Sunday, 28 December 2014

Pokémon Omega Ruby [Review]


Pokémon might look the same to outsiders, but there are numerous changes, whether big or small, that affect the gameplay in some way. Generation 6 of the Pokémon games made one of the biggest changes to the series - with the transition to actual 3D models instead of sprites, as well as introducing the fairy type - and Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, the next set of games in Generation 6, offer even more to change up the game.
Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are remakes of the Generation 3 main games - Ruby and Sapphire - a generation that gave us many new additions to the formula. And since these are remakes, there are numerous retro nods to the games they are remade from. When you first start the game, you'll think you've gone back to 2003, as the introduction starts with the exact same sprites and words from those previous games. It then shows that this is 2014, this is a new game, by showing you the inside of the lorry you are in from a first person point of view. The game itself is still played in third person, so it is cool that they gave us that view to begin the game. Other retro nods include the map display being the exact same graphic as it was in the previous game, and all the graphics for the DexNav being in sprite form - exactly looking like the previous games.
Gameplay, then. We start the same way as any other game - starting at a small town before setting out to meet the professor and choosing your first Pokémon. Movement in the overworld is unlocked, and we don't have uber fast skates to fight for control with. Using the D-Pad reverts control back to a standard 8-way mode, and in buildings is locked at that - no matter whether using the circle pad or D-pad. Battles play out in much the same way as before, with choosing a move to whittle down the opponent's HP, and fighting until it reaches zero. Nothing seems to have changed.
But the battling and the moving aren't changed. Yeah, there's the new sneak move, which allows slow movement to creep up on Pokémon that reveal themselves, but apart from that, the features are more in how you move with Pokémon and how you capture them.
First off, as mentioned earlier, is the DexNav. At its most basic form, it shows you what Pokémon you have caught in an area. As you learn though [pretty early on, actually] it can also scan for Pokémon, and when you get close enough, tell you certain facts about them. The more you encounter of one particular Pokémon, the higher the scan level and the more you'll be able to find out about one of that species you scan. Level, first move, ability and more, and an exclaimation mark appears above any that is above average. This is a good system for telling if a Pokémon has any Egg Moves [moves it can only by breeding] or hidden abilities.
Next in line is flight. The ability to fly has always been in Pokémon, but you could only visit towns that you had previously visited. That has now been extended to all routes and places on the map. Also a part of flight is the Eon Flute. At a certain point in the story, you'll get a Latios or Latias with its Mega Stone, and with the Eon Flute you can summon one of them and actually fly on their back. Yes, just like surfing, you can now control a Pokémon in flight - even if it is just limited to two. While in the air, you'll be able to fight wild flying types [though thankfully the battles are only triggered by flying into a flock of generic flying shadows], and hunt down mystery islands. These islands have Pokémon rare for Hoenn found in them, as well as the chance to capture Legendaries. On some islands, there'll be a hoop with a portal. This is the gateway to challenging Legendaries, and they can be rematched if you defeat them.
I find the new features to add to the gameplay, and feel much more content using the new flying method, even if it is slower than the normal method. Not needing a flying type with you all the time really helps to build a better team, though some flying types do have a second typing and will help in gameplay - so it really depends on if you really want a flying type on your team. Battles haven't had anything new added to them, but after the flashier show of battles introduced this generation with X and Y, the only thing they could really have improved is the frame drops during battles. These haven't been improved, but as before, don't really affect the presentation that much.
The music has been much improved from the GBA, and the tunes are still intact. They are recognisable to long-time fans, and for the newer crowd are a treat for the ears. As well as being on top form, the tunes feel in the right places.
There isn't much more for me to say, other than online functionality is still present. Battling trainers or trading with them, even using the Global Trade Station to try and snag something good, or Wonder Trade in the hope of getting something good, the online works as needed. It's smooth. Local multiplayer is included for both battles and trades. Streetpassing people will get you their Secret Base, which you'll be able to visit and explore, as well as battle the owner.
Post game is good, and nets you two extra Legendaries [well, if you catch them], and explores the origin of Mega Evolution. Mega Evolution was introduced in X and Y with the feeling that it was recently discovered, but that ancients had been researching it. With Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, the story of how Mega Evolution came to be is told, as well as connects XY with ORAS, more so than any other generation of Pokémon game has been connected.
The game is definitely worth a purchase, even if you're just a general fan of JRPG's. All of what makes a JRPG are present here, and everything [apart from the occasional frame dip in battles] is smooth and polished. The development team have kept a bit too closely to the original map design, meaning with the new 3D paint, the world looks a bit odd. Not disfunctional, but it has the feeling that everything is still on a 2D plane. In other words, they are layers that you traverse; not the feeling of actaully walking up or down a slope. Again, it's not too affecting on gameplay. And so, with battles being the main part of the game, as well as the exploration, and both of those parts working great, this game is worth a recommendation.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric [Review]

 The game that looked like a reinvention, but failed on all accounts. If you look up a list of all what was promised, you could probably count what was achieved on one hand. Though maybe that's an exaggeration. It certainly doesn't play like a Sonic game, doesn't have many of the elements you'd expect from a Sonic game, thus a reinvention. But in a worse state than better.
Let's just get to what all Sonic games are primarily about. The gameplay. Rather than sprawling levels filled with speed and exploration, we just have the exploration part. In the place of speed is combat, which is the most basic combat you can get. It works, sure, but isn't the greatest combat in existance. Not even close. We have a normal attack, a special attack, an air attack, and a bounce attack. Aside from a dodge and the Enerbeam mechanic, that's it. Launch an attack, either repeat the same attack or break the combo. Get into an attack, there is no chance to dodge mid-combo. And when enemies are many in both health and units, it can get annoying. But not that annoying. Rings act as a health bar, and when they hit zero and you get attacked again, you'll die and respawn in the near exact position you died. There are no lives. Some might say this is to make it easier - after all, the target audience is kids - but when combined with the real problems, it seems a moot point.
First, we have four characters - Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, and Amy. While not a problem themselves, they are the cause of them. The game is mainly focused on co-op, mostly with just two of the characters, and numerous puzzles require the use of swapping from one character to another. However, sometimes you'll have completed the section for one character, have to swap to another, and find they are still at the beginning. Sometimes you'll come to a part where two characters are needed to pull something into place to find that the other character hasn't caught up yet. That might not seem so bad, but when you add in another physical player, you can't go five meters apart without Player 2 teleporting to Player 1's position. And it happens all the time, every time. So why can't the same happen with just one player? Combat and exploration are playable though. Simple, frustrating at points, but serviceable enough. Thankfully, there is one other part to the gameplay which breaks up the combat and exploration. But is also the most broken part. Speed sections.
These are numerous. The game even opens on one. But they are just too short. The opening one is interspersed with small cutscenes, but even so, it doesn't go past ten minutes. And most of those minutes are the cutscenes. And the shortness of them is the least of your problems. For whatever reason, most of the lag, or framerate drops, are suffered within these sections. This can make it hard to gauge jumps or dodges. And it becomes noticable even more once environmental effects are added.
There are other problems away from the gameplay. While the plot of the game can shine at times, to put it bluntly - it feels basic. It also feels unfinished. Near the beginning of the story, main villain Lyric is set free by Sonic. Sonic uses a spin dash on the mechanism holding Lyric. Lyric says that after all these years, Sonic is still predictable. Sonic and Tails were sent back one thousand years in search of a map of the location of the Chaos Crystals, and encounter Lyric once. Yes. Once. The main point of the story is Sonic learning to work together with his friends, but that whole story element is so messed up it's as though pieces of the story are missing or they've been jumbled around. And let's not mention Shadow, who seems to be here just to be a mirror of Lyric [seriously, they both talk the 'your weakness is your friends' spiel, and almost word for word as well]. But while Lyric gets defeated for it, Shadow recognises that perhaps he is wrong. Eggman in the story is the backstabber. He takes control of Lyric's army of robots for his own ends, then when Lyric is set free teams up with him. Both don't trust the other, and when Eggman sets Metal Sonic on Lyric, the latter uses his controller device to turn Metal to obey him. So Eggman makes a robot completely under manual control to try and take Lyric down [and eventually does get the last laugh].
Aside from all this villains clash story though, the plot never escapes out of finding the Chaos Crystals. As I said before, basic. Which is also what NPC's of the hub worlds are. Aside from Cliff, and maybe Quincy, the NPC's hardly get any limelight and are only around to give one quest each. They just stand around, give you one quest, then just repeat their quest finished line whenever you try to talk to them again. By completing a side quest, you do get a Power Glyph. These are equipable and give an extra bonus, such as increasing damage of enemies thrown with the Enerbeam. There are also other upgrades that you use robot parts for. But you also need to have collected enough medals to be able to do so.
The last points to mention. For one, graphics. They do the job well, but don't go beyond what is expected. As such, they look no better than Gamecube-PS2 era graphics. While the graphics and textures do look good for the most part, sometimes they don't look as good. Up close, they look flat and muddy, but thankfully the animation pulls through. Characters move fluidly, as do objects, characters and robots within the levels. The levels themselves are varied, but puzzles never get too ambitious. Hubs and levels can feel empty at points, and sometimes give no direction. Music within the game sets the tone well, expect for an occasional misstep, but isn't exactly memorable. There is honestly no tune from the game I have stuck in my mind, or would I listen to outside of the game itself. Character interaction within cutscenes are brillaint for the most part, and show the characters as you would expect them to be shown. Occasionally though, a misstep for the interactions will be made. Knuckles is a laid back character, sometimes slow on the uptake, but to make the joke that he doesn't know the difference between left and right takes that to the highest levels of exaggeration. Outside of cutscenes though, the interactions are nothing short of annoying. The characters interact with each other occasionally within levels, but is mostly basic, and annoying, repeating of what you can very plainly see. "Rings" "Boost Pad" "Bounce Pad" and the like are followed up with characters also commenting on themselves or others. Lines like "I'm awesome" "Nice one" and simple signs of excitement like "Yeah" "Wahoo".
Without mentioning the glitches [there are some, mostly brought on by player interaction] and comparisons to other Sonic games [though subtle hints lie within], I'd say the game is good. Nothing special, but good all the same. But it can never fully get itself away from the fact it still has the Sonic name on it and as such will be held up for it. The game can be enjoyable, and if you do get to the end of the story, it does get better. There are more long stretches of tediousness than proper enjoyment though. As such, the game is a good play, but not worth full price. £15, yes. £30, no. And I also couldn't fully recommend it at full price, either. Once it does hit £15 or less though, that is the time to strike.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Delightful December [Cyber Digital Services]

As I've always said, the UK holiday season begins on the first and runs to the first. December is when the decorations start to get put up, gifts sorted [although sometimes that'll be a month in advance], and the advent calenders start the countdown. And then we have that major event itself of the 25th. And then six days later the countdown to a new year begins, and the holiday season ends after the first of January. Why would I be saying this though? It's not like I have anything super special planned for you all. Well, in fact, I do. Or should I say did.
Over the month of November, I was thinking back on what I've achieved in animation so far. And roughly three years ago on that month, I was working on an animated Christmas card. That's all well and good, I thought, but my animation skills surely must have improved since then. So I decided to plan out a new one. And hopefully get it finished in time. I have an animatic of what it would look like ready, and I hope to make a start on it. But university deadlines call. I'm mostly sorted. I have less than half of the short animated piece left to finish, and everything else complete. If it does get fully completed this week, I can then move onto the Christmas animated card.
Now, onto other items. Last month, I said I'd upload footage of a fan game I enjoy. I kept putting it off, and am sort of glad I did. A new release came out for it, and I'll be rerecording to add some of the new stuff in. I also said I'd do a short animation that shows how bad my voice records. I've skipped that fully. I have other plans which I won't reveal this month. I also said I'd upload all that I did for the Principles of Animation last month as well. Well, I met the deadline, having uploaded it to Vimeo, but it's still not on Youtube yet. That should be soon.
The Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric review should be up in a few days, and the Pokemon Omega Ruby review should follow up soon after. Both should be a lot better than the Smash Bros one - in other words, a lot more organised.
I am seriously hoping I'll be able to add another Star Wars Battlefront match to my Youtube channel, but whether multiplayer or singleplayer, I have to figure out. And I suppose I had better mention I now have Battlefield 4, more in anticipation of the new Star Wars Battlefront than anything else. And it was over fifty percent off on Origin, so that wasn't something to pass up. Whether I'm really going to get any video footage of it up though, is something I'll have to see about. Probably not though.
And one last thing. Story uploads to the website will continue until the chapter of each respective story is finished. Uploads will continue again after the holiday season has finished.
Enjoy the month, stay tuned for uploads and content additions, and hopefully next year I'll have a lot more to say.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Super Smash Bros. 4 3DS [Review]

What can I say about this series? It comes once a generation, and each one improves the formula in some way, though can oftentimes sacrifice other parts of said fomula. This generation though, we have two Smash games - and for the first time on a handheld. The 3DS version handles the basics, but does it really have the power to handle the grunt?
First off, you'll notice the options. Smash, Smash Run, Online, Challenges, Streetpass, WiiU, Games and More. Smash is your usually go-to for regular matches. New mode Smash Run has you beating up enemies from a vast array of series to collect boosters which will help you come the final match. Online is where the serious multiplayer comes into effect. Challenges are the usual collection of hidden unlocks that trigger when you achieve that particular objective. Streetpass involves a new minigame called StreetSmash - a top down fight with character tokens. WiiU enables you to connect with Smash 4 WiiU, both to send your Mii Fighters to the console version and to use the 3DS as a controller. Games and More holds the usual single player games, as well as your collection of unlocks and the customisation options.
Characters are plenty, as are the stages. There are many returning faces, as well as new fighters. Obvious of which are the Mii Fighters, who are split into three groups. Brawler, Gunner, or Swordfighter. And this is where the customisation starts. Customisation is local or friend only, but can improve the moves and either increase attack, defence or speed at the cost of one of the other two. The customisation helps build a better fighter. If you feel a character is too slow, you can increase their speed, and possibly add a bonus onto them. These can either increase a certain stat when in need, or trade off on stat for another. They can also regenerate health under certain circumstances, so it really depends on what you want. Throughout the game you'll unlock costumes that you can apply to your Mii. Certain themes give your character a certain weapon asthetic.
I feel classic and All-Star are as good as they have ever been, but the decision to trade Target Smash for Target Blast rubs off on me a bit, especially as they included it as a microgame in Smash Run. Half of the special options for normal Smash are also missing. While not the core Smash, the loss of Stamina Smash and Coin Battles, as well as tournaments, make this mode a little less inviting for those that just want some crazy fun. Smash Run offers Stamina Smash as one of its Final Battles, and the battle with Master Hand is a Stamina Battle the same as usual, so why it was cut from normal Smash makes me wonder why it just wasn't included. Smash Run itself is good fun, and the mode I have been playing the most. Battling enemies from a variety of series is great fun, though the Final Battles not so much.
Online and even local multiplayer seem to suffer some lag, though considering the 3DS is running at max capacity to run the game anyway, that's no wonder. Multiplayer itself is still good fun as always. Online is split into two categories. For Fun, or For Glory. For Fun is typical Smash. All items, normal stages, and a variety of rules to change things up. For Glory is more official tournament-esque. No items, only Omega stages [flat surface stages, all normal stages now have one], and no special rules. The matchmaking can be random at times, but everyone playing For Fun should at least have a chance of victory.
Now. Characters. There are indeed variety. Old faces like Mario, Captain Falcon, Fox, Yoshi and the like return. Sonic, Meta Knight and King Dedede make a comeback. And new faces Greninja, Duck Hunt Duo, Villager, Mega Man, and a variety more spice up the roster. Some characters come with alternate forms. Olimar's alt is Alph, from Pikmin 3. Bowser Jr. can alt all seven Koopalings. Wii Fit Trainer comes in male or female forms, as does the Villager. This range of characters a re fun to use and fun to fight against. Though I would comment why we need five Pokemon now. Stages are new and old alike. The newer stages outweigh the returning stages, and most of the new ones are fun to play on. Rainbow Road takes us around the 3DS Mario Kart course. Spirit Train has us fighting on a train. Living Room is perhaps the cutest of the stages, with a dog in the background. Just beware of falling foam shapes.
But with all this - the characters, customisation, new modes, collectables - comes two major downsides. What possibly alludes more to the analogue nub than the game itself, attacks can sometimes be inputted wrong. As a Kirby player, I use the up-B move [the Wave Cutter] a lot. Sometimes during this game though, I'll get the side-B move [the Hammer Bash] instead. And it gets a lot more common to dash when you don't want to, due to the fact that the analogue nub feels to slippery on the thumb. The other problem is that the screens are a tad too small to give the details of the fight when the camera zooms itself out. When the action is on one particular place, the camera is in more, allowing you the ability to pinpoint where to attack more accurately. When zoomed fully out, it gets tricky to aim with much accuracy. There's also the fact that due to the smaller screen, when the camera is zoomed in, you can see what you are doing, but not a lot else. And because the fights are usually fast and furious, the camera zoom is compensating a lot for that, giving a slight disorientating effect.
The only things I can really say about this game then. First, the music is still top tier, though there are only two tracks to every stage. The bigger roster means there is someone for anyone. Get used to the camera zoom and you should master everything else. If I had to say which in the series it was more like though, I would have to place it directly between Melee and Brawl. The characters are distinct and the physhics are more tighter. But there are also the improvements to stage handling and options for modes. And if Smash Run is the main single player element, it at least matches Subspace Emissery [the main single player element of Brawl] for how it is handled, even if it is a lot shorter by comparision.
To end off, I'd say if you are a fighting game fan, you'll get a lot out of this game. If you're a general Nintendo fan looking for a game that brings your favourite characters together in some way, this is the game to get. As for me, I'm saying the game is solid all-round, but if you want something bigger, it might be better waiting for Smash 4 WiiU.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Sonic Boom - The TV Series [Review]

Said I would do this, to give my feelings on the show, and whether the rest of the world should be excited for this when it finally airs elsewhere.
The answer is - yes.
I can literally say this is one of the best crafted cartoons of Sonic I have watched. Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog felt like it was nothing but a comic fest. Nothing but joke after joke with little story. Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic X felt more serious in nature, a bit too off tone, and relying too much on gimmickery power ups so as not to make Sonic too powerful all the time. And Sonic Underground... It tried to strike the right balance, but it either came off as too annoyingly comic or too serious about itself.
Sonic Boom, on the other hand, really strikes that balance well.

The first episode jumps straight into a chase between Sonic and Eggman, witty banter back and forth the entire time. Comes to a stop at a crater, witty banter continues. Burnbot is introduced, and the false advertising line is said. The attack commences, Tails comes in, Sonic grabs the Enerbeam to swing around and kick Burnbot, Burnbot recovers and attacks Tails' plane, Sonic immobilises Burnbot and rushes to rescue Tails from the wreckage of said plane. This is all stuff we've seen from the preview. But the action-comedy dynamic continues. Sonic Boom doesn't take itself seriously, but can still do the action right. After interviews for a new sidekick [Sonic fires Tails to protect him from further harm] Tails himself is in, as well as Eggman, both for the same reason of 'any applicant can apply'. The third to take the test is a beaver. The test is a race. More action-comedy dynamic continues. The race doesn't really end so much as forced to a stop. Eggman plays dirty and brings Burnbot back into the action - again attacking Tails' plane. This time the plane crashes on ice, and Tails can't get out. Sonic moves to rescue Tails, Burnbot cracks the ice, Sonic falls in with Tails rescuing him. The two then work together to beat Burnbot.

The second episode has Eggman needed to stay at Sonic's house due to a storm that destroyed his evil lair. This episode really gives Eggman the spotlight, and gives us character interactions we wouldn't normally see. When Knuckles, Amy, and Sticks come into the house and find Eggman there, they literally double-take and ask 'What's he doing here?' Eggman's picky, and complains about everything, disrupting the lives of Sonic and Tails, and just acting like one of those really annoying housemates who never shuts up. Amy calls to session a housemate meeting, with Sonic wanting to throw Eggman out. They give him one more chance, and so Eggman changes from annoying housemate to always-want-my-own-way housemate. Funny thing is, Sticks is rambling throughout the episode how this is all some evil plot to get Sonic and co unprepared to fight - even saying the entire plan that she thinks Eggman has been brewing right before Eggman himself reveals said plot. Eggman lied about his base being destroyed in the storm, but finds out that the robot isn't very good at following orders and mistakes 'destroy Sonic and his for friends' as 'destroy fortress'. Eggman asks Sonic for his help in stopping the robot, and so Sonic and Tails go into the lair with Eggman to shut off the robot. But Sonic and Tails are too sleepy, and the switches needed are unable to be actiavted by one person [both needing to be active at the same time, but the lever must be held down in order to keep it active]. Eggman uses a kazoo from the party he held the night before to wake both of them up so they can shut the robot off. But then Eggman's base blows up.

Now, the comedy can be hit or miss, as with any comedy show, in that different people have different likes. I'm more of an event comedy person, who likes comedy that comes from character. Cubot being sad he hasn't got a soul when scolded by Eggman about it, for example. Sonic Boom is also the most faithful of Sonic's powers than any other cartoon. He needs no power up in order to use spin dashes and the like, and pulls off moves usually restricted behind some kind of gimmick like they are natural to him - which of course, they are. There's no such thing as a gimmick power in sight, and all moves Sonic can perform in the games are readily available to use for him here.
But as I mentioned before, the character interactions are one of the best things about this show. Sonic and Tails, Sonic and Eggman, even Sonic and Orbot and Cubot, the interactions between characters are at a high. And feel natural to the characters themselves. Sticks is the newcomer, and the show doesn't even give her an introduction. It doesn't need to. Her character and the interactions with the rest of the group do that perfectly enough. She's a wild type who prophecises often enough about who knows what, but can make sense of a situation enough to know when she's being duped. But because she mostly spurts random analogies, no-one pays her any mind. She also seems to have a problem saying complex words when thinking straight. Whether these traits about her character evolve more throughout the series remain to be seen, but the start of a new character can always be hard. And its not like she's that annoying. Some jokes do feel forced, but otherwise they're fine.
And so we have one of the better Sonic cartoons on the market. The advertisement seems to have started after the two episodes finished, so it should pick up. Now all that remains to be seen is whether the games will be as good as the cartoon. Remember, the whole Sonic Boom initiative includes both games, TV show and merchandise. If at least two of those succeed, than it's a success for Sonic Boom as a whole.
And so, for everyone but the US [and France], we have to wait for our turn for the TV Series. In the meantime, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal release on the twenty-first of this month in Europe, so we can at least experience some of the Sonic Boom world before the show airs.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Neverend November [Cyber Digital Services]

Getting it out of the way first - the fan game video. I have the footage ready, and will upload it raw. No voice. I tried recording, and it just doesn't come out very good. At all. I'll do some basic animation and add a voiceover or something to that. You'll see what I mean. And speaking of animation, the Principles video should be uploaded this week. Next Monday is the hand-in date, so it will all be put together during this week.
The LAN Adapter shall be here this week as well, meaning MKTV videos should be restarting soon. In terms of games, I'll be getting Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and Pokemon Omega Ruby. I know I said I'd cover Smash Bros last month, but I'll be covering Smash this month while the two other games mentioned will be covered next month. It allows me to explore the games more before giving my thoughts. And talking of Sonic Boom, the TV series starts in the US this month - in fact, this Saturday - so hopefully I can catch a livestream of that to give my thoughts.
Possibly the shortest update so far, but there's not much I've really got this month.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Star Wars Rebels - Spark of Rebellion [Review]

Well, this was interesting. I was already anticipating the release of this, and the fourty minutes of greatness has finally arrived. What we have here is two episodes put together to form a season opener, or a conjoined arc, if you will.
The first half gives all the main characters time in the spotlight. The second half expands on them. I'll try not to go into that much detail on plots this time, but it should still be a decent review.
The very first shot is of Ezra looking out from his home to see a Star Destroyer in the sky. This Destroyer is significant of one thing. The Empire has set foot on this planet. Ezra is a thief, and we see that clearly in the first half of the first episode. From when he diverts Imperials away from arresting a jogan fruit salesman, only to steal some of the jogans himself, we can tell that if he sees something of interest, he'll try to get it. He spies the Imperials, but more importantly, the crew of the Ghost. They're out to steal from the Imperials, but don't count on Ezra stealing from them.
The chase that ensues is a good one, calling back to the speeder bike chase on Endor with a number of cues. Though the heroes don't crash their speeders and end up as hostages to tiny bears. Instead, the Ghost crew save Ezra and the real journey begins. Callbacks to the original trilogy of films are numerous, though some could be less obvious to some people. The designs of the characters are all good though. There aren't really that many bad spots [though the Wookiees are a different matter], and the character building, especially of Ezra - or should that be how Ezra begins to think - are real good. Ezra and Zeb get off to a bad start, but we can tell, when Zeb does something rash about Ezra, that he feels it was not right. We can see his conflict fo what he's done. And as Ezra finds out about this group he now finds himself with, we can see why this band is so united in a cause. The Empire has done something to everyone within the group, even Ezra, and only now is he finding out that there are better ways to get back at them than just stealing bits and pieces from them.
The second episode involves the Wookiees, and in their actions, we know that the rebels would do anything to help anyone. And it is here where Kanan reveals himself as a Jedi. The weight of the scene, the realisation of both Ezra and Agent Kallus of what they are seeing, and what that means for both of them. Ezra wants to help though, and gets a bit of action of his own, where he essentially acts on what he's discovered. The Empire breaks families - would he watch one break up before his eyes? He succeeds, thanks to perfect timing from Kanan and the Ghost crew, and the two groups split in neutral space, before Ezra finds himself being taken back home.
There is plenty of weight, that sense of neverending odds, within the show. We see Kanan blast up Stormtroopers, yes. But Stormtroopers are nothing really. Not in a fight. Its what they do elsewhere, and how that affects the actions of others, that really matters. Setting traps, for example, and hoping to catch the rebels off guard. There's also the weight created by the show knowing when to take itself seriously. Scenes that effect the characters deeply, building of the characters, and a certain key moment at the beginning and end of the second half, really give off that feeling of you caring for these characters.
Touching up on a last few things, the music knows where it is meant to be. Just like the original trilogy, it knows when having no music can cause more tension than having even the slightest sound. It also knows where to place itself for maximum impact, and we also get some masterful themes with nods to the original films. The pacing is also very much original trilogy style. It seemed a bit fast at first, but watching it again - the pace is exactly right. It knows where to take things fast and where to slow them down, and that's the thing that catches you off guard. All three original trilogy films start slow for maximum effect. Spark of Rebellion starts at a faster pace, still manages to cover all it needs without glossing over anything, and then slows down where the original trilogy films start getting into the bigger action.

And so, I really would recommend watching this series. I can guarantee it's going to be a good one. And without spoiling the next episode too much, we really are getting some other familiar faces and hints to other material. I loved episode three as much as one and two, and all of these said in this review carry over to episode three, and I'd guess the entire series as well. Yes, The Clone Wars has finished - but its stories are still being continued and added to the new canon. Yes, everything Legends has no place in canon, but its ideas are still being brought into the canon. From that third episode, I can already see some Force Unleashed vibes. In fact, the Inquisitor sort of reminds me of Starkiller, and apart from trailers we haven't even really seen him in action yet.
So yes, this is a series to watch, and I have faith that down the line we'll be getting even deeper stories. And a reminder that being deep doesn't neccessarily mean being dark.

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While I don't do TV reviews that often, I make the odd exception where I feel it counts. And I hope another TV series can win me over just like this one has come the beginning of next month. Yes, the UK is getting screwed by not having Sonic Boom for an entire year, but I'm hoping for a livestream just so I can watch the opening episode.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Crystal Crisis on Utapau - The Clone Wars Legacy [Review]

It was a real surprise when The Clone Wars ended, though not totally unexpected. Whisperings began as far back as before Season Five even aired, with the change in time slot on American Cartoon Network, some believed the show was to end soon. After all, Disney had just recently acquired Lucas Film at the time. Season Five airs as normal, and then we get the video of Dave Filoni announcing the end of The Clone Wars, but that the stories weren't finished. Indeed they weren't.
Despite Rebels being the main focus of Filoni and his team, thirteen episodes of The Clone Wars were put out onto Netflix, delving deeper into both Order 66 and the clones' origin. Oh, and Yoda learning the true meaning of victory. But the team gave out yet another part of The Clone Wars in the form of the Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir comic mini series. And then, not even two weeks ago, the full outline of this program - The Clone Wars Legacy - was revealed to us. The aforementioned comic mini series is a part of that. Also included is a novel set for release the coming summer. Dark Disciple. It's a story of Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos. Both of these are a part of The Clone Wars Legacy, both based on scripts created for the series, and both considered canon.
But the real interesting part of The Clone Wars Legacy was a four part arc released to the website. These might be full episodes, but they aren't full animation. Instead, they are animatics, using all the voice and sound effects that would have been in the proper episodes. The basis of this review then, is on story and pacing.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Do not read on if you intend to watch for yourself and do not want story details revealed.

The first episode only hints at what will come in the next three episodes. As it stands, 'Death on Utapau' is about Anakin and Obi-Wan investigating a mysterious death of a Jedi. This leads them on to a deal about some super weapon the Separatists intend to buy from some dealers. The episode starts with Anakin and Obi-Wan only intending to bring the body back, but upon discovering scuff marks on both elbows and knees of the body, and finidng it odd, they set out to investigate the last known position of the Jedi in question. It leads them to a room where they find out a high powered dart was used. With a meeting between the two Jedi and the Governor of Utapau getting them nowhere, the two head to the lower depths of the planet's sinkhole, where they discover two Magnaguards hidden in a cave. This then leads them onto a chase through the cave and up the sinkhole.
The opening of the episode is really about setting the scene, and it does that well enough without feeling too rushed or too slow. The first half is the serious part of the episode, with the second half getting some fun in. We hear Obi-Wan telling Anakin that they need one of the droids to download their memory banks 'so no chopping off their heads'. It gives the sense that they both know each other well enough by now that they know what the other is thinking. This is referened further down the line in a heartfelt conversation between the two further into the arc. The chase itself is well shot, and the battle itself shows the battle styles of both Jedi well. When the MagnaGuard Anakin is facing manages to get through his defences, he gets carried away and ultimately calls end game by Force Pushing it into a turbine. Anakin then helps Obi-Wan with his, and both of them overcome it to fit a download device onto it. Before they can get too far with the download, the droid activates its self-destruct. This is the point where the story is really set in motion, with the arms deal now being a major point in the investigation. Obi-Wan contacts the Jedi Council about it, and we can see a slight distrust of the Council from Anakin when he says "Let me guess. They want us to return to Coruscant immediately." "Quite the contrary," Obi-Wan replies.
The second episode, 'In Search of the Crystal', Obi-Wan and Anakin come across a band on Sugi on the plains of Utapau, and Anakin rushes in as usual, getting their dardactilli - the flying creatures they ride - killed. Obi-Wan even comments on Anakin's actions, saying that he was going to tell Anakin about the 'high precision laser darts before you rushed into things'. The Sugi have spread and disappeared, and so Anakin and Obi-Wan follow the trail of the largest group of footprints. Upon coming to a stop to look some more, Anakin says he'll contact Ahsoka so she can- But Ahsoka's gone, and Anakin remembers that. Obi-Wan tries to comfort him, but Anakin won't have it. Obi-Wan realises he'll have to try and get through to Anakin, and suggests making a camp. Anakin is essentially in denial of how Ahsoka could have left, and here, we can really feel Anakin's distrust of the Council. He says 'She's a Jedi! She belongs with us!' But there's a deeper meaning in that. He's saying that she belongs with him. Obi-Wan saying it was her decision to leave the order fires Anakin up even more. He rants about how the Jedi didn't give her any choice. But we can see Obi-Wan knows better, but reasoning with Anakin doesn't help things. The pain of Anakin is visible. We know he has a problem with remaining detached, and this is showing that when something leaves him, he can't cope. A foreshadowing of what will happen with Padme on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith. He might have turned at that point, but he still had his love for Padme. Even the line Anakin says 'How would you feel if I turned into a major dissapointment?' is foreshadowing of what Obi-Wan will think of Anakin. 'How well would you sleep if I failed you?' says that Anakin will probably never let Ahsoka go - no matter what. It makes you wonder that, if the two were ever to meet again, except this time Anakin was Vader - would he spare her? Or would turning to the dark side have made him distrust her? And what of Ahsoka, if she ever found out who Vader really was? Would she try reasoning with him, or avoid him? While Ahsoka's fate is uncertain now she's no longer a Jedi, we can be certain the Story Group wouldn't want her killed during Order 66.
We get some parts that are really hit or miss on this next part. Obi-Wan wants to take night watch first, but Anakin says he will. We know he is still dwelling on Ahsoka leaving, and won't be able to sleep. But he does. And so they are captured. Banter between the two resumes, and it feels a little forced. But the bouncing off each other is good. Anakin doesn't like his 'plan' and so wants to escape. When Anakin tries taking the guard, a primitive Sugi talks to them. Obi-Wan tries his own plan, convincing the Sugi that they are dealers, but Anakin interupts, saying the whole galaxy knows of the deal between them and Grievous. The two are then lead to the leaders. The leaders see through the two, and secretly capture them. Anakin's restlessness at how slow the plan is going really shows the more they walk. Anakin is even driven to sarcasm about the scenery, a real joy to listen to, and the two are lead to a holding cell. Meanwhile, the leader is in contact with Dooku, who orders the Jedi killed. The leader wants more pay, and hopes to get it. Meanwhile, Anakin and Obi-Wan have broken out, and are battling through the corridors, when they come to a weapons depot. Obi-Wan's reluctance to blasters is evident here, as he refuses to use one, while Anakin is all too eager to use them - which Obi-Wan calls showing off. It's here that things start to feel a bit too drawn out, if you haven't felt that way already. One of the Sugi comes with their lightsabers. Anakin destroys him. They spot the dealer and chase him. They are led to another entrance where the Sugi escape, but the Jedi spot the overly large Kyber Crystal, and intend to take the ship and the crystal back to the Jedi. End second episode.
The first half of 'Crystal Crisis' is one big session of plan and action. The ship fails, they find an animal, lower the crystal onto a trailer and trek across the plains to a spaceport. Anakin is in charge of finding the animal 'to improve his relations' as Obi-Wan puts it. The Sugi aim to get the crystal back though, and roughly halfway into the episode, the action starts. Anakin captures a speeder to get them to the spaceport faster. Grievous arrives on Utapau, and we learn that the Governor is a part of the deal. But the crystal isn't at the port, like he was promised. Grievous sends MagnaGuards to see what the hold up is. The second wave comes along, and we see the destructive power of the crystal. It absorbs the power hit at it, and sends it back at double strength. After being told that the Jedi are command of the crystal, and the dealer lies about where it is, Grievous kills him and joins the fight himself. A chase through the city, like Revenge of the Sith, ensues. A back and forth battle, between Grievous and Obi-Wan, with Anakin driving the trailer, which climaxes with Grievous crashing into a herd of the creatures Obi-Wan uses during the Revenge of the Sith chase. But the Jedi find they've been double crossed. Battle Droids surround them and take control of the crystal. The Jedi use the Governor as live bait. The droids are destroyed, a ship is taken control of to get Anakin and Obi-Wan in chase of the crystal.
With 'The Big Bang', Obi-Wan makes contact with the Jedi Council, with Yoda warning Obi-Wan not to be cavalier, to which Obi-Wan exclaims to Anakin that no-one ever calls him out on being cavalier. Banter back and forth comes in again, as Anakin exclaims 'No-one likes a backseat driver'. Grievous is doing all he can to stop the Jedi reaching the cruiser the shuttle is landing at. They do, but in escape pods. Obi-Wan is captured, but Anakin doesn't, which means he explores and finds out where the crystal is being kept. It then becomes a matter of getting the crystal away from the cruiser. In the end, they have to destroy it.
I can honestly say that, aside from the back and forth banter, this is the weakest of the episodes. Grievous and Obi-Wan have another fight, with it being over in a matter of moments. Obi-Wan is captured instead of killed. The droids give hardly any funny moments, but one part where Anakin says to a cowering droid 'That belongs to my friend' and the droid just gives him the lightsaber hoping to survive was good, because it's just so out of the ordinary. Dooku orders Obi-Wan executed, but Anakin rescues him from his guard. The two follow the droids into the chamber where the crystal is being kept, and are then stuck inside the room. When more droids check the room, they use the crystal to escape. Yet another fight occurs for the crystal, where Obi-Wan decides to destroy it. The scene itself is well choreographed, but the droids still can't aim for the floor where two Jedi are obviously hiding. But then again, the crystal is in the way. Aside from the last seven minutes though, I feel the entire of this episode could have been cut in half and it still wouldn't make a difference to the story.

So, to sum up, this is a well choreographed arc, which reveals its story in chunks at a time, but goes on for what felt like one episode too many. And with at least three battles that take place over different areas but with the same objective, even with the different choreography, makes it feel a bit drawn out. We have plenty of back and forth between Obi-Wan and Anakin though, as well as the heartfelt part of the second episode, but there are parts you'll see that have nothing going for them. The music, as always, is great, and really sets the tone of the arc. While the episodes of season five and season six have been mostly good, there are plenty of moments that, like with this arc, feel too drawn out. With this arc, it was the battles and especially the slow pacing of the first half of the third episode. Even so, another part of The Clone Wars that I would really recommend to anyone.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

October Nights [Cyber Digital Services]

So, yesterday. The sneak peek was posted, end of the month like I said, and though the title will stay in its anagram form for now, I'm sure observant people might have seen what it could be already. I won't be saying any more on it yet, and I definitely won't be giving a release date. Not after what happened with the other novel I said would 'soon' be published.
Either way, onto this month.
Super Smash Bros. 3DS is released in two days, and I hope to be enjoying that. As I predicted, the WiiU refuses to connect to the wireless at this accommadation, and so there won't be any uploads to iDarkRula's MKTV. Or maybe there will. After all, I only need a USB LAN hookup for a wired connection. There might be more on the way.
Uploads to Custom Digital Stories have been sparse. Call it getting used to being back at university, but I should be continuing with them more regularly now. And on top of that, the second half of the banner should be ready this month too.
Now. Blogs posts this month. Star Wars related - what I thought of the newly released Utapau arc of The Clone Wars, and a possible follow up bringing all of the Clone Wars Legacy works together. Sticking with Star Wars, a blog post on what I think of Spark of Rebellion, the Rebels season opener. Its possible that I might have a few things to say on Smash Bros. as well.
On the animation front, let's just say I'll post something up on Youtube by the end of this month. And it all relates to the work I'm doing in this university course. And speaking of Youtube, I haven't forgotten about the fan game video. I'm just preparing.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

SRC - A Novel Sneak Peek 1



[05/04-0085]
Two spacecraft, a Y/26t Galaxy and a G/0ld45 D.O.T., were lined up at the starting line. A place of empty space between two other vessels, in the hangar bay of a dark grey plated capital cruiser. A blinking red light flashed between the two racers. Then suddenly, it flashed green. The two spacecraft sped out of the hangar bay and into the deep black of space.
Outside, the race had entered a small asteroid field with the Y/26t falling behind. The asteroids were a dark reddish-brown, with a few of them drifting lazily around. The G/0ld45 had gained an early lead. Gold in colour, it was shaped like an oblong, with a long, thin rotating turret attached on either side, with two red thunder decals on the sides of the main part of the ‘craft. It flipped and rolled over the asteroids, opening up with speed when the driver thought he could chance it.
The Y/26t Galaxy on the other hand, was taking things at a much slower pace. Dark blue in colour, this ‘craft was also shaped like an oblong, but with a spoiler-like rectangle at the back. The decals on this ‘craft were green with two arrows pointing inward on the spoiler and a green arrow pointing centre front on each side of the cockpit. Instead of the fancy tricks the G/0ld45 was performing, the Y/26t just lumbered along and around the asteroids. An asteroid hit the ‘craft and rocked it. Hard. The shields winked out.
The last of the asteroids blasted past the G/0ld45 and soon it was back around to the beginning of the asteroid field by going the longer way, following the course. Soon the capital cruiser the two racers had started at came back into view.
By this time, the Y/26t was edging closely toward the capital cruiser as well. The finishing point was at the same hangar bay the two spacecraft had started at. Unfortunately, the Y/26t scraped the capital cruiser, and with no shields, disintegrated.
Inside the hangar bay of the capital cruiser, the G/0ld45 D.O.T. came to a gradual stop and landed. Then, weirdly, red words of ‘YOU WON’ flashed on the screen. A faint whine could be heard and all was back to reality.
“Yes!” Tom Hughs shouted, “Another victory for me.”
“Well done,” his friend, Lee Johnson said darkly. “Again.” This was a very faint whisper. But Tom heard it.
“What was that?” Tom said sharply.
“I said great work, and also well done for winning,” Lee replied. Then added in his thoughts for the fifteenth time this year.
The two boys were in a room generally called the games room. This room was plain white, and with good reason. The game the two boys had just been playing, Space Racer, was played on the Virtual Disk. This Virtual Disk could project 3D reality images into a plain coloured room to play games, films, music and video viewing channels.
The two boys however, were a lot more different in appearance. Tom was 15 years old with peachy skin and short, brown hair. Lee was also 15 years old with pale skin and spiky, light brownish red hair. Both boys had light blue eyes and there was only 2 centimetres difference between the two. Tom was 145 centimetres and Lee was 143 centimetres.
“Wouldn’t it be good to actually be in a Space Race Championship?” Lee questioned aloud as he unstrapped himself from the supporting seat he was sat in.
“Suppose it would, yeah,” Tom replied absently.
“Come on. You know you want to,” Lee goaded. He had a light, airy sort of voice.
“How can I if I don’t even have a spacecraft!” Tom almost raised his voice to a shout. “And then there’s the transportation and the training and the mone-”
“Okay. Okay. I was only wondering aloud,” Lee hastily backed down.
Tom doesn’t have to know yet. He can’t know yet.