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Review

NECA – Heroes of the Storm Thrall

If there is one central figure in all of World of Warcraft Lore to pretty much everything going on, it’s the Orc known as Thrall. Some people suggest his is a Mary Sue stand in for Chris Metzen who was basically in charge of WoW for a very long time. Even when Thrall tries to take a step out of the story, it always brings him back to fix everything. He also has the Nickname “Green Jesus”.

Thrall has had a few different roles and looks over the years. This particular design, like The Lich King, is not from World of Warcraft, but from Heroes of the Storm. Maybe with the success of their Overwatch line we can get the somewhat more iconic Hooded Shaman look for Thrall, but for now, armored Warrior will do.

There are a lot of design ideas from the Lich King that are shared by Thrall. He is loaded with detail and little scuffs and his paint work is really well done. He is also very bulky, which hinders his articulation quite a bit. Like Frostmourne, Thrall’s Doomhammer separates into two pieces to allow it to be inserted into his fist.

He definitely looks pretty impressive, though he isn’t particularly dynamic in his pose ability. The look also pushes more of an Orc Warrior vibe than the Shaman design he is more known for. He captures the look of the character well though. Certainly better than those Warcraft movie figures we got. Thrall didn’t get a figure in that line but his father Durotan did.

The real issue with this figure is that it was, and still kind of is, pretty hard to come by. The only store in the US I recall ever seeing these was Toys R Us, which went out of business. Amazon has them but they are pretty marked up. It’s a nice looking piece that would work well for general fans of the series and not just toy people, which makes it kind of a shame they were so hard to come by.

Figma – Genji

The second release in the Figma line for Overwatch was Genji. Tracer being the poster child for Overwatch made sense for release number one, Genji kind of makes sense for release two. He is a pretty bad ass ninja, his robotic design lends itself to being highly articulated, and he looks like a sentai warrior. I don’t really know how popular Overwatch is in Japan, but Figma IS a Japanese toy line, so that audience is sort of the primary audience.

Genji actually is quite a departure from Tracer. I mentioned how his cyborg design works for the articulation, and it definitely shows, he is quite a bit more articulated than Tracer. Almost too articulated if that’s possible (side note, it is, look at any AY Revo). He neck and shoulders in particular have a sort of double ball set up going that let them extend quite a bit. It actually makes his shoulders look odd at times and his neck definitely feels too long if you are looking at it from the wrong angle.

Genji also has a lot more interesting accessories than Tracer. Tracer got a couple of guns and her pulse bomb. Genji has his Dragon Blade, his smaller dagger weapon and a neat effect part of his stars being thrown. There are also scabbards for both blades on his back, though neither actually holds a blade. Instead they each have removable handle bits, for when the blade weapons are being held.

He looks great holding his swords. His articulation allows you to do all sorts of sword wielding poses as well, both single and dual wielding. The ninja star effect part is neat, but the weight and looseness of some of the joints make it tricky to pose at times. Plus it kind of vanishes into the flatness of itself when looked at straight on.

He is quite a bit larger than Tracer as well. The added weight and larger feet allow him to stand pretty well even without his stand, something that’s kind of a problem for Tracer.

Despite his wonky joints, Genji is probably one of the better releases for the Overwatch Figmas so far (as of this post). Aesthetically Widowmaker is a bit nicer but in terms of pose-ability and fun factor, Genji is better than Widowmaker.

Transformers – Studio Series – Scrapmetal

So, for the most part, the Michael Bay Transformers movies are pretty trash. Mostly for the shitty plots, but Revenge of the Fallen is particularly bad. One thing it did have that was pretty cool though was Devastator. In general, I do like the Bayverse/Movieveerse designs, and the take on Devastator was pretty interesting. Though the Revenge of the Fallen toy line was full of some of the most complex Transformers ever produced, the only full on Devastator is produced was Legends scaled. There were individual figures of most of the components that had robots and vehicles, and there was a large combined figure that only had parts that turned into vehicles, no robots.

Hasbro has decided to remedy that with Studio Series, by putting out a new Devastator, across eight figures, that all have robot modes and vehicle modes. There were 6 components to the previous version with vehicles only and Seven in the Legends sized one, which added a vehicle to create the pelvis and back. This new iteration is taking things a bit farther, following the pattern from the Legends sized version, but splitting one of the arms into two separate toys.

Scrapmetal is one of those two arm characters. He’s technically the only “new” character of the set, since Hightower (the crane) has almost made up the arm on the previous toys. This figure more or less forms the hand.

Scapmetal turns into a small excavator. The primary driver in Studio Series is robot mode scale so the excavator is pretty small, but there are some small er versions of this particular vehicle out there. The vehicle is a little small compared to old style Deluxes but looks alright next to other Studio Series. The transformation doesn’t allow the top to rotate independently of the treads unfortunately.

Transformation is pretty straight forward but has a few neat little tricks. There’s some fun asymmetry to the way the arms fold in together to form the top part of the vehicle mode. The legs pretty much just collapse and fold up underneath. He has a little removable shield thing that mostly exists to cover a few gaps in the vehicle mode, which is a little cheaty.

The robot is pretty normal as well, at least for Movie Constructicon standards. The other initial release is Rampage who stands on a single Pogo Leg, but other highlights of the Constructicons include Hightower, who turns into a sort of Velociraptor, and Demolishor who is a pair of arms on giant wheels.

One neat little bit if you want to fancy him up a bit, his legs have the option of working as “normal knees” or can knock back and become Digigrade legs. Probably the main disappointment is that there isn’t really anything fun his crane arm can do in robot mode. You can swing it up between his legs like a huge phallus but that’s not super useful really. He also has a lot of neat little extra detail. The biggest stand out is the treading detail inside his back, that doesn’t serve any purpose in either mode. I imagine in the combined form it will be more visible for some added detailing.

Scrapmetal really has me excited for the test of this team. He looks like he’ll probably be comparably sized to the old Revenge of the Fallen Devastator, but with a lot more detail and more functional articulation. I also kind of like that these are being released over time, since it gives me a chance to spread out what is essentially a $200 purchase over a couple of years.

Nendoroid – Junkrat

I have, so far, picked up every one of the Overwatch Nendoroid figures released so far. They all have some ups and downs, but on the whole they are pretty good. Today, I want to talk a bit about Nendoroid Junkrat.

Of all of the figures released in this series so far, Junkrat is definitely one of the most unique. Honestly he seems fairly unique compared to all Nendos, not just the Overwatch releases. Maybe there is some vague hope that there might be some Tank characters released in this line after all, with how much Junkrat has going on that’s special. First off, he is a fair amount larger than the previous releases. I honestly never really realized it in game since Junkrat is always hunched over, but if you look at a pure size chart, he’s one of the taller characters in the game. His Nendo, even with its goofy short proportions, is taller than the previous releases.

Part of this comes from his huge head and hair. These are also a bit unique in design, though Sombra who came out at the same time shares the uniqueness. On the previous figures, generally the bangs of the hair are removable, and the face plates swap out underneath the hair. The face plates are pretty interchangeable, that is, you can easily put Tracer’s face on Mercy, if you want. Junkrat’s entire front half of his head makes up his face plates, instead of just the bottom half like other Nendoroids. The hair bits also have to be removed and reattached in chunks, to make the swap. It’s a little clunky to do quickly, but the end result looks better. with his partially bald head, a plate styled like other Nendos would have left a visible seam across his forehead.

Speaking of the face plates, he also has a swapable mouth piece to give him a “tongue hanging out” look. As a side note, the eyes and mouth on the second head LOOK like they could be removable/swapable, but I didn’t really want to test the limits of the plastic and couldn’t get mine to come out. There isn’t really any noticeable difference in the base face anyway, so swapping the eyes around wouldn’t really do anything useful.

Additionally, he has his peg leg. This is also fairly unique to Junkrat. Between the peg leg and his huge head unfortunately, it also means he’s not going to be standing without a stand anytime ever. Though most Nendos have small enough feet that you’re going to have a hard time getting them to stand up independently anyway.

All these unique bits though help give him a lot of neat character to his design. He definitely comes off as “Junkrat,” goofy and crazy looking.

He doesn’t stop at his basic design though. He has a slew of really neat accessories. All of the weapons he wields in the game are represented here, he has his sticky bomb, his grenade launcher, his trap, and his Rip-Tire. The launcher and sticky bomb are fairly boring, the sticky bomb isn’t even painted, but the trap and tire are both great.

The trap can be laid out open or closed, and had a hand designed to hold it up to emulate his in game emote where he uses it like a puppet. The Tire is nicely detailed and can be mounted to his back, or to a extra articulated arm piece as if it’s being launched and rolling away.

You can add in on top of this that MSRP for Junkrat isn’t more than the previous releases, it makes him feel like a pretty good bang for your buck figure. All in all, I think he’s definitely one of the cooler Overwatch Nendoroids so far.


Review – Transformers – Masterpiece Sunstreaker (MP-39)

I don’t really collect Masterpiece Transformers, not on any sort of large scale.  I have a few, the original MP-01 and MP-05 Optimus and Megatron.  Though both of those are in the old larger scale of Transformers.  I use MP-08 Grimlock as my “Classics Grimlock”, because it’s a nice looking toy and his bulk makes him nice and imposing next to mainline sized toys.  Sunstreaker is more of a personal indulgence.  When he was announced, he looked really nice, and when a reissue of his brother Sideswipe was announced to go with him, I definitely wanted the pair.

So, I just want to cut to the chase a bit on this guy, this is a really damn nice Transformer.  He looked fantastic in the promotional photos and he lives up to that in every way.  The robot mode is very slick, very poseable, and very solid.  The whole transformation does an excellent job of collapsing everything together and removing any dangling vehicle kibble.  The result is a very nice representation of Sunstreaker as he appears on the show.

The Transformation may actually be the downside of this figure, if you aren’t really into complex transformations, it’s definitely a plus if you are,  There are a ridiculous number of little flippy and sliding parts that all come apart and come together to make this robot.  Everything about his backpack has to collapse together just right to make it all conform into the proper shape.  The front windshield of the car is supposed to fold up into the backpack but it pops off easily and honestly, I prefer to just pull it off and put it aside because I worry that its going to break while putting the backpack together.

There is so much more about this figure that makes it exceptional though, even by Masterpiece Transformer levels.  There are extra joints in his shoulders, that allow him to hold his gun with two hands.  The vehicle itself has some nice surprises as well.  Despite already being a complex puzzle of joints and panels to build the robot, the vehicle goes even farther and is able to convert between a standard stock Lamborghini Countach, and the tricked out super car that Sideswipe was on the show.  This is more than just a panel flip on the back, it’s a panel flip, and some roll over parts and even a second set of taillights that flip up over the stock tail lights.

He’s also loaded with fun accessories.  Aside from a pair of guns, he also includes a small Chip Chase figure in his wheelchair, several alternative face plates, and an alien mask from Hoist Goes to Hollywood.  I don’t know if it’s a widespread issue, but I did have a problem with his smaller gun.  The clip holding it together pretty much broke immediately.  It still holds itself together as a gun, but it doesn’t transform anymore.

Overall, Masterpiece Sunstreaker is just a really fantastic transformer.  He’s not even a particularly big name character in G1, so it’s not real clear why he deserved such a great treatment.

Review – Pokemon Magikarp Jump (Android, iOS)

The Good

  • Charming visuals and art work
  • Magikarp
  • Magikarp

The Bad

  • Very repetitive game play
  • Weird overpriced Microtransaction Model
  • Shallow Gameplay

In Depth

Pokemon Go isn’t the only mobile Pokemon Experience available on mobile, Pokemon Magikarp Jump is a much more traditional mobile game with all of the usual caveats that come along with that.  At it’s core, Magikarp Jump is just your traditional old school Tomagotchi only with Pokemon.  You fish up a Magikarp, you feed it food and train it, and then take it off to compete in a Jumping contest against AI Magikarp opponents.  That’s 100% of the extend of the game.

The best part of this whole game is the art and animation.  It’s repetitive yes, but it all looks really great.  There are several dozen Pokemon that show up in the game aside from Magikarps, all of them rendered in this recognizable cutesy art style.

The more you play the more coin rewards you get which allows you to upgrade the various foods and training courses.  There are also Diamonds which are this games Premium currency, which can be used to unlock Friend Pokemon and decorations for your Magikarp tank.  The friendly Pokemon offer time based rewards such as bonus experience (JP or Jump Power) or extra coins.  The Decorations offer passive bonuses such as a blanked percentage bonus to coins or JP.  This offers up some variety of ways to raise your Magikarp.  The Premium currency can be purchased for real money but it also can be earned, slowly, by simply playing the game. After training, and league matches, you often encounter random events, some of which drop diamonds, others bonus exp and gold.

There is choice, and not really a lot of choice.  To keep things moving, you really need to keep upgrading food and training, which means needing gold, which pretty much steers all upgrades into getting more gold.  Spending a few hundred hard to get Diamonds for 2 extra food isn’t really as useful as spending the same amount for a bonus to gold drops or even just a boost to the experience food gives.

The whole system is of course, also designed on a sliding scale, so you get stronger, but you never really feel like you are getting “better”.  The leagues (all ten of them) all play out essentially at the same pace until you reach Level 100 Magikarps.  Every match is the same and entirely dependent on having more experience than your opponent, which is a fixed amount.  The only real way to make things move faster is to drop real world money.

Which brings up some weirdness.  There is a spending limit, built in, it’s something like $50 ever.  I suppose it’s to prevent kids from blowing hundreds on the game, except the entire point of this business model is to be sustained by “whales” IE the people who spend hundreds of dollars, to make up for those trudging through at the Free pace.  Spending $50 also gives you the Diamond Miner, which grants 100 free Diamonds per day, which pretty much enables all of the unlocks to be purchased many orders of magnitude faster than playing for Free.  the amount of Diamonds you get on basic purchases is also pretty low, enough to buy maybe 1 item.  Essentially the only reason to buy in, is for the Diamond Miner.

The problem here is, game doesn’t have anywhere near $50 worth of game play.  I get that some people will feel it does, but speaking for the idea of the vast majority, it doesn’t.  You don’t do anything interactive at all side from tapping food and pressing OK a lot.  Maybe, MAYBE if the Training rounds were actual mini games and you maybe some extra taps or something to help jump more in League battles and just in general if there was SOMETHING besides being a time waster to the game.  There isn’t though, and as it stands, being a time waster is ok, but it’s not really $50 ok.  I’m all for supporting developers, and I’d gladly throw $5-$10 at this game for the time I’ve spent on it and the enjoyable art and animation.

After you reach level 100 you can keep training Magikarps to higher and higher experience to see how high you can get your Magikarp to jump.  There’s no direct player vs player aspect but connecting to Facebook lets you see how your friends are ranking.

Don’t get me wrong on the negatives, the game is pretty fun as a Tomagotchi time waster, it just feels like there are some odd choices in the pay model and the gameplay itself just, completely lacks any real depth.  I have enjoyed the game a lot.  I’ve played all the way through to Level 100, which, takes months, just as a heads up, but it’s more than doable.  It just gets old after a while.

 

Review – Super Mario Run (Android, iOS)

The Good

  • Solid Mario style Game on Mobile
  • Smooth graphics and Gameplay
  • Fun Gameplay in some modes

The Bad

  • Regular price is too high ($10)
  • Repetitive Gameplay
  • Toad Rally is Lame

In Depth

Nintendo is slowly making their way to mobile with a few of their flagship series, namely Pokemon and Super Mario Brothers.  They still aren’t putting out straight ports of the classics yet, but hopefully they will come around.  Hopefully when they do they don’t flub it and overprice everything the way Square has done with it’s Final Fantasy ports.  Mario’s first mobile foray is Super Mario Run, on Android and iOS.

Super Mario Run is a combination of quick repeatable mobile gameplay and classic Mario gameplay.  The overall feel and look is similar to the New Super Mario Brothers games, 2D side scrolling with 3D objects and sprites.  The main catch is that Mario is always moving to the right.  The game is designed to be played with one hand, and your only real control is to tap to jump.  It’s not really an endless runner, but it sort of plays like one.  The game is divided up into several levels and game modes, Tour, which is the standard single player campaign, Toad Rally, which is an online competitive game, and the new Remix 10, which is short bursts of very short levels.

There is also a Kingdom Builder mode which ties everything together and sort of serves as the purpose and end goal to every other mode.  As you gather Toads to your kingdom, your castle will level up to return to it’s former glory.  You also will gain new buildings to unlock and build in the kingdom and the ability to expand into other areas, increasing the size of your build space.  It’s neat, but serves no real purpose.  The toads will dance around the buildings but they are mostly decorative and placing a bunch of statues has the same effect as placing a bunch of Toad houses.  There are a handful of buildings which can be used to unlock simple mini games to gain Toad Rally Tickets, but they are in the minority of buildings you will unlock.  This mode is also limited a bit in how many spaces are available to build on.  This can be a little frustrating since it will very often mean choosing what you want to build too often and you’ll end up with a large bank fo unused buildings by simply not having room.

You primarily gather Toads by playing Toad Rally.  This is also my biggest gripe with this game.  Toad Rally is incredibly tedious.  You sort of play against other players, but it’s not real time.  It’s also not clear if it’s an actual play through of that player either, since often the ghosts will be different each round.  Most of these Toad Rallies are decided by whomever manages to get a Star power up as well, making most rounds one sided at one point.  The number of Toad Rally courses isn’t particularly varied and some stages are extra annoying to play such as Ghost houses, which require a lot of downtime waiting for Boos and looping through the same screen or the Airship levels, which usually result in a lot of deaths due to the constant pits between platforms and the unpredictability of cannons and enemies.  This exacerbates the tedium of these levels because even when you win the round, the scores are so low you will only earn a small handful of Toads of the corresponding color.  So, for example, you’ll get to play a LOT of repetitive Ghost House levels in order to get anywhere in collecting Purple Toads.

The new mode, Remix-10 is the new primary way to unlock items for your Kingdom, and it’s the closest mode to an Endless runner game that there is.  It gets a little old but I find it to be the most fun of the various modes.  You play through ten very short, maybe 10-20 second levels of varying types in a row each session.  Even if you die on a segment, you just move on to the next segment.  The only real objective is you pass ten levels, even if you die on all ten, though along the way you collect Rainbow Coins which unlock special bonus items.  You also get an item after each segment of ten.  In general, the mode is very generous with item drops.   The problem ends up being the one mentioned previously, where you run out of room.  Unlocking more space means building bridges, which means collecting a TON of Toads in the lame Toad Rally.

The last major mode is the Tour Mode.  This is the more traditional single player game.  There are 6 regular worlds, each with 4 levels each (3 normal and a castle/Airship).  After finishing the main run you unlock the Star World which consists of 9 levels unlocked by completing special tasks.  Playing Tour serves several purposes.  Completing tour unlocks Princess Peach as a playable character.  Completing worlds adds more variety to the playable levels in Toad Rally.  You also have the opportunity in each level to collect 5 special coins which often require tricky moves and techniques.

There are certainly a lot of opportunities here for Classic Mobile Game Micro transactions.  The Toad Rally tickets is the most obvious choice, special buyable items would certainly be another.  Thankfully, Super Mario Run has no micro transactions.  It’s Free to Play, but it’s more like a Shareware title.  The only thing you can purchase is the full game unlock.  You can play the first three levels and Toad Rally for free, but to get more, you’ll need to pay up.  This brings up the other big downside to this title.  It’s fun, there’s quite a bit to do, it’s not really $10 fun.  There is a sale going on (as of this review) that may come back again some time, for half off.  At five dollars, the game feels really worth it.  Everything is just too repetitive for $10.  You can buy full on Mario games for $10, or a lot of other games with more game play.  Maybe if Toad Rally were less tedious making the Kingdom Builder more robust and less limited, it would be worth more, maybe.

Review – Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA)

After wrapping up the remake of Metroid II with Metroid: Samus Returns, it seemed like a good idea to look back a bit on Metroid Zero Mission, the remake of the original Metroid put out for the Game Boy Advanced.

Previous to Metroid Zero I had just finished Metroid Classic, the GBA remake of the NES game. The best part of the Classics series is that they are pretty true to the original titles. I’ve previously played bits and pieces of Metroid but the sheer massive randomness of this game has always kept me away. Also it’s “really hard”. Or at least I used to think so. For this outing I decided to cop and use a downloaded map to find my way around. It’s surprisingly easy in Metroid to pick up nearly ever power up and accessory before fighting even one boss. This actually makes the bosses a bit of a push over.

Zero Mission changes things up a bit and gives you a built in map akin to the more modern Metroid titles. The trick here is, many of the areas have been altered slightly requiring special items to access the next area. In fact, Metroid Zero is extremely linear in its storyline.  Many times in the game you’ll find Chozo statues that will point you in the direction you need to head next.

Metroid was pretty ahead of it’s time with it’s free form game play mechanics. Metroid Zero stream lines this idea by adding modern puzzle limitations. The whole experience is very similar to Metroid 3 for the Super Nintendo. It’s still a bit limited by its controls.

In the original Metroid you could shoot, jump and shoot missiles. You access missiles by pressing select. Zero Missions adds a few more items to the mix from its Metroid 3 predecessor, namely Super Missiles and Power Bombs. This makes things a bit tricky however since the Game Boy Advance doesn’t have the same number of buttons as the SNES control pad. Select still cycles through the missile types but the more powerful attack is activated by pressing and holding the R button. The other shoulder button is used for a fairly useless diagonal shot. I can’t help but some sort of scanning power up would have been a better use for the L button. Especially given the number of hidden blocks and the large variety of ways needed to destroy them.

Zero Mission’s map doesn’t make finding everything easier however. I’d estimate that the overall map is at least twice the size of the original if you count the added on final area. Even without that section there are many additional secret hidden paths to find. Oh right, yeah, I said bonus area. I don’t want to spoil things too much but Zero mission doesn’t have quite the same ending you might remember. The bonus area also uses some different play mechanics than players are used to. Play mechanics leaning the irritatingly difficult side of things unfortunately.

Like I said, I don’t want to ruin it too much. Back to the main game. With Zero Mission’s expanded map there is also an expanded selection of bosses. Technically Ridley and Kraid are still the only true bosses but there are a whole slew of new mini bosses that must be defeated throughout your journey across Zebes. The old bosses also got a major facelift. Kraid is now the massive giant he was in Metroid 3, though he’s a lot more of a pushover this round. Ridley is also larger and more resembles his modern pterodactyl self.

In the original Metroid the bosses were not much larger than Samus and followed a simple attack pattern of “Throw lots of things at the player”. This actually made them a bit more difficult as the battles more or less broke down to pounding your opponent with missiles and hoping he died before you did. Zero Mission has more epic scripted boss battled and neither Ridley nor Kraid really do much damage with their attacks. Truth be told, New Ridley is easier to defeat if you let him pick you up so you can pound on him point blank with your missiles. Zero Mission is all around more forgiving of a game. In Metroid, when your health was depleted you were dead. Sure, you had a password but there was no direct continue or save feature. Also in the original Metroid, refilling your health is difficult to do, usually involving killing many of the little bug creatures popping out of the ground.  Also. Zero Mission has health restoring Chozo statues all over. Instantaneous relief.

Finishing the game also unlocks a playable version of the original Metroid.  The remake’s modern mechanics however make it a lot less of a chore to play and much more enjoyable