Weirdest Ultraman Series Ever - Ultra Seven X Review

The formula for the Ultraman series has been pretty consistent for close to half a century. You have a bunch of giant daikaiju monsters running around the city, and a team of quazi-science-military personnel constructed to fight said daikaiju. Thanks to plot convenience one of the members of said team can transform into a giant alien warrior who is a part of the Ultraman race. The Ultraman of the series would fight off different monsters of the week for as long as the show is on, and it’s on to the next Ultraman series.

Ultra Seven is back, and he has been working out his core for this moment.

Now here comes the curveball: what if I told you that the titular Ultraman character gets marginalized? That this awesome force of might gets 5 minutes of screen time (tops!) and fights in one-sided battles that are worth skipping? It’s similar to having a Terminator movie without the Terminator [Salvation doesn’t count in my book; it’s more like a cameo in that instance]. How weird would such a twist be for longtime fans of the Ultraman series?

Well, Ultra series fans need not use their imagination, because one of their own has flipped the sacred, half-century-old franchise formula on its head. Meet Ultra Seven X, a 2007 re-imagining of one of the series’ most popular iterations in the late 1960s, Ultra Seven. An amnesiac secret agent, whose job is to track down and kill aliens, is given the power to transform into the titular Ultra Seven to fight monsters; in the span of an episode (20-something minutes) this agent, Jin, takes up at least 20 minutes solving mysteries and sleuthing around. Ultra Seven shows up and does his thing in under 5. Shocking as this arrangement sounds, Ultra Seven X is still a rock solid show that does more right than wrong.

The one big takeaway I get from watching this 12-episode series is how it handles its themes and tones. The Ultra series that I’ve watched usually has a moral or two to give to its audience at the end of each episode. Unfortunately those efforts are usually geared towards an incredibly young audience, so at times the lessons felt a bit pretentious and preachy. But Ultra Seven X separates itself from its brethren because its themes are much more subtle. It allows the audience to deduce for themselves what each episode wants to convey.

Throughout the show, I got the sense that the city Jin lives in is a future dystopia in more ways than one. Not only are there aliens running around, the work and expectations heaped upon people can get overwhelming. Individuality is a sin. There is no safety net for anyone down on financial luck, leaving people susceptible to alien attack. The Big-Brother government is apathetic to these problems, not to mention patronizing when it thinks it knows how to make people happy or how people should live their lives. With no end to the suffering in sight, people want to get out, even if it means traveling away with aliens!

Most condescending government ever.

Most other Ultra shows would have a happy ending and message to each episode. “Sure, this problem exists,” says a character or two, “but with hope, determination and whatnot we can solve this problem”. Save for one episode, Ultra Seven X skips these shenanigans, understanding that the problems it addresses have no easy solution. Almost every Ultra Seven victory is bittersweet. In one episode, the monster of the week is destroyed, but that means the homeless people it took fall back to square one, living in poverty. Mind you, Ultra Seven X should not be confused with Children of Men or 1984, but compared to other Ultra series it has a maturity in its handling of themes and social commentary that I definitely appreciated.

One other way the show subtly provides its lessons/morals is through its presentation, as Ultra Seven X is a good show graphically. The red alien fighter himself looks updated and sleek, a decision that allowed the hero fit into more modern times and tastes. The lighting is also handled expertly, going hand in hand with the difficulty of living in the city. It’s eerily dark almost all the time in the streets and in the bars. Even bright days have flushed out colors, as if there really is no “color” in the setting in more ways than one. As most dystopias go, the depiction Ultra Seven X’s is well above average.

The vast majority of Ultra Seven X has the format of a Scooby Doo show. Jin and friends are given an investigation to head from their enigmatic superior, the gang snoops around, finds the perpetrator then resolves the conflict one way or another. Perhaps it's too simple to boil down the many stories in this show as such, but as someone who's new to the detective genre I found the mysteries to actually be well constructed. I found it hard to predict what would happen next until the part when the show spills the beans for me with effective results.

One episode involves a "Red Coat Killer" who is after drug syndicate members. A witness of this killer said that this alien was in fact his girlfriend, and because she got shot by the syndicate she became the rampaging killer donning the red outfit. But Jin and friends realize that this testimony was only a fabrication; the witness was in fact the rampaging alien, and when he got shot he inadvertently killed his human girlfriend. The camera slowly phases away to show actual reality: The alien man was wearing a red coat and high heels to complete his charade. It was an intense episode to say the least, and it is an indicator of how well written individual episodes are in this Ultra Seven X.

From left to right: K, Jin, Ultra Seven, exposition fairy and S.

Because the audience will be spending a vast majority of the show with Jin and his crew solving alien mysteries, it is a good thing that the characters are likeable if at times flat. Jin is the weak link as a generic do-gooder, although his amnesia allows for an interesting backstory. Agent K, Jin’s partner, is slightly more complex, with a smiling, jokey exterior that masks cold-blooded determination and bad-assitude. Agent S as an action girl, and kicks all sorts of butt. She butts heads with K on several occasions, providing the belligerent sexual tension and genuinely funny moments throughout the show. The cast is not awesome overall, but at least its quality does not drag down the show.

What does hamper the show is that Ultra Seven feels so out of place plot-wise because he does so little. The fights he gets into are so short, 5 minutes tops. The brevity of fights isn’t the worst thing in the world; what kills the action is that it is almost always incredibly one-sided to Ultra Seven’s favor. There’s even one episode where all Ultra Seven does is wave goodbye to an alien ship! Compare the action sequences for the humans. It is fast paced with a balance of martial arts and gunslinging. The combatants were even, so there is the tension that something can go wrong. I sometimes wonder aloud why this Ultra Seven has to be in the show in the first place.

Ultra Seven FINALLY gets some decent action/screen time against a bug army... in the last episode.

The people behind the show is also dropped the ball when it came to the music. Granted, there were some positive spots. There is a rocking guitar for some fight scenes, and the show usually makes a good choice of when to put music in the scene and when to keep things quiet. But there are some glaring omissions. The lack of an opening disturbs me the most, because a great opening theme can leave an indelible impression to the audience and be what connects people back to the show for years to come. The ending theme is mixed for me. “Another Day Comes” by Pay Money to My Pain is a good song, but like Ultra Seven himself the tune feels out of place.

Ultra series are almost intended for children, because there is the need to sell toys/ models of Ultramen and daikaiju monsters. Ultra Seven X seems to fit more to the teenage crowd or above, perhaps aiming for longtime fans of the Ultra series that are now in adulthood. The decision to cater to a new age group is not without its hiccups, because the show seems to forget what made the Ultra series special: Giant brawls between Ultraman ___ and monsters. But its attempt to spin a darker, more complex tale is spot on both narratively and graphically, and the show should be given credit for such an effort.

For about 4 and a half hours of your time to see the whole show (12 episodes, ~23 minutes each) on YouTube, you can certainly do much worse than Ultra Seven X.

Start the Conversation

A Digimon-Power Rangers Lovechild? The Digimon Frontier Review

From left to right: Zoe, Tommy, Takuya, JP and Koji.

Meet Takuya, Koji, Zoe, Tommy and JP. They are five teenagers with attitude who will become the unwitting saviors of our world against the forces of evil!

If I blank out the names above, you might have guessed that I was talking Power Rangers or Super Sentai. But in fact, I could also be referring to characters from Digimon Frontier, a 2002-03 anime that has flipped the script as Digimon shows go. While Digimons did the bulk of the fighting in past incarnations of the franchise, Frontier puts the kids themselves in the warzone; the humans themselves transform into Digimon to save the Digital World from the many villains they encounter.

It’s a drastically different take, all right. But just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s good. Digimon Frontier has some major missteps when it came to its character cast and plot pacing, though it also has some pluses that make the show at least watchable.

The most important plus for this show has to be its music. You are guaranteed to have at least one good tune to listen to per episode that can generate excitement and punctuate awesome moments. The theme songs are a start. Both the original theme song and the dub’s alternate are impressive and fit right into the show. The former is 'Fire', written by longtime Digimon songwriter Koji Wada, has a rocking guitar and the message to follow your heart and break your personal limits/boundaries. The dub’s theme song (A World For Us All), written by Chris Horvath, is no dud either. With its tribal-esque elements it stresses camaraderie and togetherness, a key theme of the show given that the main characters are strangers to start out and need to work together.

Another feature that makes the show cooler is its Spirit Evolution [aka morphing] sequence. You got bar codes everywhere and a great color balance of black, light blue and some other color with catchy evolution music blaring in the background. The Japanese version uses Wada’s “With the Will”, which really amps up the excitement of the sequence. “The Last Element” for the Japanese version is also an energetic piece for the special evolutions. The dub music isn’t as enjoyable as Wada’s piece, but it’s again a combination of techno beats and tribal mysticism. The latter harkens back to the nature-esque origins of the Digimon spirits, the former complementing the bar-code, machine-like putting together of our heroes during the evolution process.

But as much as the music is well above average, the people behind Digimon Frontier have made some serious miscalculations in some key parts of the show. It is awesome to see everyday kids transform into almighty Digimon guardians, but engaging personalities, backstories etc. are also vital to give the characters more emotional depth and contribute to the quality of the show. Frontier’s cast is sadly unimpressive. There is not much to any character in terms of personality and complexity, as they each embody one worn-out trope.

Takuya (middle) and Koji (right) get the bulk of the screen time, but to the detriment of the entire team.

You got Takuya, the fearless, hotheaded, leap-before-you-look leader who is teamed up with Koji. The latter is, unsurprisingly, a calculating, unemotional lone wolf. It’s not like we saw this combination a gazillion times, or saw better iterations of that kind of duo. And yet, these two are actually the more prominent characters out of the five kids. Tommy, Zoe and JP on the other hand fall into the “useless, why the hell are you even here” category, as midway through the series their powers get taken by Takuya and Koji to evolve into bigger and badder Digimon, rendering the threesome to be sideline cheerleaders.

Zoe fits that “useless” role to a tee. Sadly the writers made her into an incompetent fighter and the source for fan service; as the team’s smurfette she has only one major victory all season, and that win was against the smurfette of the villains’ five-man band! Every other time she was outclassed by the baddies very quickly. Her Digimon forms are revealing, attempting to flash as much skin as possible to the teenage male demographic. There is also this dandy little clip which pretty much sums up the writers’ views of the team’s only female protagonist. There’s also not much else to note about Zoe, except that she grew up in Italy, could utter Italian phrases and is awkward communicatively. That’s about it.

There are Digimon characters, but they aren't worth discussing. One is an exposition fairy (left), the other is poorly designed comic relief (right).

All I can say about JP is that he wants to get into Zoe’s pants, eats a lot of chocolate and can’t make friends because, well, he tries to bribe people via magic tricks and chocolate. Beyond showing this flash of insight he doesn't really change per se [other than being a little more agreeable], or manage to overcome his flaws. Tommy does have some merit; as the youngest member of the group he has to grow up, stand up for himself, and be less trusting of complete strangers. He does not have the most original character arc, but at the end of the show you do see some lasting change in the guy. Sadly the writers have benched him from the action anyways.

And you think it’s just our heroes that have these issues. The villains are even less interesting if you can imagine that. The first four villains only have one gimmick, and that’s their accents. One sounds like an ogre/troll, another a Brooklyn cab driver. The team’s smurfette has a Southern Belle drawl and the leader of this “team” speaks Old English [Thou, Ye, Hath, you get the drill]. All the villains except Duskmon [who happened to be a kid trapped by the bad guys] just want to conquer for the sake of conquering. There is zero depth to any of them.

The Royal Knights, and their saga, almost made this show unbearable.

The other major misstep in Digimon Frontier has to be how the plot is paced. Though the series is 50 episodes long, it could have been pared down to maybe 30 or 40 had it not been for filler. Granted, filler early on is actually a good thing; coming in the audience don’t know anything about their heroes, and those episodes allow it to know more about them. Episode 7 has Takuya and Koji show off their contrasting personalities over how they should treat Tommy [lightly or harshly, given Tommy’s age]. Episode 8 allows Zoe to explain why she is stand-offish to JP. Overall these instances are good uses of filler episodes, even though the characters aren’t highly developed to begin with.

Unfortunately there is more instances of filler used poorly. Episode 18 is a Wacky-Racer parody, as the fivesome race on Train Digimon for no reason. Episode 19 has the characters cooking a bunch of burgers with a Digimon family. Exactly what do they contribute to the overall plot? But the ultimate crime of the show has to be its “Royal Knights Saga”. It lasts from Episodes 37 to 47, and in all these episodes the two Royal Knights defeat Koji’s and Takuya’s ultimate evolution forms every time. It’s the same crap over and over again and it gets painfully boring. What we got here is a show that has overstayed its welcome due to poor use of filler.

The show does end on a high note, with a tone of finality that is rarely seen in most shows nowadays. But any advantages this show has are compromised by a cast with barely anything redeeming or memorable about it and a story with uneven pacing. It’s not a completely terrible show, because there are good music pieces, flashy evolution scenes and some cool action, and I’d definitely recommend the series to anyone curious. Just make sure to temper your expectations if you do want to join Takuya and company in this adventure.

17 Comments

Are you a Laker Fan? Follow these guys.

Lakers/NBA/basketball fan? These guys are worth your while.

These two assume that you have some knowledge of the NBA, especially info about the Los Angeles Lakers. From time to time they also drop an F-Bomb to make a point, thus ruling them out as family entertainment. That being said, if you are a Laker follower, an NBA aficionado , or a b-ball junkie who wants some smart yet funny analysis on the Purple and Gold, go tune in to the duo known as The Kamenetzky Brothers.

The Kamenetzkys (Kamenetzki? Kamenetzkies?), or the K Bros for short, are former writers for the LA Times and ESPN. The twosome, Andy [right] and Brian [baldy], provide coverage and analysis for all that is Lakers. During their tenure at ESPN (where I first heard of them back in 2009-ish), they were the primary writers for the ESPN LA Lakers blog, in addition to chipping in appearances in radio shows such as Mason and Ireland and Max and Marcellus. Today they run The Land O’Lakers blog and continue to do so, with a podcast episode here and there for extra measure.

So why do I want to highlight their work, Laker reader? Their strengths lie in their style consisting of both self-deprecating, pop culture humor and sharp, one-of-a-kind, Laker analysis. You can usually count on Andy and Brian to drop a pop culture reference to add a bit of silliness in their works. For instance, when they feel like the Lakers need to fleece another team in a trade, they will add this link in. But their humor really shows in the podcast; In one episode Brian recalled that he pronounced the name of music artist Flo Rida as “Florida”, not “Flow-Ridah”. They love to poke fun at themselves, and remain lighthearted whether talking about the Purple and Gold or Justin Bieber’s abandoned pet monkey.

The Kamenetzky Brothers formerly worked for ESPN Los Angeles and LA Times

But I think the humor is merely icing on the cake because it is their analysis and opinions of the Laker-scape that sets from apart from other LA sports writers and/or radio hosts. There are some bright spots in the group of LA sportswriters and radio hosts, but there are some really, really one-dimensional personalities. Two of them ooze Laker homer-ism in its worst form [to be fair, they work for the team]. One is a “Laker Cynic”, a ‘shoot any Laker who smiles’ prototype. One self-centered radio host cannot realize that he’s only as smart as the rest of his colleagues.

The content and commentary these guys produce have some “ah ha” moments, but a good chunk of their work only seem to preach to the Laker fan choir. That’s where the K Bros. come in. It’s not to say that Andy an

d Brian don’t write material similar to their contemporaries in southern California. But more often than not they present unique views on the Lakers without appearing overly contrarian or outrageous. In a nutshell, as I’ve tweeted:

“The @KamBrothers are who @ESPN_FirstTake should be emulating. Debate, yes, but with legit counterarguments, cooler heads #Respect

Sorry I can't embed my tweet.

For instance, there is no question that Laker Land wants the Zen Master, Phil Jackson, to return to the Lakers front office, either as a coach [preferable] or a management person. But not so fast, argues the K. Brothers. Are we even sure that Phil wants to come back and coach when he has more to lose than gain? Does he even have the energy to endure the long grind of an NBA season at his age? Does his basketball knowledge help in this day and age when the league is smaller, faster and more pick-and-roll heavy? Are we certain that PJ can coach last year’s team to contender status? All of which are legitimate concerns that I never hear from anyone else.

Is Phil really as infallible as many would make out to believe? To the K. Bros [esp. Andy], no.

Then of course, the Kamenetzkys address Kobe Bryant. In their own words, LA treats the Black Mamba like a “half-basketball god and half political prisoner”, but again there is a list of questions. On a basketball level, we are all enamored by 24’s work ethic and offensive game. But the K. Bros aren’t afraid to remind their audience that Kobe’s off-ball defense has issues [to put it mildly]. They understand that Kobe’s presence can make playing/working for the Lakers uncomfortable, as criticizing Kobe isn’t worth it on so many levels [even if it’s warranted]. And most bask in Kobe’s winner status throughout his career, but is it just him, or is it also because he played on great teams set up by management?

Again, these are observations indicated by both Brian and Andy, while of course giving respect to one of the greatest players to ever lace up for the NBA. I can go on and on about what they write and how they write up, but if you are a Laker fan, or an NBA fan, two writers that are probably worth your attention are the Kamenetzky Brothers. The fact that they were nominated for ‘Best Sports Blog’ on the LA Weekly Poll highlights goes to show how good and captivating they are in covering the Proud Purple and Gold

Start the Conversation

Code Lyoko Evolution Analyis Piece

Is Code Lyoko Evolution worth your time? Here's my opinion.

In my last blog post I went over the general premise, plot and structure of Code Lyoko Evolution [CLE], a show that continues the story of the original Code Lyoko cartoon. This post is largely going to contain analysis. Specifically, I am going to actually give an opinion as to whether or not this new series is watchable or not. If you don't know anything about the show, I highly advise you to look at the introduction piece and this post I've also done about the show a while back.

That being said, I do admit that I am operating in a biased perspective. I do not have as much experience reviewing television shows as I do video games. I never went to acting school or the like, hence my judgment on the show's acting will probably differ from someone who has experience in either creating or watching TV series, especially cartoons. I recommend you actually watching episodes 1 to 19 (maybe with the dub) here and judge for yourself. If you can't, however, here's one take on the series.

What Went Right

The Lyoko Graphics

Thank your lucky stars that Code Lyoko moved on from visuals LIKE THIS

If there is anything that is 'evolved' it has to be the animated portions of the show. This trend has been present in the original series, as the online versions of the characters revamped their outfits to appear more like actual digital warriors. But in CLE the graphics kicked it up a notch, resulting in an incredibly stylish presentation once there is business to be done in Lyoko. The design is catches the eye and the animation is incredibly smooth. The Lyoko Warriors appear even MORE badass than ever [can it be because the foreheads slightly shrunk?], and the neat little things such as the monster explosions, again, makes the CGI fighting look awesome.

The growing imperfection of the group

The original series had too much of that goody-good quality; most if not all the main characters in Code Lyoko are flawed but not that flawed. They may be unable to declare their love [Ulrich, Yumi], or be serious at the right time [Odd] but regardless the characters came off as angels and saints, something that didn't really suit well with me.

For the first five episodes, William needed to prove that he is worth keeping around despite his flaws and grudges towards the group.

In CLE, you get the feeling that the characters in the gang are still largely good people, but the flaws have a bigger effect on the big picture. Ulrich still cannot declare his love for Yumi and vice versa, and Odd can still be a joker at the wrong time, but the issues grow beyond that now. For instance, Ulrich's distrust of William entering the group was so incredible that he went solo in Lyoko in one episode, giving XANA a better chance to win the day. Yumi's homework story scorched Ulrich to the point that the latter didn't want to even come to Lyoko during a mission. Jeremy is no longer the true Einstein of the group; that distinction goes to Laura, and thus he can actually make mistakes. In fact, it was his inability to comprehend what Laura is doing [because she was too fast for him] that rendered Laura invulnerable to the mindwipe. His lack of knowledge about the Cortex and Tyron makes him even more mortal.

Aelita has always been that 'perfect girl' who could do no wrong in the past. But she has completely changed, especially once Laura came into the picture. Once the calm, angelic figure, Aelita can now be pushy, demanding, and even mean. She is especially hard on Laura given how the former perceived the new kid as her replacement as backup techie and love interest to Jeremy. This pushiness can come at a price; in one episode, Aelita is so convinced that she is right that she does something against Jeremy's wishes, resulting in XANA gaining more codes [ie more power].

You still get the sense that the group is in the right; there is still no doubt about it. But, more than ever, you feel that for the gang to beat XANA, they have to address their inner faults [personal and collegial] just as much as they need to be sharp in combat against their nemesis. Cliched? Probably. But this trend is still a good step in the right direction.

Less Filler?

There are still episodes that do not mean much in the grand scheme of things, but you always get the feeling that the group is continually growing in knowledge and understanding about what it dealing with, be it XANA or Tyron. Every episode usually ends up with one tiny discovery, such as the Cortex and the ninjas who reside in it. More often than not XANA also gets closer from reaching full power because it was able to take some codes from the kids. Compare this trend to the very early seasons of Code Lyoko, which were truly filler for about 95% of the time. Because of the shrinking number of filler, I got the sense that the story moved a lot faster than before and thus got me interested in returning to the show and watching what the team learns next. Here's to hope that the ongoing subplot with Aelita's mother [who was presumed gone] could also be put to good use.

The Theme Song

Fans of the original show are most likely disappointed in the new theme song; but then again "A World Without Danger" is a pretty good intro theme to begin with. The new song has more of a techno feel, is much shorter, and has no lyrics. I know I am in the minority concerning the theme, but I actually like it. It plays to the technology/digital theme that will be prevalent in this show, and most importantly sets a tone of excitement in conflict; when you hear the song you imagine a grand conflict between the Lyoko Warriors and XANA.

What Went Wrong

The Dubbing

To be fair, I don't know if the show will get dubbed once the hiatus ends [whenever that may be], but the one dubbed episode already indicates some problems should that process go through. To the old fans of the show, the voices simply are not the same. Jeremy's voice to higher than normal, Yumi's is softer, and Aelita's sounds younger.

But then again, let's give the show the benefit of the doubt; assume that the new show cannot hire the old voice actors back for whatever reason. Even if we allow the show to re-explore and reinvent the cast in minor physical ways, the dubbing over is so obvious that it looks painful. The mouths and actual voices simply do not match.There are some other things I would like to change if I could regarding the voices. Yumi's voice actor, for instance, has to be replaced. The character has always been the tomboyish, I- give-no-crap personality. But now she sounds nothing like that. The instant when she was getting her codes drained away made her more like a damsel-in-distress that she never really was; it's just so out of character. William's voice projects an air of cunning and subtlety [think conniving politician or civil servant]; the problem is that William has always been more of loudmouth and someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve. To be fair, though, he still has that snarky quality about him. Odd, Jeremy and Ulrich's voice actors are the only ones that can actually channel the real personalities of their respective characters. This only becomes a real problem once the dubs are shown on TV channels; only time will tell if that will actually happen.

The Acting

I could talk about how some actors might not look like their Lyoko characters, but I would start sounding like a ticked off fanboy.

The decision to have live-action in the real world as opposed to animation can and will always be questioned because that was not what the original series did in the past, not to mention the other failures of shows that shifted from CGI to live action [Dragonball Evolution, Last Airbender]. But the show could still help itself in those instances, because as far as I am concerned the acting could be better than it is [dubbed or not]. Probably because movie the actors are both young and relatively unaccomplished there is a lot of standing around during the dialogue sections, as if you're transported back in time to a school play with children not in their teens. Then again, it could be because it's hard to replicate the same gestures from animated parts without looking too out of place. Strong facial expressions are also lacking, in a way rendering the acting to be a bit robotic. I cannot really comment on the French voice acting because I don't know a lot of French, and thus it would be hard to judge it on its own linguistic merits.

The Verdict

The good and bad points in Code Lyoko Evolution are pretty defined. The show is at its best in the Lyoko world, showing off its gorgeous CGI and fight scenes. Characters are also more expressive [more gestures and facial expression] in those segments. Unfortunately you also need to get past a lot of the live action sequences to understand the plot of the week. The acting could use a bit more polish, and hopefully the actors can get better once they return and shoot more episodes. The production values in those real-world scenes aren't bad, but not eye-popping either.

All in all, if you take away the live action parts, you'll find a solid if hardly overwhelming action sci-fi TV show. But given that I have to review the show in its entirety, it is, as Matt Rorie puts it, Half-Good.

Have you watched Code Lyoko Evolution as well? What do you think about it? Am I right/wrong in the points I raise? Please leave your comments below.

Slap on some helmets and you'll mistake them as Power Rangers. Their outfits look badass.

21 Comments

Code Lyoko Evolution Intro Piece

Is Code Lyoko really evolved? Or is it more of the same? Here's the 101 on the new series.

Hello dear reader,

It has been a while since I wrote anything about Code Lyoko. In case you are unaware, Code Lyoko is a French anime that depicts a handful of children entering a digital world named Lyoko to defeat the evil virus XANA, all the while juggling school responsibilities and what not. I have reviewed three games that had Code Lyoko for its source material: The first game, Quest for Infinity, and Fall of XANA. They range from just bad to plain mediocre. But the subject for this post is not about video games.

There has been a bit of hoopla surrounding Code Lyoko: Evolution (CLE), a continuation series of where the original Code Lyoko cartoon left off. It currently has 19 episodes, all of which is French, before going on an indefinite hiatus. I've watched all 19 episodes, including 1 English dub, because I used to review Code Lyoko games and watched the original series. In this post I just want to outline the general plot of the series so far, and talk about the show's quality in another post; if I put both parts in one blog we'll be here all day.

Introduction

Code Lyoko concluded when the threat of XANA was gone forever and the kids [Jeremy, Aelita, Ulrich, Yumi, Odd] went back into their normal lives. But a couple of months later XANA appears again, albeit in a more limited form through minor electrical vandalisms around the school. The kids are now thrust back into being "Lyoko Warriors" as they need to stop the virus once again. However there are some new status quos worth mentioning.

The Grab For Codes

This spectre was about to suck the codes off of Ulrich until the tower was deactivated.

With XANA back for some reason, the kids have to keep entering Lyoko to deactivate towers, the structures that allow XANA to interact with the real world and cause havoc. Originally Aelita is the only one to do this [making her especially important], but now even Ulrich, Yumi, and Odd can perform the same function [Jeremy is monitoring his friends in the lab, so he does not go to Lyoko]. This is because it is discovered that XANA injected a piece of himself into the Lyoko Warriors to stay alive before it seemingly disappeared. Now XANA wants those codes back.

To do this, XANA creates spectres, human lookalikes whose main directive is to suck up all the codes from the kids. Usually a spectre grabs codes by physically interacting with the kids; hugging is the most effective tool [I KNOW RIGHT]. Should XANA gets all the codes it becomes all-powerful and the kids cannot stop it from doing what it wants. So instead of just creating minor inconveniences, XANA is about retrieving the codes that the kids have. Recently the group has figured a way out to take back codes from XANA, albeit in very small amounts.

The standardization of William Dunbar

William returns to the fight, with his cool XANA-inspired aesthetics.

Throughout the original series William Dunbar was a secondary character. He was a potential romantic interest to Yumi, hence he became a rival to Ulrich in that regard. He helped the gang at times and was even a Lyoko Warrior after some period of routinely bumping into the group and helping. However right when he became a full-fledged member, XANA took control of him. The last season of the show had him constantly fighting against the group he was accepted to.

It is a similar situation in CLE; the group is reluctant to re-integrate William for his past misdeeds. But a couple of heroic moments later on Lyoko, William is finally one of the guys. Personally I like how William gets seamlessly transitioned into the core, but on the flipside that makes him a bit more normal than I wanted. William always was someone who did his own thing before Lyoko, and even though he is still a bit of a spunky dude he still feels now a bit generic. The fact that he doesn't really have any hobby or personal subplots makes him even less compelling. In short, he's just... there.

The addition of Laura Gauthier

Now this is an addition that I think makes sense and is handled better. Laura is a completely new character, exclusive to CLE. Her nickname is "Ms Einstein", putting her intelligence on par [if not more] with the Aelita's and Jeremy's. The group approaches her when they have a technical problem that they cannot solve in one episode, and while she provides the know-how it's hard to call her a part of the group. The first time Laura came to help resulted in Aelita wiping out her memories as the latter distrusts the former bitterly. But when the group comes to Laura for help again, Laura bugged the computer so that her memories will not wipe out, forcing the gang to accept her into the fold begrudgingly. Tensions are also present because Aelita fears that Laura will supplant her as Jeremy's love interest and/or main source of technical expertise. Sending Laura to Lyoko further diminishes Aelita's importance in the group and is the last straw. Gauthier is not really close to anyone in the group to begin with, although Jeremy and William do stand up for her.

Laura Gauthier (right) shifts the battlefront from "Versus XANA" to "Within the Group", and the plot has benefitted from it.

Perhaps this is one of CLE's strengths, that the drama comes from the group having both XANA and internal pressures to deal with [and other villains, as we see later] brought on by this upstart/hotshot. Laura is an interesting character because she doesn't understand the weight of fighting via Lyoko and saving the world, and thus can do things considered selfish or agenda-chasing. She can turn her colleagues off and come off as very pushy and arrogant. She can make comments that imply that she is not serious about the job at hand. In her defence, she has been used the first time around; she lost her memory [twice, which she remembered the second time] with virtually no say on the verdict. What exactly was she supposed to think , that her memory loss was supposed to be for some greater good? You can't convince me that she would be able to comprehend that.

Furthermore, she is constantly thrust into one difficult situation after another. For instance when her father told her that she needs to move to another school, she showed her dad the supercomputer to explain to him why she needs to stay [only for the group to wipe the father's memories]. To the group Laura was close to being a traitor because she let the Lyoko secret out. There was another episode when an agent was interrogating Laura about Lyoko; if she cooperates she can get a fast track to work in super-high-tech laboratories, playing to her desires of working with the finest scientific gadgets. Just watching Laura having a personal tug-of-war within herself about her relations to Jeremy and company shows a bit of improvement on the writers' part; they now understand that group dynamics are not supposed to be fluid, not hunky dory, in a good cartoon.

The Cortex

The Cortex is a new region of signifiance in the Code Lyoko story. (This by the way is a sketch, not a screenshot)

Lyoko used to be the key battleground between Jeremy et. al and XANA. It still is to a certain extent, when Ulrich or someone else has to shut down towers. But the new place of interest is the Cortex, a fortress-esque structure that contains the all-important database that helps the gang to discover the origins and backstory behind the supercomputer they used to keep entering Lyoko. The group also comes to the realization that it is the home of a new adversary.

With menacing impressions and incredible combat skills, the ninjas of the Cortex are to be feared.

You see, the Cortex is managed by a man named Professor Tyron, a former colleague of Aelita's dad [who invented the supercomputer] who wants to use the advanced tech for his own benefit. It is possible that he is behind XANA's revival; it is not claimed yet albeit implied. Tyron can also virtualize his henchmen called ninjas into the Cortex to deal with the kids. These ninjas are most likely the group's biggest obstacle, because they are just as capable as the group in a combat perspective; they are ten times more intelligent than the monster XANA keeps throwing at the children. Only one time did the ninjas get defeated in the hands of the Lyoko Warriors. Things get complicated when it is seen that Aelita's mother [who was thought to be dead] is working with Tyron. Now the group is in a race against time to both stop Tyron but also get the bottom of why Aelita's mother is with Tyron in the first place.

I will write another piece on this show, this time being a bit more analytical and giving my 2 cents concerning the watchability of this show. I hope you stay tuned.

10 Comments

Rapid Fire: Ultimate Spider-Man (NDS)

I return to Ultimate Spider-Man after a major hiatus.

*Dear reader, unfortunately Giantbomb.com still refuses to allow me to submit reviews, now the site says "Please select an object [to review]" although I chose the game to review for a thousand times. So I'm just going to post the review here. Apologies for the inconvenience.

------

Ultimate Spider-Man is one of those games I really wanted to come back to. The first time I played it came from summer school close to a decade ago. I was on the bus when a friend pulled out an NDS to pass the time. When I asked to play on the NDS for he agreed, and out of the many games he had I picked Ultimate Spider-Man (USM). Long story short I had a blast playing it on the bus, but that was as close as I got to the game. Once summer school ended I didn't get my hands on USM because I was nowhere near a Gamestop and never heard about Amazon. The game just faded into memory... until recently. I traded in an XBox 360 game for a used copy of Ultimate Spider-Man. Finally, I had a chance to finish what I started, and play a game I adored as a 13ish-year-old. After playing through it twice, I find it very satisfying and surprising that USM, despite being close to 8 years old, still delivers a fun and stylish experience that puts many games today [of even console games if I may say so myself] to shame.

In this game you play as both Spiderman and uber-villain Venom. The former is trying to figure out the whereabouts of his family while kicking villain butt at the same time. You will run into villains such as the Rhino, Electro, and even the mercenary Silver Sable. Venom, who is possessed by Peter's friend Eddie Brock, is trying to go after Spider-Man every chance he gets because of his own motives. Eddie is also pursued by a giant corporation for his Venom suit. You first play as Spider-man that introduces to you the basics for playing your friendly Web-slinger. You can certainly propel yourself forward via web-swinging, stick to walls/surfaces and have your share of punches and kicks to do away with thugs, robbers and super-baddies. You also have a useful dodge move [aka Spider Sense] to avoid 99% of enemy attacks. But what makes this game as Spider-Man that much more interesting is that civilians get caught in the middle of the struggle, which means that as Spidey you also have to save them from things like falling off a ledge or carry them away from a fire. Failure to save these hapless people and it is game over. So instead of just moving from screen left to screen right, you have to zip all over the place to find anyone of need and helping them. It is gives you a challenge by making the Spider-man portions races against time, forcing you to get everyone to safety and not go about the deeds leisurely.

Spidey doing his everyday work, lifting cars off of a hapless person.

Venom presents a somewhat different [yet fun] challenge altogether. Unlike his heroic counterpart Venom is not going to save his breath rescuing people, but rather has to save himself; the Symbiote suit gradually decreases his health over time. To counteract this issue Venom has to go up to any human being and consume them. You press the R button when up close to a human enemy or civilian and Venom starts to chomp down on the victim, increasing a portion of his health until the enemy reaches 0 health. But it's not just the need to chow down on people that makes Venom different from Spider-Man. Though both share attack combos and can use their webbings to reach some places, Venom does not have a speed boost [no web swing per se] and does not have the dodge move. What he does have is his tendrils, which can be used both with the Y button and the touch screen. You can pick things up with your tendril and do as you please with it. You can move some objects onto pressure switches or abuse your opponent with them [smack them into a wall, eat them]. One fun thing you can do as Venom is catch a Helicopter missile and redirect the thing back to where it was fired from.

Venom strolling around the park, killing bystanders and later going OM NOM NOM!

The two characters are different in kind, but what puts Ultimate Spider-Man over the edge are two things: Excellent control and stage design. Aside from some rare slips where Spidey's dodge doesn't propel him forward, the controls are tight and excellent. You really feel like you can pull off just about anything, and that dying from running into a laser fence has more to do with your incompetence than the game's inability to provide strong controls. Once you get used to the game both characters will move at a lightning pace without a hitch, and do what you command them to do. What makes the game even better is that the game really allows you to take advantage of the skills provided. As Venom for instance there is a platforming stage where you need to carry around a giant battering ram wherever you go via tendril and ram down a couple of doors. You have to carry the darn thing even while climbing up and guiding yourself through some laser defenses; it does take a bit of hand-eye-coordination to pull off the feat. As for Spider-Man, there is one instance where you need to catch up to a bad guy, but the bad guy then fires upon a building, forcing you to save those people before the villain gets away. The best stages are the ones that allow you to play both Spidey and Venom; both take very different paths on the same stage and travel differently. Venom smashes his way through most steel doors while Peter Parker has to travel through air vents to reach his location, or gather keys to get to other places.

You are going to kick major butt in this game and look good doing so. It's not just because of the slick controls, but it is also due to a very lavish presentation. I kid you not, you would mistake what you see in the game for a comic strip. The backgrounds are really colorful, the panels that give the game's plot are stylishly moving in and out of the screen, and the stills in stage-select are exquisitely drawn as if it actually came out of a Marvel comic book. One element I think is cool is that when your character gets shocked or burned there is an onomatopoeia to indicate that you have been burned or zapped [something like 'Tsss' to signal that you just brushed yourself against a flame]. The only issue I can possibly find is that enemy grunts are a bit generic, but that is not a great problem per se. The main minimalist soundtrack for this game could be a bit overused, but it sounds dramatic and bold, something that symbolizes the super-hero comic book genre. There is a lot of voice-acting in the plot sections, and they are all competently done; not too many hams or robots heard in the voice department. Props for the voice actor for Venom, because the voice really sells this nemesis as a badass villain, which he is. The grunt he makes when he takes a violent swing at something is animalistic and ferocious, something to definitely be feared.

A Marvel illustrations book, right onto your NDS screen. This screenshot is by far my favorite.

The game is not perfect by any means. I really wished the boss battles were a little more creative, because most bosses have you mashing buttons and just dodge a move here and there. The game is also very short; I finished the game in about two sittings even when restarting some parts. The multiplayer, for all intents and purposes, is not worth discussing. Key issues aside, Ultimate Spider-Man for the NDS is a game you have to have if you are a fan of action games [assuming you have an NDS or 3DS] or the Spider-Man franchise. This game has some very creative moments, so much so you would be fooled to think that the game is released after 2010. To think that this game is still so fun, even after close to a decade, is a testament to this game's quality and attention to detail. Cheers, Marvel and Activision. You two have outdone yourselves here.

I give Ultimate Spider-Man for the NDS 4 Stars out of 5.

Start the Conversation

Matty Memoirs - Teen Titans Battle Blitz (part 2)

I am back to talk about Teen Titans: Battle Blitz

Before writing this article I told my friend how excited I was to start this section of my "memoir". I really was excited to reflect an enthusiasm about this game that I would never be able to replicate ever again. I wanted to talk about arguably my two favorite characters of the game, both of whom were added at the same time. As the picture partially indicates, this section discusses the playable character Raven, and the final villain fighter, Plasmus, of Teen Titans: Battle Blitz, one online game I have fond memories of back in the day.

I compare my eagerness with Battle Blitz with the popularity trajectory of the National Basketball Association (the NBA). A formerly un-watchable basketball league thanks to brawling and a lack of charismatic superstars, the NBA suddenly found a growing audience once it had players Larry Bird and Earvin "Magic" Johnson playing for the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers. But the league's stature catapulted to stratospheric heights upon the advent of superstar Michael Jordan. Especially after the US Dream Tream showcased itself to the world in the 1992 Olympics, you can clearly see an upswing of popularity of the game all over the globe. Kids now wanted to play basketball to Be Like Mike [Jordan], Magic or any other NBA superstar.

When I first started playing Battle Blitz I had a positive response to it because it looked presentable, the fighting was simple for me to grasp and l liked the character pool was not bad despite only having ONE playable character when I started. The additions of Raven (and in a way Plasmus) are the equivalent to Michael Jordan entering the NBA; suddenly I became a giddier, more excited fan of the fighting game.

How do I describe my first impressions of Raven? Easily my #firstvideogamecrush. Complementing her already lithe frame with a leotard to accentuate her (admittedly pale) legs, this new heroine admittedly made me feel a bit gaga. But Raven wasn't just a pretty face; she too was a bit of a mystery. She was wearing a cape with a hood, concealing the upper half of her face. In a way, I could see her, but not wholly so. The Raven I'm controlling hasn't exactly revealed herself completely. It added to the intrigue.

Further adding to her enigma factor was Raven's moveset. Remember, I didn't know anything about the Teen Titans and what each superhero and do, and back then I never saw a hero quite like Raven. Helped by the fact that I didn't understand the word "telekinesis", I didn't exactly know what Raven was doing when I used her special move, the first one was in a short a projectile attack. My thoughts were "so she is launching a black gear thingy towards the enemy, floating mid-air... the hell?" She could also do a "telekinetic spin", which was a lot like Jinx's twirl but with shorter range. Like her projectile attack the items she's spinning around depends on the location. Again, nice touch. Her last move made her a tad bit badass, where she jumps into the air, does a little backflip, and throws down (as my friend would put it) "a bunch of garbage from above towards the enemy's head". Probably could have used a more emphatic sound effects when the trash landed onto the ground, but oh well - a bit nitpicky on my part. She may have a somewhat similar skillset as Robin, but Raven did it with flair for my tastes. She looked very powerful. Long story short, I couldn't peel my eyes (or attention) off of Raven; she was hot, mysterious and unique, really a one-of-a-kind superhero in my (then-very) limited knowledge of superheroes.

Raven doing work, using her "Telekinetic Spin" against Mammoth.

As much as I love to talk about Raven, I would not have been into the game as much had it not been for Plasmus, the final villain character you have to fight against. Now, when going through the gauntlet of villains in Battle Blitz, you notice that the next foe is harder to beat than the last, either because of the larger HP pool (esp. Cinderblock) or because later foes hit harder (Mammoth). Logically, the next villain after Cinderblock has to be even harder to kill. Plasmus is that villain.

There's a lot to say about this gooey adversary first. He is the only champion to be unable to both jump and kick. He is also the slowest character in the game. But he makes up for it beautifully because he is the largest character in the game (both in size and HP bar), and he has four special moves as opposed to three. His first move makes him toss out sludge to the area in front of him; already he has an area-of-effect move. But it doesn't stop there. He boasts the only homing projectile in the game with his sludge crab. Even if you jump over it the crab will just turn the other way and bite you. The best thing is to just conservatively block the crab. Thirdly Plasmus has a quick claw attack forward that takes as much space as his first move. Finally he has "Sludge Explosion" that is essentially his ultra-area-of-effect move; though the windup time is very slow, once he launches the sludge it is impossible to dodge. Like the crab attack, blocking the attack and take the reduced damage is the best option.

Simply put, Plasmus is the big bad guy, the last roadblock to complete the villain gauntlet. And the developers could not have made a better "final boss". You can forget about close ranged combat, as his claw attack is so fast and does a lot of damage; you cannot beat Plasmus in a match of fisticuffs. His ranged attacks can hit anywhere and everywhere, which made me for the first time play more defensively whenever he pulls out a Sludge Crab or when he uses Sludge Explosion. He forced me to pull out all the stops in my limited fighting game experience. So when I first brought down Plasmus (with Raven of course), I felt a surge of satisfaction and achievement.

The game ends with a message simply saying its congratulations of you beating the game, and to try beating the game with another champion. It's nothing special, but the video game journey leading up to it was great. Playing as Raven, my first video game crush, undoubtedly made things really interesting, and the game gave me the perfect final battle against the best villain in the game; the bout was nothing short of a dream matchup. More importantly, the additions of Raven and Plasmus made me feel really excited about the upcoming characters in Battle Blitz, the remaining three Titans who are still left out. How I reacted to them is the subject of the next entry.

UPDATE: A New Afterword (on Sept. 27, 2014)

I actually did start on writing my third and final blog for Battle Blitz nearly a year ago, but for one reason for another I couldn't bring myself to finish it. I guess that Raven was such an awesome character for me (as fighter and concept) that it led me to expect the moon out of the final three Titans: Cyborg, Starfire and Beastboy. To say that I was unimpressed with any of these characters is an understatement. Out of the three, Cyborg impressed me the most with his awesome laser cannon attack that reaches from one end of the screen to another. But beyond that flash of cool, there was very little to keep me invested in the game. Starfire was essentially a Robin clone with different sprites, and Beastboy was the worst Titan as a fighting character. 2 of his gap-closing abilities (as rhino and pterodactyl) always leaves him open for counterattack, and both do not do enough damage to warrant their use. His projectile attack, a gorilla-induced shockwave projectile, takes too long to wind up and again does too little damage.

Battle Blitz has grown quite a bit since my youth. There is now a final version released eons ago with which you can play all 10 characters (the 5 titans, and the 5 villains) in the game. That being said, if you play as a villain you are only going to play against the five heroes (and vice versa), so that means you won't have your hero vs. hero or villain vs. villain matchup.

I could go into how it feels to play the giant Plasmus or the unorthodox Gizmo (who, as stated in my first post for the game, needs to set up his glider prior to jumping), but such memories came long after my initial encounter with the Battle Blitz I first heard of and played, when I became so much more familiar with fighting games. I still want to bask in the nostalgia of my youth, when the only gaming items I had were a clunky Windows 2000 and a dark-turquoise Gameboy Color.

One final memory before I close this post. It was almost a custom upon visiting one of my childhood friends that we fire up the computer and play Battle Blitz in his house. We competed with each other as to how many points we can score by fighting against the villains (I neglected to talk about the scoring system, but hopefully the screenshots I provided indicate that it exists). To my eternal chagrin back then, I always had to play Robin, Cyborg and Beastboy (the guy heroes), whilst my friend always had dibs on Raven and Starfire (the female heroes). Looking back, perhaps this was not all too bad an arrangement, because I had 15 fights (3 heroes) to rack up points whilst the friend had only 10 (2 heroes), so I always won when we had the final tally of points scored (we took out a calculator for such an occasion, given the large numbers involved, then scribbled the scores down on a random piece of paper we found). But I still wanted to play Raven XP.

But regardless of who won or lost, or who had which characters, there was always the constant of excitement, anticipation and general fun when we headed to ye olde cartoonetwork.com, selected that Teen Titan's game in the site's game section, and descended into the cartoonish slugfest that was to come. Even after all the fighting games I've played since, namely installments from KOF and Tekken, that game always has a soft spot in my heart as my initiation into the world of fighting games.

Thank you, Battle Blitz, for the memories.

Start the Conversation

Matty Memoirs - Teen Titans Battle Blitz (part 1)

It is time for me to move away from the consoles for now, and talk about Teen Titans: Battle Blitz.

I'm going to stop doing Rapid Fire Reviews for the interim; I think the subsequent entries just weren't as good as I've hoped to be, balancing between compact and informative. For now, I'll write about games that I was very fond of but aren't either console games or handheld games. The games I'll talk about for the next handful of weeks will be mostly Internet games I really liked.

I've actually thought about doing this before, writing about Internet games that dotted my childhood and (less so) teen years, but it wasn't until recently that I really wanted to make this post a reality. This entry is going to be about the earliest Internet game I was very fond of for several reasons: Teen Titans Battle Blitz, a fighting game based off of the Teen Titans cartoon of the early 2000s. But before looking at the final form of the game, I would like to provide a bit of back-story to how I got introduced to the game and its subsequent versions of the game (we'll get to that later).

I was in the fourth grade and at the time I watched a lot of Cartoon Network (I watch more Boomerang nowadays). I don't remember the specifics but a friend of mine at the time couldn't stop talking about the upcoming Teen Titans cartoon coming soon to the channel. I didn't know anything about this show, but the friend directed me to a (now defunct I think) website and also told me to check out its game on the site, Battle Blitz. Taking his word I used the desktop computer (no laptops at the time) to go on to the site and played the game.

Now, I have to note that the Battle Blitz I was subjected to was nothing near the Battle Blitz you can search online and play nowadays. In a pretty clever move by Cartoon Network and the game developers the game only started with very few options. At the time I was starting to play this game I could play only one character, Robin, against four other characters: Jinx, Gizmo, Mammoth and Cinderblock. However, the character selection screen showed that there were four other Titan characters I could play in the future. There too was one more bad guy to be unlocked at a future date. The main objective of this post was to talk about Robin, the Teen Titans character I could play, as well as the four villains.

No, I never got beat that badly, but I wasn't as dominant as I was in the future.

Let me be clear that during the time I started playing this game I really had no experience with fighting games. I did have a Samurai Spirit game for the Gameboy, but most of the time I played that game spamming buttons, with prayer as my best bet for winning. Like a baby taking its first steps away from crawling, I began to exercise the muscle memory to pull off special moves in fighting games. It helps that the game doesn't have a complicated control scheme. You move your character with the directional keys left and right. Up makes you jump, and you can control your jump trajectory a la Super Mario Brothers. Down is your duck; this is your standard block that locks your character in a spot. You take less damage when you block and there are no attacks that can break your block stance, which is something you can see in other fighting games. "Z" is for punching, and "X" is your kick. If you imput certain combinations with the directional keys, then press the punch or kick button, the character uses a special move. Each character has 3 moves of that type. When I first started in Battle Blitz I just spammed the Z and X buttons to win the fight, but eventually I used some of Robin's special moves, as I'll highlight next.

Robin in this game is a pretty standard fighter. His first move is Explosive Disk, which is executed by pressing Down, Right (or left) and then Z. Robin would throw a projectile in the direction he is facing. If the disk lands on an opponent it deals damage. I gotta say, Explosive Disk was the first projectile move I ever used, and also the first "quarter-circle forward punch" move I ever pulled off. It sounds crazy today in front of a video-game literate audience, but I had a kick out of spamming that move to win my fights. I felt a sense of achievement in doing something I never did before in a game; throwing a projectile, and using an attack that is not punch or kick. But my mastery of Robin didn't end there. I eventually learned his other moves. Flying Kick was the next special move I came to master at the time. This move actually does not use a punch of kick button, but it requires you to go Left, Left, Right on the directional keys. Robin would then lunge forward with a kick for a moderate distance, stopping only when he collides into his opponent or reaches his maximum distance for that move. His final special move is Electric Disk Toss, a move that took me quite a while to master what with my limited fighting game experience. It is used when I press Left, Down, Right, and X. At the time the 3 keys baffled me, and so was using X, because until then I used the Z button to pull a special move. But once I finally got that down, I can make Robin throw another disk for a short distance. Unlike the Explosive Disk, however, this Electric Disks explodes upwards, creating a somewhat-wide pillar of energy. If the enemy gets caught by the pillar he or she is knocked back, losing tons of HP. This is by far Robin's most damaging ability, assuming I, the player, can hit the enemy with it. Finally, and this wasn't in the commands list, if Robin is in mid-air and you press X, Robin does a jump-kick streaking downwards towards the enemy. It doesn't do that much damage.

So just to summarize Robin the character from Battle Blitz:

Now that I finished talking about the Boy Wonder, it is time to talk about the characters I played against. I'll be brief for these guys, but one thing I appreciated from this game was that each villain was unique in a way. Also, the order of fighting the villains is set for Robin and the rest of the characters: To fight Gizmo I have to beat Jinx, and to fight Mammoth I need to beat Gizmo and so on. All fights have the Best-of-3 format. Without further ado, the villains.

Jinx is probably the character most resembling a standard fighter like Robin; she can jump, kick and has moderate movement speed. She has three moves; a large psychic ball (projectile called Psychic Wave), a flying kick [Psychic Distortion] that has more range and reach than Robin's, and a twirl (Energy Spin) that unleashes psychic waves around her. Out of all the moves, the last one is probably the most annoying. It doesn't do the most damage (the psychic ball is the most harmful), but the twirl is so instantaneous that it is too fast for you to block. The Flying Kick is also quite fast, but blockable as well.

My first reaction to Gizmo is "wow the dude is short!" He is the smallest character in the game by far, but makes up for it with incredible footspeed; he is the fastest character in the game most likely. Moreover his small size actually can help him avoid some punches, which I eventually learned when I faced him as Robin; only half of the punches connected to Gizmo because of his size. More weirdly though, Gizmo can't kick. And for him to jump he has to get into his Glider form. That being said the glider form makes him more susceptible to attacks, and it only takes a punch or kick to send him crumpling to the ground and to non-glider form. Gizmo has three abilities, but the one move he uses the most is Machine Gun, which fills the entire width of the screen. It too is near-instant, meaning that it is hard to dodge or block against. He has two forms of missile attacks, both of which spray an area with missiles and dealing damage. One is like the Electric Disk in that it creates a pillar that hits both stationary and mid-air, but the time to channel the move is long, so you can easily block the move.

A bad screenshot, but here is Robin fighting Gizmo, who is mid-air and in Glider form.

Mammoth is the bruiser of the first three villain characters, opting to use physical, brute strength rather than gadgets or psychic powers. Though he can't kick he can jump and use three pretty harmful abilities: A ground shockwave projectile, a melee range spinning punch and finally a charge-in move a la Psychic Distortion (Jinx's Flying Kick) that is super fast. Mammoth is where the game is going to get hard; all his special moves deal more damage when compared to other characters' moves. Putting yourself in melee range almost results in a lost cause because Mammoth can do more damage than Robin in a melee fisticuff, so spamming normal punches and kicks are out of the question. Using duck (block) and ranged attacks really pays off, and when I first fought against Mammoth I really needed to use Explosive Disk Toss a lot. At the time, remember, the "quarter circle forward punch" imput still didn't sink into me that much.

Cinderblock is the last villain I got to face until next time. As a hulking statue he is both very tall and very slow. Due to its weight it also cannot jump. But much like Mammoth he can dish out some punishment. It actually shares a similar moveset with Mammoth: A shockwave projectile, a damaging backhand punch (akin to Mammoth's spinning punch), and a double punch that does roughly the same thing as its backhand counterpart. What makes Cinderblock harder to kill, though, is that he has more HP. As a result, when I use the Explosive Disk, it whittles less of Cinderblock's HP bar when comparing with, say, Jinx or Gizmo. Much like Mammoth, fighting it out in melee range is a losing proposition, thus I settled for Explosive Disks and the occasionally Electric Disk.

When I finished fighting Cinderblock I was greeted by a screen with a mugshot of the last villain, but was told that this challenger was not ready yet, then was taken back to the character select screen. That was for now what Battle Blitz was, a simple and yet solidly executed fighting game on the internet, with pretty neat visuals to boot. I looked on at the remaining, blacked-out spots where the rest of the heroes and villains would fill in a future date. I had a pretty fun time with the game despite just playing as Robin. I held out hope that I was going to see the rest of the characters of the game, and have a better time in the game than I already was. Some time later, I was quite right. The next entry of this post is going to talk about the next unlockable fighter in the game, as well as the last villain in the game you get to fight against. I'll give a hint about who this playable combatant is:

Azarath metrion zinthos!

Start the Conversation

Rapid Fire- The 3rd Birthday

I look back at one of my favorite PSP games, the 3rd Birthday, in this edition of Rapid Fire.

Foreword: This is a very truncated version of my 4000-word, highly recommended, review of the 3rd Birthday for the PSP. If you want more details as to why I gave the game the rating that it has, hop on down to that review; I go over most if not all the things about the game.I did omit parts of the game in this post.

---------------------

The 3rd Birthday for the PSP has little to do with its predecessors in the Parasite Eve series. But longtime fan or not this is still a game worth checking out.

The game starts with a successful invasion of New York City some mysterious beings called Twisted. You play an amnesiac heroine called Aya Brea, and you are the only one compatible with a device that can take someone into the body of a person in the past. With this device Aya helps to save the past, when the attacks first began, to change the Twisted-dominated future. As with any story with an amnesiac is concerned, Aya also rediscovers who she was before the attack of the Twisted. I was initially skeptical about Aya herself; she seemed like simplistic pretty face, the type of female protagonist feminists would cry foul for. To her credit she grows into a badass action girl reminiscent of the Aya Brea of previous Parasite Eve games.

You'll never fire alone. Liverpool Football- I mean, the 3rd Birthday.

But the main reason you should play this game is that it is a great third-person shooter. On the surface it looks a bit too easy: Hold down L (shoulder button) to lock on and R (shoulder button) to fire. But just holding down those two buttons will not get you very far. As Aya you can shift from person to person, allowing for different vantage points in the midst of a battle, resulting in a very fast paced and exciting experience. Cornered by Twisted? Just switch to a person behind the monsters and open fire on them. Need to fire upon a weak spot? just dive into a body of someone on top of a balcony and take your shots there.

But Aya can do more than just move from body to body. She can order surrounding soldiers (who are your allies) to focus fire on one single enemy. She can dive into the inside of the Twisted and deal tons of damage, and even go into a brief god-mode called Liberation to really lay the hurt down on her foes. Furthermore if you want to use different weapons, you have the option of doing it. Pistols, sniper rifles, shotguns, missile launchers and other cool gadgets will start to get unlocked as the game progresses. Provided you have the currency you can upgrade them to be more powerful or accurate; it is up to you.

One thing the game isn't, however, is long. There are only seven missions to tackle, and although most of these missions are well thought out and are different somewhat to each other, you are still going to finish the first playthrough in 5-6 hours. That being said, if you like the game alot, you can play the game with a higher difficulty setting, and there are still some more unlockables in the next couple of playthroughs (like more powerful weapons).

Aya taking a break in this great, highly-detailed cutscene, after a long day of killing Twisted.

As brief the game is, it makes a good impression while it lasts. In-game graphics are detailed enough, especially with character and monster models, but the cutscenes really caught my eye. You'd think you were playing a high-budget console game, not a portable product. As for the sound I love the remixed version of Primal Eyes, the theme for the first Parasite Eve, although I would admit that the rest of the soundtrack is not as good, and Parasite Eve fans like the original Primal Eyes anyway. I would also like to say that at least the English voice acting is solid, nothing too crazy or over the top when it comes to emoting.

The 3rd Birthday, a bastard child so to speak in the Parasite Eve franchise, is a bit too short for an action game, but the game's lack of longevity is more than compensated by great action and visuals. If you have a PSP, give this game a whirl.

I give The 3rd Birthday 4 stars out of 5.

Save the past, save the future.

4 Comments
  • 31 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4