Thursday, May 29, 2008

New PC Project Update

I finally received all of the necessary components to start building my new PC today. My friend and I are currently installing it so hopefully it will be all ready for action tonight. Below are pictures of what is going to be inside my new gaming beast. To check out my new graphics card, click here.

Got to keep everything cool.

E8400 Wolfdale 3.0GHz

A lot of space.

3-Way SLI... Drool. Hopefully I'll get there.

Enough power for now.

4GB of RAM.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Review: Frontier(s)

Frontier(s) (2007)
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Director: Xavier Gens

They should have done that to the director.

Okay, after a very long wait, I finally get to see what the hype is all about. Let's get it out of the way then: This movie is a big disappointment. It looks like out of the recent batch of supposedly great French horror movie releases, only Inside was noteworthy. What can one really expect from a director that later got himself involved in the movie version of the Hitman video games?

Drench her in blood because that looks scary!

The story borrows heavily from Hostel and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Even so, it still fails to deliver any form of excitement to its proceedings. A bunch of friends rob a bank during a political upheaval that has befallen modern France. On their way to travel out of the country via separate vehicles, they have decided to rendezvous at a suspicious looking hostel in the middle of nowhere. You know the drill. The establishment is run by a family of cannibalistic Nazis and they have their hungry eyes set on the youngsters. What follows is a bunch of really uninspired scenes of brutality. The death scenes lack any visceral impact and there is one that will make you scream "Hostel rip-off!" at the top of your lungs. It is true that there is a lot of blood being spilled in the film but if you want to see someone gets killed in a movie nowadays, you want to see it done with a flair of humor, creativity, or nastiness not even remotely displayed here.

Leatherface he is not.

The character development is paper thin, the gore is lame, and the political underpinnings are so contrived and irrelevant to the movie. It is obvious that Xavier Gens didn't know where he was going when he was constructing this from bits and pieces of different elements from other successful horror gems. What he ended up with is a horror wannabe that is forced, boring, and undeserving of its puzzling accolades.

RATING: 1 out of 5

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Review: Audiosurf

Audiosurf (2008)
Developer: Dylan Fitterer
Platform: PC
Purchase Date: 05/27/2008

The game opted for the wire-frame look but it's not as pretty as Rez.

Audiosurf is a marriage between Klax and a rhythm-action game. The concept is simple: pick any of the pre-packaged music, or any audio files that the player has, and ride a futuristic looking vehicle across a long stretch of a Rez-ish 3D highway that is constructed to react in tune with the selected music track. Different colored blocks would then fill up the lanes and it is up to the player to collect and match 3 blocks of the same color in an effort to score the highest points possible.

It's like a rollercoaster ride!

The gameplay description above may sound simple but there are a lot of depths in the strategy due to the different modes of play based on the variation of characters available in the game. For example, one character is able top pick up and save a block for later use while another has the ability to jump over the blocks to avoid picking them up. The characters are divided up into 3 different categories based on their difficulty levels.

The "Casual Characters" are great when you just want to chill out.

The triumph of this game is that you will never tire of it. It's a game that is easy to come back to whenever you are in the mood to listen to some music. You can use any CDs or music files on your PC to play it. Adding to an already infinite replay value, there are also free songs to continually download. The game analyzes the tracks very quickly before gameplay begins and the way the flow and the rhythm of the action on-screen match what is playing in the background is quite remarkable.

A quiet moment on the track.

The game only costs $9.99. It's a steal. The game is definitely worth more than the measly price we are asked to pay for it. It even supports the rumble feature of the X-Box 360 controller for increased euphoria. It is the perfect companion piece to your music collection, especially if you are a gamer. To complete the experience, there is an online ranking system in the game that adds a more competitive spirit to the occasion. There is actually one leader-board per song title! No, not per genre... Per song! Quite impressive. An absolute genius of a music/puzzle creation.

RATING: 5 out of 5

Monday, May 26, 2008

Review: Yourself!Fitness

Yourself!Fitness (2004)
Developer: responDESIGN, Inc.
Platform: X-Box
Purchase Date: 2004

This gal is so cool, she even makes a reference to The Matrix.

I tried my best over the weekend to score myself a Wii Fit without success. I am sure that this fad will not last very long especially after people started to realize that a game doesn't make them stick to an exercise routine unless they are actually ready to commit to one. That reminded me a lot about Yourself!Fitness, an exercise program that capitalizes on the whole concept of commitment to its fullest. I finally stopped using this software about a year and a half ago and I will tell you why I stopped: World of Warcraft. Well, one can't blame everything on that devilish game but in this case, it's sad but true. During that time, I had moved my exercise routine up to the evening time from the usual morning hours because of work. At the same time, the play demand on WoW increased significantly so there were many times I actually skipped my Yourself!Fitness sessions until I was made comfortable to skip the whole thing altogether. I'm ashamed to admit it because this thing really works.

Controlled movements = kick @$$ workout!

With over 500 unique exercises within, the software is professionally tailored to help players remain physically healthy and fit. To start, the player has to create a personal profile and go through a rigorous physical test so that the virtual trainer, a charming 3D goddess by the name of Maya, can effectively evaluate his or her current physical level. She would then recommend a schedule and a routine focus that includes cardio, core, upper/lower body, flexibility, and weight loss. During my 2+ years on the program, the majority of my time was spent on cardio fitness and my sessions rotated daily from one focus to the next. The physical evaluation is repeated every other week so that the software can keep up with the player's progress. Maya can also recommend the player's weekly diet but I never explored this option because I was too lazy to see a real dietician to evaluate my proper calorie-intake. If a player is not ready to fully commit, he or she can use a guest pass and select a routine immediately but this is of course, not the most effective way to use the software.

You'll gain more benefits by purchasing the additional equipments.

I still remember the first day I was on the program. I thought the "feminine" aerobics movements were tame on my body. The next day, I was sore all over and I couldn't even keep up with the following routine. That was when I knew that this thing works and it encouraged me to keep going. The success of this game is definitely driven by how interactive the whole experience is. The virtual trainer, Maya, interacts with the player by greeting him/her before the program starts and by asking routine altering questions during and after the workouts. She seems very human in her demeanor and movements even though her scripts are somewhat limited. She spurts out positive statements at regular intervals during the workouts and she knows when you skip a session. She's very passive aggressive about it too. Yourself!Fitness continually evolves around the player's performance statistics that can be viewed in a progress screen. I don't know how people can still buy those workout DVDs when something this interactive is already upon us.

The thrills of working out inside a high rise building.

Overall, I lost around 15 pounds on this software and maintained my weight throughout the entire duration. I got numerous compliments from co-workers and friends since they noticed my transformation and it felt good. I wasn't even remotely big to begin with but I did have that slight glob under my jaw and a bit of a belly. Those things were gone after about 2 months into the program. A friend asked me if I was working out because he noticed that I "looked stronger". I myself saw muscles where I never had muscles before, especially on my calves. To further exemplify the power of Yourself!Fitness, ever since I stopped using it in late 2006, it took about half a year before I started gaining some pounds again. The only real difference between this and Wii Fit is that the latter introduces a useful device that keeps track of the player's performance during the routines. Yourself!Fitness is definitely the more serious, balanced program of the two based on what I have seen so far on Wii Fit. The real question is... Are you ready to make a commitment to yourself? I was thinking of exercising again with Wii Fit... But why wait when I already found a program that works for me?

RATING: 5 out of 5

Friday, May 23, 2008

Review: SingStar

SingStar (2008)
Developer: SCEE London Studio
Platform: PlayStation 3
Purchase Date: 05/22/2008

Great choices of songs.

Sony has finally done it. First and foremost, they made me change my mind about SingStar being a second-rate copy of Karaoke Revolution. Secondly, they have further revolutionized the karaoke experience with SingStar's amazing online components. The mechanics of the game is still the same as it has always been before: it's a high-tech version of a karaoke machine where a pitch-bar is introduced on top of the typical lyrics shown on screen. Singing on pitch is rewarded via a scoring system. The game now allows for the original artist's vocal to be faded out, something that is sorely missing in the PlayStation 2 versions. As great as this feature is, you can still hear the faded vocals unfortunately.

The best music video out of the bunch.

The game comes with a list of 30 songs from a hodge-podge of different eras and genres. You can always find one or two songs to like from the default selection but the real winner here is the ability to download more songs online straight into the HDD from the SingStore. There are already 203 songs available for download and they cost $1.49 each. The songs include their own music videos that you can watch as you sing them. Sony is continually updating the song list, so this game is going to be your ultimate karaoke getaway for a long time to come.

More songs are coming our way!

There is also a free online community available that can be accessed directly from the game. This addition is absolutely brilliant. Players can create a SingStar profile and gain access to a plethora of screenshots, audio files, and video footages from players across the globe. With the help of the PlayStation Eye, photos and video footages are taken during certain segments of a player's performance and these can be uploaded to the online profile. Only a brief portion of video is recorded unfortunately even though the console records the entire vocal performance to be uploaded. Whether you choose to upload them is optional of course for the shy ones out there. If you ever miss going to a karaoke bar to hear amazing (or horrendous) singing from total strangers, that experience has now been nicely replicated here. Since the game was released in Europe late last year, there is already a large amount of content out there to be enjoyed. This is as fun as playing the game and it brings unlimited hours of entertainment. It is extremely easy to navigate through these contents - just think of it as a smaller version of YouTube or Myspace. You can leave comments on others' profiles, check out their high scores, rate their picture/video/audio files, and see their friends' profiles. There is a section of the community page that shows the highest ranked uploads and yes, you will discover that sometimes it is not about the singing but the silliness of it all. Just like the YouTube phenomenon, the crazier the antics, the better the ratings and you will be surprised that there are actually many crazy lunatics out there playing this game. But hey, all is well because it's all done in good fun.

From cool croons to manic loons. They are all here.

There are a number of things that made SingStar slightly flawed. The vocal reduction mentioned earlier could have been better implemented. The music videos are not presented in high-resolution. There is still no word recognition while you are singing. You can't actually play the game online with others and it's a shame that you can't upload longer videos. The most damaging of all though is Sony's total disrespect of previous SingStar owners. There is no option to use the previous discs with this one, so if you dream of showing off your skills online using songs found on those discs, you will have to repurchase the songs and download them onto your PlayStation 3. The missing backward-compatibility feature only points out to how money hungry Sony really is (watch out for those overpriced background downloads!). I am sure they still need a lot of cash to gain some profit from the high manufacturing cost of the PlayStation 3 console but they shouldn't have placed the burden of that mistake on their customers in such an unfair fashion. [Update Note: In December 2008, Sony released a patch that allows the title to be backwards compatible with all the PlayStation 2 SingStar discs.] Still, this game is the best karaoke "machine" ever made and trust me, it will be a hit in your next social gathering! Just don't tell your friends that you are going to post their videos online. Then again, they probably wouldn't mind.

RATING: 4 out of 5
* With most recent patch: 1 out of 5 *

Update Note: 11/15/2014 - This game has been ruined by Sony. Click here to read the details.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wii Fit Makes You Fat!

It is true! Due to limited availability, Wii Fit has made a lot of internet entrepreneurs really fat with cash! has ran out of stock of this hot $89.99 new release and other sellers are bumping up its price to more than double what it's worth with the highest being a whopping $179.99 (shipping excluded). The madness is also spreading across eBay where the price for it is averaging around $110.00 and up. As if the lack of the Wii console's availability isn't enough, Nintendo wants to show the world that they are not to be trifled with by reducing the supply to another of their product that is high in its demand.

You wanna be fit? Give us a fat check!

3,000+ of them out there... Nintendo must have secretly shipped out almost their entire inventory exclusively to eBay sellers!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Review: Art of the Devil I & II

Chatrichalerm Yukol's The Legend of Suriyothai should be a solid indication that we should watch more Thai movies. It is one of the greatest epics of all time and serious movie lovers who have not seen it should do so immediately. The only other Thai film I have seen is The Wheel - a short film contained in Three Extremes II. Unfortunately, that was one Thai film I'd rather miss. I have heard about the "Art of the Devil" series for a while now but I had completely forgotten about them until a recent foraging on accidentally brought me to them.

Art of the Devil (2004)
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Director: Tanit Jitnukul

This movie has one of the strangest openings ever. It starts off with a young woman finding her family members coughing out blood and dying in their bedrooms before she is confronted by the woman responsible for their condition. Then, you get to see the flashback that focuses on the culprit and her struggles, sort of an explanation to why she is committing her current crime. Things get more hectic as the tale proceeds and additional layers of details are thrown at the audience but by the middle of the film, the narrative structure finally stabilizes. The weirdest aspect of the first half of the film is the usage of black and white film to show real time events that punctuate the flashbacks.

Grieving after a sudden and violent death.

The film centers on black magic and how powerful it can be used to destroy the intended targets. The supernatural elements found here are quite foreign to what a typical Westerner has seen before. Think a nastier version of voodoo and you are close to what it all entails. AotD is mostly a revenge drama with a creepy supernatural overtone. The villain starts off as an innocent young woman who later transforms herself from being a victim into a merciless murderer. She hires a shaman to impose some terrible deaths to the family members of a man who abused her in the past. Though the death scenes are pretty tame compared to current standard, they are oddly disturbing with the "eels" scene being the messiest of the bunch. Overall, I had a great time with this one. Even though it looks amateurish, the intriguing black magic content and strong characterizations saved this one from being forgettable.

RATING: 3 out of 5


Art of the Devil II (2005)
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Director: Ronin Team

This sequel has nothing to do with the original except for the fact that black magic is also used to facilliate all the crazy murders that take place. Directed by a team of 7 directors, the film definitely has a polished feel to it (though it is really hard to see why that many directors are needed to accomplish the end result). The story this time is about a group of students who decided to visit an old friend at a secluded village. Before they graduated from high school, they were involved in placing a curse on one of their teachers and that curse has come back to haunt them one by one.

That must have been very, very painful.

This one can be easily called a teenage horror flick but there are a lot of substantial adult elements in it that include crude sexual abuse and spousal violence. Some of the death scenes are very creative and bloody but there are not a lot of them. Flashbacks are used to reveal what actually happened in the past that justified the brutal killings of these so-called "innocent" teens. There is an engrossing and long build-up that leads to the eventual bloodletting but once that peak is reached, the movie slows down to a halt. It probably just needed several more violent killings but with such an unexpected, mind blowing, and satisfying ending, this one is definitely worth watching.

RATING: 3 out of 5

Wii Fat

With the release of Star Soldier R on the shop channel yesterday, I thought that I would finally purchase my first WiiWare creation. After I selected the game and readied it for download, I encountered the following screen:

Your Wii is Fat. Please buy Wii Fit.

It's official. My Wii is overweight. It was the first time that I encountered this memory issue and it was quite frustrating. I knew that it was coming, as previously discussed in last Monday's article, but I didn't expect for it to happen during my first WiiWare download. Thus, a decision had to be made:

What a pain.

After several minutes of waiting for the copying process to finish, I went back to the online store and started the whole process again until I got to this screen:

Warning! Warning! You are about to get ripped-off!

Wow! Well, I do want to thank Nintendo for saving me from downloading this sick joke of a game. 2 stages? You got to be kidding me. No, thank you.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Review: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney (2005)
Developer: Capcom Co., Ltd.
Platform: Nintendo DS
Purchase Date: 2005

Death by Samurai.

Recently, I have a tremendous craving for adventure games. This is probably prompted by my current obsession with playing action role playing games - killing things repeatedly for items and level grinding made me long for a more cerebral video gaming experience. I played through Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney half way through when I first picked it up. When I started playing it again, it was definitely the perfect game to play between my RPG grind sessions.

Phoenix Wright vs. Legendary Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth.

Phoenix Wright is a defense attorney. A goofy one too. Still, he has a good heart and a strong commitment to justice. Playing as him is fun because he is very likable. The game starts off with Phoenix's first case and throughout the game, you get to see his transformation from rookie attorney to a semi-confident professional. The game is text heavy and it switches between exploration and courtroom scenes. Using the classic point of click interface, greatly implemented on the touch screen, you guide Phoenix through many different backdrops and text options. The graphics are your standard 2D but the artwork is very charming. There are some 3D elements that players can mess around with later in the game when analyzing physical evidence. The characters are well-design and they all animate pretty well and have varying facial expressions. I love the catchy music in the game. Most of the characters have their own individual theme and in the courtroom, the music changes around based on Phoenix's performance.

Look very carefully for your precious clues.

The majority of the gameplay involves having Phoenix talk to witnesses, examine crime scenes, and participate in trials. Once enough evidences are retrieved from your investigation, the trial commences. The trials are really about finding contradictions in witnesses' testimonies. Phoenix can "press" the witnesses to make them elaborate their mostly misleading statements and raise an "objection" to expose contradictions. These actions can optionally be accomplished by screaming "Hold It!" or "Objection!" into the DS mic. This flow works for the most part but becomes problematic when players are already way ahead of the trials themselves. Often times, I was ready to point out the truth to the whole scenario but then I still had to deal with the little things that needed to be proven first to proceed in the game. The game requires players to really pay attention to what is said by witnesses because some of the contradictions are very, very tricky to point out.

In one trial session, 5 wrong moves = game over.

What makes this game special to me is the story. There are only several murder cases to solve but some of them are very involved and are quite lengthy to complete. Though there are definite lapse in logic in some of these cases, they are well thought of and perfectly executed. The cases you get to defend are touching and filled with moments of genuine emotions. Though I found intentional humor in the dialogues and the names of the characters, there was an underlying bleakness to the whole adventure. The murders are cold-blooded in their nature and the truths behind them are shocking and realistic. When a trial is won, the feeling of accomplishment is grand in that Shadow of the Colossus fashion. A great game. It is so good that I have already started playing its sequel, PWAA: Justice for All because I want to know what is going to happen next to this "Ace Attorney".

RATING: 4 out of 5

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New PC Project

I have recently asked a friend to assist me in revamping my gaming PC. Hopefully this project will be completed sometime this weekend or next week. The current one I have is equipped with an old ATI Radeon X850 Platinum Edition on AGP and my motherboard doesn't have PCI-Express. My PC runs Windows XP, has 2GB of RAM, and a Pentium 4 3.00 GHz processor. This time around, I am going with Nvidia instead of AMD/ATI and I have already purchased the graphics card. I will post the new specs once everything is complete.

I want this to last me at least 5 long years...

Review: CrossworDS

CrossworDS (2008)
Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo DS
Purchase Date: 05/13/2008

Clever screen layouts.

Having a crossword puzzle on the Nintendo DS is brilliant. Why bother completing one on paper unless you have a pencil with an eraser and the result is always somewhat of a mess. In this game, all you have to do to change an incorrect letter is to write over it and the new letter will then take its place, quite simple! There are over 1000 crossword puzzles contained within - a great value! Not only that, Nintendo included wordsearch and anagrams into the game.

Simple and clean presentation.

The touch screen is used to write a letter into each box while the other screen is used to display the clues and the overall layout of the crossword. The touch screen can be a bit tricky to navigate through and requires constant fiddling of the zoom button. There is a nice option to have the screen move automatically to the next box to the right or to the bottom that helps facilitate the game's flow.

The letter recognition is better than ever!

At the end of each puzzle, the player's performance is evaluated based on the total time it took to complete it and whether any hints were used during the session. Speaking of hints, you have the option to reveal a letter, a word, or an additional clue when you are stuck. Choose carefully though since they each include their own time penalty. There are a couple of flaws that hinder the overall experience. You will encounter repeat clues going through the different crossword puzzles. Anagrams can get frustrating at times because Nintendo censored words they deemed not family-friendly, like "fart". I do find the game to be a great distraction during the quiet moments of my day. It is engaging, challenging, and very easy to enjoy.

RATING: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Strike a Pose!

Tomonobu Itagaki, the man behind the Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden series, is one vain fellow. That sense of vanity oozes into his game creations in a good way mostly... Here's an example when it is not. In celebration of the upcoming Ninja Gaiden II for the X-Box 360, gamers can start wasting their money by purchasing "FIERCE" theme pack and gamer pics on Live! That's right... They are... FIERCE! No longer would that term be uttered exclusively by ultra-feminine men or supermodels, their entourage, and their fans. I don't know. I would be quick to describe Ryu Hayabusa as "smooth" before I would ever call him "fierce"... And shouldn't theme packs and gamer pics be free with the $59.99 we mostly pay for a game?

Is there anything better than a fierce ninja?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Review: Ils (Them)

Ils (2006)
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Director: David Moreau & Xavier Palud

Sad to say that this one turned out to be another disappointment from France. The film starts off with a by-the-book scene of a mother and daughter stranded in the middle of the road at night as they are attacked by a mysterious stalker. Soon after, the movie focuses on a young couple living in the middle of nowhere who are brutalized by perhaps the same stalker responsible for the previous event.

I do applaud the movie's minimalist approach of not giving the viewers enough back-stories to the main characters. This really helps set a realistic as well as voyeuristic tone to the film. We only get to see a small fragment of their everyday life before night falls and bad things start to happen. The problem with this film is that once the cat and mouse game begins, everything becomes a jumbled mess. First of all, it gets very dark and it is hard to see what is going on. It's effective at first as a scare technique but after a while staring at barely anything on the screen, squinting your eyes to figure out what is really going on becomes very tedious. Then, there's the bad pacing. The huge bulk of the movie is spent watching the couple getting terrorized but nothing really catastrophic happened to them until the very end. It's like watching a stretched out chase scene of a serial killer trying to get to its next victim - such scenes are not meant to be feature-length. Lastly, there is a problem with the characters' questionable actions during the film's climax that take away all of the realism that was established throughout the film.

Ils is the non-gory equal to the bloodbath Haute Tension. Both have promising premises and both just failed miserably. I am hoping that Frontière(s) will not be joining their ranks.

RATING: 1 out of 5

Smart or Stupid?

As the new Get Smart movie nears its theatrical release, Warner Brothers has a change of heart when it comes to who should dominate the U.S. movie poster. In the earlier version of it, you can see that Steve Carell's face is hidden behind Anne Hathaway's crazy looking hair. This perfectly captures the goofy, incompetent nature of Maxwell Smart's character.

What a smart poster!

Now, the table has turned and Steve Carell's flowing tie hides Anne Hathaway's face. Something tells me that this sudden switch is not caused by artistic integrity. It's more of a star power game. One of the character's faces has to be hidden for that comedic effect but whose face should it be? The choice is obvious.

A financially smarter poster.

Monday, May 12, 2008

WiiWare is Here

Nintendo has launched the new WiiWare service today. WiiWare allows for bigger and more complex games to be downloaded straight to the console, competing directly with the kind of original contents you normally find on X-Box Live and the PlayStation Network Store. Though WiiWare is an exciting new step for Wii, it also exposes the console's most fatal flaw.

More games = more memory space.

The Wii can barely keep up with the classic games that are available for download and they each take just a small fraction of the Wii's almost non-existent internal memory space. It is frustrating to keep moving games back and forth from the Wii Channel and my 2GB SD card just to create more space for downloads. The reason why we download these games to begin with is to be able play them easily at our own conveniences and that is becoming a hassle with each new games downloaded from the online shop. The easiest thing that Nintendo can do to solve this problem without bulking up the Wii's petit physique is the integration of the internal memory and the SD card where the console reads from the card and enable the games contained within to be played directly from the Wii Channel screen. Still, compared to the monstrous 3-digits worth of GB space the X-Box 360 and the PlayStation 3 have, we are really looking at an external add-on solution for the Wii in the near future if Nintendo or other third-party developers can quickly get their act together and make this happen.

The "channel" system on the Wii menu is clever and presents a lot of great opportunities for Nintendo, like the recent release of Nintendo Channel. With new channels sucking up what is left of the Wii's remaining memory blocks, Nintendo should realize how bad the space dilemma really is by now.

There are 6 games available through the WiiWare service today. Out of the bunch, only LostWinds and Defend Your Castle look fun. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King is plagued with micro-transactions that make it less attractive than it should be. Overall, the service is off to an awkward start: Though Nintendo is promising better and larger "wares" to play on the Wii, they are not giving us the "where" in terms of a logical storage solution for the downloads.