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Following a 2011 PS3 remaster that kept many of the originals outdated problems intact, the PS4 recreation easily captures the title as the definitive version by injecting much-needed quality-of-life upgrades such as a silk-smooth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.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

"The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human" Review

Set in a post-apocalyptic year 2971 in which the world has sunk underneath the ocean and our savior Kevin Costner is nowhere in sight, it's up to you to spelunk the depths of the flooded landscapes with a dinky little submarine.

Set in 2D and bearing more than a little influence to the notoriously tough swimming level in the first NES "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" title, the setting forces you to adapt on the fly to cheap attacks from enemies, making your way through backtrack-coaxing labyrinths as you strive to survive, and, through a trickle of upgrades, thrive.

If you're not initiated with the hells of old-school NES deathtraps, think the "Steamworld" franchise, only with no overworld. You are tasked to search out hidden depths, slaying sea creatures who want to reduce the world's human population from one to zero.

It's easy to find yourself lulled into complacency by a chain of peaceful corridors, only to have the door slammed in your face, "Dark Souls" style, with a brutal choke point that forces you to work on your abilities to launch and defend attacks from all angles.

While a little archaic for some tastes, those who can withstand the trial, error, more trial and wheels-spinning will find the charms that lie in this game's depths.
Publisher provided review code.

"Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition" Review

When it first debuted in 2016, "Street Fighter V" seemed like barely half a game. With a flimsy list of launch characters, no story mode and a gutted online infrastructure, it played more like an early access entry than a full-fledged release.

Capcom's resilient dev team, though, kept at it. Determined to achieve a flawless victory by methodical iteration, a steady stream of updates and additions -- as well as a dollop of paid DLC -- inched the game closer and closer to the original vision promised in breathless previews leading up to the original release. Now, with the advent of the "Arcade Edition"rerelease -- a free update for owners of the original -- this scrapper is rough and ready to slug it out through the long haul.

In addition to the expected balance updates, the bonus characters from the first two seasons of the game are here, as well as an arcade mode, team battle mode, extra balance mode and additional V-trigger for each fighter. With the likes of Sakura, Sagat, Blanka, Falke and G. Sakura available, there is plenty of new stuff for even hardened veterans to tackle.

A dedicated community kept the spirit of what the game could be alive throughout the doldrums, and players who hop in now benefit in the form of a robust, ever-present stream of competitors to hone their skills against. Finally the sequel emerges from the formidable shadow of "Street Fighter IV" and its umpteen recalibrations. The array of special moves available and the level of rock-paper-scissors strategems keep the game as addictive as ever.

Finally, after nearly two years of pushing, "Street Fighter V" is the world warrior fans always hoped it would become.

Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Report: Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White HouseFire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wolff writes a political insider book with the allure and panache of a novelist, with far more in common with F. Scott Fitzgerald than Bob Woodward. Wolff not only soaks up tons of juicy fly-on-the-wall sights and sounds, he insightfully breaks down the motivations and thought processes of all the players.

The Trump White House is portrayed as a lawless wasteland in which family members, bewildered establishment pols and pushy hangers-on all jockey to curry the favor of the unstable king. There are shades of "Game of Thrones" throughout, with the Trumps forging their power on the realm as the Varys-like Steve Bannon scurries in the shadows, attempting to twist and bend those around him to his complicated, if true-hearted, will.

There are a flood of negative characterizations, but nothing here anyone wouldn't have assumed went on. What emerges in a stark but fair portrayal is the humanity of the Trumpites -- accidental politicians who have crystallized as caricatures in the public view.

Trump comes off not as a racist -- he just wants racists to like him in the way he yearns for everyone to adore him -- and is in no way organized enough to have served as a puppeter of Russian electoral tampering. He baffles those around him just as he does the electorate, standing as a Learish figure scrambling to maintain slipping control of the house of cards surrounding him. Wolff paints him as a sympathetic oaf rather than a nefarious despot.

This book is not likely to be matched by any future White House insider, because no one with the access Wolff was able to land here will likely match his talent. A shimmering gem, "Fire and Fury" is executed with passion, flair and shrewd analysis.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"Gunhouse" Switch Review

An inventive puzzle/tower defense combo, "Gunhouse" released on mobile devices and Vita a year ago. An under-the-radar cult hit, the past performance now seems like little more than the buildup for the release on the Switch, the system for which it always seemed intended.

You plot out your defenses against waves of attackers, then bulk up your capabilities by maneuvering a simple block-stacking game off to the side of the action. By rearranging different-sized blocks in groups of one to three, you clear the way for score boosts and upgrades.

The hybrid is reminiscent of "Puzzle Quest" games, but less frenzied and more strategic. As with "Puzzle Quest," your performance in both sectors is symbiotic. If you don't plan out your defenses properly, it won't much matter how you perform in the puzzle portion. Conversely, if your puzzle game is off, it won't much matter how well you pre-plan your setup.

A slim concept that works as a therapeutic time-killer, "Gunhouse" has evolved masterfully onto Nintendo's console. The game works as a decent palate cleanser in between the Switch's heavier offerings.
Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

"The Elder Scrolls V: Syrim" Switch Review

In its first year of the Switch's release, Nintendo has flooded the zone on exemplary first-party releases. Third-party offerings, as always with Nintendo consoles, had been weak to non-existent, but that has changed in recent months, with a wave of games, such as "L.A Noire," "Doom" and "NBA 2K18" having busted down the door.

"The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" joins that group, and despite having been played to, well, oblivion by every serious gamer on several systems over the past six years, its appearance on the Switch is a full-scale rebirth rather than a redundancy.

Like the Xbox One and PS4 HD remasters, this one includes all the DLC and remastered graphics and sound. The Switch version may not maintain the graphical fidelity or frame rate of its big brothers, the portability more than makes up for any minor shortcomings.

It's a true technological marvel to see a game of the "Skyrim" caliber running free and proud on a portable console, and the effect is not only even more breathtaking than seeing a majestic first-party title such as "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" run on the Switch, it feels like a sign of things to come. Nintendo's console seems truly capable of handling even the most demanding of modern games, and Microsoft and Sony -- let alone tablet and smartphone game publishers -- can't hope to compete with the new world order if this is the direction things are headed.

The Switch-focused adjustments, such as motion-controlled inventory cycling, spell casting and hotkey favorites, are beneficial but unobtrusive, meant for playing the game on TV, which is the least interesting way to play it. The game truly comes to stunning life in portable mode, with its rich colors and textures popping on the gorgeous screen that's just inches from your face.

Even if you have bought this game before multiple times, you're due for yet another go-round if you're a Switch owner with 14GB to spare on your SD card to handle the sizable download. The game is as majestic and impressive in its new form than the dragons that soar through its skies.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China" Review

Dogfighting games have fallen out of fashion, with the likes of "Ace Combat" being relegated to sporadic releases and just about every other ongoing series having stopped for good. Now that technology has caught up to developers' visions, the time is right for a full-scale redefinition of what's possible in the genre.

The indie dev Ace Maddox effort "Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China" may not be that reinvention that dogfighting fans long for, but it's a step in that direction. With fluid controls, killer visuals and a tight mission structure, the World War II-set game spotlights a little-remembered secret squadron of American fighter pilots who defended China from Japanese invaders before the U.S. was officially involved in the conflict.

Once you take to the skies in early tutorial missions, you get a feel for how much freedom you get as a fighter pilot in this arena. With autocorrective flight aids disabled, you are free to throw the torque down on your aircraft, making daredevil dives to take out targets and precarious barrel rolls to elude locks from bogeys.

Although extended sessions can wear the game's welcome thin, quick strikes through missions are satisfying to keep you wanting to come back for more. Multiple difficulty levels make it worthwhile to come back and take on tougher competition once you've mastered your techniques. Overcome occasional frustrations with cookie-cutter design and cheap attacks and you will feel the excitement of soaring into the treacherous Chinese skies.

Publisher provided review copy.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Book Report: "Stinker Lets Loose"

This is an incredibly funny book. A mock 1970s trucker B-movie novelization, it's full of commentary on topics such as masculinity and politics. It's both a satire and a straight-up action book, if such a thing existed.

Johnston -- which I am guessing is a pen name -- or whoever write this did so in an easygoing, whiskey-sipping, campfire storytelling manner.

He makes writing look easy, and his storytelling manner and voice are true inspirations. This is a beautiful book, gleefully repulsive in every conceivable way.

The Audible version is blessed with a full voice cast, and plays more like a radio play than a typical audiobook. Jon Hamm goes against type as the breezy, freewheeling trucker, and narrator/director Eric Martin carries the narrative with down-home glee.

The country songs add to the atmosphere, as did the bed music. The only problems I had with the audio gimmicks was the gratuitous and overused sample of Stinker's laughter, which sounded nothing like Hamm's voice acting.

"Albert & Otto: The Adventure Begins" Review

Heavily influenced by the silhoutted platformer style of "Limbo" and "Inside," "Albert & Otto
is a haunting, gorgeously designed 2D puzzle-solving, timing-focused adventure that tasks you to tackle tricky problems through quick reflexes combined with trial and error.

The twist, as you can glean from the title, is that you're not alone as you are in thatgamecompany's haunting solo escapades. With a mechanical robot rabbit at your side, you break down puzzles via remtoe control.

Originally released on Android and Steam, "Albert & Otto" re-emerges on Xbox One and PS4. Dark themes abound. Vicious creatures, ranging from the likes of killer fish and vicious wolves to mechanical giants, stalk you in the night. Expect to die early and often, with only your wits and ability to learn from your failures keeping you going.

While the game is on the short side, with limited replayability unless you are into the speed run scene, "Albert & Otto" manages to jam an impressive amount of thrills into a diminutive package.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Book Report: "Ready Player One"

Cline came up with an excellent premise and twist-filled story but spoiled it with some fundamental misunderstandings of the decade he presents himself as an expert on, and muffs a couple opportunities to lift his story to the next level. "Hunger Games" meets "Battle Royale" by way of "The Da Vinci Code" in the cyberpunk thriller, which plays out with the progressional path of a "Second Life"-style video game.

Here are my gripes:

-Nintendo and Sega play no part in the virtual world. If Cline wanted to avoid the two gaming giants of the decade, he could have written them off as withholding content from the Oasis due to licensing issues. Instead, he pretends as thought they didn't exist.

-The Oasis is too much like reality. With no fast travel and severe physical limitations that replicate real-life physics, it's not reasonable to imagine that the Oasis would become an all-encompassing virtual destination. This virtual life sucks almost as much as real life, bringing to mind the episode of "The Office" in which Dwight gets hooked on a game that makes him even more of a bored loser than he is in real life.

-Near the end, when a benevolent mystery character pops up to serve as a helpful security guard and travel agent for the heroes, Cline misses the chance to refashion that character as the true, behind-the-scenes adversary. The endgame as it stands is a perfunctory, tensionless slog but could have been a game-changing cataclysm.

Here's hoping Steven Spielberg manages to smooth out the rough edges and fulfill the squandered potential.