Wednesday, August 23, 2023


Disney Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: Beyond Halloween Town: The Story, the Characters, and the LegacyDisney Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: Beyond Halloween Town: The Story, the Characters, and the Legacy by Emily Zemler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thirty years after it first hit screens, "The Nightmare Before Christmas" still stands as required viewing when holidays roll around. The fantastical melding of horror, whimsy and

Emily Zenker's gorgeous coffee table book delves into the mythos, hype and legacy surrounding the 1993 stop-motion masterpiece, finding nuggets of trivia that have likely eluded even the film's most obsessive followers.

Its 168 pages are crammed with anecdotes, photos, interviews and oral histories that surround the film's historical footprint.

There are also nods to the film's spiritual successors, such as "Coraline" and "Frankenweenie." There are also glimpses of the sundry merchandise that the film has sired, with its characters as firmly integrated into the fabric of holiday decorations as skeletons and Jack-o-lanterns.

While an outsider's perspective may have been more complete -- this book is clearly a Disney-sanctioned product -- the book served its passionate audience well.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Game Review: 'Red Dead Redemption' (Switch)

Whenever a Rockstar Games product shows up on a Nintendo console, it's always a bit of a novelty. The decidedly adult-aimed games' presence on a traditionally kid-friendly outlet seems incongruous.

Like most of its predecessors that have carved out the oddball path, "Red Dead Redemption" trots along with charm and guilty-pleasure pomp. The game's 2018 prequel may be roundly agreed upon as the superior, but the sense of free-wheeling fun in the 2010 original makes it the one that's more fun to pick up and play in short, nostalgic spurts.

While the prequel boasts the fine grain and introspection of a John Ford film, John Marston's lonesome, revenge-fueled Wild West odyssey has the easygoing pizzazz of a spaghetti Western. Its villains are more outrageous, its missions more ludicrous and gameplay more arcadey. Despite its mature trappings, it's an excellent choice for a Switch port.

With load times that seem quicker and crisper visuals than the creaky Xbox 360/PS3 origins, "Red Dead Redemption 2" hums along in a more accessible and enjoyable version than its older counterpart. 

While the $50 asking price may be steep, the opportunity to take the game with you wherever you go is an opportunity too good to pass up. 

Add in that the zombie-driven DLC, "Undead Nightmare" is included, and you've got a deal more appealing than a huckster hocking snake oil on a wooden crate. Whenever the "Red Dead Redemption" itch creeps back into my saddle, this is the version that will  be my ride or die.

Publisher provided review code.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Early Game Review: 'Madden NFL 24'

Like a veteran who's coming off an injury-beleaguered season that came up short of expectations, "Madden NFL 24" is looking to reclaim its throne as the king of the sports game landscape with the lumbering, fist-pumping authority of cover store Josh Allen.

With refined mechanics, slick animations and enhanced presentation, "Madden NFL 24" seems well-suited to accomplish its goals both on-field and off, and also boasts a bravado and chip on its shoulder. It's been years since a Madden released seemed so explosive and free-wheeling. That's largely due to the game's new bones, which are built on a tech suite called SAPIEN.

There's a refreshed and revitalized feel to the core gameplay. The FieldSENSE gameplay, which allows AI to smooth out rough edges and guide decisions to reflect the genuine tendencies of teams and players.

While nearly every mode has gotten wholesale improvements, I found the biggest upgrades in the card-based fantasy football sim, Madden Ultimate Team. A newfound sense of momentum helps sink you deep into the flow of tinkering with and upgrading your squad, thanks to a restructured menu flow and a steady drip of incremental challenges that give you reason to return again and again.

On the field, the passing and pass defense games have gotten the most care. Quarterback improvisation is rewarded with more angles and fewer scripted defensive maneuvers, and a buffed-up bump-and-run and suite of zone coverage options makes you feel more in control when you're on the defensive end. 

The ongoing game of cat and mouse between mobile quarterbacks and edge rushers and linebackers who blitz or drop back into coverage is tantalizingly realistic, all buzzing around with refreshed animations, including 1,700 alone dedicated to tackling.

The addition of MUT crossplay among the PS5, Xbox X/S and PC platforms is also appealing, making it less of a stressor to coordinate with your friends before deciding which system to buy the game on, while stretching the base of the multiplayer community to its maximum. 

While initial impressions may be sparkling, it will be in that multiplayer arena where the game is truly tested. The ongoing months of developer responses to community demands will spell out the final judgment of the game's success. After all, everyone has a plan until someone hits you in the facemask. At least this version of Madden feels ready for the inevitable collision of lofty expectationa with harah reality.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Early Game Review: 'Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition'

 Methodical and introspective, "Kentucky Route Zero" has captivated indie audiences since its original act released in 2011. That audience expanded considerably in 2020 when "TV edition opened the doorway to consoles, and then again late last year when the game made its way to mobile.

Now its long and winding road has led "Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition" to the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, and the game seems to have come full circle. 

A takeoff on ancient text-based adventures, buttressed with point-and-click accessibility, the slow burn from Annapurna Interactive seems at home and comfortable in its anachronistic ways.

An engaging and engrossing slow burn, the writing and storytelling sizzle with the elegance of a page-turning novel.

Parsed into five acts, the narrative follows a loosely-connected group of travelers who are wandering through the fringes. 

Themes including loss, regret and the yearning for something more creep through the clever, twisting plotlines. At different turns hilarious, sad and thought-provoking, the game has a way of haunting you in between play sessions.

Posing more questions than answers, "Kentucky Route Zero" thrives on its open-ended nature, with the meandering ease of a long-haul driver who is set on appreciating the journey. It's a road well worth heeding the call of its assuring, yet unsettling, rhythms.

Publisher provided review code.