Thursday, March 21, 2019

"The Princess Guide" Review

It seems like the setup for a high fantasy reality show. Four princesses from various corners of the kingdom are summoned to take part in the legendary Princess Knight training sessions.

You take one of the princesses under your wing as an apprentice to your knightship, with the goal of training her and her followers to become the best defense against a sinister force that threatens to tear the land apart.

The unique training-focused aspect of the setup adds depth to the storyline and gameplay. Combined with a peppy anime visual style, the NIS product has all the trappings to become your next Switch obsession. Not everything is going in the game's favor, though.

Rickety combat and a convoluted story hold the game back from the level of fascinating JRPG that the Nippon Ichi developers were striving for.

On the whole, "The Princess Guide" is a rich, lengthy adventure that gives fantasy combat-focused RPG fans a bounty to digest. There are more grounded and compelling choices out there, but the game excels at its chosen goals, thriving where it matters msot.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"Valley" Review

"Valley" is an ethereal first-person Switch game that has you explore a mysterious, fog-laden mountainside realm. Mysterious sights and sounds abound, and there's little context to explain the odd encounters.

One more twist, and it's a doozy: Early on, you unearth a crate that yields a L.E.A.F. exosuit that grants you abilities with shades of Iron Man, Titanfall of Apex Legends.

The suit allows you to run at super speeds, execute incredible jumps and even alter the life and death states of organisms surrounding you. You need to exploit all of your abilities to their utmost in order to take on the light traversal and puzzle challenges that await you.

Unfolding more like an interactive storybook than a traditional FPS, "Valley" drapes you in its scene-setting trappings to suck you into its wildly creative world. The dev team at Blue Isle Studios went out of its way to craft an emotionally resonant experience that has a way of sticking with your subconscious in between play sessions.

I recommend avoiding walkthroughs or speedrun attempts when it comes to "Valley." A slow burn that gives you more if you're willing to take your time with its methodical ways, the game overflows with unorthodox riches. This is yet another example of the Switch hardware opening up offbeat possibilities for savvy developers.

Publisher provided review code.

Monday, March 18, 2019

"Golf Peaks" Review

Thriving in its simplicity, "Golf Peaks" is a miniature golf minigame for those who didn't know they were fans of miniature golf.

Single-screen puzzles based on putt-putt courses make up the charming and addictive game. The design by the dev team at Afterburn revels in economical design, minimalist sensibilities and a precise physics system.

The sequence of golf-based puzzles tasks you to line up shots, determine the power level, visualize the outcome and decide how best to approach your multiple putts to nail your shot.

As you advance, the levels grow more complex, adding ricochets, inclines, hazards and barriers. Trial-and-error is the method you find yourself falling back upon repeatedly, blended with critical thinking and anticipation.

A golf ball-solid addition to the Switch's puzzle game repertoire, "Golf Peaks" is an ideal time-killer, as well as an engaging, thought-provoking brain teaser. If only golf itself were this satisfying.
Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

"Tom Clancy's The Division 2" Review

Set in a near-future Washington D.C. ravaged by invasion, "Tom Clancy's The Division 2" has you join a crack team of tactical supersoldiers who become the last guardians of Western democracy.

Set seven months after a deadly biological weapon ravaged New York City, the covert ops unit seeks out strongholds, infiltrates enemy choke points and establishes footholds to hold off the enemy.

Subtle visual upgrades and sweeping gameplay adjustments distinguish the sequel from the 2016 original, which survived a rough start to evolve into a multiplayer standby, particularly in Xbox One and PC circles.

Although the campaign is a solid foundation, it's mulitplayer that will grant the game its legs in the coming months -- and judging from the exhaustive support Ubisoft gave the first game -- possibly even years. The pipeline of free DLC is a compelling inducement for players to invest their time and effort into scoping out the game's finer points.

Although squadding up, executing missions and harvesting the rewards is a main draw from online play, one of the more intriguing aspects is the PvP-oriented Dark Zone, which tasks players to put prime loot on the line as they size up their skills and loadouts with high stakes on the line.

"The Division 2" keeps the adrenaline pumping, thanks to slick pacing and a smooth menu interface that helps you make your adjustments and dive back into the action without suffering through much of a waiting game. Geared from the ground up to hook you in quickly and keep you playing for hours into the night, the game builds off a superb base and reaches substantially more impressive heights.

Enrolling in "The Division 2" feels worthwhile because every action -- particularly collaborative work -- leads to more links in a chain that forms a reward loop, inducing you to keep coming back for more with refined weaponry and gadgets that will make you that much more effective as you seek glory on the monumental battlefield.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, March 15, 2019

PHIL ON FILM: "Captive State"

For my written review, click here.

Book Report: "The Pole Vault Championship of the Entire Universe"

The Pole Vault Championship of the Entire UniverseThe Pole Vault Championship of the Entire Universe by Conor Lastowka
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a slow, dad joke-filled start I was wondering whether I had found myself in a mire of bland, unfunny madcap shenanigans that would never manage to right itself.

But Conor Lastowaka manages to step up his game once he makes it past the awkward introductions to his "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"-like intergalactic goof, he's able to interject occasional strings of hilarious, belly laugh-erupting writing.

Comedy novels are among the toughest to write, so a certain measure of inconsistency is expected, but Lastowka's work extends the full range of comedic success and failure to a degree I've never seen.

The story follows two threads: One of an eccentric, self-fashioned dictator of a platform-country the size of half a football field he calls "Hawall" in order to trick Hawaii-bound tourists into visiting by accident. He recruits his estranged granddaughter to visit and compete, while also continuing the family tradition of wearing a dirty, ruined and mind-manipulating costume. The other is about a megalomaniacal alien who dreams of shedding his race's reputation for garbage collection in favor of conquering the Earth and proving his athletic dominance.

The writing sometimes comes off as a 10-year-old snickering to himself while filling out Mad Libs. But at times, Lastowka is funny enough to emerge as something of a creative mastermind.

A capable Audible cast, which includes Eliza Skinner, Janet Varney, Weird Al Yankovic and Mike Nelson, assembles for something close to a full-featured, extravagantly produced radio play. It's easy to imagine the play working as a stage musical. I could also see it becoming a really awful animated movie. The future of this franchise is as mercurial and unclear as that of Hawall itself.

Publisher provided review code.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

PHIL ON FILM: Breaking down the new "Avengers: Endgame" trailer

"The Caligula Effect: Overdose" Switch Review

Set in a world created by a sentient virtual doll, in which people can relive an idealized version of their high school life, "The Caligula Effect: Overdose" explores the downside of shrugging off real-life problems in favor of a virtual world.

Lost in artificial bliss, you need to work your way through numerous insecurities, hang-ups and virtual barriers to return to some semblance of real life. Elegant, observant writing, ethereal visuals and pragmatic design are the game's high points. Pacing, controls and menu systems tend to hold it back, and that hasn't changed since the game's initial release.

Three years after its debut on PS4, Vita and PC, the game re-emerges on the Switch in a slightly revamped form. While the basics remain intact, there are minor adjustments that optimize the game for the portable/home console hybrid.

The game remains mainly for those interested in an artistic, intellectually challenging experience rather than a more common, action-oriented adventure. An imperfect but undeniably engaging spectacle, it's worth seeking out and getting lost in its world.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Book Report: "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, #3)The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arthur Conan Doyle made himself the all-seeing Sherlock and his readers the dumbfounded dupes Watson. His stories set up obtuse, unsolvable puzzles, then make the solutions seem obvious, even though they were impossible to solve by the reader, given the information presented to them.

His storytelling is economical and smooth, cutting from one key conversation to the next, with no superfluous flourishes and never any exposition. His narratives always take place in the moment, with alternating flashbacks set up by monologues from Watson or Sherlock's clients.

Doyle plays to his strengths in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," emphasizing short-form storytelling over the need to set up an elaborate setup and payoff. The format lets him leap from one topic to the next, wrapping things up and moving on whenever his attention span demands. It plays out something like a collection of short stories linked together by the common device.

If you've never read a Sherlock Holmes book, this is the one to start with and compare all others against.

View all my reviews

PHIL ON FILM: Breaking down the new "Aladdin" trailer

Thursday, March 07, 2019

"Braveland Trilogy" Switch Review

A fantasy-inspired hex grid combat epic, "Braveland Trilogy" tests your tactical skills amid increasingly hectic challenges.

Five years after it was released on PC, the game comes to Switch in a mildly refined form. The game fits well into the console's slate of strategy-minded games.

Stylized, hand-drawn visuals lend a timeless feel to the presentation, and the controls have held up well, ably adapting to the Switch's twin-stick format.

The overarching story is a tale of redemption. You guide a warrior's son whose village was decimated by a raid. You seek retribution by rising through the military ranks, taking command and grinding your way to prominence in the land.

Loading up your party with archers, footmen, healers, scouts and the like, you can adjust your forces to your play styles, leaning into your proclivities, whether they be loaded up in an attack-focused mindset and aggressive, risk-taking stance or well-balanced and conservative.

You'll often find the need to adjust your technique on the fly, deploying your skills to take advantage of the scenarios that emerge.

With a user-friendly interface that makes the game easy to pick up and play but may frustrate veteran gamers who long for the difficulty to ramp up, "Braveland Trilogy" works as something of a starter strategy title, as well as a welcome, nostalgia-tinged throwback for those who grew up with games like this.

Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Book Report: "The Color Purple"

The Color PurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A challenging and linguistically innovative novel, Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" is an effortlessly intellectual think piece wrapped in a gloomy historical drama.

With a Steinbeck-like urgent optimism, Walker shows off a boundless sense of rhythms and flows of poverty-ridden country life. Her protagonist, Celie, maintains an earnest sense of self-affirmation as she tells her tumultuous life story via letters to God.

Celie's backwoods vernacular becomes a poetry in the way it weaves and stumbles its way through deep philosophical thoughts. The writing dares you to overcome your own ingrained social prejudices to truly hear the message at play.

Walker's vigorous messages cry out for justice for women, people of color and homosexuals, who are forced to bear burdens thrust upon them by the powers that be. Her message of love and understanding sings out proudly.

Walker's choice to narrate the Audible adaptation was crucial. No matter how studied the voice performer, there's no one who could even pray to come close to matching Walker's command of the spirit and commitment to the downtrodden characters she carves out.

"The Color Purple" is a cleverly written and consistently emotionally overwhelming fable. Walker's shrewd, sense-of-place sorcery makes you feel and think what its characters do. As if you were reading your own stack of letters rather than those of Celie.

Publisher provided review copy.

View all my reviews

PHIL ON FILM: Breaking down the final "Game of Thrones" trailer

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

"Sudden Strike 4: The Pacific War" Review

Tactical combat has a way of bringing war to life on a grand scale. The isometric RTS "Sudden Strike 4" impressed hardcore World War II fans upon its 2017 release with invigorating gameplay, detailed visuals and satisfying ease of use.

The game's high points were able to neutralize some of the shortcomings, including a jumbled interface and awkward point-and-click controls that made a rough transition to consoles.

A well-designed mission structure and rich breadth of varied content went miles toward stoking the fires of its community.

There just aren't many games of this ilk around anymore, and diving into the game brings back the "just one more mission" draw that keeps you playing long into the night.

"The Pacific War" DLC freshens up the game by adding the Pacific Ocean theater. Replacing tanks, paratroopers and infantry with warships, fighters and bombers. 

With historically accurate scenarios and the vivid scene setting that's become the franchise's trademark, "Sudden Strike 4" continues to grow and evolve in the years since its initial release. Playing the game is a bit like opening up an interactive history book or documentary. 

Publisher provided review code.

Monday, March 04, 2019

"Dead or Alive 6" Review

In many ways, fighting games will always play like retro throwbacks. The charm of quarter-munching arcade fighters will always stick with certain, accepted formulas, such as health bars in the upper corners, special moves and round-by-round formats.

In that sense, the games are time machines to fever-pitched competitive scenes of the 1990s or early 2000s. "Dead or Alive 6" holds onto the now all-but-forgotten era of 3D fighters, pioneered by the likes of "Virtua Fighter."

Games of this mold prioritize approach angles, momentum and evasion, with routines such as the stick-and-move taking priority over traditional combos. A rock-paper-scissors metagame of strikes, throws and holds emerges, with players psyching each other out to gain the upper hand.

"Dead or Alive 6" stubbornly sticks in its chosen era of arrested development, and any knocks on the game for its retro sensibilities are tone deaf. Team Ninja's creation bursts with all the trappings that fans of the series desire, from anime-style sexuality complete with outrageously goofy, breast-jiggling physics, exaggerated move sets and melodramatic music.

Stage design is as elaborate and stylized as those of the characters, with destructible aspects of levels begging players to ram one another through structures, creating a dazzling display of barely-organized chaos.

The online suite is still a work in progress, with only ranked matches available at launch, and lobby play planned for introduction later in the month. As of now, that aspect is the weak link of the gma'es suite of modes, but a slow rollout is preferable to a sloppy and forced bug-filled launch.

Still, it's a fair question why Koei Tecmo felt the need to push the game out now rather than wait until it was feature complete until release. The chosen pattern amounts to using hardcore gamers as paid public beta participants.

There's no denying how much fun there is to be had in the game as it stands now. With its ample humor, dazzling pyrotechnics and pulsing entertainment factor, "Dead or Alive 6" stands alongside the likes of "Street Fighter V" and "Injustice 2" and the upcoming "Mortal Kombat XI" in the new generation of fighters that thrive for their dedication to the old ways. This game launches you forward by taking you back.
Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

"The Way Remastered" Review

A somber and elegiac tone poem, "The Way Remastered" tracks the lonely quest of a space explorer who is tormented by the death of his wife.

Obsessed with uncovering the secret to eternal life, he makes increasingly high-stakes risks as he scavenges for clues he believes will lead him to the path of reunion with his resurrected love.

Releasing on the Switch three years after its PC debut, the new version of "The Way" retains the rustic, cobbled-together look of the original. Its character models look something like the original-release "Sims," with polygonal blockiness that reeks of simplistic, early-2000s stylization.

What unfolds is a mildly challenging, often confounding, puzzle platformer that tasks you to stretch your lateral thinking in order to inch your way through the interconnected world.

Stiff, sometimes inconsistent controls and obtuse solutions sometimes mess with the flow of the narrative, but when "The Way" is rolling, it's nothing short of captivating. Its methodical pace works to its advantage, allowing its themes to set in and take hold of your emotions.

While not a fit for all tastes, "The Way Remastered" opens up layer upon layer of inner and outer exploration. "The Way" may never be clear, but the winding nature of its paths make up much of its charm.

Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

"YumeNikki: Dream Diary" Review

Dreams are our mind's way of digesting all the sights, sounds and emotions that we experience during waking hours.

The process provides ample material for exploration in gaming, but the premise has been largely untapped. "YumeNikki: Dream Diary"

A slumbering little girl sorts through her hang-ups, stressors, longings and fears, and your task is to adapt to the disparate circumstances, navigate your way through logic-defying circumstances and work to resolve lingering problems by making sure the dreams unfold in satisfying ways.

Reminiscent of the 1996 Sega Saturn classic "Nights into Dreams," the game skips among diverse settings, each one based on the little girl's subconscious visions.

Developer Active Gaming Media excels in orchestrating varied visual and gameplay styles, synthesizing them all into a seamless narrative. The work is a reimagining of the original "YumeNikki," a PC horror game released in 2004. The dev team doesn't settle for a simple retracing of footsteps with augmented visuals, instead opting to reinvent the concept while still staying true to the psychological horror concept.

A triumphant fit on the Switch, "YumeNikki: Dream Diary" gives you plenty of fascinating material to explore. A dark series of dreams come to life, the haunting and often dark series of manifestations make for often enthralling gameplay

Publisher provided review code.

"Metro Exodus" Review

4A Games' "Metro" series has established itself as a bleak, brooding survival horror franchise with a distinctly Eastern European flavor. The saga is set in a depressed, post-apocalyptic society that has driven humanity underground, left to scurry around amid the ruins of the technological marvels in which it once thrived.

"Metro: Exodus" strives to be the most somber and claustrophobic of the franchise. As with the previous games, the capstone to the trilogy broods in its somber, contemplative mood. Many first-person shooters play on a power fantasy, but in this game, the aspiration is just to endure and scrape by, surviving encounters with mutated beasts or ruthless scavengers with just a sliver of health and a few spare bullets.

The setting for the third game moves largely from the decayed Russian metro to the sprawling, yet equally corroded and constrictive Russian wilderness. The story spans a year, evolving the saga as political factions rise and fall, semblances of hope flicker, die and spark up, and dread-inducing threats continue to rise from oblivion.

With a palpably raw ambition pulsing through every pixel, "Metro Exodus" feels like an expertly designed marvel. Displaying a polish and production level that the earlier games lacked, this seems to be the entry that will vault the franchise from cult status to mainstream prominence.

While the narrative continues to be patchy and confounding, the gameplay remains varied and vigorous. You rarely face challenges that seem repetitive or contrived. Although some action sequences lead to set pieces that feel a little forced and overproduced, the general effect is a cinematic flow that always packs a punch.

Single-player-focused experiences seem to be a dying breed, but the likes of "Metro Exodus" show that a dogged commitment to traditional survival horror values can pay off in a major way. The twists that 4A adds to the formula continue to pay off, and "Metro" continues to chug along, siphoning its dystopian angst as fuel.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

"Warplanes: WW2 Dogfight" Review

When "WW2 Warplanes: Dogfight" released on mobile platforms with its vivid visuals and slick gameplay, it seemed as though it begged for a console release.

Now that it's made its way to the Switch, the game seems like it was more at home on phones and tablets.

Still a stunning visual delight, the pick-up-and-play shooter's flaws shine through when stacked up against other indie dynamos on the platform.

Although the battles in the clouds continue to fascinate as a compelling game of back-and-forth, cat-and-mouse one-upsmanship, the lack of a compelling progression loop or robust narrative give you too little season to continue taking to the unfriendly skies.

The dev team at Home Net games sweetens the deal by offering a bonus aircraft -- the P-40 Warhawk -- to the mix. Completionists will appreciate the authenticity and detail granted to that plane, as well as the rest of the fleet at your disposal.

With European, Asian and African maps at play, as well as British, Soviet and Nazi campaigns available, you feel as though you get to experience a sizable breadth of the World War II experience. You truly get a sense of the wind at your back, the bullets whizzing by and the ominous buzz of approaching bogeys.

The bottom line, though, is that there isn't much here to justify the $10 cost to play the game on Switch, where you can get the mobile version for half the price.
Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: Five shows to binge in March

For the full list, click here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Book Report: "Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders"

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson MurdersHelter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In between long interludes of self-congratulation, attorney Vincent Bugliosi gets around to telling the sordid tale of Charles Manson and his followers that obsessed him for the better part of a decade.

The lead prosecutor responsible for convicting and securing a short-lived death penalty for the killers, Bugliosi breaks down the bungled investigation and scattershot trial that became a media circus that drew worldwide attention to the mass murders that became nightmare fuel.

Bugliosi writes almost reverently of Manson as he describes his philosophies, musical fascinations and methods of exerting control over his harem and hangers-on, dispatching them to rob and murder innocents at his whim. The psychological study skims the surface, but includes enough detail to let you pass yourself off as a Manson expert in casual conversation.

Bugliosi lauds his dogged prosecution methods, but also shows a soft side for the female suspects who fell under Manson's control when they were lost, unloved drifters looking for a cause to cling to. His grim tale of twisted Americana and the hippie movement gone sideways is captivating and well-researched.

Scott Brick's narration of the Audible version is a stirringly staccato that aptly suits the potboiler, true crime nature of the material. You feel as though you're listening to Bugliosi relay his war stories over drinks at a dive bar.

"Helter Skelter" is essential reading on one of history's most notorious killers, and fascinating from beginning to end. It may suffer and gains from Bugliosi's personal touch in equal measures, but the bravado has a charm and self-reference that tends to pay off more than it makes you wince.

Publisher provided review code.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

"Trials Rising" Review

As you play "Trials Rising," you feel like you're chasing the edge of excellence, ever on the verge of nailing the trick it will take to vault you to a chart-topping score.

You speed through courses loaded with ramps, obstacles, inclines and declines, hurling your rider into the fray with what would appear to an onlooker like reckless exuberance. In reality, it's precise, studied intricacy that leads to a dream run. Every slice of perfection is preceded by copious failure and incremental advancement.

Developer RedLynx adds new modes while maintaining the level of visual excellence and smooth gameplay from the previous games. The concept that started as a browser game in 2000 and was refined for console release with "Trials 2" in 2007 now continues to thrive on current-gen consoles.

Playing the game that looks this good and plays so swiftly on the Switch's handheld mode seems like a marvel, much the same as some of the most particularly dazzing PS Vita games seemed at launch. The Switch, however, ratchets the visuals and sound to a more impressive plateau. This is a true showpiece with which to wow friends.

From the robust soundtrack to the deep customization options and varied modes and tracks, "Trials Rising" is a punishing crucible disguised as a adrenaline-juiced thrill ride. The climb toward excellence is a speedy, trick-filled glory road.
Publisher provided review code.

"RemiLore: Lost Girl in the Lands for Lore" Review

A sassy, fast-paced dungeon crawler, "RemiLore: Lost Girl in the Lands of Lore" follows the adventures of a spry, book-obsessed girl.

She romps through isometric catacombs, hacking and slashing at enemies and crates with aplomb as a sarcastic, hovering book of magic follows her to bark words of wisdom or derision.

Dubbed a "rogue-lite," the breezy, whimsical adventure takes you through procedural, anime-styled challenges. Text-heavy interludes provide entertaining breaks from the action as you swap out among nearly 200 weapons, seek upgrades and scamper down hallways with reckless aplomb.

The dev team at Pixellore wear their "Diablo" influences on their rolled-up sleeves, but are savvy at avoiding unnecessarily dark moments by sprinkling in levity at every turn. Remi is a sprightly, magnetic persona who is easy to rally behind. Imagine Belle of "Beauty and the Beast" fame with an attitude and penchant for kicking ass.

With its strong female lead and accessible combat and exploration, "RemiLore: Lost girl in the Lands of Lore" is the rare adventure that's just as suitable for tweens as it is grizzled middle-aged men. Whether you're on the PS4 or Switch, you'll find yourself entranced by this digital, interactive page-turner.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

"DreamWorks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders" Review

Well, at least you can't call this game a quick and dirty movie tie-in. With backgrounds characters who have more in common with the first two films and Netflix series than the new film -- and fresh frontline protagonists --  "DreamWorks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders" is determined to be its own thing.

Exactly how worthwhile that thing ended up being is debatable.

A clumsy, awkward top-down RPG lite, the game cuts corners at every opportunity. Where you'd hope for detailed character models and varied backgrounds, you get bland avatars and a cookie-cutter, blandly linear world.

Most distracting, where you'd hope for voice acting with a cast of at least star sound-alikes, you get "Zelda"-style grunts and text windows of dialogue.

Bearing more in common with a mobile game than a robust console release, "Dawn of New Riders" does manage to craft a passable adventure once you get over the cut-rate quality of the presentation. Inventive puzzles, satisfying battles and a compelling item collection system keep you coming back for more, in spite of the rough edges.

"Dawn of New Riders" doesn't dazzle in the ways the movies do, but nor does it disappoint in the way old video game tie-ins used to. You could do worse, but you could also do a lot better.

Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"Unexplored: Unlocked Edition" Review

Two years after its original PC release, "Unexplored" comes to consoles in a revamped edition, accompanied by three DLC packs.

The overhead view roguelike, with procedurally generated levels, loads of items to discover and craft, as well as varied enemy types with distinct styles you need to adjust to on the fly, the game provides plenty to chew on.

A simplistic, 16-bit art style belies complex challenges. "Unexplored" is accessible from the get-go, but its cicuitrous dungeons hide multitudes of secrets and discoveries to unearth.

Although the tank-like traversal takes some getting used to, once you've adjusted to the quirks, it becomes second nature. A deep and involving RPG, "Unexplored" packs in loads of replayability, with no two runs playing out the same way. Developer Ludomotion outdid itself when synthesizing retro charm with modern aesthetics.

An especially apt mesh with the Switch in handheld mode, "Unexplored: Unlocked Edition" is the definitive version of one of the more distinctive indie gems of recent years. Don't overlook the diamond in the rough.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"Aragami: Shadow Edition" Switch Review

Lurking in the shadows, you hunt you slip undetected through courtyards, corridors and alleyways. You play a slain hero who has been summoned back from the dead, and is now on the hunto to collect fragments of his past.

After a slow start, the momentum picks up steam as it goes. The slow-moving opening is key to indoctrinating you in the rhythm and flow of the game, helping you adapt the skills you'll need to thrive later. Once things get going, you'll find yourself hooked as you sink deeper into the tale.

The dev team at Lince Works crafts a gorgeous backdrop for your exploits. Intricate challenges force you to time out your movements and attacks with precision. This is not one of the stealth-oriented games that you can go through with wanton disregard for methodical care. Make a wrong move and you'll only mount frustration.

The Switch release comes half a year after it debuted on Xbox One and PS4, arriving in a faithful port that manages to starkly recreate a console experience in handheld mode. Previously released DLC comes along, giving you the full experience at an entry-level price.

"Aragami: Shadow Edition" may not be a traditional take on the stealth game, but the breaks from the norm it delivers manage to freshen up the template enough to make the experience seem fresh and captivating. There are treasures to be had in these shadows.

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

"Far Cry: New Dawn" Review

What happens when a doomsday cult's dire predictions turn out to be right? That's the post-apocalyptic, "Fallout"-like question that "Far Cry: New Dawn" tackles.

The discount follow-up to last year's "Far Cry 5" is set 17 years after nuclear war has ravaged society, leaving pockets of survivors to coble together the pieces. The chaos blossoms amid a "superbloom," in which a burst of flora and fauna begins to thrive amid the rubble, painting the world with bright, wild brush strokes.

Hope County, Montana is at the epicenter of the power vacuum. "Far Cry: New Dawn" tasks you to lead a loosely-knit confederacy of survivors as they scrounge for resources and territory.

True to the "Far Cry" tradition, crafting, hunting and armed capturing and control of strategic epicenters shapes your experience along the way, setting up an evolving, back-and-forth metagame as you advance through the campaign.

Expertly constructed on the solid bones of "Far Cry 5," the experience of "New Dawn" echoes the events of the last game, while also striking off in brave new directions. The reshaped American West opens up as a dark, hyperviolent reimagining of 1800s frontier lawlessness, with more than a few echoes of "Red Dead Redemption 2" coming into play in a society robbed of technology.

Bolstered with involving RPG elements, "Far Cry: New Dawn" emerges as a single-player sandbox with layers of exploration, emergent discoveries and tense, thrilling encounters. While the story elements may not quite live up to the brooding, mind-control obsessions of "Far Cry 5," what we get is a resonant sequel that does the last game proud.

It may not be quite a new dawn for the "Far Cry" brand, but there are enough twists and advancements on the established formula to keep the franchise feeling fresh and vital.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"The King's Bird" Review

Momentum is life's great X-factor, capable of amplifying success by multiplying exertion. Like Mario with an invincibility star, there is no limit to what can be accomplished when everything is going in the right direction.

The physics-based flight adventure the "The King's Bird" is all about manipulating, exploiting and preserving momentum as you soar throughout its levels. Using a mixture of on-the-fly acrobatics, lift, drag and drifting.

After the game released in August on PC, it now takes flight on the Switch, bringing with it developer Serenity Forge's ethereal level design and visual conceptualization. The freeing, spiritually uplifting tone goes a long way, helping you to overlook some of the game's flaws. "The King's Bird," even at its slowest and most frustrating, is always a joy to play.

Obstacle placement seems geared to make you pull your hair out or slam your controller in frustration. Sometimes your success hinges less on skill or mastery and more on blind chance. The myriad variables at play often make it feel as though you're trying to will the wind in a different direction. If you're playing in portable mode on a bumpy commute, forget about precision.

Despite its setbacks, "The King's Bird" excels on its chosen artistic level. Like an arthouse indie flick that has everyone talking, it feels as though it accepts you into an exclusive club -- one with the shared pleasure of feeling the virtual wind in your hair as you dive, loop and glide while striving for elusive thrills.
Publisher provided review code.

"Defense Grid 2" Review

A robust, sci-fi take on the tower defense formula, "Defense Grid 2" packs challenging, multi-layered gameplay into a tight package. Hidden Path Entertainment's rapid-flowing gameplay keeps things fluid and invigorating, and a solid menu interface keeps things accessible.

The Switch port of the 2014 console game, "Defense Grid 2" takes advantage of the console's handheld mode to provide an impressive on-the-go experience. Whether you take the game with you or play on your couch, "Defense Grid 2" is an engrossing experience that encourages you to keep tinkering and refining your setup.

With robust online multiplayer supplementing a rock-solid campaign, the game offers an intense and distinct experience every time you fire it up. There are 21 maps on which to slug it out.

The music adapts to the scenario with a procedural adjustment, providing a backdrop of fascinating tunes to amplify your trials, triumphs and defeats. Not only does each battle play out differently, it also carries a distinct sound.

An addictive and refined experience, "Defense Grid 2" is an RTS extravaganza that boasts loads of reasons to keep coming back. You'll find yourself defenseless to its onslaught.
Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

"The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince" Review

"The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince" has such a weird premise that it seems like it was taken from one of those bizarre, morbid ancient fairy tales that had to be whitewashed for modern consumption.

A wolf with a crush on a prince she blinds on accident. Then she gives up her singing voice in exchange for the ability to transform and spirits him off on a quest to restore his vision.

Whimsical and often brutal storytelling melds with a gorgeously eclectic visual style to create an otherworldly adventure that seems at once timeless and innovative.

While the gameplay is outpaced by the story, developer Nippon Ichi Software is no slouch in that department. Some obtuse puzzles tend to make the going rough in patches. But the key is that the reward loop stays compelling/

The writing is strong enough to pull you through the choppier parts, convincing you to keep plugging through when things slow down and the frustrations mount.

One of the more masterful touches are collectible petals that fill in the backstory, gradually piecing together a grand-scale tale of love, loss, regret and hope. "The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince" sticks with you, lingering like a memory carved into your spirit.

Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

"Etrian Odyssey Nexus" Review

The 3DS ain't dead yet. Thanks to the determined efforts of Atlus, Nintendo's warhorse handheld gets yet another top-shelf RPG. Teeming with fan service, rich dialogue and robust collection, customization and combat content,

"Etrian Odyssey Nexus" feels like a grand sendoff for the system that proves the 3DS will continue to merit a spot in gamers' pockets for months -- if not years -- to come.

A royal decree sets a heroic party in motion to a mysterious floating city. As the intrigue deepens and stakes rise, you're tasked to build up a party of protagonists that span the entire series.

What might have come off as a perfunctory, quick-and-dirty best-of album instead emerges as a grand finale that manages to tie together the grand saga, rendering previous entries as preambles for the main event.

"Etrian Odyssey" games have always made expert use of the system's two screens, maximizing menu interfaces while providing as much real estate as possible to the visuals, and the latest entry continues to excel in that category. A complex game becomes manageable in bite-sized chunks thanks to a pragmatic design that always makes the tasks needed for efficient, optimized progression.

Bolstered by a story that packs as much range, emotion and humor as the best moments of past "Etrian Odyssey" titles, "Nexus" provides a convincing reason for lapsed 3DS gamers to dust off their old devices, charge them up again and head off on one last, grand ride into the sunset.
Publisher provided review code.

"Tangledeep" Review

A throwback dungeon crawler that harkens to the Super Nintendo days, "Tangledeep" is a light, accessible RPG that also manages to conjure significant depth.

Boasting more than 100 hours of gameplay, the game is a collector's delight, with dozens of monsters to defeat, tame and recruit to your party. You can also plant magical trees and tinker with equipment and enhancements to amplify your play style preferences. There are also skills to mix and match.

A whimsical, high-fantasy visual and sound design makes you feel as though you're playing a lost classic from years gone by. Gorgeous 16-bit pixel art and chiptunes suck you back in to the early 90s.

Several months after "Tangledeep" was released on PC, it comes to Switch with Pro Controller support, a boosted user interface, new monsters and a new Riverstone Walkway area, adding considerably to the already rich slate of content at the ready.

With adjustable difficulty levels that make the game as accessible or harsh as you like, the game can be a brutal roguelike or free and easy, story-focused run through.

If you have a taste for the classics of yesteryear, you'll want to get yourself tangled up in this.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Stage Review: "Something Rotten"

As I laughed and tapped my feet through the ludicrously brilliant "Something Rotten," my mind couldn't help but drift toward wondering how William Shakespeare would have felt if he had the opportunity to watch his life's work be relentlessly mocked.

I want to believe he would have hated it. The musical had me buying into its take that Shakespeare was an egotistical blowhard who scavenged, pilfered as much material as he could, made it a point to be his own biggest fan, reveling in his own celebrity. I want to believe that he would have scuttled "Something Rotten" the way he did "Omelette: The Musical."

Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell's masterwork is a blistering satire of Shakespeare, with just the right amount of love and appreciation to authenticate the scholarship behind the bawdy jokes.

The only drawback to the ridiculously inventive, stunningly choreographed and deliciously poison-penned musical is the difficulty of competing against itself.

The first act is almost too wonderful for the show's own good. With a relentless procession of blisteringly brilliant numbers such as "Welcome to the Renaissance," "God, I Hate Shakespeare," "The Black Death" and a tap-rap battle, it's impossible for the second act to hold serve.

A capable touring cast, led by Matthew Baker as Shakespeare, Matthew Michael Janisse as disgruntled stage producer Nick Bottom, Greg Kalafatas as Nostradamus's hapless nephew and especially Jennifer Elizabeth Smith, who is a Kristen Chenoweth-level revelation as Portia, the spunky, Puritan star-crossed lvoer of Nick's nebbish writer brother, Nigel (Richard Sitaletta).

With an oeuvre of Shakespeare's work, as well as popular Broadway hits to draw from, satirize, plagiarize and glorify, "Something Rotten" feels like a cherry-picked bouquet of incredibly entertaining references. A treasure from start to finish, "Something Rotten" is an essential watch for anyone with an interest in musical theater, Shakespeare or laughter. Watch it, then bring a friend and see it again.

The Broadway in Tucson production of "Something Rotten" is playing at Centennial Hall through Sunday. Purchase tickets here.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Book Report: "The Handmaid's Tale"

"The Handmaid's Tale" subtly mulls over the slippery slope of compromised freedoms and integrity that gives way to zealotry forcing society into totalitarianism. The absurd, barely fathomable hyper patriarchal dystopia of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel stands as a warning of how important it is to protect civil liberties with ferocity at every turn.

If you're familiar with the flashback and grim slice-of-life rotation of the series, you'll find welcome familiarity in the pattern of Atwood's storytelling. You're inside the head of state-supported prostitute Offred, who rebels against her plight with subtle words and actions that blossom into brazen disruption of the social fabric that constricts her.

The show adds much more psychological and background detail. The advantage of the book is that it keeps you guessing and requires you to fill in the gaps with your own speculation.

Claire Danes' narration of the Audible version is a revelation. She recites the story with a simmering rage that makes me imagine that her performance as Offred in the series might have surpassed the Emmy-winning turn by Elisabeth Moss.

"The Handmaid's Tale" leaves you with a nauseous feeling, lacking much of the sense of empowerment of the Hulu series. The book sets you on a rough, bruising journey that rewards you by igniting discomfort and outrage in reaction to the gauntlet to which it subjects Offred. It's a chilling slice of horror that may be too much for some to handle.

Publisher provided review copy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

"Swords & Soldiers" Switch Review

Ten years after the indie sensation "Swords & Soldiers" debuted on the Wii, the game has blossomed into a franchise and now come full circle by reappearing on Nintendo's latest console.

The action side-scroller from Two Tribes Games tasks you to orchestrate the powers of four factions as they use their distinct skills and weapon sets to battle against the dark forces that stand in their way. Whether you're using ninjas, berzekers, ninja monkeys or giant boulders, you'll need your wits and reflexes to survive.

A buoyant sense of humor and freewheeling sense of pacing keeps the game flowing. Whether you're playing on TV or portable mode, "Swords & Soldiers" is tough to put down.

Unlike the original 2009 release, this version of the game is the feature-complete ,definitive edition. In addition to the base campaign and multiplayer, you also get the "Super Saucy Sausage Fest" DLC.

With "Swords & Soldiers 2" set to debut on the Switch March 1, now is an excellent time to check out the original, which has since become a bona fide classic.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Book Report: "Slaughterhouse-Five"

Slaughterhouse-FiveSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A rueful meditation on the trials and trauma of war, as well as an inventive rumination on the prospect of time travel, the difficulties of mental illness and the exploitation of the poor, "Slaughterhouse-Five" is a difficult but often rewarding read.

His descriptions of haunting memories, nagging lamentations and biting anhedonia that come along with age are devastating and sweetly amusing.

Kurt Vonnegut alternates between beautiful, elegant meditations and hackneyed crutches and cliches, some of his own creation. The most obnoxious of these, by far, is his tendency to end a sad statement with "so it goes." It got to the point where I winced each time Vonnegut trotted out another "so it goes," and even when he avoided the phrase, I would cringe in anticipation of him using it again. That's abusive writing, and is not OK.

His penchant for lending wacky names to characters is overly cute in the way Quentin Tarantino Diablo Cody would one day emulate. The twee effect is nowhere near as acutely annoying as "so it goes" because Vonnegut mercifully refrains from overusing them.

In the Audible edition, James Franco adds wistful, laconic depth to Vonnegut's prose. Taking on the tone of an exhausted, story-spinning drifter over drinks at a dive bar, Franco's adoration and understanding of the material shines through.

A worthy but problematic read, Vonnegut's work manages to overcome its problematic points to thrive, living in your subconscious in between reading sessions, as well as after you finish it. So it goes.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Book Report: "Rasputin: The Untold Story"

Rasputin: The Untold StoryRasputin: The Untold Story by Joseph T. Fuhrmann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Few historical figures are as polarizing and mythologized as Rasputin, so it was a formidable task for Joseph T. Fuhrmann to sort through the misinformation and patch together a definitive narrative about the mysterious figure.

Movies portray Rasputin as a dark wizard who cast spells and hypnotized witless power brokers into carrying out his bidding. Naysayers dismiss him as a charlatan who was more of a mentalist, exploiting vulnerabilities of those he encountered to make himself seem powerful in ways he was not.

Could it be that the truth was somewhere in the middle?

What emerges is a portrait of a megalomaniacal mystic who was the chief culprit at spreading false narratives about his powers and influence. There's little doubt that he was prone to exaggeration, if not outright lies, to shamelessly manipulate the likes of Czar Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra.

Still, there may have been something otherworldly and metaphysical about him. He seemed to have an uncanny ability to diagnose ailments and fathom "cures" that managed to deliver people a measure of health or peace. Eyewitness accounts drove home the common impression that Rasputin had a Kaa the Snake-like ability to seduce and hypotize people with his gaze.

Fuhrmann sometimes gets hung up on the dryer, less fascinating aspects of Rasputin's life, but spends an equal amount of time sorting out the more sultry aspects of his existence, as well as how his sexual exploits resonated in his reputation both at court and in his own home.

Curtis Sisco's narration of the Audible version is workmanlike, if unspectacular. Robotic narration inflects an entrancing rhythm to the proceedings. Some awkward pronunciations of dates aside, the performance lends gravitas to the scholarly yet relatable work.

While far from the final word on the confounding historical figure, Fuhrmann's book goes a long way toward separating the noise from the fact to craft a believable portrait of the man, rather than just the myth and legend.

Publisher provided review code.

View all my reviews

"Office Quest" Review

An imaginative monochromatic point-and-click adventure game, "Office Quest" pokes fun at cubicle drone culture while interspersing absurd and fantastical elements.

Developer 11Sheep retooled the game for a Switch release several months after debuting it on PC and mobile platforms. It's a superb fit for the system. The side-scrolling, screen-tapping exploits make for an excellent use of the system in portable mode.

The gameplay may be a bit incongruous on TV, because it was designed with the intimacy of a portable screen in mind, but works surprisingly well, thanks much to the finely-tuned controls.

As a corporate slave used to the same routine, your world is thrown into a tizzy once you encounter bizarre magic that transforms your everyday surroundings into monster-like threats. You'r enot much for combat, so you have to think your way out of harried situations, calling upon the right items and proper times.

Whenever you run into a road block, the game doesn't leave you hanging or force you to trudge off in shame in search of a walkthrough. Subtle, helpful hints help you advance.

The fact that the dev team keeps the flow moving is key, because "Office Quest" thrives on its fluid momentum. Bubbling with wit and ingenuity, "Office Quest" is an ideal way to kill off your lunchbreak or commute in your own office drone existence.

Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

"Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes" Review

Back in the heyday of the Wii, developers bubbled with wild ideas in an effort to steal the console's massive, largely casual audience toward more eclectic fare. Visionary developer Suda51 and his Grasshopper Manufacture led the charge with the subversive action extravaganza "No More Heroes" (2007) and its follow-up, subtitled "Desperate Struggle," released three years later.

And for the next decade, crickets.

It took similar innovation and hot sales numbers to revive Suda51's bizarro dream for a Nintendo console. Here comes the third game in the series, "Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes," seemingly out of nowhere, with the devastating force of a hurricane and every bit as much vigor. Somehow, the nine years that have passed between the last game and the new one seem like nothing at all.

The "No More Heroes" games tie together the oddly parallel phenomena of the Wii and Switch. Like the previous games, and nearly all of Grasshopper Manufacture's oeuvre, a wicked sense of humor permeates every pixel. Self-aware, sardonic and sassy, the narrative abounds with pop culture, film, music and gaming references, never missing an opportunity to wink and nod, down to the title font that echoes "Stranger Things."

There are countless strange, stranger and strangest things to encounter in Travis Touchdown's latest adventure. Unspooling via a retro-tinged, top-down view rather than the slick yet somewhat forced and disorienting over-the-shoulder view of the original games, "Travis Strikes Again" steps back and lets its light saber-fueled combat speak for itself.

Zipping along with a sense of forward momentum that the previous games tended to lose in awkward bottlenecks, "Travis Strikes Again" hardly pauses for breath, ever surging ahead with an invigorating sense of wacky, iconoclastic glee.

With the villainous Badman out to get revenge on Travis for the murder of his psychotic daughter, he's sucked into a 1990s-style video game realm. Long since having gone into a depressive, gaming-fueled hermetic exile, Travis's obsession pays off well. As he romps through the gaming world -- which stands as a funhouse mirror reflection of the highs and lows of gaming culture over the past two decades -- his skills pay off well.

Beloved aspects from the previous games come back into play. The pump-action act of maintaining the charge on your weapon has a nagging yet distinguishing feel, helping you stay on edge for battle. Enemies barrage you with the relentless swarm of a bullet hell space dock, and it's on you to orchestrate your offensive and defensive skills to slash them into bits and unlock the next checkpoint.

More linear in nature than previous "No More Heroes" games, Suda51's latest maintains the series' rich history while also writing its new chapters in irreverent freehand. You never quite know where the story's twists will take you next, and the unpredictability makes for a fascinating, endlessly engaging ride.

Travis Touchdown re-emerges as the quintessential -- if not essential -- antihero Switch players deserve, even if they may not quite need him.
Publisher provided review code.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Book Report: "Frankenstein"

I wonder if any other literary classic has been as thoroughly bastardized, maimed and arbitrarily altered as “Frankenstein.” 

The lumbering, monosyllabic, parched-together zombie that movies and TV have pushed out into society have nothing in common with the monster in the book, an eloquent, monologue-reciting student of Milton and Plato who moves with the stealth of a ninja, makes his kills with swift, purposeful precision and badly needed a therapist or some Prozac.

The ultimate bitter teenager, the monster is a fascinating villain because of his hatred of existence itself and resentment of his creator. His obsession with bending Frankenstein (a neurotic, ever-lamenting ness rather than a wacky mad scientist) to his will, tormenting him in increasingly sadistic ways, makes for the crux of the cat-and-mouse game at the center of the plot.

Dan Stevens’ narration of the Audible edition was crucial to my appreciation of the book. Not only does he capture the frenzied paranoia of Frankenstein, but the obliviously evil whininess of the monster. His is now the voice I associate with the creature, rather than Boris Karloff’s grunts.

The book is a deep, philosophical dive into scientific ethics, the plight of creation and godship, as well has humanity’s innate tendency to shun the unfamiliar and unsightly. 

After a rough, slow-paced opening segment, Shelley hits her stride and tears at her themes and story with overwhelming passion. This is a work or near genius, and I was often floored at its majesty. Her work, ahead of its time and now out of control and debased, is much the same as the monster she writes about.

Publisher provided review copy.

PHIL ON FILM: "The Upside"

For my written review, click here.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Double Cross" Review

The makers of Runbow are back at it in "Double Cross," a mashup of "Mega Man" shooting, platforming, level selection and combat with a traditional side-scrolling brawler concept.

You play as an interdimensional agent who hops among planes of reality to maintain the balance of power. Harvesting a power-building resource dubbed "upgradium," you gradually build your character into a formidable force of spastic, justice-dealing destruction.

Character customization options allow you to deck out your hero with an increasingly impressive selection of offensive accoutrements, and the ability to take down levels and accompanying bosses in whatever order you choose grants a sense of freedom along with an urge to discover the ideal order to take them down.

Each level brings something new to the forefront, drastically twisting the mechanics to keep you adjusting and recalibrating your skills and techniques.

Bright, colorful and slickly paced, the peppy art design matches the freewheeling feel of the fisticuffs. "Double Cross" may or may not hit as big as "Runbow" did, but if it falls short it won't be for lack of vigor.

Those in need of a fun, slick alternative to "Mega Man 11" and the "Mega Man X Legacy" series will find a megadose of thrills here.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Book Report: "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer"

The Adventures of Tom SawyerThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of all Mark Twain's considerable gifts, perhaps the greatest was that which allowed him to remember just what it was like to be a kid.

Childhood is not the time of whimsical innocence that adults tend to revise it as, but a plight of constant stresses, unlimited analysis and grandiose plans constructed, obliterated and reformed. His portrait of Tom Sawyer is of a troubled young genius longing to find his place in the world, bristling against the unnatural restrictions society thrusts upon him.

Twain revels in the elaborate rituals and flighty superstitions of his small-town, mid-19th century youth. He treats Sawyer, Huck Finn and their orbit of pals with respect and dignity, while casting the adults who surround them as hapless stooges. In a sense, he sees the world just as he did as a child, and just as children continue to do. Kids have a fresh-eyed way of breaking down the nonsense that adults surround themselves with, and Twain never lost that sense of incisive deconstruction.

As he does in "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," Audible narrator Nick Offerman channels the late author's sly wittiness and thick, Southern-fried bravado. Offerman's existence is a compelling argument that reincarnation exists, and Twain's voice has come back in the form of his thick baritone.

As beautifully descriptive as it is wickedly funny, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" transcends its genre of young adult literature and takes its place among the ranks of glorious fiction. Its lessons and philosophical observations are as timeless and golden as the ephemeral, daring glow of youth.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2019

"Coffee Crisis" Switch Review

It's safe to say that you've never played a beat 'em up quite like "Coffee Crisis." A barista with a penchant for metal music is the lone hero who can stop invadian aliens from stealing coffee, WiFi and music from earthlings. His solution: romp 'em.

A simplistic side-scroller that owes a debt to the likes of "Streets of Rage" and "Double Dragon," "Coffee Crisis" thrives in its point A to point B pragmatism. Your objectives are laid out in front of you, and you know it will take a whole lot of oddly-shaped skulls.

While rough around the edges, "Coffee Crisis" overflows with attributes that stick to its core competencies of heedless momentum, raw energy and a blistering soundtrack. Wearing its references proudly, the creation from developer Mega Cat Studios toes the line between tribute and mimicry.

A game that was lost in a sea of similar genre releases when it debuted on Steam 10 months ago, the game is far more likely to find its groove on the Switch, where games of its ilk thrive and are eagerly welcomed into the ever-expanding fold of retro throwback larks.

"Coffee Crisis" is a decidedly niche effort, but it picks its spots and excels in the categories that matters most. It goes with Nintendo's console like coffee does with metal.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

"The Last Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human" Trailer

The Metroidvania renaissance continues to thrive as the decade nears its end, with "The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human" becoming the latest to take the torch.

Sifting through the discarded embers of a trashed society submerged in the depths of the ocean, you explore dark caverns, unearth lost artifacts and open up paths that allow you to inch your way forward as you get your bearings and acquire the means to unlock more sectors of the undersea labyrinth.

Exquisitely designed and hauntingly brooding moments await you as you advance. The dark recesses of the ocean hide some nasty, often gargantuan beasts that seek to reel you in and filet you.

More than a seek, find and advance adventure, heady themes emerge that haunt you in between play sessions. A nagging sense of dread permeates much of the game, and the visual style emphasizes the feel with subdued, washed-out notes of faded color.

While limited resources seemed to restrict the scope and technical precision the developers seemed to have in mind, the raging ambition that pulses within "The Last Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human" sticks with you well after your play sessions. It's a dank and lonely world out there, and a sea of discovery awaits your discovery.
Publisher provided review code.