Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Axl, The Little Reploid that Could

Axl, to many, was probably a sign of the inevitable decline of the Mega Man X franchise. Like many TV shows - the introduction of a new younger character is a signal that the series has jumped the shark. Axl definitely fits that bill, as he was introduced into the MMX series as a new playable character. He sported all of the characteristics of a character created in a board meeting, with "rad" spiky hair, and "awesome" duel guns - with the lame hope that younger players might be able to identity with this new youthful Maverick Hunter.

Despite his obvious board room origins, I feel a soft spot for Axl. He at least offered us the first chance to play as another Maverick Hunter. He was over stuffed with new features, like 360 degree aim of fire, hovering, and a copy ability to assume the appearance and powers of enemies. Yet, despite this - he actually flowed into a few games and achieved, for me at least, a level of acceptance alongside X and Zero.

Mega Man X7

This was the MMX series' first transition from 2-D sprite game-play to the still little explored world of 3 Dimensional graphics and environments. The Mega Man Legends series had already braved the waters of a 3D plat-forming Mega Man game - so we knew it was definitely possible. While we can all agree Mega Man is best played in 2-D, this attempt at shoving the X series into 3D came off fairly well. Axl was annoying at first, being the lame rookie Maverick Hunter - and we where denied the ability to even play as X for half the game (he was brooding) - the actual gameplay was not half bad. It wasn't there to win any awards - but that was ok. Level design and fighting enemies might have been average fare for 3D Plat-forming by this time - but it was functional, held up well, and did not fail in giving you a good gaming experience.

As for Axl in the game, his origins where never fully explained. He was essentially breaking away from the Red Alert Syndicate - and joined X and Zero as a Maverick Hunter.

Mega Man X: Command Mission

This game is actually one of my favorites of the X series - as Mega Man took the long awaited plunge into an RPG. The results, for me at least, where spectacular. It not only held up with a fun and different approach to an RPG - but it featured an excellent art direction, with beautiful cell shaded graphics. It wasn't revolutionary by RPG standards - but it stood out as a great RPG - and the best success the first 3D Mega Man RPG could hope for. The game featured many new characters, all of whom added to the experience.

Axl really shined in this game for me, as his unique ability of taking on the enemy's form proved very useful and fun. Whenever you wanted to use this ability, a small mini game would come up - and you'd have to press a sequence of buttons on a button-map to reach the desired copied ability. If you where not quick with the button presses, you could fail to achieve an attack - so it became important to concentrate. I recall being quite good at it - and using all of the powerful attacks Axl could unleash.

Axl also had a small story arch in this game, as the area they where in possibly held information about his origins and his copy ability. It didn't go very far, and didn't answer many questions. One of your new allies, though, turned out to be using a copy ability in disguise - being revealed half way through the game as the big enemy. So in that regard Axl's story did help weave the game together in a more meaningful way.

Mega Man X8

Since X7 might not have sold as well, Capcom decided to scale back on the 3D gameplay and try and create a hybrid of 2D action using 3D graphics. The result was a complete and utter mess. Technicolor graphics seared the eyes - with levels trying to aspire to uniqueness, but failing miserably in execution. There's a reason this was the last of the Mega Man X games.

Capcom learned their lesson about Axl from MM7, and focused the story line away from Axl. The only big revelation about his origins was that he was a prototype for a new version of reploid - able to assume the form and powers of any other robot. For some reason, this made reploids immune to the Sigma Virus - supposedly making them free from going Maverick. Not surprisingly, this did not work out - as this new generation of reploids where taken over by Sigma - enabling him to create an army of himself. The game ends with Axl supposedly being fatally shot. He shows signs of life, but Capcom at least gave themselves a way out of having to use Axl again. Too bad the game sucked so much - a sequel simply wasn't going to happen.

Mega Man X Advent

I actually avoided this game for a good long while, and only recently decided to buy it. (I got it for $13 at Gamestop) This game took the ZX series in a wild new direction, seemingly throwing out the previous characters of Vent and Aile, in place of new characters Grey and Ashe. These new protagonists come into possession of the Model A Biometal, giving them the powers of Axl. I'm sure many gamers where left scratching their heads, wondering why Axl, of all characters, was being given such a high profile return. Luckily it didn't turn out that bad, and in fact was perfect for the ZX formula. In standard mode Model A allows you to fire a normal gun, but also gives you a great new weapon, a scanning gun - which allows you to scan the field of enemies, lock on to them, and fire on them all at once. I think it's quite inventive. But here's where Axl's powers really come into play - as his copy ability to used so you can take on the form of any boss you defeat. This not only opens up the gameplay to a larger set of abilities - but expands on the Model switching the ZX series has based it's self upon. Axl's powers of coping just seem too perfect for this exact type of game.

The story of ZX is confusing, and it's called into question who Model A really is - as it's apparently based after the sage Albert, even though it's clearly based on Axl. The Biometal might not have any connection to Axl, as a character, but I like that his template has at least proved somewhat useful to Capcom after all these years.

Axl might have been the young child introduced that made the MMX series jump the shark - and he might also be completely corporately invented. But he's sort of like the little engine that could - he keep on chugging along, despite the set backs.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Comic Review: Superman #700

The last few years of Superman comics have been nothing less than stellar. From the Legion of Super-Heroes being reintroduced into Superman's mythology - to the resurrection of Kandor and the creation of New Krypton -- it's been one of the most eventful times in Superman books in a long time.

Now that New Krypton and Zod are gone - a new chapter in Superman comics is coming, with J. Michael Straczynski taking over the writing duties on Superman. We get a preview of the new creative team in this issue - and while I have reservations about JMS's style of writing, I'm actually looking forward to this run. Eddy Barrows seems perfect for this kind of emotional story telling. Apparently Superman is going to go on a cross country trip walking across America. The cynical side of me keeps shouting "how dumb is that, Superman gets slapped in the face by some crazy woman, who wanted miracles from Superman, and now he has some Super Thinking to do!". It's sentimental crap like that which should have me running for the hills. But, despite that, it still comes off to me as a good story, and possibly JMS will succeed in getting into Superman's personality. Here's hoping.

But, before the preview we are given a farewell to departing writer James Robinson. It's sort of, quite frankly, lame when compared to the great and awesome issues he did during his run. Superman basically come back and meets up with Lois again. They kiss - finally reunited after a full year apart - and engage in some mediocre talk about Lois never wanting Superman to be away like that again. Plus, this might just be me - but I find it so out of character to hear Lois calling Clark "Baby". I know their married - but can't they come up with a less undignified nick name for her spouse? He's Superman, for pete's sake! This story at least closes the chapter on Robinson's run - but it could and should have been something so much better.

The middle story by Dan Jurgens is equally as weak as the first one - featuring a story where Robin sneaks out to go crime fighting on his own, gets saved by Superman - and Superman helps Robin finish his geometry homework so Batman doesn't find out he was gone that night. Besides this being an overly cutesy tale, what I hated most about it was that Superman was barely in it! This was a Robin story, featuring Superman - not the other way around. And, while I know Superman and Batman are best buds - can't we save a story like this for the Superman/Batman book. This is Superman's 700th freaking book! Robin isn't even a supporting Superman character! This story was cute, but definitely not Milestone-issue material.

There are a few preview pages showing what's happening with the other Superman books. It's a nice highlight of what DC has planned for Superman in the future. They also have a preview of Action Comics #890, which is going to star Lex Luthor. I'm really excited to see Paul Cornell (Doctor Who) writing, but this small preview utterly confused me. I understood the whole Lex Luthor angle - but there is no explanation why Lois Lane is having a quite dinner with Lex, and then standing by when he orders to death of one of his subordinates. Maybe this will be explained in the actual issue - but it's not a good way to get me excited about the book.

This anniversary issue was such a profound disappointment. For all my mixed feelings about JMS's story - his ranked as the best story featured in this issue! Except for the the historic nature of this book, reaching issue #700, this issue was not worth it. Especially not five dollars worth!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

E3 2010

Watching G4's coverage of the E3 Video Game convention has been great. I was very skeptical about this year, because of the new larger focus on Motion-Based video games (like the Wii) and the introduction of accessible 3D Gaming. While Motion and 3D aren't bad things, they also can often become a gimmick, unless it's backed up by actual good games. Also, for a more traditionally leaning fan - was there anything announced for my gaming preferences? E3 most certainly delivered, especially Nintendo, who not only brought back all of the old school video gaming franchises, but also 3D gaming that actually looks good.

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

This looks like a very promising Zelda game, which I'm hoping will be the quintessential Zelda title for this console cycle. It seems to employ similar graphics to that of Twilight Princess, but combined with a lighter and brighter appearance similar to Wind Waker. The main hook of the game is the ability to use the wii-remote as you're sword, and the nunchuck as you're shield. It's not just, waggle the Wii remote, and Link does something - but your movements actually being mimicked by link. There were some technical glitches when it was played on stage, which does give me some pause (the Wii can be difficult to control sometimes) but hopefully things like that will be hammered out as it's developed.

Kid Icarus and the 3DS

This is the game that shocked me the most - as it's being touted as the Nintendo 3DS 's launch title. What immediately struck me was how great the graphics looked - appearing as if it was a polished Wii title at first. This game is going to be the first to feature true 3D gameplay without any glasses. It simply looked gorgeous, and it seems like a revival of Kid Icarus has been well over due. I think Nintendo has been saving Pitt all this time just for just this kind of occasion. What impressed me the most about the Nintendo 3DS is that it isn't forcing 3D on us. (As contradictory as that sounds) You're able to adjust the 3D anytime, and can even turn it off if you want to. Add that to being compatible with older DS games, and I'm sold. I really did not think I would actually be saying that. I haven't even upgraded to a DS Light or DSi - so Nintendo should be proud to have actually gotten someone like me excited, and hopefully the other fans like me, who aren't necessarily heralding 3D as the be-all and end-all of gaming.

Dragon Quest

This is coming out in less than a month - and it's the game I've been anticipating for a long, long time. I've been hyped up about this for a while now, so I won't reiterate it here. You can see the preview videos that I've already shown previously.

Metal Gear Solid: Rising

I absolutely adored the Metal Gear Solid games, and was extremely pleased with how the series ended with MGS4. While the main story of Solid Snake might be over, there are still quite a few areas of the Metal Gear universe worth exploring. I'm really not into the PS Portable games, or the Multiplayer features that have so far been offered. So I was extremely surprised to see Metal Gear Solid: Rising, which boasts incredible new sword-style gameplay with MGS4 graphics on the PS3. Raiden might have been the poster boy for how to make a bad sequel years ago - but he's come back, transformed like you won't believe as the ultimate Cyber Ninja. The game features slice-and-dice sword gameplay, as you control every angle Raiden can cut things at. And everything, and everyone, is cuttable. It's much more gory than I might like, but the style and innovation the game promises seems like it's worth trying.

Portal 2

Portal was one of the smartest and most unique gaming experiences of the last decade. Not only did it feature incredible new gameplay, with mind bending puzzles - but it did it all with an engrossing story and evil AI nemesis that continues to remain in your mind long after putting down the controller. I don't know how they are going to innovate on the original gameplay, but you know they simply will.

Infamous 2

Anticipation for this sequel sort of confuses me. I LOVED the first Infamous game. It simply did everything right in making a sandbox video game. And while I do want to get Infamous 2, it still looks like the same kind of gameplay. It features ice powers now, but what else? Maybe it's just burn out, with the other games grabbing my attention, but I'm hoping Sucker Punch will prove me wrong and offer up another incredible gaming experience.

Metroid Other M

I loved the last 3 Metroid games, so I'm sort of un-enthused about the new direction the series is taking under Team Ninja's care. Nothing looks bad in it, but it just feels like the atmospheric gameplay is being replaced by non-stop action. Maybe I'm wrong, but it just appears to be more story-centric, with a little less of the exploration Metroid is known for. I could be totally wrong, though. What I miss the most, though, is the 1st person perspective. It just seemed to work so well, actually putting you in Samus' shoes.

Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions

I loved the sandbox Spider-Man video games offered this past decade, but have been sorely disappointed with recent offerings like Web of Shadows. (They got Peter Parker's voice so wrong in that game. How do you screw up one of the most average voices in media?) They have impressive looking graphics, but the last game I really enjoyed was Spider-Man 3. It just seems like they are getting far too complicated with fighting mechanics. I'm seeing the exact same thing with their new offering, Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions. I'm impressed that they choose to diversify Spider-Man with different styles he's had over the years (2099, Noir, ect). The art style simply looks great - but the gameplay looks like it sucks. It seems horribly repetitive, with a bigger focus on big boss battles instead of letting the gamer just have fun being Spider-Man. This just looks like another Spider-Man game I'm going to ignore.