Monday, 30 August 2010
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal
Published by Ubisoft, Universal Studios
Genre Beat 'em up, RPG
Platform Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network
Release date(s) August 25th 2010
One could be forgiven for thinking that Bryan Lee O'Malley has sold out, with his critically acclaimed comic book series Scott Pilgrim being adapted this month into both a big budget Hollywood film and a licensed videogame by Ubisoft, a company with a history of crappy licensed games. Comic book adaptions and licensed videogames are usually terrible, it's one of life's most painfully consistent truths. Fortunately, any fears I may have had were dispelled after roughly five seconds of starting up this game.
For those who don't know, the Scott Pilgrim comics are essentially the I Ching of mid twenties slackers. Scott Pilgrim is a archetypal twenty something male; plays bass in a band, unemployed, never quite grew out of college, skeezy enough to be dating a 17 year old and going nowhere fast.
To most people it's a mundane existence, but in the melodramatic frame of Pilgrim's pop culture and videogame obsessed mind it's a cataclysmic battle between good and evil. Every inch of this world is interpreted for us in this context through his eyes; objects and activities are intermittently given videogame style status indicators, daily life is a collection of statistics and levelling up, and conflict is resolved through over the top anime/street fighter styled combat. Scott Pilgrim meets the girl of his dreams, literally, and in order to be with her he must defeat her seven evil exes.
Videogame culture permeates everything about this series, so it makes perfect sense that the videogame adaption should be a retro throwback celebrating the 8/16-bit era complete with stylized graphics (from legendary pixel artist Paul Robertson), classic gameplay, and above all nostalgic music (from legendary chiptune band Anamanaguchi).
The graphics really are quite fantastic for anyone who is a fan of that old school style, but doesn't feel archaic, with enough flash and style to compare favourably to any game on XBLA. While I adored the style from the first moment I started the game up, I can imagine that this might not be the case for anyone who was not a gamer back in the early 90s, or is not especially enamoured with the old schol style.
The music as well deserves special note for being mind meltingly awesome. Anamanaguchi is known as the biggest name in chiptune music and you can see why from playing this game. Each track of the soundtrack is perfect; nostalgic and fitting for each specific setting. It really is almost worth the price of the game for this reason alone.
The gameplay meanwhile harkens back to classic streets of rage style 2d scrolling beat 'em ups, with stat building RPG elements and stores in which to spend all the coins you pick up from fallen enemies. I've spoken a lot about the style of the game, but Ubisoft have done a very good job at creating some fun gameplay, simple enough to get into but with different moves and plenty to keep you playing for a while.
Unfortunately, the game design itself is somewhat ill considered. Clearly this game is designed to be played with multiplayer, and indeed there is fantastic 4 player co-op in this game. Hoever, playing solo can be a frustrating and repetitive affair due to the difficulty which is balanced towards 4 players, requiring a solo gamer to grind and level up. In addition, there is inexplicably no online mode present, nor is there the option for extra players to drop in and out during gameplay.
In addition, Scott Pilgrim recreates many of the limitations of games from this era. Controls and collision detection feels a bit rough around the edges, while depth perception can be frustrating, particularly on one level which takes place on the roof of a bus where moving too close to the edges results in falling off.
If you have a couple of friends to play with, or the persistence to get through it on your own, then I fully recommend this game. Even if you have neither of those things, it's worth checking out just to play a few levels and absorb the geek chic awesomeness (at 800 microsoft pts, it's not especially pricey).
Old school graphics
Old school music
Frustrating solo gameplay
Lack of multiplayer options
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
It doesn't seem like too long ago that the world was enraptured by the great carnival of football that is the World Cup. As such the new season has somewhat snuck up on us and believe it or not there are just 9 days until everything kicks off again.
Last year Carlo Ancelotti made history by becoming the first manager ever to win the league and FA Cup double in his first season, silencing his many critics in the process. Meanwhile Arsenal surprised many by challenging with the big boys and showing that you don't need a sugar daddy to compete; though if Manchester City have anything to say about it, it will certainly help.
It promises to be an exciting year at the other end of the table too, with new boys Blackpool are still hungover from celebrating their first ever year in the Premier League. Meanwhile, old stalwarts Newcastle are back at the top level after just one year in the wilderness.
At the time of writing, there have been astonishingly few major signings to speak of, and with time running out the pressure is very much on.
In this guide we preview each and every team, run the rule over their key signings and players to watch and then fill you in on our carefully considered predictions for the season ahead.
Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Position last season: 3rd
Manager: Arsene Wenger (September 1996)
Arsenal are always an interesting team to watch; you're never quite sure with them if you're going to get champagne or bucks fizz.
For a number of years now they have not really been competing with the top teams for the title, but last year suddenly they found themselves in with a shout right up until the death. Undoubtedly, much of this has to do with the quite surprisingly poor performance of both Chelsea and Manchester United as well as heavy injuries both sides incurred, but a great deal of credit must go to Arsene Wenger. Wenger continues to impress on a shoestring budget as Arsenal continue to pay off stadium debts, and only a few world class talents to work with.
Have signed the centre forward they so desperately needed, but Arsenal's defence remains a very real concern with the likes of Gallas leaving and only the untested Koscielny brought in as replacement. Considering their defence wasn't much to be proud of before, this is a big concern. The lack of of a quality goalkeeper also led to problems last season, and as of yet nothing has been done to remedy this.
Key Signing: Marouane Chamakh
Key Man: Cesc Fabregas
If they were a Hollywood movie: Red Dawn; a group of ragtag youngsters take the fight to the all powerful Russian(s).
Verdict: Will be relying on poor form and/or injuries from their more illustrious rivals, but if last season is anything to go by and their opposition players' age begins to catch up with them then anything could happen. Their best chance to win the title in years.
Nickname: The Villans
Ground: Villa Park
Last season: 6th
Manager: Martin O'Neill (August 2006)
One has to give a lot of credit to Aston Villa, who continue to play good football and cause headaches for the big boys (albeit inconsistently). Martin O'Neill has turned them into a really top side, built around one of the league's strongest defences and most experienced goalkeepers. They are additionally blessed with pacey, young attacking talent that can trouble even the biggest names on a good day, as Man United found out last year.
But just as Villa were once considered to be gaining on the big four, the rest of the top eight now seem to be gaining on them. Spurs and City overtook them last year, Liverpool will be keen to bounce back from last year, and Everton are quietly growing in strength under David Moyes.
Have yet to strengthen the side, and with rumours suggesting that star player James Milner is set to leave to Man City there is the feeling that this could be a much tougher season for the plucky side.
Key Signing: None yet.
Key Man: James Milner (if he stays)
If they were a Hollywood movie: You've Got Mail; likable independent gets screwed over by "the man", ends up in bed with the enemy.
Verdict: Could be a step backwards after a number of good years for the club.
Ground: St. Andrew's
Last season: 9th
Manager: Alex McLeish (November 2007)
Definitely the surprise package of last season, McLeish's Birmingham achieved a very impressive run of games that took them into the top half of the league in their first season back in the Premier League, just one place behind the so called big eight. Much of this can be attributed to a formidable defence featuring Roger Johnson, Stephen Carr and Joe Hart in goal.
But now Hart has gone back to Man City, and ex Man United goalkeeper Ben Foster has been brought in on a permanent deal to replace him. Foster was once a hotly tipped property before he collapsed at United, and his resurgence in form will be vital for any hopes Birmingham have of repeating their top half success this season.
Elsewhere, Crouch-esque Valencia striker Nikola Zigic has been signed and pundits will be anxious to see if he lives up to billing. If Birmingham have finally found themselves a consistent striker then this will be a marvellous deal for the club.
Key Signing: Nikola Zigic
Key Man: Stephen Carr
If they were a Hollywood movie: Braveheart; the Scotsman leads his hardened warriors with vim and vigour, but it may not be enough.
Verdict: Unlikely to repeat last season's heroics, but should be safely in mid table.
Ground: Ewood Park
Last season: 10th
Manager: Sam Allardyce (December 2008)
Allardyce rarely disappoints, and his tenure at Blackburn is proving to be no exception.
Last season we got the first look at the tough, miserly, and distinctly "Allardyce" team that is being crafted and Blackburn, and Ewood park became one of the most feared grounds in the country to play at towards the end. Might even have done better had David Dunn managed to remain fit for any reasonable period of time.
Rumoured to be looking for another striker, with Dindane, Beattie and Jo the likely targets. As yet no signings though.
Key Signing: None yet.
Key Man: David Dunn
If they were a Hollywood movie: Fight Club; always cruisin' for a bruisin'.
Verdict: A top half finish by no means certain, but unlikely to move much from where they finished last season.
Ground: Bloomfield Road
Last season: Promoted (playoffs)
Manager: Ian Holloway (May 2009)
At long last, Ian Holloway has made it into the Premier League. Consistently one of the most quotable managers in the game, he is sure to liven things up for all of us. Unfortunately his stay in this division may be short lived.
Blackpool finished in the lowest possible position from which one can qualify, 6th, and then won promotion through unlikely circumstances in the playoffs.
In addition to a tough away game filled start to the season as a result of ground work, there is reported disharmony amongst the team. Player antipathy towards the chairman, and a poor financial situation that has seen players stripped of their bonuses leaves the team in some dire straits during a time in which they really have to pull together in order to have any chance of survival.
Key Signing: None yet.
Key Man: Jason Euell
If they were a Hollywood movie: 300; so much heart, but you know they're going to die before the movie even begins.
Verdict: Likely to go back down.
Ground: Reebok Stadium
Last season: 14th
Manager: Owen Coyle (January 2010)
Looked to be heading down last season until appointing Burnley's miracle working manager Owen Coyle at the helm, and it's no coincidence that Burnley promptly became the third team to get relegated.
This first full season at the Reebok will be all about getting the team to play his style of football and preparing a base on which to build for the future, but make no mistake, in Coyle they have the right man for the job.
Some decent signings so far, including Robbie Blake, Ivan Klasnic, and most notable Martin Petrov. Must avoid relegation this season, far from certain but should pull it off.
Key Signing: Martin Petrov
Key Man: Kevin Davies
If they were a Hollywood movie: Dirty Dozen; he's the right man for the job, but can he assemble a team to get the job done?
Verdict: Priority will be to stay up, but Coyle should manage.
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Last season: Champions
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti (June 2009)
Ancelotti came to the club with a lot of pressure, and a good deal of doubt amongst the fans. Indeed, following the incredible success he saw in his first season (winning the club's first ever league and FA Cup double) it is easy to forget that this was very much a touch and go season characterised by inconsistency. Chelsea may have set goal scoring records and won almost every player award available, but it was hardly them at their best.
In addition the team is now getting older, with key players Drogba, Lampard and Terry moving into their 30s. Ideally the club would be able to rely on younger players like Cech, Essien and Alex, if not for the bizarrely injury prone nature of their squad which saw them play a larger number of different players than any other team last season. A few fairly prominent players have even left the club, with Ballack, Deco both leaving and Carvalho potentially to follow.
As of yet the club has not strengthened the team much at all, with just Benayoun in at the time of writing, and Ramires due to be confirmed any day now. With the weakness of this squad, plus the lack of signings, it is obvious that Chelsea will be relying more and more on their youth players who made a fair few appearances last season and will now be looking to break into the first team.
Key Signing: Ramires
Key Man: Frank Lampard
If they were a Hollywood movie: Titanic; expensive, hyped, depressing.
Verdict: Though most pundits are lazily tipping them for the title, I can't really see it happening unless there are a number of signings between now and September 1st, or if players like Essien, Cech, Ashley Cole and Drogba can stay uncharacteristically injury free. A chance for youth to shine, but unlikely to be ready just yet.
Ground: Goodison Park
Last season: 8th
Manager: David Moyes (March 2002)
David Moyes has always impressed at Everton, consistently placing among the fringes of the top tier of the league despite a dearth of quality and resources. However in recent years with all the influx of money into Aston Villa, Man City and Spurs they are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain pace, and this looks unlikely to change this year.
So far have only signed a few young prospects, nothing really to strengthen the squad majorly aside from some extra depth up front. The inability to bring Landon Donovan back in is a blow, but this team still has a highly talented midfield featuring the likes of Tim Cahill, Steven Pienaar, Jack Rodwell and Mikel Arteta which can cause any team problems on their day.
Key Signing: Jermaine Beckford
Key Man: Tim Cahill
If they were a Hollywood movie: Mission Impossible; undeniably talented, well organised, but face a near impossible task.
Verdict: Again, will probably be around the same place as they end up every year, barring a miracle or a disaster.
Latest club news
Ground: Craven Cottage
Last season: 12th
Manager: Mark Hughes (July 2010)
Roy Hodgson has done an amazing job to turn Fulham around into a comfortable Premiership team, a feat which culminated last season in a Europa League final place that they damn near won. But now he's off to Liverpool, and frankly one might expect the worst at Fulham in his absence.
They've found themselves a capable replacement in Mark Hughes, but he will have little time to adapt the team to his style of management in a league like this. Have strengthened reasonable well with Philippe Senderos and Jonathan Greening but could do with more strength up front along with Bobby Zamora.
Key Signing: Philippe Senderos
Key Man: Bobby Zamora
If they were a Hollywood movie: The Fountain; following the loss of central pillar Brad Pitt from the project, a risky replacement must be called in. Let's hope Mark Hughes steps up to the challenge better than Hugh Jackman did.
Verdict: Strong enough to stay up, but unlikely to match up to the accomplishments of Hodgson, right away at least.
Last season: 7th
Manager: Roy Hodgson (July 2010)
Liverpool are a funny team, and a lot of people took pleasure in their disastrous season last year. But the fact is that Liverpool are better than that. Perhaps they need a fresh take from a new manager (and Hodgson is more than qualified for the challenge), or perhaps they simply need star players who don't get injured as often as Torres. But for whatever reason, they should do better than they did last year.
That being said, their squad still lacks depth. While they have made some 'interesting' additions to the squad, it's nothing that will make up for another major injury to Fernando Torres. On the plus side, they can be thankful that both Torres and Gerrard appear to be resisting overtures to move on to pastures greener.
Key Signing: Joe Cole
Key Man: Fernando Torres
If they were a Hollywood movie: Animal House; languishing in squalor and mediocrity, seeking an infusion of new blood to become relevant
Verdict: Should improve, but unlikely to reach their former heights.
Ground: City of Manchester Stadium
Last season: 5th
Manager: Roberto Mancini (December 2009)
After coming within a hair of Champions League qualification last season, they begin this year not just with an eye to going one better, but going the whole hog and challenging for the title.
Have strengthened their squad on a scale that exceeds even Chelsea back in their big spending heyday, and certainly eclipses any of the big teams this season. Their shaky defence has been bolstered by Boateng and Kolarov, whilst they have added yet more depth to their attacking talent with David Silva, and the box to box midfielder Yaya Touré.
Still questions remain over the manager Roberto Mancini, and the defensive partnership of Kolo Touré and Joleon Lescott which right now doesn't even come close to justifying the combined price tage in excess of 40 million pounds spent on those two players.
Key Signing: Yaya Touré
Key Man: Carlos Tevez
If they were a Hollywood movie: Ocean's 12; expensively assembled team of big name stars, but lacking in new ideas or a coherent plot
Verdict: If the team can gel quickly, there is no reason they can't challenge for the title, especially considering how weak the other big teams look this year.
Nickname: Red Devils
Ground: Old Trafford
Last season: 2nd
Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson (November 1986)
Last season was one to forget for Manchester United. Wayne Rooney had a fantastic year, but apare from him their squad looked very mediocre, slow and still far too reliant on ageing stars like Giggs and Scholes.
This season could be Sir Alex's last, and he has sought to address these problems, bringing in the likes of Javier Hernández, who looks a talent. Rio Ferdinand's recent injury problems are also a concern as they head into the new season.
Aside from Rio, however, their squad appears to be more durable and less injury prone than the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal, and over the course of a long season this could be crucial. Expect them to be there or there abouts whatever happens.
Key Signing: Javier Hernández
Key Man: Wayne Rooney
If they were a Hollywood movie: Rocky Balboa; not as fresh or as good as they once were, but can still hold their own against the best. One last big push for glory before retirement.
Verdict: The top few clubs are very hard to separate this season, but the combination of wily management, talented players and luck should see them finish the year as champions.
Ground: St. James' Park
Last season: Promoted (1st)
Manager: Chris Hughton (September 2008)
It didn't take long for Newcastle to bounce back to the Premier League. A team clearly too good for the Championship, now they must contend once again with the challenges of the top flight.
Chris Hughton has done a remarkable job stabilising a club in freefall, something which all the big names and expensive signings who came before him could not do. Now he must take on the next step, which is turning them back into Premier League mainstays.
Won't return to the Newcastle of old overnight, but it's hard to see them going back down.
Key Signing: Dan Gosling
Key Man: Kevin Nolan
If they were a Hollywood movie: The Comeback Kid; self explanatory really.
Verdict: Should have enough about them to stay up fairly comfortably.
Ground: Britannia Stadium
Last season: 11th
Manager: Tony Pulis (June 2006)
Had a very good season last year, collecting a number of big scalps. Much of this success was built on a strong defence featuring the likes of Sorensen in goal and Shawcross at the heart of the back line.
Lack of funds for investment will make their task all the more difficult this season and the club could well slip down from last season.
Still have the throw ins of Rory Delap to rely on.
Key Signing: Carlo Nash
Key Man: Rory Delap
If they were a Hollywood movie: Happy Gilmore; a fairly poor star player with one incredible trick that can often win games
Verdict: Unlikely to live up to the heights of last season.
Nickname: Black Cats
Ground: Stadium of Light
Last season: 13th
Manager: Steve Bruce (June 2009)
Last year was better from them, Steve Bruce knows how to run a club. I expect them to continue to put in similarly solid performances without really pushing for a top half finish.
You know you have problems when your star signing in the summer is Titus Bramble, an ex player for your biggest rivals no less.
Darren Bent, it seems, keeps getting better and better and his goal haul every season is really something to admire. He will be central to any success they have this season.
Key Signing: Titus Bramble
Key Man: Darren Bent
If they were a Hollywood movie: Bowfinger; fairly irrelevant, making a stab for glory featuring the kid brother of a world beater (Anton Ferdinand).
Verdict: More slow improvement under Bruce.
Latest club news
Ground: White Hart Lane
Last season: 4th
Manager: Harry Redknapp (October 2008)
Harry does it again. Another top year for the man from London saw Spurs finally reach their goal of Champions League qualification, claiming some major scalps along the way with some great performances.
Repeating the feat this season will be tough with Man City breathing down their necks and Liverpool looking to get back into the big leagues, but they've got as good a squad and as good a manager as anyone.
Injury prone key players are a concern, and so far youngster Sandro is the only reinforcement made by the club this season. A deadly group of Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe, Michael Dawson and Aaron Lennon form the British core of this team.
Key Signing: Sandro
Key Man: Gareth Bale
If they were a Hollywood movie: Love Actually; great British cast, pleasing to watch, ultimately lacking in substance or significance.
Verdict: Key thing is to stay among the top 4 and keep getting into the Champions League, that may prove too much for them.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Latest club news
Ground: The Hawthorns
Last season: Promoted (2nd)
Manager: Roberto DiMatteo (July 2009)
Promotion at the first attempt is a highly impressive start to Roberto DiMatteo's tenure at West Brom, but will face a far greater challenge to keep them up.
To reach this end, the club has strengthened well, adding Nicky Shorey, Boaz Myhill and Steven Reid to the squad, among others. But otherwise the squad looks pretty think in quality for a Premier League team.
Key Signing: Nicky Shorey
Key Man: Scott Carson
If they were a Hollywood movie: The Road; sometimes survival is the best one can hope for.
Verdict: Will struggle to stay up, likely to be involved in the relegation battle.
WEST HAM UNITED
Ground: Upton Park
Last season: 17th
Manager: Avram Grant (June 2010)
Survived last season by the skin of their teeth, largely due to the off the pitch disruptions caused by new owners. Naturally the manager got the blame and Zola was promptly sacked.
Avram Grant's stock has really come up in recent years following his bizarre stint at Chelsea and he is the man to take the reins for this season. He has his work cut out for him and has wasted no time in signing new players, including Hitzlsperger, Piquionne and Tal Ben-Haim, whilst strangely releasing Guillermo Franco for free after a strong World Cup.
Personally I can't wait to see arch rivals Chelsea and West Ham go to head this season, with Avram desperate to attain some victory against his old club who so unceremoniously ditched him.
Key Signing: Thomas Hitzlsperger
Key Man: Scott Parker
If they were a Hollywood movie: Are Wer There Yet?; constantly promising a future of great things, but always slipping back into familiar trappings.
Verdict: Should stay up, possibly pushing higher into midtable.
Ground: JJB Stadium
Last season: 16th
Manager: Roberto Martinez (June 2009)
Just about survived last season despite two record breaking defeats, 8-0 to Chelsea and 9-1 to Tottenham. That being said they also beat Chelsea in the reverse fixture along with Arsenal, so clearly this is a club where achieving some consistency will be key this season.
The team has strengthened, but it's also lost a few important players. Alarm bells should be ringing for any team that concedes more than 8 goals twice in one season, and I wonder if they've really been heeded here. Almost certain to be involved in the relegation battle, despite the goals of Hugo Rodallega.
Key Signing: Ronnie Stam
Key Man: Hugo Rodallega
If they were a Hollywood movie: 2012; a disaster waiting to happen in every sense.
Verdict: Will struggle to stay up.
Ground: Molineux Stadium
Last season: 15th
Manager: Mick McCarthy (July 2006)
Mick McCarthy, as expected, did a fantastic job with them last season and kept them in the top flight. Now it is time to consolidate the club's position in the first set of consecutive top flight seasons since the 1980s.
Hunt, Fletcher and Van Damme are all very good signings, and every indication is that McCarthy is preparing them well for the year ahead. However, there is always the danger of them suffering from the common affliction of second-season-itis.
Key Signing: Steven Fletcher
Key Man: Kevin Doyle
If they were a Hollywood movie: Dog soldiers; wolves are on the prowl, and just like the werewolf outbreak in the movie only gets minor headlines compared to bigger football news, the club's notoriety is likely to stay similarly shadowed.
Verdict: McCarthy will give it his best, but will it be enough?
1. Manchester United
4. Manchester City
7. Aston Villa
13. Newcastle United
16. West Ham
17. Wolverhampton Wanderers
19. West Brom