Latest Game and Movie Reviews (Live Update)

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DS Tokyo Beat Down 7.1
Xbox 360 Fracture 8.0
MOVIE The Unborn 0
PC Left 4 Dead 8.7
Xbox 360 Mirror's Edge 8.5
MOVIE Dead Space Downfall 3.5
MOVIE The Day the Earth Stood Still 0.5
PSP Super Stardust Portable 9.7  CHOICE PICK
PSP Need for Speed Undercover 2.8
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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Time Capsule: Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo Revival (GBA)

The arcade in your hands.



Before the days of Capcom adding Marvel characters into its foray of fighting games what with titles like X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom, there was Street Fighter 2 and its many incarnations. A trip to the arcade during the mid-90s was never complete without Street Fighter 2. Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo Revival arrived a decade after that original Street Fighter 2, incorporating several of the updates that its other iterations introduced. The result is a comprehensive Street Fighter 2 package that no Street Fighter fan and fighting game fan alike should do without.

To start off with, this game, while essentially an on-the-go entertainment piece, doesn’t scrimp on its presentation. There are certainly a few changes here and there, but there’s really nothing major that will affect the gameplay. The graphics are on par with that of the original arcade version – character models are huge and detailed and the backgrounds are vibrant. The music and sound effects make a perfect transition as well. The animations are great, though slowdowns can be noticed during some instances. That minor flaw can be easily compensated by the lack of any load time, however.

Perhaps more noteworthy are the characters here. An initial cast of 16 fighters would be available from the get-go, with more to be unlocked progressively. What I like about this game is that each of these characters is neither too weak nor overpowered; in fact, each of them is balanced. Dhalsim may seem one of the more powerful characters at first what with his Mister Fantastic-esque stretchable legs and arms and teleportation abilities, but after toying around with different characters, I am convinced that each fighter does indeed have his or her own strengths and weaknesses. E. Honda, for instance, appears intimidating and devastating with his size advantage and quick hand moves, but he can actually be defeated with a succession of high and low kicks. Balancing each of the 16 characters is definitely no simple task, but the fact that Capcom has accomplished this makes the game even more impressive.

Another thing going for this game are the controls. The GBA, with its limited 4 button configuration, may seem unfit for a fighting game, especially Street Fighter 2, which needs at least 6 buttons. But what Capcom has done is to offer us a solution that makes playing this game a cinch even though the GBA only has 2 face buttons and 2 shoulder buttons. For instance, a quick tap on the A button initiates a low kick, but holding down on it allows you to execute a medium kick. In theory, the controls may be a tad tricky, especially when you are in the heat of a battle, but in action, it works perfectly. The round it all off, the controls are pretty tight and responsive.

Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo Revival features all the bonus stages from the original, including the beat-the-car-up level and introduces quite a few new ones like training, survival and time attack. Versus mode allows you to square it off against a human opponent, but you would require a link cable to connect 2 GBAs together and 2 copies of the game. The versus mode is certainly a welcomed addition, cementing the fact that Street Fighter 2 on the GBA is just as good as, if not better than, the original arcade rendition. This is really the arcade in the palms of your hands.

I have only one more thing to nit-pick about this game: Why is there only one winning speech for each character? It gets a little boring after a while.

Final Comments
Arcade goodness in the palms of your hands. The presentation here soars, and the controls make a perfect transition. The game features an impressive 16 characters, each balanced out, and that’s excluding unlockable ones. Retaining the modes from the arcade version, as well as adding in some new ones, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo Revival is as fantastic as it gets. If you own a GBA or a DS, get this.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Time Capsule - Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of the Super Heroes (PSX)

This port shouldn't have existed at all.



Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of the Super Heroes ranks up there as one of my most favorite arcade games of all time. I remember making quite a number of trips to the arcades every week just so I could play this game (didn’t have any console then). The superb animations, the frantic action and the ingenious tag-team battle mechanism kept me coming back even though I had already beaten the game several times over. How great it would be to be able to play this game from your living room couch, right? Wrong. While the Dreamcast version was a perfect arcade-to-console port, the PSX version is anything but – it shouldn’t even have existed.

This game brings the best of both worlds together: Marvel is represented by some of their most well-known characters like Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America, War Machine, to name a few, while Mega Man, Captain Commando and some of the Street Fighters characters take to the stage for Capcom. The ability to pit Spider-Man against Mega Man has me all hyped up, but imagine my utter disappointment when I discovered that there are only 15 main characters to choose from. The rest of the Marvel and Capcom characters make up the special heroes cast, a list of fighters you can select from to assist you in your match via the performance of quick attacks. However, only one such ‘helper’ can be selected in any given match and each of these characters’ screen-time is considerably limited as they aren’t really involved in the fight because they only appear for a second to initiate the assistance attack before moseying along yet again. It seems that the line-up isn’t really that ultimate as I’d expect afterall.

The PlayStation should be in no way responsible for the disappointing line-up as the matter of concern is indigenous to the original arcade game. What is of concern, however, is the absence of the tag-team battle mechanism here. The tag-team battle mechanism is that one mind-blowing thing about Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of the Super Heroes and taking it away just entirely destroys the crux of the game. While I understand that the lack of the tag-team battle mechanism can be attributed to the PlayStation’s limited RAM, the aforementioned is quite simply unforgivable. Why? Because this game is not this game without the tag-team battle mechanism. In other words, this port shouldn’t have existed at all because the PlayStation doesn’t do justice to the original.

Capcom offers us some consolation in the form of characters who are constantly self-healing, albeit gradually, as they fight – similar to the concept of self-healing tag-team partners who are being rested while their compatriots battle. But it doesn’t help that Capcom attempts to trick us into believing that there is actually a tag-team battle mechanism in this PSX port by offering us the option of choosing a partner in the character selection screen. How atrocious! If it’s 1 vs. 1, make sure it’s indicated clearly that it’s 1 vs. 1. Can’t Capcom obey that simple rule?

On the graphical front, this PSX port does not differ too much from the original arcade game, but the audio feels more compressed. What this translates into is audio that is of poorer quality. But by the time you notice the audio, this PSX port is already beyond hope. That says it all.

Final Comments
If you want to play Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of the Super Heroes, either make a trip down to the arcades (though this game might have been removed from the list of games offered at some arcades long ago) or immerse yourself in the Dreamcast port. Those are the only 2 respectable ways to satisfy your nostalgia. This PSX port? Don’t bother. It has ‘Ignore Me’ written all over it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Time Capsule: Metal Slug X (PSX)

No coins needed. Enjoy it as much as you want.



I remember watching people play Metal Slug X on the coin-operated arcade machines when I was a kid. But I didn’t actually go to play the game as the Metal Slug X arcade machines were famed for being coin devourers. One coin was never enough as you would probably die several times in the game – not surprising given the game’s insane number of on-screen enemies and bosses that fill up almost the entire screen. As of the time of this writing, the arcade operator hasn’t pulled the plug on the Metal Slug X machines (though my favourite Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is gone), but why make a trip to the arcade when Metal Slug X goodness can be available right in your home?

Reviewing retro titles like this could be a little difficult for me as I missed the PSX, N64 and Dreamcast era – totally. I only owned my first console, the original Xbox, in 2004 and my first console game was Halo. Yes, I started playing video games before 2004, but my knowledge (or rather, awareness) of video games then was only limited to the PC. By the time I landed my hands on my first console game, games were already rendered in full 3D, with polygonal count far exceeding that of games from preceeding consoles. And so in 2008, Metal Slug X became the first ever retro game I could get my hands on.

However, even for its time, the genre that Metal Slug defined – the side-scrolling shooter, was already deemed archaic. 3D games were fast becoming popular and 2D games were on the way out, so Metal Slug X definitely needed something to keep players engaged – and it succeeded; it showed why gamers should still reserve their judgments until they have completed a game.

While the backgrounds in Metal Slug X are essentially static 2D images, they are rendered in one of the most desirable fashions possible such that the game looks really gorgeous. The fantastic backgrounds are complemented by the on-screen animations, which are in every way top-notch. Each of the 4 selectable characters has different animations, all of which are really interesting. Perhaps more noteworthy is the amount of personality that has been injected into the enemies. Soldiers turn on their bellies and laugh when you die. Or they may grip their bellies and emit a hysterical laugh, even making faces sometimes. And when you reappear after you hit the continue button, they stretch their arms into the sky and shriek (observe the distortion on their small faces as well). In one instance, after you defeat a mid-boss, he falls into a canal and gets chewed by a killer whale. The former, coupled with the aforementioned, makes for a pretty humorous presentation, so this game’s isn’t just about all-out shooting, but also about the appreciation of such subtle, but thoughtful, details.

Speaking of action, this game scores. There are a total of 6 main missions, each occurring in a varying world and each of these worlds has a very discernible theme to it. For example, some worlds have mummies as enemies, while some have aliens and UFOs, though soldiers are present in every world. As mentioned, each mission is populated by quite an impressive number of enemies and bosses that takes advantage of the screen size, resulting in them being almost hundred times bigger than you. To counter these enemies, there are a number of weapons that can be equipped via power-ups, including shotgun, heavy machine gun, rocket launcher, laser gun and a handful of others that are more specific and unique. However, like the grenades, the ammo for these power-up-attained weapons is limited, and after the ammo has been used up, you would revert back to your default pistol. Each of the weapons has a sound effect to it, and I must say that they are equally, if not more, stunning than the animations. The music suits the action very well too.

The only complain I have with Metal Slug X is that it is simply too short. You can romp through all the 6 missions in 1 hour if you are fast, and in 1.5 hours at the slowest (at least on the default difficulty, normal mode, that is). Adjusting the difficulty would only increase the lifebar of enemy slugs, helicopters, bosses and what not, so there still isn’t much of a proper challenge, perhaps even cheap, if you will. After completing all the 6 missions, some bonus missions would be unlocked, but those are merely mini-missions that require you to accomplish very specific objectives. One of them includes throwing rocks from your train carriage to the enemy’s carriage. Hit them with the rocks and they fall to the tracks. Each of these mini-missions would only last a couple of minutes, and while there are quite a number of them, I wouldn’t put a bet on them extending the total playtime of the game by more than 30 minutes. Well, there are still bonus illustrations, but that isn’t saying much.

Final Comments
Arcade goodness right from your couch. What more could you ask for? Frantic action, a distinctively unique presentation of humor, great sound effects and amazing 2D backgrounds and animations. This is Metal Slug X – a side-scrolling shooter that any self-professed shooting fan should play. It is a pity that it’s over almost too quickly.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Game Review: Soul Bubbles

A masterpiece inside this bubble.



The Good:
Intuitive controls * Each world introduces a new theme on which new puzzles that force you to use your bubbles in different and creative ways are built upon, ensuring that there are always new challenges around the corner * While game gets hard towards the end, it is never cheap * Amazing visuals and music

The Bad:
Game never seems to reward you enough

It’s easy to pass this off as ‘just another one’ given the increasingly huge number of puzzle game garbage that has been taking up unnecessary shelf space in the stores in recent months, but you would be doing yourself a great disservice if you let Soul Bubbles slip out of your sight. While the DS game library does have a rather impressive number of puzzle games, rarely has one been created with the ingeniousness of this game. Soul Bubbles is a definition of an almost perfect DS puzzler – it is the result of what a puzzle game can really accomplish on a DS if developers invest enough passion, effort and thought into their game.

The premise of this game is simple enough. You’re a shaman’s apprentice and you are tasked with transporting some blue glowing spirits. As they are too fragile on their own, they have to be enclosed inside bubbles. These bubbles of spirits can be moved to their destinations by blowing them in the right direction. It may seem easy, but each map is populated by both greedy critters which want to steal the spirits and environmental hazards.

Right after the tutorials, you would be provided with 3 tools that are essential to the navigation of your bubbles through the said obstacles. The tiger mask, when donned, allows you to split your bubbles into smaller portions. This is required when a single bubble is too big to squeeze through a small opening or when you want to split your bubbles up to explore branching pathways. The tiger mask also allows you to join your split bubbles back together and cut a select number of obstacles like sticky tape and vines out of the way. The parrot mask, on the other hand, gives you the ability to draw new bubbles, which are useful for collecting out-of-the-way stardust. These new bubbles can also be joined with current bubbles to make them bigger. The last tool, the elephant mask, allows you to deflate bubbles. This comes in handy when you want to make your bubbles smaller so that you can better handle them. The elephant mask also allows you to deflate empty bubbles and certain enemies.

The sheer variety of action that you can execute to your bubbles may seem intimidating, but the intuitive controls make certain the aforementioned isn’t going to be a problem. You blow your bubbles in the desired course by sliding your stylus in the relevant direction. Moving to a selected location on the map has also been made convenient: you can either slide your stylus along the edge of the screen to move the map or hit the down button on the d-pad to bring down the map and touch the precise area of it where you want to skip to, and the game transports you to that particular location instantly. Each of the different tools has also been mapped appropriately to the d-pad: the right button for the tiger mask, the up button for the parrot mask and the left button for the elephant mask. For lefties, there is the option of using the face buttons as well.

Now that the basic game mechanics have been explained, let’s get down to core of the game itself. While you would expect a puzzle game to be generally consistent in its challenges throughout, which causes it to become pretty stale after a while, the developers of Soul Bubbles think otherwise. There are a total of 8 worlds, each consisting of 5 levels (or maps). The unique thing about Soul Bubbles is that each world has a distinctive theme to it – and each of the themes extends beyond the mere certainty of a different look and feel of each world – and to the puzzles (or obstacles). For instance, the third world introduces fire to the mix of challenges and forces you to play around creatively with water-filled bubbles in order to douse the flames. The fifth world, on the other hand, introduces projectile-shooting abilities to you, opening up the opportunities for inventive puzzles where you need to aim and adjust the angle of your shot precisely from a distance so that your projectile hits a switch which unlocks a barrier. The seventh world marks the entrance of weight-based puzzles as you fill your bubbles with either heavy or light gases to maneuver them through barriers. The result is a game that injects new challenges with increasingly imaginative puzzles every 5 maps, so there’s always something refreshing and surprising around the corner. And never once in my playtime with this game did I feel bored. Few puzzle games can claim to offer this – and that includes puzzle games on other platforms.

With increasingly imaginative puzzles comes an increasingly higher difficulty level as you progress through the game. The first few worlds may be easy, perhaps too easy, but from the fifth world onwards, things grow infuriatingly challenging (and demanding). How else can you explain having to find your bearings in a tightly enclosed maze with spike shooting flutes at every corner? Or pushing your bubble through a tunnel of spikes? However, the game never resorts to being cheap and that is one thing I like about it. If you can’t get through an obstacle, you are either incapable of handling your bubbles with the utmost precision in tight areas or inefficient at dodging that projectile shot at you. Some collectibles in the later worlds are also well hidden or placed in such a way that you have to solve some perplexing puzzles prior to getting to them.

Presentation-wise, Soul Bubbles shines as well. As far as 2D backgrounds are concerned, this is the best. They are one of the most beautiful you will ever find on the DS – and when paired with elegant effects like the graceful ‘swoosh’ of flower petals as the wind descends upon them, there is no doubt that the visuals here are in a league of their own. The calm and soothing music feels really right at home here – it brings an air of insouciance to the gameplay, and ends up capturing the entire feel of the game perfectly. On its own, it is worth listening to as well.

The only gripe I have with this game is that it doesn’t seem to reward you enough. There are stardust and calabash to collect, but even if you fail to collect all, or even collect any at all, the game allows you to progress. Those who do manage to collect every nook and cranny present in each map aren’t rewarded with anything special – it’s just a trophy with a grade, your timing and statistics, no questions asked. May I ask what’s the point of putting in effort to try to gather everything in each map then? The lack of online leaderboards of some sort, while not necessary, would have been a nice touch too.

But do note that these gripes are not really complains. What I am doing here is – quite simply, nit-picking. Soul Bubbles is by far the best puzzle game on the DS – it is a good DS game – it is a very good game.

Final Comments
Really good puzzle games for the DS are hard to come by these days, so when one really comes by, you should grab it. Soul Bubbles is the quintessence of a good DS puzzler: it rethinks of what the DS is really capable of with its touch screen, builds a concept around it, and adds in some really creative ideas. To complete the icing on the cake, it throws in some really high presentation values. So there you have: a masterpiece that must never be missed. If you have a DS, you MUST get this game. Its box art may be misleading but you should know not to judge the book by its cover. This is a certain contender for DS puzzle game of the year. That says it all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Movie Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the cinema to see this journey.


RATING: 3.5/5


I have been seeing Brendan Fraser – well, not literally, but on screen. Having just watched Fraser’s other film, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor a little over a week ago, I can’t help but to be a tad circumspect about this film – especially after putting into consideration how The Mummy reeked of nonsense. But the amazing trailers for this movie blew away such inimical thoughts almost instantaneously and after watching this family-friendly flick, I am certain there needs to be a dichotomy between The Mummy and Journey to the Center of the Earth: The Mummy is just plain bad, but this film, while not perfect, is satisfying.

As it title suggests, Journey to the Center of the Earth is based loosely on the Jules Vernes novel of the same name. Chances are that most of you would have already read the novel before so you know what to expect. The film begins with archaeologist-cum-professor-cum-lecturer (that’s quite a remarkable job title) Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) welcoming his teenage nephew Sean (Josh Hutcherson) for a stay-over at his residence. Almost too coincidentally, he opens a box of old possessions after Sean arrived and discovers his brother’s (in other words, Sean’s father) writings about the Center of the Earth in well, a paperback version of Journey to the Center of the Earth. It turns out that his brother, Max, believed in what was penned in the novel and embarked on a journey to seek out the unseen world. He never came back. Trevor’s discovery, coupled with Sean’s will to relieve his all-too-vague nostalgic memories of his late father, reignite both parties’ intrigue in the Center of the Earth. On their quest to find an entrance to the Center of the Earth, they got lost and have to enlist the services of a mountain guide, Hannah (Anita Briem), who proceeds to accompany them on their journey.

I didn't know that they have a roller coaster ride beneath the Earth's surface!

A journey filled with hazards at every corner and turn, I would say. And on that count, this film nails it hands down. Once our adventure threesome locates the entrance to the Earth core, the crux of the movie begins and the thrill gets progressively better. There isn’t a doubt that the director, Eric Brevig, has done an excellent job at keeping things suspenseful throughout. Rarely has the action been let go, and even if it has, there is only a handful of seconds to either take delight in the many wonderful waterfalls and mythical creatures or attain a breather from the preceeding action sequences. While I shall not reveal details of the several nail-biting events that happen to our dear adventurers as they journey to the Center of the Earth so as to keep this review spoiler-free, I would say that each of them has been with utmost meticulosity such that each one is as intensifying as, if not more than, the previous. The pacing of this film feels really right – so much so that this movie should be more or less the pacing benchmark for future fantasy flicks.

Unlike The Mummy, the CGI here is top-notch. This is all the more important as the film is shot is Digital 3D. It’s pretty safe to say that you can reel in the wonders of the CGI as it is screened in its full glory. It’s a pity that I did not watch this film in 3D, but in the conventional 2D as the ‘selected’ theaters which screen this film in 3D do not happen to be in my vicinity.

Perhaps the only gripe I have about this film is that it fails to flesh out any its primary characters although it only has 3 of them. A considerable portion of the film was dedicated to the action, which as mentioned, was done impeccably, leaving little time for character development, but that is certainly a poor excuse (if it is) for the neglecting the aforementioned. A suggestion would be to extend the runtime of the film so that it can accommodate the shedding of more light on each of the 3 primary characters. But all things said, we don’t have an idea of who the characters really are. Fortunately, the fantastic action sequences in this film do a brilliant job in drawing much of your attention away from this shortcoming, so more often than not, the lack of character development won’t be that noticeable.

Final Comments
Journey to the Center of the Earth may seem outwardly produced with the kids in mind what with its adorable birds and giant fishes, but it isn’t – in fact, this film provides delectation for cinema goers of all ages. The pacing is right on the spot, making this film suspenseful throughout. The CGI is very well done, more so emphasized with 3D viewing at selected cinemas. The lack of character development, while a flaw, isn’t that bad because the action more than compensates for it. Overall, this movie is 87 minutes of satisfying watch.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Game Review: Soul Calibur 4

Soul great, soul fun.



The Good:
Skill-based weapon fighting mechanic a boon * Each character is unique * Over 30 characters with guest stars from Star Wars * Great new features like Critical Finish and Armor Destruction * Solid character creation mode * Tower of Lost Souls mode provides a comprehensive single-player experience * Extended replayability with online multiplayer * Lots of unlockables * Strong graphics and music

The Bad:
Star Wars characters are rather imbalanced * Haphazard Story mode * Omission of tag-team battle in online multiplayer

If you have just enough money to pick up one fighting game, it would not be fallacious to say that you’re going to want to choose one that is different from all the others. But given the high rate at which fighting games are coming off the conveyor belt annually, each offering gameplay that is far too similar to each other, selecting your desired fighter may not be that easy afterall. Fortunately, the Soul Calibur franchise has always been one to deliver that distinct gameplay – switching the paradigmatic hand-to-hand combat for a more skill-based weapon fighting mechanic. Soul Calibur 4 doesn’t stray too far from that standard Soul Calibur formula, yet offers enough new features and characters in one competent package that would indubitably entice both veterans and new players alike.

Make no mistake. I have always loved the weapon-based fighting mechanic of the Soul Calibur franchise – Soul Calibur 4 doesn’t change that and that’s a good thing. With the usage of weapons comes a new layer of strategy that goes into each game of Soul Calibur 4. The game truly goes beyond what is typically needed to master a fighting game – a memorization exercise of convoluted move lists – and into the challenge of knowing how and when to parry an incoming attack and counter it with your own. It’s this aspect of Soul Calibur 4 that makes it the game that has one of the deeper, if not the deepest, fighting mechanic.

Depending on which weapon a particular character is equipped with, fighting styles from character to character will also differ, so each character in Soul Calibur 4 is unique – this, is another advantage of having a weapon-based fighting mechanic. When drawn into comparison with the usual hand-to-hand combat, the aforementioned has the ability to offer a better variety of skill sets. Considering that Soul Calibur 4 has a cast of over 30 characters, having each of those characters to be unique isn’t going to be simple – but the weapon-based fighting mechanic has made it possible.

Speaking of characters, there are some returning ones, including Kilik, Taki, Maxi, Ivy, Astraroth and Voodoo, as well as new ones. More noteworthy are special guests Yoda and Darth Vader, which are exclusive to the Xbox 360 version and PS3 version respectively – which means if you only have the Xbox 360 version, you won’t be getting Darth Vader, and if you only have the PS3 version, you won’t be getting Yoda. While I understand that the choice to not include both Star Wars characters in both versions may be due to promotional purposes, it’s odd nonetheless – and one that is a real bummer. The developers attempt to compensate for this by including The Apprentice, star of the forthcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, in both versions, though. Since I only have the Xbox 360 version with me, I will discuss about Yoda and The Apprentice.

To set the record straight, I must say that Yoda and The Apprentice are great additions to the rooster of characters. Instead of shuffling them into the game haphazardly like gimmicks, the developers actually dedicated the same amount of attention that has been given to all the other fighters in the game to these Star Wars characters. Like the other characters, both of them have their personal fighting styles and strengths. However, I find these 2 characters rather unbalanced. Yes, Yoda is short, but he is so short that a good number of attacks go over his head, leaving him unharmed. This makes him the choice character for players who would like to adopt a more defensive approach, but at the same time, it gives players who play as Yoda an unfair advantage. Furthermore, Yoda cannot be grabbed – which means he is immune against some of the moves in the game, including a couple of combos and hurls. The Apprentice, on the other hand, has the ability that no other fighter in Soul Calibur 4 has – the power to shoot projectiles. More often than not, these projectiles are shot when you least expect and can be considerably hard to defend against. He is also one of the more agile characters in the game – couple that with the said and you have a very capable character – but one that unbalances the entire game. A few well-placed tweaks to these 2 characters would be more than welcomed, though.

As far as new features and characters are concerned, the Star Wars dudes aren’t the only ones which made it into Soul Calibur 4. Significant to the fight are the all-new critical finish and armor destruction features. Basically, a critical finish, when executed, overwhelms your opponent in one devastating move – and depletes his or her lifebar instantaneously. However, a critical finish can only be performed when your opponent blocks excessively and completely drains his or her Soul Gauge meter. While it may sound intimidating, this brilliant feature will serve to discourage players from spending a ridiculous amount of time blocking and punishing them if they so choose to; the idea of this feature is to get players to truly engage in the game instead of resorting to cheap blocking and waiting for time-out to attain victory. Armor destruction, as it name suggests, allows you to crack the armor of your opponent if you deal enough damage to a specific spot. For instance, if you continuously swing your sword at the head of your opponent, his or her head armor will shatter and your opponent will become weaker. It’s a great feature that sinks more depth into the already-deep gameplay.

The fantastic list of features Soul Calibur 4 offers doesn’t stop here, though. Also key to this game is the character creation mode. This mode allows you to customize existing characters, as well as create new ones from the ground up. There’s a catch, however, if you want to create entirely new characters: you have to select the any of the fighting styles already possessed by the existing characters for your new character – what this means is that your new character won’t be actually unique, but more of carbon copies of existing characters. Look past that, though, and you will find a very rich character creation mode. There is a monumentally large variety of garments and accessories for you to play dress-up with your characters – much like Barbie Dolls if you will. As you play with each character, they will also level up, unlocking even more garments and accessories for you to toy around with. But it’s one thing to make a gorgeous female fighter and another thing to create a very skilled female fighter. You see, each piece of garment and accessory has statistics attached to it. For example, a piece of garment may provide more defense points than the other, or another garment may net you more speed than the other. What this translates into is that whatever garment and accessory you put on your character will affect his or her abilities and performances in the fight itself. Wherefore, your best fighter may not be the most gorgeous fighter; in fact, she may even look awful. You may also attribute specific skills to your characters such that one may have be immune to ‘Ring Out’, while the other may be more adept at reversing counterattacks. The real good news is that you can port your character to anywhere: you can use him or her in single-player mode – complete with cut-scenes that reflect his or her looks, or you can pit your character in the online arena. All in all, the character creation mode is one hell of a feature and it’s one that you would want to immerse yourself in for a good amount of time.

Now that we have gotten the features of the game expatiated upon, let’s get down to the single-player modes. Soul Calibur 4 sports the usual Arcade mode, Story mode, Versus mode, as well as its very own Tower of Lost Souls, but more on that later. What I want to touch on now is the Story mode, which is surprisingly very disappointing. While each of the characters has his or her personal story mode, the cut scenes for each character are the same. The exception is the final cut scene after your character defeats the sword holder. After playing story mode for quite a while, the cut scenes grow really predictable and stale. Moreover, before actually starting the ‘journey’ with each character, there will be a whole chunk of boring text scrolling up – and I can’t really be bothered to scan through the text – much less read novel-esque unsightly chunk of text. There also seems to be very little thought that went into the production of the Story mode as there are only 5 rounds for each character before the end credits show up. Yes, it’s very short because it only takes 10 minutes before I see the credits. The whole Story mode feels really ersatz, rushed and uncompleted – it doesn’t feel like it’s a real component of this game. The Arcade mode and Versus mode, however, are fine.

The crux of the single-player lies in the Tower of Lost Souls, which replaces the strategy-like Conquest mode from Soul Calibur 2 (that’s the previous Soul Calibur game I played because Soul Calibur 3 was only released on the PS2 and I don’t own a PS2). In a way, this mode is more straight-forward – now, I prefer that. This mode is so elaborate that they could just do away with the story mode and no one would have cared. Before engaging in this mode, you would have to choose whether to ascend of descend the tower. If you select ascend, there are 20 floors to fight through and at the end of which, you will battle the boss. Each set of floors or stage pits you (and sometimes your tag-team partner) against several enemies, say 2 vs. 7. There are also specific conditions to fulfil in each stage and garments and accessories for the solid character creation mode would be unlocked if you accomplish the said. Defeat all the opponents in a stage and you will progress up the tower. Being provided with the option to switch characters before every stage is useful. Descending the tower, however, is more challenging as you will need to choose 2 characters and stick with them throughout 20 floors. When you are not using a character, he or she will gradually regain health – much like in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Otherwise, descending the tower is similar to ascending the tower. Put together, this mode will initiate you to keep the game disc in the DVD tray for quite a while. Unlike Story mode, this mode offers a more comprehensive single-player experience.

Online multiplayer gives this game extra legs even after the single-player experience has been completed. Online multiplayer is a first for the Soul Calibur franchise and there is no better time to have this addition than now – because if a fighting game ships without online multiplayer in this day and age, it’s doomed. As expected, you can participate in either ranked or unranked matches. The omission of tag-team play is a little missed, though. Needless to say, the online multiplayer extends the replayability of Soul Calibur 4 in a big way.

Rounding off the whole game is the long long list of unlockables – and that’s already excluding garments and accessories for the character creation mode. There are concept artworks, images of real-life 3D character models, and videos to unlock – it just doesn’t get any better than this.

Final Comments
You won’t grow tired of the repeated tale about the Soul Swords – because this game’s just soul great and soul fun. Pardon the pun, please. The imbalanced Star Wars characters and haphazard Story mode are the only flaws of this otherwise features-rich and enjoyable game. Before I forget, the graphics and music in this game are equally, if not more, amazing as the other components of the game. The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game are identical save for the exclusive Star Wars characters and the ability to install the game onto the HDD on PS3. Whatever console you own, be it the Xbox 360 or the PS3, this game’s a no-brainer purchase.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Movie Review: The Love Guru

Mike Myers isn't a film guru, unfortunately.


RATING: 2.5/5


I haven’t had the greatest impression of The Love Guru before actually watching this film in the cinema – no thanks to the less than stellar trailers and one of the dumbest posters ever to be used as a promotional material. A suggestion by my friend to have a go at this film over the latest action film Journey to the Center of the Earth proved fatal as I stared at the screen in disbelief for 1.5 hours at how this movie managed to be so stale, uninspiring and stupid - as far as the jokes about male genitals are concerned, at least.

The Love Guru details the few days of Guru Pitka’s (Mike Myers) life as he travels from his hometown in India to the other side of the globe (America, to be exact) with a mission to aid Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco) in saving his marriage with Prudence Roanoke (Meagan Good) from L.A. Kings star Jacques Grande (Justin Timberlake) so that Darren can get back to his best and help Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup. During his ‘adventure’, however, he also becomes sexually attracted to his one of his employers, Toronto Maple Leafs owner Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba). To fulfill his dream of having his chastity belt removed so that he can truly love Jane, he must help those in need – which means he must accomplish his mission at all cost.

A smile worth staring.

If there’s anything good to be said about this film, it’s the plot, which may seem outwardly ridiculous and silly, but is actually quite interesting. Guru Pitka was born in America, but was abandoned at the gates of an ashram in India when he was still a baby. For the decades after, Pitka would be raised and cared for in India, making him to be more of an Indian than an American. Certainly, this is a creative way to inject some unique culture and personality into Myers' character – that of a Native Indian – something that has rarely seen the light at the end of the tunnel in Hollywood. And credit must be given to Myers for researching the culture and personality of the archetypal Indian thoroughly and channeling that research into the realistic portrayal of Pitka – complete with some really impressive Bollywood-esque song and dance sequences. The essence of the character was captured and the depiction of Pitka shines throughout the entire movie.

But beyond that, this movie is clearly second-rate. For other films, ‘a few decent laughs’ may actually be a good indication, but for The Love Guru, which is supposed to be an all-out comedy, the aforementioned phrase may not be enough. The humor in this movie may only turn out in these 3 ways: Words like Bible and Drama get turned into funny acronyms (What does each of the alphabets in ‘Bible’ represent? Yes, it’s funny, it’s one of the better jokes in this film, but you would have to find it out for yourself!). The male’s sexual organs are more often than not, the receiving end of the jokes. And lastly, humor is expressed via the conventional acting.

I am more or less satisfied with the humor told through acronyms. While there are some that are barely comprehensible, some are imaginative and will be sure to tickle your funny bone. On the other hand, jokes about cock and balls are relatively stale – haven’t we already heard about them in Austin Powers? But the bigger problem is that these jokes sound so infantile – so much so that they set me wondering whether the script was written by kids. A couple of jokes about genitals are fine, but it becomes disastrous when they are scattered generously throughout the whole movie. These overused jokes become really predictable, distasteful, unappealing and annoying – yeah, perhaps Mike Myers is obsessed about cock and balls, but sorry, the general public is not. Fortunately, the humor conveyed through action (ala Mr. Bean) is more inventive. Myers definitely needs to have more of this type of humor in his future films because almost always, jokes in this category stir up more laughter.

Final Comments
If not for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, this film would have been the worst movie I have seen this year – so far. While Mike Myers played his character with utmost competency, most of the humor in this film leaves much to be desired. The plot is interesting, but for an all-out comedy, this film just won’t cut it. The jokes involving acronyms and action are fine, but jokes about the male genitals are clearly recycled from Myers’ previous films, and they are infantile, predictable, distasteful, unappealing and annoying. Yeah, that’s 5 negative adjectives – and they are the only justified way to describe how retarded the jokes about cock and balls really are. Unfortunately, these jokes occupy much of the humor in the film – which means big portions of the film aren’t funny. The other notable stars in this film, Jessica Alba and Justin Timberlake, portrayed their respective characters appropriately, but that shouldn’t be mistaken for outstanding performances – because they are not.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Holiday 2008's Best Picks (Part 3)

The Locust is humankind's worst nightmare.

The mere imagination of the co-existence of monsters has always been enough to freak us out. That’s why game developers love monsters so much – there are so many games that are built around these creepy creatures. This holiday season isn’t going to be spared from all the monster madness either. And in part 3 of this special feature, Powerplay blog is going to show you one of the more prominent and thrilling forthcoming monster games. Are you ready?

Gears of War 2

Remember the Lightmass Bomb that was dropped right into the Locust’s underground base in Gears of War? Well, bad news: Not only did the Lightmass Bomb not manage to wipe out the Locust, it had also caused a portion of the remaining human population to be infected – most probably by radiation. And now, the Locust has found out that we humans are attempting to exterminate them and grown really aggressive. Portholes are swallowing cities by the whole and it seems that there is only one city left that’s still relatively safe: Jacinto. Humankind cannot afford to surrender and die and so it’s time for the COG soldiers to return to war with the Locust again. Enter Gears of War 2.

Need a little roast?

Most of the enemies from the first game return, but this time around, the Locust has something more brutal up its sleeve: a new variant of Boomer which is equipped with more armor and either a flamethrower or a Mulcher (name of a Gatling gun in the game). Both are new weapons, but more on those later. Ticker is another one of those new enemies in Gears of War 2 and this one is a suicide bomber – which means that it will take you down with it if you let it get too near to you. Fortunately, as it name suggests, it will make a ticking sound (ala a C4 explosive) as it approaches so its hovering presence can be acknowledged, giving you that split of a minute to search for it and gun it down before it finds you. Then there’s the Brumak, which if you recall, is one hell of a hulking beast with a pair of big guns on its shoulders – and one that you cannot fight in the Xbox 360 version of Gears of War. In Gears of War 2, however, you will get to go up against the Brumak as early as the second mission – and if you have played the Brumak-enabled PC version of Gears of War before, then you will be familiar with the strategy used to take down a Brumak. For the uninitiated, you need to blast its guns off prior to sending bullets into its head to defeat a Brumak.

Needless to say, it wouldn’t be fair if there weren’t new weapons for the COG soldiers to use to counter the new threats. That’s where the pair of the new aforementioned weapons comes into place. The flamethrower is pretty much self explanatory. While it’s powerful enough to toast many an enemy, equipping it makes you vulnerable to explosions that are caused by the shot gas tanks of the weapon – which means if you want to take a flamethrower-equipped enemy down, you can shoot at the weapon itself. The Mulcher, which is basically a Gatling gun, is a heavy weapon that will slow down and limit the moves of anyone who equips it. My guess is that you wouldn’t be able to roll into cover as rapidly as you’d like to be if you are equipped with the Mulcher. Another thing about the Mulcher is that it can also overheat. However, you can set the Mulcher up as a stationary Gatling gun emplacement and it will automatically gun down any enemy in its way. Place it strategically around corners and it would certainly spell death for your enemies. When in its stationary mode, the Mulcher can also be used as a piece of cover. Unlike the Mulcher, there haven’t been many details that have been revealed about another new weapon, but it is known that this new weapon works much like a Mulcher – except that it’s a mortar gun.

Chainsawing is a new sport

A host of old weapons are back as well – and that includes the Lancer, the weapon which has the nasty chainsaw on its underside. But accompanying these old weapons are new techniques of using them. For example, there are now specific active reloads for each weapon. Landing perfect active reloads would see the abilities of those weapons increased, though exact details of the upgrades are still under wraps. Chainsawing has also taken a new twist in Gears of War 2. When 2 players clash together with a chainsaw at the same time, a duel will take place. During this duel, you will be required to participate in a mini-game where you would need to hit the B button rapidly – the one who hits the B button at the fastest pace will win the duel and chainsaw the opponent. Besides the chainsaw duel, there are numerous other new chainsaw moves. Perhaps more noteworthy is the one where you overturn the Lancer, and proceed to cut the poor guy or Locust into half by moving the chainsaw from his groin up to his head. It all ends in a signature Gears of War blood fountain. Sweet.

The cover mechanism has been given equal, if not more, attention as well. Gears of War 2 will have what Epic Games calls ‘Meat Shield’ – which is well, a human shield (or Locust shield if you will). What this means is that you can grab an opponent, be it human or locust, and use him to shield yourself from incoming fire. It’s a creative idea and one that is definitely going to be enjoyed by many. But the downside is: You can’t grab just any opponent – you have to grab a fallen opponent. And the shield is not everlasting. As firepower pours down on it, it will degrade into a rotting mess until it is no longer usable – and that’s when you know you’ll have to move on and find another cover. There’s also ‘Rock Worm’. While I am not very sure what exactly this thing is, I can tell you that this thing’s neither your ally nor a Locust. It’s a living, moving rock – err, a worm – and it has been confirmed that bullets cannot penetrate it, so the idea is to use it as a piece of cover – but that’s possible only if you can keep up with it. As much as it is of a benefit to you, it is also a hazard. A good guess is that it would probably attack you if you are not careful. Certainly, all these balance things out so the alternative cover options wouldn’t be abused.

Alright, now that we have gotten the new stuffs out of the way, let’s get a taste of what the multiplayer’s going to be like. For a start, there isn’t going to be any 4 player co-op as suggested – but there will still be a 2 player co-op and Marcus and Dominic are the 2 playable characters. BUT this isn’t a reason to despair because Gears of War 2 does have something better – and that’s the Horde multiplayer mode. Basically, 5 players will team up to face waves after waves of Locust forces. As the match progresses, each wave of Locust will consist of more enemies – complete with different varieties of them. The Locust will spawn in at random locations, so it pays to keep on your toes. While it’s essentially a 5 player co-op, there will still be individual scores for each round, so players can compare and find out who killed the most number of enemies. With Epic Games having more time to learn more about the Xbox 360 hardware and harness the said more effectively, technical issues have since been ironed out, so you can expect to see more than 20 enemies on the screen at any one time. That makes for a quite a challenge, doesn’t it? Well, I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

What's the color of this flag?

Accompanying the Horde multiplayer mode are some returning modes, in addition to some revamped ones. War Zone is back, and it’s the same as that from Gears of War and offers what you would typically expect from a standard team deathmatch with 5 players on each side. Meat Flag, on the other hand, is an innovative twist on Capture the Flag. A Meat Flag is a living ‘flag’ – it is a human. When you capture the Meat Flag, you’re not going to be running away with it like a normal flag because as long as you are holding on to the Meat Flag, he will assay to kill you. There’s nothing more of a challenge than battling both the struggling ‘flag’ and your opponents at the same time. The other multiplayer mode is called Wingman, which splits 10 players into 5 teams of 2. In Wingman, players can be revived by their partners should they go down. What makes things interesting in this mode is that there are only 2 of you in each team – which means if you want to revive your partner in the heat of a battle, there is no one else to provide protection and you are vulnerable to gunfire, so there’s a bit of strategy that needs to be implemented in this mode. The last confirmed mode is Guardian. It is similar to War Zone – but there’s an exception: each best player from the last round becomes the Guardian in the next. The ability for players to respawn is reliant upon the life of the Guardian – which means that if the Guardian dies, other players in his or her team can no longer respawn.

All in all, there are some very intriguing concepts thrown into Gears of War 2. While Gears of War 2 may not seem different from its predecessor at first glance, it is. There are quite a number of notable enhancements to the core game mechanics and there are new varieties of enemies, weapons and multiplayer modes. Gear up for this game on November 7.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Movie Review - The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Bury this mummy and run away.


RATING: 1.5/5


Dormant for 7 years, no one could have blamed you if you thought that The Mummy franchise was well and truly dead. Gone were the suspenseful atmosphere and solid action sequences that each of the Mummy film brought. Fortunately, someone decided to revive the franchise and give it another go-around – and the result is The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the third entry in The Mummy franchise. With a new director at the helm, as well as new scriptwriters and an almost new cast, the production crew had all the right ingredients to make this Mummy film one of the better, if not the best, movies in the franchise. The bad news is: They didn’t go according to the recipe and ended up producing a dish that is in equal parts awful and forgettable.

This film begins interestingly enough to capture my attention: Several thousand years ago, a tyrannical, ruthless Chinese emperor (Jet Li) harbored ambitions of conquering the entire world, but he was afraid of getting old, not being able to battle and ultimately, perishing. Therefore, he seeked the services of a sorceress (Michelle Yeoh), requesting that he be granted immortality, but was cursed to turn to stone instead – the emperor himself and his army – after he betrayed the sorceress.

At the flick of a coin, the film fast forwarded to modern China and there is a psychologically unsound Chinese military commander who is so obsessed with taking over the whole world that he is determined to resurrect the dragon emperor with the aim of wanting the said to help him. As expected, he succeeds, and so it’s The Mummy round 3. It’s a rather intriguing premise that has lots of potential with regards to the production of a good film, but unfortunately, the scriptwriters somehow decided to relegate the promising premise into a shallow plot that is plagued with so many illogical gaps that it all seems really retarded, but more on that later – we have to leave the best (oops … the worst) to the last, right?

Truth be told, there is really nothing which is outright bad in this film except the plot, but this also means that there is really nothing that is worth watching in this film – because you would have seen what is shown here in several other films before. The acting is just average – but tips towards the side of static and unrealistic at times – this applies to the CGI-animated Yetis as well. Perhaps more astonishing is how character development has been tossed aside like a ragdoll in this film. While I understand that much of the character development has been accomplished in this film’s predecessors, there is no reason why there isn’t even a slightest sign of character development here. Instead, the characters here are more like holograms – you won’t feel any emotional connection with the characters – which means you won’t even care what they do, or whether they live or die. In other words, the characters here are JUST there so that a movie can be produced and they serve no other purpose. That isn’t helped by the trite and boring dialogue either.

The pace of the film is appropriate, with some essential dialogue-heavy portions sandwiched between a number of action sequences, but does that mean anything? Save for a few minutes, the action sequences here are generic, non-engaging and JUST sleep-inducing. Perhaps the only good action sequence to have ever come out of this film is the first one – where the mummy hunters, Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evy (Maria Bello), race down the crowded streets of Shanghai during the Chinese New Year festival in a truck carrying fireworks in an attempt to stop the revived dragon emperor and the Chinese military commander from escaping. That action sequence is really intense, with some surprises and laughs added in for good measure. Other than that, I can’t find any other notable action sequence. The battle between the dragon emperor’s stone army and another mob of opposing stone soldiers commanded by his enemy, General Ming, is barely discernible – the fight scene is so chaotic and everything’s grey – so much so that you can’t even tell who the good guy is and who the villain is. The other action sequences are populated by gun fights that aren’t spectacular in any way, but rather, redolent of arms amateurs in action.

Smell my foot!

Now that we have gotten the other components of the film out of the way, let’s get to the horrendous plot. No prizes for guessing – but this is a very straight-forward and shallow plot – this, despite the potential for some really elaborate expansions with the interesting premise. This could have been acceptable if not for the illogical gaps that plague the plot like a virus that cannot be dispelled. For a resurrected dragon emperor who possesses fire, water, ice and other various magical powers, it is absolutely beyond my comprehension why he couldn't just destroy the mummy hunters instead of engaging in a vehicle chase with them. As the movie progresses, the dragon emperor also gains the power to transform into either a three-headed dragon or an extra-large lion. And time and time again, the film happily contradicts itself by portraying how compassionate the dragon emperor is by letting the mummy hunters off even though he could take on his dragon form and devour them. When drawn into comparison with the curel ruler that the dragon emperor was before he was cursed, the whole thing just doesn't make any sense. The dragon emperor also dies in the most ridiculous way possible: a stab to the heart with a special dagger that is supposed to reinstate the curse. Wait a moment! What dagger! The film doesn't even bother to explain the origins of the dagger.

All in all, the aforementioned loopholes are the worst parts of this film – this flaw could have been more forgivable if there were better acting, more character development, more competent dialogue and action sequences – but these elements aren’t in this movie, so the illogical gaps in the plot aren’t forgivable. Without other redeeming qualities, this flaw sticks out like a sore thumb.

Final Comments
This mummy should have just remained buried, saving the established Mummy franchise from all the embarrassment. Approach this film with an open mind – which means you should leave logic and common sense at the door before you enter the cinema. But even after doing that, you would still have to tolerate all the nonsense: average acting, total lack of character development, boring dialogue, and sleep-inducing action sequences. I was expecting more from this film, but left the cinema severely disappointed.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Movie Review - Batman: Gotham Knight

Not bat. Not bat at all.


RATING: 3.5/5


It isn’t every day that we see a partnership between American and Japanese talents with regards to the production of a film. And when that film is actually one that has got to do with Batman, there is no doubt that anyone with the slightest interest in animation or Batman will be hyped up about it. That’s what Batman: Gotham Knight seeks out to achieve: to stoke up interest in The Dark Knight. It is a series of 6 short movies that is designed to bridge the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. On that count, you could end up being addled and disappointed because Batman: Gotham Knight fails miserably in its task – it doesn’t seem to be in any way connected to either of Nolan’s Batman films and the 6 short movies do not tie into a single narrative; instead, they are disparate.

However, what you have here are 6 refreshing short films, with each of them having a unique feel as they are each being done by a different writer, director and animation studio. Some explore the interesting perspectives of Batman from various characters, some offer more of the conventional Batman plot – which means intense action sequences which feature established villains from the Batman universe, while some further the character development of Batman. But ultimately, all of these 6 short films are varying interpretations of the Batman character by various talents, making for a fairly captivating watch. The idea of assigning each of the 6 short films in the compilation to different talents to produce before combining them together again ends up rather innovative and impressive when executed here.

Looks like a villain.

‘Have I Got a Story for You’ is the first short film in this compilation. This is also the film which seems to have the most Japanese influence as the animation style contains more Japanese elements than American ones. There is not much of a story to this film, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rather, the film revolves around how a group of kids perceive Batman to look like. This opens the opportunity for some really creative interpretations of Batman – one kid recounts Batman to be a shadow-like shape-shifting bat figure that looks more like a villain than a hero, while the other portrays Batman to be simply Batman – literally, a half-man, a half-bat. Another kid mentions that Batman is neither a human nor creature, but rather, a robot (think Robocop, but without any human in the suit). All forms of Batman depicted here look excessively sanguinary – far from the Batman everyone knows and loves. This may not go down well with traditionalist Batman fans, but it would be preferable to have an open mind to really appreciate what is being accomplished here – exploration of how most Gotham citizens, who are likely to have never seen Batman before, may perceive the hero to look like and the demonstration of ideas of how Batman would look like from a more artistic perspective. The film concludes in a considerably surprising and appropriate way, with the real Batman finally showing up in front of the kids. Overall, this film is quite a intriguing take on Batman, with the talents injecting just enough refreshing and imaginative elements to make this film one of the more unique and outstanding ones in the compilation.

The second short film is ‘Crossfire’. Like ‘Have I Got a Story for You’, this short film focuses on the different perspectives of Batman – but this time, the perspectives are from a pair of detectives rather than of a bunch of kids. One is proud of the fact that the redoubtable Batman is helping them to keep the city under order, while the other begs to differ – he thinks that they are just running errands for Batman – bringing criminals to prisons after they have been caught by Batman. The film begins with both the detectives transporting the criminal to a high security prison and the general atmosphere and mood of the film is mysterious and a tad sinister – so much so that I was expecting one of the villains from the Batman universe to show up because it’s so fitting for the setting of this film. Unfortunately, the talents producing this film had other things in mind. The detectives accidentally turn into a soon-to-be gunfight scene between a pair of rival mobs after dropping the criminal at the prison and they are soon caught between the bullets. As you’d have guessed by now, Batman intervenes and saves the day.

While there isn’t anything wrong with this event, my question is: Why was there even a need to have the scene where the detectives are transporting the criminal to the prison in the first place? And why was there such a mysterious and sinister atmosphere and mood being introduced when all that this film is going to escalate into is a gunfight between some mobs? What’s the point? It’s meaningless – and I can’t help but think that half of this film isn’t anything more than mere fillers. Granted, the gunfight is quite spectacular, with the fight scenes being a traditional showcase of Batman’s combat skills. As Batman saved both the detectives’ lives, the detective who initially doubted Batman was proven erroneous. This provides the much-needed reasonability to an otherwise shallow film. All in all, this film is one of the weaker ones in the compilation.

This is Bruce Wayne!?!

The third short film to make it into this collection is ‘Field Test’. It supposedly revolves around the development and usage of a new Batman tool – and that tool in question is a magnetic device that creates an invisible bullet-proof shield around Batman at all times. Like the short film before it, there are some commendable fight scenes here that showcase Batman’s silky moves, but the story is nothing to write home about. Does it matter? More often than not, your attention would be directed towards the ridiculously young Bruce Wayne represented here – in fact, he looks so young that no one would have blamed you if you have thought that Bruce Wayne was a teenager at first glance. While I encourage creative interpretations of Batman, this one is just too weird, too unrealistic and doesn’t seem to fit in. The Batman outfit featured here is modern and nice, though.

‘In Darkness Dwells’ is the next short film and as it title suggests, this has an overall dark theme to it. A pair of villains from the Batman universe finally makes an appearance here, marking a return to a conventional Batman storyline. Fans would be delighted to see Scarecrow and Killer Croc in this film. In addition to that, there are also some really intense action sequences, and I found myself wishing that this film would last longer, but like the other preceeding films, it ended all too quickly. Despite the aforementioned, this film remains one of the more satisfying movies in the compilation.

The next film is ‘Working Through Pain’. In the film, Batman is severely injured and has to work his way up the sewers after his enemies have been defeated. The film is also told via a series of flashbacks that elucidates how Bruce learnt to withstand pain. It is essentially a film that skillfully develops the character in a way that would allow fans to have a more coherent comprehension of Batman’s background. But the bizarre thing is: Why wasn’t this film merged with ‘In Darkness Dwells’ since Batman got injured severely in the said as well? The merged film would have provided more competencies to the already good movie that is ‘In Darkness Dwells’. Nonetheless, this film is strong enough to stand on its own two feet.

Cooking with Batman - slicing and dicing.

They say that you should always save the best for the last. And indeed, that rings true for this compilation. ‘Deadshot’ is the last film to be featured in Batman: Gotham Knight, but it’s also the BEST. This film doesn’t beat about the bush – there aren’t any new weapons to speak off, neither is there any character development nor convoluted story – just a straight-to-the-point style of film. And this idea works very well for this film – it dives straight into the action and it never lets go. It’s great to see a new villain featured here and he has the same name as the title of this film. The pace of the film’s suitably furious and is suspenseful throughout – certainly a brilliant way to conclude the entire collection.

Final Comments
If you are either an animation or Batman fan, or both, chances are you would have already bought or decided to buy Batman: Gotham Knight. While it doesn’t fulfill its objective of bridging the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, this is still a relatively good compilation of 6 short films. With the exception of the second short film ‘Crossfire’, everything’s great. Each short film brings different animation styles, story ideas and varying interpretations of Batman to the table – something that can be difficult to find elsewhere.

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