Movies, music, games, books, television, and more.

My opinions, jaded completely by my feelings, experiences, beliefs, and how I'm feeling at the time.

*SPOILERS* I will usually include a section at the end that may contain spoilers. If you don't want to know, don't read that part.

My opinion is not yours, nor should yours be mine. If you want to know for yourself, do for yourself. If you disagree, that's fine - you can make one of these for yourself for free.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spots in the Ink - XBL Summer of Arcade '11

So that time of year has come and gone again, the time when XBox Live strips away our free time with weekly releases of their biggest titles. As with last year's event, there were some games before and after the main push that are worth mentioning, plus the official "S-o-A" titles. I'm going to give a quick rundown of all of them, then talk about what I played.

Outland - Purchased, 75% Done

Trenched - Purchased, Beaten

Ms. Splosion Man - Purchased, 5% Done

*Bastion - Purchased, 75% done

*From Dust - Purchased, Beaten

*Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet - Purchased by Bama, No Personal Progress

*Fruit Ninja Kinect - Not Purchased

*Toy Soldiers: Cold War - Purchased, 50% Done

Crimson Alliance - Not Released, Purchase Status: Unlikely

Renegade Ops - Not Released, Purchase Status: Certain

The ones with a * are the official titles, and if you bought all of them, you get Crimson Alliance for free. It's not a bad deal, since Fruit Ninja was only 800 and CA will be 1200. But I much preferred last year's method: the more of them you bought, the more points you got as a reward after it was over. I didn't enjoy feeling like I was being railroaded into buying a game for an accessory I don't own yet. Anyways, let's talk about the games!

Outland - From the ever-inspiring minds at Ubisoft, Outland is like a mix of Metroid and Ikaruga. You travel a huge map, gaining new abilities to access new areas, and there is a light/dark mechanic used for combat and puzzles. The controls are solid, the gameplay is easy to get into, and the art style is stylistically pitch-perfect.

Trenched - Those boys over at Double-Fine have done it again, men! Trenched is a mech-builder / tower defense game with some of the best theming I have ever encountered. The four-player co-op is a must, and there's enough unlocks that my regiment played all the way through it at least four times. DLC better be coming down the pipes!

Ms. Splosion Man - Twisted Pixel really delivered on this one. What could have been a palette-swap rehash turned out to be a genuine sequel: the puzzles are more complex, there are genuine new mechanics, and the game has a difficulty curve that almost demands having played the first one. If you need any more incentive, just try to skip a checkpoint and endure "The Curse."

Bastion - The nostalgia factor pulled me into this one before I even stood a chance. Rendered in beautiful 2D and with a camera angle reminiscent of FF: Tactics, if the music and art don't get you, the narrator will. On top of all that production value, the game plays solidly, and there are way more side-quests, collectibles, and other replay-value factors than I expected.

From Dust - Ubisoft may have signed some kind of questionable soul pact to put out this many good things. This was by far my favorite single-player arcade experience this summer. A "god game," the mechanic of moving elements to reshape the world has amazing results. Plus, beating the game unlocks a free-play map where you literally shape the very world before you.

I.T.S.P. - Metroid meets Limbo meets Asteroids, this one I didn't pick up, but watched Bama play, and played some of the co-op with her. The game looks like immense fun, if you like the whole "huge map where new abilities = new areas unlocked" formula. The co-op has up to four of you running from a giant beast, and the rounds we played were the perfect mix of intense fun.

Fruit Ninja Kinect - This gets old on my phone, and I don't see how waving my arms around would change that. I had a Wii, and the sword parts of Wii Sports Resort were all I'll ever need of this kind of gameplay. Like having to pay for Angry Birds on Windows Phone 7, this one just confuses me.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War - I love Toy Soldiers. I bought every DLC if for no other reason than to give Signal Studios more money. And it payed off. A tower-defense formula at heart, the new game requires you to get adept at using the turrets, but the payoff is much bigger: plastic-melting, package-ripping, point-of-articulation snapping barrages. The co-op is a great addition, and the new challenges, commendations, and mini games are icing on the cake. I wanted a war, I got a war!

Crimson Alliance - A four-player co-op dungeon crawler, I'd have been more interested in this if Dungeon Siege III hadn't come out earlier this summer. I'm sure I'll play the demo, but this is low on my list.

Renegade Ops - Pulling on the nostalgia heartstrings once again, this is an aerial-perspective vehicular shoot-'em-up straight out of my childhood memories. If the upgrades, explosions, attack choppers, and four-player co-op weren't enough, the trailer shows your team speeding along a giant bridge that is collapsing behind you.

So there you have it, my take on the past few months of XBLA. I know I missed a few, the biggest being W.H.40K: Kill Team and D&D: Daggerdale. But I hope this list helps the next time you got some spare points burning a hole in your virtual wallet.

The Devil's Due - Into the Kitchen

I love Daredevil. As of tonight, I own and have read everything from the beginning of "Vol. 2" - when Marvel reset the numbering to #1, put it under the "Marvel Knights" brand, and let Kevin Smith take the reigns - up to Andy Diggle's #507 - which is actually #127 under the new numbering, but Marvel saw it fit to override that with the old system in order to commemorate reaching 500 total issues. Doing this was no easy feat, as many of these issues are collected in now out-of-print trades, or not collected in trades at all. I also own the three trades that follow the point I'm at, trades that revolve around Matt Murdock's final fall from grace and subsequent "rebirth." But I'm getting way ahead of myself there, storyline-wise. My point is, I love Daredevil.

And it's all been done since March / April of last year. I wish I knew the exact date, but I can't seem to track it down. Again, though, I'm getting ahead of myself.

My first genuine encounter with "horn head" was, in retrospect, regrettable: February 14, 2003. Ben Affleck and all. I went with a friend's girlfriend, who wanted to see it more than he did, which seemed to me like a great opportunity. In hindsight, I really wish it had been my date Colin Ferrell sent a sai sailing into, but I digress. Point is, at the time, my dad was the only really solid DD source I had, and he hadn’t picked up an issue in decades. Still, he knew enough to shoot the bull with me after the family had seen it, and helped impress a few things into me: Kingpin was too big to ever be played in real life by anyone, Matt Murdock would never have been seen fighting anyone in broad daylight, in street clothes, on a playground, etc. But my pop watches movies to be entertained, and it had done the trick, so we arrived at a "fair" rating on the whole thing.

The only other outcome was that I started looking around our local Books-a-Million for any DD trades - my standard response to all super-hero films at that point in my life. I tried reading both Frank Miller's Man Without Fear and Smith's Guardian Devil; I knew both of those names, and so was interested, but as with many comics I tried to read back then, the art wasn't glitz-gloss or manga-esq enough for me. So the film remained my only real look into Hell's Kitchen, which was ok with me back then. So I'll leave the movie alone. For now.

I would be remiss if I didn't put at least some attention into the development of my comics interest during between the two dates I've given you so far. I mean, it's only seven years or so. The short version is this: I liked manga throughout college ('03-'06) and still do, though to a lesser extent; the only American comics I tended to read then were those with Star Wars at the top, or the aforementioned movie-inspired forays into Marvel / DC. The three big catalysts to the huge "funny book" fan I am now all came after I moved to Annapolis for grad school in fall of '07.

1. I read the first few trades of DMZ at the Borders near the theater I worked at, and so began to look more into the indie comics published by Vertigo.
2. One of my managers saw me reading there, and so shared his Punisher MAX trades with me, which started a chain reaction of comics reading at the theater.
3. In May of '08, Third Eye Comics opened less than a mile from the theater, and I met the owner Steve, whose ability to gauge what people will like is mind-blowing.

Even with all these influences, though, it was a long time before I owned anything within a mainstream "cape" continuity. Sure, I had the occasional self-contained trade, but I think even all of those were Batman. I like Batman, always have. No, it wasn't until I had known Steve for a while that he got me to finally read an ongoing superhero series: Ed Brubaker's Captain America. I loved it, immensely, and added Brubaker to my list of authors to keep an eye on. The only other Marvel stuff that really piqued my interest were in the alternate "Noir" universe. I picked up the Punisher, Wolverine, and Daredevil arcs under that brand, and enjoyed them all. If you want to talk Noir, though, our man J.S. Wolfwood is the resident expert. But the DD run gave me my first taste of Hell's Kitchen in years. And I liked it.

The big payoff came in March / April of 2010, my girlfriend (Bama from Blue-Eyed Curiosity) and I were in Third Eye buying her some comics so she could see if she liked them, and she said "I liked the movie Daredevil. We should look for that." I looked at the DD trades, and low-and-behold was a "Volume 1" with Brubaker's name on it. Sold.

Turns out that particular trade started with issue #82 and went to #87, and as such not really what we had been looking for; I still need to buy her Man Without Fear so she can have a good origin story on her shelf. I decided to give it a shot, and was completely blown away. Sure, I had obviously missed a few things: Matt Murdock was in jail, Elektra wasn’t dead anymore, etc. But the writing was good enough to get me hooked, and it avoided many of the problems I have with cape stories. There was no multi-dimensional war being fought, or ten thousand different characters I needed to keep track of, or a plot that I needed to buy four different trades just to make sense of. It was a story about people, and one that made me care.

I had also picked up the fantastic Daredevil: Yellow by the dynamic duo of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale of Long Halloween fame. Like their two other Marvel one-shots, Yellow focuses on love and loss due to Matt's alter-ego. While not connected directly to the main run, it only served to heighten my interest in these characters.

So in July of 2010, I acquired the rest of Brubaker's run (#88-120), an oversized trade that contained Smith's #1-8 and David Mack's #9-15, and the first of three massive trades that collect all of Brian Michael Bendis's run, starting with #16-19/26-40. Yes, I know there are gaps in that, gaps that I had to address later. But at that point, I was set. On a trip to Cedar Point that year, I used airport and car time to read through the Smith / Mack trade and everything Brubaker had done. I skipped the Bendis stuff because I couldn't afford the second two trades that completed his run, and I had already read beyond them. I enjoyed every panel of it, and figured I'd pick up what remained later that summer.

Then life happened, as it tends to. I changed jobs several times, managed a massive relocation that I had been planning for a while, and so on. Somewhere in the shuffle, that first Bendis trade got left on a shelf several hundred miles away. Christmas came and went, along with a visit home; still it sat there, waiting for the pieces to fall into place. I knew that some amazing stuff was going on in the current run of DD, being written by Andy Diggle, the mind behind Losers. Finally, in July of this year, I grabbed it off my shelf. We were planning on getting to a certain teenage-wizard-movie midnight show way too damn early, and I knew I'd need reading material to kill some time.

That trade took me at least three hours to get through. I honestly kind of lost track while I was reading. It was unique, even amongst the oft-unusual and genuinely fascinating things that preceded and succeeded it. The first arc in it, "Wake Up", is possibly the best thing I have ever read in a mainstream cape series, and Daredevil is barely in it. I didn’t really think about the rest, after that. I had known for a while that it might be possible for me to actual get my hands on this entire run, and so I took the necessary steps to do so. Since July, I have acquired everything remaining, which required me to go so far as tracking down singles from 2001, because a certain arc was never collected in a trade. But I managed it, and here it is:

• Daredevil Volume 1 (Trade); Smith / Mack; #1-15
• Daredevil Ultimate Collection Book 1 (Trade); Bendis; #16-19/26-40
• Daredevil "Playing the Camera" (Singles); Gale; #20-25
• Daredevil Ultimate Collection Book 2 (Trade); Bendis; #41-50/56-65
• Daredevil / Echo "Vision Quest" (Trade); Mack; #51-55
• Daredevil Ultimate Collection Book 3 (Trade); Bendis; #66-81
• Daredevil "The Devil, Inside and Out Vol. 1" (Trade); Brubaker; #82-87
• Daredevil "The Devil, Inside and Out Vol. 2" (Trade); Brubaker; #88-93
• Daredevil "Hell to Pay Vol. 1" (Trade); Brubaker; #94-99
• Daredevil "Hell to Pay Vol. 2" (Trade); Brubaker; #100-105
• Daredevil "Cruel and Unusual" (Trade); Brubaker; #106-110
• Daredevil "Lady Bullseye" (Trade); Brubaker; #111-115
• Daredevil "Return of the King" (Trade); Brubaker; #116-119/#500
• Daredevil "The Devil's Hand" (Trade); Diggle; #501-507
• Daredevil "Shadowland" (Trade); Diggle; #508-512
• Shadowland (Trade); Diggle; #1-5
• Daredevil: Reborn (Singles); Diggle; #1-4

I still have to read the last three on that list, but I may take my time with those; I'm in no rush to leave the Kitchen behind for good. Hence the words you see before you. Most of these are still fresh on my mind, and the ones that aren't can be easily accessed. I'm going to ask you to come even deeper into these alleys, and higher onto these rooftops, and to trust me along the way. To hope that it's not just the blind leading the blind, so to speak. I'll do my best to show you the way, and do it as Matt would.

Without fear.