Review: Nostalgic Train (PS5)

Or: The small, strange town and its iron horse.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the term “walking simulator” that’s often used with derision by some players about short, mostly first person game experiences that focus around slower, careful movement and exploration, yet that term perfectly describes the lovely, melancholic Nostalgic Train ($13.99), which is available on consoles and PC. The Unreal engine game was created by a very talented solo developer named Tatamibeya and just so we’re clear, the game’s description of itself is “Two fluctuations at journey’s end – Beautiful countryside novel and walking simulator.”

There’s also a bit of a mystery with some semi-supernatural elements and even some time travel tossed into the mix, but the game is actually a text-based record of the town’s origins using a few life stories and key events scattered over a few centuries. The game starts off as its sole playable character wakes up in the tiny (and fictional) Japanese village Natsugiri, which is entirely vacant save for the sound of cicadas, dandelion seeds floating about and the scent in the air of mystery. As you walk around, you can use R2 to reveal glowing orbs that reveal more of the story and lead you to the next hint and more of the story. Visually, there’s a solid sense of reality in the visuals, but I can imagine some players used to ray tracing and other effects griping that certain elements of the game aren’t realistic enough. Whatever, it all looks like a series of gorgeous postcards in my book.

Life is but a dream…

This guided experience format works well for the most part. It makes the game playable by anyone, provided they love to read and can activate their imagination during certain sequences. As you explore the village, you’ll come across some items that need to be used to advance the story. For example, early on you find a discarded life preserver near a schoolhouse by a lake. Touching it reveals a past memory of a child picking it up to attempt to rescue another child which soon turns fatal for one. At this point, the formerly inactive train’s chime starts sounding and that’s your clue that you need to get back to the station and take a ride.

In true Twilight Zone fashion, you end up back at the station and yep, you need to R2 yourself back to find out what’s transpired. The entirety of Story Mode is like this, so it’s almost impossible to get lost. The village is so small, that you can spend maybe less that five minutes walking around if you’re not using the hint system. The story gets more fascinating with each chapter as you’ll encounter others who need assistance, but the village remains empty as you only read about your encounters and have to imagine past, present and future encounters, just as if you’re reading a book. The story takes a few dark turns as it continues and you find out your character simply trying to find out who and where they are and travel back to what’s seen as “normal’ reality can’t keep you from uncovering what’s going on. In fact, there’s a link to everything and the constant cycling back to the village the train takes is somewhat important. Or: “You can check out anytime you like, you can’t ever leave (guitar solo not included)”.

Bring you walking shoes, folks…

There’s also a Free Mode where you can stroll around and find glowing orbs that reveal some historical and other bits and (if you’re a completion fanatic) nab that Platinum trophy. This won’t take long at all, but I’m guessing based on the completion stats I’ve seen, some players haven’t done this yet. Well, it’s certainly not for every taste, but it’ll stick with you like warm summer wind. Cicadas are harmless, by the way and with all those dandelion seeds blowing around. I’d guess you can pocket a few to remind you of this short trip you’ve taken. Recommended.

-GW

For Medicinal Purposes Only (Or: Some Capsule Reviews)

In short, where to start other than listing a few flicks that were to me, enjoyable to the point that they’re not any longer (warning: opinions ahead!)

Almost, but not qu(EYE)te…

The Hypnotic Eye (1960) -Slick but eventually overcooked semi-horror about a suave, heavily accented hypnotist (Jacques Bergerac) and his curvy assistant (Alyson Hayes from Attack of the 50-Foot Woman) who seem to be responsible for 11 women mutilating (or killing in one case) themselves with no memory of the incidents afterward. The film kicks off with an amazing and horrific opening, but has to feature possibly the dumbest detective on the planet who allows his girlfriend to act as Hypno-bait for too long to the point of disbelief.

The film starts out strong, but the denseness of the detective and his way too clueless nature hurts the proceedings as it plays out. That said, there are a few high points, such as the interviews with some of the disfigured victims that show off some disturbing makeup, the always pneumatic Miss Hayes and this particular scene, which some of you movie lovers might find yourself identifying with somewhat:

It’s hip to be square.

Things fall apart with a nutty mass hypnosis scene that’s amusing, yet takes a bit too long before motives are revealed with an ending that includes a pretty cheesy makeup job (is that an oatmeal mask left on too long?) and a corny PSA about hypnosis. This one falls into the “Oh well” pile by the time it’s over, but at 79 minutes, at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome. If you’re very sensitive to flashing lights, you might find yourself under it’s spell a bit- just don’t attempt to wash your hair or drink coffee afterward.

“Muthers?” This one made me say “Uncle”

The Muthers (1975) – Thanks to a relative who took me to the movies as a kid, I have the distinct memory of seeing the trailer to this film and it stuck for decades until I finally caved and bought this DVD from Vinegar Syndrome last year, and found it to be somewhat lacking after the fact. Sure, it’s a Z-grade exploitation film and yes, it’s got that going for it from the start. But I actually fell asleep the first time I watched and had to sit through a second time just so I can write that it was actually watched this to the end. And NO, it certainly did not get better the second time around.

Directed in the Philippines by Cirio S. Santiago, this is kind of enjoyably junky if you just turn off your brain and wallow in the film without judgement. On the other hand, there are far better films in this sub-genre that are worth watching than this clumsy, cheaply made affair with its crummy excuse for martial arts and loads of gunplay and explosions. Amusingly enough, I recently found out it’s one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films, which makes me think that perhaps he should have just made a Fox Force Five flick during his Grindhouse period. Or hell, got a limited TV series out of a those few lines of dialog from Pulp Fiction. I had to dig out a Jack Hill film from the collection just to wash my brain rid of this mess, so I got to see The Swinging Cheerleaders rock this film’s world.


Esta pelicula es pura basura!

The Dungeon of Harrow (1962) – Let’s just say that while the late Pat Boyette was a great comic artist of the era and beyond, his sole directorial effort, the dreary gothic leper flick presented here ends up being as bargain basement as it gets for a “horror” film. The only good thing about this Vinegar Syndrome release is it comes as a double feature with Death By Invitation, which has its flaws but it’s a great deal more watchable than what’s here. Granted. this falls squarely into “cult classic” territory, but the dreadful pacing here makes this a total chore to sit through. When I lent the disc to a friend recently, he returned it while waiting downstairs in his car while he flew the disc upstairs using a drone he purchased. There was a note inside the DVD case stating that the both films were shown to a group of seven and people could barely make it though the main feature.

Must be a death cult. “Classic” my a$$.

Let’s see now: two survivors of a shipwreck have to deal with everything from wild dogs to the creepy Dracula impostor and his dressed for the wrong movie bodyguard. There are two women also trapped on the island, but the whole film looks as if someone went through a random pile of clothing as a Salvation Army, chose the cheapest outfits and made up a plot as they shot. Amusingly, trying to describe the plot is somewhat futile, so this capsule review may actually do the job of selling a handful of copies if anyone is THAT curious. Hey, it’s your money and time, folks. These aren’t exactly bucket list films, but I’ll take one for the team every now and then, Hey, I think I hear some film noir calling me – back in a bit with some other stuff.

-GW

Oh, WordPress is ticking me off because it sometimes won’t allow me to add tags until AFTER a post is made, so I’ll be re-editing this later!

Upcoming: “You’ll Hear The Drums & The Brush of Steel”

“There’s only ONE way to deal with tumbleweeds”

Well, that’s more than enough time to give the Blu-ray of Sergio Leone’s rather epic western Once Upon A Time In The West I just ordered a spin or three for Moon In Gemini. I may try another, as the subject this time is more than broad enough to perk my interest in contributing a few reviews. Better yet, I’d bet a few of you out there that blog a bit on film may want to get in on this as well. Side note: I’ve actually scribbled a few reviews in the past on certain films mentioned on Debbie’s site, so feel free to check out my takes on Outland, Battle Beyond The Stars, and Day of Anger, if you like.

-GW

Review: Gleylancer (PS4/PS5)

probably the sole good use of the word “Pow-Wow” these days.

While the SEGA logo is nowhere to be found (they only published the game way back in 1992), Advanced Busterhawk Gleylancer looks, feels and plays like it’s 1992 and that’s a great thing. Ever busy publisher Ratalaika Games and veteran developer Shinyuden go above and beyond the call here with a flawless English translation plus a slew of gameplay improvements that range from a horde of video customization options to some all-new game modes that make this an instant buy at its low $6.99 price point (the original Mega Drive version will set you back about $200, and yes it’s solely in Japanese).

The game is pretty story driven with a lengthy opening movie, but in s nutshell: The story follows Lucia, a 16-year-old star fighter pilot in the Earth Federation. A war breaks out between humans and an unknown alien race in the year 2025. Lucia’s father, Ken, a high-ranking admiral in the Federation Navy, is captured after his ship is warped out of the combat zone with 4 alien modules which have the ability of teleportation.  Lucia, heart-broken after hearing of her father’s disappearance, decides to hijack the prototype fighter CSH-01-XA “GleyLancer” with the help of her friend Teim and go after her father.

Like any decent classic shmup, a good player will complete the game in under an hour, but a smart player will deep dive this and go back for more and unlock every trophy. The fast but methodical gameplay is also customizable to the point of letting players cheat right off the bat if they so desire. There’s also a handy rewind function that’s excellently implemented and like the cheat mode, optional. The really amusing thing here is very likely, a good deal of modern gamers may not have heard of this until this release and may automatically snap it up for the quick trophies Ratalaika games are known for. My bet is they’ll be surprised at the challenge the game presents on its standard mode.

Just another day at the office…

I have no idea what Shinyuden has planned for the future, but there are a ton of other shooters for the Genesis out there that can use this sort of very proper localization. I can name way too many here, but let’s not go over the moon with wishful, wistful thinking just yet. Recommended!

-GW

Review: Dark Nights With Poe and Munroe (PS4)

They’re baaaaack. Full motion games developer D’avekki Studios has made the big leap to self-publishing with the digital release of Dark Nights With Poe and Munroe,($12.99) which is now available on the PS4, Xbox and soon, Switch. The game comprised of six episodic tales of a somewhat supernatural nature, with ghosts, a werewolf, a hungry painting demon, a bizarre love triangle and more. Although the game features a few toe-dips into light horror, it’s more of a creepy dark comedy where a bit of previous homework with Davekki’s earlier titles goes a long way in explaining some of the quirkier aspects found here.

Poe (Klemings Koehring) and Munro (Leah Cunard) first appeared in 2018’s great little gem The Shapeshifting Detective and they return in this standalone set where we get to know their characters a bit more, but yes, there’s even more mystery going on in the small village of August, which seems to be a magnet for offbeat supernatural occurrences. In “Frankie” the pair need to deal with a persistent stalker with surprising results. Let’s just say Poe has a way with a knife but we haven’t heard the last of Frankie in this game.

“In Bed with Poe and Monroe” is next, and it’s about a 24-hour radiothon where the two characters need to raise funds to keep the station afloat by staying in bed together (not THAT together) while broadcasting live. Well, it’s about so much more, as a sleepy Munro discovers a few times. Poe also makes a few discoveries that are equally revealing as a jealous ghost (Ayvianna Snow) appears to make his love life even more complicated. This episode has a few scenes like the first where shocks drop in and affect the outcomes of paths to wonderfully different results. More of this strangeness will come.

In Episode Three, “Green With Envy”, the pair are racing against time to find a kidnapped and drugged student (Warrick Simon) before his time runs out. Time is of the essence as the duo’s decisions in this chapter affect the ending and all depends on how you choose to investigate the case. There’s a pair of laugh out loud innuendo bits here when Munro visits guest house owner Violet (Aislinn De’Ath) and a little De’ath goes a long way when Munro misinterprets some simple queries before asking her own. Poe gets his way (sort of) with a pretty teacher (Ashleigh Cole) who may be a suspect, but who’s the mysterious Yvette who calls into the show to say she’s the kidnapper?

Episode Four, “Everybody Changes” brings a hypnotist into the studio, Madame Baratsky (Lara Lemon), who puts Munro into a trance where she relives a past life and tells a disturbing tale of murder. As mentioned above, playing that chapter made me go see the Doctor up close and personal (I bought the game last year on the PS4), an experience I highly recommend. In any event, this episode made me want some sort of Doctor Dekker followup, or at least the desire to replay that game again a few more times.

In Episode Five, “Many Happy Returns”, it’s the day before Munro’s birthday, there’s a full moon and a caller rings in to note he may have almost run over a werewolf. Guess where out two intrepid adventurers are headed? If you guessed “Why, to find out if that’s true, but not before a possible time traveler named Kaspar (Vincent Gould) calls, then shows up to the studio!” Well, you need to be in your own game, as you’re psychic. Like all the episodes, there’s a set-up of events and situations here that definitely hints at more. This give players a hint that the sleepy town of August is quite the nexus for bizarre happenings (like the sudden rock, paper, scissors game in this chapter).

Finally, Episode Six gets truly freaky with “It Started with a Wish” where we get a soul-eating canvas demon named Rose (Rachel Cowles) who lives inside a painting. She grants Poe a wish, which he has to pay for by having Munro hide nine capsules as prizes for ‘lucky’ listeners to find. Those capsules are supposed to have museum tickets inside, but (surprise!), they have a less pleasant gift awaiting. You’ll see. Poe’s wish has very huge consequences both he and Munro have to deal with and there’s a sort of David Lynch meets Night Gallery thing here when the characters have to deal with the results.

As noted, the game teases very much that there are many more August takes to be told, and I like that Poe and Munro’s relationship goes where it does in different ways depending on your choices. In terms of production, this one’s pretty solid. Without fancy effects makeup or gore, the game still conveys an eerie, scary vibe when it needs to, But it’s also funny, sexy and mature where it matters. Some may feel the vignette nature of the episodes might be better served as a single story arc. But I found that a game where time travel seems a quiet reality, dryads may actually exist and so many possible outcomes from charming to deadly are at one’s fingers that I’m all aboard for more. Recommended.

-GW

Review: Ord. (PS4)

From ever-busy publisher Ratalaika games and indie developer Mujo Games comes Ord.($4.99), a minimalist adventure game that tells its short stories three words at a time. Split into five tales with a bit of replay value in each (Quest, Dimensions, World, Foul Things and Heist), the game will also have you brain filling in most of its visuals. It’s also part memory test in that there’s a Groundhog Day-like loop to overcome where choosing certain answers won’t advance the story, but instead, send you back to choose differently.

zzzzzzzz

That said, there are no “wrong” answers here. In fact, choosing every option will lead to some surprises and abrupt (sometimes fatal) endings. The minimalist thing in taken to extremes here on both the visual and aural fronts. Other than the title screen, visuals are just text on a black background with some stylistic touches like thunder, lightning, rain, a bit of fog and yes, you’ll want to have a drink in the tavern just to see the blurred result. For me, the sole flaw here in there’s no story tracker, so on a replay, you may get temporarily stuck (a notepad will come in handy here). Playing the game through once won’t take long and those trophies drop pretty quickly once you get rolling.

Overall, Ord. is a pretty decent and nicely experimental bit of fun. Ratalaika’s been on a roll lately with more hits than misses of late. So I’ll have to get to covering more on their interesting titles from it’s rather intriguing lineup shortly.

-GW

Review: Cosmic Top Secret (PS4)

this one’s something else…

Indie publisher nakana io’s latest, Cosmic Top Secret ($9.99, multiplatform) just might be one of the best surprises of 2021.Part historical document, part adventure with a detour into a bit of mystery, the game tells the gripping tale of Trine Laier, or “T” as she goes by in the game as she tries to uncover just what her parents did during the Cold War. Fascinating and supremely surreal, the game is compelling from start to finish and would even make a pretty good true spy film, intentionally goggle-eyed protagonist and all. But don’t take my word for it- take a look at this gameplay:

There are puzzles to solve, loads of clues to gather and enough intrigue here to keep your brain and fingers busy. T navigates the environments by transforming into a paper ball and rolling about. You’ll also need to master a bit of jumping,. which comes in handy when you get stuck and later on you can transform into a plane, which has it’s own uses you’ll discover. The game also had you collect all sorts of specific secrets T needs to unlock other secrets, all while trying her best to get her dad to tell her about the past. Have another trailer, folks:

The visual style is both striking and genius, especially the more humorous aspects found in the work. Early on, you’re told how to skip text using a very lengthy explanation on the Cold War. The game helps out here by cutting off the lengthy text with something like a “Blah, blah, you can find this stuff on the internet” quote. Dossiers and a few machines are used to break codes but a few of the puzzles and some of the trickier movement areas may stump players temporarily. T can also toss grenades and later smoke bombs to find certain secrets, but that can be a bit imprecise until you nail that task perfectly. Also, that sequence with the angry buzzard in one level can be irksome if you roll off the path and fall a few times. Progress is auto-saved at certain points, but you’ll want to manually save from time to time (just in case…). Th game can be completed in around eight hours or so and it’s time well spent because you’ll come away quite impressed at what you learned. I know I certainly was.

Yes, indeed it is!

The really cool thing here is you don’t need a pricey console to play this on as the game is also available on Google Play and the App Store, so you can enjoy this on your even more overpriced phone or tablet, ha and ha. As a exercise in storytelling, the game excels on a few fronts and the overall experience is one that will stick with you for a while. Highly recommended, of course.

-GW

Now, Where Were We? (Or: Crazy Times, Indeed)

Hi there. So, where were we again? Oh, right. Some big things are cooking on the legal/financial front, so that’s been taking up a chunk of time (boo!). Nevertheless, I can’t say much after that other than I dislike having to do so much stuff nearly every day to get a relative what’s legally due because the process intentionally convoluted and some things needn’t be so damn irritating, but here we are.

Uh, subject change? Movies? Sure, okay.

(Thanks, Warner Bros Pictures!)

I saw JOKER a few times and the Birds of Prey flick twice last year. Both are quite interesting takes on characters with different complex mental challenges as unreliable narrators and yes, one comes off as far darker than the other with the latter film having a much higher body count while the former is pretty bleak on every front with initially a lower body count, but a longer damage reach. The main differences between the two being the direction and how the victims are treated. Birds of Prey has plenty of bad folks who get what’s coming to them and it’s presented as comically as possible though some energetically portrayed violence. But you also see a few innocents dispatched by villains who are somewhat worse than the main character. As the kids say, props to the main villains here for being so phenomenally twisted.

(Thanks, Warner Bros Pictures!)

On the other hand, JOKER is in a way, much like Harley’s loopy tale, but a lot less “fun” to watch. It also goes rather intentionally all over the map, but Arthur Fleck’s story along with its more realistic violent content reflects the reactions its main character has to his internal demons and not all of the victims here deserve what they get. The violence is more shocking and in a few cases, unexpected, especially a brutal scene later on where you get a sudden victim and a surprise survivor. In both films, the actors playing the leads do some fine work overall, although I have to give the edge to Joaquin Phoenix’s performance (I’m not into awards shows, but that Oscar win was well-deserved).

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Review: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout (PS4)

FG01

The Chaos Engine, or Circle of Life in action, if you will…

fall-guys-ultimate-knockout-boxartWell, this one’s a pleasant and goofy surprise. Sometimes the silliest and most simple games ideas just work and Mediatronic’s Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout ($19.99 on Steam for PC, Free this month on PSN) reinforces this perfectly. The 60-person enter, one person wins element is pure battle royale insanity (a genre I usually avoid), it’s weaponless mix of puzzle, sporty and trap packed levels offer up some tough and hilarious navigational challenges and overall, it’s just about as good as it gets for a game of its type.

Sure, there are micro-transactions here, but they’re not at all necessary to jump in and start playing. You can get some cool cosmetics with currency earned from just playing the game, or you can pay real money for stuff if you’re in a hurry to look cooler as you fall or get knocked off assorted hazards multiple times. In other words, there are no performance-enhancing purchases here (so far and I hope there won’t be in the future). Besides, the developer and publisher need to make SOME money with this one, but it’s actually nice that PSN users at least get to more or less play free and not choose to pay… well, until they need some of the stupidly cute skins and outfits that pop up.

fall-guys-ultimate-knockout-screenshot-08-ps4-04may20-en-us

It’s all fun and games, especially if someone gets cartoon hurt.

A constantly rotating set of 24 levels means you can’t predict what’s coming, but loads of dying and plenty of practice await. You just need to hope you can survive the chaos as it happens. Yes, there are some super-skilled players out there who can dive and dash through areas and as you play, some tasks get easier to plow through than others. But the lack of voice chat thankfully keeps one’s ears from burning off from what I’d imagine is some hefty amount of creative cursing taking place at some ignominious last second defeats. Although, yours truly actually screamed “Oh, Bugsnax!” at my TV after one terrible but funny loss because I’d exhausted every curse word I knew and that upcoming PS5 game’s name just popped into my head.

Then again, this is a game where you’ll watch someone winning a match and then lose it by accident when a platform vanishes suddenly, or they get beaned by a falling slice of parachuting fruit. Some players seemingly try to take out other players by lurking near an exit (grrrr!) and lunging at them or maybe hoping to be as threatening as a giant jellybean in a funky getup can. It’s all good though – sometimes you get the last laugh (well, until you lose in a future round) when the game decides to drop random survivors at the results screen to get the next stage kicking.

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Review: Nightmare at Noon (1988)

Home, James

So, if good guys wear black, I guess, uh…

NAN.BR.Cover.72dpiWhile it’s absolutely packed to the hilt with stunts, thrills, and explosions galore (and how!), Nico Mastorakis’ 1988 flick Nightmare at Noon isn’t exactly the brain food of action movies. In fact, if you go in expecting even a decent plot to speak of, your brain may beat you somewhat senseless about two minutes in and turn itself off so it can enjoy the wild ride without you gargling on about what small amount of plot there is. Basically, if you miss the opening credits, there goes the story, and there’s not much there to begin with (and even less if you’re looking).

All you need to know is a secret scientific agency (or not so secret, as they roll around in two black custom vans with their agency’s name on them!) has chosen a small US town to experiment with some nefarious goings-on and it’s up to a handful of gun-totin’ tourists and local heroes to make things right.  So you get Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins, and Kimberly Beck starring with George Kennedy and Kimberly Ross versus that town full of newly green-blooded raging townspeople and a bunch of well-armed bad guys. A strangely silent Brion James kicks the flick off as the mysterious Albino, but despite all his evil machinations, his total lack of dialog actually hurts the film despite the nearly non-stop action that follows. I gather he was paid enough for bleaching his hair and wearing some contact lenses to make him look albino and decided to charge by the word for dialog or something?

(Thanks, ScreamFactoryTV!)

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