraph, I will finally describe what everyone came here to find out about; the gameplay. If you are a fan of side-scrolling action platformers, especially Mega Man X, then you’ll know exactly what to expect. You walk around a 2D plane with one type of gun to start out with. Enemies spawn and appear in ways similar to the enemies in Mega Man and Metroid. You can also aim your gun in virtually all directions, just like Metroid and Contra, in order to attack your target from virtually any angle you may be coming from. These targets will also drop parts when destroyed, in the colors of yellow, blue, and red. These different parts are used to help upgrade your weapons, create items, healing kits, and a few other nice creations. You are also shown some more features, like the Zypher canon, which either destroys all enemies in front of you, or does a large amount of damage to a boss character. This attack is used when a meter is built up, based on the number of times you are attacked yourself, as well as how much damage you take from it all. You can also use EMP grenades and HE grenades. The EMP grenades allow you to shut down enemy robots and other generators that open up secret areas, while the HE grenades allow you to destroy enemies and objects, and eventually even help you jump higher. These controls all quickly become second nature, even if you haven’t been playing these types of games all your life.

The challenge of the game is definitely there, and the bossfights are truly memorable sequences to behold, but there are some things that keep this title from a higher score for me. The first and biggest issue is the length of the game. Episode 1 or not, this is a short title. Most gamers will be able to clear this entire game in around 2 hours or so, making the $10 asking price seem a little steeper. I obtained the game in a sale, and may have to recommend others do the same unless they’ve simply been itching for a new 2D side-scrolling action platformer to jump into. The game is still excellent in itself, despite these flaws. It’s just hard to recommend a bit of a heftier price for something that is incomplete as a whole. The ending itself will especially leave you wanting more, and that is a testament to how much fun I admit I was having with this one. I just wish there were more stages and bossfights to mess around with. I will definitely give this title multiple play-throughs however, as I’ve found it more than enjoyable enough to do so.

8 out of 10

Monday, August 1, 2011

Deadpool's Review Of Captain America: The First Avenger

Greetings chumps and chumpettes! Did ya’ miss me? No wait, don’t answer that. I know you did, but don’t want to confess your true feelings and run the risk of embarrassment in front of your friends. That’s okay. You know it, I know it, and the big guy up in the sky knows it, and that’s really all that matters. But we’re not here to discuss such things! Oh no. We’re here to discuss more manly things than that. MANLY MEN things! Manlier than Fist of the North Star!? Lol no. Nothing in the universe is as manly as that series, but this is still high up on the chart. That’s right kiddos! Tonight Uncle Deadpool reviews Captain America: The First Avenger!

This little number takes us back to the good ol’ days of the 1940’s, the time of that little World War incident you may have heard about. You haven’t? Oh man, it’s some crazy stuff. You should put down that texting repository and do it sometime. There’s this guy with a moustache crazier than Freddie Mercury’s and everything! The movie happens to do a very good job of portraying the era and really does make you feel like you’re getting thrown into the war with them all. Amazing, isn’t it? There were actually wars before I was around. Funny thought that is…

The movie follows Steve Rogers, skinny, wimpy, teenager, just wanting to make a difference in the world by standing up to bullies, regardless of whether his fights are winnable or not, which was pretty much all the time for the latter. Sound familiar Justin? It’s like they knew you before you were even born you tiny, loveable nerd you. Anyhowz, he keeps trying to enlist into the US Army in an attempt to live out said message. He tries everything, even changing his address multiple times, just so that they’ll keep re-reading his application. Eventually, a scientist happens to catch him doing this (because, like, duh!!!), but also gets inspired by the words that Steve gives to his friend Bucky about his motivation and determination and approclimation. Whether that last word is in fact a word, I don’t know, but it sure sounded cool so I’m going to leave it there. Regardless, the scientist decides to enlist him. The army general is basically looking at Steve like “WTF is this shiznite!?” and the doctor’s all “No no, it’s cool. I got this.” Howard Stark, Tony Stark’s equally… promiscuous father also plays a big role in the tech involved in the film. Steve learns that he’s been chosen to use the new super soldier serum, developed specifically to give special strength and ability to those who didn’t have so previously. This technology was once used on Johann Schmidt, who soon after, became the awesometastic classical fantastical supervillain, the Red Skull, as Steve quickly discovers. Steve then sets out with his new abilities (and hawt hawt female admirer) on a quest for truth, justice, and the American way. Wait… I think I quoted the wrong… Wait… Yeah… Yeah, I did. Crap. ><

The movie plays out very well overall. The structure is solid, the corny lines aren’t too corny as to turn you off. You’ll laugh at them the way you laughed at the corny lines in Star Wars, and not wince at them like the corny lines in Family Circus that make you wonder if the book was even supposed to be funny in the first place. I’m looking at you Jeffy… *glare*The fight scenes and visuals of the movie are also quite impressive. There’s a few CG moments that make you say “Aww that was so fake!” but others that make you say “Oh hell yes, that was freaking awesome!” The Red Skull is especially menacing as a villain on the big screen. The development between Steve and him is actually quite impressive. It’s as if the film goes between acting like an old war movie, and then deciding to be a story-driven Marvel epic at other times. Instead of feeling jumbled up as a result, we get a truly engrossing experience from beginning to end. The ending is also a nice little twist for those who don’t know the original Captain America story. Fans of the comic will be very happy with this one. Everything is included here: the basic story elements, the characterizations, and even the “BUY STOCKS AND WAR BONDS” ads you got in between the pages… No, seriously. It’s THAT accurate. The only difference is that we’re not getting ads with Rogers punching out Japanese men, drawn like monkey people… Oh, you didn’t know about those ads? Umm… Neither do I then! Mum’s the word! Don’t cancel me Marvel! I’d say you need me like Peter Parker needs Mary Jane, but I’ve seen what you do in that situation…

To sum it all up, this ended up being a surprisingly epic and inspirational little movie. Kudos to Marvel for putting this film together properly, and to Disney for not trying to turn it into a politically correct musical about Cap singing the Nazi’s to sleep and winning the war with friendship… as funny and painfully hilarious as that would also be.

9 out of 10 shiny vibranium shields

I only hope when my movie comes out, people will feel it’s as inspirational and generally kick-ass. Or if Disney happens to make mine that musical I was talking about… That’d be cool too.

... You don’t know me...