Archive for the ‘Wilma Jandoc’ Category

Wound up but not yet unwound. In a way.

September 24th, 2010
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There’s something about the “Professor Layton” series for the Nintendo DS that transforms me into a snarling Neanderthal when it nears the release date of a new game. Is it perhaps the puzzles that make me wreak havoc on my brains and the brains of others close to me? Maybe it’s the intriguing story line that unfolds well despite the necessary interruptions by the aforementioned puzzles? The mysteries that remain sealed in one game until the subsequent game comes out with the key to unlock them? The excellent scripting and localization that Level-5 and Nintendo have employed from the start of the series? Or perhaps the swoon-inducing, proper British accent utilized by the top-hat-wearing titular character, rounded off by his mad tea-brewing and fencing skills? (In a fit of wild inspiration, I tried to convince my fiance to cosplay as the good professor, insisting he could properly carry out the character. No dice. So far.)

My raging primitiveness ratchets up as the weeks to the game’s release slowly count down, to the point where the game joins the list of primal needs that must be fulfilled before anything else can be done: food, water, Professor Layton. The latest in the series is “Professor Layton and the Unwound Future,” in which Layton and his apprentice, Luke, receive a letter claiming to be from 10 years in the future — from Luke’s older self, in fact, warning them that London is on the brink of destruction and that only the genius professor can sort things out. Layton figures it could be linked to a recent presentation of a purported time machine given by one Dr. Stahngun, so he and Luke head to the location specified in the letter.

Heaven knows that Jason Y. has endured many barely coherent chat messages of mine — often multiple times a day — consisting simply of “(However many more days) LEFT! AAAAAHHHHH!” sometimes followed by “HOW WILL I SURVIVE UNTIL THEN?!” It didn’t help that I receive e-mails from Nintendo, and some of them touted the new game and usually linked to the official website, which had a trailer of “Unwound Future.” It was always the same trailer, there was nothing new, Nintendo never posted any sample puzzles from the game — and yet I ALWAYS went to the site and watched the trailer. Over and over again.

For this game, the original release date of Sept. 20 (a Monday) was pushed up to Sept. 12 (a Sunday). Being that my Sundays are usually free, my mind suddenly went into overdrive as it did with the previous game, taking note of what time the store opened and how closely I could cut things so that I could maximize the number of hours I could play the game before having to take care of other obligations later in the day. It got to the point where I was almost constantly musing over chat to Jason how to plan out that day to accomplish the above objective.

It was at a point late in the night during my feverish rantings that Jason informed me that a particular store would have it in stock on the day of release and — more importantly — that said store would open at 8 a.m., which was a full TWO HOURS EARLIER than the store I preordered my game at. Which one to patronize?! I hemmed and hawed over it, various factors going for and against going each course. Jason, for some peculiar reason, tried his best to get me to stay my original path and pick up my preordered copy at the ridiculous time of 10 a.m. when that store opened.

I will semi-shamelessly admit that primal desires being what they were, I hotfooted it to the earlier store at 7:45 a.m. Sunday morning. (I told a family member, “I’m going to [the store]. Really, really fast.” It was only as I was driving there that I realized my statement could have been taken two ways, both of which ended up being true.)

When I got to said store, I immediately headed to the electronics section. I must’ve really been barreling down on it like a guided Layton-seeking missile with an aura to match, because the sales associate at the counter said loudly to me when I was about 3 aisles away, “Hi there! May I help you find something?”

“Well…Professor Layton,” I said a bit uncertainly.

“Right here!” and he held up a package of 5 of the games that he was literally carrying in his hand that he’d been about to open and put out on the sales floor.

It must have been fate.

I made it through checkout as quickly as possible as rocketed just as fast out the door, managing to not get that distracted by the rest of the store, but stopping for a bit to get some hash browns as part of breakfast. Back at my car, I ripped open the packaging and, being in the gaming minority that I am, I read the instruction book (what?) as I munched on a hash brown. My immediate “Professor Layton” need of the day finally satisfied, I returned home and more fully took care of the other primal needs of food and liquids before finally settling down with the game.

About 4 hours into “Unwound Future,” I found that the absurd pace of puzzles that was in the second game, “Diabolical Box,” is toned down in this one. It boasts new puzzle-solving music, and the Memo feature has been improved, with some of my complaints of the previous game dealt with. You now have an eraser function with the ability to selectively erase parts of your scribbles, as well as a palette of colors to change the ink of your in-game pen and the option to change line widths from thick to fine, to better distinguish your various notations.

Speaking of notes, there’s also now an in-game notebook that’s basically the Memo feature outside of a puzzle. So whatever you feel like writing, or if you just want to doodle, now you have a place to do so. (It was a useless feature for me, as I never used it beyond my initial curiosity-fueled scribbling.)

For the completists who hoard their hint coins and absolutely must get the full number of picarats for each puzzle, and do so by restarting the game after every wrong answer (I admit my occasional membership in this club), there’s a new, handy Reset button in the upper-left corner of the Professor’s Trunk subscreen. No need to turn off and on your DS and have to go through all the loading time, just hit the Reset button and it will bring you back to the title menu without saving your game. (I’m suddenly reminded of a Final Fantasy VII commercial…)

Something else new to help puzzle solvers are “super hints.” Whereas each regular hint costs the usual one hint coin, super hints cost two and are available only after you’ve purchased the first three hints. Within those first 4 hours, I already hit a puzzle that required me to use a super hint, and if all of them follow the same trend, then they tell you in no uncertain terms how to find the answer. Which I know will be a blessing for many.

The full-motion cut scenes are animated and voiced just as well as ever, and there’s some improvement in the more static in-game dialogue scenes. Where characters used to move single parts of their bodies — crossing their arms, a tip of the hat, a frown on the face — they are now more dynamic, with people actually moving in, out, and around. For instance, during the presentation of the supposed time machine, Dr. Stahngun calls up the prime minister of England to the stage to help out with the demo, and the premier hesitantly slides his way onto the screen as the conversation rolls along. The animation of such is a bit awkward and jerky — it certainly gives the impression of flat cardboard puppets on sticks being slid along a fixed background — but the novelty of it was enough to elicit an appreciative laugh from me.

The minigames, also found in the Professor’s Trunk, are all new ones, and finishing them again unlocks new puzzles in the Bonuses section found via the game’s title screen. The easiest is the picture book game, in which you find stickers by solving puzzles and attach them in the correct places in the book to complete the story. Another is the toy car, similar to the hamster game in “Diabolical Box,” where you have different obstacle courses and must use arrows to guide your car around to collect items and reach the goal.

The most difficult minigame is the parrot. At a certain point, you’ll find a parrot that you can later use for “deliveries” requested by some of the game’s characters. Like the car game, these deliveries consist of various obstacle courses that the parrot has to navigate within a certain time limit. You help your feathered friend by drawing perches, and the angle and length of the perch will affect the bird’s flight trajectory. Well, your bird doesn’t actually “fly” — because of the weight of whatever it’s trying to deliver, it can only hop. I found it hilarious somehow to see the poor parrot struggling with the burden as I struggled with trying to figure out how to draw the perches. Plus, your parrot can make some funky movements depending on how you draw perches. I especially liked (read: “got THOROUGHLY ANNOYED”) when the bird managed to bounce back and forth between perches and other obstacles like a pinball right down into the open hole at the bottom of the screen and into utter failure. I got more fun out of it by pretending this WAS a pinball machine, although of course I still lost because the bird usually ultimately ended up down the gutter.

Making enough “deliveries” makes your parrot smarter, and the bird will eventually be able to point out hidden hint coins, much like the hamster and dog in previous games.

Then, of course, there are the puzzles themselves. There is still a large variety of them — what with 160 or so in the game — and they seem to generally be easier to solve, although there are far more “number” puzzles that required some manipulation for the answer. And once you figured out the trick behind the first one, others of the same type were so easy to solve that it made me roll my eyes. “Ohh boy, not ANOTHER of these…”

A sentence in the instruction manual says, “Sometimes the people you talk to will even present you with a puzzle mid-conversation!” How true this is, and I made an impolite remark after reading that, remembering how that very aspect frustrated me in “Diabolical Box.” The conversation leading into puzzles is even smoother this time around, but the less frenetic pacing of the brain teasers tempers that. Although I’m not sure the theme works sometimes, especially when some 1920s-style Mafia goon threatens to teach you a lesson for the egregious offense of talking to him by throwing at you — a dasatardly 30-picarat puzzle!

Unfortunately, the story line, which drew me in so completely in the previous two games, seems to have fallen several degrees in quality. Key to any story is the mysteries that are presented, and “Unwound Future” seems to have taken the easy way out. Although the premise of time travel is what intrigued me about the game, we already know from the beginning where Layton and Luke are headed and so the entire first two chapters, which make such a fuss about the pair not knowing where they are, is a dull retread. Because we the players are already in the know, it’s painful to have to play through until the point where the game characters realize it as well — especially when it takes the professor horribly long to accept it. (“No, we must keep investigating whether or not we’re really in the future!” Layton’s cautious, scientific self keeps insisting long after Luke has been convinced of the fact.)

…Or at least so I thought when I was about a halfway through the game. Silly me, I should have realized that the story twists were coming, it’s just that they took so darn LONG to come. And even sillier of me to accept the game’s supposed premise at face value!

In any case, the upshot of my impression now that I’ve finished the game is that in some ways, “Unwound Future” is truly a trilogy-ending game. Some relationships are explained, histories are delved into, and questions raised back in the first game, “Curious Village,” are answered, while new ones possibly lead into the next set of “Layton” games, which are already out in Japan.

And you may have heard this elsewhere, and I will readily confirm it: Get some tissues ready, because the ending is a complete tearjerker. I am not ashamed to say I cried when I saw it. And, because of the bonus features that allow you to rewatch the game’s movies, I now can watch it multiple times and cry EVERY TIME!

The emotion of the ending is enough to make me overlook the weak points and sluggishness of the plot and make me declare this the best “Layton” game, at least in terms of story. The puzzles, on the other hand, are a mixed bag, with some being repetitive in their solutions as described previously, and the control scheme sometimes imprecise when dealing with items that you must move around, flip or rotate.

All in all, “Unwound Future” is a good though bittersweet and profoundly affecting end to this trilogy. Here’s hoping for more mysteries with the good professor and young Luke.

No objections here

June 5th, 2010
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From the Pile is a regular feature in which we profile something at random from our large pile of yet-to-be-reviewed anime and manga. We’ve been in this game for several years now and have had only limited space in the print edition to share all our thoughts, so there’s quite a bit of catch-up work to do on our backlog. So without further ado …

Today’s profile: “Phoenix Wright Official Casebook Vol. 2: The Miles Edgeworth Files”
Publisher: Del Rey
Age rating: Teen 13+

So Capcom recently released the original “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney” game at Apple’s App Store for the iPhone and iTouch, for the low, low price of $4.99. I have neither of those devices, but my ears still perked up when I saw the words “Phoenix Wright” in the subject line of a press release, all other words notwithstanding. For those who haven’t yet experienced this courtroom drama game in its original Nintendo DS form or on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console, now is a great time to do so. I’m a devoted fan of the “Ace Attorney” series (at least once I actually opened that first game — regular readers of this blog may remember that it took me 3 years before I finally cracked it open), and after you finish this game, you’ll also understand who I cosplayed as at this year’s Kawaii Kon.

The game introduces rookie defense attorney Phoenix Wright, who must prove the innocence of his clients in the face of overwhelming evidence otherwise, lying witnesses and scheming prosecutors. Speaking of which, this game also introduced Phoenix’s childhood friend and now rival, prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, who is probably the most beloved “bad guy” next to Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII.

OK, so Edgeworth isn’t really a “bad guy” so much as “a guy who has some serious issues, although not as many as Sephiroth.” But he is one of the most fascinating characters in the entire “Ace Attorney” series, so it was no surprise that a game starring him finally came out. And, of course, there is a manga.

The “Official Casebook Vol. 2: The Miles Edgeworth Files,” is, as might be apparent from the title, the second in the manga series, with the first focusing on the games’ titular character. And which, it might be noted, received a relatively mixed review from Jason Y. and myself.

Now while I absolutely love the “Ace Attorney” game series, the first manga based on it bored me and thus made me very, VERY hesitant to pick up the next book. But I’ve been down this road before: I end up following a series anyway despite my supposedly staunch decision to quit after experiencing a really bad first entry — I have the “Evil Under the Sun” game for the Wii even though the previous one by The Adventure Company, “And Then There Were None,” made my brain cells commit suicide. “The Miles Edgeworth Files” was an impulse purchase made as I was browsing the manga selection in a certain bookstore and I saw it there while looking for the newest “Case Closed.”

That spur-of-the-moment buy for once turned out to be a lucky strike. As in the first book, “Edgeworth” consists of many unrelated stories, drawn by different artists. The quality of the art in this second volume is much more consistent, although Reala Kasori’s style in the story “Big Earthquake? Maya Cannon!” put me off with its really, REALLY huge eyes.

But this collection really shines in the stories themselves. I’ve always been drawn to slightly darker stories and people, and Miles Edgeworth the character is a deep and conflicted one that allows for great storytelling. The artists captured the prosecutor perfectly, with the right amount of slapstick absurdity to make things funny while also keeping it believable considering Edgeworth’s aloof, matter-of-fact personality.

This collection skillfully exploits that deadpan personality for comic purposes. He’s funny exactly because his stoic manner will not allow him to show much emotion, while his competitive fire gets him ensnared in some inane situations.

Whereas the wackiness in the first “Phoenix Wright” manga simply adds another layer of silliness to the already somewhat silly Wright’s personality and his VERY silly sidekicks, the insanity in “Edgeworth” proves to be a very nice balance against the prosecutor’s normally reserved self. In “A Spicy Turnabout” by Hiro Toge, the young man is shanghaied into participating in the annual police-versus-prosecutors contest to see which department will pick up the tab for the New Year’s party. This year, the contest is to see which side can eat more plates of curry, the spiciness of which is ratcheted up with each subsequent plate. But as Edgeworth’s contest partner, high schooler Ema Skye, says, it’s not the spiciness that’s revolting — the smell and taste are so disgusting that poor Ema is down for the count after just one plate. The prosecutor himself can barely stomach his first bite.

Seeing Edgeworth spout his usual pretentious trash talk at the chief of police while the sweat drips down his face and his mouth and legs tremble to hold in the nauseating curry was enough to make my own stomach burst out — but with laughter, not with foul food.

Many stories explore the strange friend/enemy relationship between Edgeworth and Wright. The game may be named after the latter, but it’s really both of their intertwining lives and now careers that drive the success of the games — and at their very core, it’s Edgeworth who’s the real focus, with his emotions, his actions that affected others, and his tragedies that continue to haunt him.

“Distant Memories” by Yunomi Hisamatsu brings him a reminder of his childhood with a dream of some unknown boy giving Edgeworth an umbrella as the dejected prosecutor-to-be sat crying, drenched in the pouring rain. The now-adult Edgeworth seeks out Wright, hoping that speaking to him will bring the vague memories more into focus. And as manga is wont to do, it then shifts into sudden slapstick as young spiritual mediums Pearl and Maya chase after Edgeworth bearing a huge hammer and bat to hit the memories back into him.

In a predictable but still touching ending, Edgeworth comes to realize that he is and very likely always will be very much in debt to his rival Wright — a fact that repulses him as much as it offers some comfort to his soul.

Then there are the stories that show that tender side of Edgeworth that we know is lurking beneath the surface but that he tries his hardest to hold in, yet never completely succeeds. Again, the manner isn’t overly sappy or dramatic and is restrained enough to fit well with Edgeworth’s character. “Magnificent Curry Cookout” (what’s up with all this curry?) by Mami Tachibana not only is a good example, but it overall really captures the various aspects of the man as he tries to help the child Pearl overcome her dislike of the food — an emotion likely caused by its connection to a certain case she was involved in — by declaring that they will hold a cooking field trip to, as Edgeworth puts it, engrave positive memories in Pearl’s heart.

Altogether, the manga got me laughing out loud while at the same time feeling empathy for this young, tormented prosecutor and his painful past. “The Miles Edgeworth Files” is a must read for “Ace Attorney” fans wanting more of their favorite prosecutor. If you’re like me and shied away from the manga after the first volume, rest assured that the second book is far more entertaining and will not disappoint.

Gaming on multiple levels

December 18th, 2009
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It’s the holiday season, and most of us are thinking about gifts. And many of us will be thinking about video games as gifts, whether it’s for ourselves or someone else.

And since we’re thinking about games as gifts, the first order of business is the annual Child’s Play Charity, already in full swing. As in years past, the Kapiolani Center for Women and Children is taking part. How it works is you visit Kapiolani’s wishlist at Amazon.com and you buy from their selection of requested video games, DVDs, books, and other products. The items are sent directly to Kapiolani by Amazon — and if you purchase $25 or more worth of items, shipping is even free.

This year, there’s a new option: You can purchase an item on the wishlist from someplace other than Amazon and have it sent to Kapiolani. If you go that route, be sure to click on the link next to the item that says “Buying this gift elsewhere?” and then click on the “Reserve this item” button. How exactly it works is a little uncertain — I’m assuming this now allows you to buy from third-party sellers on Amazon, when in previous years this was not allowed. If so, it’s a good way to purchase gifts that aren’t in stock at Amazon.com itself.

Aside from that, here’s a roundup of various video-game news that’s come in over the past few weeks, in no particular order.

  • The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain gave its writing award in the video game category to Andrew S. Walsh for “Prince of Persia.” Also in the running had been “Fable II” and “Routes.” I have to admit I’ve never heard of that last one.
  • LittleBigPlanet” won the video game category of the Children’s Awards for the Electronic Arts British Academy of Film and Television Arts. I wonder if we could make a case for including video games in the Oscars.
  • Atari has revamped its Web site at Atari.com. Among other things, you can play some classic Atari 2600 and arcade games on there. News of this set off a whole nostalgia trip on my part — yes, we had a 2600. I was really hoping for “Air Sea Battle” (two-player online mayhem! Come on!), but I guess I’ll take “Adventure” and “Asteroids” instead. And I think I’ll leave “Crystal Castles” and “Yar’s Revenge” alone.
  • Sony Pictures is going to try to make a film based on the board game “Risk.”  …Wait, what? How will billing a movie with the “Risk” name be much better than any other action/war movie? You might as well make a movie based on “Chutes and Ladders.” The first thing I thought of was that horrendous “Dungeons and Dragons” film back in 2000. Yes, I actually watched that in the theater of my own free will. And even THAT had actual characters to pull from — well, sort of.
  • For those of you not following me on Twitter (I’m @wjandoc, by the way), here’s a blog retweet: Activision Blizzard has set up a new endowment, the Call of Duty Endowment, to help veterans who are having difficulty finding employment. Whether or not you actually play COD — the latest installment of which, “Modern Warfare 2,” broke one-day sales records, beating out “Halo 3″ — please consider making a donation to this worthy foundation. Get more information at the CODE Web site, callofdutyendowment.org.
  • Majesco Entertainment, makers of the famed “Cooking Mama” series and publisher of the “Cake Mania” games, is coming out with yet another foodie-type title: “Pizza Delivery Boy,” to be released late next year. As its title says, you play a delivery boy trying to get pizza to customers on time, racing against time to overcome various obstacles and other similarly fun stuff. It seems to be just another frantic-pace food serve-up in the style of “Diner Dash” or “Cake Mania,” neither of which I particularly cared for .
  • Speaking about Majesco, they’ve just released “Hello Kitty Party” for the Nintendo DS, part of the 35th anniversary celebration of the famed Sanrio character. Says the press release: “The all-new Hello Kitty game lets players enjoy 25 themed games as they shop, cook, dress up and more — all in preparation for a super fun party!” ….. Yeah. I’ll leave that one alone.
  • So Final Fantasy XIII has been scheduled for a March 2010 release in North America, and Square Enix has just released box cover art for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions:

    FF13 box art - PS3

    FF13 box art - Xbox 360

    I’ll probably pick up the game. But considering I still have FF10, FFX-2 (I can’t believe I’m still planning to play that one) and FF12 to get through, not to mention a host of other non-FF games, who knows when it will be when I finally take the shrinkwrap off.

  • On a completely different tangent, an interesting press release rattled into my inbox a few days ago, about a paper published in the fall 2009 issue of the American Journal of Play (there are journals for everything!) pointing out electronic games as an important component of culture and warning of the loss of such games unless steps are taken to preserve them. It’s an interesting aspect to video games that I never thought about. Physical toys could probably be replicated as long as you have a good specimen, but game software is another matter — once a console is no longer produced and all existing units wear out beyond repair, the games that were played on that system become useless bricks (or discs, or whatever media they’re stored on), with the data no longer readable.

    Although, preserving past games sometimes seems senseless — honestly, if you were a gamer in today’s generation of voice acting, realism and fully orchestrated soundtracks who never lived through the then-greatness of, say, the Atari 2600, would you be raring to try out those retro games, with their vague character forms, totally mechanical music and — gasp! — complete lack of save points?

    That said, it indeed would be interesting to preserve such games not for playing purposes, but for historical purposes and, well, perhaps humbling today’s gamers a notch. This is where we are now, this is where we came from, and where we came from was still a really awesome place compared to the new awesomeness of today’s games. And future generations of gamers should have the chance to appreciate the simplicity of games then — especially since “simplicity,” both in graphics and in gameplay, does not equate “ease of play,” but it did often lead to addictive hours of gaming and some hilariously funny moments, both in the game and among us players.

    And that addiction, that fun, that challenge — all those are things that still hold true with games today, and always will.