Thursday, April 25, 2019

"Super Blood Hockey" Review

A throwback to the ancient and brilliant NES "Ice Hockey" and "Blades of Steel" games, developer Loren Lemcke brought back everything that worked in the pre-EA Sports era, while removing all the technological frustrations of the 80s.

Bursting with fast-paced, arcadey action, as well as gloriously gratuitous hyperviolence that lives up to the title, "Super Blood Hockey" is an exaggerated take on the sport that seems geared to give siblings cause to slug one another during intense couch co-op sessions.

Exhibition, challenge and franchise modes highlight the offerings, which allow you to play as the national team of your choice and engage in -- to borrow from the old joke -- brawls that occasionally break out in hockey games.

The passing, shooting and checking controls are precise and finely tuned, allowing for a competitive balance that's key in a sports title.

Player types range from sluggish bruisers to lithe attackers, allowing you to gear up your lines to facilitate the tactics you prefer.

A delightful chiptune soundtrack by Shawn Daley adds to the retro ambiance. As you indulge in the over-the-top action, you feel as though you're getting away with something. That's the charm of "Super Blood Hockey," which resurrects the spirit of video game hockey from its earliest, most rambunctious days.

Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: "Avengers: Endgame" Preview

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

"SteamWorld Quest" Review

The "SteamWorld" brand has come to stand for innovation, quality and humor over the years. In games that started on the DS and spread across several platforms, they caught fire with gamers of all ages and proclivities, building up anticipation for each new release.

After two action/exploration "SteamWorld Dig" games and the strategy-oriented "SteamWorld Heist," the turn-based card battle RPG "SteamWorld Quest" is the most dramatic departure from developer Image & Form.

Set in a steampunk realm, you guide your party through an adventure that satirizes fantasy and sci-fi conventions while gradually building up an emotionally resonant story of its own.

You build your deck of attacks, spells and defense buffs through an array of 100 punch cards, gearing your toolset to the needs of the challenges that lie ahead.

Unlike some other games of its ilk, combat flows at a rapid pace, with cards serving as something like a quick menu bar that allows you to draw and deal out your attacks as rapidly or methodically as you choose.

While the leap to the new genre won't bring all "SteamWorld" fans with it from previous entries, the new horizons opened up by the entry refreshes the possibilities for the indie franchise turned mainstream success.

"SteamWorld Quest" is likely the most robust and lengthy -- if not the most replayable -- game in the sprawling franchise yet. Taking a machete to the brush standing in the way of the new path, the game opens up promising new possibilities. The future of "SteamWorld" is every bit as bright as its past.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"Feather" Review

More of an elegant and visually striking proof of concept or meditative experience than a game, "Feather" has you take control of a bird that soars through a lavish environment.

And that's about it.

Slim on content but loaded with emergent gameplay, the project from developer Samurai Punk stretches the arthouse game concept to its limit.

Its experimental, ephemeral nature of the gameplay is meant to entrance and relax you. There are sights and experiences to seek out and explore, but there's little structure to progression.

Then again, progression isn't the point. You can adjust your speed, pitch and altitude, and the effect truly allows you to lose yourself in the flow. Like one of the early PC flight simulators, "Feather" is all about granting you the virtual gift of flight, letting you take to the skies in a way with a sense of control you could never approach in real life.

Unlike the endless blue skies in which it frolics, a title like this does have its limits though. Working best in short burts or meandering wind-downs at the end of the day, "Feather" ends up being the gaming equivalent of a stress ball.

It will be interesting to see if Samurai Punk -- or another developer -- takes the controls and visual style here and expands it into something grander and with more focus. Even when enjoyed on its chosen level, "Feather" is as light, aimless and adrift in the wind. The question of whether you see something like that as worthy of a landing spot on your Switch is up in the air.

Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: What's leaving Netflix in May 2019

Here's a look at what's leaving Netflix in May.

Monday, April 15, 2019

"Silence" Review

A gorgeous, hand-drawn point-and-click adventure, "Silence" stands out on the Switch for its adherence to storybook-style visuals.

Playing as 16-year-old Noah, who searches for his lost sister, Renie, in a limbo, twilight realm between the living and the dead.

Directional cues send Noah from one area of the screen to another, moving in an organic way to interact with objects you click on, sparking often amusing sequences.

You feel more as though you're orchestrating an animated tale rather than spamming your way through a list of command checkpoints.

Developer Daedalic Entertainment spins an elegiac, whimsical tale that takes place in a hybrid of dreams and reality, with inventive, yet logical puzzles that keep the story momentum flowing forward without stumbling on awkward bottlenecks that have plagued adventure games since their inception.

Even the "wrong" choices manage to keep the story going, filling in the edges with background and color that add depth and clarity to the mainline tale.

The story tracks a battle between a tight-knit band of rebels and a grim confederacy of dark forces that plague the realm.

"Silence" is a showpiece game that makes awe-inspiring use of the Switch's graphical capabilities, looking just as impressive in handheld mode as it does on TV. An indie effort created with skill and panache, it could make some noise in a crowded field of new releases on the console.

Publisher provided review code.

"Heaven's Vault" Review

"Heaven's Vault: is one of those games that instantly entrances you, charming you with its flat pastel animation style and swaying your soul with an engrossing score.

The feel is a cross between the more methodical moments of "Prince of Persia," blended with a sense of slow traversal across a vacant plain in the manner of "Journey."

The changeup is your companion, Six, who mutters precocious, nagging comments that you can choose how to respond to via a dialogue tree.

The text is imprinted on the screen, with lines that trace back to the character speaking, granting the visuals a visual novel effect.

The presentation is half the winning battle in the dazzling and intellectually challenging creation from developer Inkle. The story is the other half.

You play as archaeologist Aliya, who is in on a desperate, lonely hunt for a skilled robotics inventor. You use your archaeological skills to decipher glyphs, traverse ruins and deduce the mysteries buried within a sprawling, interplanetary map.

As you sail to different sectors of the cosmos, you dig deeper into the tapestry, plunging into a twist-filled, winding story that delivers surprise after surprise.

A rich and thoughtful game with enchanting layers to sift through, break down and appreciate, "Heaven's Vault" is a rare slice of indie-dev heaven that you feel like savoring, appreciating and discussing with a friend. A dreamy pleasure, the game is a work of tremendous heart and artistic exuberance that's all too rare on the current game scene.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Musical Theater Review: "Fiddler on the Roof"

"Tradition!" is the refrain that rings throughout "Fiddler on the Roof," which passionately deconstructs the notion of what it means to adhere to pomp and ceremony, as well as how crucial it is for each generation to renew and break away from the routines of the past.

Yehezkel Lazarov carries the show as Tevye, the seriocomic force who leans into inevitable tragedy. His monologues, one-liners, physical comedy and fourth wall-breaking talks with God drive the humor and heart of the lengthy, bustling production.

Strong supporting performances by seasoned veterans Matie Uzal (Golde), Mel Weyn (Tzeitel), Jonathan Von Mering (Lazar Wolf), Ruthy Froch (Hodel), Natalie Powers (Chava) and Carol Beaugard (Yente) help sell the cachet of the production, which thoroughly has the feel of an authentic Broadway production.

From brilliant stagecraft in floating set pieces and fog screens to scintillating acoustics, edgy choreography and a shimmering level of polish, this is as professional a production of the musical as you're ever likely to see. The bottle dance, in particular, is a physics-defying spectacle that drops jaws and raises hands in triumph.

The first act serves as a rom-com, with the duties of adhering to grim historical accuracy left to the more tragic second act, with the disastrous march of antisemitism gradually emerging to rear its revolting head to wreak havoc on the fatalistic townsfolk.

There is much to dissect and chew on in this intellectually challenging and thoughtful script. The challenge of life is to appreciate the fleeting moments of joy, while managing to endure through the harsher aspects, emerging with your character defined, your faith intact and your heart's limits tested.

The cast, crew and brain trust of this touring "Fiddler on the Roof" production takes the role of its metaphorical subject, precariously performing its precarious act, inspiring and inspiring awe in its bedazzled onlookers.

"Fiddler on the Roof" is part of Broadway in Tucson. Buy tickets here.