Calculate your chances...negative...negative...negative!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Battle Royale DVD Review

Wake up! Time for happy fun die Hello Kitty!

Ok, here's one messed up film I'd be willing to lay money on never seeing a US release. (Of course, at this point the film is almost 7 years old, which might have something to do with that as well.) Battle Royale doesn't have so much in the way of plot. Basically, the youth are out of control so to apparently scare them straight, the Battle Royale law is enacted. Every year, one seventh grade class is dropped on an abandoned island, given weapons and supplies and the last person standing gets to return to society. Of course, if after three days there isn't a winner, the monitoring necklaces everyone wears explode.

That's pretty much it. Teenagers going after each other with guns, grenades (tucked in severed heads) and sickles. Hmm...wonder why no one has picked this one up?*

So, what does Battle Royale offer other than violence, gore, etc.? I took this film as a black comedy parodying high school. All the stereotypes play themselves out in various deadly manners. Yes, the characters seem melodramatic at times, but teenagers can be melodramatic. Even though most of the relationships are told in flashbacks, it's interesting to see how the alliances form and break and how many kids profess love for someone who has just unloaded a clip into their stomach.

I suppose there's also a commentary in there about losing innocence or something, but it kind of gets muddied in the episodic nature of the film.

Now, we do end up with the traditional triad of a hero, his girl and a friend, but I don't feel I can really say too much more without going into spoiler territory. Let's just say there is a traditional story going on here, but if you've watched more than, oh, I don't know, three movies, you'll probably figure out how things are going to end up by the end of the film. I just don't think the characters are entirely the point here.

So, how was it? I dug it, but it's kind of a turn your mind off and just watch sort of thing. The imagery is very powerful and there are some really tense, exciting scenes. In particular, Kiriyama, who is a ringer brought in to fix the game, is particularly fun, in a sadistic sort of way as is Mitsuko, who I gather is either a spoiled rich girl or some kind of loner. (Having 42 characters in the film doesn't leave too much time for character development.)

This disc, an English one from Tartan Asia Extreme, is one of the approximately 3,847 DVD releases of Battle Royale, non-US, of course. This is the regular cut of the movie, not the extended director's cut, which I've yet to determine if I'm missing out on not seeing. The image is soft and PAL so there's a slight speed up and you need equipment to play back PAL discs. The subtitles are fairly good, but they're burnt on, which is always kind of a bummer. Hardly a reference quality disc, but it's also a lot cheaper than the "progressive scan" version which is out of print. There's also a dirt cheap Hong Kong version, but that one is not anamorphic.

If you've read this far, I'd say you should probably snag a copy of this film which ever version you can find. It's certainly entertaining and if you can handle some over the top, black comedy based on a premise that would likely offend most of America, this is a decent way to spend an afternoon.

And who doesn't like Japanese school girls with automatic weapons?

Fun fact: this is the from same director that did the Green Slime.

* the other side of the story is Toei wants an unreasonably large amount of money for the US rights. *shrug*

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Godfather: The Game PS2 Review

Officially the first game I've finished in 2007. Whoo hoo.

Yes, I know I'm late to the party on this one. After hearing about the upcoming PS3 and Wii ports, I almost wish I'd waited a little longer still, but I managed to find the Limited Edition cheap and a friend had just been raving about it, so whatever.

Anyway, when I'd heard EA was making a Godfather game, I was skeptical but interested. Movie games have a well deserved bad reputation and this isn't just the latest Vin Diesel vehicle we're talking about here. This is one of the greatest American films of all time. As details were revealed that showed the game as another in the long line Grand Theft Auto clones, it didn't do much to make me feel any better.

I'm pleased to say, Godfather is better than the average GTA knock off, but, at least in it's PS2 incarnation, it falls short of being a truly great game. While the game is free roaming, you are still tied to the story arc to advance. The story follows the movie with you as a rising member of the family. Some events are rewritten so you are involved, other things you learn about through cut scenes.

One quirk is a few major events in the Godfather's story line are mentioned by NPCs almost in passing. Like Vito's death, for instance. It's going to help if you're familiar with the movie first, because it's almost like they assume you know the story going into this game.

Aside from the story parts, you get to extort businesses and perform hits. Extorting businesses is pretty fun. Each shop owner has a level you can push them to where they will turn over protection money and if you push them farther, they'll fight back. Finding that balance is fun, but as you level up it becomes less and less of a chalange so by the end businesses just fold when you walk in.

The hits are kind of fun too as they always have a condition for bonus points and "respect". (Your respect meter is what allows you to level up.) For instance, you might have to kill a guy but you have to shoot him in the kneecap, shoulder and chin, in that order.

Other than that, you have to take over the rival family's warehouses, distribution hubs and compounds. Frankly, these missions get a little repetitious and are not helped at all by the fact that there's only a handful of building layouts. Once you get in a place, you know pretty much where everything is as you've seen it before.

And that's the Godfather's biggest flaw. Not only are the graphics kind of bland, there's not much variety in what you see. There's only five different vehicles, maybe a dozen (probably less) different buildings you go in, a lot of NPCs that look and sound the same, etc., etc. It just feels like this game needs a little more polish as these things feel a little rushed.

I also got really tired of driving everywhere. There's a lot of "meet X way up north, then go all the way over east, then down south" kind of stuff. It gets a little annoying after a while that you spend so much time in a car when the driving itself is rather boring.

Now, I'd say if you are a fan of the movie, it's worth playing, but I'd probably wait for a next-gen rev. Already the Xbox360 has more missions and (I think) the ability to recruit people to fight with you and supposedly has more of the polish the PS2 version needs. Additionally, the Wii and PS3 versions are supposed to use the motion sensing capacities of those system's controllers for the hand-to-hand combat (which I didn't mention but is kind of fun, even though it's not too far removed from button mashing.)

While Godfather the Game on PS2 isn't a total wash, it's hard not to think a movie this classic deserved a game equally so and this, unfortunately, isn't it. While it's going to be a fun diversion for fans of the movie and people wanting to play something until GTA 4 drops, unless the upcoming ports are amazing, this is an offer you can refuse*.

*(And I promised myself I wouldn't use that line...I am so ashamed.)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Kidd Video fan site.

Awesome stuff here:

I haven't seen this show is decades, yet I still remember it vividly. Cheesy? You bet. You can see a few episodes he uploaded to YouTube if you hit the episode guide.

Only in the 80s.

The dead have returned and they're selling popcorn.

Click here...slow loading, but worth it.

This is wrong on so many levels. Aside from the shockingly poor CGI, there's just nothing right about having Orval Reddenbacher talking about mp3 players, a technology not around when the man died. And what's up with the bobbing and weaving near the end?

Awful, truly awful.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New Consoles, Part PS3.

You many have noticed I haven't followed up with a post about my PS3 yet. Well, the reason is quite simple. I haven't played it much. There's a combination of reasons, some being there just aren't enough hours in the day. However, there's also the well documented dearth of software available for the system so far.

I don't plan to make this into yet another PS3 bash fest. You can find plenty of those all over the internet. But the fact is, so far my impression of the PS3 is pretty underwhelming. The hardware itself is impressive with the best build quality of a Sony console yet. (Which isn't saying a whole lot really.) The X Bar interface is pretty slick and PSP users will feel right at home with it. It runs a little loud and blows a little hot, but it doesn't seem like it's going to overheat.

I can't speak to the BluRay disc playing ability, though everything I've read says it's a pretty good player. I can tell you the DVD interface is a million times better than the PS2's, for what that's worth. You can also play SACDs, but you have to use the HDMI output and I've got nothing that takes that. Baah.

I haven't mentioned games yet, because frankly there's not a lot out there yet. I've got a couple, and they probably look as good as their Xbox360 ports. The Gran Turismo demo is a stunner though. Here's hoping they actually put some AI in that game this time around.

I'd never thought about how much the rumble feature adds to games and I'm really disappointed Sony didn't settle with that company to include it on the PS3. That's the biggest thing I've noticed. I mean there really isn't anything lacking on these games, but not having the rumble just feels several generations ago at this point and is really silly.

At this point, there really isn't much else to say. I think it's totally ignorant to say the PS3 is a failure at this early in the game, but let's just say I can't think of a whole lot to justify the high price tag at this point, unless you really want a BluRay player.

(Still, I'm not complaining that I got one for Xmas. Virtua Fighter 5 comes out next month. For me, that's a system seller right there.)

Most Awesome Commercial for a Borning Product Evar!

Seriously kids, it doesn't get much better than that.

I always wondered what the old Brawny man was doing since they gave him a metro makeover. Now I guess I know. Also, doesn't that sound like a Devo song? Does Mothersbaugh have a hand in that spot?

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, I'm still here. I've been on vacation and been busy with stuff. Haven't had too much time for movies, though I've been playing a lot of Godfather the Game on PS2. I'll return to the normal blogging soon.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Consoles, Part Wii.

It's weird how I'm a decidedly old school gamer who has little interest in the cutting edge next gen, yet after this Christmas we have two of the three next gen consoles in our collection. The Wii I gave as a gift to the fiance, as I was lucky enough to find one the week of Christmas (after all the bum luck I'd had in December, I guess I was due.) Then, after making a half joking comment to my father in law to be, I ended up getting a PS3 myself for Christmas. Weird how things work like that.

The Wii is kind of a nifty piece of kit. It looks a little like an external hard drive out of the box. I was kind of surprised at how easy setting up the motion sensor stuff was and that we've run the Wii on four different TVs in four different locations now and haven't had any major problems with the remotes (aside from everything losing sync once, which seems like a fluke.)

Rather than competing with Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo seems to be going for a different demographic. Sure, they're still playing to their traditional base of fanboys and kids, but there seems to be an emphasis on "non-traditional" gamers. From our completely unscientific research (we had it out at our New Year's party,) I can say it's working so far.

Everyone at the party wanted to try the Wii out and even the people who had no interest in Guitar Hero or the PS2 sitting there, were really enjoying themselves on the Wii. Part of this is that the controller is not intimidating. I'd never though about this until I heard one of our non gamer friends mention they were intimidated by the Dual Shock.

Speaking of the remotes, unless you are really flailing around or completely messed up on something, I can't see how people keep putting these things into TVs, ceilings, etc. I will say buying the controller gloves help, but even then, you've got to really be a spazz to let go of one of these. We had a room full of adults in various states on intoxication and not one was ever in danger of letting a remote fly, even the folks who were really putting English into the Wii Sports.
As to what you see on the screen, I think I can sum it up by saying the Wii is to the Gamecube what the DS is to the Game Boy Advance. It's not a quantum leap by any stretch. For right now, the graphics don't look bad, but looking at my PS3 running true HD, it's obvious the Wii is going to be left in the dust within months.

However, the interface is pretty easy to navigate and the whole thing is pretty intuitive. There's a built in weather and news channel, though the news isn't live yet. There's also a Mii channel, where you create a custom character for games that support it (right now, only Wii Sports does.)
My biggest beef with the system is you only have 512mb of internal flash memory. Considering how much they've hyped the Virtual Console, it seems odd to me they would have put such a small amount of internal memory in the system to hold downloaded games, game saves and who knows what else.

Speaking of the Virtual Console, I guess I do have a second beef with the Wii as a whole. While I think the idea of the VC is outstanding, the prices are a bit too rich for my blood. It's hard to justify paying $8 for a straightforward port of the SNES port of Street Fighter II when you could get the arcade version with online play and ranking on Xbox Live for the same price. And Genesis games at $8 a toss hardly seem like a bargain when the Genesis Collection for PS2 with 28 games retails for $20.

Of the two new consoles, I have to say the Wii has really captured the most attention both among Kristen and I and guests to the house. (I didn't even bother setting up the PS3 for the New Year's party and really, it wasn't missed.) I'm far from a Nintendo fan and I certainly did my share of mocking when I'd first seen the Wii mock ups. But I have to say, in action, the damn thing just makes sense.

There are two problems I see for the Wii's future. One is third party support. As anyone who has followed Nintendo knows, the company hasn't exactly had lots of third party support lately. Part of this may be retaliation for iron fist policies of the past, but I think a large part of this is due to Nintendo's against the grain consoles. The carts of the N64 and mini-DVDs of the Gamecube meant developers had to rethink any games they wanted to bring over to a Nintendo box. The Wii's radical controller only makes this a trickier situation.

Secondly, the Wii is going to need some games with real depth. So far, there's the new Zelda (which is also available on the Gamecube) but it seems like the rest of the Wii's library is pretty short on the kind of experience most gamers expect from modern games. Sure Excitetruck and Raving Rabbids are fun, but they are pretty shallow once you get past the novelty of the Wii controller.

I'll be interested to see what happens with the Wii. I don't think it's going to "win" the console wars, but I think a lot of people are going to buy it. At $250, it's not going to put too big a dent in most people's pocket and I think it's going to be a lot of people's second console. I also think the Wii is going to be a heck of a party toy for people who normally wouldn't care about video games at all.

Later I'll talk about the PS3 and the portables I got for Christmas. Yes, it was a video game Christmas around these parts. Ho ho ho.