Thursday, January 18, 2018

"The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human" Review

Set in a post-apocalyptic year 2971 in which the world has sunk underneath the ocean and our savior Kevin Costner is nowhere in sight, it's up to you to spelunk the depths of the flooded landscapes with a dinky little submarine.

Set in 2D and bearing more than a little influence to the notoriously tough swimming level in the first NES "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" title, the setting forces you to adapt on the fly to cheap attacks from enemies, making your way through backtrack-coaxing labyrinths as you strive to survive, and, through a trickle of upgrades, thrive.

If you're not initiated with the hells of old-school NES deathtraps, think the "Steamworld" franchise, only with no overworld. You are tasked to search out hidden depths, slaying sea creatures who want to reduce the world's human population from one to zero.

It's easy to find yourself lulled into complacency by a chain of peaceful corridors, only to have the door slammed in your face, "Dark Souls" style, with a brutal choke point that forces you to work on your abilities to launch and defend attacks from all angles.

While a little archaic for some tastes, those who can withstand the trial, error, more trial and wheels-spinning will find the charms that lie in this game's depths.
Publisher provided review code.

"Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition" Review

When it first debuted in 2016, "Street Fighter V" seemed like barely half a game. With a flimsy list of launch characters, no story mode and a gutted online infrastructure, it played more like an early access entry than a full-fledged release.

Capcom's resilient dev team, though, kept at it. Determined to achieve a flawless victory by methodical iteration, a steady stream of updates and additions -- as well as a dollop of paid DLC -- inched the game closer and closer to the original vision promised in breathless previews leading up to the original release. Now, with the advent of the "Arcade Edition"rerelease -- a free update for owners of the original -- this scrapper is rough and ready to slug it out through the long haul.

In addition to the expected balance updates, the bonus characters from the first two seasons of the game are here, as well as an arcade mode, team battle mode, extra balance mode and additional V-trigger for each fighter. With the likes of Sakura, Sagat, Blanka, Falke and G. Sakura available, there is plenty of new stuff for even hardened veterans to tackle.

A dedicated community kept the spirit of what the game could be alive throughout the doldrums, and players who hop in now benefit in the form of a robust, ever-present stream of competitors to hone their skills against. Finally the sequel emerges from the formidable shadow of "Street Fighter IV" and its umpteen recalibrations. The array of special moves available and the level of rock-paper-scissors strategems keep the game as addictive as ever.

Finally, after nearly two years of pushing, "Street Fighter V" is the world warrior fans always hoped it would become.

Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Report: Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White HouseFire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wolff writes a political insider book with the allure and panache of a novelist, with far more in common with F. Scott Fitzgerald than Bob Woodward. Wolff not only soaks up tons of juicy fly-on-the-wall sights and sounds, he insightfully breaks down the motivations and thought processes of all the players.

The Trump White House is portrayed as a lawless wasteland in which family members, bewildered establishment pols and pushy hangers-on all jockey to curry the favor of the unstable king. There are shades of "Game of Thrones" throughout, with the Trumps forging their power on the realm as the Varys-like Steve Bannon scurries in the shadows, attempting to twist and bend those around him to his complicated, if true-hearted, will.

There are a flood of negative characterizations, but nothing here anyone wouldn't have assumed went on. What emerges in a stark but fair portrayal is the humanity of the Trumpites -- accidental politicians who have crystallized as caricatures in the public view.

Trump comes off not as a racist -- he just wants racists to like him in the way he yearns for everyone to adore him -- and is in no way organized enough to have served as a puppeter of Russian electoral tampering. He baffles those around him just as he does the electorate, standing as a Learish figure scrambling to maintain slipping control of the house of cards surrounding him. Wolff paints him as a sympathetic oaf rather than a nefarious despot.

This book is not likely to be matched by any future White House insider, because no one with the access Wolff was able to land here will likely match his talent. A shimmering gem, "Fire and Fury" is executed with passion, flair and shrewd analysis.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"Gunhouse" Switch Review

An inventive puzzle/tower defense combo, "Gunhouse" released on mobile devices and Vita a year ago. An under-the-radar cult hit, the past performance now seems like little more than the buildup for the release on the Switch, the system for which it always seemed intended.

You plot out your defenses against waves of attackers, then bulk up your capabilities by maneuvering a simple block-stacking game off to the side of the action. By rearranging different-sized blocks in groups of one to three, you clear the way for score boosts and upgrades.

The hybrid is reminiscent of "Puzzle Quest" games, but less frenzied and more strategic. As with "Puzzle Quest," your performance in both sectors is symbiotic. If you don't plan out your defenses properly, it won't much matter how you perform in the puzzle portion. Conversely, if your puzzle game is off, it won't much matter how well you pre-plan your setup.

A slim concept that works as a therapeutic time-killer, "Gunhouse" has evolved masterfully onto Nintendo's console. The game works as a decent palate cleanser in between the Switch's heavier offerings.
Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

"The Elder Scrolls V: Syrim" Switch Review

In its first year of the Switch's release, Nintendo has flooded the zone on exemplary first-party releases. Third-party offerings, as always with Nintendo consoles, had been weak to non-existent, but that has changed in recent months, with a wave of games, such as "L.A Noire," "Doom" and "NBA 2K18" having busted down the door.

"The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" joins that group, and despite having been played to, well, oblivion by every serious gamer on several systems over the past six years, its appearance on the Switch is a full-scale rebirth rather than a redundancy.

Like the Xbox One and PS4 HD remasters, this one includes all the DLC and remastered graphics and sound. The Switch version may not maintain the graphical fidelity or frame rate of its big brothers, the portability more than makes up for any minor shortcomings.

It's a true technological marvel to see a game of the "Skyrim" caliber running free and proud on a portable console, and the effect is not only even more breathtaking than seeing a majestic first-party title such as "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" run on the Switch, it feels like a sign of things to come. Nintendo's console seems truly capable of handling even the most demanding of modern games, and Microsoft and Sony -- let alone tablet and smartphone game publishers -- can't hope to compete with the new world order if this is the direction things are headed.

The Switch-focused adjustments, such as motion-controlled inventory cycling, spell casting and hotkey favorites, are beneficial but unobtrusive, meant for playing the game on TV, which is the least interesting way to play it. The game truly comes to stunning life in portable mode, with its rich colors and textures popping on the gorgeous screen that's just inches from your face.

Even if you have bought this game before multiple times, you're due for yet another go-round if you're a Switch owner with 14GB to spare on your SD card to handle the sizable download. The game is as majestic and impressive in its new form than the dragons that soar through its skies.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China" Review

Dogfighting games have fallen out of fashion, with the likes of "Ace Combat" being relegated to sporadic releases and just about every other ongoing series having stopped for good. Now that technology has caught up to developers' visions, the time is right for a full-scale redefinition of what's possible in the genre.

The indie dev Ace Maddox effort "Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China" may not be that reinvention that dogfighting fans long for, but it's a step in that direction. With fluid controls, killer visuals and a tight mission structure, the World War II-set game spotlights a little-remembered secret squadron of American fighter pilots who defended China from Japanese invaders before the U.S. was officially involved in the conflict.

Once you take to the skies in early tutorial missions, you get a feel for how much freedom you get as a fighter pilot in this arena. With autocorrective flight aids disabled, you are free to throw the torque down on your aircraft, making daredevil dives to take out targets and precarious barrel rolls to elude locks from bogeys.

Although extended sessions can wear the game's welcome thin, quick strikes through missions are satisfying to keep you wanting to come back for more. Multiple difficulty levels make it worthwhile to come back and take on tougher competition once you've mastered your techniques. Overcome occasional frustrations with cookie-cutter design and cheap attacks and you will feel the excitement of soaring into the treacherous Chinese skies.

Publisher provided review copy.