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Review: Ready Player One

Review: Ready Player One

ready coverReady Player One is the highly anticipated movie based on the book of the same title by Ernest Cline. It is a love letter by Cline to many aspects of nerd culture. By creating a futuristic world of destitution where the only prospect of bettering yourself is through a virtual world Cline is able to incorporate many of his favorite things.

Cline’s world takes place in the year 2045. The real world is low on natural resources and space. People live in cramped trailers stacked on top of each other. There aren’t many jobs available forcing most people use the online world, The OASIS, to acquire any kind of currency. Upon his death one of the creators and the owner of The OASIS, James Halliday, declared a contest to see who would become his successor. A series of three “Easter Eggs” have been hidden in The OASIS for those who can find and win them. The winner of all three will gain control of The OASIS and all of Halliday’s assets. People called “gunters” search for the eggs. Some through the corporate sponsorship of IOI, others in clans and a few search independently.

One of those few is a teenage boy named Wade Watts. He has nothing. Well nothing other than a love of games, everything from the 1980s and an obsession with finding Halliday’s clues. Using the gamertag of “Parzival” Wade emersess himself in all things Halliday and plays his way through The OASIS.

The movie did differ from the book. I do not want to go into too much detail and spoil the movie. What I will say is that I liked most of the changes. In fact, it is one of the few circumstances where I preferred the movie to the book.

I really enjoyed the movie. I loved the pace, which was much faster than the book. The graphics were amazing. Ready Player One is such a joy to watch. The transitions from the gritty life of the real world to the vibrance of The OASIS alone make the movie worthwhile.

The soundtrack was full of fun tracks that fit the storyline. I felt other members of the audience around me moving to the music. 

I would highly recommend going to see Ready Player One. If you haven’t read the book you will still enjoy the movie. The book version has so much more of the lore if you want a more indepth look at the world that Cline wrote.

Always keep sparkling!  

 

Recap Review: Tomb Raider (PS1)

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It’s a groundbreaking video game that stars a rare female protagonist. It’s been adapted into two movies starring Angelina Jolie, with a new reboot starring Alicia Vikander coming to theaters on March 16th. Thia the Bard has already written an excellent article for Real Women of Gaming about the impact that it had on the gaming industry with its famous protagonist, Lara Croft. It’s the one and only Tomb Raider!

It’s also a game that I never tried playing until recently. But then, lo and behold, I managed to find a copy in my local retro game store for $6, and here we are.

Tomb Raider, originally released for the PlayStation 1, Sega Saturn, and PC, stars Lara Croft, an adventurous woman who likes exploring dangerous locations and finding priceless artifacts. The game begins with Jacqueline Natla hiring her to find a piece of a scion in the mountains of Peru- but Lara is soon betrayed and strikes out to find the rest of the pieces on her own.

When I first started playing this game, I realized just how much modern games have spoiled me. I’m used to playing through tutorials that hold my hand the entire time, telling me exactly what buttons to press in every situation. Tomb Raider has a tutorial, but it’s not part of the main game. Instead, you can access Lara’s home in the main menu, and she’ll guide you through jumping, running, walking, etc. But even then, there’s no “press X to perform an action.” It’s always “press the jump button” or “press the action button.” You want to know which button’s the jump button? Well, you’ll just have to read the manual or figure it out yourself, because Lara’s not talking.

So I was completely out of my league when I first dove into the adventure and had to backtrack to Lara’s house to figure out what I needed to do. That said, I love the setup. It’s perfect for experienced gamers who don’t need a repeat lesson at the start of every playthrough, and also great for people like me who tend to start games, stop them when life gets in the way, and then pick them up again months later. The tutorial’s there to refresh your memory whenever you need it, and then you can jump right back into the actual game.

Unfortunately, the controls and graphics haven’t aged well. It can be difficult to navigate a three-dimensional environment with a control pad instead of a control stick.  I’ve done it in the past with DS games like Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. But Tomb Raider felt clunkier, perhaps because it’s on a bigger screen with wider areas to explore. Fortunately, the developers added the “walk” command that allows Lara to move slowly through treacherous areas, and while walking, she cannot fall over a ledge no matter how much you push her. This helps out a lot.

(Also, yes, some PS1 controllers come with control sticks, but the ones that I own did not work with Tomb Raider.  Lara only ever moved when I directed her with the control pad.)

Obviously, most games from the PS1-era have not stood the test of time in terms of how they look.  So it is with Tomb Raider. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the silliness of polygon characters bobbing their heads up and down as they “talked” in certain cutscenes, if only for nostalgic reasons. The cutscenes that take place in-between levels have a higher quality.  Although, again, that’s not saying much. It looks great for a PS1 game.

The visuals may look awkward, but Tomb Raider has good voice acting for its short cutscenes and Lara’s tutorial. It also has a different approach to its soundtrack compared to other video games that I’ve played in the past. You’ll hear musical themes throughout the game, but only at specific points, and not for very long. It usually starts up when you reach a significant area or come across a certain enemy. The rest of the time, you explore the tombs in silence. In this way, the soundtrack gives you a sense of where you are and how you’re progressing through the game. However, it’s no guarantee of anything. There are situations, such as the final fight in the Tomb of Qualopec, where the enemy attacks Lara with no musical warning whatsoever and you have to act fast.

Finally, there’s Lara Croft herself.  I like her character and how she prefers exploring tombs “for sport,” as she puts it, rather than for riches. Additionally, I think it’s really neat that while Lara does battle a couple of male antagonists, the main villain in the first Tomb Raider is another woman. I wasn’t expecting that at all.

Yes, Lara’s character design is problematic with her unrealistically large breasts shown on the cover.  But, for what it’s worth, the actual game doesn’t focus on her appearance as much as it focuses on her love of tomb raiding and action skills.  As Cracked.com put it in their article, “6 Glitches That Accidentally Invented Modern Gaming:” “Lara is strong, independently wealthy, beautiful, smart, and great at what she does.”  And I enjoyed have the opportunity to go on exciting adventures with a smart, capable, adventurous woman as the playable character.

Overall, I’ve had a mixed experience with Tomb Raider. I love the concept of exploring ancient tombs to find powerful artifacts before the Evil Organization gets there first. I like Lara’s character too. But it’s not a series that I’m dying to continue playing. There’s only so many times that I can miss a jump before I stop having fun and start feeling frustrated. Then again, that’s probably just me and my own lack of gaming skills. I’m still looking forward to the new movie, and I’ll probably try out the Square-Enix reboot on the PS4 someday.

Review: Luigi’s Mansion

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I’ve heard that gamers consider Luigi’s Mansion to be a classic from the Nintendo GameCube era. Personally, I’d given it a try once before and didn’t get very far before I lost interest. But that was years ago, so why not try again?

Well, I tried, and I did end up enjoying it. It’s just not a game that I’d want to play over and over again.

Here’s the premise: Luigi, the lovable brother of the famous Super Mario, has just won a mansion. That sounds great, except that Luigi doesn’t recall entering a contest in the first place. When he arrives, he discovers that it’s filled with ghosts and that Mario’s trapped somewhere inside! Luckily, there’s a quirky old ghost hunter named Professor E. Gadd (I love that name) who equips our hero with a Poltergust 3000 that will suck up any attacking ghosts.

As he clears each room of ghosts with his new vacuum-weapon, it’s up to Luigi to figure out what happened to Mario and who’s responsible for trapping them in the mansion.

First, I love the music that plays throughout Luigi’s Mansion. It’s spooky and playful, so it fits the game well. It’s cute how Luigi will hum or whistle along as he walks through each room. He’s a great character; while he doesn’t speak much, he’s very expressive. Plus, you have to admire him for fighting off ghosts single-handedly, even when he’s clearly scared out of his mind, because he loves his brother that much.

In theory, the gameplay is simple: Luigi uses his magic vacuum to suck up ghosts. As he goes through the house, he’ll also uncover elements medals that let him use fire, water, and ice on the environment and special ghosts.

That’s all fine and good, except this means that Luigi’s Mansion centers on aiming in the right direction with the Poltergust and I cannot aim to save my life. It’s one of the reasons why I usually don’t play shooters, and why my weapon of choice in Bioshock was the wrench. Every time an arrow challenge comes up in a Zelda dungeon, I waste countless arrows trying to hit the target while groaning in agony. So that made Luigi’s Mansion more frustrating for me than fun. But if that’s something you’re good at, you’ll have no problem conquering Luigi’s Mansion.

Still, the longer I played, the more I found myself enjoying the game. It’s fun to search the house for ghosts. Some are Boos, some look like blobs with faces, and then there’s a special type: the Portrait Ghosts. Professor E. Gadd once had them trapped in paintings, until they escaped right before the start of the game. They each have a unique design and personality, though most of them aren’t hard to capture compared to regular ghosts.

It’s also worth mentioning that Luigi’s Mansion is a short game that you can complete within a couple of days, depending on how much time you spend on it. It only has four “areas” to unlock, plus the room of the final boss. Since I wasn’t extremely invested in the game, I didn’t mind its length. Others may find that aspect disappointing.

If you have a GameCube and you love Luigi, Luigi’s Mansion is a game worth playing. It’s not my favorite video game, but I don’t regret trying it out.

Thimbleweed Park: A Review

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Hey, do you like point and click adventures? Twin Peaks? Maniac Mansion? If you said yes to one of these, then this is a game for you! If not, try it anyway! Why? Well, let me tell you in this review.

CUE THE THEME SONG!

…Okay, I don’t have one since this is a written blog, but that would be cool…

Thimbleweed Park is a great point-and-click adventure. What is point-and-click? You use actions and mix it with people and objects on screen. For example, you click “use” and then click on a computer, then the character will say something like, “I don’t feel like using the computer today. It’s just gonna tell me more about the world ending. I have Fox News for that.” And it can lead to some vary funny dialogue and interactions.

Story
In 1987, there is a mysterious murder in a small town. FBI agents are there to solve the murder, and along the way, encounter a greater mystery, along with strange citizens and a lot of secrets. Granted, that premise is not original, but the way it is done makes it so good. The characters help to make this game wonderful. Also, it is confirmed that this is, in a way, a sequel to Maniac Mansion, complete with returning characters, settings, and plenty of Easter eggs. You don’t have to play Maniac Mansion to get all of the references, but if you have played it, (or watch a playthrough) you will get a lot more humor out of Thimbleweed Park.

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Characters
You end up controlling five characters throughout the game, and, wow, are they something. You have two FBI agents… or are they? They certainly have another reason to be on this case. There is a clown, a vulgar insult comic who once had a claim to fame but is now washed up. You have a game developer, who wants nothing more than to make games, to her family’s dismay. Finally, you have a ghost, a father who only wants to talk to his daughter one last time. Alongside these mains are a list of side characters, such as a sketchy sheriff/coroner/hotel clerk, “The Pigeon Brothers” which are two sisters dressed up as pigeons, ghosts, a town drunk, a guy in a pizza costume, and more!

Gameplay
It plays pretty well. This is a multi-platform game and it works well on the PC, but I ended up playing the Xbox One version. With that, it is weird at first for a point-and-click. However, when you figure out all the buttons and hints, you can easily adapt to it. Since it is a point-and-click game, it has a lot of puzzles. Fear not, for they have a in-game hint hotline that you can call. There is also 3000 numbers that you can call in the phonebook, which is weird for a game that only has 80 people living in the town. There is even a puzzle that makes you watch the Kickstarter video in order to solve a puzzle.

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Faults
The version I had seemed to have a lot of cut content from earlier games. Now, I am unsure if this was due to me playing on casual mode (don’t judge, it was my first time playing this type of game). However, when I looked at trailers and some let’s plays, there is something missing. There are parts to puzzles that are cut out and missing characters that I have seen in earlier gameplays. There is a whole location at a radio station that’s just completely gone, and you can see this in-game with items and locations what were meant for bigger puzzles. To me, that takes a lot of the fun out of this. The ending (spoilers at the end), though interesting, is a bit of a let down, depending how you look at it.

Overall
Thimbleweed Park is a solid game with tons of humor and 4th-wall-breaking jokes, nods and Easter eggs to prior point-and-click adventures, and solid characters. The music is really good for this type of game as well. It runs about 4-6 hours long, give or take the time for longer interactions. Overall, I give this a good 4/5 pixelated dead bodies. New or not to this genre of gaming, I say give this one a shot.

SPOILERS

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Review: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

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All rise for the debut of Apollo Justice, the newest defense attorney in the Ace Attorney series!

The game has been remade recently for the Nintendo 3DS, but was originally released as a Nintendo DS game and it’s also available on iOS and Android devices. You don’t need to play the previous games to understand the story or characters, but I highly recommend doing so because they’re awesome.

Apollo Justice, the fourth entry, takes place seven years after the seemingly happy conclusion of Phoenix Wright’s story in Trials and Tribulations. Unfortunately, we discover that Phoenix has since lost his badge after being tricked into presenting forged evidence in court. Now he’s been accused of murder, and his only hope lies in newcomer Apollo Justice, who has idolized Phoenix for years.

These events kick off a new story with Apollo as the playable character, assisted by Phoenix’ teenage daughter, Trucy. The duo faces off against Klavier Gavin, a prosecutor who also happens to be a famous rock star. He likes to play air guitar after raising an objection. Because if these lawyers aren’t quirky to a fault, it’s not an Ace Attorney game.

Klavier ended up becoming my favorite character in this game. Granted, I’ve written before that the prosecutors are my favorite aspect of Ace Attorney, so that’s not much of a shock. It’s Klavier’s personality that surprised me. Previous prosecutors have helped Phoenix on certain occasions, but only after going through a good round of character development. Klavier is a nice guy from the get-go. He lets Apollo and Trucy have access to the crime scenes, gives them discount tickets to his concerts, and occasionally helps them out when he sees that Apollo’s on the right track but isn’t presenting the right evidence to the judge.

That’s not to say that he lets Apollo off easy. They’re still rivals in the courtroom. Nonetheless, he presents a change of pace that’s fun and refreshing.

I wish I could say the same for Apollo and Trucy. They’re nice characters and I like them well enough. But they’re basically Phoenix and Maya 2.0: a snarky, intelligent lawyer with a passion for justice and his cheerful, quirky assistant with a mysterious family past.

On the one hand, I do like them because this dynamic worked great in the Phoenix trilogy. If it’s not broken, why fix it? On the other hand, it would have been nice to see a more distinct difference between Phoenix and Apollo. Otherwise, why bother creating a new character? In the first AA game, we learn what inspired Phoenix and Miles Edgeworth to become lawyers. We never get that kind of insight about Apollo.  We get some backstory about him, but it’s revealed through other characters and we don’t get to see how it impacts Apollo.

Additionally, both Phoenix and Apollo lose their mentors early in the game, albeit under different circumstances. We see how the loss of Mia Fey affects Phoenix throughout his entire trilogy. And while Kristoph’s situation is a big deal to Apollo initially, and comes back into play later in the story, Apollo doesn’t reference him much in-between. There’s less of a connection between them. When his mentor does return, there’s more emphasis on how Kristoph impacted Phoenix’ life than Apollo’s.  As the new player character, Apollo deserved better.

Yes, Phoenix Wright returns as well, as an occasional mentor to Apollo. He’s a lot like Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, as the lovable hero who becomes disillusioned after losing everything. I didn’t mind his personality shift. Underneath it all, he still feels like the same character, just at a different stage of his life after suffering from a traumatic situation. (Then again, I felt the same way about Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi…)

So, having discussed the story and characters- which is necessary when it’s such a story-driven title- what about the game itself?

Apollo Justice plays out much like the previous entries in the series. You alternate between investigating a murder and proving your client’s innocence in court. There’s one new trick to the cross-examinations: Apollo can use an ability called “Perceive” on witnesses in court. You pick a statement in the testimony and zero in on the person’s face, hands, etc. to find whatever nervous tic they’re showing. Doing so helps you to see when the witness is lying.

Apollo Justice also has a couple of tweaks that make the game easier to play. For example, if you fail to present the right evidence too many times and lose all of your “health,” the game gives you the option to return to that last moment with a full health bar. That makes the courtroom sections much less frustrating.

Although none of the cases reached the level of “Farewell My Turnabout” or “Bridge to the Turnabout,” I thought they were all solid and fun to solve. They formed more of a cohesive arc this time around, with every case having some relevance to the overall plot.

If you enjoyed the original Phoenix Wright games, I recommend Apollo Justice. It doesn’t exceed expectations, but any time spent in Phoenix’ world is time well spent for me.

Bears Vs Babies: A game review

20170627_171516 On July 4th, while many Americans celebrated with Fireworks and cookouts, my friends and I sat down to play Bears Vs Babies. As fans of the creators, we had been waiting to play it since the game had been announced. We were not disappointed.

Bears Vs Babies is honestly just a very entertaining game. It is also fairly easy once the players get started. There is a mat, and cards that are shuffled together. Some are babies who have different slots on the mat. There are some cards to give the players different actions. The other cards are pieces to help the player make a totally awesome monster!

The game encourages players to first go through a practice round, which is always helpful, depending on the experience level of the players. After they are comfortable, then it is time to get down to business and make some monsters. Players are given a number of cards. All babies are discarded face down on their appropriate color slots. Monsters are put together during each player’s turn.  

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The tricky part is that the cards have to line up with the stitches so it may take a few turns before a monster can be properly assembled. There are points on the cards which let you know how powerful each card is, so the more cards the more powerful your monster. All of the cards with the heads have a color that correlates with a baby pile, or they have a rainbow meaning they could fight any group. The goal of the players is to defeat the evil baby armies. If the player can, then they get the points. Some cards in the deck enable other players to trigger a fight between a player of their choice and the baby armies so it is a good idea to pay attention to what your friends are building.

Bears Vs Babies is brought to us by the brilliant minds of Elan Lee and Matthew Inman. Yes, the creators of Exploding Kittens. Bears Vs Babies has all of the humor of Exploding Kittens. It felt quick to play between trying to make my monster and strategizing against my friends. The art on the cards is well done. The monsters are funny and sometimes even fancy. In short, it was a great game that I cannot wait to play again.

I would rate Bears Vs Babies: Must play.

Always keep sparkling!

Review: Diddy Kong Racing

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When I’m not playing video games or writing, I can be found working at the library. Every other month or so, I like to combine my job with my interests by bringing all kinds of video game systems to the library for people to play. When that happens, I’m always amused by the way everyone gravitates towards Mario Kart.

It doesn’t matter which Nintendo systems I put out, whether it’s the brand-new Switch or the Super Nintendo. It doesn’t matter what games I include. Splatoon 2? Super Smash Bros. Melee? Anything from Legend of Zelda? Just Dance? Nah, Mario Kart 64, Double Dash, or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will work just fine, thank you very much.

It makes perfect sense because the Mario Kart series is so much fun to play. It’s a game that you can enjoy whether you’re a hardcore or casual gamer. It’s more fun when you can race against one of your friends or family members, but I love it even when I’m playing by myself.

That said, Mario Kart isn’t my favorite racing game. That honor belongs to Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64. As kids, my brother and I, along with our friends, spent countless hours playing it. In Diddy Kong Racing, you have the option to choose from three different vehicles: car, hovercraft, or airplane. You’re also required to unlock racetracks in multiplayer mode by completing them in the single player adventure mode. But that’s less of an issue now, if you buy a used copy from your local retro game store with a preexisting save file.

Unlike Mario, Diddy Kong Racing has a story, albeit a very loose one. Diddy’s friend, Timber the Tiger, gets put in charge of his parents’ peaceful island. Unfortunately, a giant, evil pig called Wizpig arrives and conquers the island. Desperate to clear things up before his parents get home, Timber gathers up his friends to defeat Wizpig…by racing him. It makes no sense, but it’s just an excuse plot for racing. I do like that it’s there because it used to give me a feeling of accomplishment whenever my brother and I won enough races to unlock another part of the island.

Each track comes with extra items you can use to give your character a boost. They come in the form of balloons and they’re less random than Mario. Red balloons give you missiles, Blue gives you a speed boost, Green gives you obstacles to drop, Yellow gives you a shield, and Rainbow gives you a magnet that you can use to pull other racers behind you. Unless you’re in a tight spot, you’ll want to hold off using the balloons right away. Hitting a certain colored balloon two or three times will provide you with power-ups. For example, if you collect one red balloon, you’ll get one missile. If you collect two, your missile will have a higher accuracy. If you collect three reds, you’ll get ten missiles.

You’ll need all of the balloons you can find when you finish the regular racetracks. Diddy Kong Racing has four thematic “worlds” on the island: Dino Domain, Snowflake Mountain, Sherbet Island, and Dragon Forest. (After you’ve defeated Wizpig, you unlock a secret world with even more tracks.) Once you’ve completed the tracks that make up a particular world, you get to challenge the boss. And the bosses are definitely a challenge. They’re fast and they start running before you do. If you don’t hit every speed boost and enough red missile balloons, you’re doomed.

In addition to regular races, you can unlock different mini games in each world. My all-time favorite was Icicle Pyramid. It’s basically a family-friendly version of the Hunger Games. You and three other players get dropped into a pyramid course with a certain amount of lives. Using the Red missile balloons or the Green obstacle balloons, you have to try to take out everyone else before they kill you. My friends and I would often form alliances to knock off the computer AIs and then turn on each other. I was no Katniss Everdeen and often lost. But we all had a blast with it.

Diddy Kong Racing also has a fantastic soundtrack. Even if you’re struggling against Wizpig or one of the other bosses, the fast-paced music gets you pumped and ready to try again. Diddy Kong is bright and colorful as well. Although it’s obviously no Mario Kart 8, the graphics for this Nintendo 64 game still hold up.

I should also point out that Diddy Kong got a remake for the Nintendo DS. It’s okay, but I’m not a fan of it. They had to replace some of the characters, namely Banjo from Banjo Kazooie and Conker from Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and mini games like Icicle Pyramid can only be accessed by playing against a friend in multiplayer. So if you don’t know another person with a DS and a copy of the game, you’re out of luck.

(Fun fact: Speaking of Conker, he was my favorite racer in Diddy Kong. One day, I saw a game called Conker’s Bad Fur Day at the game store and got excited. A game starring that cute little squirrel that I loved? HOORAY! Thank God my innocent eleven-year-old self did not purchase it. I had no idea how much Conker’s personality had changed in that M-rated, South Park-esque game.)

So if you have a Nintendo 64 lying around, give Diddy Kong Racing a try! It’s a lot of fun and the bosses provide some serious challenges that you won’t necessarily find in other racing games.

…or you can play Mario Kart 64 instead. I won’t judge you. I’ll probably join you. It is Mario Kart, after all. 🙂