Thursday, February 27, 2014

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PSP)

Uggggh, going from Vita games back to early PSP games really make you appreciate the improvement in graphics.  Although after ten minutes, you will get used to it once more.  There's no denying that the environmental graphics are really impressive for it's time.  The game was released in 2005, the same year as the PSP (at least in Western countries) and the fact that they managed to fit such a large free roam city is amazing.  Sure, the buildings have a blocky and flat texture to them and the character models can feel undefined (especially the hands) but they are easily overlooked.  I am surprised at the attention to the game world, ranging from weather effects such as rain and cloudy skies and day/night cycles.  Pop in is noticeable while you're driving.  Unfortunately, the game doesn't allow in-game screenshots which sucks...  Anyway, one of the bigger annoyance is the camera control in which you hold down the L button and move the stick.  This is caused by a lack of right stick, it takes some getting used to especially when Toni is running around and the camera swings wildly which is disorienting as you can't immediately adjust it.  This makes a lot of the missions frustrating especially when you can't swing the camera on a whim so you can aim properly.

The game is mission based, you play one after another and some of them are fairly short and easy.  However, you will have to do the majority of them multiple times due to the unfriendly checkpoint system (you die and you have to repeat the whole mission again) and struggling against the controls.  This is also not mention the fact that sometimes the game just throws something hard at you.  It's like, oh, how about I chuck you a bunch of enemies wielding rapid fire machine guns that will mow you down your pitifully low health bar within 5 seconds?  Or maybe you'll like 20 enemies with chainsaws constantly chasing you and can kill you with one swipe?  This makes the game feel like a drag when you have to repeatedly drive from place to place and repeat the tasks.  It gets frustrating when you die not because you suck but because the controls aren't accommodating enough for you to do what you want (getting stuck on uneven ground and the chainsaw guys caught up to you?) or the aiming system is so clunky that you have to stop to aim but by then, enemies would have shot you.  I would say the difficulty of the game is a bit above average, purely because there are some annoying and frustrating missions out there, there is not instant gratification.

Even with cheats, the game can be somewhat tough especially when the odds are very against your favour in some missions.  It gets sickening by the end of the game (it takes around 14 hours to finish without diverging too much on sidequests) where you have to keep repeating and repeating the same mission to try and pass it.  They really should have made a more friendly checkpoint system as it feels like the game wastes so much of your time sometimes.  The core optional features from the PS2 games are here, from taxi missions to ambulance missions to fire truck missions.  There are heaps of optional activities that unlock as you keep playing the game.  The amount is staggering but the game doesn't make it obvious which sidequests are available.  For example, you can sell cars, be a delivery boy or be a tour guide, yet there isn't any markers on the in-game map for you to easily find them.  The mission variety can feel limited as you play through the game, it is mostly comprised of driving (some cars are hard to control, liking to skid and slide with poor handling) or shooting (auto aiming here only, folks).  The game focuses on a protagonist called Toni who isn't a likeable guy in the beginning.

He starts off in the lower ranks but as he climbs his way up, you start to appreciate him more.  It still isn't spectacular by any means as the cutscenes can end rather abruptly and you're thrust into some sort of task which just comes out of the blue.  The voice acting is top notch.  You will meet some crazy characters with weird traits and personalities.  You have to wonder why Toni is often just blindly following orders.  He meets a new character, that character tells him what to do and he does it, there's not enough justification here to make it believable.  Furthermore, the ending wasn't satisfactory, especially with the way his boss treated him after all Toni's done.  I half expected Toni to pull out his gun and blast his brains out.  The final moments of the game felt stretched, especially with that stupid 10 minute long speedboat shooting section.  The famous radio function is here and there are ten channels to choose from.  I found that there needed to be more variety in that when you get into a car, more often than not, the radio begins with the same segment.  They have a long playtime but by starting at the same place the majority of times and having short vehicle trips, it doesn't allow you to appreciate the full scale of these tracks.  Overall, the game isn't bad but I didn't find it too enjoyable thanks to some of the difficulty spikes and lack of hook.


Reviews for other games can be found here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Rush Hour 2

More fun than the first movie but also ramps up the sexual references, which can sometimes seem a bit too much and out of place.  There are a whole lot more action sequences, making the film overall more of a visual spectacular.  Some of the stunts are pretty cool, especially like the one where Jackie Chan just slips through a gap in the cashier/teller bars in a casino.  I was surprised that the first part of the film takes place in Hong Kong, since it's a significant portion, but just when you think it's going to stay there, the characters have an awkward reason to go back to America.  The humor is good but sometimes it's straying towards just paying out everyone.  The music used was quite distinctive and sticks to your mind, yet it sounds familiar too.  Building upon the first film, there are even more scenes in which another language is spoken instead, this makes sense in the first part of the film where it's set in Hong Kong, but later on, when the characters still talk to Mandarin when there's really no point, it feels a bit forced.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review: Ice Breaker

Review:  #405
Title:  Ice Breaker
Series:  The Hidden Series - 1st book
Author:  Lian Tanner
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  It had a good prologue and actually reveals too much.  It would have made a mystery of the Sleeping Captain plot device, and leave the reader to try and think of who it could be etc.  Anyway, at times, it didn’t flow very well.  The setting isn’t that amazing, and it’s hard to envision why some people would hate machines so much.  The ending is a little bit predictable but it was still good.  Fin and Petrel felt stiff and away from their world, it was hard to relate to them.  The writing isn’t too addictive; the characters will grow on you.  The plot is solid but not astounding, overall, it’s not a bad book but it doesn’t suck you into its world.
Rating:  6/10

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Toy Review: Transformers Robots in Disguise (RiD) Rail Racer (JRX)

Review:  #169
Name:  Rail Racer (JRX)
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Autobot
Line:  Robots in Disguise
Year of Release:  2001
Size Class:  Combiner
Variations:  the Japanese version had a lot more sections made from translucent plastic


Let's get straight onto it, shall we?  Rail Racer is the combination of Team Bullet Train, comprised of RailspikeRapid Run and Midnight Express.  All three have a good train mode.

Their robot modes aren't too shabby either albeit they're all a bit short in stature.


I have to admit, their stock footage of their transformation in the RiD cartoon was amazing and very nice, just wished that it was longer!  Anyway, you'll be familiar with how the three combine after watching the show as it is pretty accurate.  Considering how Rapid Run adds to Rail Racer (which is, admittedly, not much), it has the most complex transformation with a lot of twisting and extending of parts.  Midnight Express is very easy since there are not alterations to the robot's legs while Railspike's transformation is elegant and impressive.  It's a fun transformation and they all connect solidly.


Rail Racer is an utterly FANTASTIC combiner and one of the best, even 13 years into this day.  I loved the placement of train kibble throughout the whole body from the windows on his shoulders tot he protruding train cockpit chest.

Only major negative is the fact that Rail Racer has a decently sized backpack, comprised from the majority of Rapid Run.

Railspike forms the arms, upper torso and head, Midnight Express the lower body and torso while Rapid Run is the middle torso... least visible (as it's only a portion of the train cockpit).  Serving only as a spacer between the other two members.

As a backpack, Rapid Run's legs form jet packs of sort (it reminds me of Animated Prowl's jump jets or boosters).  They actually look quite nice and by fiddling around with Rapid Run's arms, you can get those pieces to be more aligned to the ground like in the cartoon.

The head sculpt is nice, although it's not as great looking head on.  The transparent green plastic is too dark and blurs his red paints eyes too much for it to look cool.

It is situated on a balljoint (with limited range in terms of looking up) but the sculpting on the sides are amazing.

Comprised of three approximately Deluxe-height robots, he's only around twice the size of a normal Deluxe.  He is still big and impressive mind you.

As mentioned, there are some really nice features such as the waist skirt.  I found that his forearms are too big, which is a shame.

Thanks to the large feet and heel spurs, Rail Racer stands up just fine, this is especially crucial considering the amount of backpack that he has.

The hands are somewhat articulated.  They can open and the thumb is moveable, this is mainly for transformation storage purposes and wielding his weapons.

The articulation is decent on this guy.  He must be one of the more articulated combiners we've hard, plus, he gets to effectively use those joints as he doesn't fall over too easily.

The hips and knees are on ratchet joints, which helps carry the weight.  Unfortunately, what you'll find more likely to happen as time goes on is that the catch that keeps his legs/knees extended will loosen over time and he'll start to collapse on one side.  The hip ratchets are also spaced too far apart, so he doesn't look too good if you spread his hips at more than one ratchet.

Speaking of his weapons, you can combine Railspike's and Midnight Express's guns into a large, double barrelled one.  It looks pretty stupid and forced though, they don't gel very well.

The light gimmick from Railspike's weapons still work as intended.

You also have Rapid Run's shield.

You can see the amount of transparent plastic Rail Racer has, his legs are completely cast from it.  What this means is that if you have a light source behind him, his legs appear somewhat transparent since the paint is not thick enough to completely hide that fact.

Each weapon can be held tightly in either hand.  Tough luck if you don't want to use them though as there is no storage space anywhere on the body.

To elaborate further on Rail Racer's super articulated self, he has multiple swivels and joints at the elbows and shoulders.  You can also untab those shoulder windows such that his arms have more reach going forward.

Rail Racer is extremely cartoon accurate.  Both missile launchers still work although it is slightly more awkward getting to the triggers.

You can create some pretty dynamic and amazing poses with minimal effort (although I lack the imagination).  The trouble with using the type of swivels for his shoulders is that it can sag when holding either weapons.

Understandably, Rail Racer lacks a waist joint.  There aren't any more gimmicks to speak off, the main gimmick being the combining.

There are some good generic sculpting and detailing such as the inside of his forearms and legs.

A brilliant robot mode that looks great, fun to play and is super poseable to boot.


A fantastic team.  Each team member is a decent individual in their own right but they really come together to shine when forming Rail Racer.  He is seriously much more than the sum of his parts.  Rail Racer is packing with classic transforming goodness combined with poseability.  Highly recommended.


Other Transformers reviews can be found here.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Rush Hour

A nice film that blends comedy with action quite well.  Loved the partnership portrayed in the movie by Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, it felt natural and they played up the comedic effect well.  It wasn't just all humor and no plot either, as the story was tightly paced (it's not intricate, complex story, but it works here), coupled with numerous actions scenes which made it quite enjoyable to watch.  There were some great moments and gags and that jump out of the blue.  There were some dull moments where nothing exciting was happening, which caused the film to plod along, thankfully, the film isn't too long so it never seems to just waste your time.  To be fair, there is a bit too much Cantonese and Mandarin dialogue, which, while authentic, does still take away the immersion.  A funny film scattered with some great action scenes.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Book Review: The House of Hades

Review:  #404
Title:  The House of Hades
Series:  Heroes of Olympus - 4th book
Author:  Rick Riordan
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  A minor spoiler, but if you expected the book to end in a cliffhanger like the previous three, you’re in for a surprise.  There is no cliffhanger!  I was like, “is that it?  Where is the trademark (sometimes superficial) Riordan cliffhanger?”  Although this makes the book feel a little bit more complete and standalone.  Anyway, kudos if you like it but it feels like the series is going downhill.  The story is rotates between seven different narrators (i.e. each of the main characters), and splits between two parties (mortal world and Tartarus).  Unfortunately, this doesn’t work very well.  This is due to the high probability that a reader would not like all characters and this means that author can’t focus on making each character unique.  As it is, they all seem to focus upon their romantic relationships, which is very tiring.  Sure, they all have partners (even Leo gets one now), but it lacks the uniqueness and sweetness in each one, it feels like they are paired just because the author felt like it, there’s no memorable chemistry between them.  That, and every single chapter (or close enough) has a character spouting some nonsense about how they don’t want their partner to be hurt or that they can’t live without them.  Even Annabeth and Percy’s relationship is starting to feel stale.  An interesting element in The House of Hades is that appearance of past characters, even very minor ones.  We go from one or two minor instances in previous books to a full overblown story arc and multiple subplots involving one-shot characters in the past.  It feels odd that their roles are much more substantial than just a cameo, in some cases, they personality has changed a lot.  There are a few quirks; Leo starts to get unbearable (easily the worse character, followed by the shallowness of Frank and Hazel).  Not on that, Leo gets to meet a certain special immortal that Percy had encountered before.  She has the “character we’ve seen before but now her personality has changed dramatically” syndrome, and while the explanation given is plausible, it’s still a huge shock.  The way the romance sparks between them, it makes Percy’s initial encounter lose its entire specialness.  That’s the problem with The House of Hades and Heroes of Olympus in general; the events that happen have started to make previous events redundant and pointless.  The giants defeated back in the last few books?  Sorry, but it turns out that it was useless.  Nico’s relationship with Percy felt like a retcon, sure, it was hinted in The Mark of Athena, but everything before that… nothing he did really showed what the author said was happening all along.  It also feels a lot of the mythological characters had nothing to do for 2000 years, since they spout the famous stuff from Greek legends and then a blank, what?  They had no other demigods that happened upon them in that many years?  Another clue that the series is getting stale is that in all of the encounters, you know what is going to happen.  The characters will stall for time and somehow talk their way out, it’s lacking the wit, clever and innovative happenings that made the original Percy Jackson series such a joy to read.  That said, there was a sad scene near the end of the book.  As it is, there is a LOT of neat ideas in The House of Hades, but it feels somewhat… lacking.
Rating:  6/10

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Vita)

Uncharted:  Golden Abyss has amazing and stunning visuals, this is definitely one of the best looking games on the Vita.  Even more impressive is the fact that this was a launch game.  While it is not on par with the PS3 visuals, it comes very close (the small screen helps).  From the very first level, it hits you with the amount of details the jungle has, the patterns on the stones and the sun filtering through the canopy.  There's even rocks and clouds of dust from Drake's feet as he traverse ledges.  With that said, the character models have shimmering jagged edges and can look plasticky (as they lack the more subtle facial expressions).  This stick out due to the high level of quality that oozes from the rest of the game.

I found the controls to feel duller compared to the PS3 counterparts.  It feels as if it is not as responsive, or slower.  While the shooting doesn't feel dramatically changed, the huge reticle makes it seem like your aiming isn't as accurate.  Jumping, dodging and platforming lacks that adrenaline rush of the other Uncharted games thanks to the slower pace.  A lot of alternate controls are present but thankfully, most of them are optional.  These including tilting the Vita to swing on vines/ropes and tapping the screen to pick up weapons/ammo.  One of the better touch controls is the fact that you can draw a path for Drake to climb, it makes it less tedious to jump from one ledge to another and speeds up the process (not to mention that it's pretty cool to see him going from point to point by himself).

The annoying mandatory alternate controls include tilting the Vita to balance on logs and swiping the screen to boost the AI up a ledge or move debris; these are annoying because they are too many scenarios in the game where you are forced to repeatedly do this.  The story starts off a little bit slow but gains traction as the plot unfold and the typical treachery happens.  In terms of scale, it's about on par with the first game.  It's still impressive and engrossing with it's high quality.  The ending is solid and you think that it is likely to have a sequel to this prequel as the bit at the end makes you wonder what happened next to make Drake be single again in Drake's Fortune.  The final two boss fights are huge disappointments.  They are one big long QTE which kills the challenge and satisfaction of these fights.

It doesn't help that they're not likeable antagonists (writers did a good job here) so you want something more substantial than what is basically a cutscene.  The game is very linear with barely a side path (which is usually short in nature).  They nailed the combination of platforming with puzzle solving (even more simplistic this time around, mainly involving finding stuff or using some of the Vita's gimmicks like wiping away dirt with the touchscreen) with gunfights.  One of the more glaring aspects that stand out is that there are numerous cutscenes and some of them are long.  At least we don't get outrageously long gunfights and there are no annoying sections of the game.  That said the gunfights do get more numerous and seemingly endless waves of enemies come at you towards the last ten chapters or so (there are 34 chapters in the game).

Platforming still has the similar flaws of not knowing where you should go next as the environments are too detailed, making it hard to discern the next step.  It's not a big issue here, just that sometimes Drake will die when you thought you can jump somewhere and you can't  There's also some inaccuracies of the controls like when you want to jump onto a crate but Drake ends up circling it.  Drake and other characters would often spout the same stuff that's going on through your head, like why are there so many of the same platforming 'tricks' that you have to perform and why are there so many enemies.  The game feels long and not what you would expect of a portable game.  You would expect something that you can play in sessions but Uncharted really needs to be played in long periods at a time so that you can enjoy the story and lengthy cutscenes.

The story can be finished in around eight to ten hours.  It feels like there is way too many collectibles in this game and as they're in 'groups'.  You tend to lose motivation as once you've passed the chapters a particular group is found in, then you'll be stuck with gaps until you've finished the game and replay the chapters.  I found that the guns lacked uniqueness.  In the PS3 Uncharted games, each gun feels different and you need to adjust your play pattern/aiming to compensate while in Golden Abyss, most of the guns you point and shoot in similar ways.  There might be some subtle differences but on the whole, it's not truly noticeable.  The music feels familiar.  As you progress through the chapters, the soundtrack becomes better and more epic.

At the beginning, the music was generic but improves so much by the end that you can't help but get into the whole atmosphere the levels are bringing on.  I loved how you can now skip all cutscenes, not just the chapter beginning or core story cutscenes in the PS3 Uncharted games.  While it does use up all the Vita's gimmicks, Golden Abyss doesn't feel too compromised and the game still feels like Uncharted through and through.  As it is a prequel, there are limited characters that you've seen before, only two (and no prizes for guessing who).  All other characters are new which is a shame.  It tells a great story, the visuals are amazing and game mechanics are solid.  It's an epic tale fitted into a portable fashion.  Overall, a fantastic game that's definitely worthwhile to play.


Read other game reviews from this page here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It's a Trap! (Family Guy)

The third and final in the Star Wars retelling in Family Guy fashion.  Just like the beginning crawling text stated, they're running out of ideas for this one.  While there were less time-dragging jokes as the second in the trilogy, the ones here (two that I can count), went on for too long.  The kind of humor was okay when  the joke just started but as it went on and on, with you expecting it to end, but it didn't, it felt like a cheap way to extend the time (the "signal" scene is the biggest offender).  In terms of story, it's still quite a faithful retelling, with a lot of random stuff inserted here and there.  Some of the humor worked really well (I liked how they occasionally attack the inconsistencies of the original Star Wars films), but most of the time, it's just a "oh, I get the angle where they're coming from, but it's not that funny).  It was still an enjoyable watch (since it's only an hour long), now, where's the prequel retellings?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review: Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse: The Graphic Novel

Review:  #403
Title:  Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse:  The Graphic Novel
Series:  Percy Jackson and the Olympians - graphic novel book 3
Author:  Rick Riordan; adapted by Robert Venditti
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  A decent adaptation and feels more fleshed out than The Sea of Monsters.  While it still doesn’t capture the complexity and humor of the source material, they did well.  I think it is probably due to the art style, which lends itself to be more serious, being somewhat at odds with the books.  Naturally, there are some compromises in that most events are shortened; this means that some of your favorite scenes feel shafted.  The plot doesn’t feel too clever since you’re never given enough time to build hype or understand how everything works together.  Probably one of the worse things here is that Thalia looks so much like a guy.  In 80% of panels with her in it, you will mistake her for a male character and you’re left thinking, “when did he get introduced?” until you realized who it really was.  Other than that, this is a decent and faithful graphic novel.
Rating:  6/10

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Toy Review: Transformers Robots in Diguise (RID) Midnight Express (J-Four)

Review:  #168
Name:  Midnight Express (J-Four)
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Autobot
Line:  Robots in Disguise
Year of Release:  2001
Size Class:  Mega (Wave 2)
Variations:  the Japanese version had an abundance of transparent plastic used


Midnight Express (awesome and appropriate name by the way) transforms into an E4 bullet train.  It's detailed and accurate although you can see the transformation schemes .

The rear is okay...  If it didn't have the robot weapon sticking out so far it wouldn't be so bad.  You can see the hitch to connect to the other members of Team Bullet Train.

Sold as a Mega, it isn't quite up there in terms of mass and size.  It's long and narrow, as you would expect from a train...  The flaw with the Japanese version is the abundance of transparent plastic, which meant a lot of paint applications.  Not only will there be slight mismatches in terms of colour, with the yellowing of the white plastic, it is even more obvious.

Another significant flaw is the visible transformation seams.  It breaks the whole train apart, for some reason, the joints don't line up perfectly and it's distracting.

Mimicking the real life train, there a logo on each side, in this case, it says "Max Cybertron".

This mode is packed full, there are some empty spaces but it covers them all well.

There are eight rolling wheels underneath although Midnight Express tends to slide rather than roll.

He's also the longest train when compared to his fellow team members.

They look nice together though and feels very much like a set.

Remember that hitch earlier?  You can connect all three members up.  Midnight Express has a corresponding spot underneath the nose to attach too.

You get this long snake-like train, it would be nicer if they were compartment carriages rather than three head trains together...

Midnight Express's robot weapons are all integrated into this mode.  Part of his weapon is hidden within the body of the train.

A decent train mode hampered by the massive transformation gaps.


This is interesting.  More than half of the train forms his feet, he transforms 'sideways'.  Basically, each end extends and folds down to form the legs while the middle section forms the torso and the arms are hidden underneath each flap on either side.  It's different to what you'd expect (unlike Railspike and Rapid Run whom are extensions of the "stand the train up" formula).


Easily the worse robot mode of the three, Midnight Express is mostly legs.  They're chunky and way too large compared to the rest of the body.

At least this means that he won't fall over very easily.  You can see how significant the amounts of transparent plastic are, his legs (they're completely painted) and torso...  It makes him feel more fragile too.

The head sculpt is good, although it lacks the edge and sharp detail of the animation model.  It needs more pronounced angles.

He stands taller than a normal Deluxe but most of that height is from the legs.  The torso and arms feel weedy in comparison.  That said, it's nice to see that they managed to keep symmetrical legs and feet from such an unorthodox transformation scheme.

Ahhh yes, there's the giant shoulder pads on each side.  They're way too large to look good and just emphasizes the terrible proportions.

The poseability is decent, he lacks elbow swivels.  The giant shoulder pads can get in the way and you can end up accidentally twisting the shoulder balljoint off.

His gun initially comes in pieces since that is how it is stored in train mode.  You can connect them together to form a decent looking (if a bit flat) gun.  You angle the hitch piece upwards so it looks somewhat like a sight.

Apart from Midnight Express wielding it himself, there's no other place to store the weapon.

The hips and knees are one ratchet joints.  They're designed more for Rail Racer so even one notch apart feels like the legs are too far apart.

The gun is also a spring loaded missile launcher.  Midnight Express easily has the weakest mode of the train bots.

I wouldn't say that this was a decent robot mode, Midnight Express ends up taking the full brunt of the compromise from being a combiner.  Nevertheless, it is still an admirable effort.


I wouldn't recommend Midnight Express on his own, you have to be intending to form Rail Racer in order for him to be worthwhile.  He has too many compromises to be a fun figure, from the transformation joints in train mode to the robot mode comprised of 80% legs.


If you have enjoyed this review, why not head over to this page for a few others?

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