Thursday, March 21, 2019

"The Princess Guide" Review

It seems like the setup for a high fantasy reality show. Four princesses from various corners of the kingdom are summoned to take part in the legendary Princess Knight training sessions.

You take one of the princesses under your wing as an apprentice to your knightship, with the goal of training her and her followers to become the best defense against a sinister force that threatens to tear the land apart.

The unique training-focused aspect of the setup adds depth to the storyline and gameplay. Combined with a peppy anime visual style, the NIS product has all the trappings to become your next Switch obsession. Not everything is going in the game's favor, though.

Rickety combat and a convoluted story hold the game back from the level of fascinating JRPG that the Nippon Ichi developers were striving for.

On the whole, "The Princess Guide" is a rich, lengthy adventure that gives fantasy combat-focused RPG fans a bounty to digest. There are more grounded and compelling choices out there, but the game excels at its chosen goals, thriving where it matters msot.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"Valley" Review

"Valley" is an ethereal first-person Switch game that has you explore a mysterious, fog-laden mountainside realm. Mysterious sights and sounds abound, and there's little context to explain the odd encounters.

One more twist, and it's a doozy: Early on, you unearth a crate that yields a L.E.A.F. exosuit that grants you abilities with shades of Iron Man, Titanfall of Apex Legends.

The suit allows you to run at super speeds, execute incredible jumps and even alter the life and death states of organisms surrounding you. You need to exploit all of your abilities to their utmost in order to take on the light traversal and puzzle challenges that await you.

Unfolding more like an interactive storybook than a traditional FPS, "Valley" drapes you in its scene-setting trappings to suck you into its wildly creative world. The dev team at Blue Isle Studios went out of its way to craft an emotionally resonant experience that has a way of sticking with your subconscious in between play sessions.

I recommend avoiding walkthroughs or speedrun attempts when it comes to "Valley." A slow burn that gives you more if you're willing to take your time with its methodical ways, the game overflows with unorthodox riches. This is yet another example of the Switch hardware opening up offbeat possibilities for savvy developers.

Publisher provided review code.

Monday, March 18, 2019

"Golf Peaks" Review

Thriving in its simplicity, "Golf Peaks" is a miniature golf minigame for those who didn't know they were fans of miniature golf.

Single-screen puzzles based on putt-putt courses make up the charming and addictive game. The design by the dev team at Afterburn revels in economical design, minimalist sensibilities and a precise physics system.

The sequence of golf-based puzzles tasks you to line up shots, determine the power level, visualize the outcome and decide how best to approach your multiple putts to nail your shot.

As you advance, the levels grow more complex, adding ricochets, inclines, hazards and barriers. Trial-and-error is the method you find yourself falling back upon repeatedly, blended with critical thinking and anticipation.

A golf ball-solid addition to the Switch's puzzle game repertoire, "Golf Peaks" is an ideal time-killer, as well as an engaging, thought-provoking brain teaser. If only golf itself were this satisfying.
Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

"Tom Clancy's The Division 2" Review

Set in a near-future Washington D.C. ravaged by invasion, "Tom Clancy's The Division 2" has you join a crack team of tactical supersoldiers who become the last guardians of Western democracy.

Set seven months after a deadly biological weapon ravaged New York City, the covert ops unit seeks out strongholds, infiltrates enemy choke points and establishes footholds to hold off the enemy.

Subtle visual upgrades and sweeping gameplay adjustments distinguish the sequel from the 2016 original, which survived a rough start to evolve into a multiplayer standby, particularly in Xbox One and PC circles.

Although the campaign is a solid foundation, it's mulitplayer that will grant the game its legs in the coming months -- and judging from the exhaustive support Ubisoft gave the first game -- possibly even years. The pipeline of free DLC is a compelling inducement for players to invest their time and effort into scoping out the game's finer points.

Although squadding up, executing missions and harvesting the rewards is a main draw from online play, one of the more intriguing aspects is the PvP-oriented Dark Zone, which tasks players to put prime loot on the line as they size up their skills and loadouts with high stakes on the line.

"The Division 2" keeps the adrenaline pumping, thanks to slick pacing and a smooth menu interface that helps you make your adjustments and dive back into the action without suffering through much of a waiting game. Geared from the ground up to hook you in quickly and keep you playing for hours into the night, the game builds off a superb base and reaches substantially more impressive heights.

Enrolling in "The Division 2" feels worthwhile because every action -- particularly collaborative work -- leads to more links in a chain that forms a reward loop, inducing you to keep coming back for more with refined weaponry and gadgets that will make you that much more effective as you seek glory on the monumental battlefield.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, March 15, 2019

PHIL ON FILM: "Captive State"

For my written review, click here.

Book Report: "The Pole Vault Championship of the Entire Universe"

The Pole Vault Championship of the Entire UniverseThe Pole Vault Championship of the Entire Universe by Conor Lastowka
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a slow, dad joke-filled start I was wondering whether I had found myself in a mire of bland, unfunny madcap shenanigans that would never manage to right itself.

But Conor Lastowaka manages to step up his game once he makes it past the awkward introductions to his "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"-like intergalactic goof, he's able to interject occasional strings of hilarious, belly laugh-erupting writing.

Comedy novels are among the toughest to write, so a certain measure of inconsistency is expected, but Lastowka's work extends the full range of comedic success and failure to a degree I've never seen.

The story follows two threads: One of an eccentric, self-fashioned dictator of a platform-country the size of half a football field he calls "Hawall" in order to trick Hawaii-bound tourists into visiting by accident. He recruits his estranged granddaughter to visit and compete, while also continuing the family tradition of wearing a dirty, ruined and mind-manipulating costume. The other is about a megalomaniacal alien who dreams of shedding his race's reputation for garbage collection in favor of conquering the Earth and proving his athletic dominance.

The writing sometimes comes off as a 10-year-old snickering to himself while filling out Mad Libs. But at times, Lastowka is funny enough to emerge as something of a creative mastermind.

A capable Audible cast, which includes Eliza Skinner, Janet Varney, Weird Al Yankovic and Mike Nelson, assembles for something close to a full-featured, extravagantly produced radio play. It's easy to imagine the play working as a stage musical. I could also see it becoming a really awful animated movie. The future of this franchise is as mercurial and unclear as that of Hawall itself.

Publisher provided review code.

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 14, 2019

PHIL ON FILM: Breaking down the new "Avengers: Endgame" trailer

"The Caligula Effect: Overdose" Switch Review

Set in a world created by a sentient virtual doll, in which people can relive an idealized version of their high school life, "The Caligula Effect: Overdose" explores the downside of shrugging off real-life problems in favor of a virtual world.

Lost in artificial bliss, you need to work your way through numerous insecurities, hang-ups and virtual barriers to return to some semblance of real life. Elegant, observant writing, ethereal visuals and pragmatic design are the game's high points. Pacing, controls and menu systems tend to hold it back, and that hasn't changed since the game's initial release.

Three years after its debut on PS4, Vita and PC, the game re-emerges on the Switch in a slightly revamped form. While the basics remain intact, there are minor adjustments that optimize the game for the portable/home console hybrid.

The game remains mainly for those interested in an artistic, intellectually challenging experience rather than a more common, action-oriented adventure. An imperfect but undeniably engaging spectacle, it's worth seeking out and getting lost in its world.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Book Report: "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, #3)The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arthur Conan Doyle made himself the all-seeing Sherlock and his readers the dumbfounded dupes Watson. His stories set up obtuse, unsolvable puzzles, then make the solutions seem obvious, even though they were impossible to solve by the reader, given the information presented to them.

His storytelling is economical and smooth, cutting from one key conversation to the next, with no superfluous flourishes and never any exposition. His narratives always take place in the moment, with alternating flashbacks set up by monologues from Watson or Sherlock's clients.

Doyle plays to his strengths in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," emphasizing short-form storytelling over the need to set up an elaborate setup and payoff. The format lets him leap from one topic to the next, wrapping things up and moving on whenever his attention span demands. It plays out something like a collection of short stories linked together by the common device.

If you've never read a Sherlock Holmes book, this is the one to start with and compare all others against.

View all my reviews

PHIL ON FILM: Breaking down the new "Aladdin" trailer