Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"A Plague Tale: Innocence" Review


A haunting, elegiac meditation on loss, love and bravery in the face of marauding tragedy, "A Plague Tale: Innocence" takes on the barely fathomable plight of Europe amid the Black Death.

Developer Asobo Studio crafts a gorgeous and relentlessly haunting story about a pair of orphans who go on the run during the Inquisition.

The desperate, overwhelming and bleak pursuit of perseverance aptly pushes emotional buttons while remaining grounded and impactful.

No matter where you turn, rats flitter about, making their presence known as not only an actual impediment, but an internal metaphor for the plight of the human struggle.

As with "The Walking Dead," "A Plague Tale: Innocence" shows that even when confronted with outside terrors, mankind will always have the nasty tendency to present the most daunting threats to itself.

The gameplay is diverse and well-paced, with missions that mix aspects of survival, stealth, light puzzle-solving and unorthodox combat keeping things fresh and engrossing.

The reach sometimes exceeds the grasp, with occasional moments of unintentional comedy parsed among the heavy writing, as well as a few technical hiccups that tend to take you out of the moment. But overall, "A Plague Tale: Innocence" stands as a bold, ferocious effort that's unlike just about anything to come down the pike in recent years.

Arthouse gaming at its finest, the adventure takes you to places that most other games don't dare to approach, much less so successfully execute.

Publisher provided review code.

"For the King" Review


The goal of "For the King" is to simulate the dice-rolling, card-flopping, miniatures-pushing exuberance of tabletop gaming.

Whether you're taking on the game's solo campaign or partaking in online co-op, it's easy to lose yourself in the cheerfully geeky trappings of the high-fantasy roguelike.

Regardless of which mode you're playing, every time you fire up a new quest you'll take on an entirely new experience, thanks to procedural map and quest generation. The overarching goal is to heed the crown's demand that you and your party rid the overrun kingdom of marauding Chaos. You take on that task via a turn-based battle system that harkens back to the classic age of top-down RPGs.

A year after the initial PC release, the game charges onto consoles with the momentum of a solid base of fans and the polish that comes after the culmination of several months of updates.

Developer IronOak game shows off a level of sparkle and polish that belies the game's indie origins. "For the King" hums with a vivacity that tabletop games may spark in the imagination, but never approach in reality.

The ambitious, game-as-service support echoes that of a paid MMO, and players can count on months -- if not years -- of a continuous stream of new events, items and enhancements.

"For the King" in its current form already bursts with excessive value for your gaming dollar, and that investment promises only to mature as you continue to play. Heavy may be the head that wears the crown, but this lighthearted game thrives with royal ambition.

Publisher provided review code.

Musical Theater Review: "42nd Street"


While no one goes looking to a classic such as "42nd Street" for something bold or edgy, there is a surprising amount of heat to the 1930s-set tale of love, loss and ambition in the golden age of musical theater.

Above all else, the show celebrates the youthful exuberance and beauty of stage performance, and shows off its wares in occasionally skimpy -- though always tasteful -- costumes and a Rockettes-style sea of rhythmically pumping bare legs.

Filmed from a grandiose 2017 West End revival that breathed modern life into what otherwise might be dismissed as a stale, less-than-relevant production, the show shines with immediacy and skill in this Broadway HD-filmed performance.

Fueled by such iconic, show-stopping numbers such as "We're in the Money," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" and "Lullaby of Broadway," the show maintains its momentum with old-school charm.

The presentation crackles with the cinematographic style of a film rather than a stuffy recorded play. A mix of close-ups, aerials and balcony-view wide shots makes the show feel alive and vivid -- maybe too much so at times. The acting is often so overdone and boisterous that it devolves into self-parody, with broad delivery and exaggerated facial expressions that generate eye rolls rather than empathy.

No one watches "42nd Street" for the acting, though. This is a feast of glitz, glamor and razzmatazz, and the production cranks those out in spades.

Studio provided screener.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

"Reverse Crawl" Review


Leading an army of the undead against forces even more despicable than your own, you plunge into the single-player adventure "Reverse Crawl" with the goal of dominating the battlefield with superior strategy and tactics.

Four years after its original, largely overlooked PC release, developer Nerdock Productions gives the game another go on modern consoles.

With its retro aesthetic and handheld-friendly mechanics, "Reverse Crawl" is particularly suited to the Switch, which lends itself to quick-hit missions and save states.

Duking it out with the Red Queen's monstrous minions on a turn-based hexagonal grid. you use your array of attacks, enhancements and resources to maximize your meager forces to overcome daunting odds.

Although the mission structure can be repetitive, and the characters don't have quite as much charm as they might have. "Reverse Crawl" may yet again slink into obscurity, but at least now it's got a fighting chance to crawl back from the undead.

Publisher provided review code.

Book Report: "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany"

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi GermanyThe Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Journalist William L. Shirer harvested his experience as a foreign correspondent who lived in Germany during the rise of Hilter to write what stood at the time as the definitive history of the chaos that plunged Europe into World War II.

Feasting on primary source materials, including journals, Nuremberg testimony and declassified documents to address the confounding question of how a megalomaniacal leader was able to dupe a nation into following him blindly into homicidal and genocidal nationalistic oblivion.

Tracing Hitler's rise from a failed artist and street tramp to political pretender, minor fringe player and eventually unquestioned dictator, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" is a humongous and caeselessly captivating observation of humanity's flaws, as well as the incalculable power of momentum and timing.

What makes the book stand out among drier histories is the personal touch. Shirer has a novelist's eye for motivation, personality and weakness, and draws them out with exhaustive research. This is a priceless and overwhelmingly addictive book, and an invaluable document to the generations that succeeded Shirer.

He ends with a stark warning -- that although the faces change, history tends to repeat itself. A look into the grim recent past is also a warning against the future. The only way fascism and intolerance can be beaten is for the right-minded to courageously oppose them at every turn. Learning about history is the best way to avoid repeating it, and there are few more exhilarating ways to learn history than to experience it through such a talented medium as Shirer.



View all my reviews

Monday, May 13, 2019

"Duck Game" Review


Absurdist, retro-flavored humor is the order of the day in "Duck Game," Landon Podbielski's offbeat blast of outrageous thrills.

Set in an alternate-future 1984, it sets ducks against one another in a battle to the death. The quackers wield every manner of found objects as bludgeons, projectiles and traps. The weaponry ranges from musical instruments and hypnotic talismans to old-fashioned rifles.

Like a twisted, updated version of "Duck Hunt," the fowls go up in feathers at a furious pace. Best enjoyed in multiplayer, "Duck Game" is loaded with emergent thrills.

Designed for rowdy parties, dorm showdowns and punch-your-brother-in-the-arm sibling rivalries, the gleefully unbalanced, momentum-given gameplay tries your luck and imagination as much as your twitch reflexes.

A 50-level single-player mode takes a backseat, but gives solo players a way to refine their skills in between PVP throwdowns. With 16-bit flavored graphics and sound, the game draws lovingly from the likes of "Joust" and "Robotron."

"Duck Game," however, takes flight for the way it surpasses its influences to waddle its own silly path. Expect passionate word of mouth to help this game find its audience, with gamers dropping it in unrelated conversations. "That sounds cool, but let me tell you about this crazy thing I'm obsessed with called 'Duck Game.'"

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

"SNK 40th Anniversary Collection" Review


Half a year after it debuted on the Switch, "SNK 40th Anniversary Collection" rambles onto the PS4 and Xbox One.

Armed with loads of classics, cult favorites and unknown curiosities, the amount of value offered in the slate is staggering. The "Ikari Warriors" trilogy, "Bermuda Triangle," "Fanguard, "Crystalis" and "Alpha Mission" are some of the main draws in the collection, which spawns the gamut of genres.

The care and precision that developer Digital Eclipse took with the slate is staggering. Although there are as many barely-playable duds as there are timeless triumphs in the anthology, just about everything involved holds up on some level.

There's a certain fascination in studying near-misses, abject failures and forgotten curiosities as you trace the lineage of gaming. From humble arcade beginnings, through the first console wars and the move into more complex graphics and sound palates, SNK was there nearly every step of the way.

The influence the developer had on the big boys is incalculable, and the reverberations caused by many of the games in this collection are still felt today.

Although I prefer the portability of the Switch -- especially for old-school games such as this, there's something to be said for the ease of multiplayer and comfort of traditional controllers that the Xbox One and PS4 release offers. Either way you choose to dive into this dusted-off stack of virtual fascination, you're in for a wild time travel ride.

Publisher provided review code.