Friday, January 1, 2016

What stuff I've watched/played and completed in 2015

Just for sake of clarification: Inclusion on this list does not denote any level of quality or a personal good opinion of said product. This is just a general list of stuff I watched, read, and played that I completed within 2015. This list does not include books and videogames that are "in-progress" at the turn of the new year (and there are several). The list for comics is also incomplete, due primarily my personal difficulties with keeping track of individual issues of multiple series. ^.^'''

Note on movie lists: "(new 2014 - 2015)" are movies that came out during one of those years and watched in 2015. "(new to me)" are movies older than 2013 that I watched for the first time in 2015. "(revisited)" are movies I have already seen but watched again during 2015.

Movies (new 2014 - 2015)
The Imitation Game
The Interview
Jupiter Ascending
John Wick
The Zero Theorem
Kingsman:  Secret Service
Birdman -or- (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Big Hero 6
Ernest and Celestine
Song of the Sea
Mr. Peabody and Sherman
Ex Machina
Avengers:  Age of Ultron
Mad Max: Fury Road
November Man
Transformers: Age of Exitinction
Terminator: Genisys
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
The Penguins of Madagascar: The Movie
The Wrecking Crew (documentary)
St. Vincent
The Martian
Bridge of Spies
Crimson Peak
007: Spectre
Electric Boogaloo (documentary)
Back In Time (documentary)
Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Movies (new to me)
Leon:  The Professional
I, Frankenstein
The Raid 2
The Hidden Fortress
Porco Rosso
Pom Poko
Dragon Ball Z:  Battle of the Gods
Ghidora: The Three Headed Monster (Godzilla Vs. Ghidora)
Ninja (2009)
Invasion of Astro-Monster (Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero)
The Killer (1989)
The Cat Returns
The Wing Commander
A Cat In Paris
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
007: Diamonds Are Forever
The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)
007: From Russia With Love
The Relic

Movies (revisited)
Final Fantasy:  The Spirits Within
Final Fantasy VII:  Advent Children
John Dies At The End
Tucker and Dale Versus Evil
The Fifth Element
Event Horizon
Van Helsing
Hot Fuzz
Kingdom of Heaven (Director’s Cut)
Green Lantern
Godzilla (1998)
Django Unchained
Cloud Atlas
Europa Report
Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro
Kung Fu Hustle
The Monster Squad
007: You Only Live Twice
Moonrise Kingdom
007: The World Is Not Enough
007: Die Another Day
007: Tomorrow Never Dies
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Terminator: Salvation
Masters of the Universe
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars: Episode 2: Attack of the Clones
Star Wars: Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars: Episode 4: A New Hope
Star Wars: Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Episode 6: Return of the Jedi

Parks and Recreation  (Season 6)
Archer: Vice (Season 5)
Nick Offerman: American Ham
Marvel’s Daredevil (Season 1)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 1)
Marco Polo (Season 1)
Silicon Valley (Season 2)
BoJack Horseman (Season 1 - 2)
Garfunkel and Oates (Season 1)
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Dark Matter (Season 1)
Bones (Season 9 - 10)
Rick & Morty (Season 1 -2)
Marvel's Jessica Jones (season 1)

Soul Eater  (full series)
Mobile Suit Gundam: Build Fighters
Mobile Suit Gundam: Reconguista in G (1 - 5)
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin I
Knights of Sidonia (Season 2)
Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers
Gurren Lagann
Kill La Kill (Ep1 - 8)

Kinslayer - Jay Kristoff
Shovel Ready - Adam Sternbergh
The Long Earth - Stephen Baxter, Terry Pratchett
Baptism of Fire - A Novel of the Witcher - Andrzej Sapkowski
The Night Sessions - Ken MacLeod
Wool - Hugh Howey
Making Money - Terry Pratchett
The Violent Century - Lavie Tidhar
Station Eleven: A Novel - Emily St. John Mandel
The Sculptor - Scott McCloud
The Atrocity Archives - Charles Stross
Nemesis Games - James S.A. Corey
Ancillary Sword - Ann Leckie
The Mirror Empire: The World Breaker Saga - Kameron Hurley
John Dies At The End - David Wong
Welcome to Night Vale - Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
Planetfall - Emma Newman

Comics and Manga
Genshiken:  Season 2 GN4 - 5
Claymore: GN21 - 22
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin V - VIII (5 - 8)
Star Wars Omnibus:  X-Wing Rogue Squadron Volume 1 - 3
Chew: 44 - 53
Skullkickers: 31 - 34
Wayward: 1 - 10
Rat Queens: TP1 - 2 (1 - 10)
The Witcher: 1 - 10
Ms. Marvel:  TP1
Hawkeye:  Marvel Now! TP1
Deadpool:  Marvel Now! (main series): 35 - “250” (45)
Deadpool:  Deadpool’s Art of War
Deadpool:  Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool
Deadpool:  Deadpool Vs. X-Force
Deadpool:  Deadpool Vs Carnage
Deadpool:  Return of the Living Deadpool
Legendary Star-Lord: 1 - 12
Aphrodite IX:  Cyberforce #1 (crossover)
Aphrodite IX:  IX Generation: 1 - 5
My Little Pony: Friends Forever: 7 - 20
Descender: TP1 (1 - 6)
Low: TP1 (1 - 5)
Empowered: TP2
The Wicked + The Divine: TP1 (1 - 5)

The Fall (PC)
Tales From The Borderlands: Season 1 (PC)
Killzone 2: Killzone HD Collection (PS3)
Killzone 3: Killzone HD Collection (PS3)
Vanquish (PS3)
Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS4)
Middle-Earth:  Shadow of Mordor (PS4)
Tomb Raider:  Definitive Edition (PS4)
Wolfenstein: The New Order (PS4)
Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below (PS4)
Bayonetta (Wii U)
Hyrule Warriors (Wii U)
Batman: Arkham City: Armored Edition (Wii U)
Bayonetta 2 (Wii U)
Halo: Combat Evolved Remastered : Halo Master Chief Collection (XB1)
Halo 2 Remastered: Halo Master Chief Collection (XB1)
Halo 3: Halo Master Chief Collection (XB1)
Halo 4: Halo Master Chief Collection (XB1)
Halo 3: ODST: Halo Master Chief Collection (XB1)
Rise of the Tomb Raider (XB1)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Stuff That's Just Okay, Maybe

You know, I've been racking my brain the last couple months trying to figure out what to talk about.  I'd say to myself, "these games seem interesting enough to talk about" when I start them, but then turned in "I'm not really feeling it" as I played them.  And by that, I don't mean "bad", but rather just "uninteresting" and/or "did not click with me".

LEGO Star Wars: Microfighters

So, a couple months back, LEGO released a few kits of miniature Star Wars kits:  X-Wing, Millennium Falcon, TIE Interceptor, Star Destroyer, Trade Federation Hover Tank, and the Clone Turbo Tank.  Don't quote me on this, but I think they were part of a cross promotion for this, their new-ish (when I played it a couple months ago, anyways) mobile game.
Basically, its a vertical-scrolling shooter, and thankfully not of the "schmup"/"bullet-hell" style.  You pick a the Light Side or Dark Side, which is largely a cosmetic choice, then progress through a handful of stages based on a handful of major battles from the Star Wars movies.  You control your ship via touch controls: pressing the screen fires weapons and dragging moves the ship, with a few onscreen buttons for pausing and activating a super weapon.  In each stage, you destroy enemies that consist of various LEGO Star Wars models, most of the miniature versions of the ones available to buy, but a a few that are the full size versions of the models.  Destroying enemies nets you studs, weapon power-ups, and the elusive red bricks  Stage completions net gold bricks.  Red bricks unlock various boosts that, before each stage, can be bought with accumulated studs, while the gold bricks unlock the more powerful ships (Millennium Falcon and Star Destroyer).

Really, there simply isn't that much to this game.  The graphics are nice and bricky, actual Star Wars music is used, but the level backgrounds are static for each area.  The levels themselves seem to move slow, and feel overlong.  The gameplay itself is rather simple.  Enemy waves are small and predictable, and some enemies occasionally feel like damage sponges.  The few enemies that do attack, most of the time their attacks either don't stand out against the backgrounds, or they're fast and easily obscured by your own shots.  Only the bosses actually require any kind of skill to defeat, because by the time the stages actually start to become difficult the game is just about over.  Most of the difficulty comes from the game, like most scrolling shooters, being stingy with the weapon powerups.  But unlike most shooters, where you can at least tell what enemies hold powerups, here they don't tell you at all.  Similarly, the red brick in each stage seems to drop from a defeated enemy almost at random.  Most of the difficulty I had with the game was not from what the developers programmed in, but rather from the simple fact that this is a game made for touchscreen devices.  Though movement works anywhere on the screen, touching anywhere on the screen has the issue of covering up areas of the play field that you might need to see at any given time.

I know if sounds like I'm being overly harsh about it, so please understand that most of my gripes are basically nit-picking.  Its simple and fun, but it was almost certainly made for a younger age group than the one I inhabit.  Younger people need something that isn't as complex or crazy as most of the modern scrolling shooters, but that doesn't mean I'm going to gloss over shortcomings that could have made even a children's game better.  There is a good game in here, but it could be better.  And hey, it does have LEGO's and Star Wars, both of which are pluses in my book.

Disclosure:  LEGO Star Wars: Microfighters is available on iOS and Android.  The version I played was the Android version on a Nexus 7 (2013).


There's a castle on the hill, and you're part of a group of adventurers, maybe you should go check it out.  Sure, there are probably loads of monsters and deadly traps, but what about all that loot and gold?  It could be worth it.

Hammerwatch is an overhead view dungeon crawler in the vein of Gauntlet.  You pick a class, and wander through a set of dungeons of increasing complexity killing hordes of monsters (and a few bosses), avoiding traps, finding hidden rooms, grabbing keys to open doors, and breaking lots and lots of breakable objects for the cash monies.  Money buys upgrades to health, magic, damage, and other useful things, eventually.  If you have friends you can even do it with online multiplayer.  I have no friends, and thus did not try this, though I'd hazard to guess that it probably makes this a bit funner.

To progress you need to activate 4 sets of switches that located around each level to open a portal to a boss, then the next level.  Each level is broken up into several floors connected by staircases, with all the aforementioned stuff happening in between, and the level layouts tend to be somewhere between too big and too big.

Graphically, it uses a nice, pixel art style that's easy to decode, and use some minor light and shadows for effects.  Enemies range from bugs to skeletons, elementals to giant eyes, all the things that are regularly associated with high fantasy.  It does have controller support, but getting it to work can be a minor annoyance if, like me, you don't always keep one plugged into the PC.  Music is, well, I don't have the proper vocabulary to really talk about music on anything more than a cursory level.  So, the music fits well with game, and is generally unobtrusive.  It uses a hard save, checkpoint save, and a lives system.  Its very save-scum-able in single-player, but bad luck on the checkpointing can make it difficult to progress, and I don't do regular saves as often as I should.

The crux of the issues I've been having in the time I've played: everything seems to happen eventually, but that "eventually" feels like it takes longer than it should.  The individual levels are large and labyrinthine and take a long time to go through, and movement speed still seemed slow after buying several upgrades.  Finding the various merchants that sell upgrades can be an exercise in itself, sometimes easy to find, and sometimes hidden, sometimes early in the stage and sometimes later.  And woe be to you if you finally get enough gold to afford an upgrade and where was the one merchant I have to find again?  All the way over there through two specific staircases and the over half of the floors I traversed between them and how do I read this map anyways?

I mentioned that I thought the levels were too big and the map can be hard to navigate.  The switches needed to progress, sometimes there's a semblance of path between them, sometimes not, and the size of the levels make it worse.  Personal opinion and all, if the levels were smaller, even if there were still directly connected, but there were more of them, and the merchants were a little more evenly spaced, I'd be happier.  The only way I felt like I'm making progress is the massive swaths of the map I've cleared of enemies, and trying to figure out where to go next sends me putzing along at my character's slow speed through these empty areas, and it breaks the pacing.

I'll say it again, there's nothing specifically wrong with Hammerwatch, but there are definitely things that could have been done better.  As it is, I feel like the pacing is really weird, and not in a good way.  So I'll say, multi-player its probably fun, but single-player, I just wasn't feeling it.  Everything else is just gripes with how the game was built: nothing really wrong, just things that I feel could have been done better.

Disclosure:  Hammerwatch is available on PC via Steam, GoG, and the Humble Bundle Store.  My copy was obtained via a Humble Bundle sale, my play time was as the Archer class, I did not play any co-op.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Evoland Review: Hero Of 1000 Generations?

He is known by many names, over many times, over many generations.  He is The Hero, who has come before, and will come after, to save the world from Evil.  And on his journey The Hero will meet new people, including The Girl, traverse dangerous dungeons, face heartache and suffering, and finally realize his true destiny before finally facing off against The Villain.
Its the hero’s journey narrative that has been perpetuated throughout modern culture, from books, to movies, and video games in some form or another.  And while the basics often remain the same, the way the stories are told change as the writers and readers change.  Evoland, an independant game developed by Shiro Games,  is an attempt to show how this type of story has changed and evolved over the course of the videogame history through the lens of the venerable JRPG genre.
You are The Hero.  Last in a line knights protecting the kingdom from Evil, you must journey through the generations to defeat The Villain.  And journey through the generations you do, starting with the ability to move right in a monochrome strip, all the way up to moving and fighting in a fully 3D environment, from attacking enemies in a The Legend of Zelda style dungeons to Final Fantasy style turn-based battle.
Evoland hits all the proper beats, displays a large number of styles in its attempt to pay homage to many ways the RPG genre has changed from the mid-1980's on.  Yet, aside from a brief jaunt into Diablo style action-RPGs, it seems to stop having something to say around the year 2000.  Actually, Evoland kinda doesn't have anything to say at all.  For all the changes the game makes throughout its length, most of them are showing how the genre, and games in general, have changed and improved graphically.
Gameplay wise, it only has two actual styles:  Legend of Zelda style action-RPG, and Final Fantasy style turn-based RPG.  The turn-based stuff does not change at all, never moving beyond the beginning level attack/heal dichotomy.  The action style goes from original LoZ style movement and attacking, to a style like its successor: A Link to the Past by adding a Bow and Arrow and Bombs, while seemingly adding in 8-way attacking, and a basic combo as a concession to the move from 2D to 3D.  In the end, the game is still a one-button combat game.  In fact, the most interesting part of the game is the forest that acts as a big LoZ:LttP style puzzle dungeon involving using the bow and arrow to light torches.
Graphically, Evoland goes through several graphical styles that at least manage to portray the various changes the improving technology allowed.  It starts out on grey-scale with blocky rounded pixels, to color and 8-bit, 16-bit, 3D with flat colors, then with low-res textures, high-res textures, dynamic lighting, and even a Final Fantasy 7 style pre-rendered town.  It all looks very good, and evocative of their eras, the art style is largely uninspired.  The Hero and Girl are stock anime characters, the enemies almost rip-offs of enemies from LoZ and FF, and the environments almost don’t rise above the most basic of tileset construction.  Its starts off being the loving homage, but slowly turns into an unintentional parody along the lines of “This is how games used to be, isn’t it funny and cool?”
Musically, Evoland follows a similar route.  Starting out at the most basic of chiptune music and sound effects, gaining more sound channels and fidelity, eventually going full synth, and even (an approximation anyways) full orchestral near the end.  Its short enough that it doesn’t need that many pieces of music, but the few there are repetitive enough to be annoying.
And really, that’s the breaks.  Evoland starts with a good premise.  A game about the changes that have happened to videogames (and the JRPG subgenre specifically) over the various generations of videogames.  But then if gets bogged down in the specifics of improving graphics and music, only giving the barest of lip-service to the other ways they have changed.  True, the JRPG subgenre is not known for the being the most forward thinking in its evolution, but its done more growing up than Evoland seems to think it has.  Instead of trying to talk at length about game design, it ends up pointing and laughing at some of the old style anachronisms that still exist in the genre today.
My bottom line:  Its functional and works, and looks and sounds nice across the many changes in graphical and audio styles it showcases, but the game itself is not terribly long or deep.  Its a few hours of diversion, and not much more.

Disclosure:  Evoland is game for Windows PC and Mac, and available from Steam, GoG, and the developer’s website.

Writer's Note: I wanted to include my own screen captures, but PC issues forced a complete HDD wipe and Windows reinstall before I could get this written.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"Bleed" Review: All Bad Heroes Deserve To Die

Bleed is a fast-paced 2D pixel-art twin-stick shooter style action-platformer.  Wow, that is a whole bunch of loaded words.  But its also all true.  Bleed is an independent game from one-man developer BootDisk Revolution.
Bleed stars Wryn, a plucky, pink-haired girl action girl determined to become the next great hero.  How will she do itaaa?  Simple: kill the old heroes.  Why?  Because they’re not good anymore.  The best heroes of the world have gone bad in their old age, living off the proceeds of their earlier heroics, and remaining in power due to their reputations preceding them.  Its Wryn’s dream to become the next great hero, and how better to do that than to go and make all those old heroes dead?
Not a hero anymore.
To take her place as the newest hero, Wryn traverses several platforming stages, wielding various amounts of high powered weaponry, acrobatics, and bullet-time to defeat the former heroes and their minions.
Wryn controls with precision, and she needs to to beat the odds.  She moves at a quick pace, with excellent air control when she jumps.  While in the air, she can dash up to three times with complete air control, including the ability to make arcs and change direction.
Not a hero either.
When Wryn fights, well its a twin-stick shooter through and through.  She starts with trusty dual pistols and a rocket launcher, but can unlock more, including a laser, flamethrower, and a badass, bullet deflecting katana.  Press the right control-stick in a direction, Wryn shoots, not much else to know.  And then, of course, is Wryn’s other tool of heroism: BULLET-TIME!  Or rather, slow-motion.  She can slow down time for a short period of time, allowing more fine control over her moving, shooting, and dashing, and its needed to survive.
Wryn fights against exploding cats, giant worms, robot eyes, the insides of a giant dragon.  Each stage is punctuated by a by mid-boss battle against a giant robotic Core, and the gone-bad hero Wryn is there to kill.  These bosses are the real meat of the game.  Each one has its own patterns and tests Wryn's skills and reactions to avoiding their attacks while keeping up the pressure and beating them as quickly as possible.
In your base, opening your doors.
Wryn, she's also a bit self-aware as well.  She knows she's a character being controlled by the player.  She seems pretty okay with that, as long as that player isn't entirely bad at playing, and she'll let them know, on the continue screen, if she thinks you did bad, or it was bad luck.
Bleed also contains other options.  Stages are scored based on difficulty level, deaths, and a combo meter affected by making and taking hits.  A portion of that score is given to Wryn to use on upgrades to her health and slow-motion, and unlocking other weapons.  There's an arcade mode to play through the entire game on a single life.  Multiple unlockable characters give different weapons and slow-motion effects.
Or just running away.
Difficulty levels affect enemy numbers, placement, and aggressiveness.  Thankfully, higher difficulty doesn't affect how much damage Wryn gives or takes, which is often the method used to make things difficult for lesser heroes.  They don't hit harder, there are simply more of them.

But my bottom line, this is a good, short game.  The platforming itself is not terribly difficult, with the primary difficulty coming from dealing with enemies while performing the platforming, and going against the more complex bosses.  And the overall difficulty itself doesn't feel unfair, requiring performance over luck.  Its only a few dollars to buy, and worth the handful of hours it'll take to complete.

A Winner Is You!

Disclosure:  Bleed is available for PC on Steam, Desura, the developer's website, and  Xbox 360 Indies.  This review was written based on the PC Steam release version.