Sunday, December 24, 2017

"The Coma: Recut" Switch Review

"The Coma: Recut" takes the "cut to the chase" saying to heart. The grim title eschews combat for hiding and scampering, which are skills necessary to make it from one scene to the next.

The 2015 Korean survival horror game gets the remaster treatement on current consoles, including the Switch, where its point-and-click aspects are a fitting pairing for the touchscreen.

In a nod to adventure games that inspired much of its structure, you have an inventory menu you populate with items you pick up along the way that will unlock gateways by satisfying the demands of those blocking your progress.

There is also some influence from the likes of "Persona," with the hallways of the high school setting up perilous pathways for the meek protagonist. You navigate through inner labyrinths of the mind that blend with outward horrors in the manner of "Silent Hill."

If you are looking for a game with a sardonically dark sense of humor, dialogue-heavy plot developments and can tolerate a fair amount of required backtracking, "The Coma: Recut" may be an apt fit for some holiday counterprogramming.
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Book Report: "Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War"

Manchester delivers a Hemingway-like rumination on war, solemnly revisiting the islands he fought on while a sergeant in the Pacific during World War II. The visits stir up chilling recollections of battle scars both physical and mental, thought-provoking essays on the brotherhood, patriotism and psychological damage from warfare.

"Goodbye Darkness" is an honest, humble account meant to deglorify whitewashed legends of heroism. For every triumph, there was collateral damage of lives snuffed out and fractured on both sides. Manchester is haunted by all his wartime deeds, even his moments the textbooks would describe as glorious. He wrote the book as a way of self-healing therapy, and his work exemplifies the burden that weighs on veterans. He references battles throughout history, juxtaposing his call of duty with the plights of soldiers dating to Thermopylae and Vietnam. His book is a chilling voyage through dark, troubled memories.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

"Gorogoa" Switch Review

An eclectic, meditative puzzle adventure, "Gorogoa" feels like a playable piece of art. Georgously drawn and animated by Jason Roberts, the game burst with creativity and intrigue.

Designed to look like en eclectic, illustrated instruction manual of sorts, the game -- originally released on PC earlier this year -- makes an apt pairing with the Switch. Touch screen interactivity replaces mouse pointing and clicking with aplomb.

You tap spots on the pictures, enlarging the surface area you're focusing on to reveal more detail. Once you decipher the solution, you advance to the next page. As you work your way through the game, a thoughtful, if obtuse, narrative starts to develop.

The methodical experience is not for twitch-happy players, but a welcome change of pace for those who like to do their gaming kicked back in a recliner while sipping on coffee.

Publisher provided review code.

"Enter the Gungeon" Switch Review

"Enter the Gungeon" was one of the biggest surprises on the indie scene last year, with the retro-styled roguelike/bullet hell mashup winning over critics and players. Once the Switch dropped, it seemed like only a matter of time until the game popped up on the Switch.

In ideal fit for the Switch's handheld mode, "Enter the Gungeon" barrages you with diverse weaponry and rooms crammed with traps and bloodthirsty enemies. Loaded with unlockables, secrets and loot stashes, the adventure offers plenty of replay value, thanks to the diversity of its challenges, heroes and techniques to master.

The learning curve may be steep, but once you find yourself dodge-rolling through a spike roller to shoot out a sentry, then dodge a stream of projectiles to find yourself cornered, only to reload, work yourself into space and unleash a room-clearing attack to make your way to the exit, you feel like a true badass.

Until Devolver Digital hunkers down to forge a true sequel, fans should play the dev's near masterpiece on the Switch, in what may prove to be its definitive form.
Publisher provided review code.

"Party Planet" Review

The Wii suffered such a deluge of third-party party games -- all trying to recapture the thunder of "Wii Sports" -- that publishers have been hesitant to pump out such games on Nintendo systems since.

"Party Planet" joins a slim crowd in the genre on the Switch, with only the poorly-reviewed first-party launch title "1-2-Switch" to contend with. Most games of this ilk are mediocre by definition, but redeemed by their pick-up-and-playability. Goofy, fleeting fun is about all you can ask for, with the personalities of you and your fellow gamers called upon to add most of the entertainment value.

"Party Planet" fulfills the party game parameters without taking any extra steps to go beyond what you'd expect. Most of the games in the collection require minimal timed button pushes and are light-skill challenges that track and compare scores.

With few standouts and more than its share of stinkers, "Party Planet" goes for quantity over quality, managing to accomplish that meager goal. It's a reasonable pickup if your Switch library is light and you are looking for some variation to show off your system to curious non-gamers. Anyone else can skip this one and spend their time and money elsewhere.

Publisher provided review code.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Otterbox Symmetry Star Wars Collection iPhone 8 Plus Case Review

The Otterbox name is synonymous with maximum protection, but also, somewhat unfairly, as blocky, heavy and cumbersome mummifications that rob devices of their svelte shape and utility. Over the past few smartphone generations, designers have made strides to nullify that stigma. As phones became more powerful and expensive, the need to protect them only grew, so the challenge was to provide similar levels of armor against drops and elemental exposure while preserving the sexiness factor.

With the latest edition of Star Wars-themed Symmetry cases, Otterbox has gotten the combination just right.

Image rises above function with this string of releases, with the likes of Darth Vader, a Storm Trooper and a Rey/R2/Millennium Falcon combo gracing the backside.

The phone pops into the one-piece case after a minimal wiggling and shoving, forging a tight grip with zero possibility of the device ever popping out. The case admirably protects your phone against facepalm-inducing face plants with a surrounding lip that juts out just enough to preserve the face during crashes on flat surfaces. The added bulk is barely noticeable, keeping the phone able to slide in and out of your pocket.

About the only knock against the case I have is that its slick material was sometimes slippery. The sleep button is a little sluggish to the touch, but you get used to applying more force within a day or so. The slight sacrifices are more than wroth the upside of flashing Darth Vader whenever you pull out to text or post pics, as well as the peace of mind won't mean an untimely drop means the fall of the Empire.
Company provided review case.

"Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi" Review

For my written review, click here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"Bleed" Switch Review

Originally released on the Xbox 360 as part of its indie games initiative, the platformer "Bleed" was a word-of-mouth sensation that tore up the charts and outsold many titles backed by high-profile publishers and marketing budgets. Now it comes to Switch with rough edges smoothed out and gameplay, music visuals optimized for the system.

A retro throwback, the game boasts seven fast-paced levels complete with boss fights.

While the base game is on the short side, there is plenty of reason to replay, thanks to three unlockable characters that provide new angles and twists on the narrative. There are also four difficulty levels -- as well as story, arcade and challenge modes -- to try your mettle against. The hardest of the hardcore can try to plug through the game on hardcore mode, with just one life standing in the way of you and a restart.

Switching from dual-wielding pistols and other projectiles such as missiles in a "Metroid" fashion, you zip through the levels with triple jumps, pinpoint maneuvers and a steady diet of run-and-gun.

As fun and engaging whether you take it on solo on the go or venture into two-player couch co-op, "Bleed" is a combustible action-fest that never lets up.

Publisher provided review code.

Monday, December 11, 2017

"PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" Xbox One Review

Genius tends to come in the form of head-smacking simplicity, and "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" -- known as "PUBG" by the cool kids -- exemplifies that maxim. One hundred players drop from the sky onto a sprawling map, scrambling for weapons, vantage points and shelter in a battle royale. The field of play shrinks down periodically as a counter in the upper right corner ticks down the number of remaining players.

With echoes of "The Hunger Games" and, well, "Battle Royale," the stakes increase as you advance through dwindling ranks. A number of strategies will get you to that end. The scoring system encourages aggression, rewarding you for stalking and killing your competitors.But acting rashly and getting your head chopped off will do you no favors. There is much to be said for hiding out in remote corners, waiting for the masses to hack one another to bits, leaving you to keep breathing deep into the late rounds. The mix of strategy, hunting and patience is tantalizing, making no two rounds the same.

I know only by reading that if you end up as the last person standing, you're rewarded with a loot crate dubbed a chicken dinner, filled with upgrades, trophy gear and cosmetic rewards. I am sure that I will never taste the chicken dinner myself, but that will do nothing to prevent me from striving for it.

"PUBG" handles the transition to console with aplomb. Never did I feel the need for the mouse and keyboard setup. The game plays something like a hybrid of "Skyrim" and "Dead Island," mixing melee with projectiles and ranged attacks to craft a maelstrom of carnage.

Since eliminations are followed by bounces to new games, there's never a lull in the action. Console gamers who have been envious of raving "PUBG" players for months will quickly see what the hype is all about. The simplistic but fascinating and engrossingly addictive title feels like a steal for $30. That it's in early access, sure to be improved by a steady stream of updates and additions, only sweetens the pot.

The "PUBG" era is upon the Xbox One, and the multiplayer landscape will never be the same. This is the sort of game you dreamed of when you pulled the console of the rack.
Publisher provided review code.

"Pinball FX 3" Switch Review

One of the drawbacks facing third-player multiplayer-focused titles on the Switch is the limited player base. "Pinball FX 3" negates that drawback with the bold, innovative measure of cross-platform multiplayer that extends to the PC and Xbox One.

While the ability to clash with other players worldwide on various platforms is a major draw, it would have been an even more confident and player-friendly move to allow them to access tables they had previously bought on other systems on the new device.

Because of its portability and vertical play integration, the Switch makes more sense for a pinball sim than the standard home console setup, so it makes sense that devoted players who had pumped money into the game on another system would prefer to move on to the Switch. As it stands, only the "Sorcerer's Lair" table comes for free with purchase, although it helps that the "Carnivals and Legends" expansion -- which comes with "Adventure Land and "Son of Zeus" tables -- is free for a limited time for the first week after launch.

With tight controls, varied table availability and that impressive multiplayer suite, "Pinball FX 3" is a a smart, savvy addition to the Switch library, and a joy to play either at home or on the go. Just be prepared to keep on coughing up money when you get bored of the initial tables to add another.
Publisher provided review code.

"Okami HD" Review

It was 11 years ago that "Okami" became one of the most beautiful and distinctive games released to that point on the PlayStation 2. The painstaking art style, inspired by traditional Japanese mythology, wood cuttings and paintings, the fable tells a tale of a mystical wolf who quests to bring peace to the realm of Nippon.

In a realm of neverending remakes, remasters and HD upgrades, "Okami HD" is an example of the rehash done right. Not only is "Okami" a vital classic that merits revisitation on modern consoles, the graphical upgrades are sweeping and impressive, blowing out already stunning graphics into breathtaking artwork. Best of all, the game is only $20 -- a stiff counterpoint to the likes of the "Skyrim" remasters, which weighed in at a full $60 out of the gate.

Naggingly, some issues that remind you of the game's age remain. The archaic save system, which eschews the modern nicety of the autosave in favor of old-fashioned checkpoints, as well as the inability to skip overly long text-driven story scenes, makes cranking through content to get to a save point more trying than it needs to be. "Okami" remains a game you need to allow room to breathe, focusing on for hours on end to receive just rewards.

Since "Okami" is old enough that even those who beat it at release will have forgotten its finer points, as well as cheap enough to justify a new purchase, that it feels like a crucial and essential addition to just about every gamer's library.

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

"Let Them Come" Review

Developer Versus Evil embraces the joy of the turret-shooter minigame for a full-fledged experience, setting up "Let Them Come" as a horde mode with wave after wave of assaulting enemies coming after you. In between barrages, you can regroup and add upgrades to your loadout.

You'll need every edge you can muster to neutralize the increasingly ravenous difficulty. With the action always flooding the screen with enemies coming at you -- forcing you to use both your ranged and melee defenses -- there is never a moment to catch your breath.

Although the gameplay is simplistic, it never gets dull because you always feel as though you can do better with the next plunge into the fray. You're always hanging on by your fingernails, just a pixel or two away from total annihilation.

The $8 price tag may seem on the high side for what could easily be a $1 smartphone app, but those who take the plunge will find themselves with an addictive experience that packs loads of replay value.

Publisher provided review code.

"Steep: Road to the Olympics" Review

Single-player, story-based campaigns have become the norm in annual sports titles, serving as more than the glorified tutorials they were in the past to become a significant part of the package. Ubisoft's winter sports-based game "Steep," didn't include a campaign, instead opted for an expansion dubbed "Road to the Olympics" that takes you through a young upstart's quest for gold in South Korea.

The long road to glory begins humbly, with qualifying runs on small courses with hardly any crowds to speak of. Professional and personal obstacles pop up along the way, but every setback is just more heartstring-tugging fodder the producers will eventually use to feature you before your medal attempt.

The campaign may be the main attraction, but there is plenty more in the expansion's offing. New alpine skiing, snowboard and freestyle ski events are included, adding to the base content and previous expansion to fill out the package in impressive fashion.

Since the base game that includes the expansion can be had for $60, with the expansion by itself running $30 -- you need the base game if you opt for the expansion on its own -- your options for picking up the full experience are on the inexpensive side. Luckily there is nothing cheap about the quality.
Publisher provided review code. 

Saturday, December 09, 2017

HTC U11 Life Review

Five months after releasing the impressive U11, the manufacturer followed it up with an even more impressive feat. The U11 Life manages to cram just about every relevant feature of the device into a slimmer, lighter and much cheaper package.

The $349 device includes the squeeze functionality that separated its predecessor from the pack. Acting as a sort of hot key macro, a squeeze can pull up an app. While not overly useful, the squeeze provides another quick, seamless way to navigate your phone.

The Snapdragon 630 chipset and 3GB of RAM keep the device running fast and smooth while juggling multitasking functions. The dual 16MP cameras produce impressive stills and video. The proprietary uSonic earbuds, included in the box, make up for many of the audio deficiencies in the cut-rate speakers.

Android users hail software diversity and customization as a major draw, and the U11 Life feeds into that draw by integrating Amazon Alexa into its Google Assistant interface. If you want to order something off Amazon, pull up a Prime video or search for a song on Amazon Music Unlimited, it's far easier to do so on this advice than, say, a Galaxy.

The paltry 32GB storage capacity -- an expected sacrifice to keep the cost of the device low -- is mitigated by expandable micro SD memory. That the device is resistant to both water and dust adds to its utility.

Those looking for a budget, high-end smartphone can do a much worse than the U11 Life. A throwback to flip phones that fit easily into pockets along with keys and wallets, the durable, tech-savvy device is a welcome, low-cost alternative to the likes of Galaxy and Pixel competitors on the Android scene.
HTC provided review loaner.

"Utter Nonsense: Naughty Edition" Review

Party card games are amid a major comeback these days, with the likes of "Exploding Kittens" and Cards Against Humanity" leading away. Now the likes of "Utter Nonsense" -- which tasks you to come up with accents to mix and match with ludicrous phrases -- adds to the resurgence.

Available in both family and naughty editions -- although with the right group, the family edition can also easily become the naughty edition -- the game boats a seemingly infinite number of combinations of laughter and mayhem.

The $20 base game is expandable with add-on packs, which help you freshen up the deck and vary your potential responses.

The magic of "Utter Nonsense" is the way it manages to draw introverts out of their shells for impromptu performances. It's a box full of inside jokes and belly laughs ready to explode at any time, and its compact packaging makes it easy to store and pull out on demand.

"Utter Nonsense" just makes sense in so many ways.
Publisher provided review sample.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

"Human: Fall Flat" Switch Review

Your character in "Human: Fall Flat" is a blank slate, with arms controlled by the corresponding analog stick. Before you stands a cavalcade of interlocking platforms lined with buttons, elevators and sliding crates.

Lacking the ability to jump or run, you move through the challenges methodically. When you find yourself stuck in the early stages, a handy tutorial message pops up to nudge you along. Stumbling upon the answers comes with a sense of discovery and satisfaction. Each level is well constructed, getting you to utilize your accumulated knowledge and techniques to continue to advance.

Released in May on other systems, "Human: Fall Flat" fits well into the Switch library. The game is lined with auto-save checkpoints that lend themselves to portable play.

Low-key and unassuming, "Human: Fall Flat" is a well-constructed puzzler that generates a strong sense of momentum that it never lets wane.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

"Slain: Back from Hell" Switch Review

After a bungled March 2016 release plagued by bugs and dopey design choices, developer Wolf Brew Games took the flood of negative feedback into account and quickly reworked the title from the ground up, rereleasing it less than half a year later. The result may not have been perfection, but was closer to the original vision projected in teases and interviews.

Now "Slain: Back from Hell," which takes more than a few cues from "Castlevania," arrives on the Switch with reputation intact. Its 16-bit, side-scrolling sensibilities are a natural fit for the console -- especially in handheld mode -- and is all the more crucial because of how slow Nintendo has to re-implement the Virtual Console of the Wii, 3DS and Wii U that allowed gamers to rebuy classic titles.

After your curmudgeonly hero is revived from death by an alarmingly pushy spirit, you're off on a platforming, sword-swiping escapades filled with swarms of creatures of the night out to stop you from vanquishing the great evil that you've been summoned to confront.

Tight controls and delightfully corny 1990s-style visuals and storytelling are the main draw here. You will need to get over a resentment of overtly cheap enemies and choke points to fully enjoy yourself, but figuring out the quirks of advancing is much of the fun.

On its chosen level, "Slain: Back from Hell" rarely fails to slay.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

"A Hat in Time" Review

The adventure game genre comeback spurred by Telltale and the horde of walking simulators has paved the way for indies to go back to the old point-and-click model and experiment in refreshing ways.

That's why we get "A Hat in Time," a whimsical time-hopping point-and-click affair with action elements. Your cherubish character, equipped with a mystically powered hat, is free to roam through environments, interacting with objects at will to advance the story.

The often irritating crucible of trial and error is there to bear, but the annoyance is mitigated by the loads of easter eggs waiting to reward you for actions that don't advance the story. You might find your character plop down on the couch to catch some cartoons, drop to all fours to chase a roomba or take the helm of a captain's chair for a free-wheeling spin.

The writing and characters are compelling enough to keep you moving along. Expect to rely on walk-throughs to make your way through some obtuse bottlenecks, though. For both better and worse, the visuals never miss a chance to cheese out.

If the methodical, point-and-click slow-roll feel of yesteryear is your speed, "A Hat in Time" is your game.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Book Report: "Fighter Pilot"

With humbleness, a natural, easygoing voice and unbridled passion, Robin Olds tells his life story as though he were hunkered down over a beer or three at the VFW. His book is filled with spectacular stories of death-defying battles in the skies during World War II and Vietnam.

He downplays his exploits rather than embellish them. Despite his heroism, he saw himself as just a regular guy doing his job.

Sometimes Olds loses track of the point of his tales by getting mucked up in technical minutiae, but for the most part he keeps his stories soaring. He keeps his guns blazing in the latter half, describing his salty encounters with the dopey military brass about his frustrations over Vietnam rules of engagement that set the operation up to fail.

Above all, Olds translates the sheer thrills and fun of his service. He was a vital part of what made the Greatest Generation great.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

"Stick it to the Man" Switch Review

If you had a giant pink spaghetti arm sticking out of your brain, you'd naturally use it to vault you from one platform to the next, tear down pieces of paper hiding people who need you to get objects for them, find those objects, then deliver them back to the people in need.

That's the oddly logical concept behind "Stick it to the Man," which puts you in control of the hero, who is on the run from the Man, who's accusing him of a crime for which he was framed. With Adult Swim-style visuals, creatively designed levels and obtuse but engaging tasks, it provides an easygoing diversion from heavier fare.

The 2014 2D puzzle platformer re-emerges on the Switch in fine form. Like most indie games of its ilk, it seems to be an apt fit for Nintendo's handheld-home console combo. With bite-sized challenges and checkpoints that make it fitting for on-the-go gaming, the game is a whimsically welcome addition to the console's holiday lineup.

Adjustments made to the base game are minimal, but that's because the game already fit so well with the JoyCon setup. If you missed it upon its original release and have a Switch aching for a library-extending download, you could do much worse.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"River City: Rival Showdown" Review

"River City Ransom" (1989) was a groundbreaking marvel of the NES era, adding RPG elements to a "Double Dragon"-style brawler to create a hybrid experience that developers still try to emulate today. Word that Arc System Works was crafting a spiritual sequel has tantalized fans of the original for years. Now after a stream of nagging false starts and delays, the end result is finally here. It doesn't disappoint.

The devs not only had to live up to the towering expectations of the original, they had to surpass the shadow of the legend to create a game that adhered to modern standards while nailing the feel and energy of the predecessor. They accomplish both tasks by nailing the basics -- this is a game with looks and sounds ripped straight out of the late 80s -- and constructing a deep, satisfying ecosystem around the archaic trappings.

Taking cues from "Groundhog Day" and "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask," the setup takes you through three days on the gang-infested streets, allowing you to spend them any way you like. While forced to adhere to a day/night cycle with a set amount of time to seek out objectives, you are free to plow through the main storyline, chase off on side quests or just stay in one area braining the same group of thugs over and over again. Various characters have different things to say to you depending on the time of day you encounter them, and you need to follow routines and devise a plan of attack through trial and error to make headway.

With a deceptively complicated and satisfying battle system complete with throws, blocks, punches and kicks -- the latter two of which can be modified by jumps -- there are a host of ways to set out attack and defense strategies. With two difficulty modes to consider, you're probably best off starting on the easier mode to get your feet wet before taking on the game n its more cheap and punishing level. The fact that you'll keep on diving back in with a determined grin on your face says something about how replayable "River City: Rival Shodown" is.

Publisher provided review code.

"Lego Worlds" Switch Review

A "Minecraft"-style universe building game dressed up in Lego trappings is a no-brainer, and while the execution lags behind the game "Lego Worlds" imitates -- it lacks the depth of "Minecraft" and the charm of licensed Lego adaptations -- the bones are there for a rock-solid experience.

With both freeform creative modes -- complete with expansive online multiplayer -- and a quest-based campaign to test your building talents, there is enough to see and do to knock out dozens of hours of largely iterative gameplay.

The Switch is an excellent fit for the game because of its portability. It's therapeutic to craft a part of a village while stuck in a waiting room or airport terminal. And the campaign missions are short enough to be satisfying in quick sessions.

With the $40 physical version down to $20 on Black Friday -- that's cheaper than the $30 digital version -- now is a spectacularly good time to check it out.

Publisher provided review code.

"Coco" Review

For my written review, click here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Report: "Seal Team Six"

Wasdin is an excellent storyteller and poor writer. If I have to choose one quality, I'd always go with storyteller. He either has a memory with an uncanny sense of detail or is skilled at inventing minute details he forgot. Either way, he excels at describing the tumult and grind that Navy SEALs go through as they hop the globe to perform video game-like ops.

His weakness is the humblebrag. Every single story he tells has the same moral: He is the strongest, smartest and most easygoing member of whatever group with which he was involved, and was the unsung hero of every activity in which he took part. Once you just accept that Wasdin is incapable of identifying any flaws within himself or questioning anything he did, you can enjoy his tales for their homespun campfire qualities.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Outcast: Second Contact" Review

A wholesale remake of the 1999 cult classic, "Outcast: Second Contact" hurls you into an open-world, sci-fi saga as hero Cutler Slade, who explores the deep-space world of Adelpha. In what was an innovative style at the time, you advance through adventure game-style mechanics, blending point-and-click sensibilities with an action combat motif.

Although the remake is spiritually faithful to the original, there are several enhancements to appreciate, such as the ability to crouch and roll during combat, as well as a streamlined, modern save system.

Legacy issues, including a slow-moving plot with copious comic book-inspired cut scenes, remain. The main challenge tends to be to stay interested despite the blocks the cumbersome story and mission structure foists in front of you.

What might have been a rush job -- the game was originally scheduled to drop in September -- instead is a polished, steady effort. Whether or not it reconnects with its old audience and manages to find new appreciators remains to be seen, but the work has been done to revitalize what many hail as a cult classic.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"L.A. Noire" Switch Review

Rockstar's stunning 2011 period police procedural "L.A. Noire" has been blessed with a late-2017 renaissance, with a 4K upgrade on its PS4 Pro and Xbox One X debuts.

But leave it to the Switch release to steal the thunder from the better-looking counterparts.

With HD rumble, touchscreen controls and dual-screen play seamlessly adapting the dated title to Nintendo's new system, the developers managed to make the game feel as though it was designed from the ground up for the handheld/home console hybrid.

Set in the grim, dank 1940s Hollywoodland era, the game pits your mildly corrupt cop character -- a grizzled World War II vet -- against the Black Dahlia murderer. You scour crime scenes, hunt down clues and grill witnesses. At the end of an episodic scene, you decide which suspects to arrest. The choice-based gameplay adds replayability and ratchets up the intensity of choices you make.

Enough time had passed for me from my initial playthrough to make the missions seem new again. With only a vague recollection of where clues were hidden or what questions and responses I needed to ask to get the most out of witnesses I grilled, the story seemed fresh rather than like a rehash. The less familiar you are with the original release, the more you'll be able to enjoy the new version.

A hefty 14GB install file puts up a significant barrier to entry to players, pretty much requiring players to pony up for a massive SD card to expand the Switch's memory enough to take on the game.

"L.A. Noire" is such a resonant accomplishment that Switch owners shouldn't let the SD card requirement keep them from taking it on. Further rounding out the console's ever-expanding library, it's now the home of a true classic.

Publisher provided review code.

"Star Wars Battlefront II" Review

The initial "Star Wars Battlefront" current-gen relaunch slowly evolved into a solid multiplayer representation of the cinematic universe, but took a bunch of updates and expansions to get there. The sequel is a far more comprehensive experience, boasting not only expansive multiplayer with an impressive collection of modes and maps, but a solid campaign with canonical story that provides a peek inside the inner workings of the Empire.

Although multiplayer is still the main event, the campaign is far more than the throwaway extended tutorial that many online FPS efforts are stuck with. Excellent voice acting and strong writing make the campaign a resonant and borderline essential experience for hardcore "Star Wars" fans, which will make up pretty much the entirety of the player base here.

No review of "Star Wars Battlefront II" would be complete without mentioning the problematic loot crate system. While just about everything in the game that helps you stay competitive can be unlocked through gameplay rather than pay-to-win, the amount of time it takes to unlock high-end characters is cumbersome. In the game's pre-release version, it was said to take at least 40 hours to unlock characters such as Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker. While a flood of negative comments convinced EA to knock that time down to 10 hours, the commitment is still frustrating for the pickup-and-play crowd who would rather not plunk down hard-earned cash or put in so much time to unlock the icons.

Despite the obnoxious economy that makes the $60 game feel like a money-grubbing, freemium title, the content that's there for the taking without any paid or played unlockables is still impressive. With far more to offer out of the gate than its predecessor, "Star Wars Battlefront II" should manage to shake off initial hesistation from the fanbase to emerge as the dynamic fan service vehicle it is.
Publisher provided review code.

"Rocket League" Switch Review

No console has had a 2017 to match that of the Switch, and the release of "Rocket League" on the system only adds to the momentum. One of the most addictive sports games on the market manages to make significant strides on the handheld/home console hybrid. The game particularly excels in handheld mode, with the screen's proximity to your eyes making your connection to the gameplay.

A game that thrives on kinetic action and requires rapid reflexes to stay competitive requires pinpoint precision in controls, and the Switch comes through in that respect with relish.

Some Switch ports have suffered from weak online play, but "Rocket" League" has a large and engaged enough community to support yet another platform. While a lack of a cohesive chat system could be seen as a drawback, the fact that most of the gameplay is one-on-one minimizes the lack of ability to fluidly communicate.

Each of the modes doled out by the expansions makes the cut on switch, with the old standbys based on soccer and basketball continuing to make the most resonant impressions. Whether you're competing against bots or live opponents, the action is consistently thrilling and addictive. If the Switch has a weak sector so far, it's the sports genre, but "Rocket League" makes up much of that liability.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, November 10, 2017

"The Sims 4 Deluxe Party Edition" Review

Three years after release on PC, "The Sims 4" finally makes it grand entrance onto consoles, and is all the better for the wait.

Buttressed with countless updates and add-ons since the initial release, the PS4/Xbox One edition coincides with the "Cats & Dogs" expansion, console players get a wealth of content to delve into.

You can customize the look, mannerisms and attitude of your feline or canine companions, dressing them up in costumes and dealing with unexpected quirks that pop up and keep things interesting. You can play with your pets, socialize them by setting them up on playdates with neighbors and friends, train them to take part in obstacle courses and bring in strays to give them siblings. The expansion also adds veterinarian as a career option, allowing you to set up your own clinic, conjuring antidotes to pet diseases and performing surgical procedures.

The game proper functions swimmingly on consoles, but never comes close to shaking the feel of being conceived for the mouse and keyboard setup. The PS4 touchpad helps streamline the pointing and clicking to an extent, but it still takes some getting used to in order to be accustomed to all the pointing and clicking required by manipulating the analog sticks and buttons. If you prefer to forego the customizations, you can auto-generate various setups, then work from there to tweak them to your liking.

Once you get into the flow, it's an effortless joy to manipulate the lives of your Sims, setting up their lives, playing virtual dollhouse and, if it's your thing, torturing them by confronting them with one ludicrous torment after another.

Live Mode is one of the most freeing additions, allowing you to hop between worlds, checking out various neighborhoods and social strata which to adapt.

An impressive achievement that successfully translates the enduring PC obsession to consoles, "The Sims 4" feels like a definitive experience. Whether it manages to keep pace with the continuous updates of its PC counterpart remains to be seen, but for now the console version is on par with the original, and is off to as impressive a start as any fan could hope.

Publisher provided review code.

"America's Greatest Game Shows: Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune" Review

"Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune" have been natural fits for video game adaptations since the NES games, with each generation nudging the adaptations closer to the genuine articles.

Far more than the quick and dirty adaptations they could have been, both games include loads of variety in questions, authentic sights and sounds from the game show and plenty of reasons to keep coming back for more.

Both games offer extensive online options, connectivity with Ubisoft Club and options for quick matches.

Excellent for get-togethers, family game nights or couples competition, "America's Greatest Game Shows" is a superb compilation that distills the best of the enduring game shows, translating them to gamedom. Here's hoping a steady flow of online updates keeps the question banks refreshed to maintain the replayability factor.

Publisher provided review code.

"Murder on the Orient Express" Review

For my full review, click here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

"Ace of Seafood" Review

 An undersea, third-person shooter consisting of laser-blasting fish, "Ace of Seafood" starts with about as absurd a premise as you can dream up. The execution is fueled with just as much creative precision.

After choosing a six-creature party, you venture out into the cut-throat world of seafaring dangers to seize control of various reefs. The visual design thrives by sticking to realistic looks and sizes of the creatures, making the high-powered weaponry stand out.

As the commanding "ace" that leads the pack, it's on you to set the tone by taking the lead in combat ops, setting formations and doling out special ability attacks.

Two-player couch multiplayer and four-player, voice chat-equipped online slugfests keep things lively, and the open-world map, which teems with procedurally generated armies of sea creatures constantly provides a daunting challenge. Although the gameplay is slim, the execution of what the game does well makes it a standout in the sea of PS4 indies.
Publisher provided review code.

"Need for Speed: Payback" Review

Just about every year, "Need for Speed" re-emerges in a new form. Whether it be the nuts-and-bolts drag circuitry of "Grid," the madcap cross-country racing of "The Run" or the cops vs. robbers motif of "Most Wanted," the one constant is always sexy cars romping at high speeds.

"Payback" is a return to the series' go-to setup of "Fast and Furious"-style fantasy fulfillment. Set in a world in which gearhead buddies vie for control of the streets by collecting pink slips, upgrading their rides and teaming up for improbable heists, the mission-based, open-world romp set you free to explore its twist-filled circuits of lost highways, off-road pathways and hidden nooks.

This has been a particularly impressive year for racers, with the likes of "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe," "Gran Turismo Sport" and "Forza Motorsport 7" all tearing up the track in impressive manner. That leaves little room for the likes of "Need for Speed Payback," which pales in comparison when compared in graphical horsepower and racing bona fides.

Where "Payback" manages to carve out its niche are the realms of story and high-octane set pieces. It's also the only game in the bunch that allows you to mash on the nitro button to pull into the lead down the stretch. Arcade-style thrills help separate "Payback" from the pack, with the cheesy-yet-satisfying writing taking the wheel, for both better and worse. At least it's never a dull ride.
Publisher provided review copy.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Book Report: Columbine

I was dreading this book, figuring it would be a depressing and agonizing experience. Cullen neutralizes those concerns with magical storytelling coupled with exhaustive research. He explores the shooting from every conceivable angle, tracking down witnesses, obscure media reports and evidence.

His goal is to dispel myths about the shooting, such as the assumption that the killers were bullied loners who targeted jocks. He instead reveals that they were a codependent, psychopathic duo who fueled one another to abandon lives of relative privilege and moderate popularity to lash out at society in a misguided, mentally ill explosion of teen angst. Cullen forces you to recast your perspective on the tragedy and revisit false presumptions society has clung to and built up over the years among the rubble of the most notorious of school shootings.

"Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds" Review

"Horizon Zero Dawn" was a vast game to begin with, and its "The Frozen Wilds" expansion considerably expands the scope and majesty of one of the most deep and exciting adventures of 2017.

Unlike Sony's "Uncharted" spinoff, "The Lost Legacy," "The Frozen Wilds" requires the original game to play. You can play it as post-game content or take it in the flow of the story if you've yet to beat the game. Recommended for players who have hit level 30, the new areas and missions it provides are accessible from the standard map. Once you take down the "A Seeker at the Gates" quest, you can access everything. Helpfully, the install file transfers over your save to work on the new, expanded map.

Living up to its name, "The Frozen Wilds" rolls out an intimidating tundra teeming with natural obstacles and robotic menaces that plague the northern wildlands. The quests it presents rank among some of the game's most creative and challenging, and the narrative manages to beef up the lore and strengthen the relationships between Aloy and the peripheral characters.

The gameplay-to-cost ratio here is a bargain, and a savvy pickup for fans of the game who have been hungering for more for months.
Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

"Superbeat: Xonic" Review

Originally released two years ago on the PS4 and Vita, Nurijoy's anime-influenced DJ sim makes its debut on the Switch. Like so many indies that have made the move, it feels like a natural fit on Nintendo's tablet, which is a credit to the vision and design of the handheld/home console hybrid.

You manage a series of circular-edge tracks -- the number of which is determined by your chosen difficulty level -- and tap the segment related to the track as beast flow to the edge of the rim of your circle. The only way to rack up impressive combos and high scores is to feel the flow of the J-Pop grooves, losing yourself in the rhythm and letting your fingers tap the screen automatically.

The tactile feel of using the touch screen rather than the button sto play enhances the DJ-style feel of the game, and the screen's larger size than the Vita -- especially if you're playing on TV -- makes it easily the definitive version of "Superbeat: Xonic," somewhat justifying its eyebrow-raising $40 price. The one drawback isn't a design flaw but a rhythm game reality. It doesn't work as well while on the go. You best enjoy the game by locking yourself down, putting on some headphones and focusing on the game and nothing more. It pays off in direct correlation to the amount of focus you channel into it.
Publisher provided review code.

"Call of Duty: WWII" Review

Activision's ongoing global offensive mission with the "Call of Duty" series is to keep introducing new facets to global combat. After years of pushing technology forward until it finally went full sci-fi last year with "Infinite Warfare," the publisher got the point that what was old became new again. Hence, back to the well with the suddenly refreshing concept of the World War II FPS with "Call of Duty: WWII."

The series built on combat in the European theater returns to its roots, and the campaign is a "Battlefield One"-inspired best-of hit list from World War II, starting with a hellacious take on D-Day. The combat is fluid and gritty, and all the more impactful because it holds back from gratuitously over-the-top set pieces, scaling down to an intimate look at one infantry man's scampering to survive the storming of Omaha Beach, a scramble to clear out five bunkers and eventually drag a wounded ally to safety under fire. Gritty, intense realism pulsates every note, making you feel as though you are genuinely experiencing the war in a way the early 2000s games never managed or even earnestly attempted.

Multiplayer remains the main draw for a colossal contingent of casual beer and energy drink chugging gamers, as well as e-sports participates in training. The biggest change of pace comes here, where standard wall-running, jetpack-aided double jumping and drone-hawking are gone in favor of old-school, cover-to-cover stop-and-pop hunting.

Whether the change-up maintains the interest of stream viewers and all-night players remains to be seen, but the mechanics are balanced and sound, with intricate, well-designed maps making the experience calibrated with precision and thought. A new, camp-based hub system adds some sense to the multiplayer oeuvre, adding some wandering downtime reminiscent of the "NBA 2K18" career mode hub world by allowing you to wander around to scout for upgrades, weaponry and other players you can squad up with.

The third facet of the three-in-one game -- the concept that continually makes "Call of Duty" games one of the better values in the annual release spectrum -- is Nazi Zombies, which continues to carry the spiritual torch of "Left for Dead." That mode always works best in cramped quarters, and the better maps here are the ones where you can hear the undead menace lurking around a corner and need to ration out your ammo in order to avoid getting into a melee struggle with multiple creatures. A refreshing palate cleanser that will never be the main draw, the mode continues to fulfill its orders dutifully.

Overall, the "Call of Duty: WWII" package feels like a bold, fresh move for the franchise by returning to basics and nailing them. Where it goes from here is anyone's guess, but the state of the "Call of Duty" nation for now remains fierce.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, November 03, 2017

"Thor: Ragnarok" Review

For my written review, click here.

".hack//G.U. Last Recode" Review

Celebrating the 15th anniversary of the obnoxiously named yet deceptively fascinating cyberpunk JRPG series, ".hack//G/U. Last Recode" compiles the PlayStation 2 trilogy in sorely needed remastered versions, also adding the long-awaited fourth game, subtitled "Reconnection."

The ".hack" games were always visually strong, but shine like never before in HD. The old RPGs take on a new life, playing like the interactive anime they were always meant to be.

The convoluted, self-important trappings are still every bit as gleefully dorky and shamelessly inspired by the likes of "The Matrix" and its own antecedent, "Ghost in the Shell." You play as Haseo, a heroic hacker who is steeped in fantasy tropes. The blend of deep-dive cyber sci-fi dystopian projections with 1990s coding nomenclature makes for an oddly compelling blend.

Sticking with the hacking motif, there is also a new "cheat mode" that allows you to just watch the story and disregard all the combat and inventory maneuverings. Those who take on the games the old-fashioned way will find them much more easier to navigate than before, thanks to a streamlined interface and save system that brings the franchise up to modern standards.

The ".hack" games have always been geared toward an insular crowd, but "Last Recode" is a genuine attempt at making the series accessible to the masses." It's an unexpected treat to have the entire series to date rounded up in a single tight, well-calibrated package. ".hack" has been hacked, and the JRPG scene is all the better off for it.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

"Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back" Review

It's been more than two decades since the wannabe Mario and Sonic platforming hero Bubsy graced consoles, but he's back in the retro throwback adventure "Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back," which plays like a Genesis, Super Nintendo or Jaguar title.

That's a compliment, sorta.

Like "Sonic Mania," Bubsy sticks to its wheelhouse. Running from side to side, you bust through barriers, snatch up tons of collectibles and dash-jump your way above towering obstacles. Unlike "Sonic Mania," there is not as much of an iconic feel to strive for. Bubsy was always an also-ran, and for good reason. There was little to distinguish the goofy character from scores of his platforming contemporaries, which is why he disappeared to little sorrow.

Developer Black Forest Games stays true to the Bubsy formula rather than trying to shoehorn the character and concept into modern trappings. The result, for better and worse, is vintage Bubsy. Meaning it's frivolous and forgettable. On the plus side, there are few platformers nowadays for Bubsy to get lost in the shuffle among, making this new adventure feel somewhat refreshing.

It's hard to imagine this long-distance sequel reigniting the franchise, though. It may well be another 21 years until we see another follow-up.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

"Monopoly for Nintendo Switch" Review

Like "Tetris," a "Monopoly" adaptation seems to work its way onto just about every console in existence. But never has there been a more appropriate fit than on the Switch.

Ideal in the underutilized-by-other-games Tabletop Mode, in which players set the tablet up on a kickstand and either both assume a JoyCon or pass it back and forth, is more of an ideal electronic version of the game than any I'd seen. "Monopoly" is one of the greatest board games, but its cumbersome setup and cleanup make it a pain to play. Video game versions have always been awkward fits. The Switch solves both problems, making it a joy to play against local competition or online.

The usual slate of adjustments are available. You can play streamlined versions of games, adapt your own house rules or stick with the standard setup. The only barrier to marathon sessions is the Switch's battery life. But a group who has played the game for the three hours or so it will take to drain the battery will probably be ready for a break at that point anyway.

What's more important is that people will be willing to play it again once the system has juiced up again. The same isn't true for that sad, dusty "Monopoly" box hiding out in your closet.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

"Disneyland Adventures" and "Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure" Remasters Review

Released and developed at the same time but available separately, two promising Xbox 360 Kinect-enabled Disney games that never quite caught fire get new life on the Xbox One as part of its PC-compatible Play Anywhere initiative.

Even better, both games -- "Disneyland Adventures" (2011) and "Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure" are freed from the shackles of Kinect. Full controller support lets you play with standard stick and button controls rather that voice and motion gimmicks that were meant to make the games more intuitive to play but ended up turning them into slogs.

Purists who are still rocking a Kinect can use the peripheral to control the games. And because the Xbox One version was far superior to the Xbox 360 device, those gamers will find the experiences far more playable than they did on last-gen.

Both games looked excellent to begin with so whatever visuals were remastered are barely noticeable. Both games burst with fan service, even if "Disneyland Adventures" is little more than a glorified commercial for the theme park.

You choose to play as a boy or girl who runs through Disneyland alone, serving fetch quests for characters, gobbling up collectibles and taking on levels based on rides. Convincing scale and intricate detail that matches Disneyland's layout down to the churro stands is enough to help scratch the itch of Disneyland junkies who need a fix of the Happiest Place on Earth.

"Rush" is less a virtual brochure than it is a traditional platformer. The worlds of "Toy Story,: "The Incredibles," "Cars," "Up" and "Ratatouille" collide, with characters and settings from each game blending in a cohesive adventure that ties together the films' universes in far less complicated ways than the universal Pixar fan theories that abound. Like "Disneyland Adventures," the removal of Kinect is addition by subtraction, allowing players to take on the content as it was originally envisioned, if not executed.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, October 27, 2017

"Earth Atlantis" Review

The most eye-catching quality of "Earth Atlantis" is its art style, which is meant to resemble a living sketchbook influenced by "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" fever dreams. Giving you control of a weapon-equipped submarine, the game tasks you to navigate through hidden depths teeming with sharp, destructive obstacles and hostile seal creatures.

The Switch exclusive -- which has been granted a rebirth of sorts thanks to an update that fixed many previous problems -- is part of the flood of indie gems that have given Nintendo's handheld/home console hybrid so much momentum as of late. The side-scrolling action is an ample fit for the handheld mode, with mission design geared toward on-the-go play.

With deceptively simplistic gameplay that echoes the level design in that it reveals hidden depths and nuances the longer you play,  "Earth Atlantis" proves to be a welcome palate cleanser in between meatier first-party offerings. Sure, you may by the Switch for "Breath of the Wild" or "Super Mario Odyssey," but it's games like this that will keep the system as our on-the-go go-to.
Publisher provided review code.

"Slayaway Camp: Butcher's Cut" 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 PS4 after starting off months ago on PC -- 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.

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.

"Just Dance 2018" Review

"Just Dance" justifies its annual release pattern not only by cranking out fresh music and choreography to keep up with the times, but by drastically adjusting its formula year to year, giving players more ways to bust moves to their favorite songs.

"Just Dance 2018" ups the ante by making major strides in online play. You can join massive, worldwide dance competitions at any time, with randomized tracks that assign you to a crew and reward you for nailing coordinated moves. Feedback is instant and constant. In between each session you see your spot on the leaderboard, as well as your cumulative score. The additions are alluring inducements to keep you coming back day after day to strut your stuff.

The song list is a little light, at 37 tracks, but strong. Of course "Despacito" is there, and there's also Ariana Grande's "Side to Side" and Lady Gaga's "John Wayne." There are also less obvious choices, including entries from Psy, the Sunlight Shakers and Wanko Ni Mero Mero.

Eschewing the need for cameras, onscreen prompts suggest you use your phone as the motion tracker. I am still a sucker for its Xbox One Kinect integration. Despite Microsoft long since having given up on the peripheral, "Just Dance" remains fully committed to its integration, and this is one of the few games -- perhaps the only 2017 release -- that actually sticks to the old "Better with Kinect" credo.

An unmitigated joy year after year, "Just Dance 2018" is, as expected, the best version of the game yet and a must-buy for those who've got the beat, or at least pretend like they do.
Publisher provided review code.

"Jigsaw" Review

For my written review, click here.

"Gran Turismo Sport" Review

"Gran Turismo" games have always been for extreme gearheads who eschewed the frills and hand-holding of arcade-style racers in favor of gritty, brutal realism. The sacrifice came in the form a spartan menu system and unforgiving progression system.

While "Gran Turismo Sport" eases some of the harsh barriers to entry of previous games, the old "GT" bones remain in place. This is no game for tourists, or, if you will, drive-by fans. A rich, immensely detailed driving experience that takes on several disciplines and unloads near-limitless customization options, "Gran Turismo Sport" is a ritzy steak dinner for Sony driving fans who have been waiting patiently for the franchise to emerge onto the PS4.

Optimized for 4K TVs equipped with HDR capabilities, "Gran Turismo Sport" is as insanely sexy looking as it is committed to replication the real-life feel of the road. A genuine, obsessive love of automobiles courses through every pixel of the game, starting with a possibly tear-inducing opening montage that hop-scotches through the history of competitive racing.

The built-in tutorial system wisely holds you back from jumping into the online fray at the beginning, forcing you to take on a series of time trials and simple races in order to build up your experience points to unlock online competition. Everything you do on the road contributes to your progression, allowing you to unlock new rides, customization options, tracks and circuits.

Anything but fuel for the "Mario Kart" crowd, "Gran Turismo Sport" is likely the game that a sizable cadre of players have been waiting for to take the PS4 plunge, as well as deck out their living room with a 4K HDR set. A stunner in visuals, gameplay and content depth, it's a complete package that proves to have been well worth the wait.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

"Knowledge is Power" Review

Sony's line of PlayLink games are geared to open up your living room to mass multiplayer without the unrealistic requirement of buying several controllers.

"Knowledge is Power" is a simple yet insanely fun trivia game that accomplishes the feat by letting several players link up using their cell phones to answer questions.

Competition is the name of the game here, and the developer took a shortcut by eliminating AI competition. That makes the game a solely player vs player affair, which won't even let you past the intro screen unless multiple people download the app and connect to the game. Families with cell phone-free children can use tablets as a workaround.

The categories and questions available provide a wide range of general knowledge, making the game sort of a "Jeopardy" lite. The interface is visually appealing and there is enough variety to keep things from repeating too often.

A solid ice breaker for awkward acquaintances and excellent way to share a baseline interactive competition for a group of friend or family members, "Knowledge is Power" is a welcome addition to the PS4 lineup that's hopefully a sign of further cheap, accessible efforts to come.

Publisher provided review code.

"Singstar Celebration" Review

After a lengthy hiatus, PlayStation stalwart "Singstar" finally makes its return to the PS4 for the first time since "Singstar Party." The new game wisely integrates PlayLink functionality, letting up to eight players use their phones as mini karaoke machines to join in embarrassing performances.

Although the opening track list is on the skimpy side, with only 30 tracks to get you going, there are hundreds more available to stream and download for a price. The business model seems to be to make you get sick of the included tracks due to repetition so that you will cough up extra dough to enjoy yourself. At least the $20 price point makes the initial investment easier to handle than previous games, which cost $40 or more.

The phone integration is a game changer, freeing you from the old wired microphone setup. If you use the PlayStation Camera, you can record your performances and upload them to Facebook or Twitter to share your tone-deaf exploits.

An enjoyable budget party game that works better in short spurts than it does marathon sessions, "Singstar Celebration" marks a savvy new turn for a longtime favorite.
Publisher provided review code.

"Assassin's Creed Origins" Review

 "Assassin's Creed" games have served as some of the most effective history lessons in the gaming era. Over the past decade, the multimedia historians at Ubisoft's plethora of studios have whisked gamers to such fascinating social tinder boxes as the ancient Middle East, the Renaissance, Industrial Revolution London and the French and American Revolutions.

Ancient Egypt was always a long-sought dream of fans, and "Assassin's Creed Origins" shows why it was wise for developers to wait so long to grant the wish. The technological advancements shine through in the breathtaking sweep of the age of Pharaohs and pyramids, and it's tough to fathom a previous dev team having managed to tackle the Ptolemaic era with such breathtaking confidence.

Playing as Bayek, a steadfast warrior willing to stand up to the authority of the Phara, and oh's rule. As usual with characters in the series, Bayek is an ace at parkour, wire walking and leaps of faith, as well as sharpening his instincts with an Eagle Vision-like modifier that opens up hidden items and passageways. He can summon camels as mounts at will, commandeer canoes to row down rivers and control a bird of prey to run aerial recon.

Packed with side quests, collectibles and crafts to use to upgrade and hone your skills, the realm of "Origins" is a literal sandbox begging to be roamed and excavated. The sense of time and place is all-encompassing, truly making you feel as though you are living and working in the era. Hardships of slaves and underclass surround you, and opportunities to roam, seek and undermine your enemies via stealth, brute strength and sedition surround you.

The lack of multiplayer is no loss at all. Combined with the extra year in development left by a gap in the previous annual release schedule, the focus on providing a spectacular and engrossing single-player experience pays off in impressive detail and a soaring sense of liberation.

The appropriately titled "Assassin's Creed Origins" works as a fresh start for a series that had flirted with going stale. The present and future of the franchise now seem as bright and promising as its monumental past.

Publisher provided review code.