Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"Slayaway Camp: Butcher's Cut" Switch Review

Like a demented version of the "Professor Layton" penguins on ice lake puzzles, "Slayaway Camp" tasks you to plan out your moves in advance, sending your character in a primary direction on a grid, unable to stop until you meet an environmental block.

The twist is that you're a psycho killer, stalking unwitting campers, counselors and security guards. "Slayaway Camp" -- newly released on Switch after starting off months ago on PS4, and PC before that -- tasks you to take them out in as few moves as possible -- in moves punctuated by comically detailed scenes of "Minecraft" graphics-executed gore -- then escape into a demonic vortex.

The game is an apt fit for the Switch, especially in handheld mode, which plays well into the quick-hit nature of the level design. The blocky, retro-style graphics -- if not the gratuitous gore -- also meld well with Nintendo's heritage.

Levels are compartmentalized as scenes from VHS slasher flicks, which conveniently allow you to be kind and rewind at will in order to take part in necessary trial and error without the pain of having to restart fresh. Do particularly well on a level -- including executing a button press timed to a slider to pull off a finishing move -- and you'll accumulate enough in-game currency to buy enhancements at the store.

Always giving you a reason to come back for more and build off your past successes and hone your strategic thinking to ace each scene with maximum efficiency. The trappings of 80s horror tropes sweetens the deal, making one of the better puzzle games in recent memory even more of a killer.

Publisher provided review code.

Monday, March 19, 2018

"Assassin's Creed Origins: Curse of the Pharaohs" DLC Review

Ubisoft has continued to build out "Assassin's Creed Origins" with memorable swatches of story expansion DLC, following the solid yet unspectacular "The Hidden Ones" with the more adventurous, risk-taking "Curse of the Pharaohs."

Focusing on Egyptian afterlife myths, the storyline has you go to Thebes, where you confront the first of several monarchs who have risen from the dead. Jumping headlong into the supernatural rather than skirting around the concepts as window dressing.

The result is a headlong dive into increasingly bizarre and exhilarating side story that highlights the best of what the game has to offer.

While the mission structure sticks to the established recon, targeting and assassination suspects, but colors the action with spectacular flights of fancy.

While the base game was memorable for robust visuals, intricate map design and challenging objectives, the latest add-on ramps up those qualities to new heights. A worthy pickup for those who have either burned through the previous "Assassin's Creed Origins" content or anyone looking for a changeup before taking down the myriad sidequests. This "Curse" ends up as far more of a blessing.
Publisher provided review code.

"Assassin's Creed Rogue Remastered" Review

Back in 2014, Ubisoft snuck out "Assassin's Creed Rogue" on previous-gen consoles to appease fans who hadn't yet taken the leap to the Xbox One and PS4 generation, which got the far more ballyooed "Assassin's Creed Unity."

What might have been a perfunctory curiosity instead generated moderately more buzz than its new-gen blowout. But those who took the leap into the new frontier never got a shot at what ended up being the last "Assassin's Creed" gasp of the PS3 and Xbox 360 contingent. That has finally changed, now that "Rogue" has gotten the current-gen remaster it has always richly deserved.

Having aged surprisingly little in the 3.5 years since its release, "Rogue" chronicles an agent of the Brotherhood who becomes disillusioned, siding with the Templars, who are usually portrayed as the villains in the saga. In a narrative that might have paved the way for the Empire-centric point of view of "Star Wars Battlefront II," you weave through the blurry middle ground in the conflict between the factions, exploring rifts and sinister forces within the ballyhooed Brotherhood while evoking the strength and order of the Templars.

The core development team behind the original release is back, and the continuity shows in the smooth, polished product on which they collaborated. Taking place in the mid-18th century, the narrative guides you through a tumultuous flashpoint in the larger saga, giving you insight into historical machinations that affected the third and fourth numbered entries in the franchise.

Mixing ground stealth and sea battles, "Rogue" conjures the happy medium between the two entries confronted with "III" while overdone a bit in "IV."

A gorgeous and steadfast triumph in the "Assassin's Creed" lineage, "Rogue" continues to earn the praise it has long harvested. More than the cult classic it has been recognized as, it's high time for the game to step into the spotlight.
Publisher provided review code.

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.