Luftrausers Review (PS3)

With the recent announcement of the PS3 PSN store due to be shutdown, then Sony reversing that same announcement, the provocation has resulted in clearing the dust on Sony’s seventh generation console. Starting with this Sony console exclusive, Luftrausers, a war-themed shooter that dared to dream with its release, competing with an already-released PlayStation 4 just a few months earlier.

War, never been so much fun. You sunk my battleship. Both those memorable phrases detail the quality Luftrausers provides, albeit from a high level. When you first load up Luftrausers’ cartoon retro-style title screen, a simple instruction is given: Press ‘Up’ on your D-Pad. You soon realise you have been thrust into the cockpit of a plane as a complete novice, not knowing where to go or what to do. Instinctively though, you quickly find yourself flying back and forth, projectile barrages and small planes coming at you at breakneck speed, with a simple goal: Kill or be killed.

Constant death is an inevitability in Luftrausers. But this is glorious, unpredictable, addictive and even productive death. Every plane or battleship you destroy tops up your overall score, levels you up, and bumps your multiplier within each run too. Levelling up means better weapons, armour and the like, and thus, this is how you progress in Luftrausers. In-game side objectives, such as destroying 6 planes in a single run unlock further parts and modifications; homing missiles, reduced melee damage, even protection from the water below. You’ll need that last one should you dive in for temporary cover. All these elements bring variety to the feel and power of your craft. As you toughen up, the opposition gets tougher, and more frequent, which serves up more breath-taking moments of near-kamikaze brilliance.

Although this may not sound as appealing as it is in practice, there is quite the tactical element to Luftrausers to cap off its addictive brilliance. Any damage you do take slowly recovers with ant brief respite, indicated by a circle that closes in the nearer you are to being blown out of the sky. You are also more manoeuvrable should you ever release the fire button, which is great for healing and a temporary reprieve, but those going for the big multipliers will see it reset in those precious recovery seconds. Then the waves begin again, meaning it really is a case of who dares wins.

The wonderfully simple and symbolic nature of holding ‘up’ to fly and rotating using left or right for direction becomes second nature almost immediately, as intended, by throwing you into the action head on. I guarantee a few seconds later you’ll be throwing yourself head-on towards countless merciless targets. Granted, you may well escape some rounds by the skin of your teeth with more luck than judgement, but regardless, the sense of momentary relief is ever present.

Visually, Luftrausers offers a unique semi-retro style, akin to an HD Atari 2600, should such a thing ever have existed. When in battle, it can be similar to a typical bullet hell shooter, with enemies left, right and centre, a la Asteroids, but with the freedom of movement, of course.

As you progress through the various waves of increasing difficulty, Luftrausers succeeds in retaining the thrills and spills of those initial bedding-in runs throughout. For those with a PS Vita, you may miss a train stop or two if you’re not careful. While some runs may be over in mere seconds, the action is consistently heart-stopping, merciless, and seriously addictive. And it all begins with the touch of a simple command: Up.

Vanquish 10th Anniversary Review (PS4)

Vanquish is an excellent fast-paced, super stylish shooter in the third person, from Resident Evil ­creator Shinji Mikami.

Like Bayonetta, there have been very few titles like Vanquish in the last ten years.

“Get outta the way!”

Like Bayonetta, there have been very few titles like Vanquish in the last ten years. Those dedicated to PlatinumGames-developed entities could only praise its frantic yet exhilarating action, impressive boss fights, even knee-sliding. And they were right; Vanquish is an excellent fast-paced, super stylish shooter in the third person, from Resident Evil ­creator Shinji Mikami. Both this and Hideki Kamiya’s Vanquish are being bundled together (physical release anyway), and both remain shining examples of PlatinumGames’ glamour and glory.

Vanquish puts the gravelly-sounding Sam Gideon at the forefront of a Russian-led robot war on America. Donned in his ARS (Augmented Reaction Suit), Sam can shoot, run, roll, and even knee-slide. That last function, performed by holding L1, shoots Sam across the floor at a breakneck pace to evade gunfire or get behind enemy lines. It’s an excellent defining feature that allows manipulation of your speed of attack, or a change of tactic. It also ties in with the suit’s AR mode, which allows the slowing down of time to make more pinpoint attacks. All consume a meter that, if depleted fully, the suit must recharge. The dynamic here is that these are all managed by you, except for when you take critical hits, which instantly depletes the meter, triggering AR mode automatically.

“What the ****, man?”

In amongst the herds of red Russian robots are plenty of boss fights. They vary from flying super-suited humans to the gigantic Argus, each requiring different tactics to expose their core and destroy them. It’s simplistic in nature but spectacular in practice. There are corridor stages, elevator stages, sniper stages, and most exciting of all are the battleground stages. Finding yourself pinned behind barricades, waiting for that perfect moment to strike. Thanks to the suit’s BLADE system, three weapon types at a time can be stored. A quick tap of the relevant D-pad direction changes to the desired weapon, and any can be swapped out for others throughout. Vanquish’s mechanisms are designed to keep you thinking, and that means quickly. It serves as a constant adrenaline rush.

Ten years on, why should anyone care about Vanquish? Its biggest problem was always recognition, not its quality. Critics loved it, and according to Wikipedia, its more recent PC release pushed it over the 1 million sales mark. Yet it somehow feels like a forgotten gem in many respects. Bayonetta is undoubtedly far more well known (a sequel and SMASH appearance would have a lot to do with that), but Vanquish, although quite different, is cut from a similar cloth. Having them release at the same time makes perfect sense, as they complement each other so well.

“Time to hit hard and make ’em regret it.”

And so, what about the remaster? The 4K, 60 frames per second upgrade provides a facelift for the current generation to have a swing at. Vanquish always had a distinctly futuristic feel with clear visuals, but now they run superbly fast. The frame rate boost gives the action a new lease of life and has never been better. The ARS looks better than ever also, with extra detail evidently on show for key characters to bring them more up to date. Unfortunately, the upgrade can do little for the backdrops, which were of the time already. Some look a bit blurry with Vanquish having an awful lot of greyness about it anyway. As noted in the preview, there are noted small moments of slowdown in some of the cutscenes. There was a patch released earlier today, so fingers crossed both this, and the subtitle inconsistencies are also addressed.

“C’mon apes, you wanna live forever?!”

So, Vanquish is starting to show some age a little. What of it? When the action is as good as this (and it is as good as they come), it’s perfect for a few hours of frenetic fun. Therein lies its biggest flaw: the campaign’s length. Even a first-timer could wade through on the Normal setting in but a few hours. But that in itself is part of the genius of Vanquish; the mechanics are so tight and easy to learn, you’ll soon be clocking headshots in AR mode as if you’ve played for months. Like many games from PlatinumGames, they are often designed to be replayed. For the trophy hunter, there are plenty of fun-to-obtain trophies to collect, which also require a rise in difficulty. The challenge mode becomes exceptionally hard and is still the elusive trophy I am yet to obtain myself on any version.

If Bayonetta is the coveted supermodel, then Vanquish is the young starlet that never got the break they deserved. The story may be a tongue-in-cheek, politically preposterous, and filled with corny dialogue, but that’s all part of the fun. You don’t need to believe it to enjoy it. But what needs to be believed that even with a single playthrough, you cannot go wrong for a few hours of entertainment than with Vanquish.

Bayonetta 10th Anniversary Remaster Review (PS4)

“Don’t f**k with a witch!”

Bayonetta is up there with the best—arguably even the best—hack-‘n-slash action game around. It’s problematic and erratic PS3 port back in 2010 left a false impression – after all, Bayonetta is no mere historical curio. We may have had to wait ten years, but Bayonetta finally has the Playstation port it deserves, offering 4K support with smooth, stable framerates. This, my friends, is how you port a classic.

The story of Bayonetta is, quite frankly, a mental one to explain in simple terms. A shapeshifting witch left with amnesia after a 500-year slumber, with guns in both her hands and strapped to her heels, is but the beginning. From then on, her story is your story. As the detailed lore is explained throughout as flashes of her previous life, reacquaint her, and of course you, of her salient backstory. The fictional European city of Vigrid is the adventure’s setting, and finding the “Right Eye of the World” is the quest Bayonetta must fulfill. Along the way is an army of angels that must be slain in a variety of wonderful ways, including demons made of hair. See, I told you the story was mental.

“Say hi to the wife and kids for me!”

If that potentially sounds too much for you, then remember this: Come for the story, stay for the combat. Bayonetta’s existence revolves around its masterful combat mechanics. Tapping triangle/circle gives you quick punch/kick attacks. Chaining them together with different weapons assigned can lead to a myriad of combinations. Then there are Wicked Weaves; powerful combo finishers that, when executed, transform Bayonetta’s mystical hair into a giant demonic boot/fist that inflict great damage. And naturally, look flashy as hell. In the past ten years, only one title has come close to Bayonetta’s combat, and that is the Wii U-exclusive sequel, Bayonetta 2, a little over five years ago. The fluidity and hypnotic rhythm of the combat are indeed that good.

Aside from the combos themselves, adding to that fluidity is the Dodge function. A quick tap of R2 allows Bayonetta to glide away from harm. Not only that, activating a dodge at the last possible moment freezes everyone – except for Bayonetta – in what is called Witch Time. For anyone who has played a Platinum title since, such as Transformers Devastation or Nier: Automata, this concept may be nothing new. But such is the genius of the concept, and it’s no surprise to see it becoming a developer-mainstay feature. There are, of course, subtle differences. Where Nier is all about accuracy, flow is the key in Bayonetta. The dodge is part of the combo chain, so it can be resumed after dodging.

“Do you like it when she calls you ‘Mummy’?”

The combat is oh so important as it is an extension of Bayonetta herself. The opening sequence gives the impression of someone with grace, poise, always in charge, and enjoys the thrill of combat. In turn, so is the animation of your actions – graceful that is – and assuming you’re not too terrible at it, you’ll be having as much fun as she is. It is both genius and beauty coming together, all at your fingertips.

The same can also be said for the action cutscenes. They are silly, playful, and on the right side of cocky. They are also highly entertaining and brilliantly choreographed, encapsulating again how much Bayonetta is in control. The camera also lingers over our star frequently, often with camera-facing glances, or alternatively, Bayonetta’s more private areas. Some may find this somewhat egregious. But this is merely intended as an extension of the self-awareness and confidence of Bayonetta. The sexualization is merely another source of power for our titular character. She is a funny, tenacious, and wise-cracking witch, and it is hard not to admire her beauty and grace.

There are very few, minor quibbles. This being a Sega property, it feels inevitable that QTE’s are involved. Not often, nor debilitating overall, but let’s face it, they are a product of a bygone era. Here a key life or death moment may need repeating until the correct singular button is pressed. It feels unnecessary and old-fashioned. The tendency to transition directly into being attacked out from a cutscene can be more irritating. Especially for those gunning, slashing, punching, and indeed spinning for top stage rankings.

“Now, it’s time to be naughty.”

But what of the remaster? Well, the action certainly keeps up the 60 frames per second promise. It feels right at home on the PS4 pad also. It is, without doubt, a major upgrade on the Platinum-outsourced PS3 disappointment of ten years ago. Even the Xbox 360 version struggled when the action got too frantic, but here it is smooth as smooth gets. It steps up to the plate of modern resolutions admirably well, also. Never has Bayonetta looked so good in my home than on my 55-inch 4K television.

As for the re-release timing generally, it feels like an important piece of redemption for Playstation hardware. The PS3 version has a bad rap with bad sales to go with it, so it is fitting that a definitive version gets both a new and old audience. The colour palette may seem a little bland in places today, but the level design remains superb, the combat sublime, and, now more than ever, an essential bargain.

This review originally appeared on www.heypoorplayer.com

 

 

Dragon Ball Super: Broly Blu-Ray Review – The Franchise Beast Comes to Your Living Room

Its Over 9000, etc etc

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This post includes the previously published cinematic review from February 2019.

Movie Review:-

There has never been a better time to be a Dragon Ball fan. Following Dragon Ball’s resurrection after almost 20 years with Dragon Ball Super, there has been a resurgence for Akira Toriyama’s franchise like never before. And while that series has now ended, there is no sign of a let up in that resurgence, either. Dragon Ball FighterZ, the excellently-accessible and instantly beloved beat-em-up, took the fighting video game scene by storm as well the franchise’s fan base, me included. And now, in early 2019, comes Dragon Ball Super: Broly: an anime movie for the ages.

Unlike the non-canon Broly movies of the 90’s, DBS: Broly is no simple series tie-in movie. This is Broly’s official integration into the Dragon Ball canon, with the story coming from series creator himself, Akira Toriyama. And where 1993’s Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan felt like nothing more than disconnected DBZ DLC, this Broly absolutely feels like the real deal.

Dragon Ball Z and Super were both series known for thrusting muscle over matter. DBS: Broly parks that notion somewhat for the first half of the movie. In its place is a history lesson. Broly’s origin is detailed but also that of the the Saiyan race as a whole. Indeed, the Planet Vegeta opening, admittedly initially met with uncertainty, quickly becomes the most successful and powerful gambit Toriyama has ever played. The Saiyans are not as they have always been perceived to be.

Nothing to see here, Richard Donner

dragonball-b

Their status as planet conquerors is reaffirmed, but under nothing more than a slave capacity to – guess who – Frieza. It’s a wholly refreshing take that also integrates the series’ sense of charm and humour to lighten the mood in the face of hardship. Furthermore, insight into Goku and Vegeta’s origins offer what no other Dragon Ball movie ever has before – immediate accessibility for newcomers to the universe.

As for Broly himself, as a child he is outcast to a distant planet due to his immeasurable potential power. Despite his father’s dedication to his son’s well-being, Broly is a child born of mental fragility, a loss of innocence, and the relationship with his father is a strained one. All of which resonate far too well; this is not some simple rival for Goku or a world-conquering threat. Broly is a young man who has been denied the chance to discover his own destiny by both his rulers and his father. Fast forward to the present, where – being mindful of spoilers – Broly, Goku, Vegeta and Frieza face off in a jaw-dropping, spectacular and unrelenting second act that few will forget.

A bit of work required on Broly’s ‘breaking the ice’ technique

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DBS: Broly is absolutely one of the best drawn animated movies ever. The use of 2D shading over 3D models during the excellently choreographed fight sequences is very well done. It delivers a sense of speed and detail never seen in the Dragon Ball universe. You’d be forgiven for having your jaw pushed back up from time to time, such is the quality Toei have delivered here.

As a spectacle, like many a Dragon Ball conflict, DBS: Broly feels like the build up to a boxing title match. You know for a fact there is a big fight on the way. But part of that anticipation is not knowing how it will turn out. It could be anticlimactic. It could be a fight that will live long in the memory. Somehow, over the course of its 40-minute back and forth fight sequence, DBS: Broly manages to be all of those things. It has to be seen to be believed. Slightly unfortunate however, given the shift from origin-movie drama to breakneck battle bonanza, is the resulting inconsistent change of pace. It reached a point that quite frankly feels a little overwhelming on first viewing.

DBS: Broly is an energetic, emotional and exciting thrill ride of a movie. It’s incredible to realise that Dragon Ball, a franchise that began over 30 years ago, has not only sustained its popularity, it stands to be more popular than ever before. It’s the Dragon Ball movie all fans have been waiting for. Given its rampant success so far on its theatrical run, plus the revelations of its Toriyama-penned story, there are sure to be new fans waiting in the wings.

Blu-Ray Review:-

Manga Entertainment’s release comes in various formats. There is the Blu-ray and DVD combination Steelbook, a collector’s edition Blu-ray featuring art cards and poster,  the standard Blu-ray and DVD, as well as a combination pack that includes Broly with Resurrection F and Battle of Gods. Sainsbury’s are also offering an exclusive edition featuring four art cards that are different from those included in the collector’s edition. Personally, I opted for the collector’s edition Blu-Ray release.

The transition of the movie to Blu-Ray is flawless, with both original Japanese and English dubbing tracks available. There is no ‘green tint’ that was present in the US Funimation release. Unfortunately, the UK release of the movie has no special features, which appears to have been a licensing issue.

Regardless of the lack of extras, Dragon Ball Super: Broly is a must-buy for any Dragon Ball or anime fan in general. Despite its place in the Dragon Ball canon and timeline, the movie serves as a good introduction for new fans of the series. There are plenty of emotional moments for existing fans also. The first act alone is some of the engaging Dragon Ball material ever produced. And the final act, consisting of a 35-minute strong fight scene, is breathtaking anime entertainment.

 

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Paradox Review – Wilson Yip and Sammo Hung Return To Reignite a Franchise

Thriller in Thailand

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It’s been 14 years since Wilson Yip masterminded one of the best martial arts thrillers of recent times, Kill Zone. Known as Sha Po Lang in the east, Kill Zone aided in propelling the careers of both Yip and its action star, Donnie Yen. Both are of course most famous for the Ip Man series, of which a fourth instalment is due in 2019. After handing the director’s chair to colleague Pou-soi Cheang for the Tony Jaa sequel, Wilson Yip returns to said chair for this latest instalment. Rest assured, Paradox (SPL: Taam Long) is a worthy addition to what is quickly becoming a benchmark Hong Kong franchise.

The Sha Po Lang series isn’t your typical multi-movie affair; Kill Zone 2 featured new characters and storyline, yet retained Wu Jing and Simon Yam to its cast. With Paradox, the same rules applies again. Tony Jaa returns in a minor yet significant ass-kicking role, and Sammo Hung also returns – albeit in the action choreographer role. But the most surprising casting here is that of non-martial artist Louis Koo. What is even more surprising is how well it pays off.

Koo plays Lee Cheung-Chi, a policeman whose daughter goes missing whilst on a trip to Thailand. Having become somewhat estranged by having her boyfriend arrested after her pregnancy announcement, she travels to Thailand in search of a friend. Once informed of her disappearance, Cheung-Chi fears for her safety, regardless of their recent conflict. Teaming up with the local police, it all becomes clear there are bigger forces at work behind the disappearance.

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As expected from a Wilson Yip vehicle, there is an impressive visual flair to proceedings, and Yip is quickly becoming a veteran in that regard. Everything is on point here. And while we’re not seeing anything new from Yip or Louis Koo, you know exactly what to expect from them both. And yet, in the face of its beautiful locations Paradox is a lean, mean and surprisingly grim thriller.

Louis Koo is no action star. If Paradox is your first Louis Koo movie, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was, thanks to Sammo Hung’s excellent fight choreography, as he dispatches anyone and everyone in his way quickly and convincingly. Couple that with Koo’s flair for the dramatic, and you’ve got yourself a wonderfully tense affair. Tony Jaa showcases his talents in a critical highlight scene, while Wu Yue puts in an equally ass-kicking shift, as you would expect from both of them. Gordon Lam is on sinister form as the determined mayoral candidate’s assistant.

All of this may well sound like a generic Liam Neeson Hollywood outing. Instead Paradox serves as a shining example of what Hong Kong cinema can still produce. Sammo Hung’s impeccable choreography and Wilson Yip’s brutal, grim and gritty depiction of Pattaya deservedly brings the Sha Po Lang series back into the limelight. Just don’t expect any Hollywood happy ending.

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Dragon Ball Super: Broly Review – The Ever-Soaring Franchise Hits Further Heights

Its Over 9000, etc etc

50290445-D152-4B03-B2D6-77F5956BAEA5

There has never been a better time to be a Dragon Ball fan. Following Dragon Ball’s resurrection after almost 20 years with Dragon Ball Super, there has been a resurgence for Akira Toriyama’s franchise like never before. And while that series has now ended, there is no sign of a let up in that resurgence, either. Dragon Ball FighterZ, the excellently-accessible and instantly beloved beat-em-up, took the fighting video game scene by storm as well the franchise’s fan base, me included. And now, in early 2019, comes Dragon Ball Super: Broly: an anime movie for the ages.

Unlike the non-canon Broly movies of the 90’s, DBS: Broly is no simple series tie-in movie. This is Broly’s official integration into the Dragon Ball canon, with the story coming from series creator himself, Akira Toriyama. And where 1993’s Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan felt like nothing more than disconnected DBZ DLC, this Broly absolutely feels like the real deal.

Dragon Ball Z and Super were both series known for thrusting muscle over matter. DBS: Broly parks that notion somewhat for the first half of the movie. In its place is a history lesson. Broly’s origin is detailed but also that of the the Saiyan race as a whole. Indeed, the Planet Vegeta opening, admittedly initially met with uncertainty, quickly becomes the most successful and powerful gambit Toriyama has ever played. The Saiyans are not as they have always been perceived to be.

Nothing to see here, Richard Donner

dragonball-b

Their status as planet conquerors is reaffirmed, but under nothing more than a slave capacity to – guess who – Frieza. It’s a wholly refreshing take that also integrates the series’ sense of charm and humour to lighten the mood in the face of hardship. Furthermore, insight into Goku and Vegeta’s origins offer what no other Dragon Ball movie ever has before – immediate accessibility for newcomers to the universe.

As for Broly himself, as a child he is outcast to a distant planet due to his immeasurable potential power. Despite his father’s dedication to his son’s well-being, Broly is a child born of mental fragility, a loss of innocence, and the relationship with his father is a strained one. All of which resonate far too well; this is not some simple rival for Goku or a world-conquering threat. Broly is a young man who has been denied the chance to discover his own destiny by both his rulers and his father. Fast forward to the present, where – being mindful of spoilers – Broly, Goku, Vegeta and Frieza face off in a jaw-dropping, spectacular and unrelenting second act that few will forget.

A bit of work required on Broly’s ‘breaking the ice’ technique

maxresdefault-1024x576

DBS: Broly is absolutely one of the best drawn animated movies ever. The use of 2D shading over 3D models during the excellently choreographed fight sequences is very well done. It delivers a sense of speed and detail never seen in the Dragon Ball universe. You’d be forgiven for having your jaw pushed back up from time to time, such is the quality Toei have delivered here.

As a spectacle, like many a Dragon Ball conflict, DBS: Broly feels like the build up to a boxing title match. You know for a fact there is a big fight on the way. But part of that anticipation is not knowing how it will turn out. It could be anticlimactic. It could be a fight that will live long in the memory. Somehow, over the course of its 40-minute back and forth fight sequence, DBS: Broly manages to be all of those things. It has to be seen to be believed. Slightly unfortunate however, given the shift from origin-movie drama to breakneck battle bonanza, is the resulting inconsistent change of pace. It reached a point that quite frankly feels a little overwhelming on first viewing.

DBS: Broly is an energetic, emotional and exciting thrill ride of a movie. It’s incredible to realise that Dragon Ball, a franchise that began over 30 years ago, has not only sustained its popularity, it stands to be more popular than ever before. It’s the Dragon Ball movie all fans have been waiting for. Given its rampant success so far on its theatrical run, plus the revelations of its Toriyama-penned story, there are sure to be new fans waiting in the wings.

Dragon-Ball-Super-Broly-e1547220738275-1300x1926

Dragon Ball Super Vol 2 Review

Dragon-ball-super-1

The second Dragon Ball Super volume covers chapters 10 through 15, with a ton of story covered. The “Champa saga” ends by chapter 13, leaving 14 and 15 to kick off the “Future Trunks saga” (otherwise known as “Goku Black saga”. That habit of naming sagas after the main villain never goes away, huh?

The Dragon Ball Super manga abbreviates the event of the anime somewhat. The first volume skipped past ‘Resurrection F’ altogether, and volume 2 follows a similar fast-forward trend. But thankfully not as drastically as the first volume. It begins with Goku facing Frost, the Universe 6 version of Frieza. Bragging rights are up for grabs between Universe 7/6′  respective Gods of Destruction, brothers Beerus and Champa. Oh, and a wish from the planet-sized Super Dragon Balls.

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The manga and anime productions come from the same brief, provided by series creator Akira Toriyama. Both are being produced in parallel, with plenty of differences between the two. You could say Dragon Ball Super is the anime/manga equivalent to George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. There is no slacking in the print version here however. As a result the manga serves as a nice alternative to the more epic nature of the anime series.

It’s the non-action scenes that are mostly cut from the manga. Don’t expect much in the way of dialogue during the battles, either. This has been the case throughout all the manga Dragon Ball universe. In the case of Super some big pay-off points just don’t have the same effect as the anime. But there are some radical differences that give the manga a unique feel over the anime.

**Spoilers ahead in this section for both the anime and manga – Read at your own risk**

In the anime, Goku combines Super Saiyan Blue with the Kaio-Ken attack from way back. This is to push Universe 6’ top fighter Hit to his limit, before Goku eliminates himself from the tournament. Whereas here in the manga Super Saiyan Blue is the ultimate form, which can only be used in a limited capacity. As a result, Goku uses the red Super Saiyan God from the “Beerus saga” instead. Goku turns Super Saiyan Blue only to pull out the big guns at the end, then eliminates himself. The red Super Saiyan God form isn’t seen in the anime until the more recent “Universal Survival saga”.

**Spoilers end – Normal spoiler-free service is resumed**

Volume 2 ends with the beginning of the aforementioned “Future Trunks saga”. Trunks is flees to the main timeline once again from a foe who seems unstoppable. That foe may have Goku’s face, but Goku he most certainly is not. Once again, brief dialogue explains much of the back story instead of the anime’s more granular approach. Other anime/manga differences come to light during sparring sessions between Trunks and Goku. These serve as a prelude to facing his evil doppelganger, but the outcome is relatively similar. It also leaves the manga finely poised in anticipation for volume 3.

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Once again it is Toriyama’s understudy Toyotarou that provides the art. The results are excellent, with the hectic action captured on clear panels that match Toriyama’s own style and substance. There are obvious visual issues when it comes to the different Super Saiyan transformations in black and white. The shading is subtler, plus a character usually exclaims the fact. Translation-wise it sticks to the usual Viz formula. Mr Satan is Hercule, Buu is Boo, and the Spirit Bomb is the Genki Dama. King Kai is also known to as the Lord of Worlds, which can lead to confusion. But these are certainly forgivable minor issues that don’t affect the overall enjoyment of the series.

Bonus content includes an amusing yet bizarre 2-page joke Pilaf story. It explains how Pilaf and his gang de-aged during Gohan’s attempt to save everyone in the Future Trunks’ timeline. There is also a nice little section with Toyotarou answering fans’ questions which I hope continues in further volumes.

The pacing of volume 2 is much steadier than the first volume. Volume 1 felt like merely a skim over the first 2 story arcs. Given most of volume 2 is the Universe 6 vs Universe 7 tournament it’s more wall to wall action than deep dialogue. It certainly results in a more consistent read. But like the first volume the manga serves as an alternative accompanying dish to the anime’s main course. Anime followers may raise an eyebrow at some of the different uses of Goku’s attributes. But overall, the story follows the Toriyama blueprint, and Toyotarou’s panels are a feast for the eyes. The action is excellent, the art is brilliant, the anticipation for more is high. Dragon Ball Super volume 2 is a great read.

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Review – The Walking Dead: A New Frontier (PS4)

The third season of Telltale’s eponymous series is possibly the most curious yet. Telltale’s approach to storytelling has become familiar over its various franchises. Potential outcomes have become more obvious through familiarity than merely being predictable. This latest Walking Dead installment attempts to skirt around such expectations and take it up a notch.

Like the previous entries in the series, Telltale’s Walking Dead tries to keep you guessing, whilst also filled with moments of genuine emotion. Given the formula is pretty much the same throughout, the first two series were always going to have one over it’s third instalment. There is nothing new here other than the continuing plot line from previous seasons and animation improvements. The voice-acting is once again among some of the best in video games. I certainly didn’t expect anything different formula-wise; in fact, I’d be disappointed if it had changed.

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So, Telltale mechanics? Check. Emotional and difficult choices? Check. Best Walking Dead season so far? That’s much harder to answer. To delve into the specifics of the plot would be unnecessary and spoiler-ific, but of course any previous experience of the series will steer your mind in the right direction. The only reveal I will share – and possibly the most disappointing element of the game – is that you are no longer in control of Clementine in the main story. This time it’s Javier Carlos, a disgraced baseball player who’s current zombie-filled plight is as difficult as his family history.

Despite the lead character change once again, the game’s success still revolves around what decisions are made. Moreover, it can be replayed to enact the alternatives if so desired. There are moments that feel too cliched however, or forcing shock value upon you.

On the whole though Telltale’s formula is more hit than miss; the final chapter has a number of loose ends that tie up really well, leaving a sensation of hope that was missing from the end of the first 2 seasons. It also leaves off with a lot of potential story-lines for potential future seasons. I did find some of the new relationships hard to buy into, with a reliance on flashbacks to mold the character you want. There are mixed emotions to the more abrupt deaths that occur. A simple “oh, they’re dead” is as much emotion as can be spared for certain characters, with little time for reflection.

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Telltale rose to prominence due to the introduction of this meticulous formula back in 2012 with its first season. It may not seem they can quite recreate the success that first season had with this one, but Telltale have certainly proven they are far from bereft of ideas. You won’t be left wanting once A New Frontier ends, with multiple narratives introduced and addressed along the way. The expectation is solely on the stories and how they are delivered, nothing more.

A New Frontier this is a fitting entry into Walking Dead lore. If you’ve experienced the previous Telltale seasons, then you know what to expect. And by the end of A New Frontier, despite it being the weakest entry so far, is still well worth your time. Your jaw may drop from time to time, and there’s plenty of trauma and emotion throughout. But don’t forget that in the long run none of this will probably matter.

Emotional, inquisitive, dramatic yet also comforting, A New Frontier will keep you hooked from start to finish with another solid season.

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Review – God of War: Ascension (PS3)

As mentally-scarred, borderline insane, revenge-driven, unrelenting anti-heroes go, Kratos is somehow quite an appealing character. In this already five-game series he has been pulled from pillar to post, and has hit rock bottom more times than a soap opera character. But somehow, someway, Kratos always manages to rise up. To ascend.

God of War: Ascension is not a sequel, but a prequel to the entire series. This includes the 2 PSP prequels, so Ascension is really a pre-pre-prequel. As baffling as that may seem, or sounds, Ascension is no step back. In fact, Ascension pushes the world of Kratos (and the PS3) upon us more than ever before, both aesthetically and creatively. The graphics here are fantastic; lavish detail among each and every piece of brick and mortar, accompanied with bold, vibrant colours.

The motion capture of Kratos and the supporting cast looks more real than ever before, particular in the cut-scenes. As expected, Ascension does not hold back on the graphic nature the series is famous for. It is however noticeably more suppressed than the ever-escalating violence of the mainstay series.

Single-Player

What separates Ascension from its peers is the changes made to the combat. Aside from the series-stable light/heavy attacks and combination strings, there are some excellent additions and alternatives to use. When confronted by many foes at once (as often is the case), a tap of R1 sees Kratos throw one of his chain-attached blades into the desired enemy, and latches on. This not only allows you to either attack your chained foe, but all those around you too, which makes for much more full-flowing combat. You can even evade and still be attached to a foe, making way to get those high numbered combos that bit easier.

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Kratos only has the Blades of Chaos as main weapons this time around. But in various areas of the game there are alternative weapons that can be picked up if desired. This is known as the ‘World Weapons’ system. These weapons can be used with the circle button, and also in combination with the Blades if desired. The chain grab can be used to obtain a shield as a world weapon from an enemy too. It all comes together really well, making Ascension more advanced than any other God of War game.

Puzzle elements are another re-emerging God of War formula. There is the typical form of “push block to access ledge/activate switch”, but this time around there is much more on offer. An ability acquired within the campaign allows Kratos to ‘Heal’ or Decay’ promulgated surroundings to access the next area, or weaken other materials to break through them. These get more complicated as the campaign unfolds, and prove a welcome break from the hack and slash.

Unfortunately, despite its pleasing aesthetics, combat and puzzle mixture, there are a lot of confusing elements to Ascension as a package. This is the only God of War game where I have had issues with the fixed camera system. Quite often in a typical setting, although the exit is obvious, you have to blindly guide Kratos through it, which can be very frustrating at times. One instance even led me to have to reload a chapter, only to find that the problem was the camera didn’t react the first time.

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The other major issue is the slightly bland single player campaign. From the original God of War through to III, the scale has always risen. The story always escalating through to the epic final confrontation. But in Ascension, once the first plot catalyst is confirmed, it just seems so long to get there. This leads to a lot more repetition and very uneven pacing. There is considerably less interaction with, well, anyone, for a good two thirds of the campaign, but does improves significantly from then on. Thankfully the action is noticeably different enough to keep Ascension from being the bad apple of the series.

Multiplayer

New to the series is the introduction of online multiplayer. Although you don’t play as Kratos, you play another Spartan warrior in the same predicament. After a quick tutorial of controls, you choose which god you wish to follow, each one granting different powers and abilities. From there, you can throw yourself into free-for-all or team-based battles, to gain XP which allows you power up and suit up your character.

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The gameplay itself is typical God of War combat. Except now there are eight of you at it at once, in maps littered with traps, power-ups and the like. Although originally sceptical, it works really well, and is highly addictive. The more you power up your character, the more you want to dive in for more XP. Where many will put a God of War game back on the shelf once the campaign is over, this will provide hours and hours of longevity.

Sony has really pushed for a complete package with God of War: Ascension. The excellent addition of multiplayer, the improved combat and puzzle elements, plus the fact it looks glorious throughout, is certainly testament to that. Only the less memorable campaign story and pacing is a slight blemish on what is overall a very worthy purchase. For fans, it’s familiarity with a bit more to tackle. For newcomers, there is enough here to get them hooked on the series. Prequels don’t get much better than this.

WWE 2K16 Review – Showcase of the Immoral

THE CHAMP IS HERE! Yes, it’s that time of year again, where the grappling soap opera laces up its boots and dons its flamboyant singlets/shorts to unleash its roster on the world once again. After last year’s threadbare next gen debut, the tension is rising, the deck is stacked for failure, and so can the champion-turned-disappointment come out on top in 2015?

Let’s start with what desperately needed improvement from last year: the content. It’s what generally labels a WWE game as a success or failure, whether it’s Road to Wrestlemania modes, original stories, unlockable content, etc. So it is instantly pleasing to see that WWE 2K16 has introduced the 2K Showcase mode. Essentially a copy of History of Wrestlemania mode in WWE2K14, Showcase lets you play out Stone Cold Steve Austin’s key historic (and some not so historic) encounters. Meeting certain conditions unlocks material that can be used in the general modes of the game. However, whilst initially a lot of fun to revisit scenes that are 20 years old and every older WWE’s fan dream, there are some serious pacing issues.

Most conditions are simple yet tedious to fulfil. These can be as basic as delivering X amount of damage or perform an Irish whip, and are also mandatory to continue and complete the match. The fact that these matches unlock new characters and other goodies is the only incentive to a mode that only succeeds in feeling forced and very restrictive. As you progress the conditions mount up resulting in rather exhaustive and laborious matches. All the while I was wishing I was watching the real thing instead.

91uoZnsrAHL._SL1500_Which leads onto the most disappointing element: the gameplay itself. WWE 2K16 is clunky and slow, with unforgivable glitches such as commands that randomly stop working as quickly as they start working again. Factor in an oddly inexplicable difficulty spike, which leads to frustration more than an increased challenge.

Despite these apparent indignation’s, WWE 2K16 is a generally simple title to pick up and play. The variety of crazy matches to be had will satisfy the hard-core WWE fan. But, and this is the biggest but of all, WWE games have effectively been the same title – albeit tweaked – since WWE ’13. WWE 2K16 is effectively WWE ’13 version 3, with the series in desperate need of a change from the ground up.

Striking, grappling, submission, reversals and even pinning manoeuvres are all just essentially a game of chance; a game built up on QTE-based command foundations that are often cleverly masked behind the accurately depicted WWE arenas and superstars.

WWE2K16LastGen06But then even the visuals themselves are not the draw they once were, especially after taking the step up to the next console generation. Appearances from the owner himself Vince McMahon are almost comical as his face barely resembles the man that made WWE what it is today.  And that pretty much optimises the state of the Yukes-developed WWE game in today’s world; although its wealth of modes will draw a few hours of fun, particularly multiplayer, it really isn’t due to skill; making for a rather shallow experience.

Despite all these grievances, it can be easily concurred that WWE 2K16 is the best wrestling game you can buy today. Unfortunately that does not mean that it is a great game by any means. One obvious reason is lack of competition; there are simply very little rivals to WWE‘s crown, much like the real product. Moreover, WWE 2K16 just isn’t  satisfying enough even for a hard-core WWE fan. As a fan of the promotion for the best part of 20 years, it stretched even my interest. WWE 2K16 has a feel of desperation that its TV counterpart often suffers from: a lack of fan satisfaction.

The version played for this review was the Xbox One edition.