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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

5 Batman Movies to Watch for Halloween

Halloween is just a few short nights away. When one thinks of this particular holiday, two figures spring to mind, Jason and Freddy, one buffed up freak in a hockey mask, the other with a thing for striped shirts, claws and fedoras. And hey, those are two fine killers to cuddle up to on this spooky night. Me, I prefer some bats in my belfry. There have been a plethora of Batman films over the past twenty plus years, both live action and animated. Here are five that get my highest recommendation.

Batman (1989)

Let's kick this sucker off with Tim Burton's version of the dark knight. Hot off the heels of the Dark Knight Returns, and the Killing Joke comic stories that greatly help revitalize the character, this Batman flick was under heavy scrutiny before it even hit the silver screen. This was largely due to the casting of the title character role of Batman/Bruce Wayne to Michael Keaton, a man more well known for his comedic roles. Keaton proved that you can be a funny man, yet still portray a dark, mysterious character and for my money, he's still the best live action Bat. That opening scene where he sends a mugger to the hospital and makes the non-believer need a change of shorts? The Bat-backhand? That stealth hi-bye he gives Jack before he becomes the Joker? Some of the best stuff Keaton has ever done.

As great a performance as Keaton handed in, you could make the argument that he gets upstaged by Jack Nicholson's Joker. The man commits horrible acts that will make you cringe, but will still manage to make you laugh out loud all the while keeping that big, creepy grin on his face. I'm open to numerous incarnations of the Joker and Nicholson gave us one of the best in Batman's 75 year history.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Based off the graphic novel of the same name, the Dark Knight Returns was written and illustrated by famed comic book writer Frank Miller. The story centers around an aged Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to battle the corruption that Gotham City has since fallen into in his ten year absence.

One thing you'll immediately notice about Miller's Batman is that he's big. I don't just mean big in muscle mass. This Batman is one towering figure. Miller's art style helped make this grim tale truly unique and that same artistic touch has been translated quite well into animation. This Batman also on occasion uses a gun. We all know how Bats feels about firearms, but he never uses them to kill, but I can still see where this would rub some fans the wrong way. He's also far more aggressive, cutting thugs with his Baterangs as well as dishing out some truly vicious beatings.

The action is top notch and it's great to see such classic scenes from the comic really spring to live in animated form. Batman's first and second fight with the Mutant Leader is every bit as good as it was in the comic. The final confrontation between Batman and his arch nemesis the Joker makes for a fine finish for one of comic's greatest rivalries. This is the story that first painted Batman and Superman with an antagonistic friendship, which is now a big deal in comics and animation so it's no shortage of awesome to see their final showdown in animated glory.

Originally an animated feature broken up into two separate films, it was later released in a Deluxe Edition, containing both movies, which for me, is the definitive way to experience this movie. There are a few liberties taken but for the most part, this puppy sticks very close to the original comic.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

Taking Batman into the future was quite a risk. Even riskier still was placing someone else inside the Batman costume. How could things be anymore shaken up? How about putting a teenager in those tights? And yet, the show creators of Batman Beyond managed to make it work. It helped that it was handled by the same folks Behind Batman: The Animated Series and that Beyond was a continuation of said series.

When Batman Beyond first aired tons of questions were raised. Among those inquiries, where what happened to the Bat Family and of course, what became of comic's greatest villain, the Joker. We found out that Barbra Gordon was the commissioner of Gotham and mentions of past Robins here and there. There was a gang calling themselves the Jokerz in honor of Gotham's greatest terror and his face appeared on an old wanted poster in Shriek's debut episode but other than that, there was not a trace of the clown's laughter in the entire 52 episode series run of Batman Beyond. That's where Return of the Joker comes in.

This movie tells all. How the Joker survived to throw Gotham into chaos decades after his demise, what drove the Bat Faimly apart and the last battle between Batman and the Joker, which as you can guess, was not pretty. Here, the Joker pushes Batman's buttons like he never has before in the DCAU. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone that hasn't seen it, but what the Joker does in this film is just sick, one of the worst things he's ever done in the animation, comics or any other medium. Return of the Joker is yet another reason why he has and always will be a complete monster.

As much screen time as the Joker gets, the new Batman, Terry McGinnis really comes into his own with this film. As he tells Bruce at one point in the film, he's a completely different Batman and man, does he ever prove it with how he tackles the Joker. We also learn why he chooses to carry on as Batman. This movie packs some excellent character development for Terry.

There are two versions of this movie. One edited and one uncut. The edited version is still pretty creepy, but the uncut version is the way to go.

Batman: Under the Red Hood

There have been numerous Robins throughout the years. The first Robin, Dick Grayson was relieved of duty because Batman fired him. The second Robin, Jason Todd, got his Robin rights tossed because, well, the Joker kidnapped him, beat him with a crow bar and then left him to die in an exploding warehouse. Yeah, Jason really did get the crappy end of the stick.

Five years after Jason's death, a mysterious vigilante known as the Red Hood appears with the training of Batman, but without the same moral code. This hoody has no qualms about killing criminals. Spoiler alter, yes, the Red Hood is Batman's former Robin Jason Todd and he's out to clean up the city and get revenge on the Joker for offing him. It doesn't take long to unravel the mystery in this one, but the way it's told, the tale of revenge, a ward going down the wrong path is all handled extremely well here. I haven't read the comic this film as adapted from, but I dug this one so much I watched it over and over again when it originally came out.

The voice work in all of the DC Animated films has always been stellar for the most part. The Joker is voiced by John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time) and he delivers quite the chilling Joker laugh. His voice is deep and a bit gruff, but when I saw the trailer for this film years ago, I had no problems with him voicing the clown prince of crime. Nightwing is voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, and he provides some great comedic lines to Batman's serious demeanor, who is played excellently by Bruce Greenwood.

Batman: Assault on Arkham

The only flick on this list to be released in 2014. Batman is present but this one really centers around the villains. Amanda Waller recruits Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Killer Frost, Captain Boomberang, King Shark and Black Spider to form the Suicide Squad. The reason? To break into Arkham Assylum and kill the Riddler.

It isn't easy to get people with differences to work together, and that becomes even more difficult when said people are all hardened criminals, a few of them even psychotic. Naturally the friction between the group gets the better of them now and again and instead of fighting against their mutual enemy, they end up turning on each other. Deadshot and Boomerang butt heads on more than one occasion and since Deadshot has a thing with Harley Quinn, this puts him in the Joker's cross hairs. Of course it isn't all conflict. There's some romance between Killer Frost and King Shark and Deadshot, more than anything just wants to be with his daughter.

Being a DC animated feature, the animation is superb with some stunning action scenes. Andrea Romano always pulls together a stellar voice cast and Assault on Arkham is no exception. It's great to have Kevin Conroy voice Batman once again and while Mark Hamill isn't the Joker this time, Troy Baker hands in a magnificent performance.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Favorite Tunes #99: Darkness, Clubs and Shovels?

Woo! Favorite Tunes has sure come a long way. This is the first series of posts that I've attachted a number to that has a 99 on it. Considering my love for video game music, I guess that should come as no surprise. I've got a little something special planned for the 100th edition of Favorite Tunes so check back next week for that. Until then, enjoy some music from Driveclub, DuckTales Remastered and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS to name three outta six.

Be Here Now - Driveclub (PS4)

Well now, what have we here? Some music from a PlayStation 4 game? Driveclub has the honor of being the first PS4 game to get music featured in Favorite Tunes. I haven't played the game as I don't yet have a PS4 so if you're looking for opinions on how it plays from me, you're outta luck. I can, however, comment on the game's soundtrack, since it was released on iTunes last week. The game's audio was handled by Hybrid, a band that specializes in, among other things, trance and electronic music, which is what you can expect from Driveclub's music. I know this style of music isn't for everyone, but I personally love to work, write and exercise to this stuff, so you'll get no complaints from me.

Dark Lord - Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (3DS)

Did you ever play Find Mii? You know, that game that was built in with the 3DS system where your own Mii was captured and you had to recruit other Miis to find you? Leave it to Masahiro Sakurai and his team to remind you of something that you'd long forgotten. The Smash series has always been good with that. At the end of Find Mii, you'll find yourself held captive by the Dark Lord, the game's final test, with an incredible music piece bursting from the 3DS speakers as you fight him. The theme received an excellent remix for Smash 4 3DS.

The Moon - DuckTales Remastered (Wii U, PS3, 360)

Such TLC went into the 2013 DuckTales remake. All of the surviving cast members were called in to reprise their roles, the visuals were given an incredibly sexy HD make over and the music was handled by one of my favorite composers, Jake "virt" Kaufman, who adores the original NES 8-bit DuckTales soundtrack. When I found out his name was attached to this project, I knew we were in for the good stuff.

Space Dojo 2 (Billy and the Breakers - Firebird) - Double Dragon Neon (PS3, 360)

We've got a good virt vibe going so let's keep rolling on. In 2012, the 1980s made a big splash all over again in the form of Double Dragon Neon, a digital release for the PS3 and 360. While there are plenty of nods to numerous Double Dragon games before this one, Neon is still very much it's own game with lots of tongue in check humor. That 80s feel is in full effect with the musical score, featuring arranged themes from previous titles as well as brand new music.

Theme of Tara - Metal Gear (MSX2)

The original platform that Metal Gear was developed for was known for not being able handle scrolling. Taking into account the MSX2's limitations, Metal Gear was design with this in mind, Rather than all out action game like Contra, Metal Gear emphasized stealth. When that word comes to mind, one obviously thinks of sneaking about, a feeling echoed all throughout Theme of Tara, one of the franchises most popular themes.

High Above the Land (The Flying Machine) - Shovel Knight (Wii U, 3DS)

I sure am giving virt a of love, huh? Let's keep the chiptune groove going. As the title suggests, this background theme is accompanied to a huge flying airship with lots of bottomless pits, and no shortage of wind gusts. Cripes, I reminded of Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels. The Flying Machine is without question one of the most challenging levels in the game before you reach the final stages. After you suffer a few deaths and lose some gold, stop and listen to this theme. Some of that rage will cool off a bit and you'll be ready to give it another go.

Favorite Tunes Database

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Banjo-Kazooie: Everything and the Kitchen Sink!

Anyone that had an N64 should remember Banjo-Kazooie. The bright, colorful title from Rare was one of the system's outstanding games, one of the few that could actually rub elbows with titles like Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and F-Zero X. Not only did it serve up some up terrific platforming, the soundtrack was among the console's best offerings. Some would argue that the music to Banjo-Kazooie is Grant Kirkhope's finest work.

There have been a few soundtrack releases to the game here and there over the years. The first was given through the now defunct Nintendo Power (RIP) and  in 2013, Grant himself released a digital version of the soundtrack on his Bandcamp page at a name your price cost. The only problem with these soundtracks, as good as they were was evident to anyone that played a hefty amount of Banjo-Kazooie: they didn't even come close to scratch the surface with all of the game's music. Seventeen tracks spanning over an hour's worth of music is all well and good, but what about those oh-so lovely variations? That's where Banjo-Kazooie: Everything and the Kitchen Sink! comes in.

I don't think there has ever been a more appropriate name for a soundtrack. This album contains every single track from Banjo-Kazooie. You want each variation of Treasure Trove Cove? You got got it. Boggy's Race Win/Lose Fanfares? Present and accounted for. Every track, every jingle, every victory fanfare is all collected for your listening pleasure. That's adds up to 164 tracks and nearly 400 minutes worth of bird and bear music. Everything and the Kitchen Sink! is definitely one of the best soundtrack releases. Like the previous Banjo-Kazooie digital music offering, Everything and the Kitchen Sink! has a name your price tag download. So you can cop this baby for free if you like.

Releasing on October 3, the same day as Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, it wouldn't surprise me if lots of game music lovers were unaware of this one. Grant Kirkhope also wrote the music for Banjo-Tooie and Donkey Kong 64, both of which also received digital soundtrack releases last year. Here's hoping those games soundtracks get the same excellent treatment Banjo-Kazooie has.

Banjo-Kazooie: Everything and the Kitchen Sink!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wan Nyan Slash - Original Soundtrack

Ah, how I love me some chiptunes. The NES was my first foray in to the expansive world of video game music. As much as I appreciate how much game music has evolved over the decades, I will always have a soft spot for chiptunes. So whenever an album surfaces that is done in the style, I just have to take a look.

Wan Nyan Slash - Original Soundtrack, is a four track album based off iOS/Android game of the same name, that as of this writing, is still in development. The album released on October 10 and is ridculously short, spanning a mere four tracks and clocking in at a little over 6 minutes in length. Despite the brevity, the original soundtrack of Wan Nyan Slash is composed of quality tunage, but then I'd expect nothing less of chibi-tech, one of the most prominent chiptune artists. As if you couldn't tell by the soundtrack cover, the audio represented here as an ancient, samurai flair to it that rings clear as a bell even in 8-bit form. If I didn't know any better, I'd guess that chibi-tech was inspired by music from the Legend of the Mystical Ninja series. The In-Game BGM track certainly reminded me of something that I'd hear in Knoami's off-beat ninja adventures.

Wan Nyan Slash - Original Soundtrack is a name your price download. So you can give some funds to chibi-tech (she certainly deserves some) or snag the album for free. I find albums like this one to be great for repeated listening or something to go have between extended alums. You'll love every (short) minute of this one.

Wan Nyan Slash - Original Soundtrack 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Currently Playing #22: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

This is another one of those games that has been sitting on my shelf for months. With everyone and their mother playing Hyrule Warriors and myself feeling left out because I can't afford a $60 game right now, this seemed as good a time as any to finally crack this bad boy open.

Why on Earth did I wait so long to get around to this game? I've always had great adoration for A Link to the Past and A Link Between Worlds feels like one huge lover letter to that game and more. Let me just say that I have no qualms with the Zelda series shifting to 3D. Ocarina of Time is still one of my favorite entries in the series and Wind Waker is a marvel as much as it is visually impressive. But I couldn't help but feel as giddy as a school girl as I traveled the dungeons of Hyrule from an overhead perspective. Yes, Phantom Hour Glass and Spirit Tracks play with the classic overhead view, but I haven't gotten around to playing those games yet (still on the shelf sealed), so A Link Between Worlds is the first new Zelda game I've played with the old view in a very long time.

The Hyrule in this game feels very familiar and that's no coincidence. The overworld is is a carbon copy of the one from A Link to the Past so I immediately felt at home. Even so, having been to this Hyrule several times in the past, that doesn't keep things from feeling old hat. The wall merging mechanic is quite the clever innovation. More often than not, wall merging is the solution to many of the game's puzzles, at least from what I've played thus far.

Another thing I love about A Link Between Worlds is how it kicks linear gameplay to the curb. Before I tackled the three first dungeons, I Revio rented out many familiar Zelda items to me. The Hook Shot this early in the game? Yes, yes and yes again! This meant I could go to any of the three dungeons in the order of my choosing. I do hope this keeps up when the inevitable shift to the Dark World comes into play.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS

Man, the wait for this game was killing me (probably you, too, I'd imagine) but when October 3rd finally rolled around, the waiting was over and it was at last time to Smash. I had to work on October 3rd but when that was done, I was finally (for real this time) able to get my Smash on.

Even after I've spent time with the demo version of the game that I received as a Club Nintendo member, playing it did very little to scratch the surface of the full game, though I am grateful I did get the opportunity to play the demo to get me ready for this version of Smash. I've mostly got the controls down, though the 3DS thumb pad still takes some adjusting to for the kind of game that Smash is. I really wish you could switch over to directional pad controls for movements instead of just taunts. Control wise, that's my only gripe with 3DS Smash.

When I started the game up, I was surprised at how many characters were available from the get go. I was pleased that Mega Man and Pac-Man were characters that I wouldn't have to unlock. While most fighters are there from the start, you still do have to do some work to make a few of them playable and some of these combatants to not want to be playable. I was really taken aback when Duck Hunt was fighting tooth and nail. It took me three attempts to unlock Duck Hunt, including one failed attempt with King Dedede. When I unleashed the Mii Gunner, Duck Hunt got his retro butt kicked something fierce. Even I was surprised at how well the Mii Gunner handled against Duck Hunt because when all was said and done and I sent that mutt and mallard flying, my percent meter was at 0.

As I did not follow Smash leading up to it's release as closely as I should have, I was in the dark about Smash Run, which takes elements from Kirby Air Ride, another Masahiro Sakurai game and implements them into Smash Run. Like City Trial from Air Ride, you have 5 minutes to power up your fighters stats and face off in random challenges. What's more is that you get to keep these stats to customize your fighter and use these customization options in other modes. So I can replace Mega Man's Crash Bomb's with the Ice Slasher, or the Metal Blade with the Shadow Blade. Its mind boggling to think that you'll be able to do this sort of thing with each and every character in the game.

Some fans are miffed that The Ice Climbers, Lucas and Wolf are gone. I do miss the Ice Climbers as they were some of my favorite characters to use, but to say you won't be picking up the game because they or your most coveted third party character didn't make it? Come on, how needy do you have to be? With a roster of over 50 characters, I think you can get over the fact that (insert character here) didn't make the cut. There are way too many cool characters in this game to feel butthurt about a few missing old favorites.

The tweaks that have been made to the old characters and the new ones has be switching from fighter to fighter on a regular basis. Bowser isn't just standing up right. The dude is a freaking tank. And not those crappy Grand Theft Auto Vice City and onward tanks. I mean a GTAIII tank, the kind that dished out so much destruction and took an unfathomable amount of damage to stop. I think Smash 4 has my favorite Bowser to date. Little Mac is a tiny titan, netting me the highest score in Home Run Contest as well as Endless Smash. Link has been improved after he was nerfed in Brawl. I still prefer Toon Link, but if I ever feel like switching it up with the Links I definitely will now.

I really love how 3DS Smash has levels specifically for this version of the game. Even a level from Find Mii was included and has one of favorite songs. One of the Kirby levels I've yet to unlock takes place inside a Game Boy, similar to a few of the Flat Zone arenas from previous Smash Bros. titles. Of course the Boxing Ring representing Punch-Out!! is in both versions of Smash 4. I like that you can jump off the ropes and even make your way to the ring lights and better still, said lights can be brought down on combatants below. The Mute City stage is cool for representing what has now become one of Nintendo's forgotten franchises and I love how it uses SNES graphics.

If you couldn't tell, I love 3DS Smash so much that it's difficult to get back to my other games, including  A Link Between Worlds and Mario Kart 8, but I'll just have to tear myself away from it. Obsession, they name is Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (they really shoulda called it something else)

Still Playing: Mario Kart 8, Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels (All-Stars ver.), Shovel Knight

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Latest Purchases #75

A Latest Purchases post, featuring stuff I picked up in September. Well as they say, better late than never.

I was pre-ordering the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. when I saw this lone 20 inch World of Nintendo Mario. I'd never seen a Mario that frickin' huge before. It was jaw dropping. I must say, the World of Nintendo toy line is quite superb with mini figures, plushies and the like, but this? Duuuuuuude. I just had to snatch this bad boy up before someone else did. My dad actually asked me what I was gonna do with him. The same thing I do with all my other gaming merch: display it. Agh, parents.

Adding two more mini figures to the World of Nintendo set I already own, I picked up Donkey Kong and Wario. These things are quite easy to find, making collecting all six one of the easiest things to do. Now DK has his side kick and I finally have something Wario that isn't a game. 

I was hoping I'd find the Yellow Pikmin after I picked up the Red Pikmin a while ago and sure enough, Target had one left. Now Red has someone to keep him company but they Pikmin plushies feel so incomplete without the other colors. Perhaps Nintendo will add the rest to the lineup. I already know other Pikmin color plushies exist, at least in Japan. Perhaps I'll just order those someday.

This New Super Mario Bros. Wii Mario plush is a few years old but it's only the second Mario plush I've ever bought, where as I own three different Luigi plushies. I wasn't too fond of this thing at first but since you can actually sit this one down, I find that to be a big plus. 

I love my Classic Sonic plush but I figured I could use a Modern Sonic plush as well. At 5 inches, he's smaller than I thought he'd be, but he looks quite nice and like the aforementuioned Classic Sonic, I can hang him on my wall. He's currently resting above my TV right next to the Pac-Man plush you see there, which is the smallest plushie I own. Pac-Man was also the cheapest plush I've ever picked up. Not including shipping, the little guy was only $2.87.

I picked up these plushies so I could take photos like this...

It's almost time.