Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fables, 1001 Nights of Snowfall

Release Date: Hardcover: October 18, 2006
                          Trade Paperback: March 5, 2008

Cost: $16.99

Since 2002, Bill Willingham has been entertaining audiences with his comic book series Fables, a smart look at what happens after happily ever after. Willingham has appropriated hundreds of public domain fairy tale characters, such as Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf, and woven all of their stories into a single gripping epic that has become the heir apparent to Neil Gaiman’s magnum opus, The Sandman.

Fables focuses on the lives of fairy tale creatures forced out of their own magical kingdoms by the evil Adversary and living a secretive life in the “mundane” world of New York City. But what happened to all of these characters before issue #1? How did many of our favourite fairy tale heroes and villains get to where they are today?

Willingham attempts to satiate our curiosity in the graphic novel anthology 1001 Nights of Snowfall, a companion piece to the core stories of the Fables universe.

The main storyline of the graphic novel revolves around Snow White being sent to negotiate an alliance with the Arabian Fables against the Adversary. However, when she meets the Sultan she must tell a different story every night to prevent him from beheading her.

This nicely sets up the use of an anthology structure. Each story has a different artist, is a different length, and describes a different character’s history before issue #1. This structure allows Willingham and his team of artists to offer the reader a wide variety of tales. Some tales are horrific and disturbing, some are light and jovial, but all reveal a little more insight into the lives of fairy tales creature before the Adversary pushed them from their lands.

As with many anthologies, some stories work better than others. The powerhouse sections of the graphic novel are the tales involving Bigby, Snow White, and Frau Totenkinder as each tale helps to flesh out the important back-stories for these main characters. Other tales are not as successful; some, like the Mersey Dotes piece, seem like filler and others, like the King Cole section, go on for far too long.

In looking at the Sultan sections, I must confess that I never have been a big fan of comic books that are set up in novel format with a large section of text beside a picture. This has always seemed to me to play against the established conventions of comic books by providing the reader with too few visual cues. I have also felt that it is somewhat pretentious, as if comic book writers are trying to overcome their own inadequacies by demonstrating to the world that they can write outside of little word balloons.

Those minor quibbles aside 1001 Nights of Snowfall is a solid read and welcome edition to the other Fables trade paperbacks already on my shelf. It retails for about $16.99 and it took me about 2 hours to read. Anyone who is already a Fables fan will get $8.50 per hour of entertainment value out of it, but for anyone who isn’t a already a fan my advice would be to read the series first and then pick up this anthology.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

God of War: Chains of Olympus

Platform: Sony Playstation Portable
Release Date: March 4, 2008
Rating: M
Cost: $40

When the original God of War was released for the PSP in 2005 it blew away both fans and critics alike. Sharp graphics, excellent gameplay, and a compelling story made it one of the best games for the PS2 and an instant killer app. This was followed up in 2007 with an impressive sequel that sought to expand on the storyline, character development, and gruesome decapitations found in the first game.

So now in 2008 God of War has made the transition to the small screen of the PSP and fans of the series will not be disappointed.

As with its PS2 counterparts the game carries on the classical tradition with a nod to (and retelling of ) Greek mythology. The main story focuses on Kratos “the ghost of Sparta” a formidable warrior in the service of the gods. The story is far from spectacular but it works and manages to add some interesting plot points to the overall saga of Kratos. As this game is meant to be a prequel to the PS2 epics, there are some neat little story elements near the end that nicely set up the original God of War.

At first I was thrown off by the PSP controls, but by the end of the first level I had made the adjustment. The gameplay throughout is solid, and I am constantly amazed at how the series manages to use a fixed camera in a way that is not bothersome. (One of my pet peeves is “death by camera”.) Kratos has some great moves, weapons, and magic, but veterans of the series might be left wanting more. There are fewer moves, fewer weapons, fewer magic choices, and fewer bosses than either of the previous two God of War games. Overall the game just has less of everything. 

The game’s weakest point is its length. The game took me about four hours to finish on the easiest difficulty level. Some will find the game far too short and barely worth the effort, but there is some replay value in completing the game again and attempting the insanely hard “Challenge of Hades”. It should be noted that portable system games are often shorter than their home console counterparts, so all of you super-nerds could think of this as little break from your 100 hour RPGs. Usually I don’t mind if a game is short (I would rather have 4 great hours than 20 boring ones), but I was left wanting more at the end of this one.

So what is the value of God of War: Chains of Olympus? If we break down the cost by hours of entertainment we get $10 per hour. Not bad, but not great either. If you are already a fan of the series pick it up now (you’ll get $40 worth of enjoyment), but anyone else should rent it or wait to find a used copy.