Disney's Stitch: Experiment 626 PlayStation 2 Video Game Review

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This review was originally written on October 11, 2012
Camera & Controls Make The Game Harder Than It Is, Worthless Unlockables, Flying Through Rings!!!

Disney's Stitch: Experiment 626 (re-released in Disney Classics packaging) is a 3D platformer based on characters from the 2002 animated Disney film "Lilo & Stitch", and is billed on the back of the case as a prequel to that film. As such, do not expect to see Lilo, Nani, or Pleakley in the game - though Stitch, Dr. Jumba Jookiba, Captain Gantu, and Dr. Habbitrale are all here.

STORY

If you've never seen the "Lilo & Stitch" movie, here's a brief synopsis of the events that take place at the start of the film:

Dr. Jumba Jookiba is put on trial by the Galactic Order for illegal genetic experiments, including his latest creation, Experiment 626: an aggressive and cunning creature that is nearly indestructible. Jumba is imprisoned while Experiment 626 is set to be exiled on a desert asteroid. However, 626 escapes during transport on Captain Gantu's ship. 626 hijacks a police spacecraft, but finding himself outnumbered and outgunned, activates the hyperdrive and eventually crash lands on Earth. The Grand Councilwoman orders Jumba to work with Agent Pleakley to recover 626 discreetly. 626 survives his crash landing, but is knocked unconscious by a passing truck, and is taken to an animal shelter because he is believed to be a breed of dog. Eventually a little girl named Lilo adopts him from the animal shelter and names him Stitch.

As this game takes place before those events, you'll see what Jumba did with Experiment 626 (aka Stitch) between the time of his "birth" and the time of his and Jumba's capture by the Galactic Order. The game presents the story through eight cutscenes, but it doesn't present it very well. At no point did I get a clear idea as to what the story was supposed to be. The manual actually presents the story better than the game does:

In a secret lab on a distant planet in a strange part of the universe, Experiment 626 is born. When he awakes, the now-inferior Experiment 621 is already there, watching jealously as the new 626 gets all of the attention and he is reduced to doing simple around-the-house chores. In another secret lab not so far away, Jumba's arch nemesis is hard at work on experiments of his own. The nefarious Dr. Habbitrale is racing to create mutants more powerful then anything cooked up in Jumba's lab. For his first test, 626 will make his way to Dr. Habbitrale's mountain hide-away and demonstrate that nothing is more powerful than Jumba's creations, and certainly nothing designed by Dr. Habbitrale. Meanwhile, Captain Gantu watches all of these proceedings aboard a gigantic military ship on the fringes of the galaxy. He is observing the activities of these scientists with a great deal of interest, waiting for them to cross the line. Perhaps their destructive little mutants will go a step too far this time... then it's a long, long stay in a very uncomfortable place for Jumba, Habbitrale, and their miserable little creations.

You control Experiment 626 as he takes part in a series of missions created by Jumba to test what his creation can do. In each of these, 626's chief goal is to collect DNA for Jumba to use in his ongoing genetic research, then reach the teleporter at the end of each level to return to the lab. 626 is fond of destruction, so along the way he will do his best to cause as much mayhem as possible, while still getting the job done. As 626 collects more DNA, more worlds will open for exploration...and destruction! Standing in the way will be many enemies: Buzzers, Mutant Greemas, Soldiers, Heavy Soldiers, and Frogbots. Bosses include Dr. Habbitrale in his giant robot, Experiment 621 (after being mutated), and Captain Gantu.

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GAMEPLAY

The game is a basic 3D platformer, with exploration, item finding, and fighting enemies. Although 626 has sharp claws, you will not use them at all to cause any sort of destruction. Instead, you'll be shooting your way through the levels with a Plasma Ray Gun, wielding up to four at once. While defeating enemies and blowing up as much stuff as possible, you'll also be collecting DNA to open additional levels, and finding hidden film reels to unlock videos in the Secrets section.

When you first start playing the game, the first thing you'll notice is that the camera and the controls conspire against you in an effort to make the game harder than it is. The camera constantly snaps behind 626, thus never staying where you'd want it to. You can control the camera, somewhat, with the right analog stick, but you can't move it around a full 360 degrees. You can only move it 180 degrees in each direction, and you need to hold the stick in place in order to see anything. Once you let go, it snaps right back behind 626. Pressing in on the right analog stick to have 626 face the same direction as the camera helps, as it's the only way to get him to turn without moving, but holding the camera in place with the stick and then pressing in on it is a bit awkward to do.

The biggest flaw with the controls is that you're *always* running - well, if you use the left analog stick to move 626, that is. You see, the d-pad is used for walking, and the left analog stick is used for running. Most people would use the stick to move around a character on-foot (does anyone even use the d-pad for character movement anymore?), so why they wouldn't implement true analog controls is beyond me. In order to get 626 to walk using the stick, you have to tilt it so ever-so-precisely slightly, that it's too annoying to bother with. Yet, if you use the stick alone, you'll be running around all the time, which will lead to a lot of unnecessary deaths.

Besides that, the controls will often change if the camera changes in relation to 626. If I hold the camera in front of 626 and press Down, he'll walk forward (towards the camera). If I let go of the right analog stick, and thus the camera snaps back behind 626, now I'll start walking in the opposite direction. This becomes frustratingly annoying when you're wall crawling upside down, as the controls will usually flip themselves mid-move. I'll be pressing Down to go forward while upside down on a horizontal surface, and once I get to a vertical surface the control for forward is now Up, even though I was still in the middle of moving forward. The boss fight against Experiment 621 (boss fight #2) was a pain in the butt because of this.

When I first started playing the game, I was suffering unnecessary deaths in just the first level thanks to this killer combination of crappy camera and cruddy controls. Mind you, I've been playing video games for over 25 years, and many of them have been 3D platformers, so I'm no beginner.

At strange as this sounds, you *will* get used to the poor controls and camera, though that doesn't excuse the developers from not doing a better job on both of them. After beating the game, I went back and replayed some of the earlier levels, and was able to breeze through them. That said, this isn't the type of game that should have a steep learning curve. I can't imagine many kids having the patience to get used to the game as much as I did.

Some of the annoyance is lessened by the fact that you have infinite lives (but not infinite health). Besides that, on all levels (including boss fights) your progress is not lost when you die; you'll just warp back to the last checkpoint you activated. Coupled with your infinite lives, it means you can keep going until you finally get to the end of the level or defeat the boss or get frustrated by the game and turn it off.

That said, health pick-ups (called Alien Toes, but they look like blue-green chicken drumsticks) are plentiful, and most enemies are pushovers, especially with the lock-on aim. Most of them can be defeated by going through the game with guns blazing. You have infinite ammo, and can wield up to four guns at a time, so it's only the enemies that are immune to gunfire that will present even the slightest bit of a challenge. Even then, you'll die most frequently from the platforming aspects of the game (especially due to the poor controls and camera), than you will from the enemies.

As I said, there's a lock-on aim function, but it only locks on to enemies. There is no manual aim. You can only shoot crates, crystals, tikis, etc., by blindly shooting in their direction. The easiest way to shoot them is to get right up next to them, but since you take damage from the explosions, that's not suggestible.

On each level you need to collect DNA in order to open up the other levels. DNA is plentiful, but some are placed in locations where you can only get them if you kill yourself. I don't understand why the level designers would do such a stupid thing. Thankfully, you don't need to collect all of the DNA in order to unlock all levels. You'll only need 640 of the 900 DNA strewn throughout the levels in order to unlock the last boss fight.

DNA isn't the only collectible in the game, though it's the only thing you need to gather in order to progress. Also hidden in each level are some film reels. Some are hidden, others will be given to you if you play a game of follow-the-leader/tag with the Squid Bots. The Squid Bots are these upright-standing blue whale/popcorn shrimp-looking things that are also hidden in each level. Find one, touch it, and then follow it to each location it stops at, and if you complete the chase, you get a film reel. That's all easier said than done because the Squid Bots do not stay in each place for very long. If you don't get to it before it disappears, you have to go back to the starting position and try all over again. You're supposed to use 626's Slow Motion ability to follow the Squid Bots, but the ability only lasts for a few seconds before you have to press the Slow Mo button again, and each usage drains your Slow Mo meter. So not only do you have to keep pressing the Slow Mo button, but chances are you won't have enough energy on the meter to last the entire chase.

Needless to say, after the first few times playing with a Squid Bot, you'll eventually find them too annoying to bother with and will ignore them completely. It's not like there's a great reward for getting the film reels, anyway. You use them to buy unlockable videos in the erroneously-named "Secrets" section ("Movies" or "Videos" is a better name as that's all that's in there). All of the purchasable film clips and trailers can all be found on the "Lilo & Stitch" movie DVD (except for the theatrical trailer - which is unlocked from the start anyway), so there's no point in bothering to unlock them. You can buy the DVD really cheaply these days (especially used), and the PlayStation 2 can play DVDs, which makes getting the film reels in the levels and unlocking the videos all that more pointless. I picked up a copy of the DVD earlier this year for $4 in a thrift shop. I paid $10 for this game brand new. Guess which I'll get more enjoyment from?

Every level is pretty linear, but sometimes the game doesn't give you a clear idea as to where you're supposed to go. Level 4-4 ("Error #626") is one example. I couldn't figure out how to get out of the starting area. They gave me a grapple gun, but I couldn't get it to latch onto anything. There were pipes that it *should* have easily latched onto, but it didn't. After a half-hour of trying, I eventually got it to latch onto a coupling on the pipe, and then a coupling on another pipe, so that I could swing onto the ledge that lead out of the room - but only after I jumped onto one of the destructible purple/black yellow caution-striped devices, and then swung myself on top of the first pipe. I get the feeling that this wasn't the way the game designers intended this area to be passed, but it was the only way I could get the game to let me through.

On some levels you will be given a Grapple Gun or a Jetpack to get around, but only for those levels (you lose them once you exit the level). The grapple gun is fun, and provides a nice diversion from the usual jumping and double-jumping; the jetpack not so much. On the jetpack levels, you're told that you have to keep flying through rings - didn't Superman have to go through this nonsense in that crappy Nintendo 64 game? - in order to keep getting more jetpack fuel. What you're not told is that, in reality, you also have to keep flying through rings in order to NOT DIE! You're participating in a timed race without being told as much. So even if you decide to land somewhere and turn off the jetpack, with plenty of fuel left to keep going to the next ring, you're gonna be killed simply because you didn't go through the next ring before it closed. So much for exploring.

You exit each level by stepping onto a small teleporter pad. However, there's no confirmation to leave a level. Once you step onto the teleporter pad, that's it. Many times I accidentally stepped onto the pad before I got a chance to explore the area surrounding the pad for collectibles. On Level 3-3 ("Jungle Flight"), I jetpacked over the teleport pad without even knowing it was there - thus ruining my chance of getting the collectibles that were right next to it, unless I replay the level from the beginning (it was annoying enough to go through it the first time).

The game auto-saves when you exit a level via a teleporter pad, as well as when you exit the level through the pause menu's Level Select option. Exiting the level though the pause menu is the only way you can manually save your game, but when you go back into the level, you'll be back at the start, and not at the last checkpoint from where you left.

AUDIO & VIDEO

The voice acting is top-notch as all of the actors from the movie reprise their roles here: Chris Sanders as Experiment 626/Stitch, David Ogden Stiers as Dr. Jumba Jookiba, Kevin Michael Richardson as Captain Gantu, the legendary Frank Welker as Experiment 621, and James Arnold Taylor as Dr. Habbitrale. Zoe Caldwell, who voiced the Grand Councilwoman in the movie, is listed in the cast, but her movie character does not appear in the game (except in the movie clips). Voice actress Jennifer Hale is also listed in the voice cast, but I don't know which character she voiced in the game (there were no female characters that I can recall).

The use of the voice samples can be rather hit or miss. As you play through the game, different characters will chime in with comments, but these comments rarely have anything to do with what's going on. Even worse, those clips repeat frequently!

None of the music from the movie is used in the video game, but since the game takes place on exotic planets and space environments, and not Hawaii, I wouldn't have expected for the movie music to appear. There's some techno/rock music used, but I can't say that I paid much attention to it. All of the sound effects sound appropriate to their use, so no complaints there.

The graphics are serviceable, but lack the polish of later PlayStation 2 games. The game definitely looks like one that was made in 2002. When I first popped the game in, I thought the graphics were quite poor, but they grew on me. I still think the menu text looks very plain; very PlayStation 1-ish.

MORE FLAWS & NOTES

• 626 is supposed to be an ultimate force of destruction, but he does no hands-on destroying. With his four claws, he should be tearing apart the environments and the enemies. Instead, he uses his guns to destroy everything - like we haven't seen *that* many times before.

• Standing too close to explosive crates (all destructible items?) while destroying them will take health away from 626. I thought he was virtually indestructible?

• The Level Select menu tells you how much DNA you got, and still need to get, in each level, but gives you no information on the film reels. It's only when you complete a level (or exit through the pause menu's Level Select option) that you can see how many film reels you've obtained, and how many you still have left to find on that level. That means that unless you take notes and keep track while playing the game, you won't know what levels you need to go back to to get more film reels. How could the lack of this *essential* "feature" not be noticed during the testing phase of the game's production?!?

• The game doesn't activate checkpoints unless you specifically go right over or next to them. This is a problem in areas where the game provides a path below the checkpoint. One example of this is Level 4-1, "Energy Lines", where you can easily grapple past a high checkpoint by taking the low path underneath it.

• There are only 15 levels in the game (though most are kinda long), and only 3 boss fights. It won't take you very long to go through the whole game.

• The last level before the final boss (Level 4-5, "Stitch In Space") is INSANE! It's one of those damn jetpack through the rings races, except you're in a very tight tunnel, the rings are really small, and you're not given enough time to go through them. Luckily, if you collect enough DNA to unlock the final boss, you don't have to bother with this level. Ironically, the final boss is extremely easy to defeat.

REPLAYABILITY

The "Secrets" section contains the following unlockable videos: the "Lilo & Stitch" theatrical trailer; 21 clips from the "Lilo & Stitch" movie; 3 "Interstitchals" (clips from the "Lilo & Stitch" trailers in which Stitch invades "Beauty & The Beast", "Aladdin", and "The Little Mermaid"); and 8 in-game cinematics. The trailer is unlocked from the start and the in-game cinematics unlock as you play. The others can be purchased for 2 to 6 film reels each (you'll need 101 film reels to buy them all).

Here's the complete list of unlockable videos, along with their runtimes that I personally timed using a stopwatch. It kinda goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: If you have not seen the "Lilo & Stitch" movie, watching all of these film clips WILL spoil the movie for you. All of the non in-game cinematic videos are presented in 4:3 letterbox, thus preserving the original aspect ratios. The movie on the DVD is, of course, 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen.

01. Theatrical Trailer (2:17) [not on DVD]
02. Stitch's Trial (0:38)
03. Breaking Free (1:08)
04. Cruiser Chase (0:24)
05. Hyperdrive (0:34)
06. Pudge's Story (0:51)
07. This Is Scrump (0:52)
08. Meeting Bubbles (1:05)
09. Practical Voodoo (0:30)
10. Falling Star (0:21)
11. Arrival On Earth (0:41)
12. Meeting Lilo (0:26)
13. Adopting Stitch (0:28)
14. Bounty Hunters (0:35)
15. Ugly Dog (0:27)
16. Bike Ride (0:30)
17. Jumba Disguised (0:40)
18. Arriving Home (0:39)
19. Evil Koala (0:23)
20. Jumba Attacks (0:26)
21. Gantu's Ambush (0:58)
22. Exile On Earth (0:16)
23. Interstitchal 1: Beauty & The Beast (Trailer) (0:54) [cuts off theatrical date & narration at end; present on DVD]
24. Interstitchal 2: Aladdin (Trailer) (0:54) [cuts off theatrical date & narration at end; present on DVD]
25. Interstitchal 3: The Little Mermaid (Trailer) (0:51) [cuts off theatrical date & narration at end; present on DVD]
26. In-Game Cinema 1 (0:42)
27. In-Game Cinema 2 (1:17)
28. In-Game Cinema 3 (0:28)
29. In-Game Cinema 4 (0:37)
30. In-Game Cinema 5 (0:57)
31. In-Game Cinema 6 (0:18)
32. In-Game Cinema 7 (0:20)
33. In-Game Cinema 8 (0:54)

Adding up all of the film clips (videos #2-#22), you get a total of 12:52 from a movie that runs 1:25:12 (DVD runtime). Adding up all of the in-game cinematics (videos #26-#33), you get a total of 5:33, which proves that not much time is devoted to the story. Adding up all of the trailers (videos #1, #23, #24, #25), you get a total of 4:56. Adding up everything, you get a total of 23:21 (minutes:seconds).

You can replay the levels to get missing DNA and film reels, but what's the point? Once you've gotten enough DNA to unlock all levels, why bother getting the rest? The film reels are even more pointless as there's no need to even bother collecting them at all (especially since some of them are extremely hard to get), as all of the videos that you can unlock with them (minus the theatrical trailer - which is unlocked from the start anyway) are available in better quality on the "Lilo & Stitch" movie DVD (where the film clips are presented in the proper context). The "Lilo & Stitch" movie DVD is available in the 1-Disc Original Edition (alt listing) and the 2-Disc Big Wave Edition. (I don't know if the Blu-ray release retains all of the bonus featuresa from the DVDs.)

As far as I'm aware, there's no special prize for getting all of the DNA and film reels (100% completion).

TO BUY OR RENT?

Rent... and that's only if you like the non-human Lilo & Stitch characters.

If you decide that you want to play through this game, I guarantee you that you'll only want to play through it once, and will have no desire to play through it ever again.

Stripes Extended Cut Blu-Ray Review

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This review was originally written on January 5, 2012
The Blu-Ray Is A Vast Improvement Over The Extended Cut DVD

Although this review is about the Stripes Extended Cut Blu-ray, I'm specifically writing it for all of those unfortunate souls who purchased the Stripes "Extended Cut" DVD. Chances are, if you own that DVD, you are royally annoyed by some of the poor choices Sony made in authoring that disc. Those of you who don't own that disc, let me give you a little insight into the problems with it...

The disc claims to have the theatrical version of the film, in addition to the new extended version. That is a lie. The "Theatrical Version" presented on the disc is not that what was shown in the theaters back in 1981. It's simply the extended version with the added footage skipped over. A lot of DVD players will need to pause for a second or two at six spots while it skips ahead in the video to the spot after the added footage was placed. This is NOT "seamless branching", as evident by the fact that the pause creates a seam. There are many examples of DVDs that properly create multiple versions using seamless branching, such as the Alien Vs. Predator Unrated DVD. Stripes isn't one of them. Furthermore, portions of the movie get edited out when the player has to crudely jump over the added footage to create the supposed "Theatrical Version". That means that you're not seeing the real original theatrical version. Only the first Stripes DVD release from 1998 (cover shows the "I Want You" poster) contains the true theatrical version. It also contains the theatrical trailer (left off the Blu-ray), and the original mono audio track. That's as true to the original as you can get!

Also, the extended version on the DVD has an annoying "added footage marker" at the start and end of the newly-added footage. This "start/end of bonus scene" text is provided via a subtitle stream, which Sony does not allow to be turned off, even though subtitle streams provide that functionality. Check out the aforementioned Alien Vs. Predator Unrated DVD for an example of how it's done right (again via subtitle, but one which the user can turn on and off).

So with all that in mind, people who own Blu-ray players might be wondering if any of these problems were fixed in the new Blu-ray release of Stripes. The short answer is "YES". The "added footage marker" that is included is completely OPTIONAL! It's a star/badge that will be displayed in the corner of the screen during the entire duration of a piece of newly-added footage. The only downside is that you can't turn it on and off while watching the movie. You have to use the "Play Movie" option on the main menu in order to get the choice to turn it on or off.

The Blu-ray also does not have the false pretense of containing a "theatrical version" of the film. You get the extended version of the film in 1080p (1.85:1 aspect ratio), along with the commentary track and the two-part hour-long "Stars & Stripes" documentary from the Extended Cut DVD. The only thing the Blu-ray leaves out is the theatrical trailer, though that can be found on numerous other DVDs, such as the Stripes DVD from 1998 (which contains the true theatrical version) and the Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II DVDs that were released in 1999 (the green slime cover DVDs released in 2005 don't contain any trailers). The Blu-ray also doesn't present the added footage in a separate "Deleted Scenes" section, but since they're now part of the film, they don't really need to be included separately, anyway.

If you're a die-hard Stripes fan and MUST have both versions of the film, I suggest you pick up this Blu-ray and the original 1998 DVD release, and you'll have all versions and extras. Just avoid the Extended Cut DVD.

Sony PlayStation 3 320GB Uncharted 3 Bundle Review

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This review was originally written on November 14, 2011
Excellent System, Great For Blu-Ray & DVD Playback / Needs A Front Panel Display, Disc Tray, Longer USB Cable, Printed Manual

Most people who review the PlayStation 3 (320GB Uncharted 3 Bundle) will probably focus on the games. I'm going to focus on everything else, especially some of the little details that most reviewers won't mention. Hopefully I'll mention a specific detail that is important to you so my ramblings and notes won't be in vain :-)

The PlayStation 3 (PS3) system that comes in the Uncharted 3 bundle is 320GB, model CECH-3001B. It comes pre-installed with v3.66 of the system software/firmware. You will be required to update it in order to play the Uncharted 3 game that is bundled with the system. I updated it to v3.73 on November 10, 2011 and the game played without a problem so far. Due to the required update, it can be said that the Uncharted 3 game doesn't truly work "out of the box" :-) Although I will be specifically reviewing model CECH-3001B, some of my information will be applicable to other models.

After I took everything out of the box and looked at the contents, I noticed that the system does NOT come with an owner's manual. There's a small fold-out Quick Start guide, a Safety and Support book, an ESRB Ratings sheet, and that's it. The PlayStation 2 that I bought 10 years ago came with a manual in the box, and I expected the same with the PS3. Looking over the PDF manuals Sony has online, it appears that they didn't even make one for the new CECH-3001B model. They only have manuals for some older models: CECH-2001A/B through CECH-2501B. I'm sure that the majority of the information in the 320GB CECH-2501B would be applicable for my system, so at least I have that for reference, but at 50+ pages long for the English section, it's too large to print out and keep as a hard copy. (There's a constantly-updated online manual, but it's useless for offline reference.) I do feel rather cheated that I paid $300 for the system, only for Sony to be too cheap to include a real manual in the box.

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Also amongst the scant printed documentation is a card with a code granting me a 30-day free PlayStation Plus membership. According to the site, PlayStation Plus gives you free games, huge discounts, exclusive features, early access to demos and priority beta invitations, and full game trials. The catch? In order to activate the free trial you must give them your credit card information. The reason? After your 30 days are up, they're going to automatically start billing you for a regular membership unless you call them to cancel beforehand. No thank you, Sony. I don't fall for this scam when other companies do it, so I'm not going to fall for it with you. Sony will NEVER have my credit card information as I never intend to buy anything online from them through the console. I only buy goods that I have unfettered ownership of.

Powering up the PS3 and going through the setup routine was quick and easy, though I had to press the small reset button on the back of my DualShock 3 controller because it somehow got misregistered to the system (I think I was supposed to plug it in after powering up the system for the first time). I got quite a scare from this, but thankfully it didn't take long to get everything working perfectly. I knew that the Ghostbusters Blu-ray included a Ghostbusters PS3 menu theme, so that was the first disc I put in the system. That theme is now installed on my system and I have no plans to ever change it :-)

The reason I just purchased a PS3 was, primarily, to replace an Insignia Blu-ray player. (Insignia is Best Buy's brand, in case you don't know.) My Insignia TV does all I would expect of it, but the Insignia Blu-ray player is, in a word, crap. Every firmware update might fix one thing, or nothing perceivable at all, but break several other things. I won't go into details, but in short, DON'T BUY AN INSIGNIA BLU-RAY PLAYER FROM BEST BUY.

The PS3 has perfectly played every Blu-ray and DVD that I've put in it. Everything displays in the proper aspect ratio, be it 4:3 or 16:9, and all discs play quietly. The few that were noisy or vibrated like crazy in the Insignia Blu-ray player might be a little noisy on boot-up or while on the menus, but are quiet when the actual video is playing. Picture quality is top-notch for Blu-ray discs and upscaled DVDs (source depending, of course). It even shows timecodes for DVD videos that don't have timecodes encoded on the disc, such as video encoded as menus (see trailers and bonus features on early Columbia/Tristar DVDs), and the "My Generation" bonus song on the Billy Joel: Live At Shea DVD (as one example). However, the videos encoded as menus can not be paused, rewound, or fast forwarded, like they could on the Insignia Blu-ray player. It plays the DVD-Rs I record without a problem, so far, but I'm not sure if it plays mini-DVD-Rs or any mini-discs due to the use of a disc slot instead of a disc tray. It can not play Video CDs, which was the 1990s CD-based video format that preceded DVDs, but I would have been surprised if it did. Only my old DVD player from 2001, and my computer software player, can play them. Also, putting a disc in the console while it's off will instantly turn it on, but the disc will not autoplay. The console must be on first, THEN the disc inserted, in order for it to autoplay.

My only major issues with the PS3 are hardware related, not software related. I don't like the disc slot (I prefer a disc tray) and I would love for there to be a front panel on the PS3 showing elapsed time, chapter number, and title number. You know, what a regular Blu-ray and DVD player has. Other than these two issues, I love the PS3 for Blu-Ray and DVD playback. Every disc I put in it played perfectly, and Blu-ray discs loaded up a bit quicker than the Insignia Blu-ray player.

I have two Blu-ray discs that I know saves data to the hard drive: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (Disc 1) and "Monsters Inc." (Disc 2). Snow White welcomes me back when I view the disc again after the first time, while Monsters Inc. lets me continue my progress on the Roz's 100 Door Challenge game. Neither disc would do that if it weren't saving data on the PS3 hard drive. Yet, when I go to the PS3 menu option Video - BD Data Utility, it says that "there is no data". Also, when I press Triangle on "BD Data Utility", there's a "Delete" option, but it doesn't actually delete the item. I e-mailed Sony about this and they told me that this behavior is a "perfectly normal function with the PlayStation 3 system. It is normal for movies to pick up where was left off on features, even though no BD Data is showing. Also it is perfectly normal to delete the BD Data Utility, as this would only delete information movies have stored on the system, not an actual system function. The next time the movie is played, the movie will reinstall any BD Data that is needed." I would have replied further to reiterate my point that both Snow White and Monsters Inc. *ARE* saving information to the system, but I doubt it'll do me any good to continue dealing with low-level customer service reps. I just hate knowing that data is on the hard drive that I can't see or even delete. I wish there was a way for the user to view a list of EVERYTHING saved on the hard drive. I don't mean individual items in the various menus (like game saves, trophies, etc.), but a full list of everything in one place. I'd like to see exactly what's being stored on my hard drive, how much space each file takes up, and delete items that I know are no longer needed.

The online and PDF manuals both say something that has me a little scared: "You may have to renew the AACS encryption key to play content such as movies on commercially available BD video software (BD-ROM). If a message indicating that the encryption key needs to be renewed is displayed, update the system software to the latest version. The encryption key will then be automatically renewed. AACS (Advanced Access Content System) is a copyright-protection technology that is used on Blu-ray movies. The copyrighted content is protected by setting an encryption key on both the disc and the device used to play the disc. An AACS encryption key expires in 12 to 18 months and must be renewed. There may also be other times when the key has to be renewed." (source)

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I don't keep my PS3 connected to the internet and may never even create a PlayStation Network (PSN) account as I really don't have time to play games online. PSN accounts are free (it only costs money and a credit card to buy things or to have the Plus service), but a PSN account is not necessary for offline use, system updates, or to browse the internet with the built-in web browser. If I don't buy any new games (some new games require system updates), and everything on the PS3 works perfectly with the firmware already installed, there's no reason for me to update it. I don't think the Insignia Blu-ray player required AACS encryption key renewals. It didn't mention anything in the owner's manual about such a thing. Let's think worst case scenario for a minute. What if I end up cancelling my home internet service and never get it again? Will all of the Blu-ray discs that I own, which currently play perfectly, no longer be playable at all in my PS3 at some point if I'm no longer able to update it? If I were to call Sony, what are the chances they'd send me free firmware upgrade discs every 12 to 18 months? That's the worst case scenario, of course, but the fact of the matter is that I shouldn't be forced to do upgrades so the system can continue to perform one of the functions it was designed to do, that it was already doing perfectly.

Speaking of system software updates... Some of you reading this might want to know a little more about them, so let me give you the quick rundown. You can update the system software by any of the following methods: (1) Via the console's System Update feature. (2) Download update data using a PC, save it on a USB storage device, and insert that USB device into the PS3. (3) Update using disc media, such as a game disc that includes update data on it. For method #2, download the PS3UPDAT.PUP file from Sony, and put it at \PS3\UPDATE on the USB drive.

That the PS3 can play PS3 games is the "bonus" for me, since I already purchased two games prior to actually owning the system! Those two games are "Ghostbusters: The Video Game" and "Grand Theft Auto IV & Episodes From Liberty City: The Complete Edition" (Target was selling it for $20 brand new, so at that price I had to get it in spite of not owning the system at the time).

The DualShock 3 wireless controller that comes with the system can be used as a wired controller, but the USB cord is woefully short. It's only 4.5 feet long, whereas the PlayStation 2 controller's cord is 8 feet long! The PS3 cord is just barely long enough to reach where I need it to. This is easily remedied by buying a 10-Foot USB 2.0 A/Male to Mini USB B/Male 5-pins cable or Sony's own PS3/PSP USB 2.0 10-Foot Cable 2-Pack. At least the wireless controller has a built-in rechargeable battery and doesn't use regular insertable batteries (like AA or AAA), which is the primary reason why I dislike wireless controllers.

The PS3 also allows you to copy PlayStation 1 & 3 game saves to/from the system and a USB storage device, which can then be transferred to a PC. This is a big improvement over the PlayStation 2, which needed a third-party device (such as CodeBreaker cheat device) to allow transferring saves to/from the console and a USB storage device. Copied PS3 game saves are stored on the USB drive in \PS3\SAVEDATA. Each game save is comprised of a few files in its own subfolder, not a single file. Copied PlayStation 1 (PS1) game saves are stored on the USB drive in \PS3\EXPORT\PSV. Each game save is a single .PSV file. You can submit your saves, or obtain other people's saves, from the popular video game information site GameFaqs. Usable PS3 saves are listed on the site as "PlayStation 3 Game Save Directory (ZIP) (North America)", and usable PS1 saves are listed on the site as "PlayStation PS3 Virtual Memory Card Save (ZIP) (North America)" (each zip contains one single .psv file). There is no way to easily convert the PS1 game save DexDrive .GME files at GameFaqs to .PSV so they can be transferred to a PS3.

I also bought the newly-released Sony PS3 Media/Blu-ray Disc Remote Control to handle Blu-Ray and DVD playback on my newly-purchased PS3. The remote handles this task perfectly, and that's all I really want it to do. I looked over pictures of both the new remote and the old version, and found that the new one included a few more buttons. Not only does it have the new TV and amplifier specific buttons - Volume, Channel, Input, and 3D - but it has two new buttons for PS3 Blu-Ray and DVD playback: Instant Back & Instant Forward. These two buttons take you back or forward 15 seconds in the video you are watching. Good for catching missed dialog in a movie, or instantly replaying a favorite moment. These buttons do not exist on the previous version of the PS3 remote.

You turn the PS3 on and off via the remote by pressing the "PS" button. To turn it off, hold the button for a second, select "Shut Down The System", then "Yes" from the on-screen prompts. The "Pause" button acts as Play/Pause, while the "Play" button only plays. Some buttons on the remote duplicate the same functions as other buttons because the remote also includes the controller-specific buttons. Square/View is Pop Up Menu, X is Enter, Select is Display, Start is Pause/Play, L1 is Prev, R1 is Next, L2 is Scan Back (Rewind), and R2 is Scan Forward (Fast Forward).

You must use the Options menu for Go To, Disc Volume Control, and AV Settings as these are the only options that don't have buttons on the remote. For time/chapter/title search, press Triangle/Options and select "Go To" from the on-screen menu. Move the highlight to Title, Chapter, or Time (default), press Enter. Enter the digits (you can use the number buttons or up and down buttons), use left and right to switch digit places. Press Enter twice to go to that spot. Then press Triangle/Options to take the menu off the screen.

I programmed the remote to control my Insignia TV (I have no amplifier, so that's a non-issue), and it handles the basic TV functions - power, volume, mute, channels - but that's about it. The Audio button switches between Stereo, Mono, and SAP (I always leave it on Stereo); and the Subtitle button switches between Closed Caption options (I always leave it on CC While Mute). Pressing the Top Menu button will open up the TV settings menus, and I can even navigate them using the 4-way directional circle, but I really don't need for the remote to access the settings menus (once they're set, I have no need to change them). My major complaint for TV operations is that for an Insignia TV, the Input button doesn't do anything. It should switch between inputs, but doesn't. I need to use my TV remote to switch from TV input to HDMI (PS3), but can easily use this remote to go back from HDMI to TV by pressing Channel Up or Down. Someone with a much more complex setup than mine will probably need to keep their TV remote handy at all times.

I don't know how much game playing I'm going to be doing on the PS3. I have three games so far - the aforementioned Ghostbusters and Grand Theft Auto IV, along with Uncharted 3 that came with the system - but I might pick up a few more if I can find them cheap (I won't pay $60 for a new game). So far I have been enjoying the PS3 and don't regret the purchase at all.

TNA The Best of the Asylum Years, Vol. 1 DVD Review

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This review was originally written on August 18, 2011
Archive Footage Shown In Wrong Aspect Ratio (4:3 Stretched Or Cropped Into 16:9), Stretched Footage Gives Me A Headache

I really don't understand why any company would author a DVD like TNA did with their The Best of the Asylum Years, Vol. 1 DVD. The majority of the footage on this DVD was shot in 2002-2004 in a 4:3 aspect ratio. However, NONE of the footage is presented in the proper aspect ratio on the DVD. It is either stretched into a 16:9 aspect ratio, or the top and bottom is cropped off to put it into a 16:9 aspect ratio.

Take a look for yourself in these two screenshot comparisons of stretched footage.

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1. On the top is the 4:3 footage stretched into 16:9. Notice that Jeremy Borash's face and body both look fat due to the horizontal stretching. Lest you think that I have my player or TV set up incorrectly, at the bottom is that same image properly shown in a 4:3 aspect ratio. You'll notice that Jeremy Borash's face and body now look as they should, but that the newly-added graphic on the bottom is squeezed. That the archive footage and the graphic don't BOTH display correctly at the same time shows that the problem is on the DVD, and not on the player or TV setup.

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2. On the top is the 4:3 footage stretched into 16:9. Notice that Dusty Rhodes' (in the black shirt and cowboy hat) is a little fatter than usual. At the bottom is that same image properly shown in a 4:3 aspect ratio, where you can see that Dusty's body now looks as it should.

The archive footage is bookended by new interviews which were filmed in a 16:9 aspect ratio. It is unfortunate that TNA chose to alter the archive footage to match the new interviews, rather than cropping the sides off the interview footage to match the archive footage, and leaving it all in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Absolutely nothing is gained on the left and right sides of the interview footage.

I can't watch the footage stretched like this without getting a headache. If this is indicative of what TNA is going to do with their future DVDs containing archive 4:3 footage, then this may very well be the last TNA DVD I ever buy.

For the sake of completedness, here's the match list.

DISC 1
1. Sabu vs. Ken Shamrock (July 24, 2002)
2. AJ Styles vs. Low Ki vs. Jerry Lynn (August 28, 2002)
3. Raven vs. Jeff Jarrett (April 30, 2003)
4. Elix Skipper and Low Ki vs. AJ Styles and D'Lo Brown (May 7, 2003)
5. Jeff Jarrett vs. Raven vs. AJ Styles (June 11, 2003)
6. Triple X vs. America's Most Wanted (June 25, 2003)
7. Raven vs. Shane Douglas (September 17, 2003)
8. Jeff Jarrett and Lex Luger vs. AJ Styles and Sting (November 12, 2003)
9. AJ Styles vs. D'Lo Brown (August 6, 2003)

DISC 2
1. Julio Dinero and CM Punk vs. Terry Funk and Raven (February 18, 2004)
2. AJ Styles vs. Abyss (March 17, 2004)
3. Sabu vs. Monty Brown (April 14, 2004)
4. Jeff Jarrett vs. AJ Styles (April 21, 2004)
5. Kazarian vs. AJ Styles (June 9, 2004)
6. Monty Brown vs. Jeff Hardy (July 28, 2004)
7. Kid Kash vs. AJ Styles (August 18, 2004)
8. Jeff Hardy vs. Jeff Jarrett (September 18, 2004)
9. Sabu vs. Abyss (April 28, 2004)
10. Monty Brown and Abyss vs. America's Most Wanted (June 9, 2004)
11. AJ Styles vs. Jeff Hardy (June 23, 2004)
12. Monty Brown vs. D'Lo Brown (July 7, 2004)

That is all.

Mr. Nanny / Suburban Commando Family Double Feature DVD Review

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This review was originally written on August 18, 2011
4:3 Fullscreen Only, No Bonus Features - Get The Individual DVDs Instead!

Normally when Warner Bros., which owns New Line (the studio that made these movies), puts out a Double/Triple/Quadruple Feature of previously-released material, they simply use the disc images from those previously-released DVDs to make new dual-sided DVDs. For an example of this, look at any of their "Four Film Favorites" titles, or even the 2009 single-disc re-release of Miss Congeniality 1 & 2. I figured that would be the case with the Mr. Nanny/Suburban Commando Family Double Feature, but I was wrong.

Instead of containing copies of the two previously-released DVDs, this single-sided, dual-layer DVD contains both movies and nothing else. To make matters worse, the two films are presented in 4:3 Fullscreen ONLY! The individual DVDs of Mr. Nanny and Suburban Commando contain both 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen & 4:3 Fullscreen (open matte) versions of each movie, along with each movie's Theatrical Trailer. A useless "Pick That Flick" photo game, and an even more useless DVD-ROM menu that only takes you to New Line's now-defunct "Hotspot" website, are also included on those individual DVDs.

There is absolutely no reason to pick up this Family Double Feature. If you like both movies, buy the individual DVDs instead.

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