Sunday, May 31, 2020

Toy Review: Transformers Generations Studio Series Shockwave (Leader)


Review:  #558
Name:  Shockwave
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Generations - Studio Series
Year of Release:  2019
Size Class:  Leader (Wave 4)
Mold Status:  new (but reuses parts from SS ROTF Megatron)

FIGURINES:


Lets first check out the three additional figurines included into the package, the first is a mini-figure of Brains.  He's made of a soft silver plastic with blue "hair".


The second is Wheelie.  He's also made of a soft plastic but has more paint applications, combining blue, black and red.


Unfortunately, these figurines are absolutely minuscule, to the point of wondering why they were included in the first place.  You are bound to love them, they are literally 1.5 cm tall, making them something like one-sixth of a typical Legion figure.


Finally, there is a paratrooper figure, complete with a fabric parachute and strings.  He is bigger than Brains and Wheelie, and is of a size that you'd expect (therefore this makes Brains and Wheelie to scale...).


These three figures supposedly help bridge the gap between Shockwave's slightly bigger Voyager mass and the Leader price point but in reality, fails completely.

TANK MODE:


Anyway, it's time to focus on the positives and that is Shockwave himself (since you bought it for Shockwave, not for the three figurines).


Shockwave's alternate mode was always a bit iffy since it is a Cybertronian tank.  It doesn't look too much like your traditional tank, and has whiffs of a "robot lying down with some parts rearranged" smell to him.


The rubber hose that attaches from the thrusters to the cannon isn't quite long enough and so it tightly rubs against the side.  This is a bit of a design oversight and a disappointing one.


Shockwave is officially a Leader class figure and above is a comparison against Age of Extinction Optimus.


However, the core of the figure is actually Studio Series ROTF Megatron, which was originally a Voyager class figure.  Above is a comparison against Deluxe Bumblebee, and while Shockwave is definitely heftier than a Voyager, he is not that much more so, at least not to the degree of what you would expect of a Leader class.


There are some plastic wheels at the bottom to allow him to roll.  Note that he does actually have some treads, but these are hidden (and are the same as ROTF Megatron's).


The back is a bit hollow and the tank can look quite messy, but is at the very least passable.

TRANSFORMATION:

This is where the re-engineering shows its cleverness.  There are some elements that you'll feel is familiar if you have transformed Studio Series ROTF Megatron but the bulk of it is new. The legs unpeg from the side, while the arms unfold from the top.  The thrusters shift up his back and this whole while, the hose does not detach.

ROBOT MODE:


Robot mode is seriously where Shockwave excels and he looks absolutely amazing in this mode.  The proportions are perfect and he looks extremely imposing.


There's a distinct lack of kibble.  He wears the thrusters on his back and he has his iconic hose, but these are all on purpose.


The headsculpt looks evil, as befitting of the Movie version of Shockwave.  It is on a balljoint and has plenty of motion.


A comparison against a Leader and Deluxe, and he is right in the middle of both.  It's a bit of a harder sell in robot mode when he is literally the height of a Voyager and not much bulkier.


While not exactly the ROTF version, he shares quite a few parts with the jet version of Megatron as well, and he is actually shorter than the Voyager version...


As part of the Studio Series line, he comes with a cardboard stand.


The backdrop is that of the city that was the battleground during the climax of Dark of the Moon.


The bulk of the mass that makes him bigger than a Voyager is the cannon arm, and it is a really nice piece of sculpting.  It also has a movable thumb to really sell the fact that it is a natural part of Shockwave.


Shockwave has big heelspurs but they don't work very well, are flimsy and do not actually lie flat on the surface.


In terms of poseability, Shockwave is pretty decent.  The hose on his right arm does not get in the way at all.


Noteworthy is that there are several pieces that uses soft plastic:  the very tip of the cannon, leg spikes, his left hand and the sword on his left arm.


As the sword is made of soft plastic, it doesn't fit quite right into its slot and can be a bit loose.


Interestingly enough, Shockwave is largely black plastic with a metallic purple paint wash. There are only a few areas where it is purple plastic or painted a solid purple.


When you put Brains and Wheelie together with Shockwave, it shows off how small they both are.


Nevertheless, this is a great looking robot mode.

OVERALL:

Ignoring price for a second, Shockwave has a really nice robot mode, and a so so tank mode.  If he was sold as a Voyager, then he would be an easy buy.  Being sold as a Leader though, and it is a tougher sell.  Despite the three additional (tiny) figurines, it doesn't quite bridge the price gap.  He is definitely stunning in hand but the value is just a tad bit off.

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Friday, May 29, 2020

Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014)


Toy Story That Time Forgot is a 22 minute special based upon the film series.  While short, it is no less enjoyable and keeps the spirit of the series.  Set after Toy Story 3, we have Bonnie go to a friend's place while bringing her toys.  Trixie, a toy dinosaur, was starting to become sick of being played as anything but a dinosaur and this special explores that.  Buzz, Woody and Rex also takes on significant roles.  As the gang meets other new toys, which are prehistoric themed, it's a simple story.  It doesn't break any new ground since it still deals with the themes of a toy being toy.  It is somewhat sad when the kids are more preoccupied with playing computer games instead of with toys, which is all too reflective of current trends.  A charming and enjoyable short, Toy Story That Time Forgot is well worth a viewing.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Toy Review: Transformers BotBots Cackle Corn (Series 3)


Review:  #557
Name:  Cackle Corn
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  N/A
Line:  BotBots
Year of Release:  2019
Size Class:  BotBots (Series 3)
Mold Status:  new

ALTERNATE MODE:


Cackle Corn transforms into a bag of popcorn, and while it doesn't quite fit the theme of an arcade (popcorn is more of a cinema thing), it's still quite a novel alternate mode and pretty cool.


As a BotBot, Cackle Corn is very small.  Above is a comparison against Legion Barricade.


An excellent alternate mode and instantly recognizable.  It fits perfectly within the BotBots range of having robots transform into everyday objects.

TRANSFORMATION:

Transformation is extremely simple.  The arms pop out from the sides, you pull the top up to review the mouth, and then you extend the legs.

ROBOT MODE:


Robot mode is pretty good, although the lack of proper eyes is a downside.


He looks almost exactly the same from behind as from the front.


The head sculpt is effectively just a painted mouth.  Despite this, Cackle Corn carries a lot of charm as you can instantly tell that he is a lot of fun and loves to laugh.


Again, he is very small in this mode, about half the size of a standard Legion figure.


Poseability is limited to swinging the arms forwards and back.  A good robot mode nonetheless.

OVERALL:

Cackle Corn is yet another great little figure in the BotBots line.  He has two charming modes, and while the lack of eyes is a little bit weird, the figure works well overall.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Isekai Quartet (2019)


Isekai Quartet is a cross-over anime with characters appearing from KonoSuba, Overlord, Re:Zero and The Saga of Tanya the Evil.  All four series are in the isekai genre, hence the title.  The characters are all animated in a chibi style.  The first season is 12 episodes long, with each episode being only around 12 minutes long, so it’s around half the normal length of a typical season.  As a cross-over of four anime series, only a subset of each world appears in the show.  Then there are some small guest characters in an episode here and there.  The chibi art-style works really well, since it helps unify the different aesthetics of the characters.  Everyone is so cute, to the point of being unbearable (in a good way).  Chibi designs completely suits the exaggerated craziness that goes on in every episode.


The premise is simple yet effective.  Since this is a gag series focusing more on humor and less on story, the simpler the better.  Each group suddenly finds a magically appearing red button.  Naturally, they all feel that this is a trap, but with differing reasons, they all press the button and are transported to another world.  There is something ironic yet satisfying that the main characters of each series were transported to another world, and now they are transported once again.  All the characters end up becoming students at a typical Japanese high school and they attend class every day.


The enjoyment of the series comes from the character interactions, specifically, characters from different anime (and thus different rules) interacting with each other.  Thus, it is imperative that you have had watched all four because otherwise, you’re just doing yourself a disservice.  That moment where the protagonist of one series meets the protagonist of another is simply marvelous.  Seeing that the characters retain their own unique quirks and personalities is great.  We have Aqua being an idiot and going off on her own tangent, trying to use the “Turn Undead” spell on Ainz and his group of undead.  While Tanya is blaming everything currently happening on “Being X”, so what happens when she inevitably realizes that Aqua is a goddess?!


There various characters hitting it off are the highlights of the show and it constantly does this throughout the season.  The part you’re probably waiting for is when all the protagonist realize that they’re all from Japan and were transported to another world.  From how Subaru and Kazuma complains about how they should have it sweet and get superpowers, to Tanya and Ainz reminiscing about their past lives, it all feels natural.


Despite gags and exaggerated motions at every possible opportunity, there is a bit more plot than you’d expected.  It ties all these moments together in a neat and smooth way.  There seems to be a reason why all these characters were transported to this world.  This becomes obvious when it shows how these characters are “encouraged” to stay in school and behave.  It frequently references events from the various anime.  It doesn’t pause to explain why Megumin falls to the ground after an explosion, or why Rem loves Subaru so much.  The anime just shows all this expecting the viewers to know.


There are so many scenes that work so well and are so funny.  Each episode has numerous moments where you can’t help but laugh aloud.  The biggest strength is how the cross-over manages to incorporate the elements of each world that the characters are from and adapt it into here.  It feels like a natural extension of the series rather than a forced mishmash.  As everyone has been through so much in their respective series, their resilience and abilities astound everyone else.  The current world that the cast find themselves in is balanced in such a way that no one is clearly more powerful than all the others.  The way that everyone is slowly picking up on the others’ powers is quite interesting and you’d hope that it would lead somewhere.  This unfortunately, does not, but it was still a great time.


With such a large cast, understandably some will be demoted while others are reduced to only their better known quirks.  Kazuma ends up being the horrible scum, while Darkness freaks everyone out with her desires.  Albedo and Shalltear are completely infatuated with Ainz, while Ram throws out the harshest insults towards Subaru.  Tanya’s platoon is overwhelmed by everyone’s powers and Rem is completely biased in seeing Subaru in a good light.


Just when things have started becoming status quo, the anime throws in some nice surprises and cameos.  It then ups the stakes for the final episodes.  The way the anime closes off the season by utilizing each of the protagonists’ unique specials in the ultimate show of teamwork against a powerful opponent is the perfect finale for the series.  The promise of a second season with more anime series joining just raises the anticipation even higher.


Finally, the opening and ending themes deserves a mention.  Both of them are excellent, cheery, and quirky.  The anime uses music from each series to spice things up, giving the viewer a sense of familiarity and nostalgia.  This is actually what the anime does best, throwing in plenty of references to keep the viewer excited to see what is next.


Overall, Isekai Quartet is not just a filler show.  You would expect something of this to be lazy and riding on the popularity of its four anime series without actually trying.  This cannot be further from the truth.  Isekai Quartet is funny, clever and works so wonderfully well.  Every episode is a joy, with so many scenes where it’s completely hilarious.  While it does rely heavily on the viewer familiar with the four anime, the writers have done their homework and it shows.  Isekai Quartet is a fantastic anime that is the perfect icing on the cake after you have watched the four component anime.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Book Review: Sword Art Online 16: Alicization Exploding


Review:  #915
Title:  Sword Art Online 16:  Alicization Exploding
Series:  Sword Art Online – 16th volume
Author:  Reki Kawahara
Comments:  The battle for the Underworld continues with no signs of an end.  Kirito remains out of action and the story focuses mostly upon Alice.  As the human realm and the dark realm clash against each other, it just feels like a big fantasy wish fulfillment of the author.  One melodramatic scene comes after another.  The author tries to build some motivation and backstory to the most powerful characters, being the Integrity Knights, but it all feels amateurish.  The tendency for the author to pull things out of nowhere as well as weak logic and amateur usage of “technical” terms makes it hard to take seriously.  It takes the cake in the last quarter of the novel where we have a bunch of female characters all vying for Kirito, and obvious developments into banding all the supporting characters together, common sense be damned.  Alicization Exploding feels like it gathers together all the flaws of the series:  ultimately insignificant events dragged out to the length of a novel, you feel as if it doesn’t achieve much.  This is a weak volume set in a story arc that should have ended two volumes ago.
Rating:  5.5/10

Monday, May 25, 2020

Super Stardust Ultra VR (PS4 / PSVR)


Super Stardust Ultra VR is a port of the PS3 game to the PS4 and had VR contented added as DLC.  This is a twin stick shooter and despite the VR in the title, the main game does not require VR, only the Invasion Mode DLC does.  In the game, the player controls a spaceship orbiting a planet.  The controls are simple and the tutorial is literally two screens.  The left stick moves you around the planet while the right stick is where you’re aiming to shoot.  As you’re going around the planet, you will be trying to avoid asteroids and enemies.


Your weapons will destroy the asteroids and break them up into smaller pieces.  Hidden inside the larger pieces are green power-up rocks and shooting them will reveal items to pick up.  Most of the pick ups will be bonus points but you can also get weapon upgrades, extra lives and shields.  There are three types of weapons that you can swap on the fly with the shoulder buttons.  Each weapon is useful against a particular type of asteroid (and to a degree, enemies).  Not that you cannot break asteroids with other weapons, it’s just less efficient.  You also get a limited supply of bombs which destroys all objects in the near vicinity of your ship and a boost that gives you temporary invincibility as you speed out of your current spot.


The enemies will spawn in waves.  You’ll get quick enemies that die in one hit and tanky ones that take a barrage before they fall.  Navigating through the enemies and asteroids while picking up items is a juggling act.  Things will get frantic, there’s no avoiding this.  This is the best part of the game though and is heaps of fun.  Being able to weave between obstacles while shooting in another direction at the same time is satisfying.  The controls are tight and fluid, there are no moments where death is due to wonky controls, it’s just that your skills were lacking.


Unfortunately, your ship dies in one hit (unless you have a shield which will protect you from one hit).  This can throw you off in the beginning as you’ll be weaving and then suddenly die.  With the huge amount of effects in the later levels, especially with enemy gunfire, there’s every chance a projectile will seem to appear at the last second and kill you.  You get a limited amount of lives and losing all of them means a game over.  This gives a lot of tension during boss battles, which appear at the end of every level, knowing that if you die here you will have to repeat all the previous levels.


Going for the achievements or wanting to go for a no-death run can be a killer.  The one-hit death or a max of two-hits means that the tables can quickly turn from an excellent run to retrying.  One slight mistake of overlooking a small piece of asteroid and you lose your shield or die, it’s brutal.


The game has a lot of different modes.  The Arcade mode is the classic game.  You play through five planets, with each having five stages.  Once you complete a planet, you can select to start off from there so while dying does not mean restarting from the very first planet, you will have to start from the first stage of the planet.  Depending on your skills, it doesn’t take long to beat all five planets on the easier difficulties, around two hours should do.  Higher difficulties will require more skill and time though.  One neat thing is that play enough and you can feel your skills improving.  Before, you may die in the first wave, but soon enough, you’ll be able to make it through 70% of the arcade mode without dying and eventually, the whole mode without dying.


Survival mode has you try and survive as long as you can while looping around a planet.  What make this hard are indestructible objects that keep spawning around you making it hard to navigate.  Your ship will only have indestructible boosts to help prolong the inevitable but it is difficult to make it past even 40 seconds.  Endless mode pits you against infinite waves of enemies.  Unlike the arcade mode where everything is predictable and thus you can anticipate what will happen next, these are random waves.  It makes it quite hard especially when it throws meteor storms at you which are spawning huge amounts of small asteroids.  It likes to mix the three different types of asteroids and then on top of this, there are heaps of enemies.  Each wave has a “nuke” which when destroyed will eliminate every object on the field, thus, this is the key to survival and getting a high score.


Impact mode disables everything except your boost.  Gain points by defeating enemies and breaking objects, which you can only defeat by boosting.  You can extend your boost time by hitting any object while boosting and it is addicting to try and chain it as long as possible.  While it can be frustrating when your boosting time breaks early as you couldn’t hit any objects in time, especially at the higher speed, you keep trying one more time because when you do manage to get a long boost going, it is satisfying.


Bomber disables everything except bombs.  You can replenish your bomb supply by blowing up the bombers.  You will need to use bombs with strategic timing as objects will rapidly spawn and clutter up the screen.  You’re constantly tested on whether there is enough space to dodge or if you need to clear your immediate vicinity with a bomb.  Time attack is a time trial where you try to beat each planet within a certain time.  The waves are different compared to Arcade mode.  There are items that reduce the time by a small amount.  Dying will give you a massive time penalty, adding three minutes to your time.


Blockade has your ship constantly producing a chain of asteroids.  You need to last as long as possible while objects and enemies are constantly spawning.  You will have access to all your abilities though.  Planet mode has you play one planet of your choice and isn’t much different to Arcade mode.


Invasion Zone is DLC for the base game but is included in this package because this is the VR mode.  The normal game has 3D support so you can play the other modes using the headset.  However, in Invasion Zone, the gameplay is changed up.  You now take the view of the pilot of a mech on the planet itself.  You move around with left stick, aim with your headset and right stick, and have four types of weapons.  Of course, being able to freely move the mech means you can easily get motion sickness, doubly so if you boost around.  The normal mode starts off very easy to compensate for the change in controls and is more forgiving.  Due to the low resolution of the headset, things in the distance are really blurry and hard to make out.


Finally, the game supports multiplayer, both online and split screen, in versus and co-op modes.  Overall, Super Stardust Ultra VR is a great game.  The arcade mode is a blast and the game has a ton of additional content through its many modes.  The inclusion of the VR mode is neat, even if it is ultimately short and forgettable.  This is a fantastic example of the twin-sticker shooter genre.

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