Wednesday, June 26, 2019

"Slender: The Arrival" Switch Review

Fan fiction and viral memes helped spread the bizarre, upstart legend of Slender Man online, spawning video games and a film. The aloof sense of mystery and plodding sadism of the grim apparition is enough to give you shivers, but he's still looking for a project that captures the sense of dread he's capable of instilling.

Developer Blue Isle Studios places you in a murky, dreamlike forest that's reminiscent of the early "Silent Hill" games. Survival horror titles need to hit just the right tone to stay chilling without devolving into obtuse exercises in frustration.

While "Slender: The Arrival" does pack its share of emergent scares, it struggles to stay grounded enough to send chills down your spine. Many Switch games execute just as well in handheld mode as they do on TV, but "Slender" comes  off as cheap and flimsy when played portably.

To truly appreciate the game, you need to switch off the lights, sink into the couch and lose yourself in the dank, labyrinthine paths in which the game finds its more frantic, sudden moments of satisfying horror.

As with many Switch ports, though, the effort seems too cramped and forced to do justice to the original vision. Choppy movement and muddy visuals stand out more than they did in previous iterations, making it feel as though you're stuck with a copy of a copy plagued with compromises.

You resent Slender Man not for his uncanny ability to stalk and kill you, but because is such a droll , lifeless affair that you become bitter that he doesn't show up often enough to liven things up. "Slender" is too slim to be the robust horror experience Switch owners crave.

Publisher provided review code.

Monday, June 24, 2019

"Outer Wilds" Review

An open world game based on exploration, experimentation and instanced drama, "Outer Wilds" is just the console exclusive Xbox One gamers need to inject some energy into a slow year.

As a recruit in the Outer Wilds Ventures Space Program, you delve into the mysterious Dark Bramble on a quest to disrupt a continuous time loop.

After a stodgy start, the game kicks off in earnest. Once you get a handle on navigation, controls and traversal, you begin to appreciate the game's finer points and find yourself immersed in the rhythms and flow of the quirky, wondrous adventure.

Progress comes in a gradual drip rather than sweeping advances. This is not a game for rapid dramatic buildup and thrilling boss rushes. The pleasure of "Outer Wilds" lies in its lengthy uphill struggles that culminate in revelations of grand discovery.

The concept echoes that of "No Man's Sky." You set off on an ominous, often lonely yet somehow upbeat and wondrous journey to parts unknown. Also like "No Man's Sky," the structure can become a bit unwieldy as your trek rolls on.

Even though you'll get more out of the game if you fully buy into the exploration aspect and force yourself to stumble blindly until you happen along the right path, but the frustration that can result from going nowhere for too long can turn you off of the game entirely. If you're one to be discouraged, you're best off finding an online guide and using it to spring you onward in moments of desperation.

Regardless of how hardcore you choose to make your own experience, "Outer Wilds" is well worth the trials and frustration it puts you through.

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

"Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled" Review

One way or another, Crash Bandicoot is going to become relevant again. Following up the spectacular "Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy," is the vigorous cart racer reboot "Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled."

While the gameplay, courses and power-ups are admittedly derivative, there are so many raw, overpowering thrills in the racing that you get caught up in the excitement and never find yourself looking in the rear-view mirror at other racing experiences.

Dating back to the original PlayStation "Crash Team Racing" in 1999, the series has always been a shameless imitator of "Mario Kart," but in most cases the gameplay was more competitive than lesser also-rans.

Developer Beenox channels its energy into making the racing vigorous and vital. Your fortunes can shift on any mis-timed turn, a well-placed weapon attack or a spree of fortuitous happenstance.

A well-honed mix of online and offline modes makes for a somewhat spartan yet effective mix of play choices. Once you burn through the single-player slate of courses, you'll probably find yourself trading paint and projectiles online. Rigorous matchmaking and a slick interface keeps you racing more than waiting.

While the character choices and backdrops are no more near as iconic as those of Mario or even the world of Sonic and friends, "Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled" nails what's far more important -- the quality of the gameplay and ease of access.

A spree of sensory overload online or off, with couch multiplayer or solo racing, this is a game that straps you in and flings you back into your seat as it slams on the gas. "Crash" is racing done right, and it continues to make headway into resurrecting its iconic star.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

"Boxing Champs" Review

Boxing games, be them arcade-style or serious sims, are rare to the point of near-extinction these days. With the "Fight Night" and "Punch-Out" series having gone on indefinite hiatus for nearly a decade, there was a massive opening for a new contender.

"Boxing Champs" takes advantage of the opportunity with a flurry of jabs and uppercuts. With far more in common with "Punch-Out" than "Fight Night," its cartoonish characters take big swings, bite the canvas hard and get back up with a "Rocky"-style gusto.

Despite the exaggerated animations, rapidfire punches, counterpunches and blocks, there is quite a bit of strategy nad technical mastery at play. With multiple, simultaneous control options available, you can adapt your technique to whatever feels right to your style.

Outrageous character models, names and mannerisms draw joyous inspiration from the likes of Glass Joe and Piston Honda. You'll need to adjust your playstyle to the various exaggerated techniques of your opponents, turning each match into a pseudo puzzle.

Australian dev Raz Games sweetens the deal with dozens of customization options, an extensive career mode and a swift tempo, thanks to three-round bouts.

Couch multiplayer comes day one, with online multiplier promised in a future update. While I'm never a fan of a game releasing without its full intended feature set, there is plenty to sink your gloves into before the update comes along.

"Boxing Champs" may not make people forget about either "Punch-Out" or "Fight Night," but until Nintendo or EA find the ability to pull their franchises off the canvas, "Boxing Champs" gets to raise its gloves in undisputed triumph.

Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"Citizens of Space" Review

"Citizens of Space" is a game for control freaks. Built to give you a grand sense of power and command -- all while maintaining an easygoing sense of humor -- as you flex your muscles in strength, creativity and ingenuity.

Developer Eden Industries follows up the acclaimed "Citizens of Earth" (2015) with a bigger, bolder follow-up that expands on the concepts of the original while embracing new frontiers.

You hop from one planet to the next, engaging in satisfying combat while keeping your charges happy. The larger metagame builds as you advance, making you feel like you're a master of your destiny.

Earth has gone missing, and it's up to you and your ragtag group of minions to track down the pieces and reassemble them, uncovering the mystery of why it went missing to begin with.

There are 40 characters to choose from, and you can mix and match your party to suit your preferences. Micromanaging isn't as much of a factor as it was in the first game, with preset tendencies freeing you up to focus on the big picture.

While some may crave may miss the depth and intensive involvement of "Citzens of Earth," the new effort should manage to please most fans while drawing in a new audience, helping the series forge ahead. "Citizens of Space" seems to be a launchpad to bold new frontiers.
Publisher provided review code.

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

Click here for the article.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"Super Neptunia RPG" Review

The Gamindustri Goddesses are some of the goofiest and most sensationalist heroines in gaming. Their bubbly and indefatigable personalities are the hook for every "Super Neptunia" game. Coupled with subversive writing, it's the draw of the personas that pull gamers through the slower "Neptunia" moments.

Filled with self-aware references and ruthless mockery of online culture, gaming tropes and over-the-top sexuality, "Super Neptunia RPG" does the series proud by stretching it out into a new genre.

A hand-drawn 2D style gives the game a throwback feel, and side-scrolling dungeons recall the likes of Metroidvania and "Zelda II: The Adventure of Link." The turn-based battle system, meanwhile, follow the "Persona" template.

Seeking to discover why the world had warped from three dimensions to two, you set out on a quest to ferret out the manipulative forces behind the reality shift. As the story advances, a meta debate begins to emerge -- whether 2D or 3D gaming is superior.

While developer Artisan Studios seems to be taking the path of least resistance in order to adapt the Neptunia scheme to the RPG format, the results are more than enough satisfying to hook longtime fans, while converting newer followers to the cult.

"Super Neptunia RPG" thrives as well in the new format as it did in previous iterations. With ethereal visuals, skilled writing and the prototypical Neptunia vibe, there is plenty here to adore.
Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

"Radiation City" Review

A smaller-scale "Fallout," "Radiation City" lets you run free through a wasteland ravaged by nuclear waste. You start out weak and hapless, scavenging for whatever resources you can muster while scampering away from mutated beasts.

As you gradually build up your clout, the game opens up along with your growing confidence. Any initial concerns about muddy visuals and clunky gameplay fall to the wayside as you find yourself sucked into the distinctive rhythms and tones of the dilapidated playground.

Set in the town of Pripyat 40 years after the Chernobyl disaster, "Radiation City" is Atypical Games' follow-up to "Radiation Island," which was released on iOS in 2015 and came out on Switch last year.

Two years after it released on iOS, the game feels somewhat underpowered on the Switch. You get out of the game what you get into it, and the more you can commit to the setting and atmosphere the more urgency you will find in the emergent moments.

You may find yourself slogging along through a mundane trek to your next objective, when suddenly you shift into an impromptu chase, hustling away with your life on the line. There are moments of subtle humor and relief that emerge for the taking, and whether or not you seize them or overlook them is up to you.

While somewhat slow and stodgy for some tastes, "Radiation City" is an acquired taste that opens up more with the freedom of the Switch than it possibly could on a phone or tablet. Thought-provoking and intimate, the game gives you something to chew on during its slow moments, while jolting you with sudden, unexpected bursts of action. The grim setting tends to yield strange joys.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Book Report: “The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness”

The rise of James Monroe from farmer to leader of a fledgling empire paralleled that of his country. His risk-taking, ability to undergo hardship in pursuit of bold visions was fueled by that of the country, and also inspired those he governed to reach and achieve.

The most interesting parts of the book dive deeper into the textbook thesis, finding nuggets that color Madison’s quirks and shortcomings. Hot-tempered and egotistical times, he generated such a rivalry with Alexander Hamilton that it nearly came to a duel, spared only by the intercession of Hamilton’s future Murderer, Aaron Burr, of all people.

He also suffered major falling outs with mentors Thomas Jefferson and James Madison that drove him to near disgrace and left him out of politics for interminable stretches.

A slave owner who arguably laid the groundwork for abolition by standing fast against the demands of southern industrial giants who sought to spread their inhuman ways westward, Madison rose from heroism during the Revolutionary War to orchestrate the Louisiana purchase and hold European forces in check with a mixture of diplomacy, intimidation, cooperation, and when it came to it, dogged, ruthless war.

The narration in the Audible version is somewhat stiff and dry, but expressive enough to expand beyond the realm of bland historical narration. The production value is spare and limited, but takes nothing away from the author’s gripping narrative.

Monroe was not only the last of his kind - the line remaining giant to have stood tall against the British in the 1770s and 80s — but in many ways the first of his kind. Not only a second, universally beloved Washington, but a precursor to bold, enterprising heads of state who eagerly and casually took their seat at the table at the head of the free world. America still operates under the Monroe playbook.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Book Richardson sentenced

Discussing the implications of the Book Richardson sentencing with Jason Barr.

Monday, June 03, 2019

"Redout" Review

Tight turns, roads lined with power-ups and sci-fi-flavored tracks pules "Redout," the latest challenger to try to take the wheel away from the incomparable "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe."

Developer 34BigThigngs prioritizes blazing speed above all else, sacrificing realism and nuance in favor of forward momentum. The result is a slick, easy-maneuvering futuristic arcade racer that recaptures the feel of "F-Zero."

Three years after it released on PS4, "Redout" drifts to Switch with scarlet-eyed ferocity.

The setting is 2560. With 28 vehicles at your disposal, each offering varying road grip, recharge speed and steering. You take to the track to earn medals, refine your technique and prepare for the next big throwdown.

While the experience "Redout" provides doesn't exactly burts with depth, there is plenty there for racing fans to tinker with and obsess over.

The visuals may struggle to keep up with the blistering speed of the proceedings, but overall, the Switch makes a fitting home for the off-kilter, high-intensity races. While the "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" spot at the lead of the pack, "Redout" proves to be worth a pit stop.

Publisher provided review code.