Summer Vacation!


That’s right, folks: I’m taking my annual Birthday Vacation a little early this year and heading up north for the next couple of days. But don’t worry, you’ll still have a little content to occupy your time while I’m gone with my yearly tradition of using my days off to post nothing but… Well, you know what they are by now.

And away we go!



I’ll be back next week, kids. Don’t break anything while I’m gone.


For more kid-friendly face-kicking excitement, grab the new digest of Chris Giarrusso’s Mini Marvels.

The Aggressively Japanese Excitement of The World Ends With You

So a few weeks ago, I was looking for a new DS game to play because–and I’m being totally honest here–Contra 4 is just too damn hard. Seriously, Easy Mode? No problem, I can bust right through. But once you set that thing on Medium, well… Let’s just say that if I’d been in charge back in the ’80s, we’d all be speaking Red Falcon right now.

In any case, I’d done all I could with it, and since the new Castlevania won’t be out ’til October, I had to find something to fill the gap, and settled on this…


The World Ends With You


RPGs–and especially JRPGs–aren’t really my thing, so I was a little apprehensive. I mean, the last one I played that I gave a crap about that didn’t have the words “Paper” or “Mario” in the title was probably Final Fantasy X, and even those fond memories are somewhat tainted by the fact that, well-endowed goth girl calling down lightning on your enemies aside, your main character was the dream of an ancient civilization whose father was a sea monster or something, which is a job that requires you to wear the stupidest outfit ever.

Beyond that, though, there’s the simple fact that it’s just not my favorite genre. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that, at least when you’re discussing the traditional Square game, they don’t offer the same sense of accomplishment. In other kinds of games, you get better as you play, like in Grand Theft Auto IV. The driving in the game can be awkward at first, but with enough practice, you’ll be drifting around corners and exchanging small arms fire with an entire police precinct in no time.

With RPGs, though, the emphasis is on the characters rather than the player, so it’s impossible to be good at them. You just have to be patient, because anybody with enough time to kill can level their guy up to Supreme Badass and get a Sun Crest or whatever and thoroughly demolish whatever token resistance the game offers up in the guise of a challenge.

Sure, there are games that manage to combine the two pretty well, like the stat system in San Andreas, and as much as I love Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the games modeled after it, there’s enough pointless grinding in them to breed a hundred Golden Chocobos, but they’re not easy to come by.

So needless to say, I was going into it as a skeptic, but it got some dynamite reviews, and with the urging of The Rack’s Benjamin Birdie, I decided to pick it up, even though it’s ten bucks more than any other DS title on the market.

It should be noted at this point that Birdie hadn’t actually played the game and was just really excited about the reviews. That’s just how he rolls.

In any case, he wasn’t entirely wrong, but within a few minutes of starting up, I knew it was either going to be fantastic or just awful, and even now, the only way I can think to describe it is aggressively Japanese.

Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s pretty obvious even before you get to the bat-shit crazy gameplay elements–which I’ll get to in a second–that the game designers are going to do their level best to hit every single RPG cliché that they can.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: You are fifteen year-old Neku Sakubara, and the game opens with you waking up with a ludicrously spiky haircut and a pesky case of amnesia in a world where the maximum age seems to cap out at around 22. Neku, as you might imagine, is a loner who can be heard to say things like, and I’m quoting here, “I’m not opening up to anyone. Ever. Other people just hold me back. I can do things my own way.”

As it so happens, you’re part of a mysterious Game where the object is to survive for seven days, which, coincidentally is also the plot of Ice-T’s landmark 1994 epic, Surviving the Game, but with Tokyo’s Shibuya district substituting for the Pacific Northwest.

Also, instead of being hunted by Gary Busey–which I think we can all agree would be terrifying–you’re given missions and obstacles buy guys in red hoodies called Reapers, which can only be overcome by teaming with a partner, starting with Shiki, who appears to be a Rastafarian child prostitute:



Shiki, in a stunning plot twist that turns the standard RPG love interest role on its ear, is a shrill but devoted harridan who puts up with Neku calling her a stalker and insulting her handmade stuffed animals and–buckle up, because this is wild–totally falls in love with him anyway once he learns a lesson about friendship and the value of other people.

And once she shows up, that’s where the game starts to get strange.

The combat is the game’s strongest point by far; everything’s done with the touch screen in a way that’s a lot like Phantom Hourglass–which was a great interface that was almost broken by the annoyances of the game it was wrapped around–and when you go into combat, you have different Materia–sorry, pins that are activated by different motions with the stylus. It’s intuitive, but thanks to the way you can stack different abilities that are activated with the same motion, it also brings some interesting customization into play.

Once Shiki joins your party, though, the combat system decides that it’s time to flip right out. From that point on, battles are fought like this: On the bottom screen, you’ve got Neku and his materia–sorry, pins, moving around and fighting against multiple enemies in real-time combat. On the top screen, you have your partner, fighting the same enemies with a completely different control system, which in Shiki’s case involves trying to do attacks with the d-pad that match up to ESP cards at the top of the screen in what amounts to playing a game of Memory while you are also playing an actual video game on the bottom screen.

It’s complicated, and it only gets moreso once you get to your second partner, who does the same thing–and I promise I am not making this up–but with math. I’m sure there’s a certain kind of person out there who would be so into that, but I’m not him.

Fortunately, the designers realized this and put an option in there where you can tell the other person to fight their own damn battles while you’re busy doing the majority of the work, but seeing as you and your partner share hit points, it takes a pretty crucial element of the game out of my hands. And even though the game does tend to fight a hell of a lot better than I would anyway, it’s a little disconcerting.

This is what sets the pace for the rest of the game: For everything new and different, there’s something bizarre or counterintuitive to balance it out. There are no Random Encounters and you can fight pretty much whenever you want (which is great), but the story’s so bound to its rails that I got stuck on the first puzzle–THE FIRST PUZZLE–because I couldn’t just go and do what I needed to do. Instead, I had to go to another screen, read someone’s mind, make sure I was reading it while I was standing close to him so that I could then talk to him about what he just told me, and then go do the thing I figured out I needed to do like twenty minutes ago.

And then there’s the trend-following aspect of the game, where in addition to their normal benefits, each piece of equipment has a brand, and certain brands are in and out of fashion in certain neighborhoods. Which means that potentially, on each screen, the same equipment can have benefits or detriments. To which I said “Screw that,” and to which the game replied “Okay, whatever, if you wear the same stuff in an area long enough, that stuff’ll get popular there anyway,” which is a nice touch but would seem to make things needlessly complex when all I want to do is shoot monsters with an ability called “Sexy Beam.”

Plus, I’m not sure if a game that prominently features a character like this has any place to lecture me about fashion:



I might own three t-shirts with Galactus on them, but even I know that a long-sleeve halter top, half-corset, Daisy Dukes, and white Go-Go boots don’t quite go together, even if you tie it all together with a pair of wrought-iron fence wings.

And that’s not even the weirdest part, which is that this is the first game that I’ve ever played that actively encourages you to not play it. Seriously, you can level up your Pins to make your attacks stronger, but in addition to getting points from fighting battles, you get points for the time that you’re not playing the game. Which means that while I’m off doing work or watching TV or reading comics or even playing another game, The World Ends With You is leveling itself up. And the fact that it’s an RPG where I can get experience while I’m playing a mediocre platformer with a ridiculous name like Megaman ZX Advent (BONUS REVIEW: It is not very good) might just make this the best RPG ever.

Of course, the fact that I like an RPG that can essentially play itself half the time probably says a lot more about me than it does about The World Ends With You.

In any case, it wasn’t exactly the eye-opening revelation that sends me running back to RPGs, and its major diversion from the formula seems to amount to having a main character who doesn’t tote around an eight-foot broadsword, but it’s a solid game that does its job well and with a heck of a lot of style.

And also you fight bears. Lots and lots of bears.

The 100% True* Rumor Report: San Diego ComicCon Edition

As you all probably know, this is a huge weekend for news of the comics industry as publishers make their biggest announcements of the year at San Diego’s ComicCon International!

Unfortunately, while SDCC rages on into the night with a non-stop party machine driven by guys like Kevin Church and Bully, I’m stuck over here on the East Coast, which is a shame, because believe it or not, I was actually invited to be on a panel this year. Still, I’m not going to let a little matter of 3,000 miles keep me away from the breaking news, so I’ve been on the phone all day with trusted sources and I’ve been Twittering up a storm to bring you the news that you won’t be seeing anywhere else!


Marvel Comics


  • Sources report that the House of Ideas is going to be expanding their “Marvel Bestselling Authors” line, rechristening it as “Marvel Bestselling Artists”–including recording artists! First up, fan-favorite writer Matt Fraction teams with Amazing Spider-Man‘s Phil Jiminez for a six-issue series that shows what happens when a young man gets everything he always wanted… and doesn’t live happily ever after in Skee-Lo’s I Wish.

    Future plans include a multi-part epic of urban warfare, starting with Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em v.1: Now Watch Me Do.

  • With the upcoming movie just over the horizon, Marvel’s tapped indie superstar Chip Zdarsky, of Monster Cops fame, to write and draw a 48-page Giant Size Dazzler one-shot to reintroduce Allison Blaire to a new generation of fans!
  • Adam Warren’s Master of Kung Fu? Still rejected. Early con reports confirm that Marvel does in fact hate joy.
  • In addition to the new Nick Fury ongoing by Brian Bendis and The Nightly News’s Jonathan Hickman, the events of Secret Invasion will also lead to the dramatic return of U.S. 1 by Dan Slott and Juan Bobillo, as well as an all-new ROM: Spaceknight series from Christos Gage and Leonard Kirk!
  • Marvel plans on returning the Educational Comic to bookstore shelves with a new historical series from their popular Marvel Adventures line of kids’ books. Writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon are probably more well-known for their Mature Readers fare, but the series promises to show off their talents in a way that we can learn from as well as enjoy:



DC Comics


  • Editor Jann Jones announced a new Johnny DC title: WORLD’S BEST FRIENDS by Tiny Titans’ Art Baltazar and Franco. Done in the style of the classic Haney/Aparo Brave and the Bold, the series will be a Krypto the Super-Dog team-up book that debuts with Rex the Wonder Dog in battle against Destructo!
  • Jann Jones will also be editing a new Brother Power the Geek revival by J. Torres and Rick Burchett, which she described as “a cross between Mannequin, Donald Sutherland’s scenes in Kelly’s Heroes and [Mickey Spillaine’s] I, the Jury.”
  • Breaking news from the hotel bar: After a respectable six Appletinis, DC honcho Dan Didio let it slip that Grant Morrison’s Batman: RIP will in fact end with the death of Bruce Wayne, who will be replaced under the cowl by a more brutal hero from the past: Jack Wheeler, the Quad Cities’ own Wild Dog!
  • And the biggest news from the convention…

  • With the opening of the Watchmen movie, DC’s going to be re-examining the groundbreaking series for the first time in over twenty years! It all starts in the pages of Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley’s Trinity, which will spin out into a weekly, four-issue mini-series by Keith Champagne and Scott McDaniel called Crisis On Earth-4, where the Big 3 take on a power-mad, world-dominating Dr. Manhattan for the sake of the multiverse.
  • Even better, the Watchmen Universe is going to be expanded with four one-shots timed for a weekly release in the run-up to the movie: Rorschach by Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee, Nite-Owl by Judd Winick and Ethan Van Sciver, Silk Spectre by writer/artist Terry Moore, and Ozymandias, by J. Michael Straczynski and Dale Eaglesham. All of this leads up to…
  • A new hardcover graphic novel: Tales of the Watchmen, by Geoff Johns and Alex Ross!



    At 96 pages, this will be Ross’s most ambitious work in ten years. Said Johns, “Our goal is to do exactly what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons intended, using their story as a springboard to tell other fantastic tales of the characters in this world.”


Pretty exciting stuff, and we haven’t even hit the weekend yet! Stay tuned for more con news that you won’t be seeing anywhere else, only on the ISB!


*: Truth percentage may be slightly exaggerated.