Canadian Mario Kart Event on May 24th

May 13th, 2014 by
mario-kart-8-canada-best-buyNintendo is having an event in Canada to promote Mario Kart 8 by letting you play it almost a week early from 12:00pm - 4:00pm on Saturday, May 24th at Best Buys across the country.  The selection of Best Buy locations hosting the event is a little smaller than it was for last year's Best Buy Nintendo E3 Experience, so check them out here to see if you can satisfy your need for karting speed a little early.  Check back here on the 24th for some videos/pictures showing off Mario Kart 8 in action.

Pocket Couture Earphones

May 5th, 2014 by
pocket_boxes_black_white_white Manufacturer: Degauss Labs Current Retail Price: 24.95 USD (one-button), 34.95 USD (three-button) The headphone market these days is completely swamped with products of all shapes, sizes, and prices. While many of them are mediocre and interchangeable, there are brands like Dr. Dre's beats and SkullCandy that have at least managed to make a name for themselves among the large corporations like Sony, Klipsch, Sennheiser, and Creative. Degauss Labs' Pocket Couture (PC) line of headphones, while oozing with style from the packaging to the logo printed on their flat cable, are very obviously attempting to make a name for themselves by catching some of the sizable crowd of consumers flocking to the redesigned EarPods that Apple launched in late 2012. From the earbud design to the exact same price this smaller Swedish headphone company is aiming straight for the top of the midrange earbud market with its Pocket Coutures, but are they really a viable alternative to the intensely engineered Apple devices?  Read on to find out if we think the PCs successfully blend style with function. When I first received our black review PCs I was impressed with the packaging even though I had previously seen images of it on the Internet. It was moderately difficult to get into, but darn if it wasn't a shame to harm with my tearing.  The headphones themselves are easily as stylish as their packaging too. While I have no complaints with the physical construction of the PCs, the myriad differences between them and Apple's EarPods become clear the moment you try to put them into your ears without the accompanying silicone earbud covers. The most obvious difference between the two is that the PC's earbuds are roughly 15-20% smaller than those on the EarPods. For my ears anyways this made aligning them so that the speaker openings were comfortably in my ear canals a major hassle and I found that even if I was able to position them well for a moment that they would slide around in my ear too much to keep them like that for very long.  With the silicone sleeves on the PC's earbuds the fit was significantly more stable, but it definitely left me wondering why the earphones weren't shaped that way to begin with and more "defined by the geometry of the ear" like their Apple counterparts. My first aural test with the PCs was actually the day after I had ear tube surgery. While you could very easily argue that this was an unfair time to try out new headphones, I think that it was the perfect opportunity for me to see how they perform in sensitive hearing scenarios especially when compared to the other headphones I had at hand like my Apple EarPods and my Creative Aurvana Live (CAL) headset. The EarPods and the CALs are easily the leaders of their respective headphones types and price ranges and are both known for being quite versatile "all-around" performers, so they served as a good baseline from which to measure the PCs performance. After having used the aforementioned two headphone sets for a number of weeks, the first time I listened to some familiar lossless music on my iPhone like the Doobie Brothers' "Listen to the Music", The Eagles' "Hotel California", and Alan Parsons Project's "The Turn of a Friendly Card" the PCs sounded overly bright almost to the point of being sibilant and shrill. As I broke the headphones in more over the next week these bright leanings mellowed a great deal and settled in at a more neutral (but still brighter than I am generally accustomed to) tone. The other thing that really stuck out during my first couple of hours with the PCs was that they sport really notable instrument separation when you're listening to more acoustic music, a lot more than you'd expect from a pair of midrange earbuds (and certainly more than the EarPods). Instrument separation can be a great feature of headphones, especially when accompanied by a larger soundstage, but the benefits of this separation in the case of the PCs are diminished by the PCs' relatively small soundstage. The equivalently priced EarPods, while missing the modular definition for such clear instrument separation, have a much more spacious soundstage which most audiophiles would probably rank as being more important.  The PCs' bass reproduction was also quite lacking in every context we tried them in from movies to video games to many genres of music.  So while most headphones (including the PCs) claim to have "deep bass", in the case of the PCs this is certainly not true, as their base can only be described as "kind of lacking".  I generally don't even like bass-heavy headphones, but everyone knows you need at least some if you want to have a good overall sound. Even though the PCs on average perform only tepidly when compared to sets like the EarPods or the CALs, they have a couple physical features that are unique and handy.  The flat cable design of the PCs is nothing short of excellent.  Having tossed them into my general fray of headphones, cords and cables the PCs always remain tangle-free and they very satisfyingly wind up for storage or pocket transportation.  The three-button inline microphone/controller is also at least as good as its equivalent on Apple's EarPods.  While the inline controls are not overdesigned like they are on the EarPods, there is much to be said for the usability of the PCs' clear 3-button design. Overall the PCs are not a bad set of earphones by any means.  Their audio reproduction with quite bright highs, average mids, and weak lows cater better to people that listen primarily to pop or light EDM than those wanting an all-around set of earphones for many genres, movies, and games.  If you have smaller ears and lighter tastes in music then the Pocket Coutures could be the earphones for you as their flat cable and inline controls easily rival their competition's, otherwise if you're just looking for a solid all-around set and audio performance matters for you more than style and physical functionality then you're probably still better off with a set of EarPods.   [taq_review] A review unit was provided to us by its manufacturers.

Smash Bros. Newstravaganza!

April 8th, 2014 by

greninja-smash-bros

Nintendo unleashed a storm of new Smash Bros. information today and there's lots to be excited about (we've bolded the cooler stuff):

  • Launch windows: The Nintendo 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. is planned to launch this summer. The Wii U version of Super Smash Bros. is planned to launch in winter 2014.
  • Silky-smooth 3D: Most game-play elements of the Nintendo 3DS version of the game will run at 60 frames per second, all in stereoscopic 3D.
  • “Smash Run”: Exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS version of the game is a new mode called “Smash Run.” In this mode, four players have five minutes to enter a dungeon and explore the surroundings, fight enemies and obtain power-ups to enhance their fighters. Once the five minutes are up, all four fighters enter a battle arena using their newly equipped items and power-ups. Enemies encountered in the Smash Run mode are from a wide range of game series. Multiple Nintendo 3DS systems and games are required for multiplayer modes.
  • New challenger!: Greninja, the awesome final evolution of Froakie from Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, joins the roster as a playable character in Super Smash Bros. for both Wii U and Nintendo 3DS.
  • Oldies but goodies: Many of the classic characters from past Super Smash Bros. games that are returning in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS have new powers and abilities. Four characters that have appeared in previous games, but had yet to be announced before this Nintendo Direct, include:
  • Zero Suit Samus: That’s right, Zero Suit Samus is back, but this time she is her own fully playable character, separate from suited Samus. In the new game, she is given jet boots to make her even more powerful.
  • Sheik: As with Zero Suit Samus, Sheik is another character that appeared in previous Super Smash Bros. games, but will be a unique playable character for the first time in the new Wii U and Nintendo 3DS games. Sheik has new moves like Burst Grenade and Bouncing Fish.
  • Yoshi: In previous games, Yoshi stood on two legs and hunched over, as if Mario were going to jump on top of him at any moment. This new version of Yoshi stands completely upright, making him an even stronger fighter.
  • Charizard: After appearing from a Poké Ball in Super Smash Bros. Melee and becoming playable by using Pokémon Trainer in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, this fire-breathing Pokémon is now a selectable character.
  • Online play: Both the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS versions of Super Smash Bros. will offer online multiplayer game play with other players on the same platform. Players with broadband Internet access can battle it out with anyone else who is online and also has the game.
  • When playing with random players online, two modes are available: “For Fun” and “For Glory.” In “For Glory,” only Final Destination stage variations are available. There are no platforms, elevated areas or items in this mode. It is a nice, clean battle between characters. In “For Fun,” all stages are picked randomly and all items and power-ups are available.
  • When playing with friends, full customization is available – players can set the rules, stages and items however they want.
  • Variety of stages: While the cast of playable characters is the same in both versions of the new games, the stages where the battles take place are vastly different, depending on which system a player chooses. The Wii U stages are primarily based on past home console games, while the Nintendo 3DS stages draw from hand-held games for inspiration.
  • Boss characters, such as the Yellow Devil in Dr. Wily’s Base, will make appearances in some stages. When bosses appear, fighters will have to battle the boss, as well as one another. The boss can even be used in strategic ways to damage other fighters.
  • Almost all the stages in both versions of the game will have a “Final Destination form,” an alternate form of each stage that is inspired by the relatively simple layout of the much-loved Final Destination stage.
  • Items, trophies and Pokémon: Items, assist trophies and Poké Balls all return in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. New to the games are Master Balls, special Poké Balls that contain Legendary Pokémon like Arceus and Xerneas.
  • Get connected: There will be elements in Super Smash Bros. that link both versions of the games. More details about this will be revealed at a later date.
  • Custom moves: In a series first, players can now customize move sets when playing locally or online with friends. More information about this feature will be announced in the future.

I have a feeling there aren't too many new characters left to announce now unfortunately.  I hope to see at least one new Nintendo and one new 3rd party character announced before we have the full roster, though.

The Greatest April Fools of Them All

April 1st, 2014 by

homestarrunner-update

HOMESTARRUNNER.COM UPDATED TODAY!!!!!!!!

All of our sorry existences have now been made worthwhile.  

GO AND WATCH IT NOW AND BE COMPLETE!

Wasn’t dat a gangbangin’ April Fools Day?

April 1st, 2014 by

gameusagi-april-fools-2014

This here April Fools our phat asses decided ta go thug n' keep it real up in dis house.  Thanks ta http://gizoogle.net fo' pimpin-out tha Internizzle n' makin our asses realize dat we need ta git scrilla n' be kind ta dem hoes. I ain't talkin' bout chicken n' gravy, foo'.  If you eva wanna relive tha magic click here.

Titanfall 5-Hour Energy Shots Drop in the US

March 22nd, 2014 by

Titanfall_5_hour
The 5-hour Energy people were kind enough to send us a sample up here in Canada of the Titanfall branded 5-hour Energy shots. While they're only available at US Wal-Marts, it's interesting to see a cross-promotion of this nature. The ones with the special Titanfall labels (our box exclusively featured the Orge titan on the front) come in Berry flavour exclusively, not that it really matters due to 5-hour Energy's famously bitter taste. So, if you're in the US and you're hankering five hours of energy and coming on 10,000% of your daily recommended intake of B-12, you now have a more collectible limited-edition option at your disposal.  You'll have to pull yourself away from the game first, though.

Movie Review: The Immortal Augustus Gladstone (2014)

March 18th, 2014 by

augustus-gladstone

The modern disillusionment with the compromises wrought by big studios in the entertainment industry has brought on a Renaissance of sorts for indie games and movies. Social media networks make it easier than it has ever been for smaller productions to reach out and gain the kind of viewership that was previously possible only with the help of big-name studios and their deep pockets. As more and more of these small budget/big idea productions come out each year though, it is becoming increasingly obvious that for every Reservoir Dogs there are a dozen or so movies that just should never have been made and for each The Stanley Parable or Antichamber there are countless indie games made by people that shouldn't even be allowed near a computer. Robyn Miller (pictured above as The Immortal Augustus Gladstone's eponymous character) is known primarily for creating the immensely popular Myst and Riven PC games with his brother back in the mid-90s and essentially nothing else until the aforementioned indie mockumentary movie. Does The Immortal Augustus Gladstone (TIAG) live up to Robyn Miller's reputation for groundbreaking story telling or does it suffer from the feeble blandness characteristic of all too many poorly executed indie ventures? Read on to find out just how immortal I found this movie to be.

TIAG was preceded in 2011 by a viral campaign of sorts that is alluded to several times in both the movie and its accompanying PR materials. This campaign consisted of a YouTube account for the Augustus Gladstone character wherein he told stories from his 150+ year life and gave tours of his "home" which was later to be featured in the movie. This virtually unknown YouTube channel gained a very modest following of just over 200 followers, but regardless serves as the pretense for the mockumentary. Apparently the filmmakers (almost all of whom play themselves using their real names) found out about Augustus through his YouTube channel and decided to do a documentary about this unusual man who claims to be immortal and how he lives his life in a corner of a condemned hotel in Portland.

The Augustus character himself is fairly interesting at face value: a (supposedly) 156 year old southern gentleman of amiable temperament who must wear a wig and draw on his eyebrows to maintain a somewhat normal appearance. Miller plays this character fairly well with an eccentric charm and (for the most part at least) an unhurried gait one would associate with someone of advanced age. The film's other characters are not really shown enough to be of great note, but were all competently and genuinely portrayed.

TIAG excels in a place that one wouldn't necessarily expect an indie release to as well, in its score. As I watched the movie I was often struck by how well the music fitted the scenes and imbued them with some much-needed life (and not only because of Augustus' purported vampirism). It turns out Mr. Miller not only created and starred in this production, but composed the impressive score too. This film must have been quite a gargantuan undertaking for him which makes it even more of a shame that it ends up not being very good.

Once the novelty of the initially quite compelling character of Augustus and the movie's impressive soundtrack wears off the unfortunate audience is left with another 80 minutes or so of well-scored tedium. What makes it worse is that this tediousness is accentuated rather than alleviated by the movie's competent components. As far as mockumentaries go, TIAG is well put together with talking head segments and even word from the street interviews with people around the city on the movie's salient themes. It's shot as competently as any mockumentary I've seen, the acting is fine and the music is at times inspired, but all of these things can't manage to counteract the film's tedium making it even more frustrating for the viewer because the crew has shown that they had the skills necessary to make something truly compelling.

TIAG's ultimate stumbling blocks are its plot and its approach to the central topic of vampirism (thereby its characterization of the main character). These in turn could be blamed perhaps on Miller's... unique view of the nature of the monsters in classic, truly great monster narratives. The Director's Statement included in the press materials for the movie states:

At its base The Immortal Augustus Gladstone is a monster movie. The character of Augustus unexpectedly has a lot in common with monsters like Frankenstein or King Kong who I see as almost childlike beings, trying to make sense of their own brutality, and struggling to survive. I wanted to mirror those traditional monsters while setting the story against the backdrop of the digital age, including the often unforgiving mayhem of a documentary film.
– Robyn Miller

Frankenstein's monster and King Kong are surely some of the most "childlike" of the world's classic monsters, Frankenstein's monster because of its sudden awakening from the icy grasp of death (not to mention being composed of a mottled bunch of random body parts) and King Kong because it was kidnapped from its natural environment and forced into a strange new world in captivity. Surely none of these concepts apply to Bram Stoker's Dracula, a proud centuries-old nobleman, or any vampire in any reasonably competent production. While a movie looking at vampirism from the perspective of a childlike character would be interesting (Let the Right One In), and not all vampires can be expected to be of noble lineage, the concept of an almost centuries old sentient being being so vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life is frankly absurd regardless of how much you accept the world presented in the film. No matter how fictional the character, you'd think that someone who had lived roughly two average human lifetimes would have been around the block and seen enough of the world to know that "this too shall pass".

So, the audience is left with this living juxtaposition of a character, an aged vampire with little to no experience or wisdom that one would attain through their supposed long life. The movie tries to play with the notion that no one involved really believes that he is a genuine vampire, being enlightened modern folk like you or I, but on the whole the audience will certainly receive the very overt impression that they're meant to believe that the character in the context of the movie was indeed telling the truth about his "monstrous" nature. 

Augustus' purpose for creating the obscure YouTube channel that was meant to have spawned this mockumentary is stated as "setting the record straight on vampires". Through interviews with Augustus we're told that "real" vampires don't have pointy canine teeth nor are they repelled by crosses, but they do need to drink blood, or at least the plasma -- that's the important part. Through his actions we see that they're not terribly photosensitive either -- he constantly walks around in daylight and one can imagine him tipping his hat at Edward Cullen as they merrily pass each other on a sunny afternoon. The thing that makes this portrayal of vampires staggeringly feeble is not only that it goes against centuries of well established and otherwise often expertly expanded lore, but that these details are just mentioned in passing when they could have formed the basis of an intriguing narrative.

Every time that the movie seems to be going in an interesting direction aside from watching people talk to a mildly odd but wholly unremarkable vampire in his little granny home it without fail falls flat on its face before anything interesting or entertaining can be gleaned from the scenario. A prime example of this is when Augustus agrees to go see a medical doctor to see what they think about his vampirism. This in itself is an excellent scenario, so much could be learned about what makes Augustus' unique brand of vampire tick -- when they go to draw blood would any even come out? Does he have a heartbeat? Is he warm or stone cold? Do his pupils dilate in bright light? How does he metabolize the blood that he consumes, and how does it keep him living forever if he has an otherwise human digestive system? Of course this opportunity for plot advancement, if there were anything to advance, is almost mockingly wasted as he refuses any needles and gets upset during an EEG causing them to leave.  The plot continually suffers from this unwillingness to pursue anything that could possibly be mildly entertaining about the character or his situation right up until its final anticlimactic and uncharacteristic denouement that peters out to leave you wanting your hour and a half back. To add insult to injury, Miller even makes Augustus' prize possession a well-worn copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Perhaps if he had bothered to read it himself we would have had the pleasure of seeing a less pointlessly fallacious depiction of a vampire.

Had he set out to entertain or provoke thought Miller could have had an excellent time bringing the audience on an examination of how a single unremarkable vampire would have to live in modern times or he could have focused much more on how he proposed vampires mechanically operated regarding their exotic behaviours in this piece when compared to modern understandings of vampire lore.  I think that Robyn Miller, having handled the lion's share of the movie's writing, scoring, acting, and editing (to varying degrees of success), reveals a lot more about himself through TIAG than he was intending. You could say that he himself is an immortal character, forever in the history books for his video game creations, wanting to set the record straight and show that he is still relevant and that his life's greatest work isn't depressingly far behind him. 

It's very plain to see that this is not the work to once again propel Mr. Miller to the forefront of popular culture.  Having done almost everything possible he could for this movie he has proven only that he should be looking for other avenues to regain past glories -- particularly in the field of music as his scoring of TIAG is easily the greatest part of the work.  Even though he's said some harsh things about video games in the past, I'm sure the gaming community would still welcome him back if he returned to it as a prodigal son. If you're at all interested in this movie because of Miller's involvement perhaps just check out its very reasonably priced soundtrack, if you're looking for vampire stories do yourself a favour and check out a book you can really sink your teeth into like the original Dracula, Del Toro's The Strain or Lukyanenko's Night Watch series instead -- don't say I didn't warn you.

 

5.1 / 10

Missable

Tales of Symphonia Chronicles (PS3)

March 15th, 2014 by

tales+of+symphonia+screen07
Developer:
Namco Tales Studio
Genre: RPG
Players: Symphonia 1-4, Dawn of the New World 1-2
Console: PlayStation 3
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Launch Price: $39.99 (both games on a physical disc) or $19.99 (each on the PSN store)
Progress: 9 hours of playtime in Symphonia, 6 hours of playtime in Dawn of the New World (Previously beat both original GameCube and Wii versions)

Namco Bandai have recently been showing a lot of love to their North American fan base and the new Tales of Symphonia Chronicles release on the PlayStation 3 is a great example of that. The release includes both Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World for $39.99 on a single disc. These games are also offered individually on the PSN for $19.99 each. There is also a Collector’s Edition for $99.99 (whose features I discuss later) though I am not sure if much stock for it is still available.

When you first start up the game you are taken to a screen where you can access either of the included games. The first time playing either will require an install on your system. It took me roughly 10 minutes total to install both games.

This game is an HD collection of the two older Tales games included, which originally came out in 2003 and 2008 respectively. The Symphonia included here is a remake of the PlayStation 2 version (not the GameCube version) and Dawn of the New World (DotNW) is a remake of the Wii version. The one problem this brings is that the PS2 version of Symphonia ran at only 30 fps instead of the 60 fps on the GameCube. This is definitely noticeable when playing the game, especially for someone like me who was used to the GameCube version. If you haven’t played either of the originals it wouldn’t be too obvious, but to people more attuned to noticing things like that it could be picked up on fairly easily. Some portions of the game are affected by this FPS difference in minor ways, but nothing too major to note.

Even with the HD improvements the age of the graphics still shows through. The most notable improvements come from the anime cut scenes that look even more gorgeous than they did on their original lower-resolution systems. The character models have also been spruced up slightly and look more defined. Other than that I could not notice much difference between the HD remaster and the originals. One qualm I do have is that in Symphonia the monster models on the world map are still the black blobs from the original, it would have been nice to see them turn into full-fledged enemy models even though it doesn’t really affect gameplay.

Comparing the two games, DotNW definitely has better graphics and better technical gameplay in terms of the combat. Both are still extremely fun, but understandably DotNW had five years and new console hardware to use to improve on things. The story remains stronger in Symphonia though, as there are more characters to get to know and the plot is more weighty and exciting than that of DotNW. One thing that does stand out is that in both games your party has four characters. In Symphonia this means that four people can play the game together and each control a separate character, but in DotNW two of the four slots are taken up by monsters (which you collect and add who do add a fairly fun collecting and leveling up/class changing mechanic to the mix) leaving only 2 spots for actual players as monsters cannot be directly controlled. Both games are still naturally really fun and have fantastic gameplay in spite of their combat system differences.

The main attraction of the Tales Of series of games is its Action RPG style of gameplay. It is very role-playing heavy, but the combat is very action oriented in that buttons are set to do certain moves instantly  and you control the character directly during battle. Defending yourself, dodging, attacking, casting spells, using items, etc. feel very natural and controlling the characters is easy and intuitive to learn but can be hard to master. Another good aspect is that you have multiple characters to pick from and use in battle and are not limited to only using the main person (though most times they are the most natural-feeling characters).

The music of the series, and of these two games in general, is absolutely fantastic. These aural masterpieces are great to listen to in and out of the game. The game also does a great job of cycling through different pieces so I rarely found that I was growing tired of the music during gameplay.  Along with the music comes great sound effects, and though they aren’t completely needed in the games they add a nice touch to them.

If I compare this game to newer entries in the Tales series such as Tales of Xillia and Tales of Xillia 2 the most noticeable differences are that the newer ones have better graphics and a much more advanced combat system. Having said that, Tales of Symphonia and DotNW definitely stand the test of time, especially Symphonia whose story still stands among the best of the entire Tales series.

So, should you pick up this game or not? If you’re an avid fan of the Tales series and have never played these games before I would 100% recommend buying this new HD collection. If you’re a newcomer to the series this is definitely a great game to get started on and the fact that you get two games for only $39.99 is a real boon. Even if you are a fan who has played these games before, if you feel like playing them again and seeing Lloyd and gang in higher definition and on a new console I’d definitely say to look into picking it up too. If you’re hesitant, you could always try out one of them on PSN, see if you like it, then invest in the other if your interest was piqued.

In addition to the games themselves the Collector’s Edition has a lot extra to offer the more dedicated Tales Of gamers. It all comes in one big box that has some great artwork on the side of it. Inside you’ll find the game in a regular case, an empty steel book case which you can place your game into, an art book (which contains a code for a free PS3 theme), a novella of the “Tales of Symphonia Successors of Hope” story, a 4-disc soundtrack with a total of 98 songs from both games, and 4 little chibi figurines of game characters (Lloyd, Collete, Emil, and Marta with Tenebrae). This is a pretty worthwhile Collector’s edition if you love these games, and everything included is of particularly high quality and well packaged.

 

[taq_review]