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.