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Gaming Update: Batman: Arkham City | Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts Games | My Reviews 02 OCT 2013

A quick round-up of the latest games to worm themselves onto my XBOX console.

Batman: Arkham City (2011)

Batman: Arkham City is a 2011 action-adventure video game developed by Rocksteady Studios and released by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 video game consoles. Based on the DC Comics superhero Batman, it is the sequel to the 2009 video game Batman: Arkham Asylum and the second installment in the Batman: Arkham series.

Written by veteran Batman writer Paul Dini with Paul Crocker and Sefton Hill, Arkham City is based on the franchise’s long-running comic book mythos. In the game’s main storyline, Batman is incarcerated in Arkham City, a massive new super-prison enclosing the decaying urban slums of fictional Gotham City. He must uncover the secret behind the sinister scheme, “Protocol 10”, orchestrated by the facilities warden, Hugo Strange. The game’s leading characters are predominantly voiced by actors from the DC Animated Universe, with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and the Joker, respectively. The game is presented from the third-person perspective with a primary focus on Batman’s combat and stealth abilities, detective skills, and gadgets that can be used in both combat and exploration.

I bought Arkham City from the XBOX Online store for the ridiculously low price of R89 and seriously haven’t looked back since. I thoroughly enjoyed the original Arkham Asylum outing, and pleasingly this follow up does everything the original did, on a bigger scale, and in the process makes the experience even better than the first (plus, it doesn’t ask you to avoid daft plants – seriously, that was my only major gripe from the first game).

The visuals are outstanding, the voice acting superb, the story epic, but most important of all, the fantastically beautiful and rewarding free flow combat system continues to be as engaging as ever, despite the fact that when you look at it, fighting has been boiled down to a two button system! Incredible.

A definite recommendation to anyone who enjoys action games, and even more so if you are already a fan of the Bat!

batman arkham city game screenshot

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arkham_City

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (2008)

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is an action-adventure/vehicle construction/platformer video game developed by Rare and published by Microsoft Game Studios.

The game takes place following the conclusion of Banjo-Tooie, in which Gruntilda’s body is destroyed by Banjo and Kazooie. Eight years have passed since Gruntilda’s defeat. While Banjo and Kazooie are eating pizza, playing video games and listening to the radio, they discover Gruntilda’s detached head returning to Spiral Mountain. They are about to fight when they are stopped by Lord of Games (L.O.G.). He attempts to settle the conflict between the two by devising a series of worlds and challenges. He uses his powers to give Gruntilda an artificial body and to restore the duo’s physical fitness, but not their moves from previous games.

L.O.G. transports the characters to Showdown Town, his headquarters, and starts the contest. The winner would be set to own Spiral Mountain; the loser must endure eternal hardship at L.O.G.’s video game factory. While Banjo and Kazooie seek to win by completing the challenges, Gruntilda uses her powers and abilities to try to stop the duo. An army of mechanical Gruntbots also assist the witch in her goal.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts landed up on my console courtesy of the curent Mirosoft XBOX Games for Gold promotion, and so I gave it a quick spin to see what it’s all about. Now if you were hoping for a traditional platformer adventure game in the spirit of the earlier games, then you would be sorely disappointed – instead the game is more of a tricky driving adventure game, awarding those more mechanically minded in the process. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and does make for a fairly engaging experience as you race around trying to collect parts to put together a vehicle you think will be able to access a particular area for you.

Lots of silly (if misplaced and often a little too adult for the intended child market) gags makes for a light-hearted, brain-teasing, colourful romp, but I have to say, I didn’t spend too much time behind the controller on this one – strictly for kids, or if you have to, for playing with your kids.

banjo kazooie nuts and bolts xbox game

Related Link: Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banjo-Kazooie:_Nuts_%26_Bolts

Animation Update: The Dark Knight Returns (Part 2) | Justice League: Starcrossed | Batman: The Brave and the Bold (Vol. 4) Animation | My Reviews 04 JUN 2013

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 (2013)

Continuing from where the excellent Part 1 of this two part movie adaptation of the great Frank Miller story line left off, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 is an excellent addition to the DC Universe Animated Original Movies stable.

Batman, now once again active after years of retirement, finds his presence reawakening some very deadly, and deranged foes, and before long his dark and violent retaliation against these crimes results in the United States calling in their favourite Son to try and put a stop to what they see as out of control vigilantism.

But then there is also the problem of a Soviet nuclear strike to deal with, all of which culminates in probably the biggest hero showdown ever imagined!

Keeping close homage to Frank Miller’s unique style, the fluid, bulky animation is fantastic to look at, giving the characters more age, more presence, and almost certainly more impact. The stunning visuals are then mixed with a highly dramatic, edge of your seat story that will have you cringing with the violence and melodrama on display, not to mention the intense action sequences that litter the story.

Voice acting is superb and the musical soundtrack just phenomenal. This is a fantastic story which is expertly adapted and certainly serves as one of the more powerful pieces in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series.

Definitely worth picking up, especially for Frank Miller fanboys!

batman the dark knight returns part 2

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_The_Dark_Knight_Returns_(film)

Justice League: Starcrossed (2004)

Starcrossed was the 2004 3-part second season finale of the fantastic Justice League animated series, which later got bundled up and released as a standalone DVD. The story revolves around the appearance of a Thanagarian battle ship that arrives just in time to shoot down another alien vessel that started attacking a gathering of the world’s leaders, bringing with them a message of imminent danger and the promise of immediate assistance against this advancing threat.

At first the world’s leaders and the Justice League accept their new found allies with open arms, but it isn’t too long before the Thanagarian Justice League member Hawkgirl reveals some rather disturbing secrets of her own, with the end result being a potential cataclysmic event that threatens to end the very existence of our world itself!

The original Justice League animated series was one of the best animated super hero shows to hit the airwaves in the early ‘2000s, and Starcrossed goes a long way in showing exactly why. This is a top notch super hero yarn that has all the dramatic elements of love, betrayal and duty, masterfully blended in with loads of action as well as a twinge of humour, the perfect mix through and through. And although the familiar stylized animation of the series isn’t perhaps the best ever seen, its clean lines and fluid animation is more than entertaining enough. Combine all of this with a fantastic voice cast and an even better musical soundtrack, and you have an animated package just begging to be watched.

Very enjoyable for all the comic book fans out there!

justice league starcrossed screenshot

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starcrossed_(Justice_League_episode)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold (Volume 4) (2009)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold Volume 4 packages four episodes from the first season into a DVD, featuring the tales “Mystery in Space!”, “Trials of the Demon!”, “Night of the Huntress!”, and “Menace of the Conqueror Caveman!”.

The first tells the tale of a depressed Aquaman that eventually joins Batman in battle on the planet Rann as they attempt to assist the space hero Adam Strange is his battle against the invading Gordanians. The second story sees Batman transported back in time where he assists Jason Blood (the Demon Etrigan) and Sherlock Holmes in solving a particularly gruesome murder mystery. The third tale has Blue Beetle and the Huntress joining Batman in a fight against the heavily armed Babyface and his recently escaped gang, whilst the fourth and final part sees the always amusing Booster Gold team up with an unwilling Batman to take on the immortal tyrant Kru’ll the Eternal (who happens to be a hyper intelligent caveman).

Batman: The Brave and the Bold has from the start divided the fans, being a very campy outing that serves up huge dollops of nostalgia and nods to the longtime comic book fan, but which is ultimately best suited for younger viewers given the colourful format and often simpler stories. That said, it does have its fair share of supporters as well, and in the end is probably not a completely unwatchable show for the older fanboy I suppose.

I can’t say that I love it, but it does feature an interesting, simple, fluid animation style that suits the campy nature of the show perfectly and the voice casting as per usual is top notch – made even better when you realize that Diedrich Bader of the Drew Carey Show fame is the voice behind the Bat for this particular outing. A fun soundtrack completes the package and this is certainly a show you could pull out and sit down to watch with your kids, much like say Teen Titans.

Worth pulling out if you have some kids to watch it with, though that said, I do own the first four volumes so it can’t be all that bad! ;)

batman brave and the bold volume 4 booster gold

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_Brave_and_the_Bold

Movie Update: Dredd | Safe House | Dark Knight Returns: Part 1 Animation | My Reviews 27 MAR 2013

Dredd (2012)

Judge Dredd, a law enforcer given the power of judge, jury and executioner in a vast, dystopian metropolis called Mega-City One, is saddled with the task of handling the final evaluation of rookie judge Anderson, a trainee who exhibits a high level of psychic ability. The evaluation patrol takes a turn for the worse as Anderson and Dredd find themselves being called upon to bring justice to a 200-storey high-rise block of flats and deal with its resident drug lord, Ma-Ma. Only problem is – pretty much the entire building is against them!

Outside of the fact that this film was shot mostly in South Africa, thus automatically making it super cool, as a big fan of Dredd over the years, I have to say that I absolutely loved this movie. It is wall to wall action that never ceases to satisfy, and despite the fact that this is a fairly simple get to the top of the building plot, the story manages to keep you fully engaged from start to finish, buoyed by some fantastic acting by Karl Urban as Judge Dredd (and on that note, he really is the perfect Dredd) and Olivia Thirlby as Judge Anderson.

Special effects are in plentiful supply, and I have to say, the graphic gore and violence was needed in order to make this a realistic Dredd outing. Visually striking, great costume design and a pulse binding soundtrack, finally 2000AD fans can properly forget about the Sylvestor Stallone Dredd disaster from all those years ago!

Oh, and one last note: by retreating from an overly futuristic setting, the film actually benefits in that it becomes less campy, more dark and gritty, and thus easier to sink one’s teeth into. Definitely an inspired move then.

judge dredd - karl urban dredd movie

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dredd

Safe House (2012)

Matthew Weston is a “Housekeeper”, basically the operator of one of the CIA’s many safe houses around the world, his being nestled in the heart of Cape Town South Africa. His inexperience as a field agent is however about to be put to the test, as a CIA’s most wanted rogue agent by the name of Tobin Frost simply walks into the Cape Town American Embassy and hands himself over, sparking off a chain of events that will pretty soon see both Tobin and Matt gunning for their lives!

Another movie shot in South Africa, Cape Town to be more precise, and to be frank, this is a fantastic action thriller brought to us by director Daniel Espinosa which pits the always fantastic and engaging Denzil Washington against a believable, likable and in the end very capable Ryan Reynolds.

Superb action sequences, great cinematography and a good musical score all combine with a well told and well paced story that is sure to hook you and keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

An enjoyable action romp without a doubt, made even better for all us local Capetonians thanks to its location!

safehouse movie - ryan reynolds

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safe_House_(2012_film)

Dark Knight Returns: Part 1 (2012)

Bruce Wayne is an old man now, and Gotham hasn’t seen any sign of Batman for over ten years now. However, the city is slowly being taken over by its dark side, with villainous gangs on the rampage and old rogues gallery villains making a reappearance.

But it isn’t always that easy to ignore the Bat inside…

Finally, the animated movie adaptation of Frank Miller’s groundbreaking 1986 Batman story arc, and pleasingly it’s off to a fantastic start. The story is dark and brooding, the villains intense and menacing, and quite frankly the combination of slick, miller-inspired animation style, fantastic voice actors and intense action sequences make for yet another stunning entry in DC Universe Animated Original Movies series.

Because this is a part 1 of 2, the movie does leave you begging for more, but even on its own it’s a good and proper hit, well worth picking up for any comic book or animation fan!

bruce wayne- dark knight returns part 1 movie

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_The_Dark_Knight_Returns_(film)

Review: Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) Animation | My Reviews 14 JUN 2012

Years ago, the Joker managed the unthinkable and killed the second Robin, a.k.a. Jason Todd. Time has since moved on, and although Jason is no longer with him, Batman has continued his never ending crusade against crime, with new partners and allies forged from the old.

However, something sinister is moving in Gotham, a new face, a villain wearing a red hood, who appears to be brutally taking control of all the gangs currently operating in the city, including the biggest of them all, the gang running under Black Mask.

Needless to say, this new villain’s trail of blood and headless bodies means that Batman will soon be on his tail – though unbeknown to the Dark Knight, this encounter is going to be stirring up some pretty dark secrets, and history, along with it!

Based on the classic “A Death in the Family” and “Under the Hood” storylines, Batman: Under the Red Hood is a 2010 direct to DVD movie released by Warner Bros. Animation, the eighth film released under the DC Universe Animated Original Movies banner.

Directed by Brandon Vietti and written by Judd Winick, this film is probably one of the strongest, darkest and most dramatic to come out of the line yet, packed to the brim with action, drama and a whole lot of secrets and unexpected twists.

Masterfully told and paced, with some great lines of meaningful dialogue between the various characters, Batman: Under the Red Hood is sure to satisfy just about any mature comic book audience.

In terms of animation, the movie boasts some slick and well designed characters, combined with great choreography (for the fight scenes), and a suitable color palette, all lending themselves to a visually enjoyable animated movie.

Similarly, the vocal talents of the actors used to bring the characters to life are all spot on, with the likes of Bruce Greenwood as Batman, Jensen Ackles and Red Hood and John DiMaggio as the Joker all producing great performances.

Finally, on top of all this, sits a fantastic soundtrack composed by Christopher Drake, the end result of it all being a highly polished, highly engaging, and highly enjoyable animated outing of the highest caliber.

Well, well worth picking up if you are either a comic book fan, or a fan of animated films in general then!

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Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_Under_the_Red_Hood

Review: Batman Beyond #3 (Mar. 2012) Comic Books | My Reviews 04 JUN 2012

There’s trouble in the Tan household when Doug and Dana’s father returns home, and Batman is shocked by Bruce Wayne’s new business associates. Down at the Port of Gotham, Mad Stan is back – and you can bet he’s going to live up to his name!

Alongside Justice League Beyond, Batman Beyond marks a new chapter in DC’s digital distribution strategy by being pushed out on a weekly basis,weighing it at half the page count of a normal comic per issue, but with each page neatly chopped in half to give you landscape sized images, perfect for reading on tablets or other digital devices. Every month the digital issues get collected and pushed out as a giant issue, meaning that it’s distribution model should hold something for everybody.

Batman Beyond #3 by writer Adam Beechen and featuring art by Norm Breyfogle marks part one of “The Trigger Man” story arc, with the chapter entitled “Reports of my Demise”. To be honest, the batsuit doesn’t even make an appearance in this one, but what we do get is plenty of setup action on multiple fronts, the two main ones being the return of Mad Stan who is rather keen to reclaim his explosives from his previously exclusive supplier, and Doug Tan pretty much kicking himself out of the Tan household.

So not a great starting point if you are joining this book for the first time thanks to the complete and utter lack of the Bat, but certainly an interesting start to what should be a action-packed storyline, centred around a device that can cause the detonation of any explosive device nearby! (Like a universal remote for bombs!)

Norm Breyfogle contributes some great pencils and inks on this one, and although not quite as cartoony or stylized as what we’ve come to expect from the Beyond universe with other releases, it does carry a hint of the simple lines and dark shadows expected from this particular family of books.

(It is worth noting that he does a pretty damn good job of capturing different ethnicities though!)

So in summary then, not a good starting point if you are new to the franchise, but if you’re already in it, worth picking up to catch the train to where we’re going next. That said, it also won’t harm you if you miss it, as there is nothing particularly attention-grabbing from this one.

Review: The Batman | Season 5 (2007-2008) My Reviews 22 MAR 2012

The final 13 episodes of what truly is an enjoyable animated series featuring everyone’s favourite vigilante dressed up as a bat, season 5 departs in a big way from what has up until now been a very Batman-centred universe, and instead introduces a number of different heroes from the DC universe Justice League line-up, turning this outing into very much a “Brave and the Bold” season!

Of course this means character and world development is out of the window in favour of super-powered team-ups and big brawls, which is not really that much of a drawback when you consider just how awesome and action-packed these resulting episodes actually are!

Interestingly enough, all of a sudden mainstays of the previous three seasons, Commissioner Gordon and Batgirl get sidelined to cameo appearances, with the Bat line-up settling into a more traditional Batman and Robin setup for just about the whole run.

In terms of the heroes we get to see on screen, we start things off with Superman, before being followed by the likes of Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, The Flash and Hawkman, never mind the entire Justice League who show up for the final story arc! Of course, the injection of new heroes comes with new villains for Bruce to tackle, including the likes of Lex Luthor, Mercy Graves, Metallo, Count Vertigo, The Wrath, Shadow Thief, Sinestro, Mirror Master, and the Terrible Trio (who actually aren’t all that terrible after all).

As per usual, Jeff Matsuda’s unique character design influence comes across strongly in the animated visuals, leaving us with a simple but extremely pleasing to the eye visual adventure that is jam-packed with action, intrigue, and of course a laugh or two, courtesy of course from a stellar panel of writers which includes the likes of Alan Burnett, Stan Berkowitz and Alexx van Dyne.

Overall this is a great looking show with an excellent voice cast (though I still lament the loss of the first season’s theme music from U2’s The Edge), backed by enjoyable and action-packed stories that bring the five year long franchise to a satisfying conclusion.

A lot lighter in tone than season 1 (a trend that happened across the seasons), season 5 of The Batman will definitely entertain all the boys, plus their comic book enjoying dads! :)

(Not so sure about the girls though – wifey didn’t really enjoy the last couple of seasons of the show. Too silly for her she said…)

(Complete Viewing)

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Batman_%28TV_series%29

Review: Batman: Year One (2011) My Reviews 05 JAN 2012

“When Gotham City is in desperate need of heroes, two men take a stand for justice… but on opposite sides. Bruce Wayne returns home after years abroad to become a crime fighter, just as honest cop Lt. James Gordon moves to Gotham and finds corruption at every level. When Bruce becomes the masked vigilante Batman, the city explodes as the mob, his new nemesis Catwoman, and Gordon all close in!”

So another Batman movies enters the fantastic DC Universe Animated Original Movies stable, this time in the form of Batman: Year One, based on the classic Frank Miller’ and David Mazzucchelli’s ’87 story arc. Essentially a tale based in the start of Batman’s career and an exploration of how his relationship with Jim cemented itself, Batman: Year One is gritty, focused, and very much not an overblown, save the world super hero type of story – instead the spotlight hangs for the most part over James Gordon and his early tribulations as he tries to clean up in a very corrupt city, with of course the rather unwanted assistance of Gotham’s first masked vigilante!

Matching the subdued, dark tone of the story, the animation style employed resembles very closely the emotive art of Mazzucchelli, giving the film a very distinct, adult look, resulting in a truly good looking piece of work. Similarly, fantastic voice artist work from the likes of Benjamin McKenzie as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Bryan Cranston as Lt. James Gordon adds to the class already delivered by the stunning visuals, never mind the suitably moody and well arranged musical score that acts as the backdrop for this very serious tale that is being told.

In summary, Batman: Year One is a very, very good movie. Because the source material was already so cinematic in nature, directors Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery didn’t have to fiddle very much in bringing it to the silver screen, and so fans of the original comic arc will definitely be blown away by this fantastic adaptation, as will any other fans of the Dark Knight.

However, that said, I didn’t necessarily enjoy Batman: Year One. I appreciated it, yes, but perhaps it was a little too grounded and dark in tone for me to say that I loved it. However, despite my personal taste, there is no taking away from the fact that this is a VERY well made animated movie, a fantastic new entry into the DC animated movies stable, and most important of all, an excellent example of animation aimed for a mature audience done right.

Well worth picking up then.

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_Year_One_%28film%29

Review: The Batman (Season 4) Animation | My Reviews 29 DEC 2011

After three very solid seasons before it, the hit animated television series featuring everyone’s favourite caped crusader is back, and this time around it brings even more to the table.

With the Teen Titans show finally having closed its curtains, finally we get Robin added into the mix, and the decision is made to bring in a very young Robin, far younger than Batgirl who was introduced last season. One can only assume that the decision around this was twofold, one to carry on from where Teen Titans left off and try and poach those fans into coming over to this show, or two, try and broaden the market of kids actually watching the series.

Anyway, the addition of the young daredevil Dick Grayson brings even more light hearted moments to the show, and the childish and fun interactions between Batgirl and Robin adds another enjoyable dimension to the series, following the same “pulling back a little from the overwhelming dark” pattern that was first established by the third season when the decision to add Barbara and use her a bit like a comedic foil was carried out.

Nevertheless, despite this very apparent lightening of the tone of the show as a whole, Batman continues his further descent into the darkness, visibly maturing as he becomes even more confident and assured in his abilities as a vigilante, as well as in his role of being team leader to his young recruits.

As with the other seasons of the series, this season packs in 13 very cleverly written and action packed stories, though it still doesn’t feature an overarching storyline and instead opts to go the villain of the week approach. However, this series does pack in some brilliantly executed and pretty heavy stories, making it one again a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable watch from start to finish.

There are a couple of new characters thrown into the mix, and as such Jeff Matsuda once again manages to come up with some fantastic character designs, the result of which is a fairly stylized but well animated television show that uses its simple line approach to its fullest and provides the view with some brilliantly choreographed and then executed fight sequences!

Once again the voice artist team is top notch with Rino Romano leading the way as Batman/Bruce Wayne, backed up by a great soundtrack and theme music.

In summary, The Batman season 4 contains some of the strongest stories yet (like Artifacts and Seconds for example), features excellent action sequences with loads of new gadgets as per usual, and successfully expands on what is already a winning franchise – with the added bonus of some more than normal quips and light heartedness to make for an all around enjoyable and engaging show.

In other words, there is simply no way that comic book fans won’t be able to enjoy this one! :)

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Batman_%28TV_series%29