Saturday, 29 September 2012

End of year TV explosion..

And relax .....
Not a grammaticality correct way to begin a sentence but in this instance I don't care, not when I'm talking about that one of my favourites parts of the year.  Ahhhhh (that's a sigh of relief)
Q4 is all about the return of the great fall US TV shows! From mid September to mid February my telly-box (via my Laptop most of the time) is filled with greatness, ranging from full belly laugh comedy, nail biting drama or heart wrenching tragedy.  However, this particular run of programmes are far more important this previous years, for some it signals the beginning of the end.  The Office, now on its 9th season will come to an end as 'Dunder Mifflin' finally closes its doors for the last time. Same goes for 30 Rock, as Liz and Jack will air their last episode of 'TGS' this season. Fringe division will solve their last case and due to the departure of show-runner Dan Harmon this season of Community could be it's last! BAD TIMES!!
Now, I don't regularly list a tonne of shows that I watch BUT this for this article, and in the spirit of Don't Be Panic's "We love sharing what we enjoy" vibe I believe it must be done -
(and yes, some see list making as lazy writing, don't care, there is more to come after this)

This is a mix of brand new shows and old favourites. I really hope you give these programmes a chance if you've never watched them. Honestly, they good'uns! All airtimes are available on IMDB

Bob's Burgers - great animated show on FOX about a family-owned restaurant featuring the ludicrously silky tones of H Jon Benjamin (ARCHER!!!)
Boardwalk Empire - a STAGGERINGLY brilliant epic based around the prohibition years of America, written by The Soprano's Terrence Winter and co produced by Martin Scorcese. Stunning Television.
Dexter - Michael C Hall's conflicted serial killer is back in season 7, perhaps the most important so far.
Alphas - We're early on in the 2nd season with this 'X-men in the real world' show, neat little programme that uses science to explain the actions of a team of superhuman enforcers.

Go-On - A brand new comedy produced by and starring Matthew 'Chandler Bing' Perry, has a similar feel to Community. After his wife dies, the office boss forces him to join a therapy group to help cope.  Odd ball character antics ensure, slow starter but worth sticking around for.
New Girl - The 2nd season of this quirky sitcom began last week, starring the utterly gorgeous Zooey Deschanel (in her secretary glasses!!) and the amazing Schmidt played by Max Greenfield.
South Park - Comedy Central aired its post season break episode last night with Matt and Trey showing no signs of slowing down.  Here's to another 3 years. Or so they say at CC
30 Rock - Hankies at the ready, this is going to be Tina Fey's swan song. 30 Rock after this, the 7th and final season is ENDING. NOOO i hear you cry. I guess Tracey will go back to his movies...
Up All Night - another slow starter but has paid off thanks to Christina Applegate's comedy chops and the delicious voice of Will Arnett. It's a comedy about a 'work-hard party-harder' couple whose life slows down to a crawl after they have a baby.

 The Office - Not sure how NBC are going to fill the gap after The Office shuts down after this 9th time around.  This juggernaut's steam has been running low since Steve Carrell left last year, but with a run of fresh Jim VS Dwight pranks to look forward to it should be a quality season.  CREED!
Parks and Recreation - Its all about Ron Swanson! A fly-on-the-wall mockumentary from the creators of the US Office watches the daily mis-steps of a government department in small town Pawnee Indiana. Now in it's 5th season, still going strong!
Modern Family - ABC came up trumps with this little comedy gem, season 4 has just started with a bang. Focused around the antics of a patriarch and his extended family, his gay son and his partner, and his daughter with a 2.4 kids get up, all the while being filmed for a 'documentary'. Slapstick central.
The Walking Dead - Anyone who has read the books knows the shit's about to get real, anyone who hasn't read the books...its all going work itself out nicely. SARCASM! The survivors have found themselves in the infamous prison this season while we await the arrival of 'The Governor'.
Community - Perhaps the last season for (the now fired) Dan Harmon's baby.  The new season doesn't start for another 2 weeks but anticipation is HIGH, will we see more Paint-ball or Dungeon and Dragon style episodes. One of the most pop cultural and self aware shows since Spaced. A sure-fire classic!
Touch - Kiefer Sutherland produces and stars in his first TV shot since blowing up the world in 24, playing a dad with a heavily autistic child who predicts world changing events before they happen. The 2nd season is yet to air. It's all about the numbers people!
Louie - Currently the best stand-up comedian on the planet is flying the comedy flag even higher with his hit show. Filmed with the same awkward and cringe inducing vibe as Curb Your Enthusiasm, it follows Louie through his everyday existence.  Fantastic TV cut with his club standup
Justified - My wife would kill me if I didn't include this! Deadwood's Timothy Olyphant produces and stars as tough lawman Raylan Givens in this brutal drama based in the deep south. Heavy action, great script and tight story structure.  A slow burner but totally worth it.
Fringe - Last season for Fringe division, for me this show should have ended a while back, but I'm a sucker for closure.  This time around Peter and his grown-up future daughter (yep!) are hot on the heels of the observers and the terrible future they have created.  Expect more freak-of-the-week action.

Other honourable mentions - Homeland, Breaking Bad, Star-wars Clone Wars and Wilfred.
Not to say these mentions are in anyway less important, there are just shows that either haven't aired yet or I just having caught up watching the latest seasons.
Wow looking back at this list, I really need to go outside once in a while eh? This really is one of my favourite times of the year, settling in with an old friend to watch their lives unfold. It's a simple pleasure and i can see know why people so involved with soap operas.  They have their fix, I have mine!
Hope this post has been informative and not too preachy, it's what we do at DBP, we love to share......

Dr Sanchez

As ever please read, comment, share and enjoi

Friday, 21 September 2012

Dust: A truly beautiful game

It took 3 and a half years to produce,  utilizing the patience and programming skills of just one man named Dean Dodrill! Apart from the music and voice acting, it was created entirely by Dean originally for the Xbox indie marketplace. After scoffing ALL the awards for the Dream.Build.Play competition it was clear that Humble Hearts's 'Dust: An Elysian Tail' (this years answer to 'Bastion') was a clear absolute winner and rightly deserved to be turned into a fully fledged  XBLA title. It combines amazing hand drawn art, masterful animation and a huge slice of silky 2D side-scrolling Metroidvania style gameplay. Oh and it's got loot!! On paper it's almost too perfect... and then you play it, and it IS perfect. 
Dust takes place in the world of Falana, inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. The beginning of the story sees Dust wake up with no memory of who he is.  Your only real weapon in the game you receive during the intro , a sentient sword, the Blade of Ahrah, powers up as you travel along. Fidget, the sword's guardian, acts as a companion for Dust and can shoot projectiles.  As Dust travels the world, you acquire power-ups that permanently alter gameplay, such as the ability to double jump or climb to previously unreachable areas. This is were the Metroidvania style gameplay comes in. Incorporating elements of base RPG's, Dust can gain experience points by mashing up enemies and levelling up. These can be used to raise various attributes, such as health, strength or magic. NPC's can be interacted with throughout the game's world to sell items or receive quests. "Watcha' buyin stranger?"
I've just finished the game and quite frankly got into it that much it was cleared in 3 sessions - totalling 16 hours! Now that's some sweet dedication.  I simply couldn't put it down, the characters are appealing with some real heart, the storyline is (for a game) fairly gripping, the loot, the combo system and that animation... sweet Jesus, its like playing an old Disney cartoon. Talk about fluid movement.  So lets talk a little about the combat shall we - fast and fluid, powerful combo and juggling heavy deliciousness. Throughout the playtime of Dust you will unlock different moves that add to your fighting prowess.  It stays fast and frantic till the very end, quick example of the crazyness - achievements are unlocked for your first 1000 and 2000 hit combo.  Keep those baddies up in the air! After playing through Darksiders 2 and Sleeping Dogs (both AAA titles, keep in mind) the last boss in both those titles were, for want of a better word -shit; so it's nice to experience a game that has a real bastard of a boss.  After keeping all or most of my health potions and revival stones during the 16 hour run through I ended up using them ALL during the last scrap with the Dust's chief arsehole General Gaius. Great boss, with a standard 3 stage attack pattern, ah .... reliving those 8-bit memories. 
Just one last word on the music, beautiful music to match beautiful visuals.  Created by Hyperduck Soundstudios the soundtrack features a sweeping score reminiscent of some top tier titles.  If you do play this game (and you should) listen out for the Map screen track, very nice!  
My only real criticism of Dust, and it was a pain when it happened; it crashed 3 times during some of the more chaotic fight sequences - no staggering or slowdown just shut off and booted me back to the dashboard. I hope this is an isolated incident otherwise a patch will be needed me thinks.  All in all I've really nothing negative to say about Dust, its nice and lengthy for its price and holds its value after completing it.  There is no New Game + but you are able to go back into the game and tidy up the loose ends.

As always, please enjoi, comment and share,
much love Dr Sanchez

Friday, 14 September 2012

Sleeping Dogs - a Kung-Fu review!

I love action films, try gritty kung-fu undercover cop films. If you've ever seen 2002's Infernal Affairs (re-made by Martin Scorsese as 'The Departed') then the plot of Sleeping Dogs wont be too far from your mind.  Apart from the mole in a cops uniform story angle its practically the same.
 But lets start at the beginning shall we, I never bothered playing the True crime games, poor GTA clones and besides when you own 'Vice City' and 'San Andreas' you don't need any other sandbox titles do you?  I'd heard about the troubled history that Sleeping Dogs has had, passed from pillar to post, cancelled by Activision and then picked up by SquareEnix to be published and finished by United Front Games.  It's had several name changes - True Crime Hong Kong - (just) True Crime and finally Sleeping Dogs, so when it reared it's fresh face out of development hell I was quite surprised.  It shot out of the gate a few weeks ago to mostly positive reviews so here I'am to chuck my boot in.
We'll go through a couple of points that I think will class this as a review (even though, we don't really do that here.) Firstly and most importantly I need to go all Malcolm Tucker on its length, lets get the elephant in the room out of the way - it has possibly one of the shortest sandbox main stories I've played  - clocking in at around just 13 hours, that includes most of the collectibles collected, cop cases closed, side missions done and the main story smashed. That's fairly piss-poor though isn't it. I'm keeping hold of it purely 'cos I like finding triad scum and kicking their teeth out! And Borderlands 2 isn't released for another week...

So now, because I started writing this shit sandwich review in reverse, I can talk about what I did like in sleepy doggies!
The characters are strong, BIG CAST, great set-pieces, nice fluid combat and the open world of Hong Kong is quite beautiful to look at.  The game had me pulled in from the off - Wei Shen is a compelling character and the game really throws you in at the deep end, you feel his every emotion as Wei's psychological state begins to break down over the course of the story. Tasked with the job of infiltrating The Water Street Gang a feared Hong Kong triad as well as having to report back to his superior officers pushes Wei to the extremes. There are two subplots within the main storyline: the first is Wei's personal struggle between completing his mission as a police officer, and having to commit crimes to prove his worth to the triad. This unique 'I'm a Cop / I'm a triad' game mechanic allows the player to exercise restraint or explore their crazy side respectively.  The skill tree is dependant on XP earned by driving carefully or mashing up some rival gangs Meat Clever style. I found this an interesting take on the normal levelling up scenario by playing both sides of the game.
Wei's assigned by the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau to go undercover and infiltrate the society called Sun On Yee (a parody on Sun Yee On) and take them down.  The other subplot consists of completing missions set out by a triad lieutenant, such as killing triad members who are loyal to competing lieutenants. The island is divided into four fictional districts which are named after real areas.

I love the driving in this game, as you earn HK dollars through missions you can buy some STUPIDLY quick bikes and cars this in-turn allows you to unlock different class levels of street racing. The vehicles are nimble and handle very much like an arcade racer, quick movements and a drift here and there can send you flying across the finishing line in no time!  The combat is smooth and well executed (although not as good as Batman) and by the time you've upgraded all your moves through training it's clear the local Triad's will have trouble keeping you down. I particularly enjoyed learning the 'break-leg' move that makes all enemies in your vicinity wince and cower with pain.

I couldn't get through this review without mentioned the sheer quality of the voice acting - it's stellar cast (Tom Wilkinson, Will Yun Lee, Emma Stone) keep the story ticking along nicely, like I mentioned , it's a testament to the cast that they get the emotional hooks in early on.  Brittle relationships are broken and new friendships blossom. A game like this lives or dies on the strength of it's story and main protagonist, and I'm happy to report I enjoyed playing this sordid undercover and violent tale alongside Wei. Last thing to mention before wrapping this up (it's gone on too long anyway) are the radio stations that are available.  As with all current sandbox titles (GTA, Saints Row etc) a eclectic mix of music is on offer -
Sagittarius FM, Ninja Tune Radio, Roadrunner Records, Warp Radio, H-Klub, Kerrang! Radio, Real FM, Boosey and Hawkes and Daptone Radio.  All the stations have something to offer and if you're like me and love the feeling of stealing a car and outrunning the cops whilst Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker March is playing or attempting a heist whilst Flying Lotus's Parisian Goldfish is blasting out from your super-bike then a jolly time will be had by all!

I did enjoy Sleeping Dogs, it's a pretty game with some nice combat touches, great story based set pieces and an excellent cast. It's on the short side for me and would have liked the main mission to last a wee bit longer. Oh well, cant have perfection....Assassins Creed 3 isn't out for 6 weeks!

Much love, Dr Sanchez


Please, enjoi, comment and share!!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Darksiders 2 - a 3 paragraph review!

31 hours ... That's the time it took me to finish Darksiders 2, the main story could have been finished in much less time but i like fannying around in games like this.  Collect that, grab this, go here, fetch me a key and so on. The side quests became a little repetitive but i persevered, awaiting a time that the 'ALL NEW' loot system would cough up that spanky new heavy damage hammer. (410-580+ don't you know!) I really enjoyed my time as the Pale rider, pimping him out is pretty cool, the new additions felt fresh and the combat is fast and extremely fluid, although its very cut and paste in terms of the original Darksiders there is no other game available that lets you mash shit up as Death! The early environments are lush and worth exploring, the skyline littered with giant monuments and stone statues. The game, like the original still borrows heavily from Zelda and God of War in terms of dungeon structure and action, at one point it even turns into 'Shadow of the Colossus' during one of the bigger boss fights.

25 hours ... That's when Darksiders 2 REALLY starting dragging it's feet.  Early on the enemies are plentiful and the environments are varied however, towards the end the outdoor maps are practically devoid of life and become increasingly dull. Almost as if Vigil got tired of designing baddies and just thought 'You know what, pop in a couple of bosses and skip to the end' Its a real sticking point as you can SEE the game running out of steam.  This, out of all the disappointing points of Darksiders 2 is by far the worst. Levelling up RPG style along with a skill-tree is nice to start with , but this element of the game doesn't work particularly well by the end.  You become so unbelievably strong by the time you're fighting Mr and Mrs Big, equipment that gives health per hit, general health and wrath regeneration along with earth crushingly powerful weapons ends up turning you into the all conquering SuperDeath (tm)
- SPOILER ALERT!!! - a quickside note

I was ready to scrap with the big old end boss, The avatar of Chaos - The Corruption himself, now take into account what I've just written about in the above paragraph,  the fight lasted a breath taking......4 mins!!!! 4 friggin' minutes.  I always thought end bosses were the shit, hard as nails, it's what the game leads you up to, this one my god, was pathetic.  In a game like this you'd think the big cheese would have levelled up with you and at least put up a fight, every slice from my scythes were taking HUGE chunks of energy of him. He collapsed in a heap and i didn't even break a sweat. A terrible ending to an otherwise entertaining addition to the expanding Darksiders universe, a let-down to be fair.
I don't know for the life of me how Fury and Strife's versions of the game will look, hopefully they'll mix it up a bit. Maybe throw in some multiplayer, I dunno... we'll need to wait another 18 months to find out I guess.

As ever comment, share etc
Love Dr Sanchez

Monday, 3 September 2012

RETRO MONDAY - "Streets of Rage 2"

Well well well, what's to be said about this beaut that has not been said already...Greatest side scrolling beat'em up ever! One of the best games of its generation, the 16-bit gem that spurned a tonne of copycat clones.  Anyway you look at it, IT IS still a superb title and for me, holds it's own against some of today's' shiny diamonds.  I'm quite comfortable in saying that in it's heyday myself along with my old high school friend Phil Ross finished this (probably every other day) on a 2 player run through, then went straight back and played through it again using different characters.
My favourite character to use, along with everyone who played it was Axel. The high kicking karate man with the sweet headband, tight jeans and a superb energy sapping special move.  Double tapping either left or right with B made Axel dash forward with a fiery uppercut along the his now infamous sound-bite - "RET-A-TAR" (Grand Upper) finishing off a boss this way in slo-mo was THE BEST.  Especially the first end of level boss, with the rain pounding down around you, pure magic!!
I rarely used 'Skate' Hunter and Blaze, but Max Thunder (yep, nineties game names, aces eh!) the other new addiction to the roster was a badass wrestler with a penchant for throwing people around.  He could easily get the job done with his spinning lariats and large muscles (not gay.) Who ever you played it with, a fight would normally break out as to who gets to use Axel.
A testament to how much this game has stuck with me over the years, I hadn't played it for a while (after purchasing it on the XBLA marketplace) and due to nothing more than muscle memory I walked behind the truck at the opening of the first level and picked up the extra life. Straight off the bat, without thinking about it. Another trick of the trade remembered - when your character is being thrown by a 'friend' or an enemy AI keep UP and the JUMP button pressed and you'll land on your feet. Most impressive! That is when you know a game is under your skin for life! Remember pausing the game to see up Blaze's skirt during her flying kick...yeah you do.

One element of the game I wasn't really into was the DUEL, a player vs player arena match.  I always enjoyed working with someone to help clean the streets of "Mr X" and his goons instead of fighting against them, and perhaps I never was very good at it (True!)

Streets of Rage 2, known in Japan as Bare Knuckle II: Shitō he no Chinkonka  "Bare Knuckle II: The Requiem of the Deadly Battle" 

Now because most of the early nineties games of this genre haled from Japan, the box-art was always something to be desired.  The art in the above picture is a classic example of  'is that...' syndrome, Blaze looks like an extra from Conan the Barbarian, Axel looks like Van Damme that the Arnie himself looming in the background with a huge red face!  I love these retro game boxes, usually horrendous art with completely over the top images. Ahh bless the nineties eh!
There is NO way we can discuss Streets of Rage 2 without chatting about the music.  The iconic chiptune soundtrack was composed by Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima, still one of my favourite OSTs.  The soundtrack was influenced by electronic dance music, specifically housetechnohardcore techno, and breakbeat. The soundtrack for Streets of Rage 2 is considered "revolutionary" and ahead of its time, for its "blend of swaggering house synths," "dirtyelectro-funk and "trancey electronic textures that would feel as comfortable in 'club' as it would in a video game."  If you listen to the background music for the stadium level, it bares a REAL striking resemblance to 1991's The shamen's Move any Mountain.  I really love this soundtrack!!  

This isn't a review of any type, Retro Monday doesn't do that,  it's a look back at what we loved all that time ago.  This is my first proper one since writing for Gainboy and I'm surprised I haven't done it before today.  If you are reading this and haven't played Streets of Rage 2, 1) your an idiot 2) get it now.  I highly highly recommend anyone play this, it's a slice of fried retro gold and it deserves it's place in the 16-bit hall of fame. Get it on your phone or home consoles NOW!

Sega-Vintage-Collection-Streets-of-Rage - XBOX Marketplace, all 3 Streets of Rage titles for only 800 MS - App Store 

As always, please comment, follow and enjoy!!
Much love,
Marc aka Dr Sanchez