Sunday, October 20, 2019

"BurgerTime Party" Review

A reimagined version of an arcade classic, "BurgerTime Party" amps up the visuals but keeps the frantic puzzle-solving moving at a rate familiar to those who fed quarters to "BurgerTime" machines back in the day.

As you scramble to run completely over toppings, dropping them from one multilevel tier to the next, eventually piling them up as complete burgers for customers who apparently don't mind that they were stepped all over by tiny creatures.

As you build your burgers, you contend with Food Foes -- anthropomorphic munchkins with dead eyes and nightmare-fueled grins and grimaces. They chase you through diabolically crafted levels filled with ice-slicked ladders, tricky conveyor belts and flame-roasted floors.

More than 100 stages are included, and you'll have more fun taking them on if you've got between one and three friends around to engage in couch co-op.

While "BurgerTime Party" has the perfectionist feel of a trial-by-error mobile game that struggles to justify its $30 price, there's no denying that the original formula still works.

Oftentimes, developers ruin a good thing by getting too cute with their retro reimaginings, but the dev team at G-mode realizes that there's no sense in messing with a proven formula. "BurgerTime Party" serves up the goodness you remember fondly from the 80s.

Publisher provided review code.

Book Report: "Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II"

Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War IIChurchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II by Madhusree Mukerjee
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Mukerjee has excellent illuminating points to make, backed up by tremendous research, but he blows just about all of his payload early on.

He tells the salacious and devastating story of how Winston Churchill worked behind the scenes to keep the Indians subjugated under the grip of the British Empire as he publicly faced down the Nazi threat. The sinister, greed and race-driven motives add a disturbing shadow to Churchille's lionized image as a staunch defender of freedom and foil to tyranny.

The messy, obfuscated history of India and Pakistan bubbles to light in Mukerjee's writing, which highlights genocides, famines and exploitation that were overshadowed by the grand opera of World War II, and thus escaped the level of global public consciousness they otherwise would have earned.

As stirring as the beginning of the book is, it fails to extrapolate the seeds to a grander vision, instead dallying on piles of academic citations and monotonous listings of obscure, irrelevant statistics. The message begins to get lost in the weeds in a series of lectures meant to put students to sleep.

In the Audible version, narrator James Adams delivers the findings with appropriate distaste, barely hidden by a prim, proper British congeniality. His words bubble with a sense of embarrassment and resentment of the despicable imperial past of his nation.

"Churchill's Secret War" ends up being too much like a textbook to rise to the level of essential storytelling. Its most staggering points could have been summarized in a lengthy article in the Atlantic or New Yorker. But its lessons are stark and true, and deserve a better mindshare than that which books like these will be able to elevate them.

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Saturday, October 19, 2019

"Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered" Switch Review

There have been multiple awful "Ghostbusters" game adaptations, but the best one yet created is back, with proton packs charged up in order to exorcise haunting failures of the past.

"Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered" brings the overlooked classic to current consoles. I played the Switch version, which benefits mightily from the ability to play either at home in docked mode or on the go with native visuals and framerate intact. The game thrives as a double-barreled blast from the past.

Back in 2009, the original "Ghostbusters" gang got back together for a video game that served as a sequel to the two films, revisiting several memorable events and scenes from the films. The film hit nostalgic notes in a satisfying way that neither the 1986-1991 animated series nor the 2016 reboot could never approach.

In one of his last notable projects before his 2014 death, Harold Ramis penned the game script with Dan Aykroyd. Both lent their voices and likenesses to the game as well, joining Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson.

The actors' quips and chemistry is nearly as strong as the game as it was in the movies, making for a fascinating follow-up that bursts with fan service. The game is far more entertaining in co-op mode, but still manages to captivate as a single-player experience.

Developer Saber Interactive wisely stuck to the PS3/Xbox 360 version of the game, ignoring the inferior Wii edition.

Gone is the lackluster online multiplayer mode, which added little to the initial package and likely wouldn't have enough community backing to provide regular games had Saber bothered to include it.

Looking and playing as good on the Switch as it did the consoles of yesteryear, "Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered" is a welcome blast from the past, and well worth crossing your streams for.

Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"Overwatch" Switch Review

Having established itself as a prime force in e-sports and embedding itself into pop culture, the "Overwatch" phenomenon continues to spread, now allowing Switch owners to get in on the FPS, MOBA-style action.

Following a 2016 release on PC and consoles, the game comes to Switch in impressively full-featured form, with integration players on other platforms have come to expect.

Whether docked to the TV or in handheld form, the game's visuals can hang with the PS4 and Xbox releases in most meaningful aspects. The ideal way to play the game on Switch seems to be to dock it and use a Pro controller, but there's also something to be said for the competitive advantage that the intimacy of handheld mode offers.

The fast-moving, often frenzied gameplay is somewhat hampered by sluggish performance. It's uncertain whether the culprit is on the server side or the responsibility of underpowered Switch hardware. While not the optimal form of the game, it's empowering to be able to get some "Overwatch" rounds in on the go, whenever WiFi or a speedy hotspot exists.

Just as "Overwatch" has evolved on other systems over time, with Blizzard always pushing boundaries, smoothing out glitches and giving players more incentives to return, it's reasonable to expect the Switch version to continue the upswing.

Whatever lies in the future, the Switch version of "Overwatch" is off to a promising start. Like a lithe, mobile character in the game that benefits from fast plug-and-play action and the ability to play just about wherever and whenever. The sacrifice is stability and reliability. But things can only improve from here.

Publisher provided review code.
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, October 14, 2019

"Darksiders II Deathinitive Edition" Switch Review

"Darksiders II" roars back from the dead, insisting on getting its due.

Taking control of Death, a lithe, elusive force of nature as opposed to the lumbering, slash-and-hack antics of War in the initial game.

Seven years after initial release, the game comes to Switch in a remastered edition that includes all previously-released DLC, swelling the total gameplay up to 30 hours. In addition to the remastered visuals running in 1080p, there are quality-of-life and balancing adjustments, such as altered loot distribution.

Light puzzle-solving and RPG aspects abound, leavening the action and storytelling to add up to a full-figured experience.

Amid the torrent of remastered games from yesteryear -- nearly every worthwhile game from the past decade seems to be getting a Switch treatment -- the "Darksiders" games are among the better fits.

With slick combat, popping graphics and a surprisingly emotionally resonant store, the sequel stands the test of time and is thriving in its Switch rebirth.

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Book Report: "The Testaments"

The TestamentsThe Testaments by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thirty-four years and three seasons of the pop culture-dominating Hulu series after her seminal feminist dystopian saga was released, Margaret Atwood returns to the franchise with youthful vigor.

Ignoring the canon that developed in the series, Atwood leaps ahead several decades to tell the definitive tale of the fall of Gilead through a compilation of historical documents. It would spoil things to give away the identities of most of the narrators, but it doesn't vie anything away to reveal that the driving force behind the story is Aunt Lydia.

A sinister, domineering force of dominating invasiveness, Lydia's acid-dipped observations and spider-like cunning spins a web of a plot that permeates the story.

Atwood keeps the narrative varied and agile, introducing plotlines through differing perspectives of various characters, coaxing the reader to piece together a sense of what's happening by deducing a reliable throughline.

As is the case with "The Handmaid's Tale," Atwood peppers her story with fevered, poignant observations about social and gender dynamics, as well as the dangers of mob politics and cults of personality.

A thoroughly satisfying and relentlessly challenging wrap-up to the saga, Atwood's novel is a triumphant storming of the Gilead gates.

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"Disney on Ice: Mickey's Search Party" Review

As the years pass, "Disney on Ice" paints itself into a corner, grasping at ways to try to top itself. Instead of being content with recycling the same plot devices and moves, the choreographers and effects designers continue to push the paradigm further and further.

Some years show more advancement than others, but the latest edition is on the edgier side, making the audience gasp with riveting gymnastic spectacles. The quality of performances continues to impress. Despite the kid-friendly trappings, this is top-level dance theater, with all roles going to highly capable performers.

The challenge year in and year out is to integrate the same characters and movie storylines into a different overarching story. Although the narrative remains as stretched and silly as ever.

Pan characters pop in and out of the movie re-enactments, telling the audience that they're looking for clues as to the whereabouts of Tinker Bell, who has gone missing.

The narrative is just an excuse for a Reader's Digest version of the most iconic scenes from the likes of "Aladdin," "Toy Story," "Frozen," "Coco," "The Little Mermaid" and "Moana." Oddly left out of the mix was "The Lion King."

Breathtaking set pieces abound, many involving silk aerials, trampolines, ramps and flexible poles. Among the standout moments are "Toy Story" army men backflipping on trampolines, Belle elevating dozens of feat off the ground in "Be Our Guest," an elevated Ariel pantomiming swimming in "The Little Mermaid" and giant puppets in "Coco."

A dazzling spectacle for all ages, "Mickey's Search Party" reinforces the notion that no matter how many "Disney on Ice" performances you've been to, you're cheating yourself if you miss this year's go-round.

For information on the tour, click here.

Studio provided review tickets.