(Not So) Random Film of the Week: No Blade of Grass

no blade of grassSo, I lost a coin toss with myself a few days ago and ended up watching a pretty dark film from the lower end of the bucket list. Reasons, I guess. I also guess I should put a trigger warning here, as this one’s something else.

Grim meets garish (plus tax where applicable) in Cornel Wilde’s 1970 apocalyptic survival shocker No Blade of Grass, which is very likely not a film you want to see if you’re holed up in quarantine for a spell. Then again, it’s a film that’s brutal to watch under any circumstances, with its kind of timely by today’s calendar plot and Wilde’s decision to linger on some scenes that are a bit too exploitative and counteract whatever strong ecological message he was trying to send.

Then again, the source material wasn’t exactly a pleasant story either. Still, Wilde (who co-wrote, directed, and produced the film) gets his powerful message across from the opening moments, using a sledgehammer of assorted mostly stock imagery of polluted water, air and land, plus what seems to be clips of a dying emaciated child to let you know business is meant in all that intensity of the opening moments. I think there was a nuclear explosion in there somewhere as well, but I might have been busy trying to find my jaw, which was under the sofa when it fell off and rolled under it. I need to vacuum more, it seems, as my chin was a bit dusty when I located it. Uh, so mind-blowing and downbeat opening, plus a reach for a finger pistol depressing tune (sung by Roger Whittaker!) as a main title? Check.

(Thanks, The Film Archives!)

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Review: Dark Nights with Poe and Munro (PC)

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There are no incorrect choices in this game, as you’ll discover.

In the fourth episode of six in D’avekki Studios rather excellent FMV (full motion video) game Dark Nights with Poe and Munro ($12.99), there’s a rather neat dark surprise in store for fans of their first FMV game, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker. I won’t fully reveal that surprise, but sharp-eyed fans will have grasped it already from a single screenshot. Let’s just say that I hadn’t yet visited the Doctor’s office and had it on my Steam wishlist for a bit until that episode in Dark Nights had my brain spin around in my head and my wallet flew into my hands from across the room – SOLD. I’ve only put about four hours onto the (maybe) deceased Doctor’s couch, but it’s definitely been worth the session fee.

Back to the newer game, which is a more TV-like prequel to events in The Shapeshifting Detective (one of the better FMV games we’ve played) featuring the radio host duo from that title. You get six very replayable chapters featuring John ‘Poe’ Pope (Klemens Koehring) and Ellis Munro (Leah Cunard), both superbly possessing their roles, coming off a bit like this decade’s Mulder and Scully, but with a struggling radio show and much more supernatural goings on. Their relationship is a lot more complex (all together now: “it’s complicated!”) and the game uses that as both backdrop and foreground material for their escapades. All six chapters delve into their radio relationship as well as what happens off-air, with multiple choices that can lead to some, shall we say innnnntersting outcomes. Or, Death certainly doesn’t take a holiday here in some episodes, is all I’ll say.

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Review: TT Isle of Man – Ride On the Edge 2 (Switch)

tt-isle-of-man-ride-on-the-edge-2-switch-description-charKT Racing has clearly put a Kylotonn of work into bringing TT Isle of Man – Ride On the Edge 2  ($59.99) to the Nintendo Switch and it’s truly an impressive effort on the hybrid console. The developer has recreated the recent PC and console experience perfectly in terms of complete content on the Switch with a few very obvious concessions to the lower-powered hardware. On Switch, there’s a tiny bit of texture draw-in plus some low resolution textures such as bike shadows, some of the signage, plus logos on your rider’s gear, which can all be a bit fuzzy in static shots. Despite these flaws and some long loading times, the game completely soars when in motion, particularly in docked mode. In handheld mode, the game is fine, but as a simulation that requires zen-like focus (there’s no in-race music for a reason!), every little detail needs to be seen at the best resolution available.

Where TT2 impresses constantly is in the excellent bike detail and its thrilling overall sense of speed thanks to excellent visual representation in the various camera modes and some tremendous sound design. The sheer intensity when you get to flying down a course and don’t go flying off your bike is nothing but a pure adrenaline rush, and the game will make you appreciate the art of the learning process. That said, it feels like a bit of understeer is in play on corners and you’ll crash a lot as a beginner and a great deal less (or not at all when you get better) as you get accustomed to the controls, which can by fully customized and come in a few styles from amateur to professional. Got a first or third party Switch compatible controller with a Rumble feature? DO please use that over the handheld’s Joy-Cons. The game goes from trickier to control and a bit too shaky to one where analog controls make things more manageable. The game is playable with Joy-Cons, mind you – it’s just more difficult if you stick to the standard control scheme and/or if you have the dreaded left Joy-Con drift issues some users have experienced with the handheld.

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Review: Guard Duty (PS4)

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Oh, this is the same game, alright…

guard duty PS4Ratalaika Games has been pretty much killing it lately in terms of quietly porting and publishing little indie games that sometimes pack in a few surprises despite the low budget price points. While there’s a core group of fans who snap up most of these games for fast trophies, once in a while there comes something that’s worth a second look because it taps the right vein in the right place and is more than a simple trophy hunt you can rush through in an hour or so. Welcome to Sick Chicken Studios’ Guard Duty ($9.99, Cross-Buy with PS Vita!), folks.

This is a fantastic albeit brief homage to old computer games from the mid-80’s and the 1990’s and absolutely nails that aesthetic to a T with perfect stylized pixel art and animation, some hilarious (and fully voiced) writing and solid point & click gameplay. There’s a plot that blends in medieval and futuristic elements really well, but I’ll not spoil that for you here as the story works best this way. After an intro that teases that medieval and future melding, we meet Tondbert, loyal Guard to the Castle of Wrinklewood. He’s having a bad day that started the night before as he was stupid drunk while on duty and let a odd stranger into the village, which has led to the Princess being kidnapped. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

(Thanks, PlayStation!)

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Jet Lancer: Take To The Skies On Switch, PC

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“Snakes… Why’d it have to be snakes?”

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A pilot, a Captain and an engineer walk into a bar…

Today, ace pilot Ash Leguinn joins the ranks of the many other legendary arcade shooter ladies who fly and blast enemies out of the sky with the release of indie developer Code Wakers’ Jet Lancer on PC and Nintendo Switch ($14.99) published by Armor Games. Having put in some playtime with an earlier PC build and and after playing the Switch version for a spell, this writer can say it’s quite a challenging mix of acrobatic flight combat against waves of enemies and some pretty large and tough bosses.

Ash travels from mission to mission on a small aircraft carrier piloted by a Captain who doles out briefings as she accepts them. Others in need of aid from Ash’s skills will pop in with their own requests as the game progresses, and you’ll get a talking cat engineer named Lem early on to upgrade your ship, the LANCE, as well as that aircraft carrier it travels on. The boat is sea bound until you get an upgrade that allows it to move over land barriers and the map unlocks more missions and plot elements.

Here’s the game’s launch trailer:

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Review: SEGA AGES: G-LOC Air Battle

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That cornfield chase in the North By Northwest remake gets a little too action heavy…

sega-ages-g-loc-air-battle-switch-description-charI remember walking into an arcade back around 1990 or 1991 and seeing a new machine added to the site’s already impressive selection. It was a large sit-down G-LOC Air Battle cabinet that had a line of about 10 or so people waiting to play. That machine looked like a super-deformed airplane and had speakers on the seat that faced forward, which helped mostly shut out sounds from the arcade save for music and sounds inside the cabinet.

Most impressive was the movement, as the machine would tilt forward, backward, left, and right based on what the player was doing with their plane. The game also featured a red button that shut the movement off if one was feeling the need for speed and all those motions were getting too much to handle. Think of a LOT less painful to ride mechanical bull with a kill switch and you sort of get the idea. Personally, I never saw anyone hit that button, but it did make for a great and safe addition if it was needed.

I didn’t find out about the even more impressively insane R-360 rotating cabinet version until a few years later when a friend played one while on vacation and showed me a few photos taken by his girlfriend where he was upside down or sideways in the machine’s cockpit. She later told me that was the one of the funniest things she ever saw and heard, as he was yelling and screaming a stream of expletives as soon as the machine went spinning, despite the seat belts and safety harness holding him tightly inside and the attendant nearby who helped him secure himself. He denied that screaming part for years, by the way.

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Review: Daymare 1998 (PS4)

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This is not the “Shall We Dance?” number from The King and I, by the way. Halp!!

DaymereWhile it’s not trying to completely reinvent the wheel (I mean, come on, look at the title!), a few very cool modern elements seep into Invader Studios’ and publisher Destructive Creations’ homage to Capcom’s much beloved Resident Evil series as well as genre films of the 90’s, Daymare 1998 ($39.99) that make it work despite the game sometimes working against the player. Assorted undead-like creeps, puzzles galore, and plenty of tense thrills are all here for those who like the survival horror genre, and while boss fights against too bullet-spongy enemies can be a pain, overall, I found the game quite nostalgic and appealing, warts and all.

First and foremost, some of the controls are needlessly complicated. There’s a basic walk (Left Analog) and light jog (L1) for its heroes, but running flat out requires stamina and pressing/holding two buttons and you can only sprint for a brief time before that stamina depletes. Reloading has what, three modes? Granted, there’s a neat touch of realism in the optional the need to load ammo into clips, then clips into guns. But it also adds a bit too much tension in areas with multiple monsters lurking and the need to switch weapons out in a fast way (there’s a human-like delay here and not a game-like rapid switch). Oddly, boss fights just cough up spare ammo clips for you because trying to search for empty clips and spare ammo during them would be too brutal.

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“Knock-Knock…” Uh, there’s no door, pal – just some room to RUN LIKE HELL.

The Dick Tracy-style system device worn on one wrist is nice looking and all, but can get a little too complicated if you don’t take time to check out all the things you can do with item combinations and get with the crafting. Being very methodical helps here, as well as realizing the game’s throwback nature means it’s going to feel a bit intentionally dated in some aspects, like the arcane save system (there’s no save anywhere feature). Well, if you hoard too much, there are also item boxes located in the darndest places that can force a bit of paranoid backtracking if you suddenly realize you might need space for something extra along your route or need to drop items but want to store them. Okay, perhaps that’s more my hoarding nature in games, but you know what I mean.

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Review: SEGA AGES: Puyo Puyo 2 (Switch)

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Oh, sure, it looks super-cute… but this game is a MONSTER.

Switch_PuyoPuyo2_desc_char“Did you get the game yet? She asked. I told her yes, I’d gotten it. “Oh, good! This one you can play better!” the voice on the other end of the phone cheerily said, then let out an evil-sounding cackle. My eyes rolled in my skull like marbles on a freshly waxed floor and I laughed. Well, my dear friend was right to some extent, as I got further faster in SEGA AGES: Puyo Puyo 2 ($7.99) that I did in the first game thanks to a new ‘offset rule’ that makes for  slightly less stressful play, ‘Garbage Puyo’ drops be damned. The game also tosses in a few other new rules as well as a very handy and new rewind feature, and overall, feels more fun than the original.

A voice in the background on the other end warned “She just wants to play against you online and win!” and yes, I knew that as soon as I saw their phone number pop up on my home line. Man, if that husband of hers just learned to play and lose gracefully, I’d at least be able to not have to take these awful beatings every so often.

Er, I think that came out wrong, but let’s move on.

The last time we played a Puyo Puyo game, it was in person, she was sick (some allergies acting up) and still beat me like a rug (yes, people used to beat rugs and still do). This time out, now she was tanned, rested and ready and yours truly had no chance against Mrs. Skills Deluxe. Yes, I was beaten like a barrel of pickles, if one beat a barrel of pickles for some reason instead of shooting fish in a barrel (which has always been a bad idea as you’d get fishy water and/or pickle brine on your good shoes).  Oh well, but I’m still pretty good at Bejeweled 3, so I take solace in that. Continue reading

Review: SEGA AGES: Sonic The Hedgehog 2

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They’re NOT social distancing, but the game is from 1992, soooo…

Switch_SegaAgesSonic2_STI knew I’d like M2’s revisiting this Sega Genesis classic a lot, but the extra mile (or Miles Prower, heh) the developer went here makes the experience even more enjoyable. SEGA AGES: Sonic The Hegdehog 2 ($7.99) is a solid enhanced port overall even with a touch of occasional glitchiness. Not only do you get the original game, but you get the inclusion of Knuckles the Echidna from Sonic and Knuckles as a playable character (as if you inserted a Sonic 2 cart into Sonic and Knuckles’ unique cartridge add-on slot back in 1992), a single stage Challenge Mode (I wish it had more stages, though), the Drop Dash move from the stellar Sonic Mania added, excellent HD rumble, online leaderboards and a few other nice touches like the ability to save anywhere.

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Video Store Action Heroes: Streets of Fire (1984)

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Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) and two of The Attackers, about to get attacked (and lose, badly).

Video Store Action Heroes - Banner 9 finalIt’s that time again, folks. You’re likely trapped inside like me for a spell, so I have your attention (at least for a few minutes before you try and sneak out). Say, look what the cat dragged in after a bit of a hiatus. This post is hopefully, virus-free and entertaining (or at the very least, one of those).

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When I first saw Walter Hill’s “Rock & Roll Fable” Streets of Fire way back in 1984, I can honestly say that I really didn’t like it much. Yet, there was a certain “je ne sais pas quoi” about it that made it quite magnetic. I went back at least four or five times to see it afterward probably in the hope it would get better with each viewing and even saw it a few more times on cable over the decades. Despite the ridiculously simple comic book style plot and one-note characters, the film’s super stylish looks combined with the genre and 1950’s/1980’s era blending made for a unique visual experience. Storytelling? Eh, there’s not so much to be thrilled over. Personally, I feel the film hasn’t aged well, original to modern cult following aside. But at least it gets straight to the action stuff if you just want that and well, you get your money’s worth if you go in totally blind expecting exactly what’s onscreen.

Plot-wise, it’s all this and no more, but I’m going to over-explain a tad here: During a concert in her hometown, singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is kidnapped by a biker gang and held hostage in another part of a fictional city.  A fan (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) calls in her tough guy ex-soldier brother Tom Cody (Michael Paré), who was previously romantically involved with Ellen, to go rescue her. He initially turns down the request, but (duh!), why else would he make the long trip back home? He ends up teaming up with Ellen’s new and wealthy jerk boyfriend/manager (Rick Moranis) and another ex-soldier he meets in a dive bar (Amy Madigan), and for a $10,000 fee, rescues Ellen, who thinks Tom only saved her for the money.

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Duck Tales! Ooo woo ooooo!!!

That mostly turns out to be false, and Tom later takes on the gang leader Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe, in too small of a role for a film’s main villain) in a fight with custom made sledgehammers where the outcome is more predictable than you’d think. While the end result is beautifully stylish and super easy to follow, for my tastes it’s too basic of a plot with no surprises or big twists. While the film packs in a lot of flash and neon-soaked noir-ishness, it ends up being up far too predictable despite that flashiness that it’s a bit disappointing.

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