Capsule Reviews: It’s A Puzzlement!

Not every game needs to go for epic length status or terminally flashy visuals to be enjoyable. I tend to gravitate to puzzle games when I need a break from other genres  and there have been a few really cool ones this year. Here’s a quick look at a some of the ones I liked a lot:

 

solar flux switchSolar Flux (Nintendo Switch, $9.99): Firebrand Games’ great space-themed puzzler may look simple, but it riffs on classic arcade gameplay with homages to Asteroids, Lunar Lander, Puzzle Bobble, a bit of Star Castle and probably a few other titles my brain can’t recall in a really fun, challenging manner. While it’s at heart, a supremely soothing experience, the reliance on touchscreen-only controls combined with limited fuel and the need for precision movement of your very fragile ship means you’ll be getting a game that won’t easily be mastered in one sitting. Yes, the music is ear-pleasing and completely chill, but if you’re easily flustered by even the tiniest of mistakes, the gameplay can get pretty tense if you’re not able to tip-tap-steer your way out of trouble. Practice makes perfect, folks.

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That challenge ramps up geometrically during the 80 missions set across 4 galaxies, but nice looks and all, you’re not here to do any sightseeing. Getting the best times as things get complicated is somewhat tricky (but rewarding). So expect a few retries and perhaps a few times when you’re just putting the game down for a bit and coming back later if you lose that zen-like concentration. Don’t worry, though. Those assorted suns you need to recharge will be there when you return. All is good in this universe, just relax and it’ll be quite the thrill.

Score: A (90%)

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Capsule Reviews: Get Me Reroute! (Or: Part 2)

Heh, oops. I had a little router issue not long after posting yesterday that had me a bit flummoxed after several restarts and too much waiting around, but we’re back on the boat and headed somewhat upstream, whee. Anyway, back to more of what you should be playing or at least looking at with a thoughtful gaze:

 

 

forgotton anne boxForgotton Anne (PS4/Switch/PC/Mac, $19.99): No matter what you get this one on, it needs to be bought, played and thoroughly enjoyed. If the words “playable anime” get your ears perked up, you’ll be pleased to know that developer ThroughLine Games has created exactly that, as well as a love letter to the works of Studio Ghibli. A beautiful hybrid of adventure, platform and puzzle game with a bit of detective story for good measure, it’s also (in my opinion) hands down, the absolute best game to date to come out of the Square Enix Collective program which focuses on getting more indie games out to the masses. Go download and play the PC or Switch demo (the latter is on the eShop) and you’ll see this one’s an instant classic.

In addition to a memorable lead character and well-told story, the game’s visuals, voice acting and soundtrack are all phenomenal. The addition of multiple dialog choices makes the game quite replayable because the manner in which you interact with characters or solve problems alters a few plot points or closes off some paths. This isn’t a game about fighting tons of enemies, leveling up or the usual stuff you may expect. It’s a story-driven game where you’ll appreciate the quality of the finished work as you’re drawn into the plot and memorable characters for as long as the experience lasts.  I’ll go as far as to say this one is one of my favorite indies of 2018 and it should be one of yours as well.

FA_Garden

Everywhere you look, there’s something to see that catches your eye in this game.

This is a game I’d even highly recommend non-gamers have a go at, as there’s neither a life bar to worry about nor a true Game Over state. That and with a controller, even the slightly tricky longer jumps that need to be made aren’t a total pain. Just watching Anne’s animation as she gets around is a joy, and yes, the different Forgotlings are equally impressive. While this game probably won’t get a sequel, if ThroughLine wants to do another Ghibli-inspired game, I certainly won’t stop them. Hell, I’ll be cheering them on and hoping it’s as good as or even better than this is.

Also, if this ever gets a physical edition at some point down the road, I say get it just for anything art-related that comes as part of the package. Well, the game, too, but yeah, seeing more of this gorgeousness is a thing that’s necessary in a more physical over digital manner.

FA Wings

To paraphrase ZZ Top: “She’s got wings… and she knows how to use them…”

Score: A (95%)

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Capsule Reviews: Barney’s Got It Right (Again) Part 1

(Thanks, CptNem!)

“Get me rewrite!” Or: Sometimes the Stupidest Things Happen at the Dumbest Possible Times Division (Q Branch). Anyway, last night I was about two hours into writing up this article, I actually sneezed while typing and (get this) accidentally replaced about 8 or 900 words and a few videos with one word. I hit that Undo button and laughed loudly because boy, it’s a good thing that option exists when stuff like this occurs, right? But guess what? That actually didn’t work. Yipes. I then find out that WordPress’ auto-saving function in drafts or works in progress does NOT account for these unhappy accidents and yes, will overwrite even as one is trying to fix an issue. Eep.

After some time messaging with a WP tech support rep who was otherwise helpful but couldn’t solve my particularly stupendously stupid accident, I figured out that yep, I needed to start over. I absolutely HATE rewriting stuff like this, so after pressing the old panic button about a dozen times until it exploded, I decided to go watch a three quarters of a very good Netflix documentary on Orson Welles and call it a night. Hey, it was a long day up to that point and staying up any later trying to fix what was busted would have just made things worse.

Anyway, yep, I’ve been busy playing a bunch of games that I’m going to recommend below, now in slightly shorter form than the original, but I think you’ll get the gist of things. Or at least your wallet will start trying to hide before you can whip it out.

R-Type D EX boxR-Type Dimensions EX (Nintendo Switch, $14.99): Absolutely stellar versions of the 1987 classic arcade shmup and its 1989 sequel offer up a wealth of options that make it accessible to anyone who can hold a controller. Both games feature the ability to switch between 2D and 3D art on the fly (with a number of visual options), super responsive 60fps gameplay at 1080p and even a 2-player co-op mode where friendly fire can be toggled on or off.

There are even slow motion and fast forward options if you want to learn how to play or just make things pure hell on your stress level, although that crazy fast forward mode is survivable if your skills are up to the challenge. Me? I laughed so much while using it because I was thrilled I actually survived a few levels while using it. The game tallies up all the R-9 ships you’ve lost, so completing a stage with as few (or no) deaths is pretty rewarding when it happens.

R-Type 01

Heh. You may need a Geiger counter (or H.R. Giger counter, actually) to tally up this game’s visual references in a few stages.

The game is still as incredible a challenge as it’s ever been, with those Bydo Empire baddies doing their level best to blast you into space dust. Whether you play with unlimited lives or really challenge yourself with the more intense original difficulty, you’re getting a pair of games with a ton of replay value as well as a nice slice of game history. I’m not sure if Tozai Games has the publishing rights to the other entries in this series, but if they do, a nice set of all the games would be more than welcome by fan if they can make it so. This one’s also on Steam if you’re a PC gamer looking to check out what’s here on a PC that will run it, so go take a peek if your interest is piqued.

Score: A (95%)

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Head to Head (Sort Of): Fast Striker vs. FullBlast (PS4/Vita)

I can recall a few years back reading in more than one place that the arcade shooter was dead as last week’s formerly fresh fish, but this was really never true. Between numerous indie developers and fans keeping the genre alive through making and publishing and distributing games via digital and retail formats, the good ol’ shmup lives on pretty much anything that can play them. Two of the more recent ones go for the gold and succeed when by being well-made games with excellent price points destined to hang out in your game library for a spell. Let’s take a peek at both, shall we?

Fast Striker 01

Pretty, isn’t it? well, it’s also PRETTY FREAKIN’ HARD to an old gleep like me, but I keep playing these shmups because I used to be better at them back in the day.

fast striker PS4First up is Fast Striker ($6.99), a 2010 NEO·GEO MVS/AES vertical shooter getting a new life on current gen systems thanks to German developer NGDEV and publisher Eastasiasoft. Six levels of frantic, gorgeous bullet hell bliss await with four difficulty settings to challenge. Yes, six levels may seem short to some of you out there, but this game makes you earn those high scores and like a solid shmup, you’re going to keep coming back to beat your previous runs or die trying.

There are some basic screen resizing and wallpaper options, but I personally prefer sticking to the more arcade accurate default window than going full screen. Er, not that it helps much given my awful reflexes when the going gets too tough (or okay, a little tough. Hey, I’m getting old!). For example (yipes):

 

 

Yes, I’m THAT bad at this game, but I managed to get through the Novice difficulty and messed with the others (Omake mode is SUPER nuts). I’ll be a saint here and link you to the official trailer just so you can see how a far better player does:

 

 

In addition to the digital release, Online retailer Play-Asia has a very limited edition physical version ($34.99) for both the PS4 and Vita set for a November release. Each is limited to 2200 copies worldwide and will include the region free game, a manual, collector’s box, soundtrack CD and a numbered certificate you can show off if you please. The price difference is yes, because of all that stuff inside the box, but if you’re into packaged games and have the shelf space, it’s a fair enough price point.

fast striiker LE

You’ll want to be a Fast Striker if you need this nifty Limited Edition exclusive from Play-Asia. Better pre-order this now before the scalpers snap them up to resell at ebay prices (ugh).

 

Overall, a pretty solid shmup that’s a trip down memory lane to my former glory days and perhaps yours as well (but I hope you can play better than I can).

Score: B (80%)

-Review code provided by the publisher

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Capsule Review: The Conjuring House (PC)

TCH_Title2

 

Uh, mommy? Holy hell, The Conjuring House sure is scary when it needs to be (which is often). Developer RYM Games has a an almost killer game here that despite a few technical flaws (which are currently being addressed via patches that will hopefully improve the overall experience) is one near-total freakout of a game. Things get off to a scary start and the tension builds as the game follows the tried and true “Old Dark House filled with dreadful evil”  formula with some pretty hefty psychological horror and jump scares. Unlike some more popular horror titles, you’re unarmed and have to try and avoid or run from enemies whenever possible, the game has intentionally distant save points and yes, this leads to a few too many deaths whether or not you’re careless. On the other hand, when when things click, you’re playing half under whatever you were sitting on when you started with one eye opened because the other has shut itself closed.

Nevertheless, in its current form, some elements of the game aren’t quite as solid as they should be. Changing the default video settings immediately makes the game too dark to see and that default setting uses a post-processing effect that seems to add too much blur to the movement. Some well-done but lengthy cutscenes do a great job of storytelling, but can’t be skipped at all, so if you die  before one, you’ll need to watch the whole thing all over again. Add in those long treks and/or backtracking between those save points plus a single save slot and you get a recipe for frustration as well as fear of playing for some of the wrong reasons.

TCH b

Your brain will look and feel like this decrepit room right from the moment you gain control of your hapless non-hero.

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Random Films of the Week: Some Fine Die-ning

Another somewhat random grab from the backlog? Sure, why not? I’m cheating a little thanks to just going with all Arrow Video/Arrow Academy releases, but I heartily recommend everything here for one reason or another.

The Assassin_AA006The Assassin (L’Assassino) – Elio Petri’s (The Tenth Victim, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion) first film is a total knockout all the way as well a great classic that can now be rediscovered in its restored form. Marcello Mastroianni plays Alfredo Martelli, a man arrested as the prime suspect after his older lover (Micheline Presle) is found murdered. During the investigation, the film dips into his past as bits of Alfredo’s life play out and his mental state begins to crumble from the relentless pressure laid on him by the police. Did he do it? Well, that would be telling and you won’t get a peep out of me, pal.

The black and white cinematography is beautiful, there’s a jazzy score that features a main title theme that will stick in you head for days, and every actor here is spot on. The Arrow Academy BD/DVD only has a few bonus features, but the real treasure is Petri’s film itself. The odd thing here is most of it takes place over the course of a day or two, but Alfredo’s memories (and Petri’s camera) capture what seems like a week’s worth of external events before all is said and done. But this is most definitely intentional, as is that ending that seems to be open to interpretation if you take it too seriously.

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Capsule Reviews, The Third: Some RPGs

Let’s see now. I’m trying to shoehorn a load of stuff into my schedule this year, so I’ve taken to compiling certain games and films into shorter, easier to digest capsule reviews that don’t drag on like my longer boring full meal posts. Don’t worry, those longer reviews aren’t gone at all. I’m just saving up my currently lower than usual energy stores for those more epic length posts. Anyway, let’s get cracking:

 

 

OMD_PS4

One More Dungeon (PC/PS4/PS3/Vita/Switch/Xbox One) – Not quite a RPG and more of a cross between a first-person shooter and a perma-death packed randomly generated roguelike, OMD’s in your face pixel art will seem garish to some players, but I liked it quite a lot. The game is a challenging bit of fun that will kill your character off constantly, but somehow keeps you coming back for more. Points earned via playing can be used to unlock assorted modifiers that make playing somewhat easier or a great deal harder, so how tough things get is eventually your call.

There’s a sanity level to consider and the game’s overall vibe reminded me a tiny bit of Eldritch, another retro-style FPS, although that game had a more Lovecraftian vibe going for it. OMD’s low price point and speedy gameplay keep it fun going even if you end up buying the farm a wee bit too much. This is one of those games that you’ll go back to a over and over, provided you like what you see and/or it grows on you. Developer Stately Snail and Ratalaika Games (who handled the port) deserve a tip of the cap for this one.

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Capsule Reviews, Too: Things That Go Boom (And Quite Frequently, At That)

2017 was an incredibly busy year and that doesn’t include me being laid up in the hospital for almost a month and missing out on a load of fun stuff. Anyway, I’m compiling a short list of recommends here if you’re doing some post-holiday gifting for yourself or someone else. Most of what’s here will be indie/small studio focused thanks to too a few of these games getting (intentionally?) overlooked by bigger sites because they’re not going to get a ton of clicks or some other such nonsense.

 

 

JYDGE PS4 JYDGE (PS4) – I’m surprised that this excellent kinda sorta follow up to Neon Chrome didn’t come to Vita as well, but given Sony’s rapidly losing interest in their HD handheld in terms of first party support, I guess it’s no surprise at all (except that Neon Chrome isn’t a first party game). Still, if you like your top-down action games tough and pretty darn fun, going to town with this one for a spell will bring a big grin to your grill.

You are the law in this fun, violent riff on Judge Dredd meets Robocop with a slick neon-lit coating straight out of Blade Runner or some other futuristic flick. Fast-paced and highly replayable missions await if you’re a fan of top-down shooters that aren’t easy and demand precision over panic. There’s a great arcade-like vibe here that has you unlocking weapon and armor upgrades and hopping back in to press forward or go back and try to beat tight times for taking out assorted baddies as quickly as possible while avoiding civilian casualties (an instant mission failure, as it should be in a game such as this). There’s even a solid co-op mode if you want to team up with a friend and Jydge the hell out of some well-armed creeps who’ll get what they deserve but good.

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Random Films of the Week: A Little New Year’s Cleaning

Yeah, Happy New Year and all that stuff. I figure I’ll post more than I did last year even though I got sick and was out of action for a month or so which led to a bigger backlog that I’m still wading through. My plans to write up and pre-load posts went south thanks to that, but I think with my health getting better (albeit temporarily) I’ll try and tackle stuff slightly differently on occasion. Or: Eh, I’ve been watching a ton of movies in no particular order, so you get to pore over a few quickie capsule recommends.

Stormy Monday_AV093Stormy Monday – Mike Figgis’ first film was this stylized bit of 1988 brilliance that featured Sean Bean, Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones and Sting, plus a pretty darn neat jazz score by the director. The neon-soaked Newcastle setting features some of Roger Deakins’ lovely cinematography that makes this a total treat to watch. It’s more or less a noir gangster flick with some solid performances and an overall sense that something bad is going to happen what with all the tense glowering and some romantic notions that make for a bit of conflict as things progress.

I actually hadn’t heard of this film other than seeing a trailer way back before it was initially released in theaters. I didn’t think it was for me back then, but thanks to Arrow Video, I’ve been proven quite incorrect. Expect a fine director’s commentary from Figgis along with a few cool bonus features on this BD/DVD combo that make this a nice surprise to discover if you’ve never seen or heard of it until now. Amusingly enough, this pairs well with Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire thanks to both films mixing reality and fantasy elements (although Figgis gets the edge and the edgier performances overall).

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Random Films of the Week: Some Clock Cleaning Before Things Go Cuckoo

Hey, it’s not Friday, but it may be by the time I complete this post. Anyway, here’s a few more films I finally sat down and watched. It stinks not having a flick watching partner to bounce things off of, but so it goes. I suppose a resolution can be made to rectify that, but you all know that sort of pressure makes for an often crappy time when you go rubbing lamps hoping for the correct results (he noted, cackling madly). Anyway, some of these were screeners, a few were bought for the library and almost all come recommended for assorted reasons.

Suture_AV056

Suture – It’s a gimmick film with one huge gimmick, but it’s a good one and writer-directors David Siegel and Scott McGehee do a decent Hitchcock riff on a few fronts with this thriller/mystery mash-up. Shot in glorious black and white with a solid as a rock cast, this is one of those indie films that packs a wallop and isn’t afraid to use your brain as its target. The interesting thing is the film also works without the gimmick as a pure thriller, so you can indeed re-watch this and see it from a different perspective.

I saw this a few times in theaters back in 1993 and later on cable and it still works as a great little film worth tracking down. Arrow Video’s restoration job is great and you get way too many bonus features that make this an automatic buy right out of the gate.

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