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Coming Out on Top: The Review

Mark Matthews, the protagonist of Coming Out on Top, is a senior about to start his final semester at Orlin University. But he’s been hiding a secret from his best friends (and roommates), Ian and Penny. He’s gay and it is well past time to tell them. From that initially nerve wracking yet happy moment, the next few months are a whirlwind of study, tutoring, drama, the search for a boyfriend, sex, and maybe love. Coming Out on Top is a fun, crazy game that I cannot help but be addicted to. I love this game.

I play the game in the manner I promised. I pursue all of the guys at once. However, the game does not allow for going after multiple guys past a certain point. To date, I have completed Brad, Ian, and Jed’s stories. I’ve gotten some way into Alex’s and have yet to get to a third date with Phil.

Brad’s path is endearing and cute. Ian’s route is hot as hell (the final scenes are reason enough to buy this game). Jed’s story is sexy and ultimately sweet (and not what I expected). Alex’s path is, so far, revealing of a vulnerable man hidden behind a hyper competitive facade. Phil’s route, though I’ve read he lightens up, is still hampered by Phil’s initial bad attitude.

I really enjoyed the three stories I completed. But I cannot say I’m terribly fond of Alex’s story so far. And I am still not fond of Phil, even after a second date.

The writing draws the player in and doesn’t let go until he or she finishes the particular path. For a first foray into video games and video game writing, Obscura does a rather remarkable job. The various plots are interesting and well researched. The characterization is good and subtle, though the secondary characters lack depth.

I do have problems with the narrative. The explanation for why Mark waited so long to come out to his friends is still problematic for me, given that he has known Penny and Ian for years. Another problematic poor explanation is Mark not knowing that Penny’s extended family is biracial with all of its attendant baggage (not that this is the only moment where Mark comes across as being racist).

The dialogue is problematic at times. Conversations between characters are often well written. But there are moments where the dialogue bogs down in trying to be so hip that it plunges into artificiality. The worst offender, so far, is Jed’s story line where the argument for independence and authenticity comes across as cliche (I would not be surprised, however, if Phil’s story doesn’t come out as the worst offender. The second date is a pain in the ass to read through).

The biggest problem I have with the writing is the amount of text. Yes, this is a visual novel, but the amount of text, especially descriptive text, and the usage of the second person takes away from the enjoyment of the game. Especially when the reading experience is more akin to telling than showing. Again, more cut scenes would have been preferable.

Turning to the art, I’m actually torn by the cutscenes (by Doubleleaf). The scenes I have seen have all been hot and well done. But I don’t know if the anime style is really the best. Alex, Ian, Jed, and Brad are all very well done (barring Ian’s beard in some scenes). But I cannot stand how Alex looks in the cut scenes. He looks too young.

The game rocks, but it can use a more interconnected story. If you play for all the guys, you will get Alex. If you decide that you would rather swim or run the treadmill at the second gym scene, Alex’s route is cut off and you will move on to Brad. I assume if you refuse to tutor Brad after the first tutoring session, Phil’s path will open up for further advancement. If you refuse to go on the second date, Ian’s route becomes available. Finally, if you don’t go to the frat party with Ian, Jed’s story becomes available. The order of the romantic options is determined by events following the second gym scene (and if you attend the second date/ tutoring session). The fact that the various romantic options do not interact is, honestly, a disappointment. A minor disappointment.

I still love the game. I am proud I bought it. I am about to play it again after I post this. Hopefully, this game is a success and we can look forward to many sequels or follow ups to Coming Out on Top from Obscura.


Thank You, Lea Shock

Last night when I played DC Universe Online with one of my three remaining characters, Tennyson Rider, I joined a group led by hero Lea Shock. It was fun mopping the floor with Bane, thank you.

The Scarecrow, Really?

I’m currently a premium member of DC Universe Online after purchasing “Fight for the Light” expansion pack. So, with six character spaces, I decided to create a character for each mentor. Everyday, I would work on a different character, starting with Joker and proceeding on til Wonder Woman. The plan hit a snag when I ran up against the Scarecrow on the second day. It is just unbelievable how difficult he is.  And that got me thinking why.

Now, save for Scarecrow, I’ve beaten each mentor driven first level. I would rank the level of difficulty as (from easiest to hardest): Dr. Fate, Felix Faust, Huntress, Grodd, Power Girl, and Scarecrow. So again, why is Scarecrow so surprisingly difficult?

That got me wondering if there was a concern that most players would gravitate towards Batman as a preferred mentor compared to the other five. It is telling, though, that Wonder Woman and Circe both have the easiest first level. Could it be possible that there is a push towards directing some players to the other mentors?

That said, I also have to wonder why the Wonder Woman and Circe first stages (and Superman and Luthor first stages to a lesser degree) are so similar while Joker and Batman are markedly less similar.

Another way of looking at the issue, though, is the choice of power. Some powers are far more useful than others. I mean nature powers are good for a non soda cola health boost, but weak on offense, while I happily smashed Faust with a meteorite for most of that battle. Perhaps a better means of dealing with Scarecrow is either smashing him with a meteor or using a summoned sidekick (like with gadgets and sorcery)?

But, that said, it still does not explain why the Scarecrow is the toughest of the six first bosses to beat. Surely, that should go to Power Girl (even if she is swarmed by the Parasite and his clones)?

In the end, I may wait a few days and come back to beat Scarecrow, or I could scrape that character and create a different one who may have an easier time of things. Well, that would make two, as I don’t care for my Luthor mentored created character either.

DC Universe Online Beta Review and Thoughts

As my just returned co-writer has stated, I’m going to deliver a review of the beta for the soon to be released MMORPG DC Universe Online. The game aims to allow players to interact with the DC Universe by creating their own heroes and villains. This follows The Age of Conan and Star Trek Online games that have been released over the past few years.

Now, I am not a gamer by any leap of the imagination. I have played a few games to completion, but only a few. Most of my game experience comes from watching my brother play.

That disclaimer out of the way, I have to say that I have played DC Universe Online more than any other game recently.

The game, the world, sucks you right in to being a hero or a villain. My own choice (the character I played as most often) was a wizard being mentored by Circe. My brother tended to be heroes with characters under Batman and Superman.

And let me tell you, it is easier being the villain! Life can occasionally be restored during missions, post knock out respawning is often nearer to one’s mission location, and the NPC side kick is often more helpful (or at least Brother Blood). That said, being a hero has its advantages, I just don’t know what they are.

The best part about the game is the immersive world and the visuals of Metropolis and Gotham. The cityscapes are just stunning and amazingly well done. My only complaint is that Metropolis is always day and Gotham always night. Hopefully the time changes in both in the actual game.

As my co-writer stated, the game can be frustrating despite the fun. The boss battles are tough- especially when you don’t know how to renew life.  Both me and my brother had to quit several times to avoid getting too frustrated. And the amount of life (and the durability of the character) is variable. At times, nothing can touch you (or inflict a lot of damage) or only a few hits and you are out. This inconsistency is a drawback that needs more attention paid to it.

Another issue is the text graphics. How am I supposed to know what to do if I cannot actually read the text?

Many of the problems, I think, could be solved if, during the tutorial, more attention is paid to giving the player more instruction on how to play the game.

Finally, I don’t know if I want to buy the game itself. The monthly subscription fee is a turnoff and I don’t know whether or not I would actually want to continue playing it for months or years to come.

Remember Me??

I’M BACK!!!! I’m not going to try to explain my extended hiatus in too much detail, all I’m really going to say is I got extremely burnt out on trying to justify my football predictions, not to mention the ridiculous state of professional wrestling from the past few months or so. I have decided that I am going to drop any filters I may have had on myself, and just start writing my honest opinions and thoughts toward certain subjects. But that can all start next week, this post is all about celebrating the greatness that I didn’t cover, and looking forward into this new year.

I would like to talk for a minute about the greatest thing that has happened to television in a very long time, and no, I’m not talking about Oprah’s ego-trip network. I’m talking about The Walking Dead. If you would have told me this time last year that a zombie apocalypse survival horror television show was coming, I probably would have laughed in your face, and said that it would never work. And boy would I have been wrong. The Walking Dead is now the measuring stick to which I will judge any new show. If I can’t say “Wow, that hooked me like The Walking Dead did.” then I probably won’t be tuning in for episode two.

Boy was I wrong about my NFL picks this year! I honestly hope no one took my advice to Vegas, because you’d probably would have had to take out a second mortgage on your house to pay the bookies. I still haven’t given up hope that I can still pick a winner, so here it is…..Philadelphia and Kansas City all the way!!! And before you say WTF!! Just let me say this, I picked a few of the favorites during the season ( I’m looking at you Dallas) and they’re now picking in the top ten in the draft…

The DC Universe Online beta was released a few weeks ago, so that also distracted me for awhile. You’re going to hear more about this later on today from my gracious and very knowledgeable co-writer in crime, who stepped up and took control of this here blog when I decided to take my hiatus. Where was I? Oh yeah, DCUO…I have never played an MMO, and I have little experience with the RPG genre of video games, but I felt like this game was extremely approachable, even for people with minimal experience, as my co-writer will touch on a bit more in his beta review. Also, the graphics were decent enough for me, and the create a character was quite deep, although it could have had more costume selections, but for the beta I was happy with the selection. I did find it frustrating at times, but I attribute that more to the lack of any shred of patience I have, especially when it comes to gaming. Overall, I found it to be quite enjoyable, both to play and to watch.

This concludes my happy fun time for all post about good things, next time you see me, it’s no more Mr. Kind- of- nice- at -times- guy. The gloves are coming off and going in the closet, I’m going to go bare knuckle on the things that I didn’t like during my hiatus, and there was a lot.

Review of Gungrave

Over the past few days, I have been watching the anime series Gungrave (dir. Toshiyuki Tsuru 2003). Despite a few issues, Gungrave has been a very good anime.

Based on the video game of the same name, Gungrave follows the life and after life of Brandon Heat. Brandon Heat was a member of Millenion, a mafia like organization run by Big Daddy and later, Harry Macdowell. He is murdered by Harry and resurrected by Dr. Tokioka as Beyond-the-Grave. The series follows two lines: the tale of how Brandon and Harry join Millenion and seek to rise to the top and the downfall of Harry at the hands of Beyond-the-Grave.

The strongest element of the series is the characterization. All of the characters are well round and well realized. Indeed, despite the lack of dialogue on his part, Brandon Heat carries a huge amount of emotional actions in his face and looks. And Harry is equally well done, especially in how the character descents into megalomania and psychopathy as the head of Millenion. The secondary characters are well done as well, especially Bear Walken and Bunji Kugashira. The only problems with characterization are, unfortunately, the female characters.

There are three major female characters: Maria Asagi, her daughter Mika Asagi, and Sherry Walken-Macdowell. Each one is a small variation on the mafia princess trope.  My problem with the depiction of the female characters is that they are all weak and exist solely to support, or provide excuses for heroics for, the male characters. There is some glimpses of strength on Sherry’s part in terms of her father, but she acts as the dutiful wife for Harry. At the end, when Harry is reminiscing over those he lost, he states “and of course Sherry” almost as an after thought.

While the strength of the female characters is sad, their role is key. It is for Maria that Brandon does the actions he does (in addition to Millenion). It is for Mika that he defends her and starts the fight against Millenion. And it is for Sherry that Bear Walken continues to serve Millenion.

Beyond that problem, the rest of the series is excellent. Especially the visuals and the action scenes. The fights between Grave and the Big Four (Bob Poundmax, Balladbird Lee, Bear Walken, and Bunji Kugashira)  are all amazing. As is the visuals of the city itself.

And there is the final scene in which Harry and Brandon reminisce before their deaths. That was beautiful.

All in all, a highly recommended series.


A Really Brief Review of Sengoku Basra: Samurai Kings

This is a really brief review of the first episode of Sengoku Basra: Samurai Kings that I watched this past Wednesday. I have to say that while I really liked playing the demo for the game on the PS3, I am not too fond of the anime.

My first issue is the anachronization of the Sengoku Period. I somehow do not believe that the people of the period, including the historical subjects who form the protagonists to the series, dressed in some of the weird clothing that the protagonists sport. While I love Yukimura Sanada’s outfit, seriously, it is ridiculous.

I am also not comfortable with the over acting in the voice department. We get it, you (every character) is overly excitable. Enough already.

I did like the visuals and the fight scenes though. The only thing that really saves (or tries to save) the series.


A note about next week: On Tuesday, expect perhaps a double Conan’s Wizards post featuring Yara and Thugra Khotan (if not, just Yara). And on Thursday, expect a review of the first half of X adapted from CLAMP’s X/1999.


The Great Motion Debate

By the end of the year there will be a new debate brewing in the world of home video game consoles. Of course I’m referring to the great motion control debate with the launches of both the Kinect for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Move for Sony’s Playstation 3, not to mention the motion control king, the Wii from Nintendo. Now I’m not going to go on a fanboy  rant about this console or that console, I will simply state that I own and prefer my Playstation 3. For me personally, the PS3 was the right choice, simply for the exclusive titles it provides over the titles offered on Xbox 360, not online capabilities or hardware specs, simply because the PS3 offered Heavy Rain and God of  War. Now that that’s out of the way, lets get on to the debate.
First, I will start off with the Nintendo Wii. The Wii is the old dog in this motion control scene, being around since late 2006. I personally do not like the Wii and I’m going to be honest about that. In my opinion, the Wii is last generation technology with one next generation idea, that being the motion control. I have played games on the Wii, and I will admit, some of the sports mini games and a few other titles I’ve played were fun, my overall reaction to the system was not too enjoyable. The complete reliability on motion control really put me off. There are non motion controllers available, but they too rely on the Wiimote to be usable. Also, the need to have constant fresh or recharged batteries was a real downside to me. Overall I think the Wii is a fantastic starter system for young children and families who may not be looking for the most powerful system, but one that offers the type of entertainment they are looking for.
Now on to Sony and the Playstation Move. It has been referred to as “The Wii HD”, referring to the fact that they are very similar. Now I’m not going to bore anybody with specs and analysis of how the two controller systems are different, because frankly, they aren’t that different. The move seems to posses more accuracy and can also provide a deeper range of motion, but to the average player, these differences would not be that noticeable. Where the difference will be really noticeable is in the graphics, and potentially the games put out for the move. To have the option of playing games such as Killzone 3, Littlebigplanet 2, Socom 4, and Heavy Rain. To finish off with the Move, I’m simply going to ask one question, If the Move is simply just a “Wii HD” isn’t it a smart move to copy the guys that are leading the race?
And finally, the Kinect for Microsoft’s Xbox 360. Of the two new motion controllers coming out, this is the one I am most unsure about, simply because it hasn’t been done to this scale before. Sony has tried camera-based control systems before, with very limited success. Now I’m not going to bash the Kinect, partly because some of the features I’ve seen demoed were actually pretty cool, but mostly because I see the thought process behind the device. If they were to simply emulate the Wii method, there would be three extremely similar products clogging the market. So instead of doing that, they decided to go a very different, albeit unproven route, to try and take a share of the motion control demographic. With a very different method of motion control, that method being controller free, they have set themselves up for either triumph or tragedy. Most of the games demoed I didn’t really appreciate, but that’s not to say other people won‘t. Certain features, such as the video chat and the ESPN app really interested me, not to mention the video playback controls. But features such as these shouldn’t be the reason you are buying the Kinect. Will the decision to go in this direction pay off for Microsoft? Honestly, only time will tell.
In closing, I would just like to add that if you already have a preferred console, I’m pretty sure that adding motion control will not make you “jump ship” to a competitor. But if you don’t already own a system, and you are deciding to jump in now, look around, do some research, and pick the console that best fits you. For me personally, I will be looking into the Move when it releases.
Let me know in the comments your thoughts on the great motion debate, and if your planning on picking up either of the new motion controllers when they release.