Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Report: "Alexander Hamilton"

Alexander HamiltonAlexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Combining exhaustive research with cunning insight and a screenwriter's sense of dramatic rhythm, Ron Chernow crafted a brilliant biography that, along with the musical it inspired, solidified the legacy and stature of the most divisive of founding fathers.

Chernow's book is so excellent that any future biographers will have to replicate all the beats he hits and add some material that Chernow was unable to uncover. Not only do we get a complete portrait of Hamilton, his insecurities, flaws, genius and triumphs, but thoroughly nuanced portraits of the figures who surrounded him -- George Washington, John Adams, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, Angelica Church and Eliza Hamilton.

Hamilton seemed to be preternaturally aware that his time on earth would be short, and that he would light up with a fire fated to burn out before its time. He worked at a feverish pace as a writer, enterprising politician and general. He was also a slave to his ambitions and biases, unwise enough to leaven the relentless execution of his visions with moderation. As a result, he tortured himself and especially those who loved him, whom he left penniless in addition to heartbroken by the deception of his covert showdown with Burr.

A complicated man with unrelenting cravings, Hamilton embodied the revolutionary spirit of the infant nation he helped found. We have him to thank for the national bank and accompanying debt, the checks and balances of the federal government, the seeds of the abolitionist movement, the strength of the First Amendment and the Coast Guard. He put the needs of his country ahead of those of himself and his family and political prospects, and lived a life of frenzied raconteurism.

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"I Feel Pretty" Review

For my written review, click here.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Manticore -- Galaxy on Fire" Review

The Switch has specialized in indie games with retro-style visuals that take advantage of the system's nostalgic heritage, but those games tend to underutilize the system's capabilities as a graphics powerhouse. "Manticore -- Galaxy on Fire" bucks that trend, with stunning visuals and sound that show off the system's capability for flashy shock and awe.

The game works well on the Switch thanks to its short, compact mission structures, which allow you to take down objectives on your morning commute without having to flip the game into standby mode and restart mid-mission.

As an ace starfighter pilot, you engage in interstellar dogfights while dodging asteroids and shrapnel. You can pick up bounties and advance the cause of your command, making you feel like a Han Solo of sorts.

Unlockable weapon and ship upgrades keep you coming back for more, seeking to tweak your loadout and rig to perfection. With plenty to seek, study, explore and blast into smithereens, "Manticore -- Galaxy on Fire" fans the flames of your space battle passions.
Publisher provided review code.

"BAFL: Brakes Are For Losers" Review

A kinetic arcade racer that -- as you can judge from the title -- emphasizes gas pedal slamming, violent steering and agile track navigation to stay in the winner's circle.

With as many as eight players jockeying on the same course to a pulse-pounding soundtrack, you can speed through the campaign, time attack or perfect race speedrun modes.

The action is always fast, frenetic and unhinged, and considerably more vigorous if you're playing with friends.

Any Switch racer will compare poorly to "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" when it comes to personality and course variation, so it's up to developers to make their game stand out by distinguishing the nuts and bolts. "BAFL" excels on that front, establishing a distinctive feel and flow, establishing a reward loop that keeps you speeding back for more.

Settings are wild and varied. You will find yourself racing on the moon one moment, a Calypso-inspired island setting or a factory-influenced gearbox. A worthy, grittier palate cleanser for those who have had their fill of Mario and friends, "BAFL" is ever at the ready to slam on the gas and leave the competition in the rear-view mirror.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Wild Guns Reloaded" Review

Picking up where its predecessor left off more than two decades ago, "Wild Guns Reloaded" reignites the light gun shooting gallery thrills of the 1990s in a tight, updated package that recaptures the retro thrills of the original while adding ease-of-use and quality-of-life updates.

With decidedly old-school visuals, the Old West setting pulses with hiding spots for rascally varmints to pop out. You strive to join the ranks of the quick rather than the dead by keeping your spray of bullets flowing to dispatch them.

Several flavors spice up the array of available modes. Boss rush lets you skip through all the filler to take on the touchest challenges in brutal succession. Beginner mode lets you cruise through the story with minimal resistance and time attack throws the emphasis on precision and timing once you've got the trial-and-error routine down pat.

Packing in ample replayability to what otherwise might be a thin package, "Wild Guns Reloaded" loads up with more than enough momentum to keep the six-shooter thrills raging. This throwback to a throwback proves there is plenty of ammo left in the chamber.
Publisher provided review code.

"Football Manager Touch" Switch Review

A standby for the soccer franchise management sim-obsessed mouse-and-keyboard set, the "Football Manager" franchise has hardly made a dent on the console market. But that is set to change, thanks to a mobile-friendly revamp that makes the game a smoother fit on the Switch's touch screen, which packs more real estate than any cell phone.

A tinkerer's delight, "Football Manager Touch" brings a full-figured version of the menu-driven sim to Nintendo's home console/handheld hybrid. The Switch's responsive setup lets you toggle quickly among the various menus screaming for your attention, letting you do your scouting, adjust your roster, massage your contracts and comb the free agent market and email inboxes to stay abreast of the ever-shifting sea changes that are constantly shifting your priorities.

Despite the "Touch" moniker, the game is most easily navigated with a combination of button taps, which let you hop from one highlighted field to another. The interface resembles an interconnected, labyrinthine spreadsheet from hell -- or heaven, if you're obsessed with that kind of thing -- bulging with valuable information. It's up to you to filter the bombardment of information to focus on whatever changes are most pertinent at the time.

While action-minded gamers will always find "Football Manager" dry, tedious and stale, aficionados who eat these games up will be thrilled that the admittedly geeky obsession is able to come on the go with them.

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

"Rogue Aces" Review

A cartoonish, arcadey take on World War II, "Rogue Aces" is a side-scrolling dogfighting game that sends you through harried skies to strike down enemy forces and protect Allied strongholds.

Something close to a strategy-tinged bullet hell shooter, the game challenges you to evade opposing fighters with barrel roles, strafe parachuting troopers, take out fighters and bombers and swoop to the rescue of comrades on the ground.

Breezy and light, the gameplay eases a lighthearted feel into the grim realities of combat. There's also a subtle educational aspect at play, with genuine locations and battles trickling into the frenzied combat.

Once you've mastered the lower difficulty levels, you can take on increasingly stiff challenges, with the effort to climb your way up the leaderboards. Alternate modes, including Bomber Defense and Roge Ace, spice things up if you need a break from the base campaign.

A solid fit for the burgeoning Switch indie scene, "Rogue Aces" is a polished, pick-up-and-play pastime that doesn't wear away its welcome. It's thrilling to take to the unfriendly skies either at home or on the go.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Ys Origin" Review

A 2006 prequel to the to the storied "Ys" series of action JRPGs, the remake of "Ys Origins" brings the series to an Xbox platform for the first time after releasing on PS4 and PC in 2017.

A mix of throwback visuals and elegantly rendered cinematic cut scenes, the game pays homage to the franchise's past while subtly pushing the gameplay forward in concrete, "The Legend of Zelda"-style manner.

You guide the superpowered heroine through her realm-rescuing exploits, collecting a series of upgrades and enhancements via unlockable treasure chests. Combat is fluid and engaging, with beefed-up attacks granting you a sense of exhilarating power and control. The battles are juxtaposed with wordy and convoluted story sequences that tend to slow things down a bit too much.

New to the game is a speedrun mode and blood splatter control mechanic, helping to freshen things u while staying true to the original vision.

If you are a "Ys" fan who has yet to tackle the prequel -- or uninitiated with the appeal of the franchise -- you owe it to yourself to give "Ys Origin" a try.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, April 06, 2018

"The Book of Mormon" Musical Review

Throughout their storied careers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have never been shy about mocking the Mormon faith. Dating back to "Orgazmo" and the early days of "South Park," the duo declared their sneering contempt for the religion's scripture and cultural quirks. Always hidden just behind the mockery was a fascination that approached a gruding admiration.

"The Book of Mormon" musical could have been yet another cheap shot at Mormonism, but its jabs are tantamount to light, good-natured -- if forcefully sacrilegious -- teasing. The story, on the other hand, is an earnest tribute to the faith's growing power and influence, as well as the transformational power of its missionaries, who fearlessly venture into third-world countries and chip away at deficincies in infrastructure, education and resources.

The musical no doubt draws more curiosity about the book of which it shares the title as it does drive people away. The church plays along with the musical's capabilities as a prosthelytizing tool, taking out lighthearted ads in programs that beckon theatergoers to kindly check out the source material.

Whether crowds view the faith as an antiquated, straitlaced curiosity or a path to the kingdom of God, they'll be uniformly entertained by the wacky song and dance numbers, with lyrics bubbling with clever and foulmouthed turns of phrase. The musical is consistently entertaining and more than occasionally crack-up funny, with every touch channeled into crafting a shimmering spectacle of awkward satire.

Accompanied by the musical talent of Robert Lopez, who would go on to "Frozen" fame after creating this 2011 Tony-sweeping phenomenon, the material never misses an opportunity to use its sharp barbs as bludgeons.

The heedless flames not only torch Mormonism, but spread to engulf the people of Uganda as well. Serving as the setting for the majority of the story, the Ugandan people are dismissed as ignorant, gullible, godless and AIDS-plagued. With a piggish cultural insensitivity that borders on racism, more than a few laughs are guilty and discomforting.

Savvy stagecraft redeems the writing's missteps, but the overall feeling that Stone and Parker stretched a "South Park" episode or two's worth of material into a 2.5-hour stage production, leavened with unnecessary filler to stretch out the run time. As successful and radiant as the production is, there is creeping suspicion that the musical may pack the least amount of laughs per minute in the Stone-Parker CV.

Regardless of any shortcomings, the musical is a touchstone not to be missed.

Purchase tickets here.

"Blockers" Review

For my written review, click here.

Monday, April 02, 2018

"The Charming Empire" Switch Review

Billed as a dating sim for women, "The Charming Empire" is an eclectic, full-voice, text-heavy adventure game that plays like a walking sim without the walking aspect. The entire experience is based on dialogue, melded with painterly visuals that help bring the story into focus. You choose your responses, which can press on you heavily as you delve deeper into the text.

The D3 Publisher visual novel, which started off as a smartphone app before making its way to Steam and now Switch, flowers to fuller life on Ninteno's console/handheld hybrid. The big, bright, gorgeous screen allows the visuals to blossom, helping to draw you in to the saga.

Playing as a princess stuck under the thumb of her ambitious prince of a brother, you're forced into the dating pool, wedged into a charm school with the aim to fall into an arranged marriage that coud benefit your personal yearnings, your brother's fiefdom or the kingdom as a whole -- as well as possibly bring ruin to one or all three. The outcome depends on a combination of your choices and the fickle leanings of fate.

"The Charming Empire" is a decidedly niche entry, but tapping through it feels like experiencing the future of the console. Quiet, thoughtful experiences like this tend to draw in non-gamers, making the Switch relevant as an entertainment device beyond the typical scope of gaming.
Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

"Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom" Review

Five years after acclaimed animation mavens Studio Ghibli and developer Level-5 collaborate for the gorgeous, enchanting PS3 JRPG "Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch," the developer is back with a former Ghibli animator for a sequel. "Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom" proves to be a worthy follow-up in every way to the original.

Set in the anthropomorphic mouse-ruled kingdom of Ding Dong Dell, you play as a young king who sets out to strike down usurpers and seize control of his throne.

The story unfolds in a breathtaking manner, with hand-drawn animation that replicates the look and tone of Ghibli classics such as "Spirited Away" and "My Neighbor Totoro." Although somewhat hamstrung by awkward transitions from full-voice cut scenes to animations accompanied by texts and voiced grunts or single-word expressions.

Although the storytelling scenes can be a bit awkward, the combat has evolved past the stiff action-RPG hybrid of the original. In the manner of "Final Fantasy XV," combat is fluid and action-oriented, with no notes of the traditional turn-based battles typical of JRPGs.

Playing out in a linear fashion with heartfelt story beats paving the way throughout, "Revenant Kingdom" etches its way into your heart while keeping the juices flowing with invigorating, strategically-tinged combat throughout. The wait for the next "Ni No Kuni" game was longer than fans would have hoped for, but the payoff proves to be worth the anticipation.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, March 30, 2018

"Lode Runner Legacy" Review

One of Nintendo's all-but-forgotten classics comes home in the form of "Lode Runner Legacy" for the Switch, bringing with it a haul of buried gold as it scampers across crumbling platforms and jets up ladders to glory.

The update to the 1983 NES classic retains the original design elements while subtly shading the visuals into 2.5-D.

The "Lode Runner" franchise was every bit as influential as the likes of its contemporaries -- "Pac-Man," "Donkey Kong." "Defender" and "Q*bert," and has spawned so many followers that its influence has muddle its own legacy. The multitude of imitators has caused "Lode Runner" to be lost in the shuffle.

"Legacy" could change that by returning the spotlight to the bold design choices and invigorating gameplay of the original. The clean, direct objectives and obstacles make each level an exercise in efficiency, with each level being scored on a three-star speed system in the manner of "Angry Birds" or "Cut the Rope."

In addition to the standard Adventure Mode, you can also hone your skills in the enemy-free Puzzle Mode. In all, there are more than 300 levels to chew on.

If that's not enough for you, there's the level editor, Craft Mode, which lets players put their own design visions into actions, creating characters, levels and items, all shareable online.

A lovingly crafted expansion to one of gamedom's seminal building blocks, "Lode Runner Legacy" is a refreshed retro treasure that lovers of classic games should grab and run.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"Ready Player One" Review

For my written review, click here.

"Atlelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Paintings" Review

Each chapter of the anime-influenced "Mysterious" series graces players with dozens of hours of gameplay, steeped in a world of high fantasy intertwined with intense, personal themes juxtaposed with a fanciful backdrop.

Unfolding from the perspective of two magically talented twins, the narrative draws you inside an enchanted painting that transports you to a realm burgeoning with materials to pick up and blend in the family alchemy operation.

The overarching goal is to run the most impressive atelier operation in the realm. A mix of open-world exploration, collection-based fetch quests and recipe experimentation and optimization, the game tasks you to stretch your analytical and creative capabilities to continue advancing.

With dialogue that's as rich as the mystical brews you concoct, "Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Paintings" is a fine acquired taste for those willing to slip under its spell.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

"MLB The Show 18" Review

The dev team behind "MLB The Show 18" faces much the same quandary as the "Madden" squad. Being the only game in town has both its perks and drawbacks. With no competition to push the product, the only major comparison is the previous year's product.

Which makes it all the more impressive how many leaps the "MLB The Show" franchise continues to take each year.

Like its cover athlete, Aaron Judge, the game looms large and in charge, able to display the patience and laser-precision accuracy to wait for its pitch and crush it over the fence.

While each of the improvements are generally incremental, they combine as a whole to account for a goliath, Judge-like, bat-flipping trot around the base paths. The franchise mode is more detailed and intricate, the visuals are subtly more rich and detailed and the Road to the Show mode is graced with more options and subtleties.

My favorite upgrade involves the ability to toggle into retro mode -- which gives you a Super NES-style perspective and control scheme -- before any game against the AI. From Spring Training through the playoffs, you can opt for the complexities and precision of the current controls or revert back to grip-it-and-rip-it 16-bit-esque style mode.

Another welcome addition is the optional addition of past superstars into franchise mode, signable as free agents you can sign or face off against. From Babe Ruth and Pee Wee Reese to Don Sutton and Troy Percival, the addition of the famed players enriches the game's sense of history.

Likewise, the in-game commentary is peppered with applicable banter that touches on both real-life and in-game developments, making the between-pitches patter seem genuine and organic.

Taken as a package, "MLB The Show 18" is yet another impressive at-bat for the batter with the big stick. As much of a rite of spring passage as the smell of freshly cut grass and the giddiness of hearing it's time for pitchers and catchers to report, the game is a resonant treat for baseball die-hards and casual fans alike.
Publisher provided review code.

"Sea of Thieves" Review

Judging from my time with "Sea of Thieves," the pirate's life is not for me.

The drab, slow-moving pirate sim continues the slump from Microsoft's in-house dev studio Rare -- whose one success in the past decade was the retro throwback "Rare Replay" -- and plays like a misguided slog that should have been killed off early in the concept phase.

That "Sea of Thieves" is something of a shipwreck is all the more disappointing given the fact that Microsoft has drastically scaled back its first-party releases. The fact that the game disappoints means Xbox One owners continue to be marooned, while PS4 players have the likes of "God of War" to tide them over.

Clearly geared to serve as a multiplayer, meet-up-and-quest hub for seafaring, the servers have hit rough waters to begin with. Incessant lag and infrastructure failures have stranded players at sea, making it tough to join games. While some of the initial problems have been ironed out, the tattered fabric of the game is still far from patched up. When I started the game I had to close out and reboot it multiple times just to vault past a glitch in the loading screen.

Those who brave the high seas alone will find some rough currents stopping their progress, with little to sea and do and far too much time between interesting intervals. The game feels like a crude framework of an open-world saga that developers didn't get around to filling out with compelling interactions.

While there is some amusement to be had by taking to the high seas, anticipating the iterative battles, discoveries and trades to be had, the promise ends up empty. "Sea of Thieves" is lost amid the blue, with no rescue in sight.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"Slayaway Camp: Butcher's Cut" Switch 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 Switch after starting off months ago on PS4, and PC before that -- 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.

The game is an apt fit for the Switch, especially in handheld mode, which plays well into the quick-hit nature of the level design. The blocky, retro-style graphics -- if not the gratuitous gore -- also meld well with Nintendo's heritage.

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.

Monday, March 19, 2018

"Assassin's Creed Origins: Curse of the Pharaohs" DLC Review

Ubisoft has continued to build out "Assassin's Creed Origins" with memorable swatches of story expansion DLC, following the solid yet unspectacular "The Hidden Ones" with the more adventurous, risk-taking "Curse of the Pharaohs."

Focusing on Egyptian afterlife myths, the storyline has you go to Thebes, where you confront the first of several monarchs who have risen from the dead. Jumping headlong into the supernatural rather than skirting around the concepts as window dressing.

The result is a headlong dive into increasingly bizarre and exhilarating side story that highlights the best of what the game has to offer.

While the mission structure sticks to the established recon, targeting and assassination suspects, but colors the action with spectacular flights of fancy.

While the base game was memorable for robust visuals, intricate map design and challenging objectives, the latest add-on ramps up those qualities to new heights. A worthy pickup for those who have either burned through the previous "Assassin's Creed Origins" content or anyone looking for a changeup before taking down the myriad sidequests. This "Curse" ends up as far more of a blessing.
Publisher provided review code.

"Assassin's Creed Rogue Remastered" Review

Back in 2014, Ubisoft snuck out "Assassin's Creed Rogue" on previous-gen consoles to appease fans who hadn't yet taken the leap to the Xbox One and PS4 generation, which got the far more ballyooed "Assassin's Creed Unity."

What might have been a perfunctory curiosity instead generated moderately more buzz than its new-gen blowout. But those who took the leap into the new frontier never got a shot at what ended up being the last "Assassin's Creed" gasp of the PS3 and Xbox 360 contingent. That has finally changed, now that "Rogue" has gotten the current-gen remaster it has always richly deserved.

Having aged surprisingly little in the 3.5 years since its release, "Rogue" chronicles an agent of the Brotherhood who becomes disillusioned, siding with the Templars, who are usually portrayed as the villains in the saga. In a narrative that might have paved the way for the Empire-centric point of view of "Star Wars Battlefront II," you weave through the blurry middle ground in the conflict between the factions, exploring rifts and sinister forces within the ballyhooed Brotherhood while evoking the strength and order of the Templars.

The core development team behind the original release is back, and the continuity shows in the smooth, polished product on which they collaborated. Taking place in the mid-18th century, the narrative guides you through a tumultuous flashpoint in the larger saga, giving you insight into historical machinations that affected the third and fourth numbered entries in the franchise.

Mixing ground stealth and sea battles, "Rogue" conjures the happy medium between the two entries confronted with "III" while overdone a bit in "IV."

A gorgeous and steadfast triumph in the "Assassin's Creed" lineage, "Rogue" continues to earn the praise it has long harvested. More than the cult classic it has been recognized as, it's high time for the game to step into the spotlight.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"Attack on Titan 2" Review

We're living in a post-movie-to-game world, but TV shows are not immune to the age-old practice of licensed adaptations. With the "Attack on Titan" series, the developers at Koei Tecmo America are burdened with the thankless task of conjuring a playable game version of the popular anime while also doling out the expected stream of fan service.

The team handled the job with aplomb in the 2016 game, and tackles the task with similar vigor and success this time out. "Attack on Titan 2" nails the look of the series while capturing the sense of movement and flow that those who loved the first game would expect.

Gameplay additions in the sequel are few but impactful. The story draws from season two of the anime, adding new protagonists, villains and settings. There's also the ability to create a customized Scout, which use unique evade-style attacks, ranged sneak strikes and hook drives while using the monocular tool to help take down the enemies who stand in your way.

While some fans may find the gaming series to be milquetoast, superfans will find plenty to sink their teeth into. This is a game for card-carrying "Attack on Titan" obsessives, and outsiders need not apply.
Publisher provided review code.

Book Report: The Life of Pi

Life of PiLife of Pi by Yann Martel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes I am slow to take on books that served as source material for movies I like because I think I will be too familiar with the story to appreciate the material. Yann Martel's novel is yet another piece of evidence that proves that line of thinking is wrong. The movie encapsulates just a shred of Pi's seafaring journey, leaving out the tons of context that's necessary to squeeze a story within the time constraints of a film.

Martel's book is a haunting meditation on the search for God and the way humans fit into the animal world, as well as the way they project humanlike qualities onto animals they hunt, care for and capture. Martel's material is infinitely deep and dense, while also thoroughly accessible. His shift among voices is effortless, and always conversational to the point of stream of consciousness melded with journal entries.

Martel captures the listless horror of being stranded at sea, both literally and figuratively, and confronting both external and internal fears and yearnings. This is a beautiful and incomparable book.
Sanjeev Bhaskar's narrative performance in the Audible version is as resplendent as the writing itself, shifting between the thicker accent of an Indian immigrant when speaking as Pi, and the low-key, Indian-influenced patter of the studied academic voice relaying the tale in the narrative device. His voice conjures the magic that the writing calls out for.
View all my reviews

"Yakuza 6: The Song of Life" Review

What used to be a sporadic series has taken on some major momentum as of late, with Sega cranking out remakes, rereleases and sequels of "Yakuza" games at a bewildering wait. Last year's excellent "Yakuza 0" and "Yakuza Kuwami" throwbacks were really just build-ups to the coupe de gras payoff, "Yakuza 6: The Song of Life."

While players who have been around since the PlayStation 2 days will doubtlessly get more out of the affair, the developers took great pains to allow "Yakuza 6" to be a jumping-in point. The game begins with a lengthy flashback that catches you up to speed on all the main characters' backstories.

As is always the case with "Yakuza" games, the streets bustle with distracting side activities. You can grab a bite to eat, try your hand at karaoke or track down collectibles.

There's also a clan-building minigame that complements the main storyline. After mob boss Kiryu is released from prison, he comes to the aid of his ward Haruka, who has slipped into a coma following an accident. He moves to a small town to investigate what led up to the accident, as well as battle for control of Haruto.

With an operatic,winding narrative that more than lives up to what's come before, "The Song of Life" is the deepest, most meditative "Yakuza" journey to date. What would serve as an apt finale for the beautiful crime saga may be nothing of the sort. Maybe "Yakuza" isn't ending at all, but just getting started.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"The Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya" Review

A bold and intense visual novel with plenty to say about gender norms and sexism, "The Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya" objectifies male sex workers while making female characters their leering, depraved exploiters.

Over one long night, you navigate the underbelly of the courtesan world by speaking with several of the escorts, making choices that play them off of one another while advancing your own interests, which are somewhat depraved.

The characters and visuals are drawn with distinctive flair, carving out niches as compelling figures to follow throughout the twist-filled journey. Romance, which seems to be on the backburner, surges to the forefront, with the elegantly told story threads intertwining in surprising ways.

The game makes for a solid fit on the Switch due to its ability to pause into sleep mode at any time. The effect is a bookmark-like pacekeeper that allows you to come back to renew the narrative.

Best enjoyed in isolation, with distractions minimized, "The Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiva" is a surreal and thought-provoking journey of the kind too rarely found in gamedom.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

"I, Zombie" Review

Thankfully unrelated to the CW comedy about the crime-solving zombie detective, "I, Zombie" is an overhead-view strategy game that tasks you to control hordes of the undead who take on groups of humans.

A welcome twist to the zombie game formula makes you appreciate just how much thought and care goes into what everyone presumed are braindead, blind assaults on the living.

In control of one lead zombie, you work your way around structures to do some recon, then bark out commands to your troops to follow you or attack. The short, bite-sized levels go by quickly, challenging you to take them down with trial, error and adaptation.

The 16-bit style graphics play well into the retro feel of the enterprise, which is a superb fit on the Switch's interface. A fun, challenging game to take on the go, "I, Zombie" challenges your twitch skills while munching away at your brain. 
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Book Report: "An Acceptable Time"

An Acceptable Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #5)An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Madeleine L'Engle's 1980s time travel books that extended her time trilogy into a quintent are a proof that demanding more of something great can lead to diminishing returns. George R.R. Martin fans take heed.

L'Engle goes back to the well, blending particle physics with biblical characters as a setting for a coming-of-age teen tale. Like "Many Waters," "An Acceptable Time" gets off to an extremely slow start, finding its rhythm in the middle chapters before wrapping everything up in a conveniently forced manner and sending everyone on their way.

A weird, off-putting overtone justifies the human sacrifice rituals of the Druid culture from 3,000 years ago. The moral equivalency is jarring, and while adding a sense of urgency, seems more like a red herring because it's obvious that she would never go that dark with her main characters.

I'm glad I experienced the latter two books of the unfortunately finished series, but in my mind the original trilogy stands alone.

View all my reviews

"Red Sparrow" Review

For my written review, click here.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

"Toki Tori 2+" Review

A colorful, charming, upbeat puzzle-platformer that makes for an excellent fit on the Switch, "Toki Tori 2+" lets you guide its bird-like creature over, around and under varied obstacles, with the final destination being your heart.

Adorable without pushing too forcibly into cutesy territory, the family-friendly adventure tasks your reflexes as well as your ability to learn from trick design with a healthy dose of trial and error. Expect to die often, even in the early levels, which use a stern hand to teach you the tricks you'll need to survive.

Innovative level design, in-game achievements and collectibles up the replay value. Not that you need much of an excuse to keep coming back to a game that's such a joy to play. Even at its most brutal, "Toki Tori 2+" is heedless joy to play.

If you're interested, it would be a good idea to pick up the gamer sooner rather than later. It's on sale for $9.99 until March 9, after which the price shoots up by $5.
Publisher provided review code.

"Guilt Battle Arena" Switch Review

A multiplayer-only fighter with simplistic graphics and controls combined with speedy, intuitive gameplay, "Guilt Battle Arena" is a refreshing change of pace from standard, hypercomplex arena battle throwdowns.

With adorable visuals juxtaposed with delightfully brutal combat, "Guilt Battle Arena" delivers an unexpected level of intensity.

Two, three or four players can slug it out in various backdrops, leading to hot potato party game thrills. Indie developer Invincible Cat proves adept at synthesizing old school style charm with new innovations.

The sense of pacing is enthralling, requiring twitch reflexes and psychological mastery to dominate your opponents. The balance is also superb, with advantages of various character setups and loadouts making for varied setups that cater toward your playstyle and inclinations.

Until a "Smash Bros." adaptation comes along, this is about the best Switch owners can do in this genre.
Publisher provided review code.

"Subsurface Circular" Review

The visual novel "Subsurface Circular" could have been released in any era, but maybe is the best fit for 2018 because there are so few games that are anything like it.

With perhaps the closest analogue being the "Hatoful Boyfriend" pigeon-schoolyard-romance series, the game tells a "Mass Effect"-twinged sci-fi story, with your dialogue choices opening up new branching gameplay paths while closing down others.

Credit goes to the Bithell Games writing team for conjuring a narrative that forces you to examine the text uttered by you and the rest of the characters rather than numbly tap your way through. The reward truly is the journey here, with background visuals serving as the only reminders that you're playing a game rather than reading a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure e-book.

Working as a detective investigating the disappearance of robotic workers, you feel out witnesses, nudging them to cough up key information without losing your cool or causing them to lose theirs. Every choice you make can snowball and drastically change not only the outcome of your dialogue tree, but the story as a whole. You'll find yourself having to make tough decisions with inadequate information onhand, dealing with pangs of regret the rest of the saga for opportunities missed.

A compelling crime yarn through and through, "Subsurface Circular" is a welcome literary change of pass in an action-heavy medium.

Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"Bridge Constructor Portal" Review

It's been far too long since GLaDOS pumped out passive-aggressive taunts as gamers struggled to make their way through increasingly torturous puzzles. "Bridge Constructor Portal" may not be the full-fledged follow-up to "Portal 2" that puzzler fans have dreamed of, but it's more than a serviceable stopgap.

A 2D, single-screen, connect-the-dots strategy challenge, "Bridge Constructor Portal" challenges you to build load-supporting pathways from one platform to another that can withstand the weight of freight trucks. All the while, GLaDOS chides you with her barbed snark.

While the game feels decidedly more like a mobile affair rather than a full-figured release, the square peg that is the Aperture Science world manages to ram into the round portal hole without much trouble. "Bridge Constructor" puzzlers stand up well on their own without additional branding, and the clever "Portal" writing only enhances what's already a solid base.

The puzzles force you to think quickly and juggle physics estimates on the fly, adjusting your load-bearing needs to the demands of wacky variables that get tossed at you. A hold-your-breath successful run provides every bit as much of a thrill as tackling a brain-bending, portal gun blasting, companion cube-aided triumph from a mainline "Portal" game.

While more of a trifle than a meaty puzzler "Portal" fanatics crave, the fact that GLaDOS is "still alive" yields hope for a dystopian future.
Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

"Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus" Switch review

For more than a decade, "Pac-Man Championship Edition" and its various add-ons, rereleases and upgrades have reached about every system.

The wholesale revitalization and reimagining of the arcade classic not only synthesized the bewildering fun of the 1980s phenomenon, recalibrating it for brilliance by modern-day standards, it added new vital modes and concepts, all with rapidfire pacing.

It's no surprise that the Switch iteration manages to one-up the others. Taking full advantage of the Switch sceen's format, you move Pac-Man through the sprawling labyrinths, taking advantage of warps, power-ups and ghost chains to rack up your score in various modes.

The difficulty steadily ramps up to punishing levels that match and surpass those of old-school "Pac-Man," without the penalty of restarting and backtracking. There is always something fresh and new to enjoy, and every second you spend in Pac-Man fever feels like you are building toward something new.

The game is also a couch multiplayer ace, with such simple controls that two players can each grab a Joy-Con and compete/collaborate on the same console. The greatest game in one of the genre's legendary franchises is in its best form yet on Nintendo's phenomenal console.
Publisher provided review code.

"Metal Gear Survive" Review

Following the awkward 2015 departure of "Metal Gear" impresario Hideo Kajima, Konami took its time putting out the next game in the series. In concept, a survival-minded, open world-set saga seemed like a savvy move.

In practice, the laborious, stilted effort seems like a rush-job, unworthy cash-in unworthy of the Metal Gear name. Even more awkard and less compelling than the awkward 2013 hack-and-slash spinoff "Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance," "Metal Gear Survive" is best left forgotten. Its only hope is that its controlled online-always nature -- even in single-player, you need to maintain a connection with the server at all times -- will yield gradual improvement.

There is some hope on that front, with a promised update in March set to deliver the co-op entry Rescue Mission -- as well as daily missions that pump out every day at noon to keep things fresh. The commitment to adding fresh content to the game-as-service is laudable, and it seems that something interesting would be added to the drab morass if only by happy accident.

As things stand, though, "Metal Ger Survive" is a largely vacant, uninspiring bore that's more like virtual babysitting than a tense game of stealth combat. With a nagging ecosystem, sprawling and empty environments and uninspiring weapon selection and combat, there is just not enough here to merit a full purchase. The product feels more like a free-to-play lark than a full-figured commitment, and its survival prospects at this point seem dubious.
Publisher provided review code.

Book Report: "The Right Stuff"

The Right StuffThe Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Exploiting remarkable access and trust from his subjects with his otherworldly insight and story-spinning voice, Tom Wolfe jimmies his way inside the heads of the first seven astronauts and their elite test pilot forerunners -- particularly Chuck Yeager -- to tell an incomparably detailed and insightful story of their heady run as the soul of the American fighting and exploratory spirit in middle 20th century.

Wolfe subtly mocks journalists of the time for accepting the military-approved, Time/Life-facilitated whitewashed public image of the astronauts foisted onto the public. Despite his snarky perspective, Wolfe also buys into the spirit of the propaganda and its ability to lift and focus the public's yearnings, channeling them toward the greater, we're-all-in-this-together, Cold War-flavored ethos of the space race.

The most righteous stuff in the book is in the first two thirds. Toward the end, when the figurative booster stages have departed and descended into splashdown, Wolfe is left with the crumbs of the inspiring and raucous narrative to patch together the disappointing end of the affair. But there is more than enough here to make this an essential piece of period Americana.

In the Audible original production, Dennis Quaid -- one of the stars of the 1983 movie adaptation -- admirably inhabits the soul of Tom Wolfe while telling the story in a smooth, conversational flow. Unfortunately, age has added an occasional slur to his delivery, but Quaid manages to overcome the distraction with an uncanny ability to nail the various accents, speech patterns and points of emphasis the spirit of Wolfe's material cries out for. It's hard to imagine any other narrator doing a better job.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 22, 2018

"Past Cure" Review

A neo noir mystery yarn, "Past Cure" follows a former soldier rattled from nefarious experimentation who struggles to maintain control of his mind and nerves. Using a combination of stealth, telekinetic and time-manipulating powers, you search out levels to stay a step of the dark internal and external forces that plague you.

Bringing your brother along for help, you seek to expose the torturous conspiracy that's ensnared you, seeking to isolate and eliminate your influence -- sweeping you away conveniently before you can cause problems.

As you advance through the story, you pick up new powers that enhance the speed and precision with which you can power through the obstacles that stand in your way. The trade-off is that as you apply the enhancements, you lose even more of your sanity -- jeopardizing your ability to gauge the reality of the horrors that confront you.

A dark and foreboding thriller, "Past Cure" is a disturbing and frenetically involving saga. A welcome surprise in the 2018 gaming year, it's this year's answer to "Hellgate: Senua's Sacrifice."
Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

"Rally Racers" Review

Any racing title daring to make its way onto the Switch has foreboding competition revving its engine in the neighboring lane in the form of "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe."

"Rally Racers" may not be able to match the first-party behemoth in the realm of character or track selection -- nor full-featured online play -- but does manage to contend with the master in the key area of gameplay. That's because "Rally Racers" seeks not only to ape "Mario Kart," but looks to other games for heavy influences.

Taking a note from the likes of "Burnout," you're rewarded for the more collisions you can manage. Once you're airborne, you pull back the right stick to pull off tricks in the manner of a skateboarding game or "Joe Danger."

Tricked-out racing with constant mega-jumps and item-flooded sprint tracks. The controls can be a little floaty, but you get used to the arcade-influenced feel. Rubber-banding AI frustratingly means that no matter how well you master the racing, you'll always find a rival or three on your six.

While no one's idea of a "Mario Kart" replacement, "Rally Racers" excels as a palate cleanser/sidekick for one of history's greatest racers.
Publisher provided review code.

"Escape Trick: 35 Fateful Enigmas" Review

With its big, lavish touch screen, the Switch is an ideal destination for point-and-click adventure games. That makes it an apt fit for an "Escape Trick" compilation.

The closest a video game can come to synthesize an escape room, you're forced to use your critical thinking skills to analyze, investigate and move the story forward with the aid of your detective ey and knowhow.

With two combined games -- 16 episodes from "The Escape from the Sealed Room" and the 19-episode follow-up "The Escape from the Sealed Room 2," there are plenty of puzzles to keep you obsessing over.

The graphics won't win any awards, but the spartan presentation -- reminiscent of the 1990s heyday of the genre -- belies the complex, involving narrative that powers the story along.

A content-rich pickup for those looking for a low-cost diversion on their Switch, "Escape Trick" is a robust, satisfying investment for those looking to dabble in the life of a virtual detective.
Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Billiard" Review

As bare-bones and slim-featured as its oddly single-tense title, "Billiard" is as basic a pool game aas you're ever likely to see on a modern console.

With no online features, you are left to throw down against frustrating AI opposition. The real foe, though, is the convoluted shot system.

Rather than take advantage of the natural feel of pulling back an analogue stick to replicate a real pool shot, you tap a button to size up your power range before letting 'er rip. You can pinpoint where you're shooting at with pre-shot adjustments that allow you to shift views, target specific parts of the ball with pinpoint precision and get a read on your carom with a dotted-line predictor.

The Switch makes sense as a destination for a robust pool game. but devs can do better than the flimsy standard established by "Billiard." Chalk this one up as an unfortunate side-pocket scratch off the break.
Publisher provided review code.

"Peter Rabbit" Review

A cleverly written and finely-tuned family film, "Peter Rabbit" could have fared well enough by taking the easy, cutesy-with-just-enough snark route.

It goes well beyond that, executing a next-level script with precision to become a consistently hilarious crowd-pleaser that subverts as well as it panders.

Even the film's lone brush with controversy -- its throwaway sideplot involving the antagonist's blackberry allergy -- stands as a success. Peter addresses touch food allergy victim's rights advocates head-on, setting up the payoff sight gag to come.

Buttressed by a sweeter-than-it-needs-to-be supporting performance by Rose Byrne as the unwitting point of contention between Peter and his farmer enemy, "Peter Rabbit" is a joyous accomplishment that succeeds with ample helpings of heart, panache and humor.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"TorqueL" Switch Review

A clever shape-shifting, twisting and extending puzzler, the 2D side-scroller "Torquel" makes the jump from consoles and mobile to the Switch with aplomb.

You guide a rotating box empowered with telescoping extensions that stretch out and stop or propel your progress. You navigate below, around and in between hazards to flip your box into a destination square and move on to the next level, scored on your time and skill.

The Switch version is tricked out with HD rumble, giving you a tactile response to your mishaps, as well as get a sense of your rotation via the location of the vibrations on the hanheld.

Ingenious in its simplicity, "TorqueL" can quickly become a fevered, though consistently frustrating, addiction.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"Kingdom Come: Deliverance" Review

It's rare to see a swords-and-armor RPG that uses genuine locations, characters and medieval technology. "Kingdom Come: Deliverance" is refreshing in that regard, plopping you into 1403 Bohemia as the son of a blacksmith who becomes embroiled in deadly political intrigue.

Forced into the service of Lord Radzig Kobyla, you start with nothing and are forced to scrap by for every advantage you can manage. Fetch quests are the norm, since a the beginning you have little to offer most power players other than your willingness to do whatever it takes to survive.

You build up your capabilities and resources gradually, finding yourself thrust into deeper conflict with ever-rising states. The story plays like a sort of real-life "Game of Thrones," with backstabbing, conniving and clashing egos striving to one-up each other.

A staggeringly detailed and deep interface allows you to play you want. You can be a stealth-favoring thief, a smooth-talking power broker or a brutish tank who lets your sword do your negotiating. Taking more than a few cues from the likes of "Skyrim" and "Breath of the Wild," the game gives you more in nuance and lore depending on how much you're willing to put into it.

The main flaw is that the overall experience can be a little obtuse. Unless you are willing to dedicate yourself to exploring the outer reaches of what's possible, "Deliverance" can be an obstructive and stifling experience rather than the wide-open realm ripe for exploration and experimentation it strives to be. Not for the weak-willed or dilettante, "Deliverance" is a robust, rich experience for those looking to sink their teeth into something rich, meaningful and sometimes depressingly realistic.
Publisher provided review code.

"Crossing Souls" Review

"Crossing Souls" is the closest thing to a "Stranger Things" video game you're likely to see any time soon. Set in 1986, the game follows a group of friends who happen upon a stone that allows them to travel between dimensions.

Juggling their personal issues among a nostalgia-soaked backdrop, you guide the pals in a typical coming-of-age and save-the-world story that unfolds over the summer. If you can feel the magic in that premise, "Crossing Souls" is the game for you.

A delightful throwback in the manner of "Oxenfree," "Crossing Souls" adds in enough gameplay innovation to keep things from feeling like an actual game from the 80s or 90s. The thought and care that went into the fabric of the game is obvious in every frame, making for a joyous, sometimes terrifying and often confounding journey. Crucially, the design is solid enough to keep the intrigue flowing, so you always long to see what will happen next.

Yet another stunning indie console exclusive for the PS4, "Crossing Souls" is one of the games that makes you grateful to own the console.
Publisher provided review code.

"Dynasty Warriors 9" Review

Amazingly, this is only the ninth numbered "Dynasty Warriors" game. It only seems as though there have been 30.

The latest entry continues the gradual evolution in visuals and presentation, working to add more of a methodical, reasoned pace in between massive-scale slaughterfests. Of course, those slaughterfests still remain in effect, because without them there would be little reason for these games to exist.

Developer Omega Force is liberal with the carnage, pushing the hardware to fulfill visions of mass destruction that couldn't quite be fulfilled in previous generations. You juggle three combat systems -- Trigger, Flow and Finish attacks -- applying each to situations that merit varied approaches.

Tracking the Yellow Turban Rebellion through ten chapters, the game is bursting with unlocks and upgrades. Granted, the gameplay loop is as thing as ever. Once you've hit your button-mashing fill during a session, continuing to play feels like drudgery. At least when "Dynasty Warriors 9" is tedious, it manages to be beautiful, visceral tedium.
Publisher provided review code.

"The Fall Part 2: Unbound" Review

An exploration-based, Metroidvania-based adventure with point-and-click elements, "The Fall Part 2: Unbound" makes ample use of the Switch's strengths to suck you into its dystopian world.

You play as A.R.I.D., a rogue android who can hack into hosts, controlling them to her own ends. Upgraded programming since the first outing allows her new abilities and powers that add twists to the gameplay.

Moody visuals and atmospheric music help drive home the tone. Much of the experience is backtrack-heavy and based on trial and error, but the experience lends to the feel of of the obsessive quest of the character more than it does stifle your momentum with frustration.

"Unbound" has the most to offer to hardcore fans of the original, but the uninitiated will still find plenty to enjoy and appreciate. Truly a game that establishes its own distinct feel and genre, the game has a way of lingerng with you in between sessions that go longer and leave more of an impact than you might anticipate.

Publisher provided review code.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Book Report: Many Waters

After a clunky start, L'Engle edges closer to recapturing the magic of what had been known as her time trilogy. Zapping her protagonists into pre-flood Noah era presented some logistical challenges -- including a language barrier -- that she chose to gloss over for literary expedience rather than address. Once things get rolling, the book manages to establish some convincing and interesting characters while exploring biblical and quantum physics questions. By the time it ends, you wish the story would have stuck around more rather than finishing so abruptly. Overall, the book is a labored, moderately well-executed fable that gives me hope the fifth book in the series can live up to the first three in the series.

Monday, February 05, 2018

"Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology" Review

Even though developers are falling over to push out games for the Switch, Nintendo's other handheld is still getting some heavy hitters. "Radiant Historia: Perfect Chonology" is the latest example.

A remake of the memorable 2010 DS saga, the new version not only reimagines every significant aspect of the design and presentation -- including new voiceovers and animations -- but adds significant new characters and storylines. Fans of the original seem to be the target audience, with so many new facets to appreciate in a second go-round.

The hero of the old school "Final Fantasy"-like JRPG is Stocke, an agent who gets ahold of a relic that allows him to hop between two branching realities, frantically altering fate in order to keep the world from plunging into oblivion.

One of the most notable new additions is Nemesia, a mysterious character who unlocks a third timeline, further clouding and adding to the mainline narrative while tacking on some intriguing additional options.

Easily the definitive version of the game, "Perfect Chronology" plays like the full realization of the developers' original vision. Ironically playing out as a second, better version of the original. Those who own the first game will probably be drawn to it after playing this version, skipping back and forth to check out the myriad alterations.

Unlike in the game's story, there's no way you can lose whether you stick with the original or jump to the new version. Those who take the latter path will be well rewarded.
Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

"Black Hole" Review

Members of the Dufgames dev squad are clearly fans of "Asteroids" and "Geometry Wars." Their take on the twin-stick shooter adds progression and upgrades, expanding the age-old single-screen bullet hell formula to add nuance, strategy and long-term planning.

What starts off as a sleepy, slow-rolling blast-and-collect routine quickly ramps up to a frenzied, laser-spraying whirlwind of desperate survival. Key early choices in upgrade trees pay off or backfire down the line. It's important to calibrate your choices to your play style.

Do you prefer to be a predator, snatching up power-ups as you hunt down enemies and obstructions standing in your path, or veer toward a more conservative route, slinking in the shadows as you plot out the ideal time to strike and advance.

Originally released for the long-forgotten Ouya and Razor Forge TV platforms, "Black Hole" finally may see the light of day now that it's fallen out of the vortex and onto gamedom's hottest platform.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, February 02, 2018

"Railway Empire" Review

"Railway Empire" has the feel of an early 1990s PC sim that existed only to show that it could replicate an activity in the most simplistic manner.

It may not sound like it, but that's a compliment... sort of. A true, no-frills throwback with nothing more under the hood than what you'd imagine by looking at the cover. As expected, "Railway Empire" is all about, well, building railroads.

An easy-to-manipulate interface, taught by a largely unnecessary but at least uncombersome tutorial, lets you plop a station where you like, build some tracks and lay out a selection of train cars, all while sticking within set budget and mission parameters.

Whether or not a feature-poor package like this justifies its $60 price tag depends on how many hours you see yourself tinkering with your pretend train set. I'm guessing those who manage to table their excitement for a few months will be rewarded with a hefty discount and be able to board the train for the $30 or $40 it probably always should have been priced.
Publisher provided review code.

Book Report: The Origin

Origin (Robert Langdon, #5)Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dan Brown is now 3 for 5 on his Robert Langdon scavenger hunt series, with The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demon's as the other successes and Inferno and The Lost Symbol as lifeless failures.

Brown gets back to the root of what made his earlier books so appealing, avoiding ludicrous action scenes for the most part and interspersing fun facts throughout the silly adventure. While Great Big Secret Thing his characters are risking their lives and killing each other is as dumb as ever, the journey is entertaining and fulfilling.

Sticking to his well-established formula, his book makes a thought-provoking and somewhat frightening case for the eventual singularity between humanity and artificial intelligence. Part anti-organized religion screed and pro-faith think piece -- as all his books are -- The Origin gives you plenty to contemplate and mull over as you wait for the Tom Hanks movie to come along.

View all my reviews

"Winchester" Review

For my written review, click here.

"Dissidia Final Fantasy NT" Review

A remake of a cult hit 2015 Vita title, "Dissidia Final Fantasy NT" is an online-heavy, squad-based brawler that packs in a metric ton of fan service into a tight, user-friendly package.

With characters available from every numbered "Final Fantasy" entry, as well as several spinoffs, your dreams of having Onion Knight clash with Shantotto can finally come true. The remake even adds characters from XIV, XV Tactics and Type0.

There's a story mode available with a requisite obtuse plot that works as something of an extended tutorial, but the true draw here is online play. You form up teams of three and take on the opposition in lavishly designed levels, taking control of one character and leaving AI to handle the other two.

You survive by playing to your party's strengths, juggling your HP, stamina and summon meters. Mixing and matching complementary strengths and weaknesses through success and failures, adapting strategies and styles that fit your inclinations, makes up most of the challenge and fun available in the near-infinitely replayable clashes.

The PS4 upgrade paves the way for stunning visuals that match the look and flow of XV on the PS4. There's something special about seeing characters you haven't thought much about since the 8 or 16-bit days blossom to HD glory.

The online arenas are full of cutthroat devastation, so be ready to fail consistently. Luckily the game is well-designed enough to keep you willing to come back for more.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

MyCharge AdventureUltra Portable Charger Review

Here's a way to get everyone at the airport jealous of you.

An ideal pickup for gamers on the go, the MyCharge AdventureUltra portable charger frees you from electrical outlets during travel. A heavy-duty alternative to pocket chargers, the device packs two USB-A ports and a USB-C port into a diminutive brick that is less than six inches wide by four inches thick and weighs in at less than a pound.

Capable of juicing up any device that charges at less than 45 watts -- this encompasses any smartphone or the power-hungry Switch -- the AdventureUltra can provide several full recharges. The sense of being free from plugging into the wall for stretches of days at a time makes it an ideal tag-along for camping voyages or road trips.

Sturdy design and an accessible form factor make it easy to pack. You can also just charge it up and leave it in your trunk, to be called upon when needed on a spontaneous need to hit the road arises. 

Manufacturer provided review sample.

"SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt" Switch Review

After the other two games in Image and Form International's "SteamWorld" series made such successful debuts on the Switch, it was only natural that the original 2013 game would make a similar impact.

To the surprise of no one and the adulation of many, "SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt has made it to Nintendo's new console, and has lost nothing in translation. Purists will appreciate the fact that the game is a straight, no-frills port.

Anyone anticipating upgraded graphics or controls or new content might feel burned, but you can identify with the developer's confidence in the original product, not feeling the need to mess with a good thing.

It's not likely that Switch owners who have played the other two games have yet to experience the original, so this release seems more like fan service for completionists -- perhaps those who ditched their 3DSs and are longing for the comforting thought of having the exploration-based thrills of "A Fistful of Dirt" available whenever they like. To that sector of superfans in particular, this game is quite the find to unearth.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

"Shadow of the Colossus" PS4 Review

A technological marvel when it was released for the PS2 late in the system's life cycle in 2005, "Shadow of the Colossus" has now graced each of the last three PlayStation console generations.

Following a 2011 PS3 remaster that kept many of the originals outdated problems intact, the PS4 recreation easily captures the title as the definitive version by injecting much-needed quality-of-life upgrades such as a silk-smooth autosave, more intuitive camera, streamlined traversal, combat and horseback functions as well as a healthy load time speed-up thanks to the customary mandatory install.

Even better, the settings are customizable. You can opt for a 60 fps, anti-aliasing performance mode or a traditional cinematic mode that pumps out 4K visuals at 30 fps on the PS4 Pro.

Technical jargon aside, the real draw here is the distilled version of the deceptively simple saga that cuts through technical limitations of the past to cut to the core of the true vision that Team Ico had 13 years ago. Unburdened by the shackles of bothersome limitations, you are free to roam the countryside as the lovelorn Wander, on his obsessive quest to bring his lost love back to life by slaying several hulking beasts who prowl the realm.

At the time, the moral grey area in which the storyline delved was shocking and disturbing. The passing years have jaded gamers to the point where the buried revelations no longer pack such a jarring impact, but that doesn't dull the sense of conflicted regret you feel as you delve deeper into the darkness that awaits.

About the only complaint I can muster is that this elegant, devastatingly beautiful remake of one of gamedom's all-time greats didn't come along with its spiritual predecessor, "Ico," which was also remastered on the PS3 in 2011. But if we have to choose one of the two, "Shadow of the Colossus" is the easy choice. No matter how many times you've played through the game -- and if you've yet to take on the achingly gorgeous saga, shame on you -- you now need to take it on at least one more time.

Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

"Tennis" Review

The worst possible thing to befall the Switch game "Tennis" is the announcement of "Mario Tennis Aces," which pretty much made this game irrelevant as soon as it became known. Not that it needed much help in that respect. The slim, sloppy title plays like a minigame awkwardly expanded into a stand-alone download, feeling like a singled-out segment of a party game package rather than a full-fledged release.

The basics copy the look and feel of the tennis portion of the beloved "Wii Sports," the success of which Nintendo never managed to emulate on the Wii U and has yet to attempt on the Switch.

On second thought, the advent of Nintendo's first-party effort may be just about the only thing going for the simplistic, bare-minimum effort. Gamers thinking they are getting Mario's latest sports outing who accidentally pick this one up instead may be the prime source of sales.
Publisher provided review code.

"Space Dave!" Review

If you've ever played "Space Invaders" and thought the game would be better if there were more bullets, different heroes to select and the ability to jump, "Space Dave!" is your game.

A retro throwback that pits you in a single-screen throwdown against patterned alien forces gradually descending until they're obliterated or their laser bombardment sends you to oblivion.

Colorful and vibrant, the game is billed as developer Choice Provisions' spiritual follow-up to 2014's "Whoah, Dave!" Power-ups, familiar characters and online leaderboards give you reason to keep coming back for more.

While the gameplay reward loop is a little slim, the game manages to suck you into an entrancing rhythm. A fast-moving, twitch-heavy shootout, "Space Dave" allows you to switch off your brain for a while, settle into the cockpit and unleash destruction on alien forces.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, January 26, 2018

"Wulverblade" Review

A side-scrolling brawler in the vein of "Streets of Rage" and "Alien Hominid," "Wulverblade" blends bloody slash-and-hack combat with outrageous humor and hellacious boss battles.

Packing eight sadistic levels of swarming you-against-the-world melees, the effort from developers Fully Illustrated and Darkwind Media makes for a blood-pumping, button-mashing spectacle with every ounce of its being.

The game makes its way to the PS4 and Xbox One in a buffed-up, feature-added form -- online leaderboards and a animations flowing at a consistent 60 fps. With the Roman army bearing down on northern Britannia, you select a warrior who represents the presiding tribe and proceed to bash in the skulls of any and all soldiers who dare cross your path.

Single-player modes are fun, but the action truly comes to life in two-player co-op mode. Engaging a tricky opponent so your pal can jump the enemy from the back never loses its appeal. Likewise, spacing out your cooldowns and build-ups for rage mode and special moves makes your team an unstoppable dynamo of destruction.

Heroes and enemies utter hilarious quips that keep the slim narrative alive, pumping up the tone with a come-at-me-bro bombasticism.

A rapidly-paced, muscle-flexing lark, "Wulverblade" scratches the stride-and-slam itch that gamers who came of age in the 90s will best appreciate.

Publisher provided review code.

"Hostiles" Review

For my written review, click here.

"Eternal Kings" Review

A chess and board/card game hybrid, "Eternal Kings" pits players against one another in 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 team matches.

After building a squad of soldiers that matches traditional chess pieces, only with card analogues related to creatures with special attributes and abilities, you place your warriors on the field of play. Along with ability cards, you maneuver your characters to corner opponents and take advantage of strategic advantages.

With a relatively low learning curve and easy setup, "Eternal Kings" could become a tabletop go-to for players who like to clash wits in a traditional strategy setting jazzed up with well-integrated fantasy tropes. Endlessly replayable, with no two games likely to turn out the same way, this is a game that could easily rise to the stack of board game boxes in your closet.

If "Eternal Kings" piques your interest, look up for an upcoming Kickstarter, with info to come on the game's website.

Manufacturer provided review sample.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

"Monster Hunter: World" Review

Since its inception, the "Monster Hunter" series has been a raging success in Japan and an oddball, insular curiosity in the U.S. The intense crowd of American devotees would overlook countless annoyances and bizarre roadblocks in order to indulge their obsession. If you didn't get the "Monster Hunter" reward loop, it seemed all but impossible to break into the club.

"Monster Hunter: World," the franchise's debut on current-gen home consoles, works hard to lower the barrier to entry. Its appeal is still on the insular side, but the Capcom dev team took impressive strides to make the game accessible to a wider audience.

It helps that this is the largest, most lavish, best-looking and expansive game in the series. Its menu systems are easy and intuitive to navigate, and the opening narrative acts as a welcome tutorial to indoctrinate you into the themes and techniques you will need to survive.

Once you're on your own, the game becomes what you make of it. Much of the joys of "Monster Hunter: World" comes in endless tinkering. Crafting, selecting weaponry and items and planning out your next grand expedition encompasses much of the time you will spend with the game. Squadding up with multiplayer friends, selecting majestic beasts to take down and engaging on safaris to seek and reap your spoils in the icing on the scaled, fire-breathing cake.

If you've never played a "Monster Hunter" game, you'll lose nothing by skipping the others and making this your first. If you're a long-suffering devotee of the franchise, this is the one that will indulge your passion to the highest degree.
Publisher provided review code.

"Mutant Football League" Review

Back in the early 1990s, "Mutant League Football" and "Base Wars" were sports games for gamers who weren't much into sports. Jazzing up traditional rules with superpowers, grotesque humor and battles to the death, rode a wave of absurdity to cult fame.

"Mutant Football League," a crowdfunded remake of "Mutant League Football," not only resurrects the charm of the older game, but adds "NFL Blitz"-style arcade influences. The result is a rambunctiously joyful whirlwind of monster-infused football mayhem.

Limited formation and play selection adds a rock-paper-scissors strategy to the affair, which takes on a new life during multiplayer. Single-player and spectator modes are also available, with the latter being noteworthy for the opportunity it provides to scope out potential stratagems.

While a little thin in execution -- franchise and character creation modes would have been welcome --  "Mutant Football League" manages to hit its routes in stride and gleefully reinvents a classic for the modern age.

Publisher provided review code.