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Archive for June, 2009

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Killing cops, driving a taxi and being a drug dealer are now hobbies available on Nintendo’s DS. The first GTA on the handheld and also hailed as the best game on the handheld I picked this game up very eagerly. Now Chinatown Wars is a typical GTA. The biggest differences in this title to the other games are the touch screen mini-games and also the bird’s eye view, as in GTAs I and II. In a way its back to the roots but bringing many updates from the 3D GTA:s at the same time.

There’s very cartoony look to the game from the gameworld itself to the cut-scenes. There’s no voiceacting of course so there’s a lot of text to read, not too much of course. Most of the time youre either shooting at things or then driving a car, or doing both at the same time. The story is more a reason for doing the missions in the game, but its still an entertaining tale of deceit between a crime family from Chinatown. The character you play as of Chinese origin himself.

F.I.B

The main character didn’t have a very interesting personality in my opinion though, some of side characters stole the show completely. Especially the crooked and middle-aged private eye you meet toward the end of the game. I enjoyed the bent F.I.B officer a lot as well. Some of the missions are rather funny as well. One random encounter had you drive a pornstar to the studio in a limo so he can keep his feeling up until arrival. The limo shook all the way and once at the studio a dozen hookers walk out of it.

Missions aside at one point in the game I noticed most of time went into drug trading. It is one of the most addictive elements in the game. Its not too complicated consisting mostly of buying cheap and selling high. The easiest way to get started is to use the tip-offs you get in your email announcing when someone has to offload some heroin or some college guys are having a party and need weed quick (weed doesn’t cost very much so selling heroin is where the big money is). Making money isn’t hard at all in Chinatown.

selling drugs

One of the most best elements in Chinatown Wars is the easy-to-use interface which uses the touch screen very much to its advantage. Using the GPS and checking your emails is very easy with a pen. Buying weapons is also done through an Internet store, so no walking to the store to get your rocket launcher. Just order online and wait for the package to arrive. In GTA fashion you can also capture the trucks that transport the weapons arround Liberty City and steal their cargo. The mini-games that utilize the touch screen are also enjoyable. Doing chores like making molotovs at the gas station or stealing cars from the parking lot is done via minigame as well. Some of the missions also use the touch screen, sometimes making you put a sniper rifle together. You also throw grenades and other projectiles with the pencil and aming your throws is very precise, if a bit tricky when driving at the same time, but quess that’s only realistic.

shoot em

Pretty much the only thing I found lacking was the plot. It doesn’t bother that much since there’s so much to do. The plot is more the beginning before looking for the rest of the content. The usual vigilante, taxi driver and ambulance missions are of course available, as well as tattooing with the touch screen. Completing the missions is really only half the game. Its your typical gangster story involving a family heirloom and power play with a touch of parody Rockstar style. Telling a better story would’ve involved a lot of reading which works in Phoenix Wright but in GTA perhaps not so much.

If you like the GTA-series and own a DS this is definitely a must buy. Oh and don’t bother looking for whores, none to be found.

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A demo for Frozenbyte’s hopping fantasy puzzler is out. Check it out here. The game itself arrives on the third of July. Some impressions on the demo follow:

Countryside castle

The game opens up with a pretty countryside castle. A rather low and enjoyable male voice goes on to tell that the kingdom has fallen into trouble and the undead are rising. Then you’re introduced to each of the game’s three playable characters: a thief, a wizard and a warrior, who proceed to make their way to the same jewel. The thief is there for bounty of course. I’m not sure why the wizard goes searching for a jewel, but since he’s more interested in enjoying himself than learning spells, as the narrator tells us, perhaps he’s just after the pretty thief. The warrior is just looking to kick some skeleton ass. The jewel appears to be a magical soul-binding one that ties the characters souls’ together. Luckily the wizard knows of some creature that should know more about such magic and the adventure begins.

Is he... sleeping

From a gameplay perspective the soul-binding means that you can swich between the characters. The thief has a grapling hook, the warrior has a sword for skeleton bashing and a shield for blocking while the wizard can move objects and create boxes. Each characters’ skills are needed to solve the games puzzles, which were rather simple and involved a lot of jumping and moving objects around. Course there’s only the first level to play so its left to see how complicated the puzzles will be.

Water flow

Back to the story: From the introduction on the game is very atmospheric. The narrator is well cast and the voice-actors for each of the characters work well also. The talking comes over the game while playing, so no cut-scenes in this game. I rather like this approach more and the game isn’t probably going to be that heavy on the story, but that remains to be seen. The characters are rather cliche but with some parody mixed in that doesn’t really bother too much. The game envinronments also deserve a mention: The game looks beatiful. Will definitely want to play this once it comes out.

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Scumm bar

When I heard a remake of the original Monkey Island is coming I thought it best to play the original before checking that one out, or Tales of Monkey Island for that matter. Since I’ve never played a Monkey Island I figure its best to start from the beginning. Now some thoughts on playing Monkey Island 1: Curse of Monkey Island and screenshots to match.

My bigget problem with adventure games are the puzzles. I’m really bad at them for some reason so for a big part of playing I’m usually stuck. Perhaps its good that I didn’t start playing adventure games before finding walkthroughs on the Internet became so easy. Or perhaps this is exactly why I suck at puzzles. Even though some of the puzzles are amusing I mostly play adventure games for the story. From what I’ve played so far I rather like the parody approach of Monkey Island. Swordfighting with insults and stealing a figurine from Melee Island’s manor have been my funniest encounters so far.

Swordfighting

Swordfighting and the eventual encounter with the swordmaster were also a puzzle I actually enjoyed solving. This involved fighting other pirates and learning new insults from them. Perhaps a bit too much repetition was involved though. Its quite a few pirates I had to fight against to get enough insults to face the swordmaster. They were worth it though. It seems like a good design choice to do the swordfight in this manner instead of some annoying mini-game. Will  be interesting to see if the remake sees any  additions to the original besides a graphical ovehaul.

Stealing the figurine was rather different to what’s usual in an adventure game. In order to steal the figurine you enter a room and can’t see what’s happening as the computer controls Guybrush for a moment and you’re left to watch and listen to what happens. The computer uses items of things you can’t see, which include gophers, an annoyed bull and a murderous clown among other things. Your own imagination plays a big part in this sequence which I enjoyed the most so far in the game. Perhaps the hardware restrictions played a part in the design of this, but the result was still well done. Its surprising what a couple of sound effects and bits of dialogue can achieve. Hope they keep this part the same as in the original.

At the shop

So far I haven’t met any monkeys in the game. Hearing a legend about a ship being sailed by shimps and a monkey on a swordtraining machine hardly count. I hope I meet some monkeys on Monkey Island, because that’s where I’m headed next.

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Hot

Red Cliff 2 continues straight from where part 1 ended (Check the post on that one first). After a quick summary of what happened in the first part its more of the same elements that were present in the first movie: The over the top military tactics, Zhuge Liang and Zhou Ju competing, slapstick humour and of course more action.

Red Cliff 2 doesn’t go in its own direction but more builds on what was established in part 1. After the beginning montage has reminded what took place, the movie continues from where part  1 left off. Preparing for the big battle is the name of the game. I found I enjoyed the waiting towards the big battle more than the finale itself. The friendship between Zhuge Liang and Zhou Ju, the two tacticians and commanders of the good guys, was enjoying to follow this time around as well. The chemistry between the two works well and them competing was one of the funniest (if at points dumbest) parts in the film.

A Chinese orc

The action is once more the meat of the movie and the ending battle is, I have to admit, rather epic. It should be, seeing as how most of the film consists of preparing for that battle. The fire effects especially were rather slendid.  I found the ending battle at points very similar to Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings. Apart from the naval fleet the setting is rather similar: There’s a wall that the army opposing Cao Cao has to get past. They finally manage it when one of Zhou Ju’s underlings attacks the wall with three bombs sacrifing himself while doing so. Anyone else reminded of that orc at Helm’s Deep? Besides the wall and the bombs they aren’t all that similar though.

It’s hard to write about Red Cliff 1 and 2 as separate movies because they are really the same movie. Red Cliff is more a mini-series with two parts than a series of two films. In my opinion to be called a continuation Red Cliff 2 should work as a movie in itself. Star Wars IV-VI for example did that. All the movies in that trilogy would work even without seeing the rest of the films in it. Of course you get more out of it if you watch all of them in chronological order. Red Cliff 2 on the other hand wouldn’t really work without seeing part 1 first. Somehow I find this a problem. As a movie in itself Red Cliff two would fail I think, but when you look at it as a straight continuation to part 1 it works rather well. If you liked the first part you will most likely enjoy the second one as well. If you do want more Red Cliff, this movie gives an extra helping of it.

Zhou Ju practising

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Robin Hobb is best known for the Far Seer-trilogy, which I read over and over again as a teenager(not the reason for the fame I assure you). Returning at a bit more adult age to another of his books is rather interesting. The trilogy in question this time is his Soldier’s Son trilogy, more precisely the second in the series: Forest Mage.

Robin Hobb uses first person narration and only one person as the teller of the story. In the far seer trilogy the story is told from the point of view of Fitz, an assassin. He plays a central role in what happens in the story which is both the story of Fitz and the Six Duchies he lives in. In the Soldier’s Son trilogy the story is told through the eyes of Nevare Burvelle, a second son. In the world of Gernia the order in which nobles’ sons are born determines what they become. Nevare is the second son which makes him the soldier. The elder brother is trained to take over his father’s estate, while the third becomes a priest. The daughters get an arranged marriage to whoever benefits the family most.

In the first part of the series Nevare was sent to the capital of Gernia, Old Thares, to study at the King’s cavalla(cavalry) academy. At the end of the book a magical plague struck the academy. Nevare was one of the few survivors. In the second part, Forest Mage, he tries to continue his life as a soldier’s son but finds out that he has been cursed by the plague and keeps growing fatter, resulting in him being kicked out of the academy. Nevare is shunned by his family and eventually has to leave his home.

What I most like about Robin Hobb is the narrative point of view. Seeing things from a very narrow point of view makes the plot a lot more interesting. Especially when it comes to a fantasy setting. The action taking place in the movie is a lot more in your face I think. Not to mention that Robin Hobb is great at creating beliavable characters with their own weaknesses. There aren’t any heroes in her books. More like anti-heroes. Nevare is an outcast in this second part. His fattening curse makes everyone detest him by default. To understand what drives him means understanding his background of being a soldier’s son and having a plan for his life all layed out for him, but having that taken away from him because some sort of a deity wants something different of him.

The world of The Soldier’s Son’s is one of fantasy. Gernia is a medieval country with gunpowder. The Gernian’s have been expanding east, starting with conquering the plainspeople to the east. The plainspeople have a magic of their own which can be broken with iron as the Gernian’s came to notice. At the time of Forest Mage the king of Gernia is constructing a road to the sea to the east. Between the sea and the road is the forest of the Specks’, a people very attuned to nature. Their society is an interesting one. Women seem to be the one’s in power except for the immense male Great Ones, who become vessels of magic but also extremly fat. Nevare of course is turning into one of them. In the first part of the book Nevare got his life back after bargaining for it with a Speck mage. In exchange the magic wants him to stop the Gernians expanding east. This “magic” is referred to often in the book. It seems to be some sort of a deity or essence. I hope the last book in the series will explain this more closely.

Otherness and disappointment seem to me two of the themes present in all of Hobb’s books I’ve read. Her main characters are always making a mess of their lives somehow. Fitz from the Far Seer trilogy is a great example of this. The first two books in the series end up with Fitz getting severely poisoned and then getting beaten to death. Nevare’s suffering is of a more spiritual nature. For being fat he receives a lot of resentment. Perhaps this is in part why I liked Hobb so much as a teenager. I’d say his books are mostly for that age group even if there are a lot of elements for an adult to like as well. The best time to be reading his book’s would be as a teenager though. So get younger!

Also a close part of Hobb’s stories is how the mundane has a rather large role. One entire chapter in Forest Mage was devoted to Nevare helping a mother and her three children in a poor little shanty town. He fixed their house and laid traps to catch rabbits and made all sorts of little chores to make their life easier. Cooking also gets talked about a lot and eating also. Nevare becoming fatter also somehow makes him appreciate food a lot more. The sensations he receives from eating are described in detail. Telling about the mundane and day-to-day happenings might sound boring but Hobb manages to make it very interesting, the mundane in a fantasy world isn’t really that boring anyway is it? Of course there’s genuine and exciting adventure going on as well. If you aren’t too elitist with your literature and fantasy The Far Seer trilogy and Forest Mage are certainly worth checking out.

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Coraline

Finns, you can check out my review here if you wish.

Kissa logo

Coraline is an animated movie based on a book Neil Gaiman. Coraline is a young girl who moves into a new house with her parents, both writers and extremely busy. Coraline feels that her parents don’t have enough time for her. So when she finds a secret doorway to another dimension in the new house she of course enters. Beyond the portal or doorway she finds her Other-Mother. At first it seems that everything is wonderfull in the other dimension. Coraline gets good food and her other-parents seem to dedicate all their time to Coraline. Soon things go terribly wrong when Other-Mother proves to be quite the monster.

When Coraline first enters to the other dimension the place looks wondrous. Especially the garden is so beautifully done I’ve never seen it’s like in a movie before. This point in the movie was a bit low on the plot and just concentrated on showing how wondrous things were in Other-Mother’s realm. Besides the garden you’re also treated to a mice circus and a theatrical display by Ms. Forcible and Ms. Spink, Coraline’s neighbours. These three locations as well as the house itself were wonderfully corrupted toward the end of the movie. It was amusing to see what had before been beautiful turn into a wile and evil place.

Kylläpä on pelottava nukke

Being a children’s movie Coraline is of course mainly aimed at children, but there’s a lot here for an adult as well. The two actresses as well as Coraline’s parent’s were clearly aimed to bring dialogue and jokes also interesting for the older members of the audience. Of course there’s more simple humour for the children as well.  Apart from Coraline’s parents and Ms Forcible and Ms Spink the characters I found most amusing was the talking cat and the giant living upstairs. Especially the cat had some of the best dialogue in the movie. Coraline’s father reminded me at one point of Neil Gaiman very strongly. In one scene he entertains his bored daughter by telling her to count all the windows and blue things in their new house and takes a storytellers voice which reminded me a lot of Gaiman reading out loud. For a children’s film Coraline contains quite a few horror-like scenes which no doubt earned it the not for children under seven rating. Using the 12-year-olds sitting close to me in the movie theatre as a meter, the movie was rather scary towards the end.

Coraline was the first 3D movie. The effect worked well for the movie in my opinion. The beginning scene where Other-Mother is sewing a doll was very impressive. Most of the time the effect is rather subtle and doesn’t feel like a gimmick. The illusion of depth is used at a couple of points: When Coraline walks through the doorway it snakes further into the horizon. Towards the end it also plays some part. Then of course there’s objects coming at you, in the sewing scene the needle comes at you.

Bobinskyn hiirisirkus

Storywise I liked the message of Coraline. The teaching of the story is that even though your parents don’t always have the time for you they still care about, or at least don’t try to make you love them and then want to replace your eyes with buttons. Coraline’s parents seemed so realistic to me. They were busy and didn’t have the time their daughter would have wanted them to have. Towards the beginning Coraline whines about pretty much everything and expects too much from her parents. Towards the end she grows up quite a lot.

The movie has some differences when compared to the book. The biggest change is that they’ve added a boy named Wybie into the story. He seems to have been added so that Coraline can talk about her thoughts to someone else than her parents. Otherwise the movie follows the book very closely. It’s still a different version of course and has it’s own look. This is only a good thing and I feel the movie does the book justice. To be honest I didn’t like the book that much, except for some of the characters (especially the cat) but  that’s mostly because it is after all, a children’s book. The movie goes highly recommended, especially if you have a young girl to take with. If you haven’t read the book I think the movie will be quite a lot more exciting to see, but having read the book I still liked the movie a lot.

Too old to play with dolls?

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I read a review about Red Cliff on Japan Cinema and decided to watch the movie myself. Mostly I got interested because in the trailer there was a lot of armies, formations and generally stuff that little boy’s tend to like and being the little boy by heart that I am also am interested in. Partly because of this I like the Total War-series of games as well. Red Cliff reminded me at points about that game. Mostly because of the formations. There’s a lot of talk on tactics in the movie, but I wouldn’t call it historically accurate in any way. The movie loosely follows the historical battle of Red Cliffs. Reading the Wikipedia article probably takes most of the suspension away so watch the movie before the article. I’ve watched hardly any chinese films so this is entirely new territory for me but do read on.

Herd them in tactic is use

The enemy in the movie is prime minister Cao Cao who attacks the province of Wu for political reasons. Warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan unite against him and battles follow. The main characters of the movie though aren’t the warlords themselves but Liu Bei’s tactical advisor Zhuge Liang and Sun Quan’s brother Zhou Ju (hope I got it right). Zhuge Liang is tasked with getting Sun Quan to join the battle and befriends Zhou Ju while at it.

During the movie what I payed special attention to was the music, how the dialogue played out and also the humor. The music was a bit melodramatic in my opinion. There is a great scene in the movie though where a little kid is playing a flute and Zhou Ju’s army stops it’s drilling practice and listens to the flute while the commander himself goes and fixes couple of the blowholes on the flute so the music rings clear. Probably explains what I mean by melodramatic as well.

The two tacticians

The dialogue was interesting as well. Metaphors were used a lot and very rarely did any of the characters say what they wanted straight. So analyzing what the other guy is thinking played a big part in the movie. In one scene Zhuge Liang and Zhou Ju play music together and then later both know what the other one wants based on the music. That was one of my favorite scenes as well. Perhaps this has something to do with the Chinese way of doing business which differs from the western way in many ways. Also during the talks about tactics quessing what the enemy general Cao Cao is planning was essential. There is also a lot of humor in the movie that reminded me a lot about Jackie Chan. Sun Quan’s sister provided a lot of the comical relief with her tricks with acupuncture points, like stunning a horse so it fell down.

Of course the meat of the movie are the action scenes (as I understand is the case in John Woo’s movies). These mostly had a lot of grunts and then one of the heroes who beat them quite easily but rather entertainingly. The ordinary soldier’s don’t play a very big part in the movie. None of them have any dialogue lines of interest. Because of this the movie offers a rather small spectrum of war. On a sidenote the HBO series Rome succeeded as well as it did because of the grunt characters Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus. But I’m asking too much of Red Cliff now. In no way does it even try to offer a realistic approach to war. This is perhaps best showed in the movie’s second big battle scene in which the Liu Bei’s and Sun Quan’s forces form a sort of shield encampment with walkways in the middle. With use of dust they manage to cheat the enemy into entering it and the close the shields so the enemies are locked in. The tactic makes sense but I doubt it would’ve worked. Anyway at one point they let the heroes of the movie enter one of the walkways one at a time and beat a lot of the enemies grunts showing their moves at the same time. Picking a tactic based on how easy it is to show of the heroes’ special moves shows just how big a hold entertainment has over realism in this movie.

At least there's refugees

I had some qualms with the special effects in the movie. The big groups of soldiers look rather like digitally created groups of soldiers as does Cao Cao’s huge navy. They serve their purpose though. Also showing how little the movie has to do with actual war is how easy moving huge armies around appears. Cao Cao takes it very easy and doesn’t seem to worry about the biggest problem’s about armies 800’000 strong: getting them fed. According to the Wikipedia arcticle his army was closer to 200’000 which is still quite a lot compared to the opposing 50’000.

Still I was entertained, enjoyed the dialogue, found some of the jokes amusing and thought action scenes worked. I had a good time watching and enjoyed my chinese movie. Will probably get to know more of John Woo’s work I think based on this movie. Haven’t watched number two yet, so that’s next in line.

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