GAME REVIEW: Virtua Fighter Animation

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While the Master System died out in North America by 1992 it continued to sell well in Europe and Latin America and as late as 1997 new games were still being produced for it. One of the Master System’s last games released in that year was Virtua Fighter Animation. This was the only Virtua Fighter game released on the console and even then it was ported to the Master System from the Game Gear by Brazilian producer TecToy which is unique since most games the two systems shared originated on the Master System.

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The game is a pretty standard beat’em up utilizing a 2D format. Victory in each match comes from either reducing your opponent’s life bar down to zero, having your opponent’s life bar lower than yours when the timer runs out or forcing them out of the ring. Each round has a 30 second time limit with which to defeat your opponent and most of the time this is more than enough. You must win two rounds win the match and move on to the next opponent.

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The feel of this game is quite clunky even for a Master System beat’em up although it does look quite smooth. Special moves are sparse and have only a marginally better impact on the other guy than your standard punch and kick. You can get your guy in close and unleash a barrage of attacks which will either throw them out of the ring or wear them down before they can respond. I managed to win a few rounds without receiving any hits back.

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As a fight title then there is little here to keep you going if I was honest but the feather in this particular hat is the fact that it plays out in a story. This game is based on the Virtua Fighter anime series and in between fights you get to read caption screens that lead up to why you are in your next fight. This is something seen on few beat’em up games of the 8-bit era and indeed even many of the later Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat games just had you fighting for the sake of it. What I will say is that some people will get fed up with these screens as they take a long time to scroll through. In fact half the game time in total is taken up reading them. I personally think they are a nice touch and set the game apart.

In conclusion, hardly a groundbreaking game but it was uncomplicated and held my interest enough to work through the clunky feel of the controls.

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COUNTDOWN: Top 5 Star Trek Bad Guy Ships

As I have said previously Star Trek is more about ideas than action. It’s why J.J. Abrams always said he never got Star Trek because it was “too cerebral” for him. Well for those like Abrams who have difficulty comprehending in-depth storytelling there have been plenty of eye candy moments in Star Trek’s 50 years.

Here is my countdown of the top 5 bad guy ships. Please note that to set some criteria for this countdown I have selected ships that have at some point either been captained by an antagonist or have fired on our heroes at some point. Enjoy…

5. Tholian Web Spinner

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With its low budget the original series often had to contend with glowing objects on the viewscreen as the bad guy’s ship. However on occasion we did get to see another ship with its metallic hull and in a few episodes we got some real classics. The Tholian Web Spinner is unique in that not only does it fall in to the category of being one of these few exceptions but it also a rather creative way of capturing or destroying enemies with its energy web which made for one of the most thrilling episodes of the series and lead to Star Trek: Enterprise’s brilliant homage in it’s final season.


4. USS Reliant

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Slow to one-half impulse power…Lets be friends
– Khan

The most unsettling enemy is often the one with a familiar face and that’s something Khan knew all too well when he hijacked the USS Reliant and incorporated it in to his plan for revenge on Kirk. The Reliant, while presumably not as sophisticated an exploration vessel as the Enterprise, was comparably armed and this lead to one of most tactically rich battle sequences in Trek history. It was a true battle between commanders rather than the Enterprise facing a weaker opponent has had been the case many times previously.


3. Reman Warbird Scimitar

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Love or hate Star Trek: Nemesis you have to admit the Scimitar was an imposing and impressive warship. It’s angled design gave it both a stealthy and powerful look and while most large ships in Star Trek are quite clumsy this beast was very nimble. Whereas the fight between Kirk and Khan in Star Trek II was one of slow but gripping space tactics the fight between the Scimitar and the Enterprise E was fast and spectacular and with it’s ability to fire through the cloak and its awesome array of weapons Picard was right in saying…

She’s a predator.


2. Krenim Temporal Weapon Ship

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All bad guy ships need their ‘edge’ over our heroes. For the Krenim that edge came in the ability to rewrite history and erase beings/ships/planets form history altogether. The “Year of Hell” episodes of Star Trek: Voyager were among the best of the series with a gripping storyline about battling against the odds and leading the charge was this behemoth. Janeway’s final sacrifice by ramming the Krenim ship remains one of the best scenes in Star Trek.


1. Borg Cube

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Even after 25 years since its first appearance the rather simple looking Borg Cube remains one of the most imposing ships in Star Trek history. People often forget that rarely do the Borg employ weapons like torpedoes and disruptors. This ship wears down its enemies with tractor beams and cutting beams so it can capture the crew and assimilate them in to the hive. A dampening field renders energy weapons ineffective and even if our heroes can damage it this ship can repair itself in a few hours. Ingenuity on the part of Starfleet is what defeats the Borg rather than weapons alone. But their imposing nature made their destruction at the hands of Species 8472 all the more spectacular.

Thanks for reading…

REVIEW: Space Mutiny

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Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh God.

There are some movies that are bad ideas. There are movies that are badly acted. There are some movies that are just simply bad all round. This movie is a new level of awfulness however and is probably the After Earth of the 1980s. Now before I continue let me just clear this up; I am concentrating on the actual movie and not the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode it was featured on.

So let’s get on with it.

Firstly the plot. Yes there is a plot and I have to say for a minute it’s not that bad an idea. Simply put the people of Earth have abandoned their overpopulated planet in search of a new home that will take them generations to reach. Now, members of the ship’s complement have become frustrated with being condemned to having spend the rest of their lives trying to reach a planet they will never see in their lifetime and so they decide to advance things further by forcing the ship to land at a closer planet. I personally think there is a good story in there but this was not the movie to capitalize on it.

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The plot is pointless. It really is. Firstly the narrative claims that the ship is traveling far from Earth to colonize a new world yet there are pirates and weird women with pyschic powers coming aboard. Did they leave generations ago too or is the ship really, really slow? Also “the peoples of Earth” only seem to include white people and no one else. There is one very obvious reason for this and that is the movie was made in South Africa during the 1980s at the height of the apartheid. 

Ok so lousy storytelling is abundant in sci-fi. Maybe the special effects can save it? NOW…If you have never seen the MST3K episode or never heard of this movie before then here is the biggest shock. All the space footage is stock from the original Battlestar Galactica series. I’m not kidding. What’s worse is how it is used. Firstly the Vipers from the series are now transport ships of some kind that can act as fighters against pirate ships (which are of course Cylons) but the best scene is when they destroy the pirate ships with missiles. They used the footage of the Vipers being launched to serve as missiles which means it looks like they are launching Kamikaze pilots to destroy the Cylon Baseships…Oh I mean the pirate capital ships.

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Battlestar Galactica or Space Mutiny

Now the actors. Well, in fairness some of them do try but others look like they have just come off the set of a Head and Shoulders commercial. A lot of them have porn star acting qualities but without the porn in this case. In fact the main actress, Cisse Cameron, is a softcore pornstar. Reb Brown was an actual Hollywood actor and has appeared in movies with Danny Glover and Willem Defoe but I have to be honest here; maybe he has no real talent or the director has no talent (or both) but he is just awful. It’s funny at first but after a while it starts to wear you down.

The most memorable scenes are memorable for all the wrong reasons. Everyone who sees this film thinks the chase scene on the little go-kart things is hilarious especially with the immense explosion they cause when they crash. Another famous scene is when a character gets killed only to appear in the very next scene as an extra. And there’s one scene that is so full of cheese that you feel like you put on 15 pounds watching it and that’s Cisse Cameron’s dance scene when she is trying to make up with Reb Brown’s character…..(shudder).

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That pretty much sets the tone for this movie. You will laugh for the first half hour but the fun dies very quickly. It’s poorly made. Poorly acted. It’s not even so bad it’s good. Watching it without the MST3K commentary is a real endurance test that only the most sadistic movie viewer can endure. But it is because of the MST3K episode that it is so loved. The episode is hilarious and well worth a watch.

An interesting sidenote; Cisse Cameron and Reb Brown who met for the first time on this film actually fell in love and got married. And they are still together today. God bless them.

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Thanks for reading…

Captain Janeway on the Satellite of Love

The Satellite of Love is in trouble. With Gypsy, Crow and Servo at the helm, while Mike Nelson is mysteriously missing, the ship is heading for disaster.

But alas they are saved by none other than Starfleet’s Captain Janeway who immediately exercises her authority and expertise to save the day. Let’s hope they have plenty of coffee aboard to keep her sharp…

COUNTDOWN: Top 5 Star Destroyers

Whether you have a Galactic Republic to defend or are an Imperial force subjugating thousands of worlds you need superior firepower. You need a Star Destroyer. In this list we will be looking at Star Destroyer types that exist in both the movies and the expanded universe of novels, games and TV series.

So here goes…


5. Venator-class Star Destroyer

The backbone of the Republic Forces during the Clone Wars the Venator-class set the standard for the Star Destroyers that followed in the time of the Empire. The Venators were part capital ship, part carrier and had a large complement of fighters and landing ships. While large numbers of these class were under the overall command of the Jedi their clone soldiers and crews eventually turned on the Jedi and the type helped Palpatine, now Emperor, enforce his control on the galaxy.

 

4. Pallaeon-class Star Destroyer

A warship of the Fel Empire the Pallaeon-class was probably one of the most powerful warships the galaxy has ever seen (with the notable exception of the two Death Stars). Entering service 100 years after the Battle of Endor these ships fought the very best the New Republic fleets had to offer and hunted down Jedi refugees killing them mercilessly. Often used as command ships they served on both sides during the Second Imperial Civil War.

 

3. Interdictor-class Star Destroyer

Superior firepower doesn’t have to be in the form of high energy weapons or missiles. The Interdictor-class featured gravity well projectors that simulated the immense gravitational force of a celestial body such as a planet. This rendered starships unable to enter hyperspace to escape making them an extremely useful tool in trapping an enemy force. Unfortunately these generators drained so much power that compared to other Star Destroyers the Interdictors were not as heavily armed or protected and could be disabled by large numbers of X-Wings alone. When used in conjunction with regular Star Destroyers for protection however they proved devastating.

 

2. Viceroy-class Star Destroyer

Easily one of the most attractive Star Destroyer classes with its smoothed off surfaces the Viceroy-class was one of the most advanced designs of its kind and as such proved incredibly expensive to build. While it introduced a whole host of improvements it didn’t offer the advantages in combat to justify the expense making them prized by Imperial Flag Officers as flagships of small formations. One advantage the class did bring however was the Proton Bomb launcher at the front. This was in-effect a super heavy proton torpedo that was powerful enough to crack open the hull of the strongest protected ship making them lethal capital-ship killers.

 

 

1. Imperial II-class Star Destroyer


Of course this was going to be my number one. This was the design that started it off back in 1977. From the moment the movie begins we see this immense vessel and know we are in a universe that is under subjugation and it has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the franchise. Even with the newer types introduced in the expanded universe this class remains one of the most powerful designs and for those reasons it tops my list.

Thanks for reading…

GAME REVIEW: Bonkers

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In both my The Simpsons: Bart vs the World and Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse reviews I have made frequent mention of how in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras there was a torrent of uninspired platform games that only sold because it starred a licensed character. With Disney’s Bonkers it could have very easily followed suit but I am one for believing that credit is where credit is due as Disney Software tried something different this time.

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Bonkers was released on the Mega Drive (Genesis for you who hail from North America) in 1994 when the show was still running on TV. The plot of the game follows cartoon cop Bonkers D. Bobcat as he tries to win the “Officer of the Month” award by nabbing four of the biggest crooks in town. Each crook can be found in their own unique area of the city which has its own dangers and the player can choose who they want to go after first.

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This is not one game but is in fact four mini games. In the first game “Harry the Handbag’s” raccoon goons are stealing Toon Treasures (including Mickey Mouse’s wizard hat from Fantasia and Aladdin’s lamp) from a museum. To stop them you must throw donuts at them (I thought cops carried guns?). Then you have to face “The Rat” in the junkyard where a robot is trying to stop you. In order to catch “The Rat” you have to brick up a wall to block the robot. The third villain is “Mr Big” who can be defeated by finding all the pieces of the fall-apart rabbit from the show. The final villain is “Ma Tow Truck” who is blocking the freeway and you have to race around in your police car stopping her by throwing giant bubble gum bombs.

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OK – as I said I have to give them credit for trying something different when they could have easily made just another uninspired platformer with their trademark character but the truth is I would rather one average game than four small terrible games. This game infuriated me but it’s not the variety of the mini games that was the problem. It was the fact that in order to make the game last they designed it so you had to play four rounds of each mini game with the difficulty increasing each time. The frustration comes from the fact you don’t feel like you are achieving anything or progressing at all except that it gets more difficult.

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The junkyard and museum levels suffered from appalling hit detection with the bricks/doughnuts and I ended up throwing large numbers of them at the same spot despite repositioning Bonkers. The control of the car was terrible and it felt more like a pinball at times than a squad car as it would bounce off the sidewalk and other cars.

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On the whole this was a bad game. It feels like one of those titles thrown out there just to make a quick buck. The worst kind of game. It’s a shame because I have fond memories of the show but alas it does seem to be one of those Disney shows that had its one run and then was forgotten about.

REVIEW: Through Violet Eyes

Mark Berryman reviews “Through Violet Eyes”


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I thought about what to write for my second blog. I had a few ideas but then I decided to write about my favourite series of books, The Violet series by author Stephen Woodworth.

I first became aware of these books when my wife’s aunty gave her the second book “With Red Hands” she said it was utterly brilliant. Upon finding out it was the second book in the series, my wife went online and ordered the others. I’ve always enjoyed reading books, but my wife reads all the time. I had been looking for something to read, something that I would really enjoy; I’m quite picky when it comes to books. Claire (the wife) said to me that I had to read this series. She said it was right up my street and she guaranteed I would love them. All I can say is, she wasn’t wrong.

The series is set present day, but with one massive difference. Every generation there are a handful of people who are born with violet coloured eyes. These people are conduits for the souls of people who have died. When they have been trained, a violet can let a soul into them for various reasons. The main character of the series, Natalie Lindstrom, uses her gifts to help catch killers. The first time we meet Natalie is at a murder trial, she lets the soul of the murdered person inhabit her in order to give evidence against their killer.

When violets are being murdered by the “faceless man” Natalie is partnered with FBI agent Dan Atwater, a man with a troubled past that still haunts him. Dan goes out of his way to make sure he never makes skin contact with Natalie (violets can be contacted by dead people from a persons past if she touches them. They become a “touch stone” for them to come through). As the book progresses and with help from violets who have been murdered, Natalie and Dan’s relationship grows as they search for the killer.

As the books progress we learn more about Natalie’s life and the past she has that she would rather forget. They are excellently written. Woodworth paints a vivid picture of what is happening that is easy to picture in the mind. I couldn’t help but picture Eliza Dushku and Jeremy Renner as the two lead characters as I was reading.

When I worked for Waterstones I made it my mission to get as many people as possible to buy these gems. Not enough people have read them and they do deserve to be read by as many people as possible. I’ve read and re-read them on a number of occasions since and I love them just as much as the first time I read them.

I’ve since become “facebook friends” with the author himself who seems to genuinely be a very nice guy. I’ve told him that I hope one day he goes back to this universe he has created and write more.

I’ve purposely not said too much about the story as I’d hate to give away any spoilers. So do yourself a huge favour, go to your nearest Waterstones, or whichever book shop you have near you and get a copy of these books. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!

BOOK REVIEW: Yukikaze

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English cover

Given the fact that Japan seems obsessed with animation and manga we in the west tend to forget they also write novels too. It does seem to be the exception however that one of these books becomes adapted in to an animated feature or series. The benefit of manga books is that TV or film producers already have an idea of how it will look once animated. Books on the other hand are left open to far more interpretation on the part of the readers and producers and so are a bigger risk. In this environment it is no surprise then that books becoming animated like Yukikaze by Chohei Kambayashi will continue to remain the exception. The question then is whether or not that is a bad thing.

I do not want to delve too much in to the anime series as I want to concentrate more on the book. I do want to say however that I am big fan of the five part OVA and that is what lead me to buying this book as I wanted to delve deeper in to the world of Yukikaze. If you have never heard of Yukikaze then here is the plot: thirty years ago a hyperdimensional portal opened in Antarctica allowing an alien race known as the JAM to come through and attack our world. They were beaten back by Earth’s forces however and now humanity are the alien invaders as they have established a base on the JAM’s homeworld to continue the fight. The story follows Rei Fukai and his advanced reconnaissance aircraft named Yukikaze which has a sophisticated AI system. Together Rei and Yukikaze unravel the truth about the JAM while the Earth forces seem determined to remove men from the fight and replace them entirely with machines.

Just from that alone its easy to see that a lot is going on in the world Kambayashi has created. This is a very philosophical story in places as it discusses the ramifications of giving machines greater intelligence and taking over more of our everyday lives – in truth not a new concept but still an interesting one. One interesting point that comes up is that the JAM initially believed our planes and ships were the lifeforms on Earth rather than machines created by Humans. To some lifeforms I suppose that would be how it would look. Another really interesting point was that some people on Earth believed the whole thing to be a hoax and to me that echoes the Moon landing and the conspiracy theory that has surrounded it ever since 1969.

I have read repeatedly that Japanese texts lose something when they are translated in to English. I can’t vouch for that as I don’t speak Japanese but what I will say is that at times this becomes a hefty read and I found there were long periods that failed to capture my interest and then BANG a section would come up where I was hooked. It really was an up and down experience at times. There were sections of the book I felt were unnecessary to the story and seemed to be filler. One bit that did surprise me however was in a scene where a reporter is talking to Rei about the reasons why humanity is remaining on the JAM’s homeworld and he mentions that if it was for monetary purposes then it must involve Jews somewhere. I was surprised by this because it seems a very western concept and not one I would expect to find in a Japanese book.

I have read many aviation based books over the years and am a big fan of Dale Brown, Stephen Coonts and John Nichols. I therefore have high expectations on the descriptions of military flying. It was perhaps the biggest disappointment about this book that the flight scenes aren’t very vivid in fact they are almost glossed over. I think because the anime had such spectacular flight scenes that I was expecting that to be translated from the book but it just wasn’t.

I don’t think this book is for everyone. Fans of anime and science fiction may enjoy it but I do believe that this is a very Japanese story and you have to be aware of that reading it.