It’s Still Not Your Father’s Sherlock Holmes

Perhaps Guy Ritchie’s vision of Sherlock Holmes is not what Sir Conan Doyle had intended, but he gives us his take on the character again in his second film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The first film certainly took Guy out of his comfort zone by doing something that was not set in a modern era. This would continue that tradition of moving him slightly out of his comfort zone because there is no film of Guy Ritchie that I recall a direct sequel. Regardless, it is a film that is a success in what it set out to accomplish.

There are many versions and interpretations of Sir Conan Doyle’s works over the decades since his books got published that I have seen. Most depict him as a general sleuth, and knows how to defend him. Not a man that knows how to kick box amongst other fighting forms. He is accompanied by his sidekick, Dr. John Watson. Guy is not the first to take Sherlock out of his comfort zone, including films like Without A Clue. In that film, Sherlock, Michael Caine, was just the attractive showman with Dr. Watson, Ben Kingsley, actually solving all the details of every crime. More recently, a favorite depiction of mine is in the BBC series Sherlock bringing him into a modern setting. There we have Benedict Cumberbatch, playing Smaug in the upcoming The Hobbit, and Martin Freeman, of the UK version of The Office and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, playing the famous duo.

Guy Ritchie is not the first to change up the formula, and he manages to bring his unique style that I have seen from him since the film Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Throughout his films over the last decade and a half, he has always brought in fisticuffs and gunplay. The way Guy has portrayed Sherlock in the first film and this, it is acceptable to believe a man of his intelligence would learn a means to fight to add to the perfect mind he believes himself to have. In addition, it seems as if some feel his ability to deduce situations weaken the character trait of his deduction skills. Guy Ritchie reinforces that this is still the Sherlock that is able to deduce and even plan ahead for situations only seconds ahead. Sherlock even directly addresses that his curse is that he can see everything. He is still the stereotypical Sherlock, just with a fighting style that could rival Batman.

The pacing of the story for the film starts off a little slow, perhaps askew, but certainly takes off within thirty minutes of the opening. Right from the start of the film, they introduced to Professor Moriarty as the main antagonist. He is portrayed as a man in great standing in society, but with darker intentions and power through channels to back them up. From the start, it is apparent that Holmes focus is on revealing Moriarty’s plot through society. He’s taken the time that he has had alone, without Dr. Watson off preparing for his marriage, to create a detailed web revealing Moriarty as the source of issues going on. Moriarty feels Holmes either must cease trying to expose him, or play the game. This is what leads into the main plot of the film and where it truly takes off. From this point on, it feels like its back on the tracks that the first film put it on course for. It is a Guy Ritchie film, so he does throw his traditional curve that you usually don’t expect on first watching of his films.

The casting for this film is a great selection and compliments the returning cast. Robert Downey seems to return to form as the eccentric intelligent. Jude Law successfully plays the counter balance for him a second time. New to the cast is Mycroft Holmes, cast for Moriarty. He does a great job at being the intelligent man with a complex that believes he will always beat Sherlock. There is also the addition of Stephen Fry, great comedian, narrator, and general fun actor, as Mycroft Holmes. He certainly brings a certain humor that works within the narrative of the film, and he doesn’t seem hesitant to do a scene in the nude. A surprise for me was the addition of Noomi Rapace, who played Lizbeth in the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo film trilogy. She is introduced as a gypsy fortune teller, Madam Simza Heron, and plays a vital role to the overarching plot of the film.

This brings me onto another thing that Guy Ritchie does so successfully, his visual style and fidelity. Like in the first film, he brings back the slowing down and directs foresight of Holmes to plan out the exact events of a fight. Later in the film, he even is able to bring about amazing shots and effects of a situation as they run through a forest with debris exploding from points. The camera angles and slowing down of the effects work for this film. Watching this film, it sometimes just looked like he is a master of art in the way he handled camera angles on scenes with special effects. As in the first film, there is also returning the overall color scheme of greys and browns overall. It does a good job for setting the tone of the time period.

Leaving the theater tonight, I felt that Guy Ritchie successfully made his Sherlock Holmes a proper sequel. I personally would like to see him move on and make another original film, but I can’t say I would be disappointed to see him return to this Sherlock Holmes universe. It’s not the Sherlock Holmes of tradition, its Guy Ritchie’s take on the character done brilliantly.

How I Came To Import Games

Importing is a long running tradition for those gamers who want to play games that do not make it to their home country, or release earlier in another region. It sometimes requires another language, and in other cases the urge to play the game is enough to overcome the language barrier. Inspired by my latest foray to check out the Final Fantasy Type-0 demo, I am writing about my own experiences with importing games. I will discuss how I got into it, where region locking on more consoles is restricting how easy it once was to import, and list my favorite games and franchises to import to date.

A history of my own importing dates back to my Nintendo 64, but the playing of imports I began with the Super Nintendo. The idea that I could play a Japanese game on my U.S. video game console was only introduced to me in junior high when a friend came over with this plastic device and a Dragon Ball Z game with Japanese text on it. The plastic piece was a means to get around the region lock set in place on the Super Nintendo and Super Famicom, the Japanese version of the Super Nintendo. Nintendo used different cartridge slot and cartridge molds to lock out the games from other regions. Region locking is common for both the video game and movie industry, so that foreign companies can license their products to a company in another region. It allows the company to sell their product without fear of a large amount of people importing the product and in turn hurting the sales of what they just sold licensing rights to. My eyes had been opened, that there was a means to playing games that I would read about Japan getting months earlier. About two years later, I would again have the import pleasure as a local game retailer was renting the Japanese Nintendo 64 three full months before its U.S. release. I would rent it for three days, and spend a lot of time progressing through Super Mario 64 before anyone else near me could. There was some Japanese, but it was minimal. The Japanese I did need to know, like “Yes” and “No,” was easy to figure out through trial and error.

My first adventure into purchasing of imports would begin with the Nintendo 64, and has continued to this day. It did require that I had my first paying job before I could import anything. The Nintendo 64 would be my first because, like the Super NES, I just needed an adapter. F-Zero X would be my first game import. It had minimal Japanese text and even included a lot of English text within menus. The motivation behind it was that it wouldn’t be out for another four months in the U.S., and that seemed like forever to me at the time. The other consoles, the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, would require internal modification or just the purchase of an import system. This approach is a more expensive endeavor, and I didn’t have enough money to own multiple variants of the same console. In addition, as a collector I did not like the idea of modifying my consoles from their original condition.

However, I would discover that the portable systems such as the Game Boy, and later the Playstation Portable, did not lock out by region. After F-Zero X, I would watch release dates, games, and consoles that came out and their prices for the next game I could give motivation to importing. That next chance came with the affordable Game Boy Advance, and F-Zero. As a kid in high school, how could I not want the opportunity to play games on a system no one else had yet by three months? F-Zero is a common theme amongst this, but only by coincidence that it was one of the better launch titles in Japan. I would go on to import more games I anticipated for the right price. I was fortunate to have my friend Lucas, who traveled to Japan, and was awesome enough to pick up some items for me such as my current Famicom system. The most expensive item I have ever imported was my Nintendo 64DD. I was willing to risk paying about two hundred and fifty dollars to a website that had little feedback or known history to how trustworthy they were. Lucky for me, this adventure paid off and included Doshin the Giant with it. I have in recent years utilized imports from Europe to get games in English that Nintendo of America had decided to pass up on in the U.S. such as The Last Window. This was the sequel to the great Hotel Dusk. As mentioned in my introduction, this has even brought me further into the Japanese online stores and downloading Japanese demos for upcoming games. This has allowed me to get an idea of how a game was shaping up that may only be released in Japan, but it has given me a chance to try out games that do make it to the U.S. ahead of time such as Catherine and Ell Shaddai.

Even a game as text heavy as the Final Fantasy Type-0 demo can be, you can traverse through it with little knowledge of Japanese. A lot of modern releases have visual cues for button assignments on their on screen user interface. There are a few games that even use mostly English words and terms through their menu and interfaces. There are those games, namely role playing games, where there is little English anywhere in the game. It can go both good and bad in these situations. A good example is when I imported Pokemon Gold and Silver. These are text heavy, although I found I could manage with little issue as the games do guide you on a direct path and still hold the idea that you need to defeat all the gym leaders. On the opposite side, a few years ago I imported Mother 3 for the Game Boy Advance for fifteen dollars which is a text heavy role playing game with a bit less guidance. This one I struggled a little more with less knowledge of Japanese text. Even in Japanese heavy games, you just need to look at how linear the title may be and you still may be able to get through them. Of course, if you want to know the stories of these games then avoid importing them and in many situations you will see them stateside down the road. Overall though, the imaginary wall that many believe is there to impede them when playing a Japanese import can be small at the end of the day.

Currently, region locking on videogame consoles and handhelds has increased. Nintendo, in an effort to combat piracy, has put region locking on its DSi and current 3DS handhelds. This is a change in tradition over their previous portables dating back to the original Game Boy. On a positive side for importing, Sony has made the PlayStation 3 region free, and has said that the PlayStation Vita will not be region locked. There are still means around the systems that do region lock, but they do make things more expensive as explained. I still would argue that a portable should not have a region lock, as it is more likely that it will find itself in another region and the player wanting to purchase a new game wherever they may be. To be fair, the more restrictive locks do make it more difficult for piracy and makes sense from that standpoint. It just isn’t favorable when I’ve been used to importing Nintendo portable titles without any modifications or import hardware for over a decade.

For game recommendations, there are multiple Japanese exclusive series that I have enjoyed importing and continue to when I have the money to do so. My favorite series that I keep importing over the years is the Taiko no Tatsujin series, better known in the U.S. as Taiko Drum Master. Only the PlayStation 2 game was released stateside, the rest have stayed in Japan. As it sounds, it’s a music game revolving around a taiko drum and uses an assortment of modern music to play to. My next favorite is a Nintendo published series, the Jump Superstars. It is a fighting game in the same vein of Super Smash Bros, but with Manga panels that control your tag partners and powers. They even stole a page out of Comic Zone in the idea you can damage the level panel’s borders. The characters are straight out of the series that have appeared in the popular Shonen Jump. A series that hasn’t seen a release in the last few years to mention is the Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan series. There have been a total of two released in Japan, and one released here as Elite Beat Agents. All three in this series feel like a separate sequel, each with their own set of songs and story. The game’s mechanics have you tap and slide to the on screen markers that correspond to the music you are hearing. A more obscure, but amazing god game is Doshin the Giant. I own the title for the 64DD, but a sequel was also released for the GameCube in Japan that isn’t too expensive to find these days.  You are a solid yellow giant, who literally walks around the environments and can grab onto the land to raise and lower it. To give you a few more recommendations, the original Legend of Starfy games are solid Game Boy Advance platformers, and the Bleach: Heat the Soul games for the PSP are great 3D fighting games that never came stateside.

This is a habit I plan to continue as long as there is something I want to pick up, and as long as my wallet is willing. Currently Play Asia(www.play-asia.com) is my main source for imports, where it used to vary in the past. A recent positive has been Sony’s PlayStation Network has branched into offering some import titles for purchase and download, further props to Sony for this. If you are willing, the import market will continue to open your eyes and digital adventures to even more amazing titles and gems.

Playstation Vita, Who Knew?

As part of my adventure at E3 last week, I ventured into a line that ended up longer than my Wii U wait. Given I had seen most of what I wanted to see by this point, I was willing to give the line a chance for a chance at hands on with the new portable, the PlayStation Vita. My overall impressions of the hardware had me walk away impressed. The device feels comfortable to hold, and has a beautiful five inch OLED screen. I had misinterpreted the back touch panel for it only to be the grips, and to my delight discovered the entire back of the Vita is a touch pad. A strange change on it is that the face buttons are also smaller than that of the PSP or Dual Shock, but I found no discomfort when using them. My only discomfort came at the hands of playing Uncharted: Golden Abyss traditionally with the analog sticks and R shoulder button. The R button felt exactly like that of the PSP, which felt unusual when using it like I would on a dual shock for firing my gun. The other thing was the dual analogs were different from any I have used on other controllers before. They still rotate on the half sphere like a dual shock, but have a grip on top similar to that of the PSP and are inset close to the unit. They felt more functional than that of the Wii U’s Circle Pads, but did disrupt my aiming in Uncharted. I bet once I have the device in my hands to mess around with at the end of the year it won’t be an issue.

The first game I was shown on the device was LittleBigPlanet. This was a demo that showed off the technical uses of the system well with different sections of the level made for it. Some of the devices using the top touch screen operated similar to that of a co-operative game. For example, there was a section with a door that would only open if someone was standing on the red switch and would close the moment you stepped off. However, there is this blue box on screen that can be moved by your finger. You would move Sackboy to the switch, then as if your finger was a second player slide the box underneath the doorway to prop it open to progress forward. From here was what blew my mind when I got to a point where I had to get across a large gap, and the only thing was these white piano key like segments that looked built into the background wall. The solution for this was to glide my finger across the corresponding points on the back to push these white pieces out to create a platform to walk across. LittleBigPlanet has a green fingerprint cursor to show you where your finger is if you have issues too. I was left with a Tetris looking wall that you had to push pieces back and forward with the touch panels to get Sackboy up the wall. This was a great demo to get me started on the Vita.

From there, I was directed to a section that gave me heads on with Virtua Tennis for the Vita. I was told by the representative that it will feature everything from the PS3 version including athletes and runs at a smooth 60 fps. The game supports a classic control scheme like found on the consoles and a touch control scheme. Depending on the way you slide you finger across the screen determines the type of hit your player will return the ball with. When using just touch, the on screen player will move to hit the ball in the correct position. However, the game supports mixed controls where you could use the left analog to move and still glide your finger across for your hits. I found this to be a comfortable means of control for the game.

Then came one of the best demos to show off how intuitive that back touch panel was, Little Deviants. Before I get to touch panels, the first demo I was shown was Bots Blast, a game showing off the augmented reality of the device. Moving in real space, I was trying to save these space craft from the attackers also flying throughout the augmented reality. It was similar to that of Face Raiders on the 3DS, and worked well. The game that I was shown that proved to me the viability of the back touch pad was House of Whacks. It was like a whack a mole, but in a nine window house with a front and back window. If the Deviant showed up facing back, you had to tap them on the back panel and if they showed up on the front you used the top screen. You had to watch out for normal humans otherwise be docked points. I was amazed at how intuitive it was to within seconds just recognize the point on the back touch screen and take them down. LittleBigPlanet had that cursor to help, but with this I had no struggles when it came to accurately hitting the ones facing back.

One of my favorite Vita titles was next, Sound Shapes. This one is from Jonathon Mak, the creature of the difficult, but fun Everyday Shooter on PSN. It’s a music platformer where you are this wheel with grip that you move around in a stylistic platformer. As you progress, you pick up instruments and notes that comprise the music of the level. You don’t want to touch anything with a red outline or you will be killed. This wheel can grip onto the top or bottom of about anything, making for some unique platforming. There were points where I moved around moving bars to the bottoms and sides to avoid damage and get across gaps. Most of this while adding to the musical sound of the game. I didn’t get to use anything that utilized the Vita’s touch controls with this game, but still walked away looking forward to it.

The final game they gave me hands on with was Uncharted: Golden Abyss. This game is Uncharted, period. The touch controls added actually felt like they didn’t take anything away from the Uncharted experience, but rather added a simple option for the sometimes cumbersome climbing on ledges. You could tap to the ledge you wanted to move Drake to, or glide your finger across path of ledges you wanted him to take. There was also on screen touch controls to grab an enemy from behind and pull him over the ledge to his death. The best part was, that midway through the demo I switched to just the traditional controls of Uncharted that did not feel changed in anyway. The on screen visuals and animations even looked similar as I slid into cover to move forward. My only gripe, as mentioned above, was that the analog sticks felt a little unusual to use and be able to aim as fluid as I have in the PS3 counterparts. Also, that R button just felt weird not being a trigger when I was firing. Regardless, these are small gripes as the demo itself showed me that there are two Uncharted titles I now want to play this year.

Overall I walked away feeling I must have this device for the games. Sony has a little convincing to do to show to me this would be my Android or iPhone replacement, but as a gaming machine I am sold. It seems able to back up their claims of PS3 caliber graphics in a portable form, and with games that offer means to take advantage of the system’s unique offerings. For $249.99 for the Wi-Fi only version, and $299.99 for the 3G one, it is being positioned to be a good value for a good gaming device. For contrast, the Nintendo 3DS is currently sitting at $249.99. I can’t wait until this Fall for the final hardware when it finally releases.

Beware Green Lantern’s Dim Light

I have just returned from a midnight screening of the new Green Lantern film. Before you read further, I must warn I will be spoiling some elements of the film. At first, I tried to compare the film to that of the comics. The origin story was altered to a strange new way that the ring seeks out its replacement. Hal isn’t even near the space craft of Abin Sur when he is ‘chosen’ by the ring. Hal is just abducted by a green energy orb to the crash site as he is walking away from what seems to be his nephew’s birthday party. Also the movie adapts a new meaning to ‘secret identity’ when with little hesitation early on his best friend knows who he is, along with Carol Ferris. In addition, we have a brand new creation of Parallax’s origin story, as he was the fallen Guardian that I never heard of. Hector Hammond can thank Parallax for his power in this adaptation too. If anything that showed some loyalty to the comic that it draws its name, then it would be the treatment of characters like Kilowog and Amanda Waller. Kilowog is the one to train the newbies and says ‘Poozer’ plenty of times. Amanda Waller is a doctor, but she acts as though she is the boss and not at liberty to disclose many secrets of the parties that control the laboratory that Hector is brought to.

Once it was established early in the film that they weren’t going to be true to the comic, I decided I would see if it at least does a good job of pacing and plot standing on its own. In this sense also I just found the film very dry. The humor is very little and in small doses. It introduced us to characters like Hal’s extended family for one scene for no apparent reason. The quick training from Kilowog doesn’t even make any sense on how Hal learns enough to make due and a later reference that Kilowog’s training paid off. Most scenes are just like that, brief and unable to establish a lot of support for actions in the film. There is even a point that in Hal’s mind, with this powerful ring, he hands his ring over for barter like there wasn’t anything the ring could do despite what was demonstrated earlier in the film. It doesn’t even make sense on why the Guardians, who show fear of Parallax and the yellow power, decide to listen to Sinestro’s first suggestion of creating a ring to harness the power. He only mentions it once to them, and they decide to make it. Further, if you stay midway through the credits you are treated to a scene that for no established reason in the film Sinestro puts on this new ring and dons the yellow suit. Obviously the sequel will include the Sinestro Corps for no reason that this film wanted to tell us. In the comics it was because he was exiled, upset, and sent to a place where there were others who wanted revenge on the Guardians too. In this film, he seems to be in good graces with them and actually was established as the main Green Lantern to organize and lead them.

Overall, this film is just broken on any angle you want to look at it with. It isn’t able to maintain a good plot, nor is it able to capture the reasons the comic books are so entertaining to read. I don’t know who to suggest that they should see this film, because it will leave you bored, if not disappointed too.

It puts the U in Wii

It only took standing in a line about three and a half hours long, but I managed to get hands on with the Wii U at E3. It is Nintendo’s adventure into a realm that keeps the casual audience that grew attached to videogames with the Wii, and brings in the technical requirements needed to give the hardcore the games they would prefer on the same platform. This all comes with a twist, as we get the new Wii U controller that contains a touchpad in the heart of it. The aesthetics of the controller actually feel more comfortable than it looks. It conforms to your hands as you hold it, and the triggers feel natural. My only complaint about it would be that Nintendo brought over the Circle Pads from the 3DS. They feel unusual and uncomfortable when you need to use them like analog sticks for the games or tech demos that were shown here.

My first hands on came with the game, Battle Mii. It is a simple concept that takes two people with a Wii remote and nunchuk, and pits them against a player holding the new controller. On the controller’s screen the player is in control of a space ship that looked taken right from Metroid, and it has pieces of health. The two players split the screen and have three pieces of health on their bar each. In a similar style to that of Pac Man Vs, the person with the controller moves his spaceship around trying to take down the two players before they find him on the television screen. I found this to be an effective use of the new controller and fun despite being on the losing end of this.

After this I walked over to try out Super Mario Bros Mii. To my dissatisfaction, I found that this demo did not require any use of the new controller. It was played in the similar control scheme found in the Wii predecessor. The one advantage that I could observe was that they did have it hooked up to see how the stream to the controller was one to one with the TV screen. This was more an example of how well the stream of data really was.

I was able to observe Ghost Recon Online, which had a line of four waiting to try it out in my thirty minute allotment in the area. It was the one game that showed off the higher graphical output of the new Wii U hardware. I also could see they were using the touch pad to control the overhead drone for the game. This was cool to see. Another tech demo I was able to observe, was the one with the bird that was shown at the press conference. There was a slight twist that I could move the controller screen around to view the high resolution visuals on the touchscreen. It was a very convincing example of graphical power for the new Wii U.

I finished my Wii U session by trying out Shield Pose. This is a game that felt like it was pulled right out of Rhythm Heaven. The premise of this demo was there were pirate ships on your front, left, and right sides that would be firing plunger like arrows at you. You could block them with the controller by moving in those three directions plus up. It was all done with a queue from the front pirate ship, and then on a sound queue for when they were fired at you. It made for the most enjoyable demo I played for the Wii U. The visuals were simple and stylistic with ships and pirates that looked like they were cardboard thing. The new controller actually would display the area of the ocean you were facing on the fly as you moved it around in 3D space too. I walked away feeling the Wii U gave me proof of concept that it was fun to play using the new controller, but will it give people an experience that they would be willing to purchase the Wii U in 2012? I will just have to wait and see for that answer, but you can sign me up when it comes out.