Monday, August 22, 2011

COMICS!! Review: Cloak & Dagger #1

Cloak and Dagger are more accessory than actual team at this point in comic continuity. Certainly, their current place in the Marvel Universe is a far cry from the paling around with Spider-Man that I remember so vividly from my childhood. Hell, Cloak and Dagger are the team that I remember most vividly from my youth, but have read nearly next to nothing from in the prevailing years that I've come back to reading comic books.

Out of the void (the Darkness Dimension one might say) comes a Cloak and Dagger mini-series for the Spider Island event. Is this dynamic duo worth investing your money in?


Cloak and Dagger have fallen on some hard times. Not being on a team, and not being the "go to" heroes in New York City, they find themselves on the verge of eviction. Even worse, unbeknownst to one another, their extremely different personalities have them thinking of very different plans for the future. With the Spider Island outbreak, Tandy and Tyrone are pulled into the fray, but only time will tell where they wind up after the dust has settled.

Nick Spencer pencils this off-kilter mini-series. His writing of Cloak and Dagger, not as heroes with a strong sense of duty, but as people with super-powers who are having just as much trouble skating by as anybody else, is absolutely brilliant. In-particular, Tandy's interaction with a building inspector trying to get them to leave the building is both hilarious and entirely believable. Splitting the team's inner-monologue also helps distinguish them as individuals rather than the joined at the hip pair they're often passed off as. In fact, this monologue allows Spencer to show that not only do they not agree on everything, but there's also a ton of tension between the two. Of course the two don't completely shirk their heroic qualities, but it's fun to see a superhero book in which the strife the heroes face just trying to get by and get along is the focal point.

The Beauty of Contrast

Spencer's script is great, but since I was a kid, the draw of Cloak and Dagger was their visual style. The team's perfect contrasting look is among the best in comics. That was my thought before laying eyes on the gorgeous artwork of Emma Rios, but if anyone had a doubt to my claims, they need only look at the first few pages of Cloak and Dagger #1. Rios has a beautifully penciled style combined with imaginative use of panel space. Her portrayals of heroes are unique, if not always fantastic, but the way she nails both Tandy and Tyrone is beautiful. Her style is somewhere between a comic book artist like Marcos Martin and contemporary video game artist Ayami Kojima.

It's amazing and can sell the series all by itself. When bolstered with Nick Spencer's smart writing, it's almost impossible not to suggest or recommend this series to everybody. Okay, maybe it's not for those expecting an extremely tight connection to the rest of the Spider Island stuff, but for people who just want a beautifully drawn book about one of the most underutilized duos in Marvel, this is it.

Cloak & Dagger #1 easily gets a 5 star rating.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

i-Rix Review: Catherine

Catherine has a lot going for it. It's got the same quirky characterization as the incredibly popular Persona 4, and shares that game's same penchant for high concept and style. Like its titular titillating temptress, it’s incredibly alluring from face value alone. However, thanks to a story whose oddness borders on the inane, and gameplay that can get a tad TOO procedural, Catherine isn't a game that everyone can enjoy on the same level.


The tale of Catherine follows 32-year-old Vincent Brooks through the worst week of his life. His girlfriend of 5 years, Katherine McBride, has started to become impatient with his lack of commitment and begins pushing him to tie the knot. Not content to give up his "free and easy" lifestyle, however, things become infinitely more complicated for Vincent when a blonde bombshell named Catherine literally falls into his lap and, before he even knows what he's doing, he's cheating on Katherine with her. This doesn't even take into account the nightmares that Vincent starts to experience every night. When he goes to sleep, Vincent is faced with hellish towers of blocks that he must climb in order to escape a very real death.

The quirk of Catherine's story and characters does a fantastic job of selling it. Vincent is written and voiced hilariously, being both relatable and impossibly stupid/irresponsible at the same time. The bit characters and acquaintances in Vincent's life are similarly well-written, and the sheer style of it all carries a lot of the weight. Sadly, Catherine's story occasionally falls flat because of two fatal flaws. For one thing, the central conundrum of Catherine vs. Katherine is almost a moot point, as both ladies start off almost insufferably unlikable. In the case of one of the ladies, she eventually becomes more tolerable and even a fairly deep character, but the other remains so one-dimensional and outright absurdly written that this "choice" is one that's not horribly compelling. Secondly, that absurdity permeates so deep into the story and it saps it of a lot of its humanity and punch. Don't get me wrong, it's entertaining as all hell, but some people may take the late game twist as an insult to their intelligence.


Simply playing through Catherine gives you a good chunk of game to chew on. It'll take you about 12-15 hours on a standard playthrough of the game's Normal difficulty. Strangely, the additional modes and fun you can have with Catherine revolve around not only finishing, but doing well in the game's main story. For example, there are cooperative and competitive block puzzles to tackle. Sounds pretty cool, no? Well you're going to have to complete that 12-15 hour campaign before you get to play even one level of it. There's also a fairly deep trials mode known as Babel that is unlocked level by level when you achieve a Gold Trophy in various stages of the game's main story. That might seem reasonable, but realizing how difficult Catherine can be at times, getting those Golds to unlock more game content is daunting task.

It all adds to the occasionally old-school feel of Catherine's challenge, but it's puzzling that Atlus would hide so much of the good stuff it has to offer behind such high watermarks. There's a ton of good stuff in Catherine to get at. It's just going to take a while to get at it all.


The actual gameplay of Catherine is perhaps the simplest aspect of the game to convey. During the day, you control Vincent at the Stray Sheep bar. Here, you interact with the various patrons and answer texts which play into the way things will proceed in the story. It's not hugely variable, but it's nice to have the freedom to effect little things in the narrative. You'll also be doing things that play more directly into the gameplay aspects as well. You can play a retro-styled version of Catherine in the bar, and this can provide you some additional practice for the night portions of the game. Additionally, seeing as the Stray Sheep is a bar, you can drink. This might seem useless (aside from the fact it provides you with some truly interesting trivia about alcohol), but the more you consume, the faster Vincent moves during the night-time portions.

And that is essential because, as the song goes, the freaks come out at night as you're forced into Vincent's nightmares. In these, you'll take on the game's main source of action, and that's block puzzles. Essentially, you'll be staring down a staircase made completely of blocks, and you must push, pull, stack, hang, climb, and do all manner of mind-bending actions to climb them. You don't have all day, however, as not only does each stage slowly crumble underneath you, but many blocks are traps that can kill you or send you into unfavorable situations. At the end of each floor of the tower, you'll even have to face off against a boss doggedly pursuing you as you attempt to solve each puzzling staircase.

The block puzzles of Catherine can be described in a few words. Challenging. Rewarding. Frustrating. Repetitive. If you don't dig procedural aspects of games, or don't want to punch a baby from the sheer difficulty you'll face, then don't come within a hair's breath of Catherine. Few games are this challenging, and thus more rewarding when you take out another stage. This is a puzzle game, make no mistake. It's an extremely mechanical game, despite trappings to the contrary.


One thing that is undeniably solid about Catherine is its presentation. The graphics are unique and stylish. As good as everyone looks in pixels, the well-done anime cutscenes only bolster the experience. The standout aspects, however, are those that reach your ears. The voice acting is fantastic, with voice acting for Vincent and his posse being particularly excellent. The OST for Catherine, much like the Persona games before it, should be owned right alongside the game.


But whether you wish to actually own Catherine is dependent on your tolerance of what the game is... and that's a puzzle game with a nonsense story attached. The sheer style and zaniness of Atlus's latest may be enough for you to want check it out. Indeed, the curious would be well-served in at least seeing if Catherine is their type of game. It's challenging, it's unlike anything out there right now, and it's just the right type of weird that even the wholly unfamiliar with this type of Japanese craziness can appreciate it. It's a great game, but one that's difficult to recommend to everybody.

People who become enamored with Catherine within the first hour or so are going to love it. People who are put off by that first impression... well...

Based on its own ample assets and merits, Catherine gets 4 stars out of 5 from me.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Questionable Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Despite Cap being one of my very favorite comic book characters ever, I had little faith in the ability of anybody being able to bring him to life on the silver screen. Regardless of my affection for ol' Steve Rogers, it's just a little tough to picture the red, white, and blue boy scout being taken seriously when given flesh and blood.
But somehow, some way, not only is Captain America: The First Avenger a wholly entertaining piece of period fiction and faithful to the hero's long lineage, but it manages to be the most humanly satisfying superhero movie that's come along in a great while.


Captain America follows the exploits of Steven Rogers (Chris Evans) during World War II. Having an uncanny sense of duty and desire to do what he feels is right, all the scrawny Rogers wants to do is serve the country he loves. The problem is that aside from being only 90 pounds, Rogers has myriad health problems that prevent any recruiter from taking him. Hope for Rogers comes in the form of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). He is looking for young men to join an extremely secretive "Super Soldier" project, and Steve has just the intangibles (selflessness, strength of will, integrity) that he is looking for. It isn't so long after Rogers finally becomes that titular "Super Soldier" when the error of Erskine's past in the form of the maniacal Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) rears its ugly face. Now, the newly christened Captain America must run a covert campaign against the mad man and his legion of HYDRA soldiers to help bring an end to the war and this threat on all of humanity.


CHARACTERIZATION! Sure, director Joe Johnston doesn't necessarily paint a visage of incredibly complex characters here, but the way each seems so naturally human through their interactions and relationships with other characters is incredibly well done. Evans in particular embodies the wholesome nature of Captain America without feeling cheesy or forced. This is aided by the over the top, yet completely believable performance of Hugo Weaving as "The Red Skull". The characters are unapologetically two-dimensional, sure, but they own up to that. In fact, the best performance may be attributed to Hayley Atwell as the Captain's love interest, Peggy Carter. She effortlessly skirts the line between the hard, no-nonsense operative, and the caring person who is willing to fight for something on principles alone. The fact that she never plays damsel in distress is refreshing. Tucci as Erskine, Sebastian Stan as Bucky, Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, and the various "Howling Commandos" bit parts all play their roles admirably.

Captain America is also a movie that isn't afraid to provide a deeper timeline of events to its audience than most other superhero films. A whole heck of a lot takes place in the Captain's standard running time, and all the build-up at the beginning pays off with the punchier second half. It doesn't attempt to shoe-horn in plot details and character development in the film's climax, and the movie is better for it. It allows for the action to take center-stage, and for the most part, it's done well. It has a pulpy retro feel while also being wholly modern. In fact, that feel is what gives Captain America its unique edge. A mid-movie segment that shows "Captain America" touring the USA selling war bonds exemplifies this perfectly. It really wraps the audience up in its setting, while still subtly showing an awareness of its retro feel.


Conversely, certain action sequences feel incredibly artificial. It's nothing too distracting, but during some of the more chaotic or grandiose scenes, the special effects can take the audience out of the experience. After all, when most of the scenes feel so authentic and period appropriate, scenes that use heavy green screening effects and CGI are that much more apparent.


Fans of the character will love all the affection towards past storylines and costumes. Also, I need the "Captain America" song that plays during the USO tour and credits RIGHT NOW!


Whether you want to call it a superhero film, a pulpy period piece, or a summer action flick, Captain America delivers on all fronts. It's an affectionate, well-made movie that audiences of all ages can easily enjoy. This may be the most well-done film Marvel studios has put out, and should serve alongside films like The Dark Knight as a template for what the genre can achieve.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

COMICS!! Review: Daredevil #1

Daredevil hasn't been himself for a while. The amount of times Matt Murdock has veritably been screwed over is reaching a Peter Parker level of ridiculous at this point, and this DD fan was sick of it. Yep, I haven't read a new comic from one of my favorite characters in some time, mainly because I don't feel like he's been the character who made me fall in love with comics in just about forever.

After reading Mark Waid's first issue of this new Daredevil series, I can say that Matt Murdock is still a very different character than he once was. But somehow, this time that makes this new Daredevil even more compelling.

Back in a New York Groove

Daredevil #1 has DD back in New York. Through crashing a mafia wedding (both busting Spot from kidnapping the young daughter of one family and also stealing a kiss from the bride) we see a much brasher Matt Murdock. He's more confident, he's more carefree. Despite this new attitude, the past actions of DD still linger and Murdock finds it difficult to return to business as usual. Intrigue arises from his current case, and we get the initial set-up for what this new series is going to be about. There's also a thoroughly enjoyable "second tale" that has Foggy and Matt just conversing, which gives a nice little weight to this inaugural issue.

Justice is Blind. Not Mute.

Both tales are penned by veteran of the veterans, Mark Waid. Waid is undoubtedly a pro, and the stream of consciousness that he uses to carry the weight of the story is one that feels both inherently familiar and brand new. It feels noir, but with the way that Waid writes DD as much more brash puts a nice spin on the proceedings. What really anchored me to the whole thing was the artwork by a pair of incredibly talented artists. Paolo Rivera shows the world that DD inhabits in ways I've never seen it before. The amount of unique paneling and uses of silhouettes and implied figures not only gives the idea of how DD might view the world, but also gives it a very post-modern art house feel. It's bizarre. It's also impossible to take one's eyes off of. The "second tale" is illustrated by Marcos Martin, and whilst there's no action to speak of, really, Martin is ace. I've said how much I love his art in prior reviews, but I can't say it enough. He's one of the best artists out there.

For all these positives, however, I did have problems with this issue. A few substantial ones, actually (though some may stem from being a DD fanboy). I said that Waid's new vision of how Matt Murdock should be is compelling and refreshing, but at the same time I fear he may be losing some of what made the character likable. In trying to give him a "cooler" and more... how shall I say this... of an edge(?), Waid may have made Matt a dick. He seems a little like Oliver Queen without the charm or moustache. I'll obviously wait to see where the book goes, but this, and the fact that the main impetus of the story seemed to be people telling Matt, "Hey, you're Daredevil" and Matt saying "Nope", I'm a little concerned for what the solution of it all is going to be. Of course, that's why we read the books...

Here's to the future.

Despite those gripes, I thoroughly enjoyed both features of Daredevil #1. Waid may be making Daredevil his own, and though that can be alarming, it's also very exciting. This is a well written comic with extremely beautiful artwork. What more can you ask for? If you've got the cash in your wallet and are looking for a brand new series to jump into, get on the Murdock express. DD should be a heck of a ride.

Daredevil #1 gets 4 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Questionable Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II

The Harry Potter franchise, yet another series that I myself have grown up with and has become a large part of my young(ish) life has now come to a close. It seems a superfluous exercise to review this, the last film in the franchise. People who aren't fans of the franchise by now are not going to be swayed by this film, and as this film is a thoroughly enjoyable (or at the very least, not outright offensive to its audience), people crazy enough to have stuck with the series this long aren't going to be convinced to abandon it now. Still, on its own merits I'll attempt to explain why the latest Harry Potter, while far from perfect, is a worthwhile movie experience.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (quite the goddamn mouthful) takes place shortly after the previous film. With the shroud of darkness looming, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his companions Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) must hunt down the remaining Horcruxes and destroy them in a last ditch effort to kill Lord Voldemort (Ray Feinnes) once and for all. Of course, this proves more difficult than it sounds, as not only must the individual Horcruxes still be found, but Voldemort's amassing army of Death Eaters threaten a full scale attack on Hogwarts, and to stamp out the last of those who would oppose the dark lord's supremacy.


What drives the wizarding world of Harry Potter forward are the characters and the unique, sometimes random, and often times frighteningly dark elements that make it up. That is no different here, and again the charm and genuine emotion of the trio of leads shine through again. Watson especially seems to have matured to a point where she shoulders the weighty emotional scenes which leave Grint and Radcliffe open to work towards their own individual strengths (comic relief and stalwart leader, respectively). The HUGE ensemble cast don't get quite as much to do as they individually deserve, likely because of the damn number of people we're dealing with, but each does their typical great job. Fiennes and Alan Rickman (Snape) are standouts. Once again, the visuals respectively and outstandingly bring to life the smallest of intricacies in the film's world. This series has taken a turn for the dark in latter installments, and although we are still dealing with a grim movie on the whole (which the visuals reflect), I was glad that the filmmakers also made sure to include more brightly lit motifs to call back to the days when the series was strictly a fantasy tale for children.

Of course I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that this is indeed the final movie, and how things end. Without giving anything away, I can only describe the ending of the series as satisfying. The majority of loose ends are tied up, and though the ending isn't completely rosy, it's one that fans of the series (especially the films) will appreciate and not feel cheated by.


Deathly Hallows: Part II's main shortcomings actually stem from its place on the timeline. It may be obvious, but if you have not seen the first part of this final installment recently, or indeed recent installments, the movie is not going to provide any context or reference to you. Simply put, the film not only will not hold your hand and make sure you remember why this element or that element is important, it will completely THROW your hand down and glare at you disapprovingly. That may be fine in a sequential series where there are only three or four films, but in a movie where there have been a total of 7 films building up to it, it's a little demanding (even for this series) to punish the viewer for not recalling exactly what happened three or four films back.

And that kind of approach also plays into the feeling that this final installment as a whole (that's including Part I) needed more time. This has the feelings of a film that's sprinting towards the finish. As such, some moments especially those dealing with character death aren't given the time or respect they deserve. Points are brought up and not elaborated on, and you get the feeling a lot was cut out to make sure the movie kept its brisk 2 hour and 45 minute run time. It's a nitpick, sure, as the filmmakers get the desired effect out the audience more often than not, but I still can't help but feel like just 20 more minutes in this and the previous film would have made a world of difference.


I knew there wasn't going to be any Quidditch in this film, but for goodness sake they set the Quidditch pitch on fire! I guess that gets across how the films treated one of my favorite aspects of the books.


Chances are, even if you've made it to the end of this review, your mind was made up on what you thought of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. For me, it's the satisfying end to a series which has been a large part of my life (for better or worse). It's not the best film in the series, and its place as the odd second half or the final film in a series that began ten years ago makes it perhaps the most flawed, but it's a well-made film that does just what its audience expects from it. Muggles need not apply.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

COMICS!! Review: Red Skull: Incarnate #1

Red Skull is one of those villains that, although he's considered legendary in the Marvel Universe as one of its greatest villains, I honestly have trouble accepting him outside of the context of the war that created him. That's a non-issue with Red Skull: Incarnate, as we see the coming of age of the man who would become Red Skull. Whilst it's difficult to feel sympathy for someone who has done so much evil in his life, but thanks to a stellar first issue, readers can actually see the tragic beginnings that may have created this monster.

Fall of the Third Reich.

Issue #1 begins after the fall of the Third Reich in WWII. Johann Schmidt, the boy who would become Red Skull is a simple street urchin living in an orphanage under the iron fist of a tyrannical and fanatical head master. Schmidt is only a child, and despite a somewhat gruff exterior, he actually shows compassion towards his fellow orphans. However, he also shows flashes of ruthlessness, and a willingness to do just about anything to ensure he survives this chaotic period in time. By issue's end, we're still not sure where Johann's evil motivations might stem from, but we do see the inklings of a boy who is driven to seek violence to improve his own standing.

Red Skull: Incarnate isn't the most complex or exciting telling of an origin story, but it is unflinching in how solid its writing and art is. Greg Pak tells a story primarily through the context of the time period and the dialogue between the character's involved. Besides Schmidt, you're not going to recognize anybody else here, but simply because of their portrayal here, you'll feel sympathy, hatred, or indifference to them. Some of these exchanges, especially between Johann and a local dog-catcher are startlingly haunting. Again, Johann is just a boy at this time, but the dark places his mind can go hint at the mind he will become.

Beauty in Tragedy

The art by Mirko Colak emphasizes the helpless and chaotic tone of the story. He has a very smooth style, but combined with the haunting images he portrays and the dark/contrasting colors by Matthew Wilson, it fits perfectly with the tone of the story. At its worst, it's not distracting, and at its best it only adds to Johann's story. I also must complement the cover by David Aja. It looks simultaneously like a piece of propaganda, like an old pulp comic book cover, and like an astounding piece of stand-alone art. To say it helped sell the comic to me when I saw it on the shelf is probably the best praise I can say about it.

As a stand-alone issue, Red Skull: Incarnate #1 is easy to recommend. It's a fantastic telling of the early stages of a classic villain's career. As part one of a mini-series, it sets a tone beautifully and gets one excited to read more. It's solid from top to bottom, and any fan of Captain America and his rogue's gallery shouldn't think twice before plunking down $2.99 for this gem.

Red Skull: Incarnate gets a deserved 5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

i-Rix Review: Trenched

Trenched is a game unlike any that's been released recently. That's because it takes so many elements from so many different games and genres that the stew that emerges from this video game broth pot is one that manages to be delicious, almost surprisingly so. It isn't without its faults, and for all the replayability in its campaign, Trenched still feels a little light in the metal loafers, but fans of Double Fine or those with a penchant for cooperative play should definitely check out this mech shooter.


In true Double Fine fashion, the story of Trenched is a ludicrously genius one. This is a post-WWI alternate reality where an alien broadcast has fried the minds of countless military personnel, save for two; Frank Woodruff Sr. and Vlad Farnsworth. These two close friends are granted near infinite intellect. Whilst Woodruff uses his smarts to develop the "Mobile Trench", huge mechanized war machines that allow disabled soldier to walk once more, Farnsworth goes insane and creates the "monovisions", creatures made of television screens and wires that are hellbent on spreading the alien broadcast to all mankind. As this signal is almost always lethal, and the monovisions themselves are able to decimate most of the world's established military, Woodruff takes it upon himself to assemble a Mobile Trench Brigade and fight back against the invading beasties.


Trenched is split up into three campaign theaters with about four missions (and one boss fight) per. This might not sound like much, and to be honest, I wish Trenched had a tad more raw content to dig into. What saves Trenched from being too light in the loafers, however, is the ridiculous amount of loot and customization options. Between drops, challenges, and just level-specific stuff you're picking up, there are (approx.) millions of ways to customize your given Trench. This provides huge incentive to re-play levels repeatedly in hopes that you'll get something delicious. On top of this, any level can be played together with up to three comrades, and this in turn plays back into SEPARATE challenges dealing with your "regiment" (people who you've recently played the game with). This makes the replay value of Trenched potentially great, but with only the handful of levels included in the game, most of which become unplayably easy at a certain level, the unfortunate cap on content makes this the one area that it falls somewhat short.


Thankfully, the actual act of playing Trenched is never disappointing. Each mission (aside from some straight forward boss fights) tasks you with utilizing your customized Trenched in the defense of a given structure or group of structures. You do this by combining your Trench's given weaponry, but also by setting up defensive and support emplacements about the battlefield to stem the attacking waves of monovisions. You see, besides being a third-person Mech shooter, Trenched is also a tower-defense game. You'll set up machine guns, sniper turrets, dampening generators, and mine layers in your enemy's paths and at strategic choke-points to make sure your structures remain safe.

Of course that's easier said than done, as there are a ton of varied types of monovisions. Some shield other units. Others have armor that needs to be broken off with explosions before attacking the creature directly. Others still will come straight for YOU and try to murder your ass. This variation makes the pacing of each pitched battle fast and frantic, and you'll need to learn how to manage your scrap reserves best to maintain your defenses. Of course, variation also plays into just HOW you've customized your Trench. For example, if you're rolling an assault chassis with some heavy weapons and/or ridiculous number of guns attached, those emplacements are going to take a back seat to just good old fashioned shooting. However, you could also take an engineering chassis into the fight loaded up with all types of emplacements and control the entire battlefield with strategic prowess. Throwing in a group of three other comrades means these options get even more radical as, with a posse behind you, you can specialize in your favorite area even more. In the end, Trenched is a game about love, and there's plenty to love with the way this game plays.


Like many other games in the Double Fine lineage, Trenched's distinct world drives its presentation. Trenched might not have a ton of graphical power behind it, but it knows how to to put its best mechanical foot forward. The cartoony look belays a dark and desolate picture of a world taken over by sentient televisions. Punctuating Trenched is its voice cast, with smartly written dialog bringing even more humor to the absurdity of the whole thing. The one point of contention I have with Trenched is the lack of a consistent soundtrack. There are fitting period themes present during cutscenes and at given points, but most of the in-game stuff is silent with only the ambient sounds of gunfire and screeching monsters.


Trenched is a 15 dollar gem. It may not have a ton of content (least that which stays playable throughout the game's entirety), but if you have a lust for loot and a stalwart squad of soldiers willing to endure some repetition, Trenched is a game well worth the price of admissions.

Trenched gets 4 stars out of 5.