Thursday, July 19, 2018

"The Banner Saga 2" Switch Review

While most developers would be satisfied with equaling the resonant feel of a game such as "The Banner Saga," Stoic sought out to do what might have seemed all but impossible with the sequel. Somehow, some way, they managed that accomplishment.

Building on the epic sweep of the story and frantic combat action of the original, Stoic made everything bigger, bolder and more inventive in the 2016 follow-up, which rolled out on the Switch shortly after the port of the original game.

Just as Switch players managed to power their way through the final touches of the 10-to-14-hour first game, the bigger, badder follow-up popped up to reignite the embers of battlefield challenges and epic twists once more.

Few games instill you with the burdens and triumphs of being a field commander as this series. You make tough choices that make for excruciating sacrifices that come as the cost of victory. You meet betrayal head-on and seek to stay a step ahead of your adversaries at every turn. You try out wild stratagems, fail spectacularly and regroup to tinker with your tactics and re-up once more.

The summer of 2018 is a "Banner" season for Switch owners, and as spectacular as the sequel is, it only leaves enthusiasts wanting more. Luckily for them, the wait for the trilogy finale won't be long.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

"Hungry Shark World" Review

"Hungry Shark Evolution" bared its teeth and tore through the sea of unsuspecting free-to-play mobile games, using the Ubisoft marketing machine to get a fin up on similar shark attack titles to draw the most attention. Now swimming onto the Switch as "Hungry Shark World," the spirit of the original remains.

Making for hours of sea life-stalking fun, the setup has you chase down smaller fish while avoiding larger ones, the reward loop tasks you to strive for incremental upgrades, gradually working your way up the food chain by unlocking larger, faster and more vicious beasts.

Those who wanted to plug in funds to cut down the wait times for unlocking the good stuff could turn the game into a costly pay-to-win affair. Frugal gamers could plug their way through without spending a penny, using their skills and patience to inch their way through the progression path.

What works as a free-to-play lark doesn't necessarily translate to a $10 console/handheld entry. It would have sweetened the deal had developers unlocked -- if not all the sharks -- at least enough of the higher-level creatures to justify the cost. There is little you can do in the Switch version that you can't in the free mobile version, and although the look and controls are better, that hardly justifies the $10 ante.

"Hungry Shark World" makes for a dive into plenty of seafaring fun, but a full-scale remake rather than a simplified port would have given the game a chance of being more than a small fish in a big sea.
Publisher provided review code.

"Vertical Strike Endless Challenge" Review

Planes and ships just can't seem to get along in "Vertical Strike Endless Challenge." It's just too much fun for one to blow the other one into sinking smithereens.

The game plays up both phases of air-to-ship combat, allowing you to choose a swoop-and-destroy jet fighter or a sky-stalking ant-aircraft warship.

With no recognizable endgame in site, the draw is to rack up as many stylish kills as possible. To help you achieve that end, the controls are slick and reactive, the weapons bombastic and speedy and the game of naval battling cat-and-mouse ever compelling.

While the arcade thrills are ample, there is plenty of technical wizardry to master. Post-stall dives, thrust vectoring barrel roles and thrust and pitch control swapping make for aerial acrobatics. In the drink, it's all about spraying the clouds with 20mm deck guns or leveling the hardware with 37mm anti-tank cannons, mitigating your lack of agility with raw firepower.

While somewhat one-dimensional, "Vertical Strike Endless Challenge" is a pick-up-and-play delight for those looking for simplistic combat. Whether by air or sea, the action rolls on in waves.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Frost" Review

Dressed with minimalistic monochrome backgrounds, "Frost" is a card deck management game meant for methodical, cerebral gaming sessions that provide a break from action-oriented fare.

Without a compelling story backing up the organizing, "Frost" would amount to a stolid game of solitaire. But the writers came to play, crafting a saga of a lonely struggle against the elements.

With the frost ever nipping at your extremities, you lead a group of nomads through a trek in an arduous tundra. Wolves and cannibals stalk you as you struggle in an "Oregon Trail"-like voyage of attrition, maximizing minimal resources to stave off hunger and fatigue.

You feel a little something like Jon Snow leading the Wildlings on an ill-advised march north of the wall.

"Frost" may leave you feeling as lonely and resourceless as your characters, but it does manage to fulfill you with a robust challenge and compelling endgame. The icy "Frost" is a chill way to stave off summer heat on the Switch.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Book Report: "The Shining"

The Shining (The Shining, #1)The Shining by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first three quarters of this book are jaw-dropping. The final quarter is a silly, bizarre rush job. King seemed to focus so much on crafting his characters and setup, conjuring gorgeously poetic writing that tore into the souls of his tortured characters, that he had nothing left in the tank to fashion an endgame.

Taken as a whole, the book is better than the movie in most ways, but falls short of the cinematic adaptation in the categories of narrative cohesion, terrifyingly haunting payoffs and iconic moments. The ball-bouncing twins and "Here's Johnny" Kool-Aid Man moment were all Kubrick.

King is always revered as a storyteller, but rarely praised for his poetic eloquence. The majority of this book is a collection of moving and exasperating short stories that build his characters and their quandaries in an inspired manner. He searches out themes of alcoholism, abuse and pre-middle age ennui that cut to the marrow.

The demons King builds up inside of Jack Torrance are meant to blow their tops as much as the heavy-handed metaphor of the boiler that festers in the bowels of the Overlook Hotel. The transformation from troubled recovering alcoholic and professional failure to sadistic madman, though, could have been more convincing -- or at least less jarring and forced.

The showdown with the possessed hedge animals is head-scratchingly absurd, and the final battle is like something out of a sloppy 1980s video game. When the Overlook takes its inevitable fall, it does so just as King has decimated the glorious story he set up. "The Shining" is a brush with greatness that self-sabotages when it might have soared.

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