Monday, February 29, 2016

Book Review: Charlie Bone and the Time Twister

Review:  #556
Title:  Charlie Bone and the Time Twister
Series:  Charlie Bone - 2nd book
Author:  Jenny Nimmo
Read Before:  no
Comments:  The author manages to make Charlie's fairly ordinary and limited ability of being able to enter photographs extraordinary and interesting.  The plot of this sequel is Henry, one of Charlie's ancestors (great-grandfather's brother) is whipped out from his time to the present day.  Filled with likeable characters and a constant stream of subplots, The Time Twister is an enjoyable read.  Billy Raven, one of the spies for the Bloors (antagonists), is a very unlikeable character.  There are some really neat concepts in the book and the ending is truly heartwarming.  While there were a few sections where characters acted illogically or it was a bit violet (e.g. "didn't get hit by the bus"), these are easily forgivable.
Rating:  6.5/10

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Valiant (2005)

Valiant is an animated film set during World War II.  In particular, it follows the carrier pigeons as they carry vital messages that was crucial in the victory of the war.  Despite the interesting and unique setting, the plot of Valiant is tired, old and not very engaging.  You have your typical young protagonist who is shorter than every other recruit, wanting to join the carrier pigeon and of course, eventually becomes a hero.  He is joined by a dirty sidekick, who is supposed to be the comedic relief.  Despite all the attempts at humor, only around 30% of it really succeeds because it keeps throwing at you rehashes from other films that we have already seen before.  Most of the movie is bland and hard to stay focused, thankfully the film is only 73 minutes long meaning that time goes by at an okay rate.  The best scene is the chase sequence during the climax, which was actually exhilarating.  The animation is simple, you notice that there isn't that many details in the backgrounds.  Overall, it is an average movie.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2015) - Season 1

This 2015 rendition of Robots in Disguise is a sequel to Transformers:  Prime, continuing on after the Predacons Rising animated movie.  However, apart from a few references, it feels completely unrelated and not even like it is a true sequel.  Viewers are able to enjoy Robots in Disguise without any prior knowledge except for the final episode.  The aesthetics are now much more cartoony, with the animation brighter and simpler.  This makes the show striking and works really well.  The series' tone is much lighter than Prime, which works in its favor.  Robots in Disguise is much more focused towards the younger audience but don't let that fool you because the humor works well and there are frequently good jokes throughout the episodes.  It is not too kiddy and can be enjoyed by adults.

Unfortunately, the plot had to take a nosedive in terms of complexity to accommodate all these changes in focus and target audience.  The series opens up on Cybertron, where Bumblebee is working as a patrol officer, along with Strongarm.  Bumblebee sees Optimus Prime's ghost who tells him to return to Earth by finding a space bridge.  Bumblebee, being the loyal bot that he is, listens to Optimus and space bridges back to Earth along with Strongarm and Sideswipe.  Coincidentally at this same time, an Autobot spaceship holding Decepticon criminals had malfunctioned and crashed on Earth, with all of the Decepticons escaping.  So now you have hundreds of Decepticons running rampage, and an unlikely team of Autobots, you get the idea?  The core cast is comprised of Strongarm, Sideswipe, Grimlock and Fixit, and the season's whole focus is to recapture these Decepticons.

Other Autobots turn up from time to time like Jazz, Drift, Windblade and of course Optimus.  Bumblebee can finally talk too, which makes a nice change from the silent character portrayed in recent media.  He is still inexperienced as a leader and you can tell that straight away, although this helps stray away from the over-serious Optimus.  Sideswipe is the Bumblebee replacement as the kid appeal character, bonding with the human kid and generally being rebellious.  Strongarm is the female character in the cast, she's strong but follows rules to the letter, which can irk some.  Fixit is the Minicon managing the Autobot spaceship and he helps in locating the Decepticons.  He stutters often and while this is amusing the first few times, it can end up being quite annoying.

Grimlock is the surprise of the bunch, originally being a Decepticon.  Plus, he is not the typical Dinobot that only speaks five words.  While not the brightest, he is useful and is the brawn of the group.  He ends up being comedic relief a few times and is the punchline of a lot of gags.  The first season ends up falling into the trap of being stuck in a routine.  Pretty much each episode will have a Decepticon or Decepticons appearing, and the Autobots work to recapture them.  Along the way, they will learn something important like working as a team or that you have to be yourself.  In a way, it reminds you of the Minicon-of-the-week style of Armada.  The Decepticons themselves have an animal theme going on, which is really unique and makes it interesting whenever a new Decepticon appears.

Decepticons have inventive designs such as a combiner comprised of spiders, a snake that can transplant bodies and robots whose abilities merges their animal counterparts together like skunks with tail acids and a bat with sonic attacks.  Each Decepticon has their own unique exaggerated personality which makes these episodes less boring.  The two main human characters, Russell and his father, don't get in the way much.  They fist into the plot of each episode well enough and isn't too awkward or in your face.  While the series has good animation, there are a few scenes where the background detail is sparse.  Transformation stock footage is used more frequently as the episodes go on.  Perhaps the biggest flaw of this first season of Robots in Disguise is the fact that it lacks a meaty overall plot.

Throughout the whole season, you only have the mystery of Optimus Prime every few episodes or so until the finale, with the rest of the season filled out by the Decepticon hunting.  It feels very simple and that the story is going nowhere.  The set pieces end up being more exaggerated in the alter episodes in what the Autobots do.  It's actually laughable at how they get away with the stuff they do, they would have definitely been detected by other humans by now.  That being said, the final two episodes were the best of Season 1, with the mystery finally revealed and the hidden enemy appearing.  The return of some characters, as well as the teamwork displayed where good triumphed over evil were great and satisfying.  Overall, while there are some strong points of Robots in Disguise such as the lighthearted tone and strong humor, the plot lacks substance which makes it hard to recommend serious viewers or non-Transformers fans who expect more.


For other animation reviews, including Transformers, try having a look at this page.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Toy Review: Transformers Robots in Disguise (2015) Quillfire (Warrior)

Review:  #300
Name:  Quillfire
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Robots in Disguise (2015)
Year of Release:  2016
Size Class:  Warrior (Wave 6)
Mold Status:  new


Quillfire transforms into a beige and dark brown off-road truck that is reminiscent of Prime Bulkhead.  While the two shades of brown isn't that horrible, it is weird when the doors are noticeably different in color to the rest of the vehicle.

This is actually one of the unfortunately rare Transformers nowadays that have a good sculpted rear (i.e. no gaps showing off exposed robot parts).  The sculpting is there, but since it forms the robot feet which are cast in a different color of plastic, it masks all the detailing.  It could be worse.

In terms of size, Quillfire feels good in your hands.  While still shrunken down from the Deluxes pre-2011, he is one of the bigger and bulkier Warrior classed figures, as you can see, he looks quite a bit bigger than FOC Sideswipe.

What's really cool (purely because it's unexpected from Hasbro) is the painted rims on the tires, it's one step towards the right direction in recreating the constant glowing effects of the characters.

On the whole, this is an excellent vehicle mode.


As you'd expect, getting Quillfire from vehicle mode to robot mode is quick and easy.  The transformation scheme is fairly predictable but does not bore you.  There are no ingenious elements here, Quillfire on the whole just has a solid transformation.


Quillfire's robot mode looked like he just stepped out from the TV screen, it's that good and faithful.

As with all Decepticons from the show, he has an animal motive and in this case, Quillfire has a bunch of spikes behind his head, so something like a hedgehog or echidna or something other animal with spikes.

His headsculpt is very inspired by a beast, since it's not your typical robot head.  It gives Quillfire a lot of character and makes him much more menacing.

A neat feature is that they jointed the mouth so that you can open and close it, very cool.

Quillfire is short in this mode but he makes up for it by being bulk and wide.  You don't quite get the same sense of feeling ripped off with a lightweighted toy with Quillfire, he feels he is worth every dollar used to purchase him.

In terms of articulation, he has the joints you would want, such as double-hinged shoulders, waist swivels and up/down ankle tilts.  However, what lets Quillfire down are his short legs, meaning his knee and hip articulation goes to waste since it doesn't give you much to work with when trying to do dynamic poses.

One minor annoyance is the fact that his head doesn't snap into place, or rather, the panel above it.  Therefore, opening his mouth may cause his head to drop down to face the ground.

He has a small brown gun which is very flat and thin for some reason.

He can hold the gun in either hand and it does look there.

The gun can store on his back when not in use.  His head can also turn side to side but the range is very limited.

Quillfire is an easy guy to balance thanks to his large legs.  There is also a limited amount of kibble too, mainly being the roof that's folded into his back.  Quillfire on the whole feels very solid.

Something that was unusual is that Quillfire comes with a quill, that comes separated in the packaging.  You can plug it onto the back of his head to complete the look and let him have a solid bunch of quills ready to fire.  Or you can get him to hold it in his hand, even though he never used it like this in the cartoon.

A fantastic robot mode that captures the character model well.  It is not your typical robot mode and that's what makes Quillfire all the better.


Quillfire is an excellent toy, one that some might say is the best figure in the RiD (2015) Warrior class line.  He has two excellent modes, and the robot mode is fantastic, from the hunched posture to the screen accurate look.  It's really awesome that Hasbro picked this character to make into a toy.  Quillfire is highly recommended and you should get out there it pick him up now.


Thanks for reading, for other Transformers reviews, have a look at this page.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Book Review: City of Glass

Review:  #555
Title:  City of Glass
Series:  The Mortal Instruments - 3rd book
Author:  Cassandra Clare
Read Before:  no
Comments:  City of Glass started as like the previous two books, somewhat uninteresting and unfortunately, dived too deeply into the forbidden love between Jace and Clary.  While it still focused too much on the complex relationships surrounding Clary, the plot drastically improved from the middle of the book onwards, to the point where it hooks you in and there were some satisfying plot points during the climax.  The ending was surprising since provided closure to the major overarching plot of the series so far.  It presented a myriad of new concepts, all of which are interesting including the reasons between Jace's, Clary's and Simon's powers.  Some aspects were still predictable since too much obvious foreshadowing was used, such as the antagonist's identity.  The writing style has noticeably improved and it much more engaging now.  A good story and the world finally enough details for the reader to get lost in.
Rating:  7/10

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Red Riding Hood (2011)

Very loosely based upon the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, the plot centers around a werewolf hunt.  You see, a werewolf has been plaguing a village for many years, but recently has started to attack the villagers (previously, only the livestock).  Father Solomon arrives to hunt the werewolf and it becomes a mystery thriller, with the identity of the werewolf being the big revelation during the climax.  In between, more people die, wrong people are accused and a love story is told.  Unfortunately, somehow all these things end up being bland and makes it hard for the viewer to stay engaged.  There is nothing that makes the movie stand out apart from the likable protagonist and even then, it is a stretch.  When you find out the identity of the werewolf, there is a "so what?" moment.  It's not that it doesn't make sense but you just feel detached to the character.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Toy Review: Transformers Robots in Disguise (2015) Thunderhoof (Legion)

Review:  #299
Name:  Thunderhoof
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Decepticon
Line:  Robots in Disguise (2015)
Year of Release:  2016
Size Class:  Legion (Wave 6)
Mold Status:  new


Just like the show, Thunderhoof transforms into a blue tractor, but with the fork in an unusual configuration.  Usually, if the spikes are facing the ground, it'll be located at the back of the tractor.

Anyway, this is a good vehicle mode, with four rolling wheels and enough details to pass.

Thunderhoof feels very small in vehicle mode though (toy above is compared to Legion Evac from the Prime series) and when looking from above, the robot mode is a bit more obvious (vehicle mode is basically just the robot mode scrunched up).

Overall, a decent vehicle mode even though it is nothing to write home about, at least it's an uncommon alternate mode for a Transformers.


As he is packaged in robot mode, getting him back into vehicle mode was surprisingly a bit more fiddly than expected due to the rotation of the head and the way the legs and waist worked.  Overall, it is not a bad transformation and is quite clever to get the two modes to look decent.


They've managed to get Thunderhoof spot on in robot mode, at least sculpt-wise, since with a few more black or silver paint applications, he would have looked like he stepped right out of the show.

The main piece of kibble here is the fork which sits right behind his head, but otherwise, this is a fairly clean robot.

The headsculpt is good, and it uses a second pair of faux tractor forks to act as his antlers, even though the real fork that sits behind his head obscures this a bit.

He remains quite small and short in this mode, which is kind of disappointing as the smaller size makes him feel more fragile in your hand.

The good thing is that Thunderhoof has a nice range of articulation, even though his elbows are fixed at a bent position, the angle at which they are fixed looks good and natural.

He has knee articulation thanks to his transformation, as well as limited head articulation, but his shoulders get in the way of his tractor forks if you try and turn it too far.

Unfortunately, Thunderhoof doesn't come with any weapon at all, would have been nice if there was a gun provided.  His hands does have 3mm slots so you can borrow a weapon from another Legion toy if need be.

He has just enough articulation to pose him beating up one of his least favorite fellow Decepticon, which is cool.

A great robot mode with character and personality that's faithful to the cartoon design.


Thunderhoof has a unique and cool character model so it's awesome that they decided to make Thunderhoof into a figure.  It's a shame that as a Warrior class figure is coming out that they couldn't have used this slot for one of the other many many Decepticons in the show.  Either way, this is a fantastic figure and should not be missed.


Thanks for reading, for other Transformers toy reviews, have a look at this page.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Book Review: City of Ashes

Review:  #554
Title:  City of Ashes
Series:  The Mortal Instruments - 2nd book
Author:  Cassandra Clare
 Read Before:  no
Comments:  City of Ashes immediately ramps up the relationship talk, thoughts and events.  Right from the very beginning, and being a huge focus throughout the plot, are Clary's relationships with Simon and Jace.  It can be overwhelming and distracting from the main plot.  It's also hard to understand Clary's feelings because she doesn't understand herself, and it ends up being quite confusing.  Apart from that, City of Ashes has a solid story although noticeably there wasn't much tension building and the climax was quite flat.  The battle at the climax seemed just like your every other battle and at that point, you don't really know what the plot was trying to do.  The plot ends up being vague and without direction, there is no clear aim that causes you to step and think "that makes sense".  The world is interesting, with the fantasy monsters but it feels as if all of this has been done before and nothing new is put forward.  That said, the writing was engaging and the characters are likeable.  City of Ashes has a decent story that's worth reading.
Rating:  6.5/10

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Into the Storm

Into the Storm is a movie about a group of storm chasers who did not get any good footage of tornadoes all season.  Of course, they encounter one of the biggest tornadoes ever seen by the end of this film.  While described as a found footage movie, it is not exclusively from that angle, which is a relief as it is always weird to see people carrying their cameras even when their life is in danger.  The plot is pretty typical and in the beginning with the various storylines (which eventually connects), it is vague and hard to see the relevance.  Apart from the storm chasers, we also follow a boy and his to-be-girlfriend, the boy's father and brother, and a pair of amateur storm chasers/idiots.  They can cut the pair of idiots as it does not add to the story and doesn't feel like it belongs there.  The set pieces can get exaggerated at times although the special effects were good.  The climax was fun to watch and thanks to the relatively short length of 90 mins, it does not outstay its welcome even if the characters are forgettable.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Steins;Gate (Vita)

Steins;Gate is a visual novel released on various platforms, the latest of which is the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.  There is literally no gameplay in the game save for a few button presses in predetermined spots.  The hook of Steins;Gate is the plot and you are expected to read and read for the 20 hours it takes to complete the story.  Therefore, Steins;Gate is definitely not recommended for people who doesn't like to read and you must accept that this is not really a "game".  With that out of the way, the story is told via inner dialogue of the main character and actual dialogue between characters.  It is portrayed through a detailed background overlaid with character portraits.  These character portraits are animated when it is time for them to speak (i.e. their mouth moves) and there are various portraits for different poses.

As is common with visual novels, there are the occasional "CG" to boost the immersion of the story.  These CG are artwork for various scenes and look fantastic for the most part.  There are also a few that is freaky, which suits the tone of that particular section.  The game's aesthetic is unique and the character design is top notch.  It should be noted that there are a few areas where some ecchi or sexual comments appear, which can seem out of place.  The character Daru has these kind of dialogue often but it is used for humor.  It is when the main character speaks or think these sexual thoughts that it seems out of place.  The game is voiced in Japanese with English text, there is no English dub available but it does not matter since the voice actors are fantastic.

The voices carry a lot of emotion even if you don't understand what they are saying without reading the accompanying text.  The music is up there too, the theme songs as well as the music playing at important moments elevate the tension and atmosphere felt by the player.  One thing to note is that the game heavily references various manga and anime, so you will need to either brush up on your knowledge of some of the more popular series or rely on the in-game glossary.  As you play through the game, messages will appear whenever a reference or term comes up, then you can pull up the glossary to see what it means.  It's really handy and an effective way of not losing the meaning and charm of the game through the translation process.

Steins;Gate's story revolves around time travel and in the process, will throw up some technical theory regarding particle physics which is impressive.  These are all real theories which you can search and read up on them.  It makes the game much more realistic and believable, it also mixes and incorporates real events into the story such as John Titor.  Its take on time travel is one of the best yet.  While it can be confusing at times, the plot just works and makes sense.  The story is science fiction and as you go through the story, it can be hard to tell which part is real science and which part is fiction.  It ends up sounding plausible and that a time machine is possible.  It is an amazingly written story with plot threads woven within each other with huge plot twists.  Something that seems irrelevant at the beginning will end up being crucial towards the end.

The plot is clever and blows your mind at how painstaking and detailed the writers must have been in order to produce something of this high caliber.  It is hard to go into too much depth with the story because this is what makes Steins;Gate so good, and having a spoiler-free run is highly recommended.  Just sit down and relax and you read through the process of creating a time machine, the characters experimenting to make it work and how little actions add up to create huge and heavy consequences.  The main character is odd at the beginning and it will be confusing because he tends to use two different personas, but it ends up becoming a charming and defining feature.

The emotional impact of the story cannot be understated, and this is all wrapped into the plot twists.  Throughout the story, you have developed friendships with the other characters, you understand them and what they have gone through.  When the time comes to make your decision, you will be torn as to what you should do.  Sure, you might be thinking earlier that you don't care about the character but once the section comes up and you reach the decision point, the game has wrapped you around its finger and your attachment to the character makes the choices difficult.  With all that said about the story being amazing, it is fairly boring until the middle of Chapter 2, where it slowly becomes interesting.  There are a total of eleven chapters and Chapter 6 is where the story explodes (around 8 hours in), and you're completely hooked, so make sure to hold out until then as Steins;Gate carefully sets up the story.

Sure, Steins;Gate takes a while to get into the swing of things but it was worth it because it is hard to put down the game towards the end.  There is not much gameplay to speak of, the game is 95% reading and the remaining 5% is the player, at certain points in the game, having the choice to use their in-game phone to affect the events.  Throughout the story, you will get text messages, by choosing how you respond, it will reveal more backstory and is linked to Trophies.  The phone is used to read and send emails, as well as calling other characters, even these features are restricted but it is a neat system that works well.  As expected, there are alternate endings, a total of six.  Most of the endings are not hard to achieve, usually dependent on one or two obvious critical choices the player makes.

All of the alternate endings are great and you don't feel ripped off when you get one.  Note that you need to save before pursuing an ending as you cannot chapter select, however, you are able to skip text.  The true ending is a bit harder to get but it is worthwhile, plus, there are many walkthroughs out on the internet to show you how to achieve it.  It has a melancholy yet hopeful atmosphere to it, and it is beautiful once you read the final pieces of text.  There is about 20 hours of gameplay in order to obtain all the endings and Trophies, but it is largely dependent on how fast you read and whether you follow a walkthrough to get 100% clear or not.  However, Steins;Gate is definitely not to be missed, it contains a great story, dives into concepts not often covered by games or even other media, and is just simply fantastic.  Make sure you give Steins;Gate a chance, whether it is on the PS3 or Vita!


For other Vita game reviews, check out this page!

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