Friday, August 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, August 07, 2018

"Unexplored: Unlocked Edition" Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 06, 2018

"Dead Cells" Review

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

"The Inner World" and "The Inner World -- The Last Wind Monk" Switch Review

Over the last half decade, German developer Studio Fizbin has done its part to keep the adventure/puzzle genre alive. "The Inner World" series, which turned heads in the indie PC game community, seeks a new audience on the Switch.

Making ample use of the controller layout and screen real estate, the exploits of Robert and Emil, the respective protagonists of "The Inner World" and "The Inner World -- The Last Wind Monk" come to life. Intricate menu systems make it easy to juggle items and actions, and those meld with the "Adventure Time"-like animation to conjure an ethereal aura of intrigue and discovery.

Both games, sold separately, are set in the oddball, clockwork-like realm of Asporia, which is locked away from general society and shrouded in a mesh of intermeshed oddballs, with conspiracies and conflicting agendas abounding. Lurking beneath the simplistic facade are dark, mature themes that explore serious psychological depths.

You'll get the most out of the games by taking your time and exploring the hidden corners in which the devs have lodged assorted Easter eggs and non sequiturs. "The Inner World" games thrive on their sense of assured eccentricity, blossoming to vibrant life in their own insular realm of exploration-based brain teasers. If you're a Switch owner looking for something methodical and breezy, you should do yourself a favor to seek out these "Inner Worlds."
Publisher provided review copy.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book Report: The Godfather

The Godfather (Mario Puzo's Mafia)The Godfather by Mario Puzo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first two Godfathers are about as perfect as movies can be, and the book on which the movie's based is at least as good. Puzo's storytelling style is as conversational as barbershop chatter.

He tells his sprawling opera of gangland influence, intimidation and execution with deceptive ease, lacing his saga with psychological battles and poignant philosophical observations. In a style George R.R. Martin would come to imitate, he shifts perspectives among the main players, injecting empathy into to the plights of characters who at first appear to be cold, detached villains and turn out to be people who made hard decisions out of self-preservation and advancement, choosing to transform into monstrous versions of themselves in the name of protecting their interests.

At the core is Don Corleone, whose shadow looms over every corner of the kingdom he rules. He is a figure who inspires awe in all he befriends, controls and contends against, as well as the reader and Puzo himself, who based the character on a composite of mid-20th century mob kingpins.

Puzo holds up a mocking mirror to the mobsters' lifestyle of rationalized savagery, but also holds a deep respect for the customs, mannerisms and cultural fabric, and lulls his readers into a similar fascination. His novel and the movie it inspired are both shimmering and glorious triumphs.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

"1979 Revolution: Black Friday" Review

Following the Telltale Games template, the tense. somber adventure game "1979 Revolution: Black Friday" hurls you into chaos into the chaos of the Iranian Revolution.

Working against machinations on all side that can take you down, you need to think quickly, making the right dialogue choices and physical actions to buy yourself some time. A wrong move could find you in a chair being tortured, locked up in prison or snuffed out entirely.

After a 2016 release on mobile platforms and Steam, the game comes to Switch. The bigger screen makes it easier to read the text and follow the QTE prompts. The gameplay holds up well to the likes of "The Walking Dead' and "Batman: A Telltale Adventure," which it imitates.

The stylized visuals pop with vibrant, expressionistic flair, making you feel as though you're playing through an interactive graphic novel. The writing is taut and unpredictable, making for a fast-paced narrative that plays out various ways depending on the quick, often ill-advised choices you find yourself pushed into making.

Intelligent and poignant, "1979 Revolution: Black Friday" knows its subject matter well and makes history come alive in all its ugly, bustling tension. 
Publisher provided review code.

"Code of Princess EX" Review

The latest effort from developer Nicalis, "Code of Princess EX" is yet another rock-solid RPG to grace the Switch. An HD upgrade to the 2012 3DS title, the game is a natural fit on the Switch.

A stirring story set to a sweeping score, the game will give fans dozens of hours of material in which to lose themselves, captivated by the stirring dramatic arcs, intense battles and head-spinning twists that fit together as puzzle pieces to form the entire picture. While not all aspects of the game have aged well in the past six years, its retro feel helps it hold up surprisingly well.

Visceral combat is the order of the day, tasking you to maraud opponents in the button-mashing manner of "Diablo" or "Gauntlet," plugging your way through battles with twitch reflexes and timing rather than turn-based dice rolls.

With more than 50 characters to mix, match send out into the fray, level up and use to strategize, the amount of options to choose from is dizzying. The myriad options allow you to get the most out of the game by tinkering with your tactical options as you try, fail, regroup and come back a bit more knowledgeable and powerful.

While not a title for everyone's tastes, "Code of Princess" manages to satisfy most of the checkmarks that enthusiasts long for. The remake is easily the definitive version, so those who have harbored interest in the game but never taken the leap will find the best time to do so is now.

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Book Report: "V for Vendetta"

V for VendettaV for Vendetta by Alan Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At this point I shouldn't be shocked at Alan Moore's genius, but "V for Vendetta" somehow managed the task. I read it in one sitting and cursed myself for having taken so long to get to it.

The good-not-great 2005 movie probably kept me from getting to it sooner. Silly me, not to realize that Moore's artistic vision is best expressed via words blended with still images, the shifting narrative forms of horizontal presentation and interspersal of non-verbal frames that only the comic book medium can provide. Just as with "Watchmen," there is no way a movie can compare to an Alan Moore comic book.

Shards of stirring -- and also disturbing -- hope streak through his dystopian tale, which makes an insane anarchist of a terrorist as the hero. The Guy Fawkes mask-wearing V is a haunting phantom who somehow grows more ethereal and mysterious as the story goes on. The fact that his identity remains a secret throughout only adds to his mystique.

With style and savvy, Moore manages to get you to -- if not root for -- at least appreciate with fascination what otherwise would be a villain in any other story by pitting him against a totalitarian 1990s British government. Eerily prophetic about the willingness of society to give up privacy to a fear-mongering, hyper-aggressive faction of government and corporate interests, the setting stands as a worst-case scenario warning of what society can come to without vigilance.

Moore's storytelling ability is at the peak of its powers here, having constructed a shimmering example of inspiration meeting technique and drive on equal planes.

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

"Ultra Space Battle Brawl" Review

Marrying the fighting game formula with an "Arkanoid" concept, "Ultra Space Battle Brawl" pits two floating combatants against one another, both protecting a base of fortified blocks.

Using a repertoire of basic attacks and specials, they bat a ball back and forth, trying to sneak it past the opponent and wear down the blocks guarding the opponents' base. You win not by knocking out your enemy, but by destroying what he's trying to protect.

The concept is clever in its simplicity, making every battle a frantic fray of ricocheting projectiles, dramatic momentum shifts and brutally decisive finishes.

Graphics that hearken back to the 16-bit days of the 1990s, as well as a chiptune soundrtrack, enhance the nostalgic tone, making the whole package seem like a lost arcade classic.

"Ultra Space Battle Brawl" no doubt would have munched up mountains of quarters had arcade developers dreamed up the concept a quarter century ago. Even if that had happened back in the day, the Switch version would be the optimal way to experience its thrills and spills.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

"Banner Saga 3" Review

The final chapter of the Viking-themed RPG series builds upon the first two games with confidence and relish, advancing the narrative in meaningful ways while staying true to the foundation on which it was built.

From the opening scenes, "Banner Saga 3" proves to be the most cinematic entry in the trilogy, setting up its story with sweeping animations and gripping writing.

While playing the first two games enriches your experience, you can also use the third game as the entry point. A helpful catch-up gets you up to speed before you dive into the fray. Equally helpful to continuing players is a save import that allows you to relay your choices from the first two games to shape the final chapter.

Combat remains a strategic tour de force, with several tactical paths to pursue as you look to outmaneuver your enemies. The scale and precision of the battles are every bit as compelling as the well-crafted story segments.

Taken as a whole, the product reaches the storytelling momentum of a TV miniseries, with rich characters interacting in dense scenarios with sprawling thematic implications. In addition to being the most profound of the trilogy, "Banner Saga 3" is also arguably the most replayable entry. A seminal sendoff to one of indie gaming's greatest triumphs, the game carries its banner proudly.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"Iro Hero" Review

Fans of "Galaga" and "Ikaruga" will be all over "Iro Hero," the latest in a long line of bullet hell shmups that blast away at each other for Switch gamers' attention.

As in "Ikaruga," you're given the power to shift polarities mid-battle, granting yourself an edge on the endless bombardment of formation-attacking baddies.

Your task is not only to ramble your way through the increasingly hellish levels, but to do so with enough style and precision to help you claw your way up the leaderboards.

Although most games of this ilk are light on brainpower, "Iro Hero" doesn't let you check out mentally. Puzzle-style challenges are packed into each level, challenging you to out-think your surroundings rather than rely on simple firepower to get you out of every jam.

"Iro Hero" is a short, arcade-style game meant to be played through multiple times in single sittings, always challenging you to step up your game and match the intensity that the AI and your phantom leaderboard rivals are hurling at you. Be prepared to wear out your JoyCons and scream at your Switch screen in agony and delight.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

"The Banner Saga 2" Switch Review

While most developers would be satisfied with equaling the resonant feel of a game such as "The Banner Saga," Stoic sought out to do what might have seemed all but impossible with the sequel. Somehow, some way, they managed that accomplishment.

Building on the epic sweep of the story and frantic combat action of the original, Stoic made everything bigger, bolder and more inventive in the 2016 follow-up, which rolled out on the Switch shortly after the port of the original game.

Just as Switch players managed to power their way through the final touches of the 10-to-14-hour first game, the bigger, badder follow-up popped up to reignite the embers of battlefield challenges and epic twists once more.

Few games instill you with the burdens and triumphs of being a field commander as this series. You make tough choices that make for excruciating sacrifices that come as the cost of victory. You meet betrayal head-on and seek to stay a step ahead of your adversaries at every turn. You try out wild stratagems, fail spectacularly and regroup to tinker with your tactics and re-up once more.

The summer of 2018 is a "Banner" season for Switch owners, and as spectacular as the sequel is, it only leaves enthusiasts wanting more. Luckily for them, the wait for the trilogy finale won't be long.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

"Hungry Shark World" Review

"Hungry Shark Evolution" bared its teeth and tore through the sea of unsuspecting free-to-play mobile games, using the Ubisoft marketing machine to get a fin up on similar shark attack titles to draw the most attention. Now swimming onto the Switch as "Hungry Shark World," the spirit of the original remains.

Making for hours of sea life-stalking fun, the setup has you chase down smaller fish while avoiding larger ones, the reward loop tasks you to strive for incremental upgrades, gradually working your way up the food chain by unlocking larger, faster and more vicious beasts.

Those who wanted to plug in funds to cut down the wait times for unlocking the good stuff could turn the game into a costly pay-to-win affair. Frugal gamers could plug their way through without spending a penny, using their skills and patience to inch their way through the progression path.

What works as a free-to-play lark doesn't necessarily translate to a $10 console/handheld entry. It would have sweetened the deal had developers unlocked -- if not all the sharks -- at least enough of the higher-level creatures to justify the cost. There is little you can do in the Switch version that you can't in the free mobile version, and although the look and controls are better, that hardly justifies the $10 ante.

"Hungry Shark World" makes for a dive into plenty of seafaring fun, but a full-scale remake rather than a simplified port would have given the game a chance of being more than a small fish in a big sea.
Publisher provided review code.

"Vertical Strike Endless Challenge" Review

Planes and ships just can't seem to get along in "Vertical Strike Endless Challenge." It's just too much fun for one to blow the other one into sinking smithereens.

The game plays up both phases of air-to-ship combat, allowing you to choose a swoop-and-destroy jet fighter or a sky-stalking ant-aircraft warship.

With no recognizable endgame in site, the draw is to rack up as many stylish kills as possible. To help you achieve that end, the controls are slick and reactive, the weapons bombastic and speedy and the game of naval battling cat-and-mouse ever compelling.

While the arcade thrills are ample, there is plenty of technical wizardry to master. Post-stall dives, thrust vectoring barrel roles and thrust and pitch control swapping make for aerial acrobatics. In the drink, it's all about spraying the clouds with 20mm deck guns or leveling the hardware with 37mm anti-tank cannons, mitigating your lack of agility with raw firepower.

While somewhat one-dimensional, "Vertical Strike Endless Challenge" is a pick-up-and-play delight for those looking for simplistic combat. Whether by air or sea, the action rolls on in waves.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Frost" Review

Dressed with minimalistic monochrome backgrounds, "Frost" is a card deck management game meant for methodical, cerebral gaming sessions that provide a break from action-oriented fare.

Without a compelling story backing up the organizing, "Frost" would amount to a stolid game of solitaire. But the writers came to play, crafting a saga of a lonely struggle against the elements.

With the frost ever nipping at your extremities, you lead a group of nomads through a trek in an arduous tundra. Wolves and cannibals stalk you as you struggle in an "Oregon Trail"-like voyage of attrition, maximizing minimal resources to stave off hunger and fatigue.

You feel a little something like Jon Snow leading the Wildlings on an ill-advised march north of the wall.

"Frost" may leave you feeling as lonely and resourceless as your characters, but it does manage to fulfill you with a robust challenge and compelling endgame. The icy "Frost" is a chill way to stave off summer heat on the Switch.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Book Report: "The Shining"

The Shining (The Shining, #1)The Shining by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first three quarters of this book are jaw-dropping. The final quarter is a silly, bizarre rush job. King seemed to focus so much on crafting his characters and setup, conjuring gorgeously poetic writing that tore into the souls of his tortured characters, that he had nothing left in the tank to fashion an endgame.

Taken as a whole, the book is better than the movie in most ways, but falls short of the cinematic adaptation in the categories of narrative cohesion, terrifyingly haunting payoffs and iconic moments. The ball-bouncing twins and "Here's Johnny" Kool-Aid Man moment were all Kubrick.

King is always revered as a storyteller, but rarely praised for his poetic eloquence. The majority of this book is a collection of moving and exasperating short stories that build his characters and their quandaries in an inspired manner. He searches out themes of alcoholism, abuse and pre-middle age ennui that cut to the marrow.

The demons King builds up inside of Jack Torrance are meant to blow their tops as much as the heavy-handed metaphor of the boiler that festers in the bowels of the Overlook Hotel. The transformation from troubled recovering alcoholic and professional failure to sadistic madman, though, could have been more convincing -- or at least less jarring and forced.

The showdown with the possessed hedge animals is head-scratchingly absurd, and the final battle is like something out of a sloppy 1980s video game. When the Overlook takes its inevitable fall, it does so just as King has decimated the glorious story he set up. "The Shining" is a brush with greatness that self-sabotages when it might have soared.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2018

"Runbow" Switch Review

One of the few indie bright spots on the oft-neglected Wii U was the 2015 sensation "Runbow," a party-friendly platformer that tasked players to time jumps to shifting color palettes that made platforms disappear and reappear.

An upgraded version hit the 3DS, and now the game continues its natural path along the Nintendo pipeline, popping up on the Switch -- as well as the PS4 -- in what could be called its definitive form.

Although its base campaign is solid, multiplayer is where the game truly takes flight. Jockeying for vanishing platforms and anticipating when and where they will rematerialize in order to get the drop on as many as seven other local opponents is unending fun.

With hundreds of levels to romp around in, "Runbow" provides a staggering level of content to romp through. The bright, frenetic backgrounds are a joy to traverse, providing a strong sense of reward for creative solutions you conjure on the fly.

Longtime Nintendo fans may already own the game on one of its previous platforms, but those who have put the dated systems to rest will feel the urge to plunge in once more, grabbing the game in its finest form to date to taste the "Runbow" once again.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

"Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy" Switch Review

For the last decade, Crash Bandicoot had devolved into the Pauly Shore of gaming icons, having lost his relevancy and become more of a historical curiosity than an enduring gaming icon.

That all changed last year with the release of "Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy," which remade the three original PlayStation games from the ground up, using the original assets as guidelines rather than porting them over.

After a year of PlayStation 4 exclusivity, the trilogy has dropped on the Xbox One and the Switch. The latter is perhaps the most inspired landing space for the compilation, because the game seems naturally broken up into bite-sized missions geared to be played on the go.

The games retain the feel and hints of the looks of the originals, but are more user-friendly and evolved than their ancient counterparts, which were burdened with interminable load times and a haphazard save system.

The remade trilogy plays more smoothly and faster than ever before, with the spirit of the originals remaining intact. The jumps, collectibles and combat all combine to make as appealing a package as ever.

While "Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy" may pave the way for the hero's re-emergence on the gaming scene in the form of a true sequel, it also hails as a love letter to the franchise's past, and a more innocent, unassuming time for the platformer genre. Playing the old games in new form feels like looking at a rose-colored rear-view mirror.
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, July 02, 2018

"The Crew 2" Review

Whether by land, air or sea, "The Crew 2" is filled with ways for you to seek racing and trick-executing thrills as you seek to amass followers and rise to fame.

The motif has you as a fledgling multidisciplinary racer who takes part on a reality show. With fans gawking at your every move, the setup feels like a benevolent version of the all-consuming social network that enslaves the populace in Ubisoft's "Watch Dogs" series.

With four years to refine and add on to concepts from the original, the dev team at Ivory Tower has taken intensive care to fill in the holes left by the 2014 original, which tended to devolve into progress bottlenecks, with little inducement to return other than a compulsive completionism.

With loads of unlockable courses, boats and aircraft models to unlock, there's always a reason to plunge back into the fray. Everything you do on the track contributes to your ongoing quest to tack onto your fame.

The visuals, sound and presentation get ample upgrades, making it even tougher to go back to the original. If you were a fan of "The Crew," you'll find the sequel superior in just about every way.

If you tried "The Crew" and lost interest, you'll find the newer game much tougher to peel away from and all but impossible to trade in. A vibrant, vital effort that fulfills your racing needs on several fronts, "The Crew 2: is an all-around impressive effort that makes you feel the thrills and speeds it seeks to simulate.
Publisher provided review code.

"No Heroes Here" Review

The Brazilian indie dynamo "No Heroes Here" may sound like a sequel to "No More Heroes," but it's nothing of the sort.

A tower defense hybrid set inside a 2D castle, you scramble to plug the caps, fortify defenses and distribute blockades in order to keep marauding enemies at bay.

Either solo or with as many as three friends in co-op, you venture into the playfield and set out to stave off all comers. With 54 castles distributed among nine kingdoms, there are plenty of adjustments you'll need to make to maintain your defenses.

There's a normal mode to get you acquainted with the game's functions and challenges, as well as a Nightmare mode that throws everything the game's got at you, forcing you to put everything you've used into action in order to survive the onslaught.

With ample balance and an intriguing slate of skills to learn, execute, refine and master, "No Heroes Here" loads you up with heavy, rewarding challenges that prove soccer and coffee aren't Brazil's only imports to reckon with.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Book Report: Washington: A Life

Washington: A LifeWashington: A Life by Ron Chernow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chernow's founding fathers biographies are more enlightening than any docuseries or history course could possibly be. Breathing life into historical figures that might otherwise seem stale and distant -- as foreboding and unsympathetic as marble busts -- he shapes a figure of Washington as a man with resentments, foibles and idiosyncracies rather than the infallible icon that's on your dollar bill.

Chernow probes into Washington's insecurities about his lack of college education, his passion for dancing, his questionable business practices, his plague of dental issues (guy only kept one of his original teeth!), his obsession with agricultural science, his deep, near-adulterous flirtations with a couple of female friends and his complicated relationship with slavery. It's on the latter point that Washington hits the hardest, exposing him as a man willing to compromise his abolitionist morals to not only appease Southerners during the Union's unstable early days, but to prop up his bottom line.

Another theme that emerges is Washington's Kryptonian-like invulnerability -- whether due to a combination of chance and confidence or by simple divine intervention -- that kept alive and able during brushes with death during the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars.

Chernow's research digests dozens of previous, no doubt less readable Washington biographies into a comprehensive equation that helps you make sense of the icon as a man rather than a Mount Rushmore carving.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

"Destiny's Princess: A War Story, A Love Story" Switch Review

Despite the growing legions of hardcore, lifelong female gamers in the mix, games geared toward women are infrequent. "Destiny's Princess: A War Story, a Love Story" is the exception to the norm, telling a story that eschews male bravado to appeal to traditionally feminine qualities.

Ported to Switch two years after dropping on PC, the game is something of a visual, fantasy-tinged romance novel. Set in Japan during its 15th century Warring States period, you play a princess in a beleaguered kingdom who summons five mysterious heroes from realms beyond.

The heroes are your only hope to ward of a plague of marauding demons, and it's up to you to manage the oft-conflicting yearnings and impulses of the spirited charges. As you can glean from the title, romantic battlegrounds are intertwined with those of combat.

The writers, as well as publisher D3, deserve credit for laying on the mature content thick and heavy, without regard for how it might negatively impact sales.

The game sets out to tell a decidedly grown-up story, complete with the language, nudity and intensely uncomfortable situations that entails. The story is moving and thoughtful, earning its hard M rating with romantic and thoughtful prudence.
Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"Paranautical Activity" Review

Those who miss the fast-moving FPS heyday of "Doom," Quake" and "Duke Nukem" may feel "Paranautical Activity" call out to them.

Whether or not that call is worth answering is up for debate.

A hit-and-miss tribute to a bygone era, the speedy, visually retro-styled throwback carries both charms and hindrances of the games to which it pays tribute.

There is fun to be had for those willing to overlook choppy movement, cheap enemy exploits and erratic hit detection. Inventive weapons satisfying methods to dispatch enemies and slick pacing helps you to overlook the problems and keep coming back for more.

Hidden items, blowout boss fights and a springy dubstep soundtrack help had pep to the affair, but the construct tends to wear thin during extended play sessions.

"Paranuatical Activity" may struggle to hold your interest, but if you're willing to revert back to the patience level you had when you were 20 years younger, you'll experience more joy than annoyance. You could do better for your gaming dollar, but you could also do plenty worse.
Publisher provided review code.

"Angels of Death" Review

You are Ray, a woman stricken with amnesia who wakes up in a concrete room with no idea how she got there. Slinking along the corridors, you take a quizzical look at your image in the mirror, then chance upon a room with a computer card lodged inside that you will need to open a door, which appears to be the only way out.

Beyond the door lies a complex web of a story that only draws you in deeper the more layers you manage to peel back.

The question of how to unlock the computer and provide access to the door is the first of many conundrums you'll encounter in "Angels of Death," a story-driven adventure RPG that calls you to navigate menus and juggle items in the vein of "Maniac Mansion." Obtuse challenges have a way of making the linear story seem sprawling and complex. You can breeze right through on intuition or find yourself wandering in the dark until a walkthrough comes to the rescue.

Based on the cult hit manga, the game is broken up into four episodes, which allow the writers to tell the saga in a traditional graphic novel structure. The fact that all four are included in the initial released rather than teased and released sporadically allows you the satisfaction of bingin.

The 16-bit visuals grant the game the sense of a lost classic. You truly get what you put into "Angels of Death" -- a game meant to be obsessed over, analyzed and deconstructed. Probing and dense, it's a game to wrap your psyche around as you plunge into the dark with only your wits and determination to guide you forward.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

"Pode" Review

Built from the ground up as a co-op puzzle game meant to get two players -- each using a Joy-Con -- solving problems together.

Traveling through a whimsical yet foreboding 3-D world, you and a friend take control of characters with complementary abilities to solve the tasks at hand. Coordination is key to endure. Timed jumps, cooperative boosts and strategic placement help you make your way through the clockwork-like challenges.

While also playable solo -- a tricky task that involves alternating possession and rhythms for button taps -- the game reaches its greatest potential when played by a duo. The bickering and shared sense of triumph when you work together to overcome adversity yields rewards you just can't touch when playing on your own.

One of 12 Nindies that Nintendo has lined up in a partnership with innovative indie developers this year, "Pode" taps the quirky system in a heretofore underserved application. Now that the system has been out for more than a year, with Nintendo swinging the doors open for those with innovative ideas, "Pode" seems like a sign of not only how far the system has come in its first several months, but how bubbly the upcoming potential seems to be.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"Pub Encounter" Review

As a young lady seeking to blow off some steam after a rough day at work, you slip into an upscale pub, where you turn the heads of a cadre of middle-aged men on the prowl for a girl like you.

Welcome to "Pub Encounter," a Dogenzaka Lab visual novel that lets you explore romantic possibilities, as well as act as a friend and counselor of sorts. Navigating the minefield ahead of you, your conversations spark jealousy among the men, unlock deep thoughts about lives well wasted, past loves squandered and opportunities seized.

The writing has much to say about the nature of romance and its function in both salving and wounding the human heart. The lonely characters, who ranged from meek to self-absorbed and predatorial, are all nursing severe damage and hoisting up fronts that mask their true yearnings and deficiencies.

While sometimes a bit too personal for comfort -- the writing has no qualms with venturing into overshare territory -- there is grace, subtle humor and quiet beauty amid the maelstrom of posturing and superficial banter. "Pub Encounter" is a rush of flabbergasting emotions in a small, unassuming package.
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, June 18, 2018

"Ink" Review

"Ink" makes a splash buy letting you romp your character through invisible levels, splattering paint everywhere to clear your path.

Taking cues from "De Blob," "The Unfinished Swan" and "Splatoon," "Ink" sets you loose on an invisible obstacle course, using trial and error to splash paint on your surroundings, allowing you to see what course you need to take after you respawn.

A game that will drive perfectionists and speedrunners crazy, "Ink" forces you to accept continuous failure and incremental improvement. The methodical pacing works to its advantage, allowing you to appreciate the intricacies of the levels as you make your way through them.

Complex puzzles prevail across each new challenge, tasking you to dispatch enemies, use double jumps and wall jumps to wend your way around and below choke points and cull your momentum in time to make it through the goal door to move onto the next stage.

Designed to be played in short bursts, "Ink" justifies its challenge with reward. Making a mess of a blank slate and overcoming stubborn obstacles with newfound savvy and strategy never loses its draw.
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, June 11, 2018

"Omega Strike" Review

Part Metroidvania, part Mega Man and part Contra, "Omega Strike" is a side-scrolling, exploration-based action game with loads of charm along with a satisfying challenge-reward loop.

You hot-swap among a squadron of teammates with varied talents, in the vein of the old "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" titles. A strongman can shove heavy objects, an athletic gunman can double-jump, and a quick, shifty figure can scamper from outmatched battles, avoiding conflict altogether.

The writing, which references gaming culture and action flick tropes through the ages, is one of the high points, providing welcome comic relief from the often brutal challenges that await you.

An archaic save system -- you have to check into a portal to record your progress -- both dampens the fun and imbues the combat with a sense of urgency. Robbed of the typical auto-save handholding, you find yourself heading into choke points with a fevered drive to succeed rather than a lackadaisical outlook, because failure could set you back several minutes.

Level design is compact and efficient, with devs cramming 12 bosses and 45 enemy types into the circuitous catacombs.

The lighthearted tone keeps things from getting too tense, with the story segments easing in welcome breaks from the do-or-die moments. "Omega Strike" plays just like your favorite game from when you were 12 that didn't happen to actually exist back then.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, June 08, 2018

"West of Loathing" Review

If Buster Keaton made a stick-figure Western game for the Switch, it would have turned out a lot like "West of Loathing," an old-timey comedy with a look and playstyle that is barely echoed by anything else in gaming.

With a touch of the adventure RPG-stylings of the recent "South Park" games, "West of Loathing" sets your 2D cowboy off on a side-scrolling, branching-path journey that plays a little like a pre-rebellion "Westworld" story paid handsomely for by one of the patrons.

Traipsing through the dusty, rolling-tumbleweed-lined paths, you match wits with gunslingers, ladies of ill repute and real and supernatural creatures of the day and night.

A "Maverick"-style self-awareness fuels your renegade protagonist through his misadventures. Slick dialogue, scores of hidden items to track down and plenty of winking pop culture nods await you.

While not overly challenging and sometimes paced with a lolligagging sense of non-urgency, "West of Loathing" packs enough chuckles, facepalms and delirious non sequiturs to keep you longing for the next tip of the 10-gallon hat. Overall, the game sets out to remind you of the old Olsen Twins aphorism -- how the west was fun.
Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: "Ocean's Eight"

For my written review, click here.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

"Onrush" Review

"Onrush" sets out to scratch the itch that serious racers of the "Gran Turismo" and "Forza" ilk can't reach.

Those who look back fondly at the days of "Motorstorm," and before that, the pioneering "Burnout" franchise, will find plenty to love in the arcade combat racer. Style and destruction are more important than sheer speed.

You're tasked to bowl through crowds of fodder competitors, leaving wreckage in your wake, hit improvised ramps for colossal air, and rip through sharp turns with paint-scraping skids that bowl over the competition.

Conjured in a team effort from Codemasters and Deep Silver -- which cobbled together former "Motorstorm" team members -- "Onrush" is a turbo-charged blast of nitro-fueled mayhem. You won't find much use for the brake button.

The gameplay emphasizes forward momentum at all costs, which makes it all the more jarring when you make a mistake and wipe out in a cacophony of obliteration. With appropriate savvy, the dev team keeps the punishments for failure at a minimum, snapping you back on course with quick resets that allow you to motor back into the fray to exact revenge on the field.

With four game modes and 12 courses to vie for your attention, the game slams on the gas in both single-player and multiplayer setups. "Onrush" is just the sort of over-the-top racing bonanza to keep you circling around for pit stops.
Publisher provided review code.

"Quad Fighter K" Review

The Switch has seen a flood of retro-minded titles, and the standby 1980s/1990s bullet hell genre has gotten its share of love. Aksys Games' budget-priced "Quad Fighter K" proves to be one of the heavier hitters in this category, heaping on the nostalgia for such titles as "Galaga," "Defender" and "Life Force."

Boasting four-player co-op, the space shooter allows you to team up with buddies or go it alone against a relentless drubbing from marauding, pattern-formation-attacking foes. You can link up with friendly ships to form Voltron-like squadrons, acquiring power-ups that let you spray shots in all directions.

You'll need that sort of fire coverage to stay in action.

Enemies attack from all sides, making for a brain-melting barrage of pitiless assaults. When you take hits, you have no time to stand by idly. It's all about scavenging the rubble and keeping up your counterassaults.

If you play with teammates, expect plenty of the sort of agitating bickering and friendly badgering that comes with the territory.

With unlocks aplenty encouraging you to delve into the fray, "Quad Fighter K" bowls you over with content. As joyous as it is maddening, it's a game that recalls the quarter-munching arcade games of yore.
Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

"Earth Atlantis" PS4 Review

The most eye-catching quality of "Earth Atlantis" is its art style, which is meant to resemble a living sketchbook influenced by "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" fever dreams.

Giving you control of a weapon-equipped submarine, the game tasks you to navigate through hidden depths teeming with sharp, destructive obstacles and hostile seal creatures.

Newly released on PS4 after coming out last year on the Switch, the side-scrolling action is an ample fit for the handheld mode, with mission design geared toward on-the-go play.

With deceptively simplistic gameplay that echoes the level design in that it reveals hidden depths and nuances the longer you play,  "Earth Atlantis" proves to be a welcome palate cleanser in between meatier first-party offerings such as "God of War" and "Detroit: Become Human."
Publisher provided review code.

"Sega Genesis Classics" Review

Loaded with more than 50 of the best Sega Genesis games, "Sega Genesis Classics" is a giddy playhouse of nostalgic glee. Crammed with entries from the console's top franchises, including Sonic, Streets of Rage and Phantasy Star, the collection lets you relive the early-1990s glory days of "Blast Processing."

The addition of achievements and online multiplayer, as well as rewind and flash save features makes the games far more palatable than they were in their heyday.

The games also look and play better than they did in their original form, with widescreen format and HD renderings making the 16-bit pixel creations pop in a way they couldn't in the days of fuzzy CRT screens.

While the collection is missing some of the stronger third-party titles of the era -- licensed classics, especially, have no chance in popping up in anthologies like this -- this roundup of Sega-produced landmarks is more than you could hope for in a retro package.
Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

"PixelJunk Monsters 2" Review

All the rage in the PS3 era, PixelJunk games have fallen out of fashion. The tower defense extravaganza "PixelJunk Monsters 2" looks to inject some momentum into the faded franchise.

Moving from the 2D plane to 3D with aplomb, the dev team from Spike Chunsoft and Q-Games brings back the feel of one of the most beloved tower defense titles.

Some may knock the game for its antiquated gameplay loop, with few nod to complications that have become genre norms over the past decade, but there's something to be said for the clean, sharp routine of the original, replicated well in the sequel.

The bright, expansive play fields shine, making it tough to go back to the original "PixelJunk Monsters." The sequel manages to move the franchise forward without aping the many games the original inspired, all while staying grounded with the original feel and flow.
Publisher provided review code.

"Runner3" Switch Review

Dating back to the DSiWare and Wii Ware days, Bit.Trip games seized the imagination and attention of Nintendo-centric gamers.

One of the most popular and successful offshoots was the "Runner" series, which inspired hordes of clones and which Nintendo itself tried to copy to mediocre effect in its "Super Mario Run" mobile game.

Released both digitally and on cartridge on the Switch, "Runner3" is the coup de grace that shows exactly what an auto-runner game can be.

Designed with branching-path levels, an accommodating checkpoint system and a challenging points system that keeps you going back to try to iron out perfect runs, "Runner3" brings back the best of what the series had to offer while pushing it in new directions.

Wall-jumping, slide-jumping, kicks and floats are all techniques you'll have to master to keep CommanderVideo thriving through the gauntlet. A helpful tutorial system helps you nail the basics, but it's on you to put in the work necessary to master the intricacies of the various ways to apply them to speed up and smooth out your runs.

With a light, happy and funky tone, "Runner3" keeps things lively and buoyant, making it worth running, rather than walking, to pick it up.
Publisher provided review code.

"The Banner Saga" Switch Review

Having long since conquered other realms, "The Banner Saga" is marching onto the Switch, first with a port of the original game, soon to be followed by the sequel, setting the stage for the release of the trilogy's capstone, which is also due out on other platforms.

Originally released on PC and mobile in 2014, the Kickstarter-backed strategy game captured the imagination and satisfied the nostalgic yearnings of legions of players. The tactical RPG sets you at war in a realm influenced by Norse mythology.

Hand-drawn visuals sweep you away into the captivating world, which lets you control two characters whose stories eventually merge. Choices you make affect the way the story plays out, allowing for multiple playthroughs that change your experience from one game to the next.

The combat and writing elevate the game to an elite level, making for a riveting challenge that never slows. The ability to take the game on the go or sink into your couch to enjoy it on your TV makes the Switch version stand out from its predecessors.
Publisher provided review code.

"Songbringer" Switch Review

"Songbringer" does everything possible to declare its unbridled love for the original "The Legend of Zelda." From the opening gameplay screen, which plops your unarmed hero in front of a cave beckoning you with a sword, the game replicates the NES rainmaker both stylistically and visually. After a run on other consoles, it feels right at home on the Switch.

A labor of love created by the one-man development team Wizard Fu, the project adds a few crucial new twists to differentiate it from the classic it so obsessively apes. A decisive sci-fi bent separates the lore from the high fantasy trappings of Link's quests, and an emphasis on procedural generation -- each new world created by a player seeds a distinct environment based on a set of basic rules -- making each journey truly unique.

The method seems geared to be far more than a gimmick. It replicates the feel of taking on a challenging RPG in the pre-Internet era, leaving you isolated and scrambling to patch together maps and strategies based on your own wits and experiences rather than slavishly adhering to walk-throughs.

The seed generation, though, also has the potential to make for some fascinating streams, giving players to peek into "Minecraft"-style parallel words created by other players.

The adherence to old-school graphics adds rather than takes away from the visual flair, with close-ups, magical effects and the sounds of battle emerging with charmingly creative flair.

A bold and beautiful download for nostalgic gamers, "Songbringer" plays some sweet music that lulls you into its hypnotic realm.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"Milanoir" Review

Rich with distinctive culture, music and fashion, the 1970s provide a rarely-tapped bounty of satire and full-out appreciation. "Milaanoir" feels the funky flow like no other game in recent memory, diving headfirst into a realm of sideburns, bell bottoms, flared collars and jive slang.

Taking the Quentin Tarantino approach, references are ubiquitous to the point of overwhelming bombardment. Enriched with an endless supply of material, the dev team sets the magnificent tapestry in the mean streets of Milan, where you take part in heists, capers and boondoggles galore.

A smooth, apropos 70s soundtrack sets your voyage to a throbbing beat, and the writing lives up to the hustle and flow with head-shaking twists on genre conventions.

Pixel art visuals conjure a 16-bit, 1990s feel, making "Milanoir" seem like it was a lost classic dug up from the SNES vault and remastered for modern releases. It fits in nicely with the Switch's retro oeuvre, leaving you with the buzz of freewheeling 1970s fun. 
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"Smoke and Sacrifice" Review

"Smoke and Sacrifice" starts about as darkly as any game could, forcing you to present an infant child as a sacrifice to a tree god. A withering sense of "Did... I... really just do that?" sets up the wildly unpredictable, boundaries-bashing story that follows.

The open-world RPG is set in a world dictated by a vicious, unforgiving life cycle, with snarling beasts, predatory plants and dark, foreboding caverns. To survive, disguise, stealth and connivance are the order of the day.

To thrive, you must set traps, lurk in darkness and pounce at opportunities just like the enemies that torment you. Crafting and setting up loadouts for battles takes on a particular urgency usually lacking in RPGs. You make mistakes, double down on fleeting chances and scamper away to survive to see another dark night.

While its downbeat, fevered tone may discourage many gamers from braving the challenges of battling its creatures and ecosystem, "Smoke and Sacrifice" is something like a treasure for those willing to seek out and conquer its bewildering twists.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

"Happy Birthdays" Review

"Minecraft" has spawned an entire cottage industry of clones, with few managing to come close to approaching the cultural influence and community size. Even the venerable Lego license couldn't come close to doing so with "Lego Worlds," but big guns continue to fire at the Microsoft-owned behemoth.

The Switch exclusive "Happy Birthdays" is the latest contender to the throne. Bright, colorful and brimming with creative options, the world-building sandbox has enough to offer to turn plenty of heads. Coming from the mind of venerable dev Yasuhiro Wada ("Story of Seasons"), the game challenges you to conjure sweeping lands of mayhem and mystery.

Taking hints from the glorious failed Will Wright experiment "Spore," "Happy Birthdays" lets you evolve ecologies from single-cell organisms to romping dinosaurs and soaring birds of prey. You tweak the paths that your worlds follow by manipulating key branching points. As god games go, "Happy Birthdays" is among the more lighthearted variety.

While the lack of a focused narrative may leave some gamers confounded as to which way to go, those in the mood for freeform world-building and exploration will find all the tools and distratctions they'll need to form a new obsession.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, May 25, 2018

"Ikaruga" Switch Review

"Ikaruga" is one of those standbys that pop up again and again on successive console generations. Until it finally gets ported onto your new console, you have trouble getting rid of your previous-gen machines. Now that "Ikaruga" has blasted its way onto the Switch, PS3s and Xbox 360s are even more outmoded.

Since its 2001 release in arcades, "Ikaruga" has been nearly universally hailed as one of the finest bullet hell shooters ever created. A natural advancement from the humble beginnings of "Galaga" and "Life Force," the integration of a still-mesmerizing 3D world makes you feel as though you are plunging headlong into deep space, obliterating wave after wave of formation-swarming attack ships.

Punishing difficulty level is the order of the day, but lower levels allow non-masochistic gamers to endure the thrills on less-challenging iterations. To get the full experience, though, you need to crank it up to the highest unlocked difficulty and endure the bombardment of painful defeats, controller-smashing obstructions and thrilling triumphs in order to evolve and conquer the formidable challenges.

The gradual breakthroughs that accompany the trials are what make "Ikaruga" fun, but the mesmerizing swirl of interstellar death machines gunning to take you out are what make the game memorable regardless of how successful you are.

Scoop this one up when you can, take your whipping like a good gamer and keep the game on your console as the punishing security blanket that will make it that much tougher to ever get rid of your Switch.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Framed Collection" Switch Review

The two "Framed" games were mobile sensations, and both find a suitable home on the Switch as a compilation. The pairing makes sense because the narratives are so closely tied that they feel more like enmeshed parts of one another rather than prequel and sequel.

The stylistic presentation is a cross between comic strips and film noir. Looking at a grid of panels with interlocking backgrounds and characters following preset paths, you rearrange the pieces to allow the story to continue.

The satisfaction of success after trial and error comes from watching your protagonist narrowly avoid capture as he slinks into stairwells, clocks enemies by opening doors and sneaks past near-capture to slink away unnoticed.

Pure, unmitigated puzzle-solving is the order of the day, with answers always just out of reach, only to reveal themselves to you as obvious from the get-go once you maneuver them into place.

A well-calibrated tour de force of conception, design and execution, "Framed Collection" lives up to its billing and has much to offer to those who were intrigued with the concept but couldn't bring themselves to cough up $5 for a mobile game. Now it feels as though it's found its true home on the bright, beautiful screen of the Switch,
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Monster Slayers" Review

A roguelike deck-building card RPG, "Monster Slayers" is meant for "Hearthstone" fans looking for a meatier, story-based experience.

Melding traditional JRPG trappings with strategic tenets of tabletop gaming, you guide your unknown hero to renown and heroism as you strive to rescue the realm by becoming a beast-hunting dynamo.

For a budget title, the bevy of features that come with the initial offering -- there is also a stream of DLC to come -- are impressive. The iterative nature of the game allows for vastly different experiences on every playthrough, challenging to piece together your party and vary your techniques to play to your group's strengths each time out.

New decks added to the mix exponentially increase your capabilities and options available, and beating the base game unlocks a legendary mode geared to challenge the most adroit players.

A tinkerer's dream, "Monster Slayer" gives you all sorts of options for statistic buffs, attack and defense boosts and specials for the various archetypes at your disposal. While some may find the structure too rigid, those who delve into its depths will find much to adore and appreciate in this fantastic find of a beast.
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, May 21, 2018

"Knights of Pen and Paper +1 Deluxier Edition" Review

Video games have always been audio/visual representations of the sorts of visions that gamers once had to represent only with their imaginations and note-taking. "Knights of Pen and Paper" brings that influence full circle, going full meta by rendering the act of fantasizing and note-taking as the visuals of the game itself.

Originally released on computer and mobile platforms in 2012, the game marches to consoles in evolved form in a "+1 Deluxier Edition" that stays true to its roots. Your party members sit at a table, playing a "Dungeons & Dragons"-like RPG, with dice rolls and you as the dungeon master determining the adventures played out on the top portion of the screen.

Lighthearted, easygoing charm emanates out of every pixel on which the nostalgia-tinged throwback is built. The inherent goofiness of watching actual knights, mages and archers hunkering down for tabletop gaming never loses its incongruous gawk factor.

Also, battles, character interactions and storytelling prods genre conventions in a knowing, winking manner. A geeky game made by geeks for geeks, this revamped "Knights of Pen and Paper" is a new version of an old game that strives for timelessness in all its quirky actions.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"Omensight" Review

The action-mystery genre is one of the more underserved and most bristling with untapped potential in all of gamedom. Bubbling with creativity and bold strokes, "Omensight" seeks to make up for that shortfall, even if its ambition is somewhat greater than its reach.

With shades of 'Psychonauts" and "Majora's Mask," the game is steeped in a dark, brooding murder mystery with enough twists and turns as a page-turner.

Using a time-travel mechanice to re-examine characters' action patterns during repeating same-day loops, you scour scenes an timelines for clues in order to conjure the evidence you'll need to advance the story.

A visual dynamo, "Omensight" leaves a stark, consistent impression with its look from the outset, and continues to push down the path on which it sets throughout. Pulling no punches when it comes to traveling dark, sinister paths, the storytelling carries the same boldness.

Some fine-tuning in mechanics and menu navigation could have made the game more accessible and engrossing, but the product as it stands is impressive enough to turn heads. If you're seeking a game that tests your clue-gathering and critical thinking, "Omensight" is more than up to the task.
Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

"The Fall" Switch Review

All roads in indie gaming seem to lead to the Switch these days, and "The Fall" continues the steady stream of games that made splashes on other platforms in previous years and have been reborn on Nintendo's new console.

Bolstered with top-flight storytelling, an elegant visual style and tight gameplay, "The Fall" has been making true believers since its 2014 release.

You play as ARID, a female sentient artificial intelligence powered by a robosuit. Tasked to protect a human pilot whose comatose body is wearing the sui, you use all resources at your disposal to pursue your directives while juggling aspects of your humanity and self-determination.

Puzzle-solving, combat and navigation skills are the parameters that dictate your success or failure, and the more you dig into the game's intricacies, the quicker the success you are likely to find. Resonant plot twists, a dark, brooding cyberpunk storytelling style and haunting visuals establish the game as a meaty, challenging undertaking that lives up to its mature billing in impressive fashion.

"The Fall" continues its rise with its new platform, fitting in nicely with other dynamic creative expressions of its ilk.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, May 11, 2018

"Guns of Icarus Alliance" Review

Ambitious and sprawling, "Guns of Icarus Alliance" brings its PVP and PVE MMO-lite stylings from the PC to PS4. You squad up and slug it out in a steampunk-influenced world, pulsing with idiosyncratic airships and lumbering mechs, all scrapping for resources, repairs, upgrades and key strongholds on the map.

Cross-platform play allows PS4 gamers to face off with their PC brethren. That flexibility is key, because the enjoyability of the experience entirely depends on being able to find games online in a timely manner.

Although the base is said to be more than 2 million players strong, you may find yourself spending too much time in lobbies as you wait for the critical mass of players to pop up in your game.

You're best off planning out sessions with like-minded friends -- almost in the manner of old LAN sessions in the 90s -- to make sure your games are populated and competitive.

More impressive in design than execution, "Guns of Icarus Alliance" could benefit from some attention to polish and streamlining as the months roll by. Fresh events that could boost the active player base would also help. As things stand now, the game feels like a party you either need to bring friends to or sit out altogether.
Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: "The Life of the Party"

For my written review, click here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

"Light Fall" Review

A ,2D, side-scrolling platformer with touches of Mario mixed in with some dark, moody tonal influences of "Limbo" and "Inside," "Light Fall" makes for a foreboding challenge to genre enthusiasts.

Bishop Games has crafted an airtight platformer that provides a stiff challenge to veterans, forcing you to master its entrancing series of physics rules, obstacles and enemy patterns.

Making elegant use of a spare, monochrome color palate, the dev team crafts a deep and haunting adventure with little to no hand-holding for newbies.

Expect to undergo plenty of trial-and-error, because sparsely-spaced checkpoints do you few favors. To survive and advance, you truly have to master the challenges set before you rather than luck your way through them.

The sense of accomplishment that comes with confronting and conquering a particularly challenging segment sticks to your ribs with resonance that a breezy difficulty couldn't hope to match.

While "Light Fall" may be too dark and challenging for gamers of meager talent and interest levels, it's a worthy pickup for those looking for something tough to chew on, giving such gamers more than enough reason to flip the switch.
Publisher provided review code.

"Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition" Switch Review

Games that can be played from beginning to end in a single sitting are a rarity, and those that fit those parameters and are well executed are all but nonexistent. "Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition" is a stark exception, excelling in its minimalist presentation to hoist writing and emotion to the forefront.

The 2015 Bracket Games visual novel makes its way to the Switch, where like so many other indie sensations it feels welcome and well-tailored to Nintendo's handheld/home console hybrid. The visuals are simple black-and-white silhouette of car driving through cornfield-lined freeways.

You tap through simple dialogue trees, learning that your protagonist is an early-20s washout who has grudgingly returned to her hometown to stay with her bickering parents and troubled brother. You're on edge because a tornado alarm has gone off, on the phone in stressed conversations with the fam. As the phone rotates among the three loved ones, tensions run high and resentments bubble to the surface.

You can open up and take an apologetic, accommodating tone, stiffen and mount an indifferent, bratty stance, or hop back and forth between the two outlooks. You're not only working the dialogue tree, it' also working you. The exchange feels organic, and it's all but impossible not to infuse your own feelings and life circumstances into the exchange.

While "Three Quarters Home" offers enough branching paths to be replayable -- and completionists will no doubt return again and again to unlock the different outcomes -- I can't see it likely to enjoy the game more than you will during the initial playthrough, when you are thrown into the situation blind and lacking any preconceived notions of bending the story to your goals. A raw, often devastating experience, "Three Fourths Home" is a gripping play and a great read.
Publisher provided review code.

"Earthlock" Review

With turn-based JRPGs haven fallen out of fashion, it's refreshing to see indie developers take some swings at reinventing the genre. Snow Castle Games' "Earthlock," which debuted with the subtitle "Festival of Magic" two years ago on other systems, seeks to capture the nostalgic yearning for older "Final Fantasy"-type games via the Switch.

Those looking for something lived-in and familiar will appreciate the game's bones. This is a standard save-the-realm quest, complete with a party you can use to quest for upgradable weapons and abilities as you venture down the linear path.

Speed and efficiency are not virtues that will get you far in "Earthlock." Exploration and experimentation are the order of the day, with an agrarian economy that tasks you to tend gardens to accumulate wealth and resources that will serve you well in battle.

While too slow for some tastes, "Earthlock" offers enough unique spins on well-worn material to appeal to JRPG fanatics and former fans who have let their tastes lapse over the years. The Switch continues to make a welcome home for unorthodox titles -- especially those with old-school flavor -- and that proves true here.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

"AO International Tennis" Review

With "Top Spin" and "Virtua Tennis" having long since foot-faulted, there's a doubles court-sized opening for an indie interloper to come in, land a smash and seize straight-sets control of the tennis si genre.

BigAnt Studios swings and misses with "AO International Tennis," starting with a head-scratching lack of ambition. Fashioning itself as a realistic tennis sim, the licenses round up a scattershot selection of pros, featuring Rafael Nadal and a short list of "who's that?" rather than "who's who."

Likewise, the tournament selection is bizarrely thin, with the Australian Open being the lone Grand Slam event to show up. The lack of licenses, no doubt due to a lack of funding, is an alarming but surmountable setback. The squad behind Konami's equally hampered "PES" franchise routinely shows up its better-pedigreed rival in "FIFA."

But the poor licensing turnout is a harbinger of the other flaws. There is little of Rafa's serve-and-volley specialty to be found, with any attempt at charging the net resulting in an embarrassing loss of a point. The best way to hang in is to go full Sampras, sit on the baseline and wait for the opponent to make a mistake. This unexciting brand of tennis flows into every other aspect of the game, from the menus to the game modes and customization.

A vanilla tennis sim  that disappoints more than inspires, "AO International Tennis" lacks the punch to stand up to the upcoming "Mario Tennis Aces," which isn't even a true competitor. Instead of providing hope for the resurrection of the tennis sim, this lackadaisical game just acts as evidence as to why people stopped caring about video game tennis alogether.
Publisher provided review code.

"Dragon's Crown Pro" Review

When it takes a developer five years to remake a game, it basically seems new. That's the case with "Dragon's Crown," a bubbly 2013 2D hack-and-slasher that's managed to improve with age, as well as minor visual and gameplay upgrades.

The base game was solid, if not memorable enough to endure in the public consciousness for half a decade. You choose a medieval adventurer and bludgeon your way through an army of evildoers. Branching paths open up along the way, upping the replay value by freshening up your journey depending on the hero you choose and the choices you make along the way.

Those who have stuck with the PS3 version -- a truly bizarre choice reserved solely for die-hards -- can step into modern society by joining PS4 players in cross-platform co-op. The rare feature may not expand the player base much, but is such an intriguing novelty that it may spark you to dust off your PS3 just to test out the functionality for kicks.

With characters who appear to have stepped out of stylized high fantasy covers from dusty used bookstore shelves, charm is abundant. The wizard/warrior/sorceress archetypes bring to mind quarter-slurping arcade games such as "Gauntlet" and "Dragon's Lair."

A fitting hole-filler for any PS4 player looking for yet another reason to disconnect their old PS3.
Publisher provided review code.

"Death Road to Canada" Review

"Death Road to Canada" will bring knowing smiles to anyone who has gone on a road trip with know-it-all friends. Cramped quarters, limited resources and tight deadlines have a way of emphasizing constant bickering, one-upmanship and second-guessing.

Such burdens only intensify if you throw a zombie apocalypse into the mix.

A punishing roguelike with delightful 16-bit graphics, "Death Row to Canada" takes on another trademark of road trips -- the long, slow slog. Although the game never bores, it's often excruciating due to the overwhelming burdens it thrusts upon you.

As undead hordes swarm around you, you scavenge for weapons, crafting materials and food. When you don't scrounge up exactly what your buddies need, expect them to gripe. You'll find yourself constantly weighing long-term desires against short-term needs.

Do you venture into a zombie-swarmed catacomb to try to unearth some goods that will help you make it to the next stop, or do you cut and run in hopes of surviving on meager resources? This "Oregon Trail" dynamic may be stress-inducing, but it keeps you on your toes.

The quirks and intricacies of "Death Road to Canada" are what keep you coming back for more despite the brutal punishments it doles out. As entertaining and engaging as the experience can be, you're relieved when it's all over.
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, May 07, 2018

"Don't Die, Mr. Robot" Switch Review

Blending the single-screen bullet hell stylings of "Geometry Wars" with the upgradeable options of an RPG lite, "Don't Die, Mr. Robot DX" offers a hectic quest for survival amid mounting odds.

With enemies materializing all around the grid, you're always scampering to endure as many extra seconds of life as you can muster. A superimposed counter tracks your ill-fated progress, nudging you to top your previous best score, snag a medal and etch your legendary status in the memory bank.

The certainty of your demise focuses you on concentrating your efforts to use all your resources -- guns, mobility and strategic maneuvering -- to fight to the last.

While the Switch version offers minimal upgrades and enhancements, the bite-size download is appealing to system owners looking for a light palate cleaners in between heavier undertakings.

Mr. Robot dies hard with a vengeance.

Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Book Report: "The Arabian Nights"

The Arabian NightsThe Arabian Nights by Anonymous
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I went in expecting lighthearted, whimsical "Aladdin"-style hijinks but what I got was a monotonous, occasionally disturbing collection of sadistic fables. Grimm, Aesop and Homer can't touch The Arabian Nights in terms of darkness or depravity. Rape, slavery, beheadings and castrations are as common as breathing in these stories, which are remarkable mainly for their absurdity.

While serving as an intriguing look into the fabric of Arabian culture, the material is as dense and foreboding as religious scripture. Getting through it is as as masochistic an undertaking as reading through "Moby-Dick," "War and Peace" or "Great Expectations." You read it not out of pleasure or interest, but out of sheer, stubborn will to defeat it and claim it as a trophy on your mental mantle.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Book Reort: "A Higher Loyalty"

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and LeadershipA Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This did not need to be a full book. The only reason anyone has picked it up was to get to the final third, when the former FBI director, burned over losing his job in brutal, "Apprentice"-style fashion, unleashes on Trump. Comey may lack the detached skill of Michael Wolff's Trump roasting in "Fire and Fury," but his savage attack is just as entertaining.

What's odd is that once Comey gets on a roll, he loses all semblance of the professionalism and rationality and descends into a Trump-like free-association tirade. In transforming into an approximation of the object of his own fire and fury, Comey squanders all the goodwill he has accumulated to that point as he's recounted his career, fashioning himself as a cool, virtuous and impartial leader.

There are some intriguing moments in the rest of the book, but you have to trudge through monotonous recollections of Comey's workdays to get to them. He comes up with some intriguing hot takes on the dysfunctional Bush-Cheney dynamic, as well as the inner workings of Obama's self-assured, almost condescending administration.

But the person Comey most likes writing about -- at least until he shifts his focus to Trump at the end -- is Comey. Some valuable nuggets about corporate responsibility and leadership are buried among his copious self-praise disguised as humility, but there are dozens of business books that weren't rush jobs like this that can give you the same lessons with more skill.

The point of the book is to catapult Comey into the status of MSNBC talk show host, or at least the A-list on the public speaking circuit. In that respect, mission accomplished.

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Monday, April 30, 2018

"Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Day One Edition" Review

Dating back to the GameBoy Color days, Shantae has always been a standby on Nintendo handhelds. So it's only natural that the belly-dancing half-genie busts her moves on the Switch, which is something like half a handheld.

While also available on the PS4, Xbox One, PC, Vita and.. Wii U?!? the game feels as though it was made for the Switch. Quick missions emanate from a flashy hub world, sending you off on far-flung adventures that test your twitch skills and strategic maneuverings.

A rhythmic platformer that bursts with color, creativity and rapidly-flowing combat, "Half-Genie Hero" recalls the best the series can offer. Using a combination of jumps, strikes and booty shaking, you take on a bouncing, goofy cadre of enemy fodder.

Sent in the realm of Sequin Land, the game tasks you to defend beleaguered Scuttle Town from the bombardment of Risky Boots, who ringleads an army of soldiers, zombies and pirates.

With 2.5-D platforming thrills pulsing around every corner, there's plenty of delightful fun to be had in the rambunctious romp that is "Half-Genie Hero."
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

"A Robot Named Fight" Review

Few Metroidvania throwbacks wear their influences as proudly on their sleeves as "A Robot Named Fight," an exemplary indie effort from Matt Bitner Games. Genre standbyes such as a cyber-suited hero who jumps in a spinning ball, sealed, blastable portals that link rooms and grotesque, leaping alien menaces.

The twist is that instead of copious backtracking built on rote memorization, the labyrinthine hallways change every time out due to procedural generation. Every outing leas to paths with entirely new twists and turns, forcing you to think on your feet and adapt to the gauntlet set before you.

As charming as it is daunting and intimidating, "A Robot Named Fight" foists considerable challenge at you at every turn, packing staggering boss battles, delightful hidden power-ups and frantic chases. To survive, you need a savvy blend of twitch reflexes and steady forethought.

Since Nintendo and Konami have proven slow at cranking out sequels to the search-and-explore action genre mash-up the publishers popularized in the 1990s, it's fallen to the hands of obsessive developers and appreciative players to carry the torch forward. In "A Robot Named Fight," the hands of Matt Bitner prove to be capable indeed.
Publisher provided review code.

"South Park: The Fractured But Whole" Switch Review

Comedy games pretty much weren't a thing before Trey Parker and Matt Stone started making "South Park" RPGs. And that includes the lame gaming products the duo allowed to be slapped onto the "South Park" name before they began their renaissance with "South Park: The Stick of Truth" three years back.

Cramming enough incisive dialogue and satire to fill an entire season of episodes into a single game, "The Fractured But Whole" maintains the high standard established by the last game.

Just as "The Stick of Truth" shredded high fantasy tropes, "The Fractured But Whole" takes its mocking wit to the realm of overextended superhero franchises. Cartman, Stan, Kyle and the gang form a squadron of superheroes whose purpose isn't so much to protect innocents and chase down criminals as it is to make loads of cash with sequels, prequels and spinoffs.

You once again create your own avatar as the new kid in town, setting your difficulty based on the shade of skin color you choose. After starting with an absurd minigame set on a toilet, you venture out into an ever-expanding open world, with new areas unlocked to you as you complete missions and battles.

The format is divided into days, with each night ending with your character going to bed. An assortment of ever-shifting side missions, items and quests await you in each new frame, with decisions that can alter the dialogue and sight gags you encounter.

Occasional cinematics never trip up the momentum of the story. The same isn't so of design bottlenecks, which can be frustrating and force some trial and error before advancing. The impetus to continue is the assurance that tons of laughs await. Stone and Parker maintain their stratospheric level of comedy throughout, immune to the fear that the further into the game the content is placed, the fewer gamers will experience it.

Originally released on the Xbox One and PS4 in October, the game comes to Switch woith a full head of steam. Although it's disappointing that previously-released DLC doesn't come as part of the initial purchase, other improvements and Switch-based enhancements help make up for that bit of money-grubbing. Given Nintendo's spotty history with third-party DLC, it's pleasing to see the full slate of add-ons will come to the Switch port.

"South Park: The Fractured But Whole" is the rare crossover success that could bring new players into the fold. Fans of the franchise who were content with the PS3/Xbox 360 generation will now have to join the modern gaming age to experience more of the goods they enjoy on a weekly basis in the fall. They'll find it well worth the price of access, especially since early-release copies of the new game come bundled with a remastered version of the previous one. Those unaccustomed to constant chuckling as they jockey the controller will have to get used to it, because that's the way Parker and Stone roll.

Contains material from original review. Publisher provided review code.