Review: The Monster of Piedras Blancas

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“Oh, crap. I forgot to put on my silky underthings BEFORE I got into the costume. Er, they prevent chafing, you know, right…”

MFPB_MP2On one hand, Irvin Berwick’s 1959 flick The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a pedestrian and very slow-burning “B” horror film with some neat noir-like shots, light early gore, and a great creature costume cobbled from a few sources that looks quite spectacular when it’s finally revealed. On the other hand, it’s still a pedestrian and very slow-burning film that drags out its plot a wee bit too long.

Its big monster reveal comes so late in the film and manages to come off as somewhat disappointing because you still see less of that really cool-looking monster than you’d like, but at least you get some action on-screen when it happens. It’s far from a “bad” film, it’s just a bit dull in its presentation of an otherwise great-looking man in a suit. The again, with a budget under $30,000, you can see where the money went thanks to the suit that man is in being so well-conceived.

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“I will roar from the highest rooftop that I DID NOT DO IT!”

Granted, the film teases the titular creature right at the very beginning as a claw reaches for a beat-up metal bowl and afterward, some kids are sent packing off the beach by a lighthouse keeper named Sturges (John Harmon) with a secret. He’s the one keeping the creature well-fed and of course, he’s got a tasty and somewhat gorgeous daughter, Lucille (Jeanne Carmen) he’s kept out of the loop for years (ten years of boarding school, eep!). Naturally, she’s all grown up now and she and her curves caught the eye of Fred (Don Sullivan) a visiting biology student who’s not at all after her for her shapely figure and hey, this is 1959 we’re taking about and that stuff didn’t happen in movies like this (he said, sarcastically). Sturges is not a fan of Biology students who want to date his shapely daughter, it would seem.

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Super Capsule Reviews: Are GO (Part 2)

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Well… try not to get hit (too much).

The ever long debate I see over indie games being “as good as” or “better than” AAA content is a bit silly because at the end of the day, both types of games are welcome and necessary for a few reasons some folks would figure out rather quickly if they kind of shut up and played stuff more than they do rolling around in the internet alley fighting about. Me, I just love seeing what a dev team (or single developer in some cases) can whip up because hell, playing a well-made game created with passion that can be seen on screen is a good way to get anyone who loves a wide range of visual and gameplay styles to go spend some of that hard-earned cash on some really fun titles like the ones below.

Xenon Valkyrie+ PS4Xenon Valkyrie+ (PS4/PS Vita Cross-Buy, $9.99): Fabrice Breton (dba COWCAT) has worked on some pretty hardcore pixel art game ports that provide a hefty amount of challenge for the money. Xenon Valkyrie, originally created by Daniel Fernandez Chavez and published by Diabolical Minds for PC, was improved and ported to consoles by Breton, is dripping with retro charm and packs in a mix of rogue-like, light role-playing, platforming, and fast-paced combat action that’s somewhat addictive even after multiple deaths. Part of the thrill comes from surviving the levels and their randomness, part comes from earning new gear as you go and using it to beat maps that seem impossible and impassable until you get that gear.

The cool thing here is you learn as you go what works and what doesn’t and runs will be, thanks to the randomness, a mix of small and large victories against enemies and the destructible maps. You’ll be using every skill and tool in a growing arsenal here, and the way each character plays will make some areas tricky to complete, but you’ll get better with skill and practice. There’s a lot of game here if it hooks you in and you don’t mind the learning process. As with the COWCAT ported game below, there’s some serious replay value here if you’re brave and willing.

Score: B (80%)

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Review: Remothered: Tortured Fathers (Switch)

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Rosemary needs a rear view mirror, good running shoes, and a portable air tank, too.

remothered switchWhile it’s been out a few months, I held off on my review of Remothered: Tortured Fathers on Nintendo’s console because it had some major issues and I decided to hold out for a patch, of which there have been two released. I’d initially played though the most of the unpatched version, but the game had some awful visual, gameplay and interface issues that made it quite a test of endurance, particularly in docked mode where visually, it was sub-par to the point of looking like an early PS2 port in some areas where detail took some major performance hits. It was still a scary as hell game experience, mind you. But things were definitely in need of fixing and nope, playing undocked didn’t help much either.

Fortunately, Darril Arts and Stormind Games got this some much-needed love on the patch front, as a number of visual and lighting improvements, UI tweaks, and more now make it a lot more palatable. There are still a few smaller issues, but the game is certainly now well worth your time if you’re re a fan of its uncompromising psychological horror. You play as Rosemary Reed, who’s investigating the mysterious disappearance of a young girl some years earlier. Initially, she makes her way into the gloomy Felton mansion, but after a brief time poking around, she’s kicked out when things aren’t as they seem on her front (no spoilers here, but watch the trailer). When she sneaks back inside, she continues her investigation and finds… well, let’s just say, a lot more horror that she’s anticipating, a whole lot more madness on display and plenty of “holy $#!+” surprises. Well, as if having a near naked, apron clad madman coming after her isn’t frightening and surprising enough.

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Review: Construction Simulator 2 US – Console Edition (Switch)

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It I could name my trucks here, I might go with Tonka, Tootsie, and Dinky…

cs2 switchI’d been sleeping on these assorted Simulator games for a while because they take quite a while to play, but thanks to a friend asking about them (he’s getting his kid a Switch and happens to be in the construction field). I finally took the plunge and can report that yes, hours will go by with a well-done sim like this. Astragon’s got a solid game in Construction Simulator 2 on Switch ($19.99), and while it’s a highly complex game that requires quite a bit of precision and patience to play, parents into this sort of game might find it educational if their kid is say, about 12 and wants to get into the business at some point in the future.

That said, the game is pretty daunting even for adults even though it has a wealth of tutorials and tips to get players up and starting a little (and soon to be rather large) construction business. You’ll need to constantly make sure whatever equipment you buy or rent is in the PRECISE position when operating on a job or errors will be made and learning where and the game covers so much ground (ha-ha) that you’ll be working up a real sweat from the level of difficulty as you learn a lot in the process. The game is no joke when it comes to the simulation elements, especially with all the settings up.

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You better know how to use that, pal…

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Review: Lost Ember (PS4)

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Might as well jump…

Lost EmberFor the record, I’m a Kickstarter backer of this game, but to be perfectly honest, I never review any game and give it an automatic positive score whether I get code for free, buy a game outright, or write it up based on a (very tiny, in this case) pledge or reward as if it would make the game “better” if it turned out not to be. That’s a weird way some look at crowdfunding games (or any funded product, for that matter), especially when there’s NO guarantee the project will be fully funded or even produced. Besides, as it says on its site, Kickstarter is not a store. That said, I found that briefly chatting with someone at developer Mooneye before and I think after I pledged some years back sold me on the game’s concept and freed a loose buck from my wallet. Funded or not, I felt that what they were working on was a nifty idea.

With that said, reviewing Lost Ember on PS4 ($29.99), turned into a fun exercise for the brain as the game is mostly flawless in execution, but is in need of a few technical fixes I found that hamper the experience (a patch is in order to clean up a few things). It’s certainly quite lovely to look at once you get out of the intentionally dull-ish (but very nicely lit) cave the game starts out in. Then it takes cues from a few open-world titles where stepping outside shows off the game world to be a wide, wondrous place worth fully exploring. “Where do I go now?” will be the question many have (I’d skip any walkthroughs posted this early in the game’s release, frankly). But the game points you in the right directions by making where you need to go a map’s focal point, and then leaving it up to you to choose how to get there.

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Review: Spaceland (Switch)

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Dang dry ice everywhere, hiding those aliens! Grrrr…

Spaceland SwitchTortuga Team and Ellada Games’ great little turn-based strategy game Spaceland ($14.99) wants you to play it a few times, so I’ve been very good in my obliging it. The game’s quick 15 minute or less levels (you can take longer if you need to) seem as if they’d be one and done affairs unless you’re trying to unlock all it has to offer. It’s at that point when you see they’re not. Yes, you’ll soon discover that your far too under-powered to do so in some cases and you’ll need to pop back in at some point with better gear and help when you get a few more members on your team (and when the game allows them into certain maps).

I haven’t yet played the fantasy/RPG themed turn-based strategy Braveland Trilogy games from the developer, so I can’t make comparisons other than to say those games were 2D and sprite-based where Spaceland goes for a clean polygon look and slicker animated style. There are also puzzle-like elements here where the game requires completing levels in as few turns as possible, something that takes a few attempts and yes, often missing bonuses in favor of fast and flawless runs. Oh, you’ll be back if you like what’s here, trust me.

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Review: Bee Simulator (PS4)

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You’ll bee a busy bee and like it a lot here if the premise hooks you in.

Bee Simulator coverSneaking in its well-written and simple to grasp science and nature lessons in little bits over time (the loading screen and ever expanding journal are excellent), Vasrav Games Studio and publisher Bigben Interactive have a superb and beautiful game in Bee Simulator ($39.99). It’s not without its flaws, but it’s definitely a game worth a few plays in single and couch co-op modes. Come into this with an open mind and you’ll bee pleasantly surprised and even perhaps learn some important things in the process.

The main story is a bit of fluff where you’re a new honeybee who has to help save her hive’s tree from being chopped down, but here’s a game that gets more mileage out of its basic gameplay than its more basic plot when all is said and done. That loose flight control you’ll discover takes a bit of getting used to (you’ll likely bounce off and into many things at first), but it’s entirely doable once you practice (go watch a few real-life bees do their thing if you’re safely near any and it’s bee season). The attention to detail is phenomenal (well, despite the talking insects and a few other “game-y”elements) and enough to make me think a certain two Japanese developers could make their own insect-filled and far more explosive bug and ‘bot-based series a bit more impressive it they added more realistic giant bug nests to the levels. But I digress (EDF! EDF!)

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“Hi, those big horns are are meant for playing, right? Oh, they’re not horns, but you’ll play anyway? Cool!”

Back to the game at hand, it starts in and around a honey bee hive with a few tutorials that get you buzzing about and pulling off a few moves, learning to fly and boost, use a bee sight power that allows you to see and locate certain flowers and other items you’ll need to progress. If you’re not in the bee camp because you think they’re somehow awful or terrifying menaces to humanity (you’d be wrong on the honeybee front, at least), the tutorial drops enough info on you to get you curious and the main game will have you beeing so much of a helpful bee that you (and the kids, if you have them play) might bee-come bee cheerleaders each time you boot this up.  I think the bees would like that, by the way.

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Review: Narcos: Rise of the Cartels (PS4)

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As long as the enemy doesn’t look up to read that word, he’ll be fine…

NARCOSIf you told me a game about a violent but long deceased Colombian drug lord could be a pretty well done turn-based strategy game in 2019, I’d have said that you were on something. I’m sure the late drug lord (in his previously bullet-free state) would also be smirking as well before setting you up for a nice tire necklace fitting for suggesting such a thing. Then again, publicity being what it is these days, he might be even crowdfunding his own game like this if he were still alive, now that I think about it. “¿Qué? Estás loco … pero eso me gusta.” or something like that (but with a lot more colorful and a lot less rusty use of the language).

So, here we have Narcos: Rise of the Cartels ($29.99), from Kuju Games and publisher Curve Digital, a game I knew I’d like as soon as I realized it was a much more polished version of the now forgotten Falling Skies: The Game, which itself borrows its best parts from the XCOM reboot from a few years ago. While it has that entry level thing going for it, the game checks a few boxes on its way to being a solid buy if you like the genre. The more gritty trash-filled and alien free realistically rendered maps help a lot here in delivering the goods, and while turn-based, the combat can often be tense, especially when surprise enemies appear and you’re outflanked.

Yes, the AI is sometimes careless, at least in that it has foes that may put themselves in harm’s way (I consider those cases where a you’d see a real life reckless thug [or reckless DEA agent on the flip side] let out a yell and bum rushes someone), but the game is quite addictive once you get the combat and tactical stuff down. For those who wanted a boring GTA clone, the game might be surprising to play with its M-rated language, blood. permadeath, and high body count, but it’s hard to guess other than to suggest those folks give this a try and see what happens.

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Review: Sparklite (PS4)

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“You bought your key, right?” Good thing it’s something you never drop, as it’s heck of a time to go back to your base.

sparklite ps4Call me crazy, but Sparklite ($24.99) does what it does so well that I thought I was playing an improved sequel to something. Granted, some bits are a tad maddening (such as using the fussy balloon powered bombs, some harsh difficulty spikes, the rogue-like structure can make some bad runs worse, and yes, a few things need patching), but despite these issues, it a fun game that comes recommended. It’s still a joyful game to play even with the flaws, with a chunk of the Legend of Zelda series as its main inspiration. Visually, I saw a tiny bit of a Beyond Oasis aesthetic, and a even little of Digital Sun’s fantastic Moonlighter (even though it’s a very different game, it feels like it shares some elements) but maybe I’m just Ancient (and know so many bad game-related puns most won’t get unless explained).

Anyway, it’s a game where exploring the sometimes daunting maps is really exciting once you upgrade the shops in town. As you acquire and improve better gear (shades of Kemco’s Asdivine Hearts games, item slots and gems of assorted sizes come into play), it’s thrilling to go back to each time. Playing as Ada, you’re tasked with restoring a world called Geodia were things are literally falling apart (thus, the random nature of its maps) when too much Sparklite gathering has put her planet in danger. That said, Sparklite is also the currency that drives the upgrading, as does finding and creating a number of cool tools Ada uses in her adventuring.

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Review: The Terminal Man

the terminal manI hadn’t seen Mike Hodges’ somewhat exceptional The Terminal Man for over 40 years, so naturally, that film I derided that long ago for its awful TV edit was quite the gloomy, rewarding surprise as a revisit a day ago as a complete film. As a kid, I can recall vividly the scene where George Segal, wearing a messy blond wig, white suit and whiter shoes was beating a large triangular-headed shiny metal robot to “death” and how it made me laugh as I retold the scene to a few amused school friends.

As you can guess, I want to kick my younger self a bit now (not too hard, though) because it’s one of a number of haunting images the film has and it comes a few minutes after a shocking murder mostly clipped from the TV edit. Initially to be directed by its author, Michael Crichton (who the studio felt was changing his own novel too much for the film), Hodges was given the task of getting it into the depressing, downbeat sci-fi thriller it turned out to be, writing and directing the project himself. Amusingly, I came into the film as a fan of The Andromeda Strain. The film version of that had me go take the book from the the library that past summer and I blew through it a few times (it’s a fast, tense read and took under a day to blaze through non-stop the first time). So I didn’t get the less conventional manner in which some of The Terminal Man was structured. Well, the edited network version didn’t help much, that’s for sure.

terminal_man_ver3That initial derision from my younger self was also a definite case of being too young to grasp the film’s tone and my only exposure to Segal’s work being a few comedic and lighter performances. Seeing the film now reveals the range and rage on display, or an actor fully in charge of the character he’s inhabiting. As Harry Benson, a computer scientist prone to anger and seizures, he goes through an experimental surgery that has a tiny computer hooked into his brain to keep things under control.

Guess what? The early predictions of a successful recovery by his smug doctors? Yeah, they’re rendered into obsolescence when Harry decides to stop taking his meds and escapes from the hospital with the help of his girlfriend (Jill Clayburgh) who has no idea Harry’s implanted computer (which she has no clue about) is going to misfire quite badly. There’s murder and mayhem to follow, but the film doesn’t go to places it doesn’t need to outside of telling its particular tale, clocking in at a lean 107 minutes before it ends.

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