Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"Star Wars Episode I: Racer" Switch Review

When "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" came out in 1999, it was accompanied by a frontal assault of spin-offs from the then-long dormant franchise. Most of them were as divisive and underwhelming as the movie, but the pod racer game carved out a soft spot in many a young gamer's heart.

Old racing games -- even the old "Mario Kart" titles -- tend not to hold up as well as rose-tinted rear-view mirrors, and "Star Wars Episode I: Racer" is no exception. While still enjoyable for its loads of fan-service, short bursts of whimsical competition and old-school charm, there isn't quite enough there in this port to rekindle the N64-era flame.

Whether you're dodging attacks from Tusken Raiders, jumping lava lakes or swerving to avoid opponents, there's never a dull moment on the 21 tracks provided in the game. With nearly two dozen racers to choose from, there is also plenty of variety.

The problem is, the experience is just as one-dimensional every time around the horn. While Switch motion controls add a new dimension -- albeit a frustrating hindrance rather than a steadfast enhancement -- you're left with a flashy yet uninspired "F-Zero" wannabe.

Had the dev team put some effort into some remastered graphics, added online multiplayer and lessened the annoyance of the rubber band AI, they might have had something worthy of making a hyperdrive-style jump. As it stands, this is strictly a time capsule, and one that makes you recognize that racers of 1999 may be best left to the past.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

"Destrobots" Review

Access to all levels of gamers is the gameplan in "Destrobots." With the goal seemingly in mind to jostle for the attention of party game-minded Switch players, the pick-up-and-play antics are geared to allow just about anyone to slip into the flow intuitively.

The multiplayer-friendly top-down shooter lets you hunt down power-ups, line up explosive kills and romp through deceptively cheerful and bright levels.

Developer 7Levels studio sacrifices nuance and depth in the name of accessibility, but "Destrobots" makes up for the simplicity with a kinetic flair that echoes the likes of single-screen 1980s arcade games.

You can either slug it out with as many as three other opponents, or team up for a survive-and-advance Horde mode. It's a continually appealing challenge to double back in an effort to top your high scores and seek vengeance against friends who humiliated you in the last game.

While "Destrobots" may not do enough to stand out from the pack of similar Switch games, those who give it a try will find it tough to put down. Its combination of adorable and vengeful has charm and vigor to spare.

Publisher provided review code.

PHIL ON FILM: Shows and Movies Leaving Netflix in July 2020

For my full story, click here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

"Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade" Review

Packing seven billet hell shooters into one combustible package, "Darius Cozmic Collection" is a time machine that zaps you back to the golden years of gaming with a bottomless pocket full of quarters.

The 1980s and 90s classics are largely all variations of the same game -- "Darius" and the Japanese-titled spinoff/remake "Sagaia" -- but even slight changes make for ripple effects that give each version a distinct flavor.

Developer ININ Games masterfully delivers "old," "new" and "extra" versions of the original "Darius," a dual-screen version of "Darius II" and the sequel "Darius Gaiden." There are also two versions of "Sagaia."

For each game the formula is pretty much the same: You guide an underpowered ship through a barrage of enemy waves and environmental obstacles, gradually upping your attack and defense capabilities with modular upgrades.

Flashy bosses, fast-paced levels and dizzying visuals help entrance you, and the vicious difficulty level keeps you dying and replaying until your muscle memory catches up with your ambition.

With the usual remaster additions, such as save states and command mapping, as well as a replay system in place, "Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade" not only delivers the classic flavor, but buffs them up with modern conveniences that make them more palatable. Get those thumbs ready, because they'll be in for an 80s/90s-style workout.

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

BOOK REPORT: "Star Wars: Book of Lists"

What happens when you round up a galaxy of listicles? They become a book, and that's just what "Star Wars: Book of Lists."

Every bit as fascinating and trivial as its title would indicate, the 224-page collection takes you on a landspeeder ride through factoids from a galaxy far, far away both obscure and obvious; interesting and inane.

Credit author Cole Horton's dogged determination to fish out 100 topics amid the franchise's current canon. While the bulk of the material focuses on the nine mainline films, ad admirable range of spinoff films and series are also given some sort of acknowledgment.

Not meant to be read cover to cover, "Book of Lists" is best flipped through whimsically or used to page through as a reference book to settle -- or start -- debates among fellow geeks.

Packed with illustrations and delivered with slick presentation, the book makes much more sense to keep around as a physical copy rather than digitally. An ideal bathroom page-flipper, the book works best in quickly digestible, short bursts of fun.

Publisher provided review copy.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Book Report: "The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution"

The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French RevolutionThe Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Francis Fukuyama offers up a fascinating premise that he only manages to partially deliver. Promising he will deduce some sort of unified theory on how and why cultures develop various types of political infrastructure -- or at least explain why some cultures come up with different results than others -- he ends up with a scattershot grab bag of half-explanations and qualifiers.

Without going on to say it, Fukuyama seems to conclude that there is no way to predict how a particular society will develop. Each cohort of people is driven by a number of different factors, and there is no invisible hand nudging a group to one milepost or another.

Even though Fukuyama doesn't manage to prove much of anything, he makes a number of fascinating points that make his book worthwhile. The influence of a dominant religion in a culture seems to be the deciding factor on whether or not a particular form of government will stick.

Also, the way a society tolerates or rejects a stringent rule of law will influence not only the solidity of governmental infrastructure, but the economic success of the people as a whole. Finally, the amount of organization and resources supported the ability of each culture to export its manipulation onto the others.

The book is at its best when it dallies off its main path and delves into the buried details of how various cultures evolved their forms of governance over time, as well as the influence each had on another.

Jonathan Davis provides steady and smooth narration in the Audible version, but makes some occasional distracting pronunciation choices. Overall, he delivers the writing in the tone of an enthusiastic T.A., reflecting the conversationality of the author's work.

While the book seems like an attempt at a grandiose thesis that lost its way somewhere along the research aspect and ended up circling on itself, it's still a worthy read or listen for history and political science geeks. Just don't expect the jog on the treadmill to take you anywhere.

View all my reviews

Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

"Outbuddies DX" Review

"Outbuddies" is more 90s than games that were actually made in the 90s.

Wearing its Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis influences as proudly as a Hypercolor shirt with rolled-up sleeves, developer Julian Laufer channels his adoration of the 16-bit era into a sprawling Metroidvania opus.

You guide a duo of adventurers -- one human and the other robotic -- as they explore a sunken fortress teeming with hostile creatures that seem to have spawned from the overactive imagination of a 15-year-old.

Although "Outbuddies" ratchets up the challenge level enough to make you cry out to the heavens in frustration, there are also plenty of comedic nods and cheeky references to keep you chuckling.

You mix and match the protagonists' skills to confront cleverly-designed obstacles as you seek to gradually unlock the mysteries of the deep.

"Outbuddies" lays out a vast and challenging world that is as fun to get lost in as it is to work your way through. Expect plenty of backtracking, dead ends and overpowered bosses standing in your way, but all that adds to the twisted brand of masochistic fun that fuels the adventure.

If you bring a friend along, you'll get even more thrills out of "Outbuddies," which centers on cooperative ingenuity. Even when the challenges mount, the peppy soundtrack helps keeps your spirits up.

Bolstered by heartfelt storytelling, "Outbuddies" is more than a standard nostalgia trip. It's a reimagining of a well-worn genre that challenges you to keep hacking away at its myriad challenges.

Publisher provided review code.

Monday, June 08, 2020

"Minecraft Dungeons" Review

Credit Microsoft for failing to exploit the "Minecraft" franchise for all its ample groundswell of fans and renown. Continuing to build on the Mojang trademark of expanding and refining the base game rather than spreading resources on sequels and spinoffs, the gaming giant has behaved more like an indie studio than a massive conglomerate.

"Minecraft Dungeons," though, feels like something of a missed opportunity to capitalize on the years Mojang has spent laying the groundwork.

The game is a thin, inconsequential lark that seems as though it could have used more time in the conception phase. A loot-and-upgrade action RPG in the vein of "Diablo," "Minecraft Dungeons" tries to scoot by on its adorable look.

But there's little of the crafting and building flavor that series in which devotees thrive. The gameplay is slim and, arguably, dumbed down in order to accommodate players of all ages.

As many as four players can team up to hack and slash their way through the missions, which ramp up in difficulty considerably as you advance. Those who will get the most mileage out of "Minecraft Dungeons" will be multi-generational households who will be able to team up and share the giggles and frustration together.

Although there are ample opportunities to collect resources and upgrade weaponry with enchantments and other buffs, the game could use a few more modes and minigames to expand the package. Time will tell whether Mojang continues to support the game in the coming months and years, giving players reason to return for more. There is much more work to do to make the new entry worthy of its fabled name.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

"Red Wings: Aces of the Sky" Review

Playing fast and loose with concepts such as history, physics and bullet damage, "Red Wings: Aces of the Sky" takes a whimsical approach to the exploits of the Red Baron.

It's a game pulled out of Snoopy's daydreams.

Developer All In! Games takes a childlook fascination with the early days of aerial combat.

Forget the grainy black-and-white images of sputtering biplanes stored in your memory bank. In the "Red Wings" universe, the Triple Alliance face off against the Entente in battles that might be better described as cockfights rather than dogfights.

Whizzing bullets, swopping divebombs and impossibly effective spread attacks pummel the screen with pixellated shrapnel. You may mistake the combatants for 21st century stealth jets for the way they handle and distribute damage.

The leaps of fancy are largely welcome, because an ultra-realistic WWI aerial combat game would be a brittle and choppy grind filled with frustrating one-shot deaths and mechanical failure.

As breezy and free-flowing as the action is, though, it also feels a little slipshod and inconsequential. With World War I trappings serving as little more than skins for default mechanical birds of prey, there's not much authenticity to fuel the engines of those who lap up historical detail.

In an effort to please as wide an audience as possible, All In! sacrifices altitude by failing to pay tribute to the most rabid of era fans who might serve as the backbone of its community. Maybe a rougher flight would have made it possible to soar higher.

Publisher provided review code.

Monday, June 01, 2020

"Atomicrops" Review

The likes of "Animal Crossing" may provide welcome escapism for those overburdened by the stresses of daily life. But for those who need a little more conflict in their farming simulators, here sprouts the combustible "Atomicorps" to provide just that.

In the unorthodox act of adding pyrtoechnics and combat to what's known as a placid genre, Bird Bath Games has concocted an intriguing hybrid that yields a bumper crop of thrills.

As is usually the case with games based on tilling the land, you're out to maximize your harvests and yield maximum profits while stretching your resources to the extreme.

Toting along a water bucket and gardening tools, you're also packing heat. Mutated varmints run rampant, eager to ravage your garden, derailing your dreams of hauling in untold riches.

The real-time strategy aspect heightens the urgency of your products and layouts.

The oddball gameplay doesn't always flow, often coalescing in awkward bottlenecks that disrupt the momentum. Likewise, the action sometimes seems superfluous and as much a load of busywork as the planning and planting aspects.

Overall, though, the varied aspects of gameplay do more to complement than they do to detract from one another. That the wily ecosystem somehow functions is a delight to behold.

Publisher provided review code.