Thursday, 30 November 2006

Pokemon Trading Figure Game: Next Quest Review

Ok, so today I’ll be taking a look at the brand spanking new Pokemon miniatures game, or to give it its full name; Pokemon Trading Figure Game: Next Quest. I shall be concentrating on the Flamethrower starter set (which consists off 4 miniatures, Red trainer, Charizard, Treecko and Meowth), but another more water based set is available.
I have been a fan off the whole Pokemon “hoopla” since day one, well I say day one, living in Britain generally means our day one comes about seven years after everyone else’s, but rest assured in terms off us old Brits, I was there at the start. Got Red on day one, Blue for X-Mas and all manner of games after that, so when a rep showed me these at the Toy-Fair in London in January I was pretty excited. Excited and impressed, which is probably more important? So after many months, and a long conversation with my boss telling her that “yes we do indeed need to sell these things”, they finally turned up at the shops backdoor. I’m pleased to say that I still love them….

Packaging ***
Our friendly neighbourhood pocket monsters come in the ever more popular clam shell pack which means all the appropriate boxes are ticked. They are clearly visible from all angles, look damn good on a shelf and are all safe and secure (you wouldn’t want to upset Charizard by damaging his wings now would you?) My favourite aspect of the pack though is how the mini-figs themselves are held down; each on them is clipped in to a small plastic tray, which in turn is held into the main packaging. This is a really cool little feature, as it lets you see one off the main features of the figures; they spin. So what I hear all cry, well trust me it looks cool and this will be pretty important later on.
As I said there are two starter sets available, the only thing that really differentiates them both in terms off packaging is a sticker that runs along the front base off the pack, proudly telling you which set you have bought, and a neat little picture of the main monster included. The back is pretty similar on both sets, giving you a little info about the game as a whole, what you get inside and what else you can spend your hard earned money on. Despite what sounds like a lot off similarities in the design, because all the monsters included are all so different, both sets manage to really stand out from each other when on display.

Sculpting; Treecko, Meowth, Red **1/2, Charizard ***
Now on to the most important part of this whole thing; the miniatures themselves.
And I’m pleased to say it’s generally pretty darn good.
Trainer Red (it’s blatantly Ash Ketchum), is the one human character you get in the set, and he is also the least interesting. But that is pretty inevitable when you see what else you get in the pack. In reverse order of greatness the monsters you get Treecko, Meowth and Charizard.

Treecko is sculpted climbing down a rocky outcrop type thing, and its perfectly nice, but its just not that interesting. I know that’s not the most detailed critique, but for me that’s where it ends, it good not great and certainly not the most exciting thing ever.

Things pick up a little with Meowth. Team Rockets favourite henchman (HenchCat?) is portrayed bounding toward you in all his playful cat like glee, and this comes out wonderfully in the sculpt. These guys are essentially based on the cartoon versions of the characters, and the transition from 2D to 3D is always a tricky one to capture, so it’s mightily impressive how faithful they remain to their source material, this is never more obvious than when looking at Charizard.
Charizard is posed leaning out off a mound? of swirling flame, and is my favourite of the set, might off mentioned that before, but I just wanted to make sure you knew this because he looks awesome. So overall, the sculpts are pretty darn good, this however could be a major stumbling block for the line, but more on that in the Value section.

Paint: Treecko, Meowth, Red **1/2, Charizard ***
These guys shouldn’t be the hardest things in the world to paint; essentially they are made up of large blocks off the same colour, without a huge amount of shading. This obviously stems from the design of the characters and the somewhat LOUD colour scheme that was chosen, oh the joys off kids’ cartoons!!
Meowth is the simplest off the lot. Only his eyes, mouth, hands feet and the tip off his tail require any work, and what you get is pretty neat and tidy.

Next up is Treecko, and just like Meowth, not a lot off detail work has to go into him, but what is done is as good as you could expect, all the lines are neat and colours match the character perfectly (or at least to my eyes anyway). He does gain a small advantage over Meowth when you take a look at the rock formation he is perched on, although rather simply done, there is a nice level off shading used on it, when a simple brown could have been thrown on, that extra step (when you consider how simple they could have kept the paintjob) is a very nice thing indeed.

The quality takes another step up when we get to Red/Ash. Here we actually get a level of small detail work, and for the most part what’s there is very good. The shading on the trousers is especially nice; however there are a few spots off spray paint on his jacket. But ignoring that gripe, it’s really well done.
As seems to be tradition we end on Charizard, and again I have saved the best to last.

Charizard himself is quite like the other monsters, not many different colours, and large blocks of those that are there, so why is he so good? Easy, those oh so lovely flames! Our “friendly” fire-dragon is surrounded by a ton of them and the way they graduate between the different colours and shades is very impressive indeed. Flame is always one off those things that can be a struggle to pull over well, so it’s good to see that even in this “cartoony” representation, care has been taken to make it look genuinely good.

Action Feature **
This next section is pretty pointless unless you actually intend to play the game. You see, the figures are attached to small plastic bases, and when on these the can be spun like some small tornado off monster based rage…? This is used to decided the winners in battle, so if your not playing, don’t read the previous paragraph…..oh too late, sorry!

Accessories ***
As well as the figs, in the pack you get spinny bases for each character, a two sided playmate, collector’s sheet, trainer cards and rule book. So basically every thing need for one player to get started in the game.

The Game/Fun Factor **1/2
The basic idea of the game is to try and get one of you pocket monsters to the other side off the board, and your opponents goal space. You can only move each monster so far, and should you bump in to an opponent the two off you fight. This is where the game turns into what is essentially a version of paper rock scissors with added dizziness. Each player spins their monsters and the colour that is being pointed at determines who wins the fight. Blue beats everything, purple beats white, if two whites are spun the most powerful attack wins, and should you miss, well everyone just laughs at you for the rest off the day.
It’s a really simple game, obviously aimed at kids, but I think it works well for the market it’s aimed at.

Value **
This is probably going to be the only really negative section off the review, and its all the fault off the praise I have been giving the stuff so far, confused? Well let me explain. As I said, I like the sculpts and paint and everything a whole lot, it really looks good. But because off this quality that has gone into the line, the price has to be knocked up. With a starter weighing in at £15 and the boosters £9, that’s a few quid too much for what they are trying to sell. Its meant to be a line the kids can easily collect, and at that price point I don’t see that happening.
As far as I know America hasn’t had the joy of the Pokemon TFG yet, so I can only hope that when they do, production goes up so that economies of scale (see I did occasionally concentrate at school) kick in and the price can drop a little.

Overall ***
I like this line a lot, and were it not for the high price point I would probably end up with loads off these guys littering my flat, but until there is a reduction I cant see this being the success it deserves to be.

Great Review by Matt Thomas

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Saw 3 Film Review - Cult Press

Directed By: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Shawnee Smith, Tobin Bell, Bahar Soomekh
Running Time: 107 mins
Reviewed By: Alexia Weeks
Rating: * * *_ _

A strained effort to compete with the extremities of Hostel, the third in the Saw series has noticeably less impact than the previous two. Is it wrong to be able to say moderate torture no longer horrifies me? The movie landscape and squeamish storylines are reaching a stage where real life snuff movies wouldn’t be out of place.

What Saw 3 does have to offer is best looked at apart from the first two Saws or its grisly competition Hostel. In this third helping of Jigsaw and his ‘Seven-esque’ mission to brutally educate the world, we follow the trail of blood left by Amanda (Shawnee Smith) as she continues her work for John Cramer (Tobin Bell) who is literally at death’s door.

Rumours that fully grown men fainted in their seats at the cinema is an encouraging sign and suggests we’re getting a decent helping of blood and gore. Bless them, it does prove that the film has some worth and ‘hits the spot’ for horror fans. It’s clear which scene of the film caused this but don’t worry – no spoiler here!

Go watch it, but don’t be surprised if you feel let down by the regurgitation of the same ole ‘games’ and ridiculous amount of twists…

Special thanks to Lexi for a great review.

Sunday, 12 November 2006

Music: Top 5 UK albums you probably never knew about

1 - We May Be Skinny And Wirey - The Crocketts
Before they were the Crimea, the Crocketts were a brilliant underground country rock crazy thrash band, they put on great live shows, often covering classic songs such as Ring of Fire and recorded 2 great albums, their first album was my favourite. 'We may be skinny and wirey' is such a wonderful journey of music and toe tapping tunes its really painful to knew they never had much commercial success. Look out for 'Tennasie' 'Strong Guy' 'Bucket and Spade' & 'Will you still care'

2 - Stamina - The Junket
Another underground pop-indie-rock band from the 90's, the Junket was a three piece band with great rythem, bass and harmonies. Stamina was actually a seven track mini album, but every song is so unique and utter genius. Look out for 'the Engine Man' & 'Punk Mickey'

3 - Everything Picture - Ultrasound
Ultrasound were the Pink Floyd of the 90's, fronted by tall, obese singer/guitarist Andrew 'Tiny' Wood, whose voice was beautiful and he knew how to rock!. Everything Picture was a concept double album, probably the 90's was not ready for it as the band soon split up. The album was epic, one track was about 30 minutes of noise and news samples mixed in with fuzzy guitars and screaming. Key Tracks include 'Same Band' 'Stay Young' & 'Floodlit World'

4 - Captain - Idlewild
I'm sure the now semi-famous idlewild don't really like this album, again a mini album of epic thrash rock proportions. There was no way in hell after listening to this album would you think 'yeah this band can do pop songs really well'. Captain is about 25 mins of the most exhilarating head banging tunes you will ever hear. You have to listen to 'Last Night i missed all the fireworks' 'Self Healer' & 'you just have to be who you are'

5 - When do we start fighting - Seafood
Probably the best indie rock album i have ever heard, possibly the best album on this top 5 list. When do we start fighting boasts amazing soft harmonies, contrasting perfectly with the harsh dark bass lines with a hint of folk. Very hard to describe Seafood, they're just perfect. Look out for 'Splinter' ' Western Battle' & 'Desert Stretched Before The Sun'

All very 90's... but all very good! CP

Film: Borat

I've been a fan of Borat for a long time and hearing that Sacha Baron Cohen was turning his comic creation into a movie was just incredible. I thought it would be a movie that would never make it to the Cinemas and only survive on DVD but luckily for us the hype was intense and made the movie a 'great success'!

The introduction to the film sets the tone brilliantly, Borat introduces himself and takes us on a guided tour of his home town in Kazakhstan, we're introduced to his prostitute sister, his dear old mother, his larger than life wife, his envious next door neighbor and even the town rapist...

Borat is soon in the USA and conducting various interviews with people who should know better!, he manages to get under the skin of almost everyone, some don't take it and walk out while others keep their cool and endure his endless questions, these people clearly have the patience of saints.

Borat soon finds himself alone in a big city with no entertainment other than his TV, this is where he falls for the busty CJ of Baywatch fame, he sets off on a huge adventure to 'bag' him Pamela Anderson...

If you have watched most of the YouTube Borat clips from the movie you will find yourself disappointed from the lack of new material. The acting is painfully obvious in between genuine interviews and kills the genius of the film. Despite all this, the film is a must see. It defines a generation of self ridicule and don't we all feel so much better for it!.

7 / 10 CP

Friday, 10 November 2006

Music: Flaming Lips Live - Birmingham NIA

Flaming Lips, NIA Birmingham UK, November 9th 2006

The Flaming Lips are notorious for their shows, with a reputation for a psychadelic circus of performance. They didn't dissapoint with this new tour, promoting their latest album "At War With the Mystics", a funky yet assertive new interpretation of the epic rip roaring melodies we have come to know and love over the last twenty odd years. Opening the show in a suitably weird fashion were support band Deerhoof, a trio of bass, drums and lead guitar, playing a perplexing mix of de-constructed heavy metal ambiance, (including toddler like dance moves from the squeaky lead singer).

Although "The Lips" could be seen before the opening number, setting up equipment and so on it didn't prevent the entrance to the stage being theatrical yet down right trippy. With one side of the stage engulfed by dancers in Father Christmas suits armed with torches, Wayne Coyne rolled on to the stage and then the crowd in a giant inflatable aero ball, accompanied by sexy alien women, naturally. They started as they meant to go on, with twice as many giant balloons than usual. Due to the bands respect for Chandeliers at the previous nights venue, they had some left over. This little anecdote was taken from one of the many rambling monologues from the lovable hippy front man that interjected throughout the night. Covering topics ranging from the joyous discintigration of the Bush establishment to optimistic advise for troubled teens. However the sensory overload was more than enough compensation for sometimes tedious and cheesey speeches. Laser shows, puppetry sing alongs, giant glitter balls creating illusions of spinning stars and continuous streams of glittery party string being blasted at the audience left me feeling absolutley spoilt. The audience interaction was astounding, resulting in a mass Queen Kareoke during the encore, a booming cover of Bohemian Rhapsody including sing along words on the massive video screen backdropping the stage. This screen was used to display many of the bands videos, so even short arses like me had something to look at if the lips disappeared behind the crowd. Another example of how thoughtful and caring the band are towards their faithful fans.

Ultimately it has hard to say a bad word about the show as you get so much bang for your buck literally. My only complaint is that it was so jaw droppingly uplifting and crazy that my face still aches from smiling all night.

Review by Chrissy Mckenzie

Thursday, 9 November 2006

Gadgets: iPod Shuffle

I've had my brand spanking new iPod shuffle for about 3 days and I have to say I love it! I was determined not to give up on my ever decaying 3rd generation iPod, even after 2 battery transplants! But alas, it is now dead. It has lasted me over 3 years, so I can't complain.

I bought the Shuffle to help me walk to work in the mornings (and I love shiny things), and it works a treat! You don't even know it's there, the sound quality is great, it can go fairly loud too and the battery seems to last forever. The controls are very basic but very easy. It comes with a small dock which is very cute and syncs with your Mac (or PC) without any problems.

The packaging is just lush! It is done in the same style as the new iPod Nano's, with the clear plastic displaying it like it was a prize trophy in your cabinet, you almost don't want to open it.

The only thing that angers me is that they lump it together with old-school headphones, I would buy some in-ear headphones but I find for £25 they break too easily. Updating your tracks does take a fair bit of time, especially if you tell it to down sample your songs to 128kbps AAC encoding. Also it's so small, be careful not to lose it.

Can't complain, top notch product, amazing price and great value.

8.5 / 10 CP