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Review: FAR: Lone Sails (2017)

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FAR: Lone Sails
2017

FAR: Lone Sails is an exploration adventure game by Swiss developer Okomotive. Available on PC, Xbox One and PS4. Where you traverse a dried-out seabed littered with the remains of a decaying civilization. Keep your unique vessel going, overcome numerous obstacles and withstand the hazardous weather conditions. How far can you make it? What will you find?

Now that that’s been said, I’ve beaten this game 5 times in 3 days and got 100% steam achievements. That’s something I rarely do. It isn’t a long game so beating it several times will only take a few hours. However, this game is full of magic.

Let me explain. In this game, you have an androgynous character traveling a grayscale landscape with red being the only other color. The art style is beautiful. As you side scroll in your large land vehicle, the scene is ever-changing. 

You start in a small house/workshop after taking a moment to honor the passing of, what I assume is your father or mentor. After leaving the building behind you walk until you come across a massive vehicle. It reminds me of many things, reminiscent of movies about a dystopian future, you do everything you can to keep your vehicle operating. 

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Stopping to gather items for fuel, solving puzzles to upgrade the vehicle, outrunning disasters. All while a quiet story is told in the background. A story without words, which can be the best story there is. As I travel, my mind races to try to fill in the blanks. Wondering if it’s a comment on our current society and where we are headed or it’s just a simple story to be interpreted how we wish. This was magic to me. 

As I stated, I played the game over and over, hoping to grasp more and get all 14 achievements on steam. Each playthrough I noticed something different, something I was surprised I hadn’t noticed before. Honestly, these discoveries excited me and now that I’ve achieved everything I may slowly go through one more time to see if I’ve missed anything else.

This is definitely a comfort game for me and I could see myself booting it up after a long/bad day. It’s stunning, well worth the price and time. I can’t wait to see what else this developer has to offer.

TL;DR: Great Game, Must Play

A Trip Through the SNES Classic: F-Zero

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It’s shameful, I know, but up until I got the SNES Classic, I’d never played a game in the F-Zero series.  I didn’t even know what type of game that it was, though the title sounded familiar.

For those in the same boat, F-Zero is a racing game set in the future.  It’s the series that introduced everyone to Captain Falcon, though he doesn’t have a clear presence in the first game.  If you’re a longtime fan or a newcomer like me, I recommend reading this interview with Kazunobu Shimizu, Yasunari Nishida, and Takaya Imamura, three of the original developers of F-Zero.  They share some great stories about the history behind the game and the reasoning behind some of the decisions they made.  Some highlights include: Captain Falcon was initially designed to be a mascot for the Super Nintendo system, not F-Zero, and that the game was set in the future to work around different programming issues.  They didn’t have the technology yet to create effective tires that turned, so they just took out the tires and designed hover cars for the racers.

The original game allowed you to pick between four different cars and race through three different sets of tracks: Knight, Queen, and King.  In a manner similar to Mario Kart, once you pick a set, you have to play through all of the tracks. I wish these games would just let me select a racetrack that I really enjoy and let me play it without going through hoops to get there.  That’s something that I appreciate more and more about Diddy Kong Racing.  (And yes, F-Zero has a Practice Mode that lets you do this, but only for seven tracks.)

Regardless, I fell in love with the original F-Zero. I couldn’t get over just how fast and smooth it feels, even when using a control pad.  It doesn’t have all the extra bells and whistles that you get with racing games like Mario Kart or Diddy-Kong.  You can’t pick up items that give you colorful shields or the infamous Blue Shell missiles.  But that’s not a bad thing at all.  It’s just straight, pure racing and I appreciated the change.

When you start a race, your hovercar has a Power gauge that functions similar to health.  If you hit the edge of the track, or your fellow racecars, your power diminishes.  If it drops down to zero, your hovercar will explode and it’s game over.  You can also fail if your hovercar goes completely off-track or if you fail to complete laps after a certain period of time.  It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of things, and it helps having Practice Mode available if one ever needs a quick refresher.

If there’s one thing that holds F-Zero back from being a perfect experience, it’s the lack of a multiplayer mode. While it is fun and challenging, playing against an AI can get boring after a while.  Having the option to play with friends would have made it even better and increased the replay value.

Still, I’m so glad that I had the chance to discover the original F-Zero on the Super Nintendo Classic.  I’ve had a blast playing it, and if the other games in the series are just as good, I’ll have to check them out too.  If you’re a fan of F-Zero and have any recommendations, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments!

I’m rating this game 9 out of 10 hovercars.

Review: Detective Pikachu (The Game)

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Between the movie adaptation coming out and one of my friends highly recommending the game to me, I finally decided to play Detective Pikachu.  It’s a spinoff of the Pokémon franchise for the Nintendo 3DS/2DS that’s not as bizarre as it sounds.  I had no idea what to expect from it.  What I got was a fun game that kids and diehard Pokémon fans should enjoy.

Detective Pikachu follows the adventures of a teenage boy named Tim Goodman, who’s looking for his missing father.  Harry Goodman was a famous police detective who went missing after a suspicious car accident.  Only his partner, Pikachu, could be found at the scene.

By the time that Tim arrives in Ryme City, two months after the incident, his father’s Pikachu has somehow gained the ability to speak- but only Tim can understand him.  He presents himself as “the Great Detective Pikachu” and wants to help Tim find his missing father.  Unfortunately, Pikachu isn’t much help in one respect: he suffers from amnesia and can’t recall what happened during the accident.  So Tim and Pikachu team up to investigate Harry’s last case and figure out why he disappeared.

The game is divided into nine “chapters,” each concerning a unique case.  Tim and Pikachu work together to solve crimes by interrogating suspects and searching the crime scene.  Pikachu gives the duo an advantage by talking to all of the Pokémon witnesses and translating their testimony for Tim.  It’s all very straightforward and you’re not likely to get stuck on any point in this game.  If you’re looking for a serious challenge, don’t expect to find one with Detective Pikachu.

Don’t expect to collect any Pokémon or engage in battles either.  In the world of Detective Pikachu, most people have one Pokémon as their “partner,” similar to Ash’s friendship with his own Pikachu.  The secretary at the Baker Detective Agency has a Fletching that delivers mail for her, a talented violinist works with a Kricketune that helps her practice, and a police office partners with a Manetric that uses his nose to solve crimes.

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get as much out of the world building or the Pokémon cameos as I ought to have.  As a kid, I stopped paying attention to the Pokémon franchise after the first movie and I’m only just starting to regain interest now.  My knowledge of Pokémon begins and ends with Gen 1.  As it is, I liked the game’s setting and the Pokémon that I encountered.  Lifelong fans will probably love everything about them.

This game does an impressive job with episodic storytelling.  Each case leads directly into the next and has some importance to the whole plot. When I think of other video games or TV shows that try to do this, they usually follow a certain format: the premieres and the finales are where all the important stuff happens.  Then you get a lot of “monster of the week” episodes in between that are loosely connected to what the characters hope to accomplish.  Without going into spoilers, I can say that that’s not the case with Detective Pikachu.  Granted, not every mystery directly ties back to Harry and his investigation.  But Pikachu and Tim always have a reason to be where they are and they find clues in every case that help them piece together the larger mystery.

Speaking of Tim and Detective Pikachu, they had a nice partnership and I liked all of the human characters in the game.  However, I found Tim to be a little too flat and generic.  As of this writing, the movie hasn’t come out yet, so it’s too early to pass judgment on who will ultimately give the superior acting performances.  Still, based on what I’ve seen in the trailers, I’m enjoying Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith much more.

Overall, Detective Pikachu is a solid game and I recommend playing it if you have a Nintendo 3DS (or 2DS).  It’s simple to play, which makes it a good choice for young kids to try out.  Fans will enjoy the story, the setting, and the many different kinds of Pokémon. Enjoy it before you watch the movie!

Maid-Sama!: An Anime Review

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Everyone has different versions of themselves that they present to the world. Who we are at work or school verses who we are when in the comfort of our own homes. Sometimes these worlds collide before we are ready.

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In Maid Sama! that is exactly what happens. Misaki Ayuzawa is a girl on a mission. She and her female classmates are the minority at Sieka High School as it has just become co-ed. The rowdy boys of the school are harassing the girls and Misaki is not about to stand for it. With her top marks, get it done attitude and a passion for equality she becomes the first female class president. To protect the girls and to get the boys in line her persona at school that of a unrelenting dictator.

However Misaki has a secret. At home her mother is ill. She has a younger sister and her father has left them in debt. So she has a part time job at a Maid Cafe. Yes, outside of school she wears a maid outfit and waits on patrons with the most demure of dispositions. What happens when her a popular boy from school discovers her job?

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The story of Maid Sama! started off as a manga written by Hiro Fujiwara in 2006. The drama and the romance of the story attracted many readers. In 2010 Maid Sama! came to life in the form of an anime. Again the drama of the story and it’s continual twists drew viewers. The artistic style of the characters is lovely, particularly the differences in Misaki school verses maid looks. The music is cute, particularly the upbeat theme.

Maid Sama! is an anime that I would recommend to a viewer who is looking for a love story. There is a lot of humor in the series as well.

ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

Review: The Umbrella Academy

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Everyone wonders what it would be like to grow up with superpowers. How would we be? How would we take those powers and make our own justice? We grew up inspired by the heroes of comic books and want to be like them.

Netflix’s new hit show, The Umbrella Academy, gives viewers a look into the lives of superheroes. The children of the Umbrella Academy were adopted as babies by an eccentric billionaire. He schooled them, fed them, clothed them and trained them to fight. These children have grown up in the spotlight created for them and the consequences that come with that. Some of them left, running from their demons, and some were lost. Now those that are left have been called back to their childhood compound by the one thing that unites them, their “father.” They will be faced with a mystery that will lead them to a crisis. Will this dysfunctional and emotionally stunted group be able to band together to save the world one more time?

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The Umbrella Academy started off as a comic which was rolled out by Dark Horse Comics. Written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá this dark story took fans by storm in 2008. After rumors of a movie the title was picked up by Netflix as a series. We can all be grateful that Netflix did because The Umbrella Academy is almost too good. The line of dark realism and humor is straddled perfectly in this show.  

The casting is spot on and they give fantastic performances. The sets are masterfully crafted, really allowing the viewer to become immersed in this world. The soundtrack is perfection. It sets the mood for every scene and helps the audience to get to know the characters. The costumes were also perfection. Every character has their own look. It is clear that a lot of attention was put into giving us clues about the characters, both what they want to be and who they truly are, through their clothing. The cinematography is a thing of beauty.

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I would highly recommend The Umbrella Academy. I was blown away by the experience that is this show. Everything comes together to tell an interesting story. The characters are well thought out. You feel for them and root for them. My only words of caution are be careful about binge watching it, and you will, because when the ten episodes are over you will be left with a very real need for the next season. Seriously though, just go watch it.

ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!  

Review: Sacred, Vol. 1 (Manga)

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At Zenkaikon this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Lizbeth Jimenez, the author of the manga Sacred. I was first attracted to her booth because of the artwork hung around it. She creates anime style artwork that’s both adorable and creepy. It’s exactly my aesthetic.

I decided to pick up volume one of Sacred because of it.

What’s it about?
Cecero and Sheko are roommates. Teenagers in the country of Grandome, they live in a dorm and go to school full time as Wizards in Training. Cecero,  the famous son of the great sorceress Lady Alumrion, has a dream that he will prove himself today and receive a gift. The day that follows is horrifying, to say the least, but changes Cecero’s life forever.

What did I think?
Lizbeth Jimenez is immensely talented. Her artwork and witty dialogue bring these characters to life. The story is full of humor as well as darkness.

Cecero is a very low key character. He’s calm and collected, but that doesn’t stop him from trolling his best friend. Despite his status, he’s flawed and real. He’s just a teenage boy trying to get through school.

Sheko is a nervous little thing with something dark and powerful living inside him. He’s too shy to speak to the girl he likes, but will jump into action when his best friend is in trouble. Sheko is who I relate to the most because of this trait.

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As I said before, this artwork is my aesthetic. Cute at times and terrifying at others, Lizbeth Jimenez has a way of showing the macabre within delightfulness. I’m excited to read the rest of the series.

Would I recommend it?
Yes, I absolutely would. Please revel with me in the delightfully macabre and let me know what you think in the comments below!

You can learn more about the manga and it’s wonderful author here. You can purchase the manga here.

Kingdom Hearts III: The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

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Like many people, I’d waited almost thirteen years to play Kingdom Hearts 3.

Technically, you could say that I’ve been waiting since 2012, when I beat Dream Drop Distance. But thirteen sounds more impressive, and it’s been that long since Kingdom Hearts 2 came out in Japan. And ever since then, we’ve all hoped to hear Square-Enix announce development on Part 3. Instead, we got hit with a number of smaller titles on different consoles. All have proven to be important to the story to varying degrees and I enjoyed playing all of them. (Well, except Coded. Sorry, Coded.)

But now, here we are. I can say that I beat Kingdom Hearts 3 at long last. Many have asked, and many more have their own opinions regarding this one question: was it worth the wait?

My answer: yes and no.

Kingdom Hearts 3 was an emotional rollercoaster for me, a lot of ups and downs. When it’s good, it’s phenomenal. It surpassed some of my wildest hopes and dreams. But when it’s bad…yikes. It’s worse than I could have imagined. I’m not even really trying to be dramatic here. That’s really how I felt as I played this game.

Let’s start with the high points.

Sora, Donald, and Goofy are back! These characters are the best that they’ve ever been. Their friendship is so strong in every scene, whether they’re teasing each other, reminiscing about past adventures, or having each other’s backs in battle. Donald and Goofy love Sora and they’re prepared to go anywhere with him to the bitter end. And while Sora is the hero of the story, his two companions got to have plenty of “awesome” moments all on their own. That was a pleasant surprise. 

The Disney worlds look, sound, and feel fantastic. They’re enormous in size compared to previous games and they’re all beautiful. Each location presents a unique environment to explore, from the lush forests in Tangled to the wide, open ocean from Pirates of the Caribbean.  The attention to detail is just wonderful and I keep finding new things to appreciate.

And best of all: the game has NPCs! Sora no longer runs through empty streets! You can actually see people in the cities and towns!

Unfortunately, while I adore all of Yoko Shimomura’s work in the Kingdom Hearts series, I have to admit that I came away with mixed feelings about the soundtrack this time. Kingdom Hearts 3 recycles and remixes a lot of music from the previous games, when I would have liked to have heard more new tracks.

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But I can’t complain too much because both the new and old music sound just as good as they always have. And I was extremely impressed by the new field and battle arrangements for each world. They each reflect the style of the scores from the original Disney films. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that Alan Menken composed the music for Corona.

Now, you’ve probably heard that Kingdom Hearts 3 is too easy. Speaking as someone who’s not a very skilled gamer, I can confirm that these fans are correct. Most of the game is a breeze, even on the hardest difficulty level. Usually, I need to put in some level grinding at various points in a Kingdom Hearts game. Not this time.

Why is it so easy this time around? I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the number of options at your disposal when you’re fighting. As you attack with your Keyblade, you fill up a gauge that allows your Keyblade to change form and unleash more powerful attacks. Then, after a certain period of time spent fighting, you can trigger a joint attack with one of your party members, i.e. throwing Mike Wazowski at the enemy like a bowling ball. You also acquire Links, which are characters you can summon into battle using magic, i.e. Ariel and Wreck-It Ralph.

But wait- there’s more! On top of everything else, attacking certain enemies will trigger a type of attack called Attraction Flow. These attacks are designed to mimic popular rides at the Disney theme parks: a swinging pirate ship, the spinning tea cups, Prince Charming’s Carousel, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, etc. They are a lot of fun to unleash…the first couple of times. And they can be great for crowd control. But after a while, I got tired of using them.

And wait- there’s more! If you’re low on health, you might trigger an attack called Rage Form. Similar to Anti-Form, this turns Sora into a humanoid Heartless with faster, powerful attacks. His Rage attacks do significant damage at the cost of his own health.

Add it all up, and you can see why it’s not so easy to die in this game. I’d come close, only to trigger a slew of special attacks that allowed Sora to stay alive until the fight ended. Although you do not have to use any of these commands, you can’t disable them either, so they will keep popping up as you play.

Last of all, Kingdom Hearts 3 adds a very welcome option when you do fail at a battle or similar objective: “Prepare and Retry.” This allows you to access the menu before restarting a boss fight, so you can restock items you might’ve forgotten to equip, change your abilities or customize your spells differently. I hope that’s an option that’s here to stay for future Kingdom Hearts games.

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So, what didn’t I like about this game, besides the difficulty?  On paper, it doesn’t look like much.  However, the story has some problems and some of them bothered me so much that they almost tainted my feelings about the whole experience.

Granted, there’s actually a lot to like about the story of Kingdom Hearts III. The Disney characters get so many opportunities to shine. There’s a nice balance between worlds that strictly follow the plot of the movie and worlds that follow an original story that ties into the central conflict between Sora and Organization XIII. The Organization members have actual conversations with one another about their personal goals, their motivations, and their opinions of one another. One member gets a whole subplot that I won’t spoil, but it’s fantastic.

But, I reiterate: when this game goes bad, it goes bad. The biggest problem lies in the treatment of the female characters. It’s not a new problem for Kingdom Hearts, given that the games introduced us to dozens of engaging male characters and a handful of ladies. Yet many fans hoped that this would get rectified, especially for poor Kairi- the girl who is supposed to be one of Sora’s two best friends, but constantly gets pushed aside in favor of giving Riku more character development.

Kairi gets a couple of good moments in this game, but by and large, what Tetsuya Nomura decided to do with her was abysmal. I won’t spoil anything, but something important happens to her that left me feeling shocked, disgusted, and angry.  It’s not so much that I want Kairi to become a Strong Female Character who fights with a sword and doesn’t need a man in her life.  I just want Nomura to write her the way that he writes the male cast: as a person with her own goals and character growth, not an accessory to Sora.

To a lesser extent, there are twists in the game that seem to exist just for the sake of confusing/shocking us and getting the fans talking, not because they contribute to the story or characters. I know that some of this comes down to personal preference, and that if I want to continue with this series, I need to accept that this is how Tetsuya Nomura likes to tell stories. Still, I wish he’d stop pulling things like, “THIS character is secretly connected to THIS thing or person ALL ALONG!” When he just lets the characters play off of each other, Kingdom Hearts III shines. When he starts to go into the Lore, that’s when I begin to tune out.

I recommend Kingdom Hearts III to people who have stuck with this series for all of its installments. I would even recommend it to people who have never played a Kingdom Hearts game before. If you are willing to embrace the odd story and you think running around beautifully recreated Disney worlds sounds appealing, you should have a great time.

However, I do not recommend this game to anyone who has only played Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. Weird as it sounds, I think you’ll have a harder time enjoying it than people who have never picked up a Kingdom Hearts game in their lives.

Why? Because you know just enough about the world and its characters to find certain ret-cons and new characters/information all the more confusing. The game doesn’t offer a clear, concise explanation for why some characters have returned from the dead, like Axel. Whereas, if you’ve never played one of the games before, you don’t know that they’re supposed to be dead.

Overall, I rate Kingdom Hearts 3 a 7/10. It’s not a perfect experience. The treatment of Kairi and certain parts of the ending left a bitter taste in my mouth. Yet the game also provided a lot of joy and I don’t want to throw that away. Sora, Donald, and Goofy: thanks for the ride. I look forward to playing future installments.