Thursday, July 28, 2016

Salt and Sanctuary (2016, PS4) - Needs More Pepper

With Dark Souls being a hugely popular series, it's inevitable that elements of its game design would drift into other titles. You've got direct attempts at creating new games within the same genre, such as Lords of the Fallen and the long-delayed, often rebooted project Ni-Oh, games that attempt to mimic the challenge and loneliness such as Titan Souls, and you've got the 2D side-scrollers made in Souls' image, which includes the upcoming Death's Gambit. Ska Studios' Salt and Sanctuary falls into that final category.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Street Figther V (2016, PS4) - My Fight Money

It's never easy to review a fighting game. The genre is built on growth and learning, as communities both online and local develop new strategies, discover broken techniques, and figure out detailed match-ups, showing who's best in which situation. Developers release patches to boost or weaken characters, balance is often in flux, and new content, even a single character, can shake things up. Since its release in February, I've held off on writing about Street Fighter V. Six months out and with a major update released, now feels like the time to take a look at the game's issues.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Furi (2016, PS4) - Not so Fast and Furious

Team Ico's Shadow of the Colossus is a title which has remained popular with gamers and developers since its debut in 2005. A masterpiece of boss design, Colossus focuses entirely on large-scale, one on one fights with little filler in between. The bosses themselves are the puzzles, and the land between them is meant only for atmosphere and for optionally boosting your strength if you choose to.

The inspiration of Shadow of the Colossus can be felt in the climbing of giant enemies in Dragon's Dogma, the bosses only, 2D single-shot action title Titan Souls, and even the peaceful landscape exploration of games like Journey. It's also a title that's referenced a lot in independent development. Furi, by French developer The Game Bakers, is one such indie game, a sort of hybrid of the Boss Fights Only format of Colossus and the quick, reaction-based pattern recognition of a Punch-Out game, with some bullet hell-style shooting in between.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Brief Words of Mouth - The Neon Demon (2016) - or, Show Biz Will Eat You Alive

The Neon Demon: Or, what the hell did I just watch? Like Only God Forgives as a follow up to Drive, this movie is partially Nicholas Winding Refn saying, "that was too nice, how can I go darker?"

The first 2/3rd of the film are a hallucinatory show business/fashion world as Hell story, along the same lines as Black Swan. The final act is a disgusting series of events that keep getting more and more ludicrous until I went from feeling sick to just throwing my hands up and laughing. Every shot's perfectly composed, with incredible color, light, and framing, and Refn makes sure that we watch, in graphic detail, some absolutely horribly gross things. I really don't get grossed out by movies easily; I did here! This wouldn't be as effective at home on a TV, being there in a theater unable to turn away is truly something special and horrible.

Maybe there's some psychic future-sight at play here. Maybe the moon's a conscious, malevolent force. Maybe there's witches around. No one turns into a literal werewolf, though maybe they should. There are monsters, in the form of walking, talking metaphors. While picking out lipstick names, Jena Malone's character asks,"Are you food, or sex?" The best line in the film.

Keanu Reaves is really funny, until an awful turn of events. Jena Malone is the only real human in this world and has the only solid arc, until an awful turn of events. Elle Fanning and the other women playing models are all (intentionally) robotic. Alessandro Nivola is hilarious, and nothing bad happens to or with him! He says, "Beauty isn't everything, it's the only thing," which is maybe Refn lightly laughing about himself. The mix of the beautiful and the shockingly monstrous in this film's leads parallels the nature of Refn's films themselves.

Do not watch if you have a weak stomach. Even in the movie itself, some people just don't have the stomach for it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Gone Home: Console Edition (2016, PS4) - Kaitlin Greenbriar's Radical Rummage

Sometimes, I just feel like digging through my dressers looking at old stuff. I've got a habit of holding on to relics of my childhood, even total junk like a busted Game Boy covered in racing stripe stickers. It's less nostalgia for the items themselves (there are dozens of more convenient ways to play Game Boy games now, and most of them were pretty bad anyway) and more an emotional connection to where I was in my life at that time. It can be an old comic book I drew, the first CD I ever bought, or an old photo album. I sat with my friends reading this comic, I listened to this CD with my dad, I took these pictures with my first camera. An obsession with the past is often messy, but a night of reminiscence is always fun.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Doom (2016, PS4) - Keen Excitement Returns to Mars

I have to admit I wasn't too excited for id Software's 2016 remake/re-envisioning of Doom when I first heard about it. While I enjoyed the original Doom way back in 1993, I'm generally not a big first-person shooter fan, and I put very little time into 2004's Doom 3 before giving up on it. Once the new Doom launched, I was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reviews, but didn't get a chance to check it out myself until publisher Bethesda launched a free demo at E3 2016. Demos are increasingly rare nowadays, but this one proved why they're so valuable: I downloaded it, played through, and immediately wanted to pick up the full game. I'm glad I did: This new version of Doom is the best shooter I've played in years.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Valkyria Chronicles Remastered (2016, PS4) - Kawaii War II

Eight years after its original release on PS3, Sega's cult-classic turn-based strategy game Valkyria Chronicles has been remastered and re-released on PC and PS4. While it spawned two smaller sequels on the PSP, this series has never been a breakout hit, but this new version has the potential to inject new life into it. I was a big fan when I first played this title in 2008, so how well has it held up?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Dark Souls III (2016, PS4) - Until We Meet Again

Along with much of the gaming world, I've been captivated by From Software's Souls series since its debut with Demon's Souls in 2009. This action-adventure series, with its focus on exploration, mystery, and punishing combat, has become one of my all-time favorites, and I'm certainly not alone in that regard. Everyone's got a favorite; just in my own circle of Dark Souls friends and acquaintances, I don't think there's anyone who would rank these five games (including Dark Souls 1-3, Demon's Souls, and Bloodborne) in the same order.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour (2016, PS4) - Phantasmic Tribute

The mainline Resident Evil series has gone through some interesting transitions, forming two pretty clear trilogies: Resident Evil 1-3 are horror-action games with a b-movie aesthetic, focused on tight inventory management and nutty puzzles. Resident Evil 4-6 keep some horror elements but shift the focus, and the camera angle, to a much more action-oriented one, with our heroes punching boulders and suplexing monsters instead of running around finding puzzle pieces. With Resident Evil 7, Capcom looks to once again shake things up in a major way, with a new, first-person view and a focus on exploration over combat. It also has the most cleverly designed title text of the series, and finally unites the series' western name with its Japanese origin, Biohazard.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brief Words of Mouth - Money Monster

Jodie Foster's Money Monster: "Wall Street/Big Money as the Monster" has been a pretty major trend lately from Wolf of Wall Street to 99 Homes to The Big short to this one. Money Monster isn't directed with the strength of those three films, but it's a really solid, small picture set almost entirely in one room (it opens up towards the end.)

A CNN clown host (George Clooney) is held hostage by a man whose life was ruined by a bad day on Wall Street and is kept alive by his director/The Voice of God/Julia Roberts. It opens as a blunt mockery of the sort of cult of personality that surrounds entertainment news before turning into a pretty tightly written thriller that does its best to sound like Aaron Sorkin but doesn't quite get there. Very little time is wasted, though you could probably cut nearly all of the NYPD chatter and change nothing. I'm surprised Wolf Blitzer appeared in the film (as himself) given how hard it thumbs downs the idea of pop journalists with no investment in actual truth.

It's an openly nihilistic film where nothing is won or gained with a ending that (intentionally) deflates and says that there will be only a customary, in name only investigation of what happened. The theater audience is a target of mockery, as we watch an audience within the movie lap up its violence and cheer for the "heroes" of the its narrative (both as a film and a show within the film.) Director Jodie Foster essentially says "Nothing's going to change, but go ahead and cheer while the people on the screen pretend it will. Look at these ratings." At times it's almost the Wall Street Meltdown genre equivalent of Haneke's Funny Games.