Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Contra Advance: The Alien Wars EX (2002) Gameboy Game Review

Since the original NES classic, the Contra franchise has produced many high-quality action shooters characterized by smooth controls, quick action, and a high level of challenge. Contra The Alien Wars was a title originally released on SNES back in its heyday. Konami decided to reissue the game on the Gameboy Advance with great results.

The action playing on the gameboy advance is as fluid as ever. The controls are easy to master as you blast your way through the levels. The first level isn't too hard, but the game cranks up the difficulty real quick. For those who don't know, your character in Contra dies in one hit, die three times you lose one of your three continues. There are two difficulty settings: Normal and Novice, but the only difference is that you get more lives on the lower setting. Some parts are crazy hard, but for the most part it is easy to memorize the patterns of gameplay after a few times playing through. In the end, I consider the intense challenge to be more of a positive than a negative.

The level design of this game is absolutely stunning for the GBA. There is always something interesting going on in the background, and the game always has a new setting ready to throw you for a loop every once in a while. For example one level you're fighting on a train, moving between the inside and outside as you fight off baddies in every direction. It's very exciting and I never get tired of playing it through!

In terms of gameplay, Contra has always kept it simple, and thats one of the reasons I like the franchise so much. What more do you need in a video game besides a muscled up action hero and a new host of evil villains to destroy. Much of this game you'll be fighting boss battles. There may be up to 4 per level! The boss fights are awesomely fun though. The most incredible boss fight in terms of fun factor and visuals would have to be the level 3 boss you see on the cover of the game. He is probably the coolest looking boss I've ever fought, and he's fun to take down as well!

If you're looking for a fast-paced action game that will provide a healthy challenge and keep you constantly interested, then I highly recommend picking up this game. It is a great addition to any gamers collection.

Angela's Ashes Movie Review

I first saw Angela's Ashes when I was a little kid about the same age as Frank in the beginning of the movie. Seeing it at such an early age had a profound effect on my outlook on life. Recently re-watching it as a 21-year old was like reliving an old dream. I couldn't believe I was having the same thoughts and feelings as I did so many years before. I'm not familiar with the book, but watching this film is like an endurance run for your emotions. There are so many devastating moments that by the end, you'd think you'd be numb to it, but there always seems to be another heart-wrenching moment around the corner. Some of the images in this movie have stuck with me for life.

Angela's Ashes put my life into perspective at an early age. I was emotionally invested in the characters, and through their struggles I learned a lot about life. All I could think was how lucky I was that all my family members are alive and we have a roof over our heads. Its easy to take those things for granted, and this movie does a good job of making you appreciate them a whole lot more.

The production value of Angela's Ashes is top-notch. The film does an extraordinary job of taking the viewer on a journey back in time to Limerick, Ireland in the early 40's. It was a time of great hardship, especially for Frank McCourt's family, who suffer greatly throughout the film. I personally love the imagery of old Ireland with its rustic stone structures and foggy weather. The settings are accurate and well-detailed, contributing greatly to the overall realism of the film. The tone of the film is very dark, gray, and mundane, and that dark tone is reflected in the bleak color palette. There are very few vibrant colors to be found, only gray, black and the occasional green. It truly succeeds in painting a bleak portrait of the McCourts life.

The actors in the film are mostly very good. Of course when dealing with child actors you always have to consider the fact that they're, well, children. So there's only so much they can do in a heavily dramatic film like this that requires some serious acting chops to pull off. I think the child actors do a good job in their roles, especially the little kid who plays Frank in the beginning. Like I said earlier, I really identified with his character as a kid, so that makes a good performance in my book.

For some reason this film slipped under the radar both critically and commercially. It was overshadowed by the book and as a result has been mostly forgotten it seems. It's a shame because this is a seriously dramatic film that is one of the most emotionally effective stories I've ever experienced. The scenery is beautiful, the score is absolutely fantastic, and there are moments that will make you laugh and then cry.

It's definitely a movie worth seeing.

Black Sabbath- Master of Reality (1993) Album Review

Sometimes the formation of a band can be compared to the aligning of the stars in heaven. When the members of Black Sabbath came together, it was the beginning of musical history. With their combined musical and songwriting talents, Bill Ward, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, and Geezer Butler created deep and powerful music that broke new boundaries in terms of musicianship and song-writing, helping open the musical spectrum to a new level of heaviness.

After the success of their first two albums Black Sabbath and Paranoid, the band came back stronger than ever with Master of Reality, an album brimming with classic songs from front to back. There is one heavy riff after another on this record, each one as memorable as the last. Looking at the track listing one can easily recognize many of Sabbath's most well known tunes such as Children of the Grave, Into the Void, and Sweet Leaf. This is an essential addition to any heavy metal fan's music library.

In the early 70's Black Sabbath were at their prime in terms of musicianship and chemistry as a band. Bill Ward is one hell of a heavy and powerful drummer with an incredible feel as jazzy as it is driving. The riffmaster Tony Iommi is at his best here, especially on the masterful track Lord of this World. Ozzy Osbourne is obviously a legend with a highly distinguishable voice that gives the songs a lot of energy and personality.

Master of Reality is one of the greatest rock albums to come out of the 70's. It features some of the greatest performances ever captured on tape, and listening to it provides an experience like no other. Black Sabbath are legends for a reason, and its because of albums like this. Get it already!

Municipal Waste- Hazardous Mutation Album review

This album changed my life. That might seem like an exaggeration, but believe me, it's the absolute truth! Municipal Waste introduced me to the outrageously awesome world of old-school thrash metal. They are the ultimate purveyors of the party vibe that defines a lot of old school thrash, and luckily they are young enough to still be active! Finally, a good heavy metal band my Dad didn't grow up listening to.

The songs are very fast and very catchy. The riffs are quick fire and scientifically designed to drive people crazy. Municipal Waste are notorious for their rabid live shows, and its no wonder considering how unforgivingly manic their music is. From the very beginning the album kicks you in the face and grabs you by the throat with the intro. As the drum rolls thunder into Deathripper, you can't help but start banging your head uncontrollably and banging your arms into anything that might be in your immediate vicinity.

There ar many great songs on the albums that have since become all time favorites of mine. Unleash the Bastards is an obvious highlight as it is probably the band most well known song. Another great track off the album is Mind Eraser and the tongue in cheek numbers Thrashin of the Christ and Terror Shark.

Hazardous Mutation is a very fun record. If you want to kick a party up a notch, put this baby on right as people are starting to get really drunk. I guarantee things will get wild quick!

Crash Bandicoot 2 (1997) Video Game Review

I can't even begin to imagine how many hours I've spent playing Crash Bandicoot 2 throughout my lifetime. Ever since the game came out I've been addicted to it, playing through every level over and over again like a crack fiend trying to smoke every last bit of resin out of their pipe. Truth be told this is one of the funnest games I've ever played. No matter how many times I've beaten the levels, I can never resist popping the disc in a few years later and getting into another phase of Crash madness!

I think one of the reasons I loved Crash Bandicoot so much is that out of all the video game heroes he was the most cartoonish and funny. It was fun as all hell to jump on those cute little animals that wanted to kill you, or to spin attack a pile of boxes into smithereens. The villains in the game are so over-the-top and silly that it becomes a delight to take them down one by one.

In terms of gameplay, Crash 2 gets it right in almost every area. Crash is easy to control and moves at a cool, quick pace. It is easy to take out enemies, but at the same time its easy for them to take you out as well! The levels are consistently challenging without ever being frustrating (well, maybe except for those dang bees!). The graphics are very cartoonish and the level designs are awesome. As a kid I was blown away by the amount of details in some of the levels such as on 'Ruination', where you can see characters moving in the background that are only accessible through an alternate route in the game. Graphics like that are great for a PS1 title.

I could never get tired of playing Crash Bandicoot 2: The Wrath of Cortex. Collecting all of the items was a challenge that took me many years. Eventually I mastered the game and got every crystal and gem. I highly recommend this game to gamers of all ages, but especially to kids. If there's a way to download this game, or even if you want to but it on ps1 and play it on a PS3, I highly recommend doing so.

Blood In, Blood Out (1993) Movie Review

I first discovered Blood In, Blood Out in the bargain bin at Best Buy. It looked like a generic gangster movie without much appeal, but I decided to give it a shot anyway since it was so cheap. I had no idea it would become one of my all-time favorite films. Watching it for the first time was an incredibly epic experience. I found myself completely enamored in the story from the very beginning and my attention did not stray in the entire 3 hour runtime. The film builds and builds into an intense climax that chilled me to the bone.

The film tells the saga of the three men you see on the cover. Miklo is a half-white half-hispanic young man who has been struggling with his racial identity his entire life. He moves back to East L.A and gets involved with his two cousins in local gang turf wars. We follow the stories of these three men across the decades as they face struggles and hardships on their journey through life.

The film is dense with heavy themes of death, pride, sacrifice and redemption. Not only is it entertaining, but also thought-provoking and deals with very controversial subject matter. You will have a lot to think about in the days after watching this film, and believe me it will stay with you that long.

Since this is an Amazon review I won't go into any further detail of the plot or themes of the film. All I can say is that it is a monumental achievement in cinematic story-telling and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Goodfellas or even The Godfather.

Queensryche- Frequency Unknown (2013) Album Review

I won't go into the politics behind this record. I won't dwell on the fact that Geoff Tate has been dragging the Queensryche name through the mud for years, but I will point out that not only is Frequency Unknown a continuation of that tradition, it exceeds all previous efforts by a mile in tarnishing their once-great reputation.

Frequency Unknown is a disaster. From the lousy songwriting and bored performances to the piss-poor production and cover art, the record is an uninspired and contrived piece of garbage not even worthy of the plastic that holds the cd. It lacks any semblance of musical or creative ability, and displays a huge error of judgement on the part of everyone involved from Geoff Tate and the hired guns he passes off for Queensryche, to the record execs too blinded by their own greed to see how big of a mistake releasing this album was.

They rushed through this album in order to give Geoff Tate leverage in court over his former bandmates. they knew that by releasing their album first they would sell more copies, giving Tate a reason to retain rights to the name. This is a shrewd business tactic that resulted an album that sounds thrown together. The production of this album is absolutely horrendous, with the mixing in particular being one of the worst in the history of recorded sound. There are points in the album where the guitars are so loud and distorted it becomes impossible to listen to. Your ears get bombarded with an undecipherable wall of sound intermittedly throughout almost every song. They could have fixed this issue, but they had to rush the album out as quickly as possible. Why would I care to listen to something when the people who made it didn't care about it themselves?

The songs themselves sound cut-and-pasted together. They are structured around Tate's vocal performance, which is unfortunate considering he gives the worst performance on the album. He has absolutely no musical range and lacks any trace of emotion or conviction in his voice. They tried to make up for this fact by piling every effect in the pro tools repertoire onto his vocal track, but in the end it comes out sounding more lifeless than ever. If you still aren't convinced Geoff Tate lost his soul, look no further than the song Weight of the World where Tate sounds like he's singing through the drive-thru microphone at McDonalds. I didn't know if it was Geoff Tate singing or if it was my computer asking me to put it out of its misery. And If you have any faith in Tate as a lyricist, or if you want to have yourself a good laugh, listen to the song Dare.

Geoff Tate deserves most of the blame for this turd of an album, but the musicians attached to it didn't help matters whatsoever. Simon Wright was a horrible choice for a drummer. He plays a more straight-forward, rock n' roll style which he displayed in AC/DC, but that playing style does not fit at ALL with Queensryche, who have traditionally leaned more progressively. Scott Rockenfeld was a great drummer who constantly kept things interesting with his innovative playing, but Wright simply plays the same beat throughout the entire song regardless of what the guitarists are doing (not that they are doing much anyway). This makes for a very disjointed and confusing listening experience that suggests they didn't take enough time to rehearse as a band before going into the studio.

In terms of song structure, this offers absolutely no variety or innovation. A lot of the songs sound like b-sides to Dedicated to Chaos, while the rest sound like a rip off of Jet City Woman. They didn't care about writing good songs for this crap. Don't get me started on the re-recordings, they are just depressing to listen to.

Cleopatra records should be ashamed of themselves for releasing this train wreck. It is an unfinished product. The songs are not mixed properly whatsoever. You'd think they would have some standards of quality, but apparently not considering they released the album even though they knew it wasn't mixed correctly. They knew that fans would be ripped off, which is why they are now offering replacement copies for any fans dissatisfied with the sound. How about getting it right the first time?

In this day and age this behavior from a record company is abhorrent. it is exactly the reason why the record industry is dying, because of the irresponsible people at companies like Cleopatra records who have no problem shoveling this horrible product out to the buying audience. Disgusting.