Saturday, December 26, 2009

New Super Mario Brothers Wii

Mario is one of the corner stones of the video game world - giving us the first glimpse of how a truly great game can be designed and made. Since his early NES appearances, the series has spread out in lots of different directions. Many people cite Mario as being a nostalgic property, with his most revolutionary innovations in gameplay being far behind him. Mario might indeed be nostalgic for many people, but he's not behind the times by any stretch of the imagination.

The New Super Mario Brothers Wii game harkens back to Mario's side-scrolling roots, and shows why he's still the best Goomba stomper in the business. This game gives you a welth of classic style gameplay, deriving inspiration from many past Mario games - but it also innovates the platforming concept in new and surprising ways. The use of Wii-Motion functions, while ham-fisted in many other games of this nature, works incredibly naturally here. It takes a little getting use to, wiggling the Wii Remote to make Mario spin into the air - but it quickly becomes second nature and an intricate part of this new gaming experience. New spins on power ups are introduced, like an Ice Flower, giving Mario the ability to freeze his opponents and even use them as stepping stones. Not an original concept, many games have had similar powers - but the slick ease and implementation of his power is but one example of what this series does best - platforming. Mario might sell-out for any Sports Related video game under the sun, but whenever he goes back to platforming, wether it be 3D or 2D, it always comes out as a first class piece of work.

Super Mario Brothers 3 was my first major video game. It's the one I always looked at in the store before I got an NES for Christmas, and it will forever stand as a testament to what a first class title should be like. Mario 3 was essentially the next evolution for Mario - as Super Mario Brothers 2 was simply a harder re-tread of the original (I'm speaking of the Lost Levels, which was the real Mario 2 in Japan. We got a repurposed title with Mario characters stuck into it) Super Mario Brothers 3 was a HUGE leap forward in design and implementation. The levels where beyond imaginative, giving endless new forms of challenge and fun.

One of the best features of that title where the introduction of the Koopa Kids - Bowser's 7 rug rats who you fought each level. I absolutely loved the Koopa Kids. As a kid I used tracing paper to draw the characters from magazines. This odd assortment of enemies simply seemed to expand Mario's world in grand new directions. They did appear again in the SNES Super Mario World - but they changed the style of the Koopa Kids so much that it simply wasn't the same. The Koopa Kids eventually faded away, eventually replaced by Bowser Jr. This new Mario Wii title not only brings back the Koopa Kids, lead by Bowser Jr, but restores the fun of these villains, giving them back their wands - and giving you the same objective you used to defeat them in Super Mario Brothers 3: Stomp on them 3 times! It's such a simple attack, but it's so fulfilling.

Like I said before, whenever Mario sets out on a main-platforming game, Nintendo does it right. They did it right with Super Mario Galaxy - and they have done it right again with Super Mario Brothers Wii.

I'd highly recommend this game to any Wii owner. (It's in fact been quite a long time since I used the system myself) The game is fun and challenging - but never too challenging. (It begins to be ridiculous how many 1-Ups you can gather) New and veteran players should both find a fullfilling game experience. I'm not sure addition of multiplayer, since I only have one Wii remote. From all I've gathered it's a fun addition, but not the reason you should be buying the game. The single player experience is the reason to buy this game.

Here's a review from Gametrailers.com

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mega Man 10

The trailer for the upcoming Mega Man 10 has arrived. For any Mega Man fan, this recent resurgence of classic Mega Man gameplay has been nothing short of a dream come true. The graphics are just like on the NES - but with gameplay able to challenge even the most dedicated of Mega Man players. (And not in a frustrating way, either.)

It looks like we'll be able to play as Protoman from the beginning, instead of having to pay an extra $2 to play as him in MM9. I really couldn't be more pleased with this game's announcement. Mega Man was one of my core childhood video game experiences - playing Mega Man III first. Both the gameplay, the design, music and story captured my imagination - and continues to bring a smile to my face replaying those games years later.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Comic Review: X-Factor #200

This is the make it or break it point for X-Factor, as far as I can surmise. The book is being given a reboot of sorts, with new more Marvel-Universe (not just X-Verse) centric story line and a return to the original X-Factor numbering. The book has received quite a bit of buzz, and Marvel has seemingly given the title it's best shot at grabbing new readers.

I am one of those new readers, only jumping onto the series two issues before hand. I was quite pleased with what I saw in those two issues, and this newest one, issue #200, really did it's job in giving us a great new direction and a great story.

The main story consists of Franklin and Valeria Richards going to X-Factor because the Invisible Woman has Disappeared. It's a cleaver title, which the story points out in a nice way. Something is definitely up at the Baxter Building (home of the Fantastic Four). Sue has gone missing and Mr. Fantastic isn't acting worried at all. Something's up with him, if seeing him murder a man in the first few pages wasn't a clue. So Madrox, the Multiple Man, and X-Factor Investigations are on the case! This issue doesn't yet delve into the mystery a great deal, mainly building up suspicions and having the usual friendly fight between opposing teams. The fight between Strong Guy and the Thing is quite good, with Shatterstar making a great Gladiator-Inspired end to the fight. While the story mainly consists of that, it also weaves into the regular X-Factor situations - like Madrox pining over the missing Siryn, and Monet finding out her father is being held by terrorists. So while the series is stepping into the Marvel Universe more as a whole, it's still doing it's own thing as well, and making some good compelling storytelling to go along with it.

Lately I've been hearing about Marvel perhaps not living up to the promise these big anniversary issues deserve. I recall Thor #600 being stuffed so full of reprints that I passed on it. This comic, for you're hard earned five dollars, is well worth the price. You get a second story telling us about how Siryn is doing over in Ireland. She's still broken up about her father, the Banshee's, and his passing. (I'm quite interested in her soon finding out that he was resurrected just recently, in issues of X-Force, as part of a brain-washed mutant undead army.) Siryn runs into the last person she wants to see, namely Madrox - but not the Madrox she's actually mad at. It's one of Madrox's Duplicates who never came back, and subsequently became a priest. They have a nice philosophical discussion over why bad things happen to good people. Peter David has a habit of getting too caught up in these theoretical debates - but I did like his idea that the Lucifer beat God in Heaven instead, and all of this on Earth has been one long cover up. It's a nice story, and while it might be padding to fill out the issue - it didn't feel like a waste of storytelling space either.

This issue does have one Reprint, but boy was it a good one - reprinting Madrox #1, the first issue of the mini-series that began this new era of X-Factor. I had never read this issue, but I found it incredibly compelling and very informative about the series. Madrox basicly has to solve the murder of one of his Duplicates. It's a compelling concept from the get-go, with good character development. It makes me want to go buy the TPBs of the X-Factor series.

There is one problem with this issue, though, that I thought really should have been addressed, considering it's a relaunch of the series to draw in new readers. It didn't fully explain everything about these characters. I happen to know a lot about these characters, even if I haven't read a lot of previous X-Factor issues, and I was stilling asking myself "Who's Terry?", when mentioned in Madrox's internal monologue. Terry is sort for Theresa, aka Siryn. It's not a big deal, but if I know about these characters and didn't even realise her nickname, then what about fans who know even less about X-Factor? There are quite a few pages giving biographies on all the cast, but there are still some easier ways to introduce characters into new reader's minds. There wasn't even an explanation of Longshot's "Psychometry" (to read the events and emotions a person leaves on an object) It wasn't until recently this year, reading Essential X-Men Vol 8 that I even saw these powers in use, and knew they existed. A thought-box from Madrox would have cleared any confusion about that right up.

Those are small complaints, though. This was an otherwise outstanding issue, and I hope more fans will give the series a try. I promise you - if you give the series a chance, you'll quickly be caught up in the lives and adventures of these characters. This issue was a great deal, with great art and a whelth of content, and I can't wait until the next issue comes out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sunny in Philadelphia Christmas Special Unavailable on Netflix

I am pretty upset about something. See, my sister and I love the series "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia". We watch all the new episodes and have gone through most of the DVDs of previous seasons. It's a great show - with a twisted sense of humor that breaks the boundaries while always remaining hilarious.

That said - I am very annoyed about their DVD-Exclusive Christmas Special. Without this two-part episode, the season seems shorter - and we're limited to only being able to see this episode on DVD. I am certainly not shelling out $20 for a 45 minute episode. Much as I love the series, I just can't bring myself to buy something that, 1.) Should have been on TV to begin with, and 2.) Will probably be in the Season 5 DVD set.

So, the best solution is renting the episode. I have a monthly subscription to Netflix - so I'll just put it on my query. Wait - it's not listed on the site. I know this DVD special sort of snuck up on everyone, releasing seemingly out of the blue, I tell myself "so maybe it will be put up soon". I wait, and eventually call Netflix's customer service number (1-888-638-3549). Flash forward to December 14th, and Netflix still has not listed the disk. It was released in November, and there's no conceivable reason it shouldn't be listed on the site. I called four other times - eventually asking for some kind of compensation for the trouble I've been going through looking for this DVD. They said no, that they don't do anything for the customer in this kind of situation. I'm very much considering dropping Netflix over this. I more of less kept the monthly subscription for this very kind of rental situation. I sure as heck don't want to pay the $20 for this DVD - I'd rather rent it. But Netflix doesn't seem to be able to get their act together on this matter. Why should I keep renting movies at $15 a month?

On a whim I decided to check out Blockbuster's website. It always seemed like the lesser version of Netflix. Yet they seem to have come through on this one - they had the Sunny Christmas Special all ready to rent. Even more lucky for me, since I'm a new customer, I get a free two week trail.

It certainly has occurred to me that this might not be an error on Netflix's part - that perhaps Blockbuster has some sort of deal with the network to exclusively be able to rent this DVD. If that's the case - then I'm even more ticked off. It seems like an entirely crummy way to treat customers and the viewers. I can forgive them for wanting more money by having the Christmas Special on DVD in the first place. What I can't forgive is them making it so darn hard to be able to rent the episode.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Final Fantasy IX

I recently finished replaying Final Fantasy 9. I had such a good time reliving that adventure. I know it's not the favorite of many FF fans, but for those who understood the change in style from previous iterations, it was a wonderful look back on the history of Final Fantasy. I've also been enjoying two recent figures I got of Zidane and Vivi.

Here's something you might not have known about - FF9 had a Coke Commercial in Japan Here's a video of it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Comic Review: Fantastic Four #573

I was looking forward to this issue of the Fantastic Four, but found myself very much disappointed with it. See, this issue Ben and Johnny go on vacation to Nu-Earth. For those who don't know, Nu-Earth was a fantastic concept introduced a while ago during Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's run on the FF. Nu-Earth is an artificially constructed duplicate of Earth in the Negative Zone. It was suppose to be a fall back planet when Earth becomes uninhabitable. That doesn't work out, though, as survivors of the ruined Earth, from 100,000 years in the future, come back to the present. They colonize Nu-Earth instead.

Anyway, it was a great story - and it introduced a lot of fantastic new characters. Bruce Banner Jr (from Old Man Logan, another story written by Millar), Lightwave, and Psionics are a few of stand out characters. I was looking forward to seeing them again in this issue.

This story really sort of ruins the Nu-Earth concept. Ben and Johnny arrive on a ruined Nu-Earth, where the sun has turned into a black hole and the planet is on the verge of destruction. There's a time differential, and 8 years have passed on Nu-Earth. Things have changed. Lightwave and some form of Ultron have taken over the planet. Alyssa Moy, the engaging former collage flame of Reed Richard's (superbly written by Millar), has been reduced to being a brain in a robot. Her husband Ted Castle takes the lead in this story, as the one resisting Lightwave and Ultron. Bruce Banner Jr, thankfully, hasn't changed much - but he remains sitting in jail, a prisoner of Lightwave. The absolute worst character change, though is Psionics. She was the cute and engaging former girl friend to Johnny Storm - but now she's become a heartless and angry woman, who even goes so far as to kill what's left of Alyssa Moy by stepping on her brain.

I was only too thankful this story didn't continue any longer. The only real bright spots of the tale where of Valeria and Franklin Richards, who stowed away with Johnny and Ben on this trip. Valeria is super smart - even more so than her Dad - and she shows it off a lot. That might sound like an annoying character trait, but it comes off very as being very charming, seeing such a young girl talking about complex science to adults. Valeria fixes the gate between Nu-Earth and regular Earth - allowing Johnny and Ben to go home. Things remains utterly screwed up on Nu-Earth.

I might be inclined to dump all the blame on writer Jonathan Hickman. He only took over the title about three issues ago - and while his first arch was very nice, it wasn't ground breaking. It got by more on it's high concepts and touches of family moments. It's very good - but I'm not wowed. So - do I blame this entire reshaping of Nu-Earth on Hickman? I'm inclined not to, because since Millar and Hitch created Nu-Earth, it got a bad shake by being renamed Fantastic Force and given a mini-series. I didn't read it, but I did hear it was dead on arrival, so I imagine it didn't do very well. So, I'm thinking perhaps Marvel wanted to dump the whole Nu-Earth idea, or at least make it a less frequented location in the Marvel Universe. I noticed the cover of this issue was quite misleading, showing Ben and Johnny (with Franklin and Val) having the vacation they where expecting. So maybe plans where changed; I don't know, I'm only speculating. All I can say for certain is that this issue ruined the Nu-Earth concept, and that's a real shame.

I hate to say this, but I'm dropping the FF for now. I love the FF, and I love seeing the adventures of Reed and his family - but I need to drop some books from my pull list anyway.