Monday, April 29, 2019

"Konami's Arcade Classics" Review

A throwback to the 1980s and 90s glory days of coin-munching thrillers, "Konami's Arcade Classics" rounds up eight of the most memorable and influential arcade games in one tight package on the Switch.

Perhaps the package is a little too tight. Retro roundups are frequent these days, with standards setters such as "Sega Genesis Classics" bulging with 50 games, "Rare Replay" packing in 30 titles and "SNK 40th Anniversary Collection" checking in with 21.

While strict quantity isn't the sole measure for value in an anthology, the modest numbers in this Konami roundup make it all the more crucial that the included titles bring the thunder.

While there are some excellent selections in the bunch -- To my 10-year-old self, "Life Force" alone is nearly worth the price of admission -- most of the included games are shoot-em-ups. As a result, the title is a tad misleading, since the selection doesn't come close to capturing the breadth of genres that lifted the publisher to success in the olden days.

Nowhere to be found are the umpteen war and sports games on which the brand was built. Konami is making no bones that it's holding back "Contra" and "Castlevania" titles for separate releases. Since file size isn't an issue, the move seems like a cynical strategy to soak nostalgic games for as much money as possible -- just as the arcade games themselves were designed to siphone allowance money out of pimpled teens.

What's here, at least, is excellent. "Haunted Castle" was the darker, more insidious forerunner to "Castlevania," and "Nemesis" paved the way for the success of its relaunch as the start of the "Gradius" franchise. Lesser-known greats such as "Typhoon" and "TwinBee" hold up well, and the likes of "Scramble" and "Vulcan Venture" remain capable time-wasters.

As long as you size up the offerings before you forge ahead with the purchase, "Konami's Arcade Classics" is a square deal. But if you're spending blindly based on Konami loyalty alone, you may feel as bilked as you did when a premature "Game Over" screen flashed before you in days of yore.
Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: 5 Shows to Binge in May

For the full article, click here.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

"Truberbrook" Switch Review

A sci-fi tinged, point-and-click adventure mystery with more than a little "Twin Peaks" and "Deadly Premonition," "Truberbook" is a psychologically challenging and thought-provoking journey into darkness.

The dev team at Merge Games took an offbeat, unorthodox approach to storytelling, setting you into its awkward, eclectic story without context or explanation. You're left to your own devices, blindly stumbling about scene after scene, tinkering with environmental objects until you're able to trigger progress.

Owing much to the links of "Maniac Mansion" and "Tales of Monkey Island," the 1960s-set saga places you in the shoes of an American scientist who sets off to a quaint German town, with the objective to use his nerdy skills to save the world.

Got all that?

Much of what you're tangling with in "Truberbrook" comes in the obtuse format of the game. An ornery menu system, complex navigation and a mocking sense of humor pervades the game. Every joke seems to be at least partially on you, and every step is a nerve-fraying elongation of suspense in waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.

While the mounting frustration may discourage many gamers from pressing on, those who are hooked by the off-kilter premise will find themselves enduring the myriad obstacles just to see where the crazy train takes them. With the aid of online walkthroughs, the path forwards is navigable, though unnecessarily difficult.

"Tuberbrook" makes you pay the price for its residency, but for those looking for something that will throw them off their beaten path, it's a trip well worth taking.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

"Super Blood Hockey" Review

A throwback to the ancient and brilliant NES "Ice Hockey" and "Blades of Steel" games, developer Loren Lemcke brought back everything that worked in the pre-EA Sports era, while removing all the technological frustrations of the 80s.

Bursting with fast-paced, arcadey action, as well as gloriously gratuitous hyperviolence that lives up to the title, "Super Blood Hockey" is an exaggerated take on the sport that seems geared to give siblings cause to slug one another during intense couch co-op sessions.

Exhibition, challenge and franchise modes highlight the offerings, which allow you to play as the national team of your choice and engage in -- to borrow from the old joke -- brawls that occasionally break out in hockey games.

The passing, shooting and checking controls are precise and finely tuned, allowing for a competitive balance that's key in a sports title.

Player types range from sluggish bruisers to lithe attackers, allowing you to gear up your lines to facilitate the tactics you prefer.

A delightful chiptune soundtrack by Shawn Daley adds to the retro ambiance. As you indulge in the over-the-top action, you feel as though you're getting away with something. That's the charm of "Super Blood Hockey," which resurrects the spirit of video game hockey from its earliest, most rambunctious days.

Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: "Avengers: Endgame" Preview

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

"SteamWorld Quest" Review

The "SteamWorld" brand has come to stand for innovation, quality and humor over the years. In games that started on the DS and spread across several platforms, they caught fire with gamers of all ages and proclivities, building up anticipation for each new release.

After two action/exploration "SteamWorld Dig" games and the strategy-oriented "SteamWorld Heist," the turn-based card battle RPG "SteamWorld Quest" is the most dramatic departure from developer Image & Form.

Set in a steampunk realm, you guide your party through an adventure that satirizes fantasy and sci-fi conventions while gradually building up an emotionally resonant story of its own.

You build your deck of attacks, spells and defense buffs through an array of 100 punch cards, gearing your toolset to the needs of the challenges that lie ahead.

Unlike some other games of its ilk, combat flows at a rapid pace, with cards serving as something like a quick menu bar that allows you to draw and deal out your attacks as rapidly or methodically as you choose.

While the leap to the new genre won't bring all "SteamWorld" fans with it from previous entries, the new horizons opened up by the entry refreshes the possibilities for the indie franchise turned mainstream success.

"SteamWorld Quest" is likely the most robust and lengthy -- if not the most replayable -- game in the sprawling franchise yet. Taking a machete to the brush standing in the way of the new path, the game opens up promising new possibilities. The future of "SteamWorld" is every bit as bright as its past.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"Feather" Review

More of an elegant and visually striking proof of concept or meditative experience than a game, "Feather" has you take control of a bird that soars through a lavish environment.

And that's about it.

Slim on content but loaded with emergent gameplay, the project from developer Samurai Punk stretches the arthouse game concept to its limit.

Its experimental, ephemeral nature of the gameplay is meant to entrance and relax you. There are sights and experiences to seek out and explore, but there's little structure to progression.

Then again, progression isn't the point. You can adjust your speed, pitch and altitude, and the effect truly allows you to lose yourself in the flow. Like one of the early PC flight simulators, "Feather" is all about granting you the virtual gift of flight, letting you take to the skies in a way with a sense of control you could never approach in real life.

Unlike the endless blue skies in which it frolics, a title like this does have its limits though. Working best in short burts or meandering wind-downs at the end of the day, "Feather" ends up being the gaming equivalent of a stress ball.

It will be interesting to see if Samurai Punk -- or another developer -- takes the controls and visual style here and expands it into something grander and with more focus. Even when enjoyed on its chosen level, "Feather" is as light, aimless and adrift in the wind. The question of whether you see something like that as worthy of a landing spot on your Switch is up in the air.

Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: What's leaving Netflix in May 2019

Here's a look at what's leaving Netflix in May.

Monday, April 15, 2019

"Silence" Review

A gorgeous, hand-drawn point-and-click adventure, "Silence" stands out on the Switch for its adherence to storybook-style visuals.

Playing as 16-year-old Noah, who searches for his lost sister, Renie, in a limbo, twilight realm between the living and the dead.

Directional cues send Noah from one area of the screen to another, moving in an organic way to interact with objects you click on, sparking often amusing sequences.

You feel more as though you're orchestrating an animated tale rather than spamming your way through a list of command checkpoints.

Developer Daedalic Entertainment spins an elegiac, whimsical tale that takes place in a hybrid of dreams and reality, with inventive, yet logical puzzles that keep the story momentum flowing forward without stumbling on awkward bottlenecks that have plagued adventure games since their inception.

Even the "wrong" choices manage to keep the story going, filling in the edges with background and color that add depth and clarity to the mainline tale.

The story tracks a battle between a tight-knit band of rebels and a grim confederacy of dark forces that plague the realm.

"Silence" is a showpiece game that makes awe-inspiring use of the Switch's graphical capabilities, looking just as impressive in handheld mode as it does on TV. An indie effort created with skill and panache, it could make some noise in a crowded field of new releases on the console.

Publisher provided review code.

"Heaven's Vault" Review

"Heaven's Vault: is one of those games that instantly entrances you, charming you with its flat pastel animation style and swaying your soul with an engrossing score.

The feel is a cross between the more methodical moments of "Prince of Persia," blended with a sense of slow traversal across a vacant plain in the manner of "Journey."

The changeup is your companion, Six, who mutters precocious, nagging comments that you can choose how to respond to via a dialogue tree.

The text is imprinted on the screen, with lines that trace back to the character speaking, granting the visuals a visual novel effect.

The presentation is half the winning battle in the dazzling and intellectually challenging creation from developer Inkle. The story is the other half.

You play as archaeologist Aliya, who is in on a desperate, lonely hunt for a skilled robotics inventor. You use your archaeological skills to decipher glyphs, traverse ruins and deduce the mysteries buried within a sprawling, interplanetary map.

As you sail to different sectors of the cosmos, you dig deeper into the tapestry, plunging into a twist-filled, winding story that delivers surprise after surprise.

A rich and thoughtful game with enchanting layers to sift through, break down and appreciate, "Heaven's Vault" is a rare slice of indie-dev heaven that you feel like savoring, appreciating and discussing with a friend. A dreamy pleasure, the game is a work of tremendous heart and artistic exuberance that's all too rare on the current game scene.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Musical Theater Review: "Fiddler on the Roof"

"Tradition!" is the refrain that rings throughout "Fiddler on the Roof," which passionately deconstructs the notion of what it means to adhere to pomp and ceremony, as well as how crucial it is for each generation to renew and break away from the routines of the past.

Yehezkel Lazarov carries the show as Tevye, the seriocomic force who leans into inevitable tragedy. His monologues, one-liners, physical comedy and fourth wall-breaking talks with God drive the humor and heart of the lengthy, bustling production.

Strong supporting performances by seasoned veterans Matie Uzal (Golde), Mel Weyn (Tzeitel), Jonathan Von Mering (Lazar Wolf), Ruthy Froch (Hodel), Natalie Powers (Chava) and Carol Beaugard (Yente) help sell the cachet of the production, which thoroughly has the feel of an authentic Broadway production.

From brilliant stagecraft in floating set pieces and fog screens to scintillating acoustics, edgy choreography and a shimmering level of polish, this is as professional a production of the musical as you're ever likely to see. The bottle dance, in particular, is a physics-defying spectacle that drops jaws and raises hands in triumph.

The first act serves as a rom-com, with the duties of adhering to grim historical accuracy left to the more tragic second act, with the disastrous march of antisemitism gradually emerging to rear its revolting head to wreak havoc on the fatalistic townsfolk.

There is much to dissect and chew on in this intellectually challenging and thoughtful script. The challenge of life is to appreciate the fleeting moments of joy, while managing to endure through the harsher aspects, emerging with your character defined, your faith intact and your heart's limits tested.

The cast, crew and brain trust of this touring "Fiddler on the Roof" production takes the role of its metaphorical subject, precariously performing its precarious act, inspiring and inspiring awe in its bedazzled onlookers.

"Fiddler on the Roof" is part of Broadway in Tucson. Buy tickets here.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

"Croixleur Sigma" Review

Since its release on PS4 three years ago, "Croixluer Sigma" has spread its reputation as one of the finest indie arena brawlers. Peppy anime visuals, a thumping soundtrack and free-flowing combat test your strategic and improvisational twitch skills to the limit.

Inspired by the Bloody Palace mode from "Devil May Cry," developer Souvenir Circ sets up a hack-and-slash brawler with four female protagonists.

A bizarre array of monsters awaits your jump kicks, uppercuts and sprinting dive attacks. The varied weaknesses of the enemies requires you to adjust your tactics on the fly, forcing you to master the different attacks, as well as the way they chain together, in order to stay upright.

While slim in content, the design encourages you to keep coming back in order to strive for high scores and faster runs. The quick-hit style works well for the Switch's handheld mode, which enhances the look and feel of the visuals and combat with a tighter, more intimate experience.

With precision and jubilance, "Croixleur Sigma" excels on its chosen path, lathering up a bouncy feel that keeps drawing you back in for more.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

"Yet Another Zombie Defense HD" Review

At this point, it's safe to say that zombies will remain the default stooge in gaming. They're mindless, bloodthirsty fodder whose deaths don't offend anyone. So here we go again, with "Yet Another Zombie Defense HD," which debuts on Switch less than a year after its rough start on Xbox One.

Developer Awesome Games Studio adapts the single-screen "Geometry Wars" concept to a battle with the undead, adding in some tower defense attributes to freshen things up.

As the title indicates, it's not the freshest of concepts, but the self-awareness of redundancy doesn't translate into a cheeky meta vibe that it might have. As you dispatch wave after wave of the undead, a monotony starts to set in.

That feeling is eventually followed by anger and frustration -- if not from the gameplay itself, but because you become all too aware that you'll have to slog through an interminable ordeal just to return to the point to which you'd made it.

With lackluster visuals and sound design, the game relies solely on gameplay for its appeal. Tight controls and slick pacing notwithstanding, the monotonous nature of the game makes it tough to play for an extended length of time without throwing your hands up in frustration.

"Yet Another Zombie Defense" isn't the worst of its ilk by a longshot, but there is too little here to differentiate it from a crowded field. The game itself is all too much like its subject matter -- lifeless and brainless, existing just to take up space and siphon away your life force.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

"Cirque du Soleil Corteo" Review

From the opening number, any fear that a traveling arena show might deliver some sort of cut-rate Cirque du Soleil performance drifts away like one of the aerialists dangling from a rising chandelier.

Packed with two hours of effortlessly-performed feats of remarkable creativity, athleticism and finesse, "Corteo" delivers an authentic Cirque experience.

The hard-to-follow story involves a dead circus performer who looks back at a life well wasted in debauchery, performance craft and loves won and lost as angels elevate him to heaven.

That conceit is an excuse to deliver a frenetic and endlessly dazzling parade of mesmerizing set pieces, including trapeze artists tossing one another from one side of the stage to the other, acrobats spread out in spinning rings, tumblers vaulting over one another on teeter totters, a little person attached to helium balloons traipsing across extended palms of audience members and... remote-controlled Eiffel Towers.

That's just a taste of the wonders jammed into the astoundingly imaginative "Corteo." Costume changes, set shifting and comedic pantomime interludes flow in a seamless chain of eclectic wonder. The sheer level of energy reverberates through the arena, with performers who either take heedless joy in their routines or are good enough actors to convince you that they do.

The difficulty in enjoying "Corteo" comes in separating the analytical side of your mind from the sheer joy of the spectacle on display. The less time spent wondering how much training time they put in, what -- if anything -- these performers allow themselves to eat to stay in such ideal condition, and what types of injuries they subject themselves to during training, the better.

Just sit back, marvel like a child and let the angels lift your spirit away from your body, straight up into the glimmering ethereal lights above.

Cirque du Soleil Corteo plays through Sunday at Tucson Arena. Buy tickets here.

PHIL ON FILM: Breaking down the "Joker" Trailer

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

"Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid" Review

A natural fit for a "Marvel vs. Capcom" style fighter treatment, the Power Rangers face off against one another, as well as a slew of enemies, in "Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid."

Developer nWay crafts a capable 3-on-3 slugfest, which draws from the likes of "Tekken Tag Tournament" in addition to the famed Capcom brawlers. Tight controls, slick visuals and rapidfire gameplay makes each battle an entertaining romp.

At the heart of the gameplay is the rock-paper-scissors nature of attack arrays, which grants a psychological dimension to the twitch reflexes that dominate each battle. A variety of ranged, close-quarters and team-up moves lather up pyrotechnics that grant a "wow" factor to the fights.

Lacking much of an impetus for single players, much of the game's draw comes from multiplayer. Several modes let you slug it out online, and while the character roster may be on the thin side, the combinations you can stack together give the matchups plenty of variety.

Although the game feels thin, there are strong bones here that could mark a refreshing new direction for the franchise, which has been painfully bereft of many playable games over its quarter-century history. Paired with the successful 2017 movie, the new fighter game has the Power Rangers looking more formidable than ever.

Publisher provided review code.

Monday, April 01, 2019

"Stories: The Path of Destinies" Xbox One Review

In a former life, Reynardo was a swashbuckling pirate, plundering booty and making his way from port to port.

Now having reinvented himself as a hero, he makes a stand against an evil empire, using his skills in magic and combat to right past wrongs, leading a revolution.

Hacking, slashing and casting your way through gated areas, you collect and upgrade loot, expanding your offensive and defensive capabilities on the path to becoming a formidable force in this steampunk-influenced realm of airships, cannons and spells.

Three years after it released on PC, "Stories: The Path of Destinies" washes ashore on console waters.

The move from mouse and keyboard to a controller setup goes as smoothly as could be expected, with developer Spearhead Games taking cues from other successful isometric action game adaptations, including "Diablo III."

Though the combat can be rickety, and the menu system unwieldy, an earnest, well-calibrated story helps pull you through the combat and reward loop.

Satifying writing and traversal makes you feel empowered and adventurous, making the game easy to come back to session after session. Setting sail on these stranger tides is consistently engrossing.
Publisher provided review code.

5 Shows to Binge in April

It's a big month for Game of Thrones fans.