Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Book Review: Camp Half-Blood Confidential


Review:  #785
Title:  Camp Half-Blood Confidential
Series:  Percy Jackson & the Olympians - companion book
Author:  Rick Riordan
Comments:  Companion books are always a hit and miss affair, and since the Percy Jackson series (along with its sequel series Heroes of Olympus) already had a few companion books before, this one rehashes a few things.  It’s theme is that it is an introductory handbook for new Demigods arriving at Camp Half-Blood and goes through a few of the amenities (which tries to be funny but ends up feeling forced and lazy), some extremely short stories (again, hit and miss) and other bits and pieces such as illustrations and interviews.  You can feel the author burning out even more as the jokes feel tired and worn.  Unfortunately, a lot of the content feels like needless padding and does not add much to the world.
Rating:  5/10

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Toy Review: Robot Damashii Bracer Phoenix (Pacific Rim Uprising - Side Jaeger)


Review:  #467
Name:  Bracer Phoenix
Brand:  Robot Damashii (Pacific Rim Uprising - Side Jaeger)
Year of Release:  2018
Variations:  none

FIGURE:


Bracer Phoenix is a Jaeger (aka giant robot) from the film, Pacific Rim Uprising.


Bracer Phoenix is supposed to be the tank, so to speak.  It is built to withstand attacks and has heavy plated armor.


The head is on a balljoint but as it sits within the body, the range of motion is quite limited.  You can tilt it slightly from side to side but that's about it.


With Bandai taking on the role of designing and producing the figures, the quality is pretty good but lacks the sense of immense size that it should have.


With the default hands, Bracer Phoenix has the knuckle duster in its left hand.


In comparison with the NECA figures of the first movie, Bracer Phoenix is much smaller but looks a lot more agile.


However, Bracer Phoenix is also the shortest Jaeger out of the ones introduced in Uprising.


In terms of accessories, there is a pair of open-palmed hands and two ones, one that attaches to the front and the other to the back.


In order to attach the gun to his torso, you need to remove a piece and then peg it on.


Similarly, there is a piece to remove on its back to attach the rear gun.  If you wish, you can have both guns on at the same time even though the film depicted it as only one set that moved around the body.


To swap hands, you pop them out of the balljoint.  The balljoints are smaller than the ones used for the limbs, and thus are much easier to pop out.  Too easy in fact, that it feels like the wrists are too loose.


Articulation is a tad bit disappointing, While the arm movement is great with double joints elbows and balljointed shoulders, the same can't be said for the legs.


The legs feel really restricted.  With its digitigrade-like leg design, the knees do not actually bend to 90 degrees.


The shoulder pads are on separate balljoints so they can be moved out of the way (but do leave an unsightly gap if you move them too much).


It's a figure that does look great but too bad about the extremely limited leg articulation.

OVERALL:


Bracer Phoenix looks good, albeit a bit too matte and lacking some paint applications (most of the figure is unpainted).  The limited motion in the legs hurt the figure a lot, making it the weakest among the Pacific Rim Uprising series of figures.

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Book Review: The World God Only Knows Vol. 25


Review:  #784
Title:  The World God Only Knows Vol. 25
Series:  The World God Only Knows - 25th volume
Author:  Tamiki Wakaki
Comments:  Volume 25 finally signals the end of the arc involving Kaori and the plan for Vintage to open up the gaps in all the girls’ hearts at the school.  It was a messy and muddled plot, feeling overlong as if you weren’t getting anywhere.  However, once that has been resolved and the next phase of the past arc begins, you will forgive everything as a few significant revelations occur.  The history of Hell, the truth about Dokuro, and the intricate plan were fantastic and surprises you.  It all feels like it fits perfectly.  It jumps between the past and the future but the author has done it masterfully, keeping up the tight pacing once again.  It wraps together (although more like a retcon) a purpose for Keima and the various girls that he had to save from runaway spirits.  We also finally get an answer of some long standing mysteries that was hinted at during the very beginning of the series.  After a few average volumes, Volume 25 finally delivers a satisfying punch.
Rating:  7/10

Friday, October 12, 2018

Bad Moms (2016)


Bad Moms is a comedy starring Mila Kunis, who plays the role of Amy Mitchell, a mother of two, with a lazy husband and just generally sick of her life.  There are strong sexual references and frequent swearing and a lot of humor is based around that.  With that said, the humor works half the time, and the other half feels predictable and overused already by other films.  It is a typical story in which Amy goes to breaking point with her entitled children, stress from work and no support from her husband.  This isn't helped by the "elite" group and thus Amy goes wild one day, skipping work and drinking.  Eventually, it goes to a point where it is Amy versus the elite in order to be elected as the PTA president in order to build a better environment for the school.  Trying to shoehorn this feelgood plotline isn't bad per se but just felt predictable.  You know in the end everything will work out fine and Amy will win, with enemies becoming friends.  Overall, Bad Moms is average, tending to stick with well worn tracks and not trying anything new.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Grand Theft Auto IV (PS3)


Grand Theft Auto IV is the first in a new generation of consoles and as such, it had the expectations that it would be as big a leap as Grand Theft Auto III was over the PS1 games.  Naturally, the game has better graphics with more details, more pedestrians and more effects.  However, since it was a game that was released in the early days of the PS3, it doesn't compare well with games released later in the PS3's life, so it can look a bit bland and lacking in detail.  The controls have been tweaked a bit and it is for the better.  The game still uses an auto-targeting system however they are now mapped to the trigger buttons.  You can swap between different weapons on the fly using the D-pad and can see the health of your enemies.  Melee combat remains familiar with Niko being able to dodge, punch and kick as well as countering.

Niko, the character you control, defaults to walking slowly which is frustrating, you need to hold X to jog and tap X to spring.  This gets annoying because when Niko sprints, the camera swings wildly to whichever direction he is facing.  Niko is able to car jack any vehicles and any time you do, there is a chance that the drivers can become aggressive and try to get the car back.  The vehicle handling has been revamped and the vehicles feel a lot heavier than previous iterations.  It is not necessarily a good or bad thing but it is better than the poor traction of the PS2 games.  However, you cannot go at high speed and hope to make turns without going wide and flipping over.  In that aspect, there are still a lot of improvements that could be made to GTA's vehicle handling (which was always bad).  Vehicles can take a lot of hammering before exploding.

While the player is free to cause as much destruction as they like, they will get the attention of the police who will try and capture Niko.  Like previous games, there are six levels of Wanted, with six being the maximum and the army coming out to get you.  Once you are Wanted, there is a police radar on the map, you have to get out of the circle and then not be sighted for a few seconds before you lose the cops permanently.  Being chased by police is great in theory but gets old and repetitive soon when you just wanted to get to your next destination as fast as possible but the police just keeps tailing you.  The story follows Niko Bellic, who arrives on a boat to America, opting to go to Liberty City where his cousin is.  His cousin, Roman, has highly exaggerated his success at living the American Dream and thus Niko has to work from the bottom and gain respect.

It is a typical Grand Theft Auto story which has Niko bouncing from employer to employer.  There's no real motivation for him except apparently to make money and revenge.  Despite the bland story, there is frequently funny dialogue between the characters and Niko himself isn't unlikable.  It feels hypocritical though that Niko speaks of loyalty and honor but he easily kills a lot of the people he works for.  Throughout his work in Liberty City, the past catches up to Niko but again, the characters fall kind of flat and one dimensional.  It takes around 20-30 hours to finish all of the story missions (90+ of them) but you can finish in as low as 10-15 hours if you skip all cutscenes.  There are a few points in the story where it branches paths depending on your choices.

While the game takes place at Liberty City, it is different to the one from GTA 3, however there are some common themes such as the train on an overhead track.  You are locked onto the first island but the rest of the map opens up as you proceed with the story.  With the story missions, for a game so heavily reliant on driving and shooting as all of its gameplay, the developers sure made it really boring and annoying to do either.  Since you are pointlessly driving for a lot of the time and pointlessly shooting, with such bland mechanics, it makes the game extremely boring.  Thankfully, with later missions having a little bit more action and slightly varied objectives, it doesn't make the game a complete bore.  That sad, you will most likely end up skipping any non-compulsory driving sections via taking a taxi.

Niko is given a mobile phone and this is a key feature of the game.  You get missions via phone calls, increase friendships, input cheats, access multiplayer and more things.  You pull it up using the D-pad.  There's a friendship system where your friends will periodically call Niko to hand out.  Raising them enough will unlock special abilities.  Tying into this are minigames and they are a bit more fleshed out than expected, including bowling, darts and pool.  Grand Theft Auto IV still has the same flaws as previous games, the major one being that there are no checkpoints within missions.  It means if you fail or die at one, you have to restart again.  Thankfully, there is now the addition of immediately retrying any missions, saving you travel time.  Furthermore, while the map is huge, you gain the abilities to fast travel via taking a taxi within the first hour of the game, which is a welcomed change.

There are some missions which isn't hard but it is made hard because of the stupid retarded AI partner that you have to keep alive.  Then you have to restart the whole mission again from the very beginning because of no checkpoints, so you spend minutes forced to drive there, waiting for the signal to start attacking and then another chase etc.  It is annoying and it is terrible mission design, which is pathetic of a game released at that time.  Despite the lack of checkpoints and a few tougher missions, the game is easier than previous Grand Theft Auto games.  This makes it a lot less frustrating but the downside is that there are less creative ways to complete missions.

There are a number of sidequests such as races, killing specific targets whether it be as an assassin or police, minigames, side characters, collectibles and finding certain cars.  Overall, Grand Theft Auto IV, despite all its flaws and changes, is still a fun and interesting game.  The lack of a massive generation leap compared to previous games is its biggest downside since its core gameplay hasn't changed much.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Asterisk War - Season 1 (2015)


The Asterisk War is based on the light novel series, with the first season at 12 episodes long.  It it set in the future where the countries of Earth have disbanded.  Certain humans have gained powers and they are called the Ganestella.  Their powers include being able to control the elements and summoning them to use as projectiles.  Their weapons are luxes, which are objects that can expand to form a variety of weapons, such as swords, axes and guns.  The city of Asterisk has six academies where they participate in tournaments called Festas.


The story is set in Seidoukan Academy, where their performance during the Festas has been steadily declining.  A transfer student by the name of Amagiri Ayato arrives at the school and is promptly challenged by the foreign princess Julis Alexia von Riessfeld for a duel due to Ayato accidentally seeing her changing.  Julis is powerful but she also distances herself from everyone at school.  She has developed a reputation for being cold.  However, Ayato slowly gets on her good side and everyone is surprised when Julis actually responds to Ayato instead of ignoring him.  Julis is an obvious love interest for Ayato.


The backstory for Ayato is that his sister apparently also attended Seidoukan Academy and participated in the Festas.  However, all her records have been scrubbed.  Her weapon lays in storage and Ayato arrives to claim it as his own.  Ayato himself is very strong but we don't get to see his powers until a bit into the series.  The first season chronicles the lead up to the first festa, the Phoenix Festa.  Despite the slow build up, there are some intriguing elements to Ayato's powers such as it appearing to be shackled, and the reasons on why are only being teased.


On the other hand, while Julis is supposed to be powerful, she seems to play the damsel in distress role quite a bit, with Ayato saving her.  These situations are quite disappointing.  The anime is a cliche storm and Ayato often gets himself into situations where he sees the undergarments of Julis or some other female character.  The way this is done isn't clever or original, which has the effect of making you roll your eyes at the predictable events.  The fan service is too obvious and cliched, which combined with everyone's reactions, makes it cringeworthy.


It takes the better part of the season before the Phoenix Festa actually starts.  Before that, battles were brief and disappointing.  When the Festa starts, the battles don't get any better and apart from the final battle, they were all curbstomp ones where one side just completely obliterated the other within a minute.  The battles, just like the rest of the series, are all style and no substance.  It tries too hard to be flashy, resulting in unsatisfying clashes.  As the season goes on, it is revealed that their weapons each have their own personality and each will demand something from their wielder.  It's kind of a perverse idea, especially with the burden it places on their wielders.  Like the rest of the concepts introduced, it isn't developed well within the story.


To sum up, The Asterisk War is predictable.  No scene or event within the season will surprise you, everything is predictable from a mile away.  By the time the ending comes, you get the feeling that they really dragged the series out.  It has a good concept and huge potential but unfortunately, while far from being bad, it doesn't deliver and feels very average and bland as a result.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Book Review: Mines of the Minotaur


Review:  #783
Title:  Mines of the Minotaur
Series:  The Companions Quartet - 3rd book
Author:  Julia Golding
Comments:  As the third in the series, Mines of the Minotaur continues strongly following Connie, the Universal who is able to bond with all mythical creatures.  It does continue the trend from the previous book of having an easy to hate antagonist, making Connie’s life difficult.  Even worst is how everyone turns their backs on Connie, not believing in her.  With this feeling of betrayal, it would be easy for the viewer to want Connie to join Kullervo and make a statement that they forced her down this path by rejecting her.  Needless to say, Connie is a bigger person than that, and while there is still a lot of mystery in her powers and what she is capable of, light shines through with the true friends that she has made.  Justice is not served for the one responsible for making the mess though and that is the only weak point in the novel.  While significant parts of the novel is filled with jealously and fear from other characters, the story is fantastic and comes out strong.
Rating:  7/10
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