Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Melbourne - the new Boneville!?

Went to the Docklands in Melbourne earlier this year to watch the Cirque du Soleil - Dralion. While we were walking down the Docklands pier, we chanced upon some strangely and yet familiar sculptures.

They looked like the characters from Jeff Smith's all-ages award winning Bone comic book series!

Have Fone Bone, Smiley Bone and Phoncible P. Bone moved over from Boneville and now call Melbourne "home"? You be the judge!

Could this be one of the Bone cousins (sans arms and legs)?

A photo op with one of the Bones!

The structure looks like Fone Bone in particular, as the picture below shows:

Pretty cool, eh? An eerie resemblence!

I love Jeff Smith's Bone. Aeris got me the phonebook-size softcover omnibus that had all 60 issues of the series, but I fell in love with the story and the characters so much that I went and got the hardcover colour editions as well! In fact, I just recently got the ninth and final colour HC volume to finish off my collection! It's a brilliant series and well worth collecting.

I highly recommend Bone, which can be enjoyed be people of all ages!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: Pokemon Platinum for Nintendo DS

It's finally time for me to review a game that has already taken Japan and the US by storm, and more recently, Australia, since its release about a month to six weeks back: Pokemon Platinum!

Now, before I get into the guts of the actual review itself, allow me to wax lyrical and take a trip down memory lane and share with everyone my Pokemon experience and journey thus far.

Pokemon hit me like a yawn; it came out of nowhere but it was highly contagious (and addictive). I remember my first exposure to the 151 Pokemon creatures (yes, there were only 151 of the little critters over a decade ago) when I saw some interesting and odd animal figurines being sold in some hobby shops in Singapore.

Those turned out to be Pokemon, which I discovered a few short months later. I had read about this "fad" that had taken Japan by storm and was becoming increasingly popular in the US as well as a result of the cartoon. So I just had to find out for myself what was so popular about this fad which many people would say would only last for a short while (over a decade on and it's going stronger than ever, so take that, naysayers!).

It was around this time I was "experimenting" with other types of gaming that wasn't on the PC; console gaming in short. I had been playing games all my life but my only real exposure to any console games was playing Super Mario Bros and the original Legend of Zelda on my friends' NES when I was a kid, playing Streets of Rage and Ice Hockey (or was it NHL?) '93 on my cousin's Sega Megadrive when I was in my teens, and also borrowing and playing that same cousin's Game Boy...the really old one "greenscreen" LCD.

So I didn't have much console gaming experience. Sure, I knew some of the more popular games because I had seen or heard of them, but I certainly never tried any out and I was more keen on playing either video games from the arcade or PC-centric stuff like Starcraft, Unreal Tournament and Quake 2.

But I was about the enter the Army and wouldn't really get a chance to play any of these PC games, so it occured to me, it might be a good idea to get a portable console. The only ones around at the time were the Game Boy systems and Sega's Game Gear, which wasn't very popular and didn't have as many games as the Game Boy had, so it was an easy choice for me to go down to Sim Lim Square and purchase my very first console, a purple Game Boy Color.

Of course, I couldn't just get the Game Boy without a game, so the very first game I purchased was Pokemon Red:

I can't remember whether it was a conscious or spontaneous decision to purchase Pokemon. I could have purchased Pokemon Red because subliminally, I had been exposed to it or heard about it so often that something "convinced" me to give it a try. But I just could have as easily decided on my own that I WANTED to give Pokemon a try, without needing that extra push. I can't remember anymore.
I played the game through without needing to refer to any walkthrus, without any cheats or hints or referring to guidebooks. To say that I was hooked to the game is a MASSIVE understatement. I must have clocked up in excess of 60 to 70 hours during the first run of the game!

Something about the game just drew me into it. I certainly enjoyed the RPG elements and training your Pokemon so they'd grow bigger and stronger...I equated Pokemon to virtual pets back in those days (since we were not too far off from the cessation of the Tamagotchi fad). Those little Pokemon had certainly grown on me!

What was amazing was that for such a simple concept where you "grew" your Pokemon for the purposes of battle, it was so thoroughly engrossing! There was this whole huge backstory as well and I just absorbed as much of it as I possibly could. Or so I thought back in those days during that first run.

So I played the game a second time around, this time checking the walkthrus online and I found out there was so much I had missed. I tried my best to collect all 151 Pokemon (gotta catch 'em all!) and it was a pretty futile attempt, considering that I didn't have Pokemon Blue in which it had the other half-set of creatures in the game. Needless to say, I clocked up even MORE game time the second time around.

But while I didn't get Pokemon Blue, I certainly did get Pokemon Yellow when it was released:

Pokemon Yellow wasn't that much different from Pokemon Red/Blue! In fact, it was pretty much the SAME GAME, with a few different tweaks. Instead of choosing between Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle, you were given Pikachu right at the start in Pokemon Yellow and he'd follow you around for the whole game. Guess it made marketing sense for a Pokemon game to be released where you started off with Pikachu, given Pikachu's popularity in the cartoon.

I watched the cartoon too in the first season and even though it was fairly juvenile, I'd still watch it because I was addicted to Pokemon! I even played the Pokemon Trading Card game released by Wizards of the Coast (in place of Magic: the Gathering as I had quit the game by then) and I still have many of the original cards from the first base set and the following two expansions, all of which are now worth nothing since all cards printed by WoTC are now defunct and unplayable outside of a casual environment.

I was so into Pokemon that I got myself a SECOND Game Boy Color, in Pikachu Yellow (though I think the officially named colour was "Dandelion") and I also got myself a yellow Pokemon Game Boy pouch to hold that Game Boy Color and my games:

Yes, I certainly was addicted to this "fad". But I was also convinced that it would end after only a few years. Who knew how strong the appeal for Pokemon would be that it's still going strong over all these years?

Pokemon Yellow started the trend with Pokemon games that have been released over the years; there would be a simultaneous release of two Pokemon games that were essentially the same game except with different available Pokemon in the game. And then an updated version of the game would be released about two years later, which had all the available Pokemon from the first two games, contained pretty much the same storyline, but with some additional tweaks to the story and gameplay.

This was the case with Pokemon Red/Blue which had Yellow as the "updated" version of either game. Gold/Silver had the Crystal "update", Ruby/Sapphire had the Emerald "update" and now Pokemon Platinum is the updated version of Pokemon Pearl/Diamond.

So let's get this warning out of the way: if you already HAVE played Pokemon Pearl/Diamond and are pretty satisfied not shelling out money for essentially the same game (albeit with nifty new functions and updates), then DON'T purchase Platinum. From what I've heard though, even those who have already completed Pearl/Diamond, went right out and purchased Platinum anyway. Such is the marketing and appeal of the Pokemon games that Nintendo doesn't really need to twist one's arm to get you to go out to purchase a second copy of essentially the same game you already have or played before!

Of course, having never played Pokemon Pearl/Diamond before (but hearing so much positive stuff about it), I felt it was finally time to dip my toe back into the Pokemon waters, after a decade since I originally purchased the first game. It helped that the cartoon is still going strong (though I never watched more than a few random episodes of the later series) and that I had played Pokemon Red all over again from scratch about 2.5 to 3 years back when still living in Geelong!

So my love affair with Pokemon started again. And boy, the changes between the fairly blase LCD graphics from the Game Boy Color (with minimal colours) to the bright and colourful graphics of the Nintendo DS was staggering! The music was greatly improved too, but the general gameplay is pretty much the same.

There were quite a lot of new options I hadn't been exposed to before which took some time for me to get used to. With the Game Boy Color, there was only one screen and two action buttons. But with the Nintendo DS, there were the dual screens AND four action buttons, not to mention the shoulder buttons (which I don't think are used anyway)...and of course, the touchscreen and stylus.
I'd only been used to one-on-one battles but got my first exposure of two-on-two battles with Platinum. And there were only a handful of Pokemon creature types in the original Red/Blue games whereas there seems to be a multitude of creature types now...thankfully it's fairly straightforward to use one's common sense to work out which creature types are stronger/weaker to specific opposing types.

The gameplay is more fluid with the DS dualscreens, since you can have the action one the top screen and anything else on the bottom one. There's this nifty Poketch watch which you are given during the game which has heaps of different applications you can obtain from talking to people in the game and it's nice to have that level of customisation to determine what you want to appear on the touchscreen; the time, the current Pokemon in your party, a Pokemon "screensaver", a pedometer, etc etc. Intuitive and fun!

The game also takes into account which day it is and what time of the day it is. When it's night time, the game becomes "dark" as it simulates night. Only certain Pokemon come out at night which means you can only catch them within a specific period; same works for Pokemon that only come out during the day. There are weather patterns during the game itself, which will hinder or aid you during Pokemon battles.

From what I've read, Platinum is the "ultimate" update of Pearl/Diamond and having read what differences there are in Platinum to Pearl/Diamond, I can understand why people who already have Pearl/Diamond go out to purchase Platinum anyway.

Platinum introduces Giratina, a legendary Pokemon that was featured in its own movie (and there are 12, yes 12! Pokemon movies to date) and a new area called the "Distortion World" where natural physical laws don't apply. There are also more Wi-Fi connectivity features and facilities like a Wi-Fi plaza and an arcade area where players can play minigames against each other online.

But probably the best part about the new features is the Vs. Recorder which allows players to record their greatest (or worst) battles between Pokemon and then share the battles with friends and other people via Wi-Fi. Sort of like YouTube but specifically for Pokemon battles!

I've probably played only 1/4 or 1/3 of the game but have already clocked up in excess of 20 hours (which is the reason why I haven't been blogging of late, other than being extremely busy at work). But there is still so much of the game to explore, so many more battles to be fought and so many more secrets to discover.

I'm glad I've rediscovered Pokemon and am reliving the (new) experience all over again!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Review: A more detailed comparison of Perth CBD's comic shops

So I had a lot more free time today as it is my last day in Perth and I didn't have anything concrete planned for the day. So I decided to revisit all the comic and pop culture shops in Perth again, except Tokyo Underground.

Spent more time at Empire Toys, browsing through the racks of graphic novels and manga in greater detail. Afterwhich I went to Quality Comics quickly, then visited Fantastic Planet for the first time. My last stop, later in the afternoon, was at Comiczone, before coming back to the hotel to rest and relax before heading off to the airport to catch the flight back to Melbourne.

Now that I've visted the four shops that sell graphic novels, here are my opinions and comparisons between the shops.

Please note, before anyone gets heated up arguing for or against one shop, this is entirely MY opinion based on the products that were available in each shop, shop space, variety of products, etc. Even though I returned to most shops for a second day, I've really only spent perhaps half an hour tops in each shop. Also, apart from the "hi/bye" greetings, I've only really interacted with the person working at Quality Comics, chatting about comics.

Quality Comics has easily the largest shop space. It had a huge variety of graphic novels and single issues, and also sold a number of different manga and DVDs. Not enough manga that I'd go back to purchase specific titles I'd be after because there wasn't enough variety. The shop assistant who engaged me in conversation was extremely helpful, friendly and knowledgeable, which is always a plus!

Quality Comics seemed to have best and lowest prices. There were heaps of back issues and I really liked the fact that the displayed single issues and graphic novels were all coverface-up, that is, you could see the front covers displayed as opposed to having to tilt your head to one side to check out what graphic novel it was from the book's spine. This makes it really easy to see if there was something that one is particuarly after; perhaps the comics can be displayed this way because of the huge amount of space in the shop.

Comiczone, while having a smaller space size, certainly used it very well. The majority of the shelved graphic novels couldn't be displayed coverface-up and you had to identify graphic novels by the book spine, but the latest and most popular graphic novels were all displayed so that you can see the front cover. It works well this way too because not only does it save space, but it's not always very often that someone would be looking for an old graphic novel...and if they were, they could always ask the people working in the shop, who appeared extremely friendly just like I remembered the last time!

The single issues were also displayed coverface-up. The difference between Comiczone and the rest, and this is a really good thing that I like, was the fact that they didn't put barcode pricetags on the graphic novel/single issue (or protective sleeve); the pricetag is actually on the shelf itself, keeping the comic free from blemishes! As you can imagine, this would mean that they would need a very organised and tidy shelving system, which they had. The other shops also had a very good shelving system, but I think Comiczone's stands out.

They also had quite a number of single back issues, though not as many as Quality Comics. And they were still giving out free button-badges! I didn't grab any this time around though. And Comiczone certainly seems to also support local comics and local comic creators; from memory I believe Ben Templesmith is an avid supporter of Comiczone (he buys his comics here too, perhaps, if Mr Templesmith DOES indeed purchase comics?) and I saw the business card of a Paul Spencer, who I believe is a local comics letterer.

Empire Toys had about the same shop space as Comiczone but a lot more product. Everything was organised neatly into product type; there was an aisle specifically for toys and action figures, another for graphic novels and one more for manga. They even had a specific section for anime/Japanese merchandise and products and one for DVDs!

Empire Toys had the most variety of manga titles and I know if I were to look for a specific manga title or back issue, that would be the first place I would start as it would be more likely that I'd find it at Empire Toys. They also sold a variety of animated/comic-related/pop culture-related DVDs, the most of all the shops that I'm comparing.

They didn't have a lot of single issues though; those that were available were of titles by "mainstream" creators like My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way's Umbrella Academy, Stephen King's Dark Tower and Joe Hill's Locke and Key. It also seemed that the graphic novels here were the most expensive of the shops compared.

Fantastic Planet specialises in selling science fiction novels, so as you can imagine, it had the smallest shop space and most of the product were novels. They did have a small graphic novel section though, and there was a table in the middle of the shop space with some of the more famous graphic novels displayed on the table.

Most of the graphic novels they had were by acclaimed comic authors like Alan Moore; Watchmen, Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta, Top 10; Frank Miller; Daredevil, Sin City; and Neil Gaiman; Sandman. They also sold acclaimed series like Preacher. So not a lot of variety if you're after graphic novels, but it certainly catered to those sci-fi lovers who wanted to dabble in the graphic novel medium.

So which is the best shop? Well, that's the beauty of it...there IS no best shop. Each shop had its own key strengths and would appeal to different demographics. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

If I were after manga or toys/action figures, I'd go to Empire Toys.

If I were after science fiction novels, I'd go to Fantastic Planet.

And I'd be happy to go to either Quality Comics or Comiczone for my single issues and graphic novels; probably Quality Comics if I'm looking for old back issues/graphic novels, and Comiczone for comic-related products such as busts.

If you're living in Perth and are a comic book fan, you're certainly spoilt for choice! It's good being a comic book fan in Perth.

The return of Captain America is imminent!

Start counting down, ladies and gents, because after more than two years, Steve Rogers is set to return to the Marvel 616 Universe (that's the regular Marvel Universe for those who aren't in the know)!

The American icon returns in issue #600...how can the numbering system jump from the #40s to #600 you wonder? Well, Marvel are going back to the original numbering system and the return issue would be Cap's 600th issue, if you add up all the issues from the various series.

Ed Brubaker's run on the current Captain America series has been hailed as one of the greatest ever and even though I don't buy the single issues of the regular series (I'm awaiting for the Omnibus instead...already have Volume One which reprints the first 25 issues of Brubaker's run on the title), I'll be sure to run out to grab Captain America #600!

The article about Steve Rogers' return is featured here on the Marvel.com website:

Reborn Revealed

Monday, June 15, 2009

Perth Comic Shops! Part Deux

So here I am in Perth again...six weeks short of having first come here two years ago! Of course, without it needing to be said, I absolutely had to check out the Perth comic shops, despite spending about half a day less here, compared to the last trip.

I certainly remember a couple of comic shops from my last visi, both located along Hay Street in the Perth CBD: Comicszone and Quality Comics.

I also remember there were quite some heated arguments regarding which was the better Perth comic shop in the nearly two years since I posted up the original blog entry, Perth Comic Shops! .

I didn't realise my innocent blog entry would open up such a huge can of worms, but everyone's entitled to their opinions and there didn't seem to be anything deragatory or too inflammatory so there was no need to cull any comments. Those comments are still there for anyone who wants to join in the debate:

Comments from visitors after the original blog entry

Thankfully, there was no unwanted negative exposure of my little blog...and I still maintain it's a VERY little blog that hardly anyone ever visits...I have this blog because I love my comics and video games and pop culture and whenever I want to post something up for posterity's sake, this is the best place for me to express my opinions.

Anyway! Enough of that. By the time anyone reads this new blog entry, I'd probably have been back in Melbourne for a couple of weeks (or more likely, months), happily continuing my comic-shopping-patronage with Classic Comics.

Of course, Classic Comics doesn't have everything I'm looking for and when I can't get something from there or Comics R Us or Minotaur, when in a different country or state, since I'm already compelled to go visit the other comic book shops in that country/state/city, might as well go hunting for those comics that I can't get to add to my collection, hey?

I knew exactly where Comicszone (I seem to remember it being known as The Comic Zone back in 2007...a name change prehaps?) and Quality Comics was along Hay Street, but I wanted to see if I could find any other comics and pop culture shops in the Perth CBD. So I did some research via the trusty yellow pages AND just taking a walk along Hay Street on Sunday evening.

There were five such shops in the Perth CBD, four along Hay Street itself and one along Shafto Lane:

Comiczone - 572 Hay Street
Quality Comics - 872 Hay Street
Empire Toys - 856 Hay Street
Tokyo Underground - The Basement, 816 Hay Street
Fantastic Planet - Shop 8, Shafto Lane

I also saw a sign for Infinite Planet, with Boba Fett on the sign itself, but I believe this shop has been replaced by Tokyo Underground/Freaks + Geeks, since they share the exact same address. Or maybe it's the exact same shop that has just had a name change! Not quite sure there.

Anyway, Comiczone and Quality Comics focused on selling comics and graphic novels. Comiczone seemed to also sell quite a number of pop culture/movie related toys; there were movie Watchmen action figures/toys as well as some busts in the shop display window. Quality Comics a bigger store space and seemingly more comics/graphic novels on display!

The one thing that was a change from two years ago, which surprised me, was that the Quality Comics single issues and graphic novels (in both the tradepaperback and hardcover variety) were on the whole cheaper than Comiczone, which certainly didn't seem to be the case two years ago when I was here.

I just did some very quick price comparisons and the new single issues and graphic novels were a bit cheaper at Quality Comics. Not quite sure whether this was due to the large "under new management" sign that was on the wall as I was walking down the steps into Quality Comics...perhaps in the two years I was away, Ben Templesmith was right in his comment in suggesting that having more than one comic shop in Perth would be good, competition-wise! Hey, with freedom of choice, the people that would win out would be the patrons.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find what I was looking for; to be honest, I doubt I'd be able to find it anywhere else, so this is certainly not a knock on either shops' stocks. The stuff I'm after is pretty much impossible to find nowadays, which is WHY I cannot find them in the Melbourne shops (or online) and why I actually have to go elsewhere in an attempt to find them:

The Absolute League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol.1 Hardcover
The Absolute Authority Vol.1 Hardcover
New X-Men Omnibus Hardcover
Absolute Planetary Hardcover
Absolute Danger Girl Hardcover
Alias Omnibus Hardcover
Stardust Hardcover
Young Avengers Hardcover

Heck, these aren't even available on Amazon and some of the more famous American comic book shops (unless one's willing to pay exorbitant prices for them), so I wasn't really expecting a miracle that any of the Perth comic shops would be stocking them.

I did pick up the following books from Quality Comics: new Batman and Robin #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (since I had read that it was just selling out everywhere...this wouldn't even be someting I'd consider as part of my grab list normally!), The Sentry TPB that had its price slashed by about half, School Rumble Volume 9 (manga), which I haven't been able to find in Melbourne, and Boys Be Volume 16 (manga) which was cheap at $5!

The one thing that really impressed me was the the guy serving me at Quality Comics engaged me in a conversation regarding the Morrison and Quitely team, which I quite enjoyed. Don't get enough opportunities to talk about comics to my other friends, so I always welcome a comics or pop culture related chat!

So I've had two extremely positive experiences, one each at Comiczone and Quality Comics. As someone who's travelled all the way here from Melbourne, let me just say it's really impressive and you guys are doing a fantastic job!

I didn't expect to find anything but toys, action figures and the like at Empire Toys, but was pleasantly surprised when I saw a huge collection of graphic novels on the shelves! Couldn't find stuff from the list of comics I was after above (once again, not a knock against the shop!) and the prices were a bit more expensive than the same items sold at Quality Comics.

Tokyo Underground reminded me a lot of Tamarket back in Melbourne in that it sold anime and Japanese-related products...lots of Nintendo products there! They also sold quite a bit of costumes for the budding cosplayers out there! Got myself a blue mushroom (from Super Mario Bros) keychain for myself and a Totoro tote bag and a Totoro foldable-fan for Aeris.

Haven't gone to Fantastic Planet yet, and I don't think I'll make a trip there unless I have some free time. I certainly saw that they sold graphic novels but it seems like a shop that focuses more on selling sci-fi novels.

The variety of comic and pop culture shops in the Perth CBD itself is certainly extremely impressive! Perth comic book geeks: you guys are so lucky and I'm so envious of you! Variety is the spice of life and you can have your pick of shops...once again, the patrons are the winners!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Review: Rhythm Heaven for Nintendo DS

When I was at Forest Hill last Thursday, purchased a new game by Nintendo for the DS: Rhythm Heaven (also known as Rhythm Tengoku in Japan):

I read a bit about this game from the previews in both Ultimate Nintendo Magazine and Official Nintendo Magazine, but while the premise seemed pretty keen and kooky, I didn't think it was something that I'd be spending my money on.

As one might already guess from the title "Rhythm Heaven", this game is a rhythm/music-type game where one had to coordinate one's actions with the stylus to the beat prompts on the screen. Think games like any of the Dance Dance Revolution games in arcades, the Guitar Hero line of games, Samba de Amigo on the Wii and one of my personal favourites, Elite Beat Agents on the DS.

I've been a huge fan of Elite Beat Agents ever since Dean introduced me to the game not long after I first purchased my DS Lite in 2007. There was something so unbelievable "attractive" about three Men-In-Black-esque secret agents using dance to solve mundane problems and eventually, save the world. The premise of the game might have been kooky, but the game played brilliantly!

After all, what other game would you be able to use your stylus to tap in time with the rhythmic beats of such classics like The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash", Earth, Wind and Fire's "September" and perhaps the most overplayed track of all in the game (at least by Aeris), The Village People's "YMCA"?

Ok, sure those tracks weren't the originals by the original groups/singers, and were just covers, but they were covers that were done pretty well! And who cares if the music wasn't original...it's the gameplay that matters! And Elite Beat Agents worked just brilliantly; to this day, I'm still aching to play the Japanese equivalent (and precursor to the English version of Elite Beat Agents): Ouendan!

So, a game like Rhythm Heaven, which was similar to Elite Beat Agents in so many ways...surely I would be purchasing this game right? Nah.

For one, I thought it would be just another run-of-the-mill rhythm game and wouldn't have anywhere close to the charm of Elite Beat Agents. Sure, it had more than just tap-tap-tapping, including flicking the stylus and "reverse-tapping", where you keep the stylus on the screen and pull it upwards to "hit" a beat, but surely that wouldn't be enough variation for me!

So I wasn't going to get the game. That is, until, I saw the TV advertisements for the game.

In fact, see for yourself!

This was the ad that convinced me the game would be fun enough to purchase! Add to the fact that someone from Ecogamer had found a pretty cheap release price of $34.95 at Target (most places had the game for sale at $44 which is a pretty good price already), so I was sold on the game!

So what's so good about the game? Well, it's fun. Really fun. I mean REALLY REALLY fun. It would seem like filling up robots with oil or returning ping pong balls and even being a "groupie" at a Japanese concert would be too weird for a game, but somehow, Nintendo have made Rhythm Heaven one of the hottest selling games ever with its simple but addictive mini-rhythm games!

Just the first game alone, while simple, hooked me onto the game. Called "Built to Scale", it involved you flicking the stylus when it reached the "So" portion of Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So. The next game, "Glee Club" is easily my favourite game so far. You're the third singer in a trio of singers and your mouth remains open...until the stylus touches the screen, which closes your singer's mouth. Cue a jazz song and you need to "sing" in time to the beat! If you don't, the two other singers in the trio give you the stink-eye.

I'm a bit iffy on the third game, "Fillbots", where you fill up a couple of robots on an assembly line with oil/fuel, but I really like "Fan Club", the fourth game, where you're a monkey groupie that needs to gee up the crowd by clapping your hands (by tapping the stylus) and basically making a monkey of yourself...which is quite appropriate because the groupies are all monkeys!

And then there's the 1st remix, which is a combination of the first four games, mixed up with a nice beat. I've only played the first six games, but already I'm having heaps of fun, and I think I'll be bringing this game with me when I go for a short holiday in Perth!

Incidentally, while on the topic, that means I'll probably get to visit the two fantastic Perth comic shops too. Just a quick aside and back to the review.

This game is too fun not to have. And at the cheap introductory price of $34.95 at Target (or $44 which is still pretty good, if the Target offer expires), you can find out why it's selling so well and why there's so much hype in Japan about this game! And you might as well get a nice 150 Club Nintendo points when you register this game with your Club Nintendo account.

So to leave you, just another Rhythm Heaven ad featuring Beyonce playing my favourite mini-game so far: Glee Club!

Built to Scale

Glee Club

Friday, May 15, 2009

Review: World of Goo

Just downloaded one of the simplest and yet immensely enjoyable games from the Nintendo WiiWare site this week: World of Goo.

I have read quite a number of rave reviews about this little game by independent games developer 2D Boy from the two Nintendo magazines I subscribe to, Official Nintendo Magazine and Ultimate Nintendo Magazine. And since I finally got my Wii hooked up to the internet in the past week, and I had some Nintendo Points that were won in an eBay auction, I decided to download this title to see what the fuss was all about.

Now at 1500 Nintendo Points, World of Goo is most expensive game one can download from the Nintendo Shop online, from both the Virtual Console and WiiWare line of games. With 1000 Wii Points costing AUD$15, the World of Goo game costs a hefty $22.50, perhaps a piddling in price compared to the latest Wii games released in shops, but well higher priced than classic goodness like the Super Mario Bros line of games or some of the Zelda games available on the Virtual Console.

Let me just say that World of Goo is well worth the high price tag.

I haven't even cleared the first chapter yet but have already spent quite a number of hours on this game. It is fun, simple, addictive and immensely replayable. It has all the hallmarks of a classic game and even though I hadn't read the rules to the game, it took me about a few seconds to work out how to play the game and what the objective was!

In a nutshell, the game involves you controlling a whole bunch of globular "goo" balls in order to build structures, horizontally or vertically. Each chapter has various stages but the main objective is always the same: there is a "vent" or an "exit point" and you need to build your structures with the goo balls so that the tip of the structure is close enough to the exit point and your goo balls can then escape the level and you can move onto the next one.

That's really it. It's that simple. It's not an easy game to play though as a lot of strategy is involved. Your goo balls are alive: think those little black "ball" creatures in Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away", where they are malleable, constantly moving and have those big little eyes for comedic effect. That's what the goo balls look like.

In some instances, once a goo ball has been used to form part of a structure, it becomes an inanimate "joint". This is where one has to be careful: you have a limited number of goo balls in each level and you have a set number of goo balls you need to help "escape" from that level. So you can't just use up all your goo balls because if you do and you can't reach the set minimum number of goo balls escaping that level, you need to start the level again.

There ARE some levels where the goo balls remain animate even after using them as structure "joints" though. In those levels you can just "break" a goo ball off your structure and reposition it. So in those sorts of levels, if your structure falls apart, just like Lego blocks, you can take apart your goo balls and start all over again.

The physics of the game are pretty amazing and realistic. All too often I built a structure as high as I possibly could, only for it to come crashing down because it was just unstable at the bottom and couldn't sustain an even distribution of weight.

Found out that this game is also available on the PC, which makes sense: if you can use a Wiimote to point-and-click and build structures, of course you should be able to do the same with a mouse since a mouse offers greater accuracy and precision!

Which brings me to the little "mouse cursor" from the WiiWare version of the game. The "cursor" is a little black blob that is "malleable" in nature; it stretches, it bends and it forms shapes when you move the Wiimote quickly. Highly entertaining to watch the little cursor blob when you've got nothing better to do!

The graphics are top notch too, are is the music, which is a touch eerie. In fact, the game is very Tim Burton-esque: if Tim decided to stop making movies such as Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas and started his own game company, World of Goo would be the game that has all the traditional Burton hallmarks: dark, quirky and hauntingly beautiful.

World of Goo has also won multiple gaming awards as indicated in its Wikipedia entry here:

World of Goo Wikipedia entry

Simply put, this is a MUST GET if you own a Nintendo Wii and can get online to download the game. Heck, if you can't get it, because you can't get your Wii online (and I certainly sympathise with you if that is the case. It only took me about 2.75 years after first getting the Wii before I got it online!) or for whatever reason, get a friend to download the game into your console for you!

One of the most absorbing games you will ever play. It is well worth ANY price you pay for it. Heck, get it on PC if you have to!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Old handheld LCD games: a distant memory of my youth

Went to the post office yesterday and I signed for a package that contained the following Nintendo DS game:

No, this wasn't another game I purchased. On the contrary, this was a game that was SENT to me, free of charge, by Nintendo Australia, because I redeemed the Club Nintendo points that I had accumulated from the purchase of games like Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros, Wii Fit and the like!

The Game & Watch Collection was the most expensive item in the small list of redeemable goodies and the best of the lot...who needs a Mario towel or a Wii remote stand or even a DS game pouch? At least this was a game that you could play!

Nintendo made its name in the 90s with those tiny handheld LCD games that you could fit in the palm of your hand like Donkey Kong, Octopus and Parachute. In some of the games, you could control Mr Game & Watch, this black silhouetted character that ran around saving babies that were flung out of burning buildings, among other wacky things!

Mr Game & Watch made a return to Super Smash Bros Brawl where you can unlock and use him as a character and he's pretty fun to use too!I certainly remember those LCD games that were all the rage in the 80s when I was a kid. While I did have some of the Nintendo ones, though I can't remember exactly which ones now, the ones that were really popular during my youth were the Casio series of LCD games.

I certainly remember owning Submarine Battle and I played my friends' Western Bar and Kung Fu; these three were the most popular games in the Casio series, especially Western Bar!

Compared to today's modern games, these three games (and all other LCD games for that matter) are extremely dated, but back in the day, these games were AWESOME. The hours I spent on Submarine Battle, trying to beat my high score! Wow. A nice trip down memory lane for me.