Sunday, August 19, 2018

"Manual Samuel" Review


"Manual Samuel" is so intent on being quirky and surprising that it almost slips into the doldrums of predictability.

The premise is unsurprisingly odd. A trust fund baby who has taken his wealth and position for granted but is knocking on death's door after a car accident, Samuel is given a one-day challenge worthy of Instagram. If he can make it through a full day while controlling every part of his body manually, he'll get another shot at life.

On paper, it might seem fascinating to try to control a character's every function -- down to breathing and blinking -- with button presses, but in execution, the challenge is much more tedious than fascinating. Making Samuel do even the most basic tasks is an arduous chore, which is sort of the point. As a a result, "Manual Samuel" is all or nothing. Either you dig the setup and want to see it through, or you tire of it almost immediately and would rather delete the game than forge on.

Released two years ago on PS4, the game now comes to the Switch, where it has a better chance of catching on with an audience more accepting of its rough patches. If you're intrigued by the setup, you may want to give it a shot. Everyone else can just move along.
Publisher provided review code.

Book Report: "Shoeless Joe"

Shoeless JoeShoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the grand scheme of baseball media history, Kinsella's novel boils down to a promising but sometimes frustrating rough draft for a masterwork of a film. Writer/director Phil Alden Robinson's adaptation is a water-into-wine creation of divinely inspired brilliance akin to Ray Kinsella's carving of a time-traveling ghostly baseball field out of Iowa corn stalks.

Robinson pruned away intriguing but extraneous characters, honed B+ monologues into A+ rainmakers, and lopped off the gratuitous down-home metaphors Kinsella crams into every other line as though he were writing his book by Midwestern-fried Mad Lib.

The lone way the book has one up on the movie is its bold inclusion of a then-living J.D. Salinger as a main character, rather than the movie's understandable cop-out at making its recluse author fictional. At least that choice allowed the casting of the legendary James Earl Jones in probably his finest performance of his career.

Kinsella's book also dazzles for the way it drips with obscure baseball knowledge. In pre-internet days, Kinsella made himself into a walking Baseball Reference, and it's doubtful a book was ever penned by a man who loved the game more.

I could have done without the late-book speech by one of the characters excised by the film that comes off as lunatic ranting rather than the baseball scripture-drawn homily that Jones enunciates in the movie. I was also put off by the way Ray buys a gun and uses it in his "kidnapping" of Salinger. For a protagonists already well on the verge of insanity, the move made it tougher to cheer him on as he followed his Joan of Arc-like vision to parts unknown.

I admire the book, but I truly love the movie it became. That's the difference between goodness and greatness. Between W.P. Kinslla and J.D. Salinger. Between Moonlight Graham and Shoeless Joe.


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Saturday, August 18, 2018

"The Amazing Shinsengumi: Heroes in Love" Review


The Switch has proven to be a go-to destination for visual novels, particularly the few that come along with romantic themes. "The Amazing Shinsengumi: Heroes in Love" falls squarely into the latter category, telling a choice-based saga of love-influenced political power plays in 19th century Japan.

Released two years ago on smartphones and Steam, the game takes a new life on the Switch, which gives the story's visuals and words more space to breathe than on mobile devices.

You play as a woman who juggles potential romances with several political and militaristic power players who tangle, team up and bicker as they seek to keep the realm safe.

Elegant dialogue and richly detailed narratives and character shading help breathe life into the methodical affair. Your character is a cypher you can infuse with your own personality and predilections, shaping the story as you see fit.

While a bit slow and dense for some tastes, those with patience and a fascination for the material will enjoy what "Heroes in Love" has to offer. Its riches are well worth exploring for those intrigued by the premise.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

PHIL ON FILM: 'Alpha'


For my written review, click here.

"Red's Kingdom" Review


"Red's Kingdom" is a push puzzle reminiscent of minigames in the "Professor Layton" series. You push your hero vertically or horizontally, and he doesn't stop until he runs into an object standing in his way.

The challenge is deceptively simple, but making your way through the levels is nevertheless satisfying.

Developer Cobra Mobile has a knack for constructing intricate levels that often baffle you with solutions hidden in plane sight. You work your way through the possibilities, trying out theories unsuccessfully, then doubling back and regrouping, collecting items and treasures along the way.

A slight, rhythmic palate cleanser that makes for a light break away from more arduous fare on the Switch, the game's difficulty ramps up considerably once you make your way through the early, training wheels levels.

The art style sounds similar notes of approachable intricacy as the level design. Polished and approachable, "Red's Kingdom" provides an escalating challenge that works nicely in the quick-hit, play-and-pause portable style that on-the-go gamers crave.

Publisher provided review code.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Book Report: "The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made"

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever MadeThe Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sestero and his ghost writer tell the sometimes sad, sometimes inspirational, always weird story of perhaps the worst movie ever made with passion, enthusiasm and a studied eye for detail. Tommy Wiseau emerges as a tragically comic character of immense triumph.

He is at the same time a maniacal stalker, a pathetic loner, a delusional moron and a tribute to the American Dream. Despite a lack of talent and age, he wills his insane vision into being, refusing to let the roadblocks that stop most others before they can even get started.

The book and the movie on which it's based give me a deeper appreciation for the art of novel and screenwriting, as well as the film industry as a whole. Like "La La Land," it challenges you to stoke the flames of your artistic visions, even in the face of almost certain failure. This is a magical story and one I was sad to see end.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2018

"Unexplored: Unlocked Edition" Review


As the roguelike genre has risen over the last several years, developers have stepped up with their own unique takes on the genre, continuing to top one another.

Less is more when it comes to "Unexplored: Unlocked Edition," which slinks onto the Switch with retro-flavored visuals and sound design.

Like so many roguelikes, no two playthroughs will be the same, with level design, monster placement and treasure drops changing up from one session to the next, making for the sense of a mysterious new world every time you venture into the game.

This game stands out from the pack by nailing the basics, making them seem new again.

Three DLC packs from previous releases come to the Switch version, making it the definitive way to experience the iterative design and wild happenstances that emerge.

While maybe a little too punishing and unforgiving for some tastes, those who relish the difficulties of exploring without handholding and scrapping for every inch of progress willl appreciate what "Unexplored: Unlocked Edition" has to offer.
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, August 06, 2018

"Dead Cells" Review


Combining the brutal difficulty of "Dark Souls" games with the 2D action/exploration sensibilities of the Metroidvania genre, "Dead Cells" puts you through a gauntlet of unforgiving platforming challenges, just-out-of-reach upgrades and dastardly enemy placement.

Economical storytelling courses through the game's chilled veins. As with "Castlevania," the monsters you face are a rogues gallery of eclectic horror archetypes. You inch your way through vertically dense levels, making leaps of faith through platforms that give way below, climbing down ladders and searching out hidden pathways to guarded upgrades.

Item juggling is key to survival. You rack up funds to buy items from shops you discover along the way. The best stuff, though, you'll need to put your neck on the line for. It takes your wits and dexterity to work your way through the layers of tribulations that stand between you and the prize you seek.

A whimsically gothic art style accompanied by an entrancing soundtrack adds a modern touch to the retro-styled gameplay. At its core, "Dead Cells" is the type of game that was common in the 1990s but is rarely seen these days. With no hand-holding or kid gloves, the devs hurl you into a colossal challenge, forcing you to use trial, error and experimentation to make your way through.

Death creeps around every corner, ready to deal out harsh lessons you'll use to regroup and incrementally improve. As you learn the game's hard lessons, you find that some things are worth dying for.
Publisher provided review code.