Sunday, February 18, 2018

"Rally Racers" Review

Any racing title daring to make its way onto the Switch has foreboding competition revving its engine in the neighboring lane in the form of "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe."

"Rally Racers" may not be able to match the first-party behemoth in the realm of character or track selection -- nor full-featured online play -- but does manage to contend with the master in the key area of gameplay. That's because "Rally Racers" seeks not only to ape "Mario Kart," but looks to other games for heavy influences.

Taking a note from the likes of "Burnout," you're rewarded for the more collisions you can manage. Once you're airborne, you pull back the right stick to pull off tricks in the manner of a skateboarding game or "Joe Danger."

Tricked-out racing with constant mega-jumps and item-flooded sprint tracks. The controls can be a little floaty, but you get used to the arcade-influenced feel. Rubber-banding AI frustratingly means that no matter how well you master the racing, you'll always find a rival or three on your six.

While no one's idea of a "Mario Kart" replacement, "Rally Racers" excels as a palate cleanser/sidekick for one of history's greatest racers.
Publisher provided review code.

"Escape Trick: 35 Fateful Enigmas" Review

With its big, lavish touch screen, the Switch is an ideal destination for point-and-click adventure games. That makes it an apt fit for an "Escape Trick" compilation.

The closest a video game can come to synthesize an escape room, you're forced to use your critical thinking skills to analyze, investigate and move the story forward with the aid of your detective ey and knowhow.

With two combined games -- 16 episodes from "The Escape from the Sealed Room" and the 19-episode follow-up "The Escape from the Sealed Room 2," there are plenty of puzzles to keep you obsessing over.

The graphics won't win any awards, but the spartan presentation -- reminiscent of the 1990s heyday of the genre -- belies the complex, involving narrative that powers the story along.

A content-rich pickup for those looking for a low-cost diversion on their Switch, "Escape Trick" is a robust, satisfying investment for those looking to dabble in the life of a virtual detective.
Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Billiard" Review

As bare-bones and slim-featured as its oddly single-tense title, "Billiard" is as basic a pool game aas you're ever likely to see on a modern console.

With no online features, you are left to throw down against frustrating AI opposition. The real foe, though, is the convoluted shot system.

Rather than take advantage of the natural feel of pulling back an analogue stick to replicate a real pool shot, you tap a button to size up your power range before letting 'er rip. You can pinpoint where you're shooting at with pre-shot adjustments that allow you to shift views, target specific parts of the ball with pinpoint precision and get a read on your carom with a dotted-line predictor.

The Switch makes sense as a destination for a robust pool game. but devs can do better than the flimsy standard established by "Billiard." Chalk this one up as an unfortunate side-pocket scratch off the break.
Publisher provided review code.

"Peter Rabbit" Review

A cleverly written and finely-tuned family film, "Peter Rabbit" could have fared well enough by taking the easy, cutesy-with-just-enough snark route.

It goes well beyond that, executing a next-level script with precision to become a consistently hilarious crowd-pleaser that subverts as well as it panders.

Even the film's lone brush with controversy -- its throwaway sideplot involving the antagonist's blackberry allergy -- stands as a success. Peter addresses touch food allergy victim's rights advocates head-on, setting up the payoff sight gag to come.

Buttressed by a sweeter-than-it-needs-to-be supporting performance by Rose Byrne as the unwitting point of contention between Peter and his farmer enemy, "Peter Rabbit" is a joyous accomplishment that succeeds with ample helpings of heart, panache and humor.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"TorqueL" Switch Review

A clever shape-shifting, twisting and extending puzzler, the 2D side-scroller "Torquel" makes the jump from consoles and mobile to the Switch with aplomb.

You guide a rotating box empowered with telescoping extensions that stretch out and stop or propel your progress. You navigate below, around and in between hazards to flip your box into a destination square and move on to the next level, scored on your time and skill.

The Switch version is tricked out with HD rumble, giving you a tactile response to your mishaps, as well as get a sense of your rotation via the location of the vibrations on the hanheld.

Ingenious in its simplicity, "TorqueL" can quickly become a fevered, though consistently frustrating, addiction.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"Kingdom Come: Deliverance" Review

It's rare to see a swords-and-armor RPG that uses genuine locations, characters and medieval technology. "Kingdom Come: Deliverance" is refreshing in that regard, plopping you into 1403 Bohemia as the son of a blacksmith who becomes embroiled in deadly political intrigue.

Forced into the service of Lord Radzig Kobyla, you start with nothing and are forced to scrap by for every advantage you can manage. Fetch quests are the norm, since a the beginning you have little to offer most power players other than your willingness to do whatever it takes to survive.

You build up your capabilities and resources gradually, finding yourself thrust into deeper conflict with ever-rising states. The story plays like a sort of real-life "Game of Thrones," with backstabbing, conniving and clashing egos striving to one-up each other.

A staggeringly detailed and deep interface allows you to play you want. You can be a stealth-favoring thief, a smooth-talking power broker or a brutish tank who lets your sword do your negotiating. Taking more than a few cues from the likes of "Skyrim" and "Breath of the Wild," the game gives you more in nuance and lore depending on how much you're willing to put into it.

The main flaw is that the overall experience can be a little obtuse. Unless you are willing to dedicate yourself to exploring the outer reaches of what's possible, "Deliverance" can be an obstructive and stifling experience rather than the wide-open realm ripe for exploration and experimentation it strives to be. Not for the weak-willed or dilettante, "Deliverance" is a robust, rich experience for those looking to sink their teeth into something rich, meaningful and sometimes depressingly realistic.
Publisher provided review code.

"Crossing Souls" Review

"Crossing Souls" is the closest thing to a "Stranger Things" video game you're likely to see any time soon. Set in 1986, the game follows a group of friends who happen upon a stone that allows them to travel between dimensions.

Juggling their personal issues among a nostalgia-soaked backdrop, you guide the pals in a typical coming-of-age and save-the-world story that unfolds over the summer. If you can feel the magic in that premise, "Crossing Souls" is the game for you.

A delightful throwback in the manner of "Oxenfree," "Crossing Souls" adds in enough gameplay innovation to keep things from feeling like an actual game from the 80s or 90s. The thought and care that went into the fabric of the game is obvious in every frame, making for a joyous, sometimes terrifying and often confounding journey. Crucially, the design is solid enough to keep the intrigue flowing, so you always long to see what will happen next.

Yet another stunning indie console exclusive for the PS4, "Crossing Souls" is one of the games that makes you grateful to own the console.
Publisher provided review code.

"Dynasty Warriors 9" Review

Amazingly, this is only the ninth numbered "Dynasty Warriors" game. It only seems as though there have been 30.

The latest entry continues the gradual evolution in visuals and presentation, working to add more of a methodical, reasoned pace in between massive-scale slaughterfests. Of course, those slaughterfests still remain in effect, because without them there would be little reason for these games to exist.

Developer Omega Force is liberal with the carnage, pushing the hardware to fulfill visions of mass destruction that couldn't quite be fulfilled in previous generations. You juggle three combat systems -- Trigger, Flow and Finish attacks -- applying each to situations that merit varied approaches.

Tracking the Yellow Turban Rebellion through ten chapters, the game is bursting with unlocks and upgrades. Granted, the gameplay loop is as thing as ever. Once you've hit your button-mashing fill during a session, continuing to play feels like drudgery. At least when "Dynasty Warriors 9" is tedious, it manages to be beautiful, visceral tedium.
Publisher provided review code.

"The Fall Part 2: Unbound" Review

An exploration-based, Metroidvania-based adventure with point-and-click elements, "The Fall Part 2: Unbound" makes ample use of the Switch's strengths to suck you into its dystopian world.

You play as A.R.I.D., a rogue android who can hack into hosts, controlling them to her own ends. Upgraded programming since the first outing allows her new abilities and powers that add twists to the gameplay.

Moody visuals and atmospheric music help drive home the tone. Much of the experience is backtrack-heavy and based on trial and error, but the experience lends to the feel of of the obsessive quest of the character more than it does stifle your momentum with frustration.

"Unbound" has the most to offer to hardcore fans of the original, but the uninitiated will still find plenty to enjoy and appreciate. Truly a game that establishes its own distinct feel and genre, the game has a way of lingerng with you in between sessions that go longer and leave more of an impact than you might anticipate.

Publisher provided review code.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Book Report: Many Waters

After a clunky start, L'Engle edges closer to recapturing the magic of what had been known as her time trilogy. Zapping her protagonists into pre-flood Noah era presented some logistical challenges -- including a language barrier -- that she chose to gloss over for literary expedience rather than address. Once things get rolling, the book manages to establish some convincing and interesting characters while exploring biblical and quantum physics questions. By the time it ends, you wish the story would have stuck around more rather than finishing so abruptly. Overall, the book is a labored, moderately well-executed fable that gives me hope the fifth book in the series can live up to the first three in the series.