Friday, October 29, 2021

Book Report: "The Sandman"

The SandmanThe Sandman by Dirk Maggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A top-notch radio play-style adaptation of some of Neil Gaiman's greatest writing, the Audible adaptation loses little in translation to audio.

Because of the dreamlike, theater-of-the-mind-style nature of "The Sandman" anthology, this may be the strongest possible medium for the storytelling. The bluntness of a film or TV series adaptation might take away from the depth and grandiosity of the material.

Gaiman's narration leads the charge from an excellent voice cast, which includes James McAvoy, Kat Dennings, Bebe Neuwirth and Taron Egerton. The application of music and effects is pitch-perfect, rather than shoehorned into the production in the clumsy manner typical of audiobooks and podcasts.

Bouncing across myriad time periods, settings and species, Gaiman's finely-woven tapestry explores the intricacies of dream and desire in a haunting manner. His series has echoes of "The Twilight Zone" and "Black Mirror."

Fan service also abounds, with connections to the larger DC superhero universe present, without taking center stage. This is thought-provoking and challenging fiction meant for comic book readers ready to graduate to a higher plane of thoughtful analysis.

There's a reason Gaiman's creation has stood the test of time and is continually regarded as a great work of transmedia art. This production only solidifies its grandiosity.

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Monday, October 25, 2021

"Far Cry 6" Review

"Far Cry 6" does its best to shake the exploration-craft-conquer series out of its rut with plenty of Latin flair. 

The gaming equivalent of an exploitation film, the work from Unisoft Toronto leans into stereotypes -- very much in an absurd manner reminiscent of the "Just Cause" series. It's on you to take down the malevolent dictator of a banana republic. 

Along the way, you befriend a bloodthirsty croc -- along with a few other animal helpers in the vein of "Far Cry Primal" -- and face off with the looming grip of Anton Castillo, who is played with ferocious intensity by Giancarlo Esposito.

Esposito's performance -- though used sparingly -- bestows a grander cachet than previous "Far Cry" games had, granting the game more of a serialized TV series flair than the cartoonish nonsense it might have been.

The game gives you a bewildering amount of options, allowing you to take on missions in a number of creative ways. There are plenty of side missions, as well as a ton of hidden areas to seek out and explore.

If you're plowing through the "Far Cry 6" story, you're just doing things wrong. Far more satisfaction awaits those who dig into the sandbox and mess around. The physics, visuals and story twists invite you to stick around rather than rush.

A sleek, gorgeous game that is as rich in character as it is in visuals -- a counterpoint to the dry, stodgy "Far Cry 5" -- "Far Cry 6" is something of a rebirth for the beloved but stale franchise. It's a big event, watercooler style game that's just the thing to sink you into your couch as the thermometer starts to dip. There's nothing like cuddling up with Guapo for a fine meal of a video game.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

"G-Darius HD" Review

A flashback to the 32-bit shooter era, "G-Darius HD" powers up the stalwart bullet hell franchise for Switch deployment.

Since the original game's arcade launch in 1987, the series has thrived on flashy visuals pulsing with fantasy-themed elements. Many fans believe the series peaked a decade later with the release of G-Darius, which introduced paradigm-shifting graphical boosts and level design.

"G-Darius HD" ups the ante further. Taito Corporation took deep care to pay respect to the beloved original, while adding considerable polish and ease-of-life enhancements.

Due to the side-scrolling nature of the game, it seems tailor-made for the Switch, particularly the gorgeous screen of the new OLED model.

The difficulty level remains monumental, which means you're in for a ton of frustration, as well as the thrilling sense of triumph once you take down particularly tough levels and bosses.

The game's replayability is immense due to its difficulty level, but it would have been nice to see a fuller-featured revamp that added extras, other "Darius" titles and more online interaction.

Still, for fans of one of the great shmups, it's tough to top "G-Darius HD," which reinvents the classic for a new era.

Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

"Space Invaders Invincible Collection" Review

A satisfyingly robust collection of "Space Invaders" titles, "Space Invaders Invincible Collection" stacks 11 permutations of the interstellar shooter into one tight Switch package.

The anthology is a time machine that takes you back to quarter-popping arcade games, with increasingly tumultuous levels.

The games span decades, and include reinventions such as "Space Invaders Extreme" and the "Super Space Invaders '91." The fan-favorite "Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders" also makes an appearance.

Original black-and-white and color versions of the arcade OGs also pop up as well. 

They are by far the weakest components of this slate, but their hardcore retro appeal can't be overlooked. It's a thrill for old-school gamers to start with the originals and work your way forward.

Online leaderboards and instruction slates round out the package nicely. It's tough to imagine a future "Space Invaders" compilation topping this one in any meaningful way.

If you want more "Space Invaders" than this, you're just being greedy.

 Publisher provided review code.


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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Book Report: "The Tipping Point"

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big DifferenceThe Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would dub this book "the ultimate term paper." Incisive research and clever applications make this a think piece with teeth.

With tremendous ambition, Malcolm Gladwell sets out to change the way people think and react to word-of-mouth advertising. Using an inconsistent but generally convincing array of case studies, he probes inside the inner workings of social phenomena, tracing them to their humble beginnings.

A few of Gladwell's examples ring hollow -- particularly a worshipful deconstruction of "Blue's Clues" and a questionable study of how 1980s TV news talking heads influenced voters -- but in general the book is sharp and illuminating.

Gladwell's pompous tone is a little distracting at times, but you have to set any prejudice aside and let the egghead on a mission keep his flow. At least he never bores, which is more than you can say for most term papers.

"The Tipping Point" should be a textbook in an essential marketing class at every business school.

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Monday, October 11, 2021

Book Report: "American Dirt"

American DirtAmerican Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Accusations of cultural appropriation distract from the torrent of research and authenticity that Jeanine Cummins channels into her writing.

Even though she can't fulfill the promise of her setup with a fully satisfying conclusion, her narrative about the struggles of a mother and her son to evade cartel assassins to make it north of the border is powerful and illuminating.

Careful to paint a respectful and inquisitive -- while still foreboding -- tale of the migrants' journey, Cummins uses eloquence and skilful emotional insight to deliver an often transcendent tale. Packed with stunning twists -- although maybe one or two too many -- and penetrating insight, the book feels like a product of experience rather than study.

Since so much of the book takes place in Southern Arizona and Sonora, the book has particularly high resonance for those from the Tucson and Nogales areas. "American Dirt" is a story that screams to be told, and Cummins was just the right author to answer the call.

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