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Malik (6/7/10)

On Friday, I mentioned how it was a shame that Ken Griffey Jr. retired before taking one last crack at DH after the rest of the team seemed to find a bit of momentum. On one hand, I was blinded by the present; the Mariners are still basically crap. However, their bats are working a bit better than in May. On the other hand, one would wonder when Jr. would get a chance to DH when Sweeney was doing pretty good in the role.

How about now. Sweeney is on the 15 day DL and this leaves room for another bat in the lineup. I know, Jr. was done after this season, one way or another, but at least he could have gone out, possibly, on a bang instead of just retiring after a month of disaster. Either way, if he was still around to try a final round at DH while Sweeney is out, the final result couldn't have been any worse than going out with the numbers Jr. put up for 2010.

At least, with the Mariners stinking it up, the Sounders FC finally looked good and solid versus a MLS team for the first time in a couple months (3-0 win versus New England).

To change gears, I saw what I believe is the most expensive Asian movie ever made. I'm talking about the giant epic of Red Cliff. This is a movie that runs nearly 5 hours long total, over two parts, and is based on the epic battle from Three Kingdoms when Wei battled out Wu and Shu in an united front. For those who either know the book (which is the real way to know the material) or any of the Three Kingdoms games (which is the lesser way to know this stuff), Red Cliff is always an amazing battle.

The movie, however, blows anything else out of the water. While some parts may feel a bit slow for those who just want some John Woo style action (he did direct), the final hour and a half is one of the single most amazing spectacles of movie making I've ever beheld. The action is amazing, the acting is solid, and the visuals just cannot be done justice in words. Let's just say it all starts with an attack from fire boats (the type that spread fires, not the modern ones that fight fires) during a strong wind storm, and it ends with an all out siege of a military camp while flames continue to consume everything in their path.

Unfortunately, the cost to make this movie was mammoth, and I imagine the time to film could not have been short by any means. I say "unfortunately" because I would love to see this treatment given to other parts of Three Kingdoms (maybe the Yellow Scarf Rebellion or following the numerous crazy battles and loyalty flippings of Lu Bu) or Outlaws of the Marsh (another great book from the same general era; and the inspiration for Suikoden).

While I'm not one to buy too many movies, since Netflix does fulfill my needs most of the time, I am definitely happy with my purchase of Red Cliff (blu-ray two-part original version, of course, and on sale last week at Barnes and Noble).


Malik (6/11/10)

I had a hell of an annoying week. I mean really annoying. So, despite how it usually just adds to my frustrations, I broke down and bought the newest Mario game. I mean while Mario is usually an innocent looking character, his games seem to annoy me rather quickly.

Well, I had to say the glowing reviews I've seen for Super Mario Galaxy 2 are beyond well deserved. This is the best 3D platformer I've ever seen, and definitely the best Mario game I've played (better than the 2D classics, like Super Mario World, which I used to hold so dear). This game takes all that I used to find annoying about prior 3D Mario titles and fixes almost everything.

Ok...the camera is bad. 3D games always have camera issues, and Galaxy 2 is not an exception. You can now have some limited control of the camera, which is nice. However, the camera has now been given a more physical of realities. In other words, it doesn't just get stuck behind objects. It can now be completely stuck to an extent that you cannot free the camera from a wall until you walk backwards to where it got stuck and free it through a combination of your movement and the limited camera controls. If you walk through a tunnel and then turn to go along side that tunnel, the camera may never be able to recover without your frustrated actions.

However, the other issues seem to have all been fixed. The worlds (the game has worlds again, and not just stages in a single big world) are all designed more like an old 2D Mario game. You have a simple map that you navigate while picking from between one and three available stages to progress. Then you can either go forward or try to find some fun in a level you can normally skip.

Best of all, unlike the first Galaxy game, Mario 64, or Mario Sunshine, you no longer have eight or so stars in a stage. You still have 120 normal stars to find, but each stage only has three or fewer stars on average. This means there are more stages and not just more variations on a given stage. Even when you try for a second star in a previously beaten stage, you may have such a different experience that you feel like it's an entirely new stage and not some rehash. You don't always see the same landmarks and objects each time.

Even the prankster comets, which are back from the first Galaxy game, are fun. Instead of just being an annoying goal added to a previous incarnation of a stage (like beat this stage in X minutes, or beat this boss with one HP), the new goals are usually unique and entertaining. If you must beat a boss with 1HP, you start at the boss (no annoying 1 HP navigation to the boss and then the fight). If you have to beat a level in a small time frame, the level probably has some cool new twists (like falling rocks and random destruction to imply the rush is because that world is ending). Plus, to get the prankster comet to show up, you first must find a hidden comet coin in a stage, which adds more replay fun to a stage.

Even the special powers you gain are better this time around. All powers you gain are actually planned for in their level, so it's not a power-up for the sake of it. If you find the rock ability (let's you roll down enemies like you are a bowling ball), then the game will give you some fun rolling courses. If you find Yoshi, then the level will take advantage of his eating abilities or his flutter jump.

There's also some really cool "2D" levels. They are not fully 2D, but they capture that fun and nostalgic feeling of an old 2D Mario title...while still remaining obvious to be a 3D level.

I guess I did skip one other problem in the game. Like with all 3D platformers, there is at least one water stage. Water and 3D adventure seem to go together like an angry bee and someone who is allergic to bees. In other words, no matter how it goes down, someone is getting hurt and someone is going to die. In Mario's case, my patience gets hurt, and a little of my respect for Nintendo dies. At least, after getting to the mid point of the third world of Galaxy 2 (about 30+ stars obtained), I've only found one 3D swimming stage (and an actually fun 2D swimming stage within the same stage), and it wasn't unbearable. It wasn't great, but it wasn't the horror that was anything like the swimming in Sunshine.

Considering I've been going light on new games lately (I still need to finish the epilogue of Lunar 2), I have to say that the $50 (plus tax) I spent on Galaxy 2 is more than worth it. I can also say that this may be the first 3D Mario game I try to get all 120 stars on (and even the 120 Luigi stars). Does it merit a 10/10 grade on Gamespot? Probably not. Does it deserve something damned close? Without a doubt.


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