flotsam/jetsam


Stop reading if you can’t stand Harry by jenifesto
November 22, 2006, 9:50 am
Filed under: movies, reviews, youtube

JimmyCanuck is cringing over this post, but I’m a super Harry Potter Fan Girl and I don’t care who knows it, and this weekend was rife with excitement over the Order of the Phoenix trailer. Not willing to shed 8 dollars or my dignity to go see Happy Feet and catch the trailer at the theatre, I was rabidly checking YouTube for a crappy bootlegged version, which natch, was promptly delivered on Saturday. However, it’s up for reals now, so neither you nor I have to endure someone with a shaky hand and the sound of popcorn bags.

But I digress: Jim asked if I could review something, and since I can’t think of anything else to review, here are my impressions on the trailer. I am, as most if not all HP fans are, totally loyal to the books. More awesome than the movies blah blah superiority cakes. I’ll probably catch a mighty shit storm for this, but I thought movie three sucked incredibly bad, movie four was better than three (could it be worse?), and movies one and two were good, with two being by far the best. I’ve since worked out a theory that the better the book, the worse the movie. Book one and movie one tie. Book two meh, movie two FANTASTIC. Book three my favourite, movie three f’ing awful. Book four quite good, movie not bad. So on this logic, book five (quite long, drawn out, over all kind of weak) is going to make the best movie yet.

So onto the trailer: Squeal!!! It’s only the teaser, coming in at less than a minute, but I’m totally loving what I’m seeing. First off, we see some new characters, like Umbridge and Bellatrix. Loving the Imelda Staunton as Umbridge, and Bonham Carter… I can take or leave, but I think she’ll turn out perfectly for the role. Secondly, Gary Oldman has finally gotten his head out the fire and ass into gear, and he’s actually given dialogue. I’ll omit my rant re: the shoddy treatment of Sirius in movie four, and just say it’s good to have him back in action. Third – The Ricker. I’m so pleased they put the occlumency scene in the trailer. It means it’s there and it’s going to be important in the film (I hope). If they gloss over that, I’ll have a fit. Not only because my Alan is rad, but I think it’s important in the series overall. Not that they haven’t taken out important/interesting stuff before, but you know. (Sidenote: if you’re going to make a big deal out of Harry being able to produce a patronus, and you make sure it’s a stag, why not explain the significance of it being a stag!? I mean, it’s not vital to the understanding, but it’s called texture and movie three lacked it, big time.) I like the overall vibe I’m getting from this trailer, like, maybe Harry’s angsty year will translate better on screen than it did in the book. I still like the book, but moody teenagers aren’t particularly fun no matter who they are, and I think I can say that with authority. Anyways, I’m super looking forward to the next trailer, and of course, the film in the summer.



Game Review – Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam by jimmycanuck
November 21, 2006, 1:34 pm
Filed under: gaming, reviews

downhill jam

This game is downright fugly. From graphics to gameplay nothing seems to fit, and nothing works as advertised. My hopes for a brilliant new Hawk game have been squashed.

I was really excited for Downhill Jam. Having been fed up with the series since it went mission-based in Pro Skater 4, it was nice to see that Activision was finally willing to take some risks taking some risks with its biggest franchise. Like most gambles though. this one didn’t pay off.

The graphics are easily the weakest of the Wii launch titles I’ve experienced. Maybe it’s because I’m forced to play it with composite cables until Nintendo gets components in my hands (way to read your market, Nintendo), but this thing somehow manages to look WORSE than the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on the PSOne. No matter how hard you might want to try, you can’t make the argument that all Wii games are going to look like crap. Even if they look Gamecube quality at best (and so far, at least with the composite cables, I’m finding that to be true) Downhill Jam’s graphical prowess is well below that of last generations pretty purple box.

Still, any gamer worth his weight in salt knows that graphics mean very little when compared to gameplay. If that wasn’t the case XBox Live Arcade and Nintendo’s own Virtual Console wouldn’t serve much of a purpose, now would they? Unfortunately, gameplay is where Downhill Jam’s failure is most visible. The most basic gameplay mechanic is also this title’s greatest failure – turning with the wiimote. To play Downhill Jam, you hold the wiimote sideways, much as you would if you were playing an NES game on the VC. The innovative twist in this game is supposed to be that turning is controlled by tilting the wiimote left or right. Not only is the sensitivity needed to recognize differences between wide and tight turns pretty much non-existent, but to perform a trick, you need to hold down a key on the d-pad. Do any series veterans know where I’m going with this yet? In other Tony Hawk games, both the direction your skater moves and the tricks you perform are controlled by the analog stick. That means the transition from landing a trick to controlling your skater’s movement is smooth as silk. Now Activision wants us to go from pulling off a trick on the D-Pad to turning with the wiimote in one fell swoop. It’s awkward, and it just doesn’t work. Had they made it so both the tricks and turning were controlled by tilting, this title might have been salvageable, but as it stands this is easily the worst title in the Tony Hawk series. And that’s coming from a guy who’s played American Wasteland on the 360.

If you’re looking for a fun and innovative Wii-launch title, a great new addition to the Tony Hawk franchise, or both – this isn’t where you need to be right now. Enjoy the barrage of great launch titles for the Wii that don’t have the word’s Tony Hawk stamped on them, or just pick up Project 8 on the 360. No matter what you do, just stay the hell away from this title.



The First Wii Game Reviews Trickle In… by jimmycanuck
November 16, 2006, 8:28 am
Filed under: gaming, links, reviews


…and the numbers are about what I expected. There’s not a lot out there yet, but enough that we can get some pretty basic first impressions on a handful of titles.

  • Excite Truck always seemed more hype than substance to me, and the 6.8 from Gamespot would seem to reflect that.
  • – Wii Sports is averaging a 78 on Metacritic. That sounds about right – most sites are giving it an 8 with a few are bringing that number down slightly. It’s a game I’m looking forward to, but an 8 is even more than I would have expected. I mean, come on, no matter how good a showcase of the Wii’s talents it might be, it’s 5 minigames.
  • – Call of Duty 3 is performing a lot better than I had expected. It may only have an 81 average on Metacritic, but part of that score comes from a 93 on PGNxMedia. They say that “Call of Duty 3 is a great showcase for the Wii’s unique control scheme. While the Wii controls work with other games, of the games we’ve played so far, Call of Duty 3 is the one that most benefits from the motion sensing controls.” I wasn’t so interested before, but now…
  • – Red Steel has recieved a 90 at NGamer UK. If that trend continues to other sites, I think we can officially say it’s not the dud so many of us were worrying about.
  • – Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, despite the early low score in EGM (6.5), seems to be scoring fairly well. An 8 in Play Magazine and an 8.4 at IGN.
  • – Trauma Center: Second Opinion seems to be holding it’s own better than expected as well. Games Radar gave it a 90, despite the gripe that “Difficulty is erratic overall, and some of the operations are infuriatingly tough on any skill level, even without your nurse constantly interrupting to point out how badly you’re doing.” Doesn’t sound like the difficulty issues from the original were addressed that well after all.
  • – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, to no one’s surprise, is the leader of the pack. With a perfect 10 at Gamespy and a 9.9 at Gamebrink, I think we can safely say this may be even better than Ocarina.

Expect another update later in the day as more things pop up. I’m still waiting to hear on Rayman. Between that, Red Steel, Monkey Ball and now COD3, I have no idea what I’m going to bring home alongside Zelda.



Music Review – Brats on the Beat: Ramones for Kids by jimmycanuck
November 7, 2006, 1:37 pm
Filed under: audio, family, links, music, reviews, shopping, youtube

No review I could write for this album could ever do it justice. As such, I’ve let my nearly two year old daughter Julia put together her own video review which you can watch above. As you can see, it’s rather danceable. 😉

In all seriousness, the reason I wanted to post this video was to show you that despite any skepticism you might have, Brats on the Beat is a fantastic addition to any child’s music library. Not only does the sound of the Ramones contain that same sort of high energy, bouncing off the walls madness that kids love, but it’s the kind of kick ass music that parents can enjoy just as much.

Containing 12 covers of classic Ramones tunes (as performed by a number of famous rockers), Brats on the Beat is surprisingly faithful to its source material despite the claims of being “kiddified.”

Rather than turning the songs into Raffi-esque nightmares, the kidification of the Ramones seems to be focused solely on some slight lyrical changes. Unfriendly lyrics like “shoot’ em in the back now” in Blitzkrieg Bop are now replaced with much safer ones. This doesn’t mean the songs have been mangled though – it’s the rare instance where a small child-friendly tweak has been made, and unless you’re listening for it chances are you won’t even notice.

The only strange decision by the producers that might call the the kid-friendly nature of the album into question is the inclusion of the song “I Just Want to have Something to Do,” about an individual who just wants to fuck to pass the time. Lyrically, there is really nothing inappropriate – a child would never in a million years figure out what the song was about. But still, it seems like a strange song to include. Considering that this is an allusion only parents would get anyway, hearing “I Just Want to have Something to Do” is about as harmful to a child as hearing Baby Bear say “Does a bear go potty in the woods?” during Elmo’s Potty Time. Still, considering the producer’s choice to include so many songs that completely avoid the possibility of uptight parent’s complaining, including this just seems like an odd choice to make.

Despite this bump in the road that might pose a problem for a small group of parents, Brats on the Beat is a solid disc full of some of the best tunes in the Ramones catalogue. Blitzkrieg Bop, California Sun – heck, even their cover of the Spiderman theme makes it in here. This is a fantastic cover album that, kid or no kid, you should have in your collection.

Also worth mentioning – by picking this album up, you won’t just be doing a favor for a kid you know. A portion of the proceeds from each sale will be going to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Last month in an interview with Greg Ross, founder of Go-Kart Records, it was suggested that they may be putting together an album to benefit those with Muscular-Sclerosis in the near future. If you can make it another children’s album, Greg, my daughter will thank you. 🙂

Brats on the Beat will be available in stores and online music services on November 21st, and can be pre-ordered on the Go-Kart Records website now.

More information, including sample tracks, can be found on the official Brats on the Beat myspace page.



Game Review – Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock by jimmycanuck
November 4, 2006, 3:13 am
Filed under: gaming, reviews

splash_samandmax

If you’re the type of gamer that thinks the term “point and click” has about as much relevance to today’s gamescape as two white paddles and a roundishly square ball, you need to take your head out of the sand.  Adventure gaming is alive and well again, and nowhere is it’s triumphant return more noticeable than in the resurrection of the genre’s most two beloved protagonist’s, Sam and Max.

For those of you unfamiliar with the history of Sam & Max, here’s a brief primer to get you up to speed.  Based on a comic by Steve Purcell, LucasArts released what most consider to be one of the brightest moments in the history of point and click adventures, Sam and Max Hit the Road.  Unfortunately, rather than continue to make the brilliant adventure titles it was known for, LucasArts eventually shifted gears and focused more heavily of putting it Star Wars license to use – resulting in everything from the utter unplayability of Masters of Teras Kasi to the crown jewel in the Star Wars gaming library, Knights of the Old Republic.  Unfortunately this didn’t leave much time for continuing with the company’s legacy of high quality adventure games.  A sequel to Sam & Max was scheduled for early 2004, but got the axe just before it’s anticipated release.

Luckily, a number of veteran team members involved in the production of such LucasArts classics as the Monkey Island series, Grim Fandango, and even Sam & Max founded a new development company – Telltale Games.  After releasing it’s first new adventure title, Bone, Out From Boneville, they announced that they would be returning to their roots to bring us another excellent adventure of everyone’s favourite Freelance Police, Sam & Max.

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Coming from such a pedigree, it would be fairly easy to assume that the high expectations this would place on the game would be hard to meet.  I’m pleased as punch to tell you this isn’t the case – Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock is easily the best adventure game I’ve had the pleasure of playing since I first brought home a copy of Grim Fandango nearly ten years ago.  Not only does Culture Shock improve on the bizarre humour the franchise is known for, but it does so in a way that is completely faithful to its source material.  The plot revolves around the strange behaviour of some former child stars from the 70’s, “The Soda Poppers.”  I’m afraid that this little teaser is all I can really touch on about the story line.  The shortness of this title means that all of the action that takes place is so essential that to mention any more would give away too much.  Let me assure you though, you’ll meet a fantastic cast of characters whose strangeness even surpasses that of our seemingly homicidal rabbit pal Max, and you’ll be taken to places that could only exist in the world of Sam & Max.

Both the art direction and music create the perfect 40’s cartoon noir atmosphere.  It feels like what Chinatown would if had been directed by the ACME Corporation.  Puzzle wise, the game is relatively straight forward.  There may be a few times where you’re scratching your noodle, but with a bit of patience you’ll find the answers are always right in front of you.  It’s just difficult enough to provide a challenge, but not so hard that you’ll want to walk away.  Telltale seems to have found that sweet spot in difficulty that so many games are lacking.

ep1_whizzer1

Because Sam & Max is being released episodically, Culture Shock is a relatively short game.  Don’t mistake its brevity for weakness though – I may have completed this title in an afternoon, but it’s still the most fun 4 or 5 hours I’ve had with a game in a long time.  It’s the sort of product that bridges the gap between video games and movies – so much of the game is about wanting to know what Sam and Max are going to do or say next that you almost forget that you’re in control.  It takes the term “interactive media” to a whole new level – and that’s exactly what a good adventure game should do.

Thankfully, the price reflects the episodic nature of this series.  At only $8.95, you’d need to have a serious head wound to not want to pick this up.  Telltale’s website assures us that new episodes will be available every month until the season is complete, so you won’t have to wait long to get your next fix.  I’m a big believer in episodic content as the future of gaming – in this day and age, most adult gamers just don’t have the time to commit to a 40+ hour title.  Bite size chunks like this are exactly what the doctor ordered.  It’s single serving gaming, and with any luck, it’s here to stay.

You can purchase Sam and Max Episode 1: Culture Shock from the official website for only $8.95.  Telltale is also offering a pre-purchase of the full season – all six episodes – for $34.95.  There’s even a demo available on their site just in case you want a little taste.



Don’t Buy This DVD Player – Digitec ALDV330 by jimmycanuck
October 27, 2006, 5:22 pm
Filed under: gadgets, reviews, shopping

digitec

I picked up this little nightmare at the recent Wal-Mart Anniversary Celebration, where it was introduced for the low low price of $24.76. Obviously I wasn’t expecting much from it – after all, you generally get what you pay for when it comes to electronics. If this thing had crumbled to dust after only six months of reliable spinning, I would’ve considered it money well spent. Falling apart after only two weeks though – not the best investment one could make.

I wanted to pick up a cheap DVD player because of my daughter. She loves watching her Elmo DVD’s, and I was getting pretty tired of lugging my PS2 upstairs every time she wanted to put one on. And so, it was to my great disappointment that the “Elmo Potty” DVD my daughter is hooked on right now became trapped in the player. After only a few weeks use, the unit’s ability to turn on and off got a little finicky. The only way I was able to get the unit powered back up to rescue the disc was to unplug it for a few minutes and plug it back in. This thing had bad news bears written all over it.

I took it back to the store and swapped it for another unit – same problem. I’m not sure who this Digitec is, but something tells me with this kind of quality we won’t be seeing them in Wal-Mart for much longer.

If you’re looking for a DVD player on the cheap, try anything but this one. It’s garbage with a capital G.



Game Review – Defcon: Everybody Dies by jimmycanuck
October 23, 2006, 8:53 pm
Filed under: gaming, reviews

defcon_logo_score

Chances are, if you grew up in the 1980’s, you saw WarGames. What’s more is that, no matter how cool the movie was, you wanted to be David Lightman – just so you could to play with Joshua, just so you could play Global Thermonuclear War. Well now, thanks to Introversion, you can do just that. And it’s just as awesome as you always thought it would be.

Defcon: Everybody Dies is a brilliant throwback to a Cold War world. The game design keeps things very simple. You take control of a territory, place all of your airfields, naval groups, radar station and missile silo’s, and wait as the timer ticks down to Defcon 1 when all hell breaks loose. As easy as this sounds, it would be rather difficult to manage without a good tutorial. Luckily, this game has you covered there too.

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Being somewhat of an indie title, a lot of the features that you might expect to find in a strategy game are missing. There’s no campaign mode, no content being unveiled as the game goes on – hell, there’s not even really a single player mode – but when thought about in the context of the game, a lot of this makes sense. After all, what campaign mode can you have when everybody dies? There’s no second mission to go to when there’s nobody left from the first.

That being said, even with the game’s overall focus on multiplayer, a single player game can easily be assembled. All you have to do is start a game and change all of the other players to CPU controlled before a real player jumps in. Unfortunately you may find yourself doing this more often than not, as playing against other live players can really slow things down – not due to lag, but design. The Achilles Heel of Defcon lies in the ability to manipulate time. When playing single player, this is great – you can slow things down to a halt to place all of your troops and buildings, and speed things up to get to Defcon 1 lickety split. In multiplayer, things only go as fast as the slowest person’s settings – so when you want to go go go, you might be waiting a long while.

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Frustration with multiplayer aside, I have a hard time finding anything bad to say about this game. In addition to the solid yet simple gameplay, both the stark visuals and somber music create one of the best sensory experiences in gaming. The combination of the two can easily help to make the argument for games to be considered an art form rather than a past time for 26 year old man-child’s such as myself.

At the budget price this title is available for, you’re practically stealing it. Defcon: Everybody Dies is, so far, my pick for hidden gem of 2006. If you haven’t yet, do yourself a favour and download the demo from their official site.