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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 – MCU – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-imax-posterCaptain America – The Winter Soldier (2014)

Chris Evans
Samuel L Jackson
Scarlett Johansson
Robert Redford
Sebastian Stan
Anthony Mackie
Cobie Smoulders
Frank Grillo

Spoiler Free thoughts and Notes

The second entry in the Captain America series comes in right on the heels of The Avengers, or “Phase 2” of the Marvel Cinematic universe.  I want to take a moment here to comment on how the continuity of these movies have been handled up to this point, since this is the first “post crossover” movie.  This applies to pretty much all of the Phase 2 movies, though it seems to be disregarded some starting in Phase 3 (Post Age of Ultron).  For the most part, the major movie franchises that have been brought together for the Avengers, Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man, work with or without the crossover film.

What I mean is, if you wanted to watch “Captain America” you could watch Cap 1 and Cap 2, and skip the avengers, and not really miss anything major in Captain America’s story.  This applies to the two Thor movies as well and, for the most part, to the two Iron Man movies, though there is some reference to Tony Stark’s PTSD from his actions in The Avengers during Iron Man 3.  It’s a plot point that could be written off as being related to other events however, if you were just coming in and watching the three Iron Man movies.  It’s a pretty clever story telling trick that I really liked in Phase 2 as a whole that seems to have been disregarded in a post Age of Ultron world.  Civil War is a direct product of the events in AoE, and it sounds like Thor 3 will have some relation to both AoE and Dr Strange.

It’s just a little side note I wanted to throw in, and something I kind of miss about the older MCU movies.  On to Captain America 2: The Winter Solder.


The Winter Soldier is considered by many to be, the best movie so far in the MCU.  As a whole, the Captain America movies tend to be the better films of the individual franchises, and The Winter Soldier is definitely the best of the three Cap movies.  I feel like what makes Captain America work so well is that he’s a super hero, but he’s not really a SUPER hero.  What I mean is, he doesn’t fly, he’s not invulnerable and gets worn out frequently.  He isn’t using some mystical magic or lasers and missiles.  His villains tend to be a bit more grounded and “real world”, he fights Nazis in the first movie and Hydra in the second movie.  That isn’t to say that the other heroes don’t work, Cap is just a lot more relatable as a whole.  Kind of a follow up to my remarks above, it’s something that felt lost a bit in his Phase 3 movie.

Synopsis and Spoiler Filled Thoughts


The movie opens with Steve Rodgers, Captain America infiltrating a hijacked ship and battling off a small group of hijackers.  It’s a really great cold open event for the film, it gives Captain America a chance to show off how he operates in combat and his various skills at infiltration.  We get reintroduced a bit to Natasha Romanoff, aka, Black Widow as well, who was previously introduced in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers.  The whole sequence feels very throw away at first as well, though becomes relevant to the plot later on as things evolve.  Basically, it works pretty well as a sort of showcase of “A day in the life of a SHIELD agent, something we haven to gotten to see a lot of out of these two since most of their action involved fighting Chitari aliens in The Avengers.

On a side note, at the time of this movie’s release, there has been plenty of opportunity to see regular SHIELD operations in the series Agents of SHIELD, which was early in it’s first season.  Agents of SHIELD suffered a bit initially with a slow start as the first 7 or 8 episodes were basically filler waiting for the events of The Winter Soldier film to happen.  After this movie, the show really picks up speed since the fall of SHIELD would certainly have heavy repercussions in a TV show entirely about SHIELD.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

During the mission Cap finds Widow doing some questionable secondary operations with the ships computer.  Eventually Cap faces off against the leader of the Hijackers, a mercenary named Batroc.  Another element of the MCU that really is fun is seeing these sort of 3rd tier characters show up and how they get “reimagined” to be more realistic.  Batroc in the comics wears a suit that makes him look a lot like a Purple Wolverine, in the movie, he’s just a skilled soldier.  Sure, it’s more boring, but grounding things more in reality like this is one of the more interesting aspects of the MCU in my opinion.


Cap questions the actions of Agent Romanoff to Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD and how he doesn’t care for the extra operations going on behind his back.  We get some other scenes of Steve doing various activities around Washington DC where we get introduced to Sam Wilson, a retired soldier who becomes a friend to Steve.

Meanwhile Nick Fury gets attacked on the streets of DC by several men masquerading as police officers.  This starts our second big action sequence of the film.  We get a lot of cool action and car chasing in Fury’s tricked out SHIELD SUV before he ends up ambushed and wrecked by a mysterious masked mercenary, the one known as The Winter Soldier.


Fury escapes and ends up at Captain America’s apartment where he tells Steve that SHIELD is compromised before being shot by a sniper.  Steve gives chase and discovered it’s the same mysterious soldier who has returned to finish the job of assassinating Nick Fury.  The Winter Soldier escape and Cap meets up with Romanoff and Agent Hill (Fury’s 2nd for all real purposes of the MCU) at the hospital where Fury dies.

Steve confronts Alexander Pierce, a government figure who worked with fury at the top of SHIELD.  Piece explains how the operation earlier in the movie involving the Hijackers on the ship had been orchestrated by Fury in order to steal SHIELD secrets.  Cap is of course suspicious of everything going on around him after Fury’s warning, with good reason.   Eventually on his way out of the building Cap is attacked in an elevator by a dozen or so SHIELD soldiers including Brock Rumlow, aka Crossbones, a reoccurring foil of this film.


It’s a pretty spectacular fight and escape sequence and really exemplifies why this film is so loved.  The fight and action  scenes are all very well done.  Like I mentioned before, it helps that Captain America is a more down to Earth hero, he doesn’t come off as someone who is just going to “win” every time, and often barely makes it out of the situations he lands in.

Cap escapes and meets up with Romanoff again, they decode the data swiped earlier in the film which leads them to an underground bunker in Steve’s old army camp from WW2.  They are greeted by Arman Zola, henchman to the Red Scull, who has managed to live on as a computer AI.  He gives a plot dump of how Hydra has been part of SHIELD since the start and controls everything inside and how Hydra plans to launch some Heli-carriers soon to wipe out anyone believed to be a threat.  The pair escapes a missile attack on the base and head back to the city to deal with the Hydra threat.  Along the way they recruit Sam Wilson and his winged jetpack as The Falcon.


During their drive they get ambushed again by The Winter Soldier and some grunts.  Once again, we get another pretty great street level fight between our three heroes and the villains.  Eventually Cap ends up unmasking the mysterious Winter Soldier to discover that he is in fact Bucky, Steve’s old friend from back in the World War 2 days.  The Winter Soldier escapes again and the heroes all end up taken into custody by Crossbones and is crew.

This brings up my one real complaint with this entire movie.  Bucky’s deal is sort of explained… but not really.  This is notable to some extent because it comes up again in the 3rd Captain America film but it’s never quite really explained super clearly.  Basically, after Bucky “died” during WW2, Hydra collected him up, gave him a metal arm, trained him, probably super soldier syrum-ed him like Cap, and made him an agent of Hydra.  His longevity and Winter Soldier name, comes because he gets his mind wiped and put in Cryo-stasis between operations.


So getting out of stasis on this review, Cap and crew get rescued by Maria Hill who takes them to a secret bunker where it’s revealed that Nick Fury is still alive and had faked his death.  He’s still pretty beat up and down for the count but he’s alive.  They regroup and make their final assault on SHIELD headquarters.   The elaborate plan is to insert these hard drives into each of the three Heli-carriers, reprogramming them to fire at each other.   Because you know, that’s how elaborate computer systems work.  All of this amazing technology at SHIELD’s disposal and swapping a few drives out in a massive flying aircraft carrier is enough to confuse the targeting systems?  Seems like it would be easier to recruit Iron Man and drop some C4 into each of the giant external engines but what do I know.  I mean sure they are pressed for time but Tony is pretty fast.

Anyway, we get another massive action sequence against various Hydra soldiers, Cap faces off against Bucky and Falcon against Crossbones.  Fury and Widow confront and deal with Alexander Pierce.  In the end the Heli-carriers are destroyed and SHIELD with it.  Bucky ends up turning good a bit, but not completely and runs off on his own after rescuing Cap.

It’s All Connected

The obvious connections here are to the first Captain America movie with Bucky and Captain America himself.  There aren’t a whole ton of references to Thor or Iron Man going on, or even The Avengers movie that immediately precedes it.  I didn’t mention Agent 13 at all.  She is never referenced in this movie by name but she is Agent Carter’s niece, the same Agent Carter who was Captain America’s girlfriend in the first movie who shows up briefly in this movie as a now old woman.

What’s Next

The movie leaves off with a set up for Steve hunting down Bucky and redeeming him.  SHIELD is “gone”, though that doesn’t seem to stick very well considering the continuing Agents of SHEILD show and the fact that Fury and SHIELD still show up in Age of Ultron and the later Civil War movie.  There isn’t a whole lot here to set up any of the larger MCU.  There isn’t any Infinity Stone or anything major for future plots or anything.  It’s actually a fairly contained experience, which is another good plus for the movie, as much as I like the connected aspects of it all.

The Final Verdict

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a well deserved reputation as one of if not the best movie in the MCU.  It’s definitely a solid entry, though Doctor Strange and Ant-Man may give it a run for the money for best.

Review – Final Fantasy VIII (PS1)

Playstation 1 – Squaresoft – 1 Player

Sometimes you play through a game, and for some reason you just know you’ve played a really good game. One good way to know that a game has got to be at least marginally good is if over the course of playing it your opinion of it completely changes. With little or no effort, you find a game you expected and did hate suddenly becomes something you enjoy playing. That is the case of Final Fantasy 8.

Before playing this game, as far as I could tell from what others were saying ti was crap. They got rid of long term things like MP. The chrachters look “realistic” insetad of like squatty SD people. The setting was very much modern and futuristic, even more so than FF7, and th eplot was supposed to be a sort of “Love Story”. In general, the whole thing changed a fair amount of long term aspects and it all seemed like a bad idea. I even went to the extend of making a running gag out of pretending the game didn’t exist on usenet.

So I finally just bought the game. I think my former employer had the game on it’s Buy One Get one sale at the time so I picked up FF8 and Coolboarders 3 (Crap). Even after playing for a good deal fo the game I really hated it. I hated the characters and constantly berated them through the game. Basically I had played all the FF games previous, and much of FF9 at the time, I figured it would be a good idea to get 8 out of the way. The characters were annoying at first, they would say and do idiotic things. Squall would blow everyone off and not care at all. They just generally seemed like a really dumb set of people. Somewhere along the plot that seemed to change. But then there had to be something to keep intrest up. That, is gameplay.

The gameplay is the strongest part of this game. For starters, the levels are pretty much unnessesary. They are still there, but the monsters level up with you. This means that if you want to run from every battle, you won’t end up getting slaughtered by the next boss you fight. In fact you can learn an ability that will disable random encounters all together. This does wonders to speed up the actual plot. I mean really, I can’t imagine anyone really plays an RPG for the chance to fight 1000s of enemies in a menu driven simulator. There are action games that are much better suited for killing baddies with more active control by the player. An RPG is something played for the story. There are still quite a few bosses to fight, but the end of th egame will be just as easy at level 7 as it is at level 100. You can still fight all those battles if you like though, I did, Squall is at level 100 (the max) and everyone else is in the mid 70s. Levels occur every 1000 exp.

So without levels, how are you supposed to become stronger? Well that is where the next gameplay aspect comes into play. You Junction magic to different stats. This requires a charcter to junction with a Guardian Force (GF, summon monster). Each GF allows a chrachter to junction a different stat, and each GF can learn new abilities as well (so you can junction to more stats, among other things). In battle and junctioned GF can be summoned at anytime assuming that GF still has HP remeaining. These usually do a lot fo big damage, however it’s better if you don’t rely on GFs a lot and rely more on Limits.

Limits, first created in FF7 return here again. if you’ve played FF9, they called this sort of effect a Trance and in FFX it’s called an Overdrive. Basically a Limit is a super powered specialty attack. Each charchter has thier own type of limit and the limits in FF8 are fairly interactive. Squall’s requires you to press the R trigger for real damage, Zell’s has the player inputting fighting game type moves, while Selphie uses the classic slot type attack seen in other FF games.The limits occur more often when HP is low, but unlike other FF games they don’t rely on the filling of a bar based on damage or anything. In fact the clincher is the spell Aura, which allows a charcter to Limit much more easily, even at full 9999 health. Generally it’s best to use Limits as a primary mode of attack witht he occasional summon thrown in. Due to junctioning Magic, you usually don’t want to use too much of it, but by the end of the game, basic spells like Thindaga and Firga aren’t used with the best junction combination, so cast all you want.

But what about the story, RPGs play for thier story not thier gameplay right? Of course. FF8 has a pretty decent story backing it. You control a group of teenagers raised by a military organization called SEED to be mercenaries. What starts out as a fairly routine mission ends up leading tot he destiney of SEED itself. Characters that start out annoying and childish grow over the story and become more mature and likeable. There is nice exposition during wonderful CG movies. The music in this game is top notch (Though I think I prefer FF7’s music really). I don’t really want to spoil the plot or anything too much. It is a sort of love story between the main charchetrs Squall and Rinoa. The others do take a backseat in chracterization to Squall and rinoa, but it is there.

So in otherwords, if you would like a great Console RPG, FF8 is a good choice. While it looses some of the “traditional RPG feel”, it makes up for it with some nice new innovations. If you like th enewer FFX you’ll surely like this game as they share a lot of similar aspects in terms of gameplay and story and look.

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.