Review: Children of Morta (PS4)

Children of Morta - cover artwork

COM_cover“Outstanding” is the first word that springs to mind in Dead Mage and 11Bit Studios spectacular Children of Morta ($29.99), a game I didn’t want to stop playing. I dragged out the gameplay intentionally, clocking in about 25 hours in because between the lovely visuals, great action-packed gameplay, and often heart-tugging story here, I didn’t want to leave this gorgeous action/RPG’s world. Yes, it’s a slower paced story and some may think it’s heavy use of deliberately paced narrative and the narrator’s Bastion-like delivery slows the game down. But as someone who’s a reader of stories (and sometimes a teller of them when properly prompted) this didn’t bother me one bit. Besides, every game one plays need not be the same as another and the focus on family here is welcome for a change.

This is a game where sentiment is an important plot device, but the action is also well implemented and sometimes very challenging in a product that took five years to craft. Both the art and artistry on display are to be properly commended, so hats off to all involved in this. I got a digital code to review, but I’m surely and sorely tempted to buy this as a physical release just to have if it ever disappears from PSN for any reason. Yeah, I’d play this again even though it’s more or less a “one and done” game to some extent, but a great one worth checking out a few times for its randomly generated levels and some neat side missions (“Who’s a good puppy? You are!” is a hint I’ll give). I was thrilled by most of what’s here to definitely say I’d revisit it like a good novel because it works well as enough of a memorable visual and aural treat with a good story, to boot.

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Pixel perfection, plus the animation is always fantastic.

The Bergsons are a family that discovers a corrupting force has come to their land and fortunately, the spirit of adventure runs in the family. That we’re dealing with a tight-knit family where you can choose to play as a few classes is a fine touch and surprise, much better that the sometimes generic hero types (that too often have some form of amnesia) in RPGs. One fun thing here is the Bergsons have nicely normal names that seem dull, but I say that’s more the player than the game wanting to choose a “McHero” or original sounding name because they think it makes for a better experience. This game, for me works because no one person is the star – they’re all great and necessary characters here. Even the ones that seem a little strange in some areas (Lucy, I’m taking about you and that laughing of yours).

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Review: Terror in a Texas Town (Blu-Ray)

Terror in a Texas Town coverI sure wish director Joseph H. Lewis got more a lot more respect these days. Granted, his career spanned 41 mostly B-movies spread across different genres that it was hard to shoehorn him into a box (but that’s a good thing for those who love variety and surprises). You could say he was a journeyman with quite a vision, as some of his films were memorable and considered classics by those some film lovers who’ve seen his work and appreciate it. He took some chances in his time in the director’s chair, but also made the some pretty generic titles between the brilliant ones.  While some of the results might have gone over the heads of some viewers at the time, it’s worth tracking down some of his work to see a quiet master in action when the results were really good.

In 1958, Lewis planned to retire from movies and go to TV, but opted out to make one final film, the B-quality, but memorable for a few reasons western, Terror in a Texas Town. While it’s no epic (hell, it opens right off the bat with part of the ending sequence and also uses some ancient stock footage a few times, clearly as a means to kill time and save money during its tidy 81 minutes) and the story is a bit weathered (until you know certain things about its genesis), it’s worth a watch because it’s an intriguing B-grade flick on a few fronts. Is it a “good” movie? Well, one could say where it counts it is despite its budgetary limitations.

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“No, I don’t like your tie. Besides, I’m married to the man who’s going to try and kill you, sooo…”

Sterling Hayden plays George Hansen, a Swedish immigrant, who after almost 20 years at sea, comes to America to live and farm alongside his dad, Sven, who’s been waiting for him to arrive. Unfortunately, Sven is murdered in cold blood while trying to defend his land from Crale (Nedrick Young) the steel-fisted and black-clad killer hired by McNeil (Sebastian Cabot) who it turns out, would probably rather have paid Sven off or burned him out instead of having him killed. But, gone is gone, McNeil gets his ill-gotten land and Crale quite enjoys what he does. Protests from his weary wife, Molly (Carol Kelly) who warns Crale the law could close in any moment, go ignored by Crale and it seems he’s due for a fall at some point. He’s not exactly in his prime and his former gun hand was shot off and replaced with a steel one (it’s too bad more isn’t made of this, though). McNeil’s plan is to grab all the land in the area for its newly found oil and the film opens (after the titles) with a literal barn burning as a elderly couple gets one of McNeil’s less violent choices of treatment.

(Thanks, HD Retro Trailers!)

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Review: One Night Stand (PS4)

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“Back up for a sec. I did WHAT last night?”

ONS_boxShort and simple on the surface, Kinmoku and ever busy port-house and publisher Ratalaika Games present a nifty little surprise in the form of One Night Stand, ($4.99) a game practically guaranteed to tee some prudish or easily triggered folks off (such as those expecting the usual trophy hunt from the publisher. Oh, they’re here, but it they come with a bit of baggage some can’t or won’t handle). This one’s a “slice of life” game, a visual novel where the person you’re playing wakes up in bed with a girl he met the night before and has (well, it’s an option here, but who doesn’t like a mystery?) to put the pieces together as he attempts to find out a few things about her.

Yeah, yeah. “Ooh, cooties” and all that dopey nonsense some will chime like broken bells as they whine about this game being the end of the world or bottom of the barrel or whatever. But it’s actually a pretty decent experience overall if you free yourself from any prejudices you may have Like it or not, some people in the real world sleep with each other and they’re not married and pumping out children. You can say this game is a sort of representational reality in a way of some (DEFINITELY not all) of the effects.

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Yeah, Let me choose (carefully, now!)…

Granted, waking up next to a total stranger is quite a change of pace (and how!) from this publisher of budget games, but it’s a risk that pays off big in little ways. As noted, the game is short (about 10 to 15 minutes per outcome), but replaying the scenario you get will extend the story across a few branches and yes, get you those trophies you’re after. As I like to note in my reviews of these games, Trophies are the last thing I think about and games like this are excellent ways to shake thing up.

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Review: The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

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Hmmm… I was going to post this pic upside down, but I wanted to not spoil the film for those who’ve yet to see it.

Yes, friends, it’s time for another episode of…

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Other posts can be found here, here, and here, so get in your reading, I say,

This month, we’re all going on a cruise, yay!

Well, sort of (just remember to climb the Christmas tree, or else). Ronald Neame’s 1972 classic (co-directed by Irwin Allen) is a star-filled one with impressive practical effects (well, the ship model looks these days like an expensive toy you don’t want to accidentally sit or step on while in the bath) and very cool upside down sets. While it’s not your typical “action” movie, it’s certainly exceptionally well made and packed with more than enough thrills and (wait for it…) spills galore (expect a lot of puns here, friends). As a disaster flick, it certainly wasn’t a disaster at all, raking in 93 million dollars for 20th Century Fox over its time in theaters.

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A big movie deserves a big poster, right?

These days (and a poorly received sequel plus a expensive few remakes later) is the original The Poseidon Adventure still a seaworthy film? I say yes, it still holds its water rather excellently if you throw caution to the wind and don’t go overboard with your expectations. Granted, for all its death and angst on display, the film is not as cruel as the 1969 novel was with some of its characters. One could say Stirling Silliphant’s adaptation of the Paul Gallico novel softens the impact somewhat yet still has enough drama for its target audience.

If you’re new to the film, all you need to know is how it starts and sit back to enjoy the rest (and NO, it’s not a true story):

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You better not think this actually happened.

Let’s just say it’s New Year’s (Rockin’, as ships do in bad weather with no ballast) Eve, stuff happens minutes after the happier vibe the film kicks off with that isn’t too good (like any New Year’s party, things can kind of get a little out of hand) and the world is turned upside down for a bunch of people (as I said, like any New Year’s party, things can kind of get a little out of hand). The survivors bond (well, sort of) and have to find their way off the doomed ship before she sinks to a watery grave like a former swimming champ does after a bit of too much exercise.

Uh, did I say this review was spoiler-free? I lied. Here’s the trailer, doing what it needs to to get 1972-era butts in theater seats:

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Review: Reventure (Switch)

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One switch is an ending trap, one releases a trap (and another ending) and one might have something useful inside. Maybe…

Reventure_boxAnd… here we go! Once again, it’s off to rescue a Princess from a demon’s well-guarded castle, but this time, I’m dying laughing thanks to the game I’m playing tossing many unexpected curve balls my way. Welcome to Reventure ($9.99), Pixellato’s fun and intense side-scrolling homage to among other games, The Legend of Zelda series, but with 100 endings to discover.

Most are abrupt surprises that send your character back to square one within a few minutes of play, but time is weirdly and intentionally presented here, so an outcome may send your hero into the distant future or later the same day. It all depends on the ending you get, and it’s very possible to drop a few hours here just exploring and figuring out the seemingly simple map that holds a lot of secrets (and quite a few traps). While that may sound boring to some, it makes for some downright hilarious moments based on your choices. That said, the game can also be (also intentionally) confusing to those who expect a straightforward speedrun or other type of one-note platformer.

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Review: The Tiny Bang Story (Switch)

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“Ma’am, could you tell me where you keep the puzzle pieces, please?”

Tiny BangWant a teased brain and some very pleasant and relaxing tunes to chill out to? Do you like puzzles and hidden object games? Well, here’s a game for you, then. Colibri Games’ The Tiny Bang Story ($9.99) finally comes to Switch and while it’s quite lovely to look at, some older gamers  (raises hand) might want to play it docked thanks to some very intricately detailed environments that make playing in portable mode a little tricky.

That’s not to say it’s unplayable undocked, mind you. This is a game where a larger TV screen not only shows off the great art to its fullest, some of the tiny details are harder to spot if you can’t see them (and there are a lot of tiny details here). I did make it through a hour or so through in portable mode before going docked and not looking back, but your own mileage may vary.

That and the onscreen pointer is super small, which helps seeing things, but also hinders things a bit because it’s so minuscule and you need to do a bit of hunting and pecking here. This is really the only “bad” thing about the game. Some of the search bits are yes, a lot of trial and error searching or tapping, but that’s par for the course in this sort of game. The puzzle portions are set up and balanced overall between those that make you think and a few where you might pull a few hairs figuring them out, but that’s also part of the deal you get with these games.

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Review: Scheming Through The Zombie Apocalypse: The Beginning (PS4)

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Oh, for now, it does, Larry…

Scehming 1Disclaimer: Zombies as portrayed in the media aren’t a real thing at all and if you’ve been paying attention, apocalypses (other than the cosmic variety) are kinda man-made messes these days.

That said, in Scheming Through The Zombie Apocalypse: The Beginning ($4.99, also on Switch, Xbox One, and PC) some really hilarious and crude content awaits in this game where an old cartoon rabbit called Hank and his younger mutt friend Larry, scam fellow animals to do their supply runs in this really fun and short (because it’s presented episodically) game from the fine folks at Entertainment Forge, GrabTheGames, and Ratalaika Games. The funky cartoon style and limited animation recall something you’d see in an underground comic or during Cartoon Network’s better years, the script is pretty funny, and the game is memorable enough that you’re left wanting more (and more is on the way).

As the game begins, a (or The) zombie apocalypse has started, and buddies Hank and Larry have plans to hole up with Hank’s storage of a year’s worth of food plus some movies to get by (and yes, some drugs). Four months later (oops), they’re out of supplies, the power has been turned off (it’s actually one of the first things that happens) and Hank and Larry have to brave the outside world to get new supplies, starting with the wrecked shop across the street from them. Poor Larry is the first guinea pig, as Hank’s a bit slow (and he’s got the binoculars) and he survives, only to run into a drunken parrot and two easily pissed-off bulls who demand they give up some of their hard-gained loot.

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Review: Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain (PS4)

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Oh, wait ’til you have at least a dozen or so of these big guys to deal with and a few dozen or so ants and other bugs ti deal with (yipes).

EDF_IR BoxWith a new developer, new game engine and new elements to its gameplay, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain ($59.99, $89.99 for the Ultimate Edition) ends up being kind of a reboot on one hand, but totally new and harder that the other games in the franchise on the other. This is a good thing, although a few elements could use some fixing up. Veteran Japanese developer Yuke’s decided to go with making the game tougher overall even on the easiest mode to the point it’s rough going to solo some missions unless you have very particular weapons or play with other live players in split-screen or online. While yes, you can tackle missions alone if you like, the mix of enemy types combined with less open maps and AI allies who seem to expire too quickly in some of the busier maps make for less mindless fun but more challenge at the end of the day.

It’s also a big game, with new character customization galore and the ability to play any character as any class, swapping out the new PA Gear at will between missions. Though not quite as mission varied or long as the Sandlot-developed games, it’s still a lot of game for the money and if you’re into that, it’s going to be money well spent. Granted, the mighty EDF 5 did suffer from a few repetitive missions and maps and the next to last boss fight dragged a bit because you needed to figure out how to beat that transforming spaceship boss as quickly as possible (and it took a while to do so the first time). A few tweaks here would help make a good game better, though. The appeal to western audiences ends up adding some elements to the game that it really didn’t need, and I’m saying this as someone who liked Earth Defense Force Insect Armageddon because it shook things up back when it was released.

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Review: Black Sunday/Mask of the Demon (Blu-Ray)

(Thanks, FulciLives!)

Layout 1Say, did I ever tell you all the story of the time a few decades ago back in the 80’s when I learned how to brine a chicken thanks to a pair of very helpful Satanists looking for Kosher salt at a grocery store? No? Well, that’s not why we’re here, so I won’t go into it other than to say I didn’t know they were into that stuff, and hell, I’m an atheist anyway. The chicken? It was excellent by the way. Still is, whenever it’s made.

Uh, speaking of “anyway”, Let’s move on.

Still scary and somewhat phenomenally timeless, Mario Bava’s classic “first” film La Maschera Del Demonio/The Mask of Satan (aka Black Sunday in the US) starts off unsettling and keeps the frights coming until the end. Bava’s direction and art direction here are generally superb, although yes, there are a few plot holes you can drive a rattly (or rat-filled) old Fiat through if you follow the story too closely. But taken as a whole, it’s still a work of brilliance that many films have paid homage to over the decades since its release.

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“Where the hell is my coffee? I just woke up after 200 years!”

Very loosely based on The Viy, Nikolai Gogol’s horror tale from 1835, the film revels in its high Gothic style, early use of gore effects and the stunning Barbara Steele who plays both the evil Asa Vajda and 200 years after her demise, her relative, Katia Vajda. It’s a revenge story of sorts, as that witch and her soulless-mate Igor Javutich (Arturo Dominici) are separated and then executed in a most bloody fashion for their crimes and yes, there’s a bit of a promise of defiant revenge from the witch. 200 years later, it’s young Katya who’s target of a newly revived Asa’s demonic ways and in tandem with the revived Javutich, things get ugly for a few people after that curse literally comes to life. Wait, or is it figuratively? I forget.

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Vincent Price wants his stage wig back when you’re done, pal.

Interestingly, the film links Satanism and witchcraft to devil worship as the same thing, which is about the sole flaw that sticks out (well, I’d guess it was seen as the same in the 1630’s, but I’m a terrible time traveler, getting too sick from the trips to pay attention and all that).

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Review: Neo Cab (PC)

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Here’s a ride worth taking.

Now, this was pretty cool one, and not a “honk” in sight.

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Geez. Well, maybe if they have a lousy attitude like you, they might, lady…

Chance Agency’s excellent “survival adventure” game Neo Cab  (also on Switch and Apple Arcade) feels to me like what would happen if the classic cyberpunk FASA game series Shadowrun got a first-person expansion focusing not on weapons or magic, but a human taxi driver who just took mostly normal and a few tech-enhanced passengers where they needed to go, listening or responding to their mundane stories along the way.  There’s also a smidgen of a more recent game Night Call, minus the murder investigation aspect to contend with (there’s a taxi accident mentioned a few times that occurs off-screen integral to the plot, but the Teen-rated game doesn’t feature any violence). The people you meet as pax (passengers)  here are a pretty interesting (and well-written) sort where if you have time over the game’s six-day period, you’ll want to pick a few up multiple times in order to find out more of their stories.

There’s replay value here because the game’s main story only lasts about four or hours and intentionally limits pickups to three (or four in cases where you decide to take a chance on an extra run) a day. Granted, the plot threads all link up at some point, but it’s impressive to see how it all comes together even if the finale tends to be a bit of an anticlimax on one front when compared to the bulk of the game. It’s not a bad ending, mind you. It just forces a particular choice at you until you pick what seems to be closure for some characters. While there’s no voice acting here, most of the “acting” here is nicely mimed and/or conveyed through what’s seen on-screen.

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