Thursday, March 15, 2018

"Attack on Titan 2" Review

We're living in a post-movie-to-game world, but TV shows are not immune to the age-old practice of licensed adaptations. With the "Attack on Titan" series, the developers at Koei Tecmo America are burdened with the thankless task of conjuring a playable game version of the popular anime while also doling out the expected stream of fan service.

The team handled the job with aplomb in the 2016 game, and tackles the task with similar vigor and success this time out. "Attack on Titan 2" nails the look of the series while capturing the sense of movement and flow that those who loved the first game would expect.

Gameplay additions in the sequel are few but impactful. The story draws from season two of the anime, adding new protagonists, villains and settings. There's also the ability to create a customized Scout, which use unique evade-style attacks, ranged sneak strikes and hook drives while using the monocular tool to help take down the enemies who stand in your way.

While some fans may find the gaming series to be milquetoast, superfans will find plenty to sink their teeth into. This is a game for card-carrying "Attack on Titan" obsessives, and outsiders need not apply.
Publisher provided review code.

Book Report: The Life of Pi

Life of PiLife of Pi by Yann Martel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes I am slow to take on books that served as source material for movies I like because I think I will be too familiar with the story to appreciate the material. Yann Martel's novel is yet another piece of evidence that proves that line of thinking is wrong. The movie encapsulates just a shred of Pi's seafaring journey, leaving out the tons of context that's necessary to squeeze a story within the time constraints of a film.

Martel's book is a haunting meditation on the search for God and the way humans fit into the animal world, as well as the way they project humanlike qualities onto animals they hunt, care for and capture. Martel's material is infinitely deep and dense, while also thoroughly accessible. His shift among voices is effortless, and always conversational to the point of stream of consciousness melded with journal entries.

Martel captures the listless horror of being stranded at sea, both literally and figuratively, and confronting both external and internal fears and yearnings. This is a beautiful and incomparable book.
Sanjeev Bhaskar's narrative performance in the Audible version is as resplendent as the writing itself, shifting between the thicker accent of an Indian immigrant when speaking as Pi, and the low-key, Indian-influenced patter of the studied academic voice relaying the tale in the narrative device. His voice conjures the magic that the writing calls out for.
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"Yakuza 6: The Song of Life" Review

What used to be a sporadic series has taken on some major momentum as of late, with Sega cranking out remakes, rereleases and sequels of "Yakuza" games at a bewildering wait. Last year's excellent "Yakuza 0" and "Yakuza Kuwami" throwbacks were really just build-ups to the coupe de gras payoff, "Yakuza 6: The Song of Life."

While players who have been around since the PlayStation 2 days will doubtlessly get more out of the affair, the developers took great pains to allow "Yakuza 6" to be a jumping-in point. The game begins with a lengthy flashback that catches you up to speed on all the main characters' backstories.

As is always the case with "Yakuza" games, the streets bustle with distracting side activities. You can grab a bite to eat, try your hand at karaoke or track down collectibles.

There's also a clan-building minigame that complements the main storyline. After mob boss Kiryu is released from prison, he comes to the aid of his ward Haruka, who has slipped into a coma following an accident. He moves to a small town to investigate what led up to the accident, as well as battle for control of Haruto.

With an operatic,winding narrative that more than lives up to what's come before, "The Song of Life" is the deepest, most meditative "Yakuza" journey to date. What would serve as an apt finale for the beautiful crime saga may be nothing of the sort. Maybe "Yakuza" isn't ending at all, but just getting started.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"The Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya" Review

A bold and intense visual novel with plenty to say about gender norms and sexism, "The Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya" objectifies male sex workers while making female characters their leering, depraved exploiters.

Over one long night, you navigate the underbelly of the courtesan world by speaking with several of the escorts, making choices that play them off of one another while advancing your own interests, which are somewhat depraved.

The characters and visuals are drawn with distinctive flair, carving out niches as compelling figures to follow throughout the twist-filled journey. Romance, which seems to be on the backburner, surges to the forefront, with the elegantly told story threads intertwining in surprising ways.

The game makes for a solid fit on the Switch due to its ability to pause into sleep mode at any time. The effect is a bookmark-like pacekeeper that allows you to come back to renew the narrative.

Best enjoyed in isolation, with distractions minimized, "The Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiva" is a surreal and thought-provoking journey of the kind too rarely found in gamedom.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

"I, Zombie" Review

Thankfully unrelated to the CW comedy about the crime-solving zombie detective, "I, Zombie" is an overhead-view strategy game that tasks you to control hordes of the undead who take on groups of humans.

A welcome twist to the zombie game formula makes you appreciate just how much thought and care goes into what everyone presumed are braindead, blind assaults on the living.

In control of one lead zombie, you work your way around structures to do some recon, then bark out commands to your troops to follow you or attack. The short, bite-sized levels go by quickly, challenging you to take them down with trial, error and adaptation.

The 16-bit style graphics play well into the retro feel of the enterprise, which is a superb fit on the Switch's interface. A fun, challenging game to take on the go, "I, Zombie" challenges your twitch skills while munching away at your brain. 
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Book Report: "An Acceptable Time"

An Acceptable Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #5)An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Madeleine L'Engle's 1980s time travel books that extended her time trilogy into a quintent are a proof that demanding more of something great can lead to diminishing returns. George R.R. Martin fans take heed.

L'Engle goes back to the well, blending particle physics with biblical characters as a setting for a coming-of-age teen tale. Like "Many Waters," "An Acceptable Time" gets off to an extremely slow start, finding its rhythm in the middle chapters before wrapping everything up in a conveniently forced manner and sending everyone on their way.

A weird, off-putting overtone justifies the human sacrifice rituals of the Druid culture from 3,000 years ago. The moral equivalency is jarring, and while adding a sense of urgency, seems more like a red herring because it's obvious that she would never go that dark with her main characters.

I'm glad I experienced the latter two books of the unfortunately finished series, but in my mind the original trilogy stands alone.

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"Red Sparrow" Review

For my written review, click here.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

"Toki Tori 2+" Review

A colorful, charming, upbeat puzzle-platformer that makes for an excellent fit on the Switch, "Toki Tori 2+" lets you guide its bird-like creature over, around and under varied obstacles, with the final destination being your heart.

Adorable without pushing too forcibly into cutesy territory, the family-friendly adventure tasks your reflexes as well as your ability to learn from trick design with a healthy dose of trial and error. Expect to die often, even in the early levels, which use a stern hand to teach you the tricks you'll need to survive.

Innovative level design, in-game achievements and collectibles up the replay value. Not that you need much of an excuse to keep coming back to a game that's such a joy to play. Even at its most brutal, "Toki Tori 2+" is heedless joy to play.

If you're interested, it would be a good idea to pick up the gamer sooner rather than later. It's on sale for $9.99 until March 9, after which the price shoots up by $5.
Publisher provided review code.

"Guilt Battle Arena" Switch Review

A multiplayer-only fighter with simplistic graphics and controls combined with speedy, intuitive gameplay, "Guilt Battle Arena" is a refreshing change of pace from standard, hypercomplex arena battle throwdowns.

With adorable visuals juxtaposed with delightfully brutal combat, "Guilt Battle Arena" delivers an unexpected level of intensity.

Two, three or four players can slug it out in various backdrops, leading to hot potato party game thrills. Indie developer Invincible Cat proves adept at synthesizing old school style charm with new innovations.

The sense of pacing is enthralling, requiring twitch reflexes and psychological mastery to dominate your opponents. The balance is also superb, with advantages of various character setups and loadouts making for varied setups that cater toward your playstyle and inclinations.

Until a "Smash Bros." adaptation comes along, this is about the best Switch owners can do in this genre.
Publisher provided review code.

"Subsurface Circular" Review

The visual novel "Subsurface Circular" could have been released in any era, but maybe is the best fit for 2018 because there are so few games that are anything like it.

With perhaps the closest analogue being the "Hatoful Boyfriend" pigeon-schoolyard-romance series, the game tells a "Mass Effect"-twinged sci-fi story, with your dialogue choices opening up new branching gameplay paths while closing down others.

Credit goes to the Bithell Games writing team for conjuring a narrative that forces you to examine the text uttered by you and the rest of the characters rather than numbly tap your way through. The reward truly is the journey here, with background visuals serving as the only reminders that you're playing a game rather than reading a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure e-book.

Working as a detective investigating the disappearance of robotic workers, you feel out witnesses, nudging them to cough up key information without losing your cool or causing them to lose theirs. Every choice you make can snowball and drastically change not only the outcome of your dialogue tree, but the story as a whole. You'll find yourself having to make tough decisions with inadequate information onhand, dealing with pangs of regret the rest of the saga for opportunities missed.

A compelling crime yarn through and through, "Subsurface Circular" is a welcome literary change of pass in an action-heavy medium.

Publisher provided review code.