Sunday, March 30, 2014

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade


Just like how Temple of Doom felt very different in tone compared to Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Last Crusade is different yet again.  It's much lighter, and a whole lot more funny.  The banter between father and son and the clumsiness of the father, makes you laugh in almost every single scene.  This made the film very enjoyable, but has the side of effect of making you take it less seriously.  The whole movie was paced well and there wasn't any sections where it felt boring.  I loved the various exploration scenes, and the best part of the film has to be in the film's climax with all the traps.  It was memorable and it was clever in how Indiana figures out the solution and pass the traps.  The action and stunts were visually spectacular and still holds up well to this day.  They were more over-the-top, sure, but it blends in well with the humor, and it's not as if this film has aliens in it (which would have been going too far).

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book Review: The Ghosts of Gribblesea Pier


Review:  #413
Title:  The Ghost of Gribblesea Pier
Series:  N/A
Author:  Deborah Abela
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  Not bad but not very spectacular either.  One of the key plots, the family of the main character, Aurelie, having the ability to come back to life a second time was never fully utilized.  You can strip that away from the story and it wouldn’t require any major rewrites.  You warm up to the characters though and the plot succeeds in making you feel the injustice and the unfairness that Aurelie is receiving.  That said, you get the feel and you know, that everything is going to be alright and people will get what they deserve, which spoils it.
Rating:  5.5/10

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Final Fantasy III (Android)


Final Fantasy III on smartphones is a port of the DS game that was released a while back in 2006.  You now play through the screen with virtual buttons and these touch controls are well done.  The virtual analog stick isn't fixed in one place (it appears wherever you touch on the screen), which is great.  While a virtual analog stick isn't that accurate at times, for example, you will be trying to align a character to interact with an object and you have to fiddle around or the fact that your character might run or walk when you didn't want them to.  In general, the controls are intuitive and works much better than expected.  The graphics are pretty good, although character models when zoomed in are pixelated (slightly disappointing).  I really liked how the game retained it's 2D world feel when it's in 3D.


Final Fantasy III has the classic Final Fantasy formula, which is great.  The lack of voice acting is understandable (since it'll lose the charm when the original was text based) but sometimes you feel as if it would be awesome if you can hear the character's voices.  There is too much grinding involved that you would need to do and in some areas, the encounter rates are annoyingly higher than you'd want.  Monsters also hit heavier compared to the original Final Fantasy III on the NES and in other Final Fantasy games.  This was due to the DS's limitation, the number of monsters in each battle had to be decreased so they increased the damage that monsters could do in order to compensate.  While understandable, it makes the game harder since whenever a monster hits you, it will take away 1/3 to 1/2 of your health away (unless you're grossly overleveled), and then add to that fact that monsters get to attack twice in one turn.


The battle system will be familiar to most, being turn based and menu driven.  It is easy to pick up although the order in which characters attack can be hard to determine.  Just when you think one character is faster than another, variations happen and throws that theory out the window.  The game could have explained the job system better such as how you use magic and the benefits of switching jobs.  After playing Final Fantasy V's awesomely fun job system, FF3's pales in comparison and feels much less versatile.  This pretty much kills 80% of the game's uniqueness.  The music is good, especially the battle theme.  However, it feels as if some tunes are reused too much or at the very least, sounds too familiar.  This, coupled with the generic design of each dungeon and it seems like you're retreading a lot of places, even though they are supposedly unique, location-wise.


Boss battles will cause difficulty spikes, which is fairly annoying if you're not fully prepared for that.  Thankfully, most dungeons are short so it's not too much of a pain to traverse the whole thing again (there are no save points within dungeons, you can only save on the world map).  Yet, longer dungeons would have been more fun to explore rather than these short lifeless ones.  Not being able to save anywhere feels unfair during the latter part of the game where bosses easily trump you and you need to at least fight them once to see their attack pattern and weaknesses so you can adjust accordingly (i.e. your character's jobs).  Once you die, you gotta walk through the whole dungeon, wasting twenty to thirty minutes.  Some bosses start to be able to do three attacks in one turn which is really cheap when they use a magic to reduce your HP to singe digits and then immediately kill them with another attack.


The areas where they force you to use status spells on yourself to advance was bad, especially when they happened in the beginning where MP is limited.  As touched upon lightly, the grinding involved, while generally not too bad, can get too much.  Whenever a new town comes up or you get new jobs and need to buy new armor, be prepared to grind a bit to get everything you want.  Battling every monster along the way is just not enough.  There is a huge difficulty spike in the last dungeon in which you have to grind many levels to comfortably finish the game.  Also, whoever thought it was a good idea to not put save points (as in, points where you can reload the game if you die) in the last dungeon, which takes anywhere from 1 to 3 hours is a complete idiot.  The pain that you have to go through going through that last dungeon, which is also five times larger than any before it, to fight the absurdly powerful final boss again and again will drive you insane.


Due to the many jobs and each job having a unique set of weapon and armor associated with them, often towns won't carry new gear for all jobs so have fun trying to get your party as tough as they can be.  For a game that focuses on the freedom of choosing whichever job you prefer, the weapons and armors are seriously lacking sometimes when you want to improve your character's stats but can't and you end up being at a disadvantage.  The story isn't great, while the basic premise is similar to Final Fantasy or Final Fantasy V, the characters aren't as charming or memorable due to the lack of character development.  The story is very slow paced with a lot of distractions that make it drag on far beyond it's welcome.  It feels like a chore to keep playing.  It is a very basic story in which a team of characters save the world from darkness, traversing from location to location.


It doesn't help that the main villain doesn't have that sadistic or iconic feel.  The villain only appears very late into the game where it has absolutely no impact on you at all.  What I'm trying to say is, the story doesn't draw you in and makes the game feel mediocre overall.  Final Fantasy III doesn't have too much to make it stand out.  The battle system is the same as I, the job system was done better in V and there are many other Final Fantasy games with better stories.  I found myself playing this haphazardly as I couldn't get into the game.  I kept hoping that the game will pick up but it never did.  It is not a bad game, just one that feels unremarkable.

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Other game reviews can be found on this page.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom


I feel that Temple of Doom is an even better film than Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is rare for a sequel.  The mystery makes the plot much more interesting and it feels more coherent, and better paced, than what came before.  There were a lot of scenes where it was funny, the humor was really well done, and it just adds to the charm of the lead character.  Willie, the protagonist that was unwillingly dragged into the adventure, was a bit annoying at the beginning with all her whining (but it was funny when she stumbles and discovers the dangers of the jungle), although she improves a lot by the end of the movie.  There were more stunts here too, making the visual aspect more engaging and exciting.  You couldn't tear your eyes away from the second part of the movie.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book Review: In the Lair of the Mountain Beast


Review:  #412
Title:  In the Lair of the Mountain Beast
Series:  The Doomsday Rats - 4th book
Author:  James Moloney
Read Before:  yes
My Comments:  I found this book to be hard to put down.  You feel compelled to keep reading and wanting to find out what is going to happen next.  You keep reading from their journey out of the tunnels across the countryside to the mountain to the titular lair of the mountain beast.  Unlike the previous books where all the events were confined to one setting, this story takes place outside the familiar tunnels and city.  The things that you see and learn, especially concerning about other cities (but that raises more questions) makes it fascinating.  The events flow on naturally from one to another and the decisions of the characters feel just right.  There was more than one occasion where it might evoke some emotion from you.  The mountain beast itself is a surprise.  Thanks to being such a short length, the plot never feels like it’s plodding along and keeps you guessing on every turn.
Rating:  6.5/10

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark


The opening scene is still one of the most defining features of Indiana Jones, showing the typical things we expect of him:  escaping traps to get to a piece of long lost treasure.  Unfortunately, this is the only section where we get to see these exciting and death defying stunts.  When you've given that expectation right at the start, and the rest of the film doesn't have anything that's similar, it's a little bit of a disappointment.  The rest of the film isn't bad though, and it was still interesting to keep you going through the whole way.  Indiana was witty and his remarks are often funny.  Supernatural elements come into play in the final scene (which is another memorable scene) and it doesn't feel out of place even though there were no other indication before it that there were going to be something weird like this.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Review: Malig Tumora


Review:  #411
Title:  Malig Tumora
Series:  The Doomsday Rats - 3rd book
Author:  James Moloney
Read Before:  yes
My Comments:  The story continues straight after the previous book and it gets much more interesting.  There is a twist in the middle which was really well done.  It felt natural and the possibilities that it presents were intriguing.  There is a slight puzzle aspect at one point.  By the end of the book, it seems like Berrin is back to square one but also that the situation is so dramatically different compared to before.  Once again, the book ends in a sort of cliffhanger, urging you on to read the next book in the series.
Rating:  6/10

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tearaway (Vita)


Tearaway features an extremely charming protagonist which you can't help but adore.  The unique design and aesthetics of the game makes it stand out.  I love how it's basically a paper world, with the paper theme resonating throughout the game (from the paper rustling to the scraps fluttering about).  The environments have a "flat" and origami-like look to them.  The graphics are excellent and continues to showcase the Vita's power.  You, as the player, can also interact with the environment in ways that makes sense if the world was just made of paper.  Tearaway is a platformer at heart and plays very well.


Some nagging thing is that in the beginning you can't jump (you have to earn that ability in a later chapter) and that there are areas where the camera angles are fixed.  This makes it weird when you try to move and camera and can't.  Like a lot of Vita games, it ultilizes all of the Vita's extra controls such as the touch screen/pad, camera and motion control.  Tearaway uses the camera in a very novel and clever way.  The front camera is used to get the player's picture, you regularly see it in the game as the sun and plastered around other objects.  You can also see the rear camera used when in the game, in sections of the game where you "push" your fingers from the rear touch into the game, you can see what's "underneath" the Vita.  This is unobtrusive and fits the theme well.  Speaking of which, the central theme is the protagonist, Iota (or Atoi, depending on which gender you choose), reading into the player's world.


You, as the player, has godlike powers, looking down into the world and do things that amazes the population.  Other touch mechanics also don't annoy you.  Not to say that they are awesome cause you do have to get your hands off the controls to use the touch gestures but they're not in your face.  One of the most entertaining and amazing features is that throughout the course of the story, you can pieces of paper, draw something on it and it automatically gets cut by scissors.  You can get multiple pieces with different colours to make your creations more sophisticated that the game effortlessly brings to life!  For example, you create snowflakes, oh, maybe you would like yellow ones with blue dots?  No problem!  You create it and then throughout the rest of the level, yellow snowflakes rain down!


Or maybe you like your pumpkin head for the scarecrow to have three freaky eyes and vampire teeth?  Just place those there and it'll automatically be animated.  It's fantastic and gives the game your own personal touch.  The game is immersive, the blending of Iota's world and yours is perfect.  It's always a pleasant surprise when you see something you've created earlier pop back up later in the game.  The game also has some of the best motion control levels I've played.  It doesn't feel forced and it's not your typical tilt the ball through the maze by tilting the Vita type of minigame either.  It's moving platforms which plays better than it sounds.  The game's difficulty feels just right.  It has generous checkpoints so you'll never be stuck at a section for too long.


The levels progressively gets better, which, when considering that the first levels were pretty solid, is just icing on the cake.  The final couple of levels have an ethereal feel to it, which is perfect.  Coupled with some great music and it's a blast to play.  I keep getting pleasant surprises throughout the whole game at each new thing that was introduced.  While Tearaway can be considered having a slow start and not really having a real hook in the gameplay, I realised I had unknowingly became addicted to the game when I kept telling myself, "just past this part and I'll put it down" again and again.  The story revolves around interactivity of the player's world and the in-game world.


It's clever and witty, with humour interspersed throughout.  It's entertaining and captures your attention.  Iota is just so charismatic, as is all the NPCs you come across.  Tearaway has a fantastic story.  By the time the ending comes, it is very emotional.  You are literally one of the main characters in the game, journeying with and guiding Iota.  You two have experienced so many things and when it comes to say goodbye, with Iota's message being delivered and reading the contents (which I won't spoil here, but it's worthwhile), you feel... happy, contented and it's like a blossoming friendship.  You feel like you've had an adventure yourself, journeying through a fantasy or fairy tale.


You would have developed a bond with Iota and it compels you to actually make the papercraft characters (instructions of which you collect throughout the game) in real life to "bring" them into your world as reciprocal for visiting theirs.  The only possible negative is that Tearaway can be easily finished in 5-6 hours and that's not rushing it either.  Tearaway is hands down, one of the best games around.  It's imaginative and has great implementation of Vita's extra controls, solid platforming action and a heartwarming story.  This game connects with you, I highly recommend giving Tearaway a try.

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View other Vita reviews from this page here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Toy Story 2


An amazing film that manages to be even better than the first film (which was already exceptional).  The plot resonates with you, somehow, the writers and animators have created a really touching story, about the emotional attachment between the child and his toys.  The sense of tragedy you feel when the film portrays the loss felt by the toy as their owner grows out of their childhood it unmatched.  Then, there's all the humor, most of which are really clever.  I've watched this movie over twenty times now, and I still enjoy it each time I rewatch it.  The songs and music stick into your head and it complements the story so well.  It's a lot of fun to watch as the toys journey on their way to save Woody, with many intense and exciting moments.  The fact that they managed to compress such a deep and resonating plot into 90 minutes is an amazing feat.  This is a film where by the time the credits roll, you're craving for more.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review: The Scorpion's Tail


Review:  #410
Title:  The Scorpion's Tail
Series:  The Doomsday Rats - 2nd book
Author:  James Moloney
Read Before:  yes
My Comments:  Not as intriguing as the first book but it does flesh out and build upon the story.  The major antagonist here is the titular scorpion but the author didn’t do enough for this robotic scorpion to feel like a proper threat.  A few things happen and it is the ending that shines through.  It is somewhat sad and a cliffhanger.  Even though some of the characters haven’t had much screen time, you’ve managed to develop a relationship with them, you care what happened to them and so the ending gets you.
Rating:  6/10

Friday, March 14, 2014

Toy Story


A great animation that's clever and enjoyable.  It plays on something that would have passed a lot of people's minds, the idea that toys comes to life when there is no one around them.  The story is touching, and although Woody isn't likable at the start, you will warm up to him once the film ends.  It's quite an achievement how the writer put so much into the story when the whole film only runs for around 70 minutes (not including credits).  There were a lot of funny moments, from the dialogue to the character faces.  Also loved the fact that the toy characters play on the fact that they are toys, it just creates some hilarious moments.  It's also great there were some recognizable toys (even if they were generic ones) such as barrel of monkeys and toy soldiers, as well as completely new ones like the main characters.  The climax was action packed and exciting.  The music was also good and the theme song remains a classic.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book Review: Skulduggery Pleasant and the Kingdom of the Wicked


Review:  #409
Title:  Skulduggery Pleasant and the Kingdom of the Wicked
Series:  Skulduggery Pleasant - 7th book
Author:  Derek Landy
Read Before:  no
My Comments:  Easily the best Skulduggery Plesant book so far, it was addicting to read from start to finish.  The style of writing and plot has improved so much since the earlier books in the series.  There is plenty of humour, I found myself laughing and smiling frequently at the character’s dialogue.  The sarcasm was well done and added to the book’s charm.  The plot was interesting as the main characters went to try and find out what’s causing some weird occurrences and it spiraling out of control.  I loved it was revealed that the villain was practically behind everything.  That said, the dimension travelling wasn’t the best parts, they were still enjoyable but it felt like it didn’t fit perfectly.  The beginning of the book was intriguing and when those characters didn’t appear later on, you would think it was a shame but they do appear from about halfway.  One negative is that there is a lot of violence.  Many characters are killed, mostly in horrible ways; I guess this is ironic when the villain was supposedly a pacifist.  The epilogue also presented a twist which is a long running subplot, it kind of sucks because in the book, the relationship between this character and Valkyrie was presented as strong.  This is an amazing book that just keeps throwing stuff at you, making it never feel boring and compelling you to keep going, want to reach the end yet not wanting it to end.
Rating:  8/10

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Little Deviants (Vita)


Little Deviants is a collection of minigames, which I am always hesitant to get into purely because there will be some games you don't like.  Unfortunately for Little Deviants, a lot of the minigames can grate and aren't fun to play.  The biggest problem is the fact that you HAVE to use the Vita's non-traditional inputs, which means you're going to be tapping both touch screens or swinging the Vita with the motion controls.  You never get to use any of the physical buttons (bar the triggers) which is a pain since some of the controls could clearly benefit from physical buttons.  The minigames can actually get quite annoying due to the unorthodox controls.  I especially hated the augmented reality one in which you have to twist and wave the Vita all around.


I admit, that it is a good idea and it's neat that the augmented reality game is a FPS with aiming done by moving the Vita around.  The annoying part is that the flying enemies like to fly "behind" you so you have to either twist 180 degrees or wait until they fly back.  The other types of minigames don't fare much better.  There's one where you use the microphone and hum/sing/make a sound and the sound can either be high, medium or low pitched.  You have to change your pitch to destroy objects, once again, it's clever but I wouldn't call this fun.  One of the more well known minigames that was advertised the hell out of is the one using the rear touch pad, you point your finger and it warps the in-game world.


This means you can roll your character to places.  It looks good and sounds neat.  The execution is lacking and the controls aren't tight enough and it ends up with you getting sick of it.  One thing I have to commend the developers is that the sensitivity of the motion controls is just right.  They're sensitive enough so that it feels tighter than many other games that shoehorn motion.  However, the motion controlled minigames still need a more precise control scheme in order to be fun.  There are thirty minigames in total, but only around six varieties (I can't be bothered finding out the actual number).  Sadly, you don't really want to play these minigames more than once.


These minigames just aren't that fun to keep playing and playing.  It can be hard to get high scores when you're not invested into the characters or the gameplay isn't addictive.  Often, you are required to hold the Vita in an awkward way that makes it easy for you to drop it.  Another thing is that the minigames are long, you can't really play them in "short" bursts, each game has approximately 10-15 stages and will take you around ten minutes to finish each one.  When the games are as shallow as these, with no real hook or addictiveness to them, it can feel like a long long time.  You end up wanting the game to finish by the time you're at the fourth stage.


There is an extremely frustrating minigame towards the end which is more of a puzzle.  The premise is good, you divert energy beams to your destination but what ruins it are the imprecise controls.  You use the touchscreen to move the diverters but it is so inaccurate that it gets annoying.  Add in infinite spawning robots that you gotta destroy, breaking your concentration in trying to line that stupid diverter perfect AND the fact that your hands will inadvertently touch the rear touch pad and move the camera around equals a frustrating and horrible game.  The visuals are bright and colourful.  The game is let down by the lack of a proper story.  The only major story moment is the opening cutscene, it doesn't explain much.


There's also the screen in-between minigames showing that the Deviants are building a spaceship so that they can fly off (that's their whole life story).  I know the Deviants are supposed to be cute and all, with the potential to be a mascot for the Vita brand, but I find their design and crazy smiles kinda a rip-off from Rabbids.  The music is actually one of the better aspects of the game, it's catchy and pleasing to the ear.  The upbeat tempo suits the nature of the game.  As a full retail game, Little Deviants doesn't seem to be worth money (being able to finish all the minigames within four hours doesn't help).  I'm glad I played this now as it means I've gotten it over and done with.  I'm also glad that this came in the 10 game mega pack so I don't feel too shafted.  Overall, Little Deviants isn't a bad game, just a mediocre one that's been dragged down by some bad control choices.

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For more Vita (as well as PS3) reviews, they can be found via this link.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Men in Black II


Not as fun as the first movie since it's a lot more reliant on special effects and feels much more gimmicky as a result.  The plot isn't that great and of course, the fact that they had to spent most of the first part of the film getting Kay's memory back can be a bit draining after you've watched it the first time.  The humor still works but the laughs aren't as great, a few sections can feel forced, as if the writers have ran out of ideas.  As mentioned, there are too much reliance placed on special effects to the point where it feels like there's nothing else going for the film.  A lot of the actions are exaggerated and you can't help but think of the number of people that would have noticed something and how the Men in Black could so easily miss one or two when wiping everyone's memories.  It's was amusing to see Agent Jay acting so mature and knowledgeable at first but then going right back to his rookie roots when Kay was back.  It's still a fun movie to watch though.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Book Review: The Great Automatic Grammatizator and Other Stories


Review:  #408
Title:  The Great Automatic Grammatizator and Other Stories
Series:  N/A
Author:  Roald Dahl
Read Before:  yes
My Comments:  A very nice collection of thirteen short stories, the majority of them works well and are interesting (only three are somewhat different and can be hard to understand).  A common theme seems to be that there would be a twist at the end.  You would read the story and feel that you can’t wait until the end where the author would pull something that would be ironic or revealing.  Most of the time, the ending to these stories are satisfying.  My favourite short stories would probably be “Mrs Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat” and “Parson’s Pleasure”.  The idea for these stories may not be very fantastical, but the way the author has presented them and wrapped it into a story is remarkable and unique.  Somehow he managed to make one idea into an enjoyable read.
Rating:  6.5/10

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Men in Black


This is an enjoyable film, I don't know how accurate it is to the comics but as a standalone, I thought it was pretty neat.  The special effects obviously hasn't aged as well but it's still pretty good, only in the final scene where you get to see the antagonist's true form does it look fake.  There are some iconic scenes here which are fairly memorable.  The plot isn't too complex and at times, it feels a little simple (especially once it finishes and you think about what had happened, which isn't very much).  The film is mainly about Jay learning about the hidden world of aliens, which doesn't leave much time for anything else.  The more well known characters from the Men in Black universe are here, which is great, even if they don't have much screen time or have an important role.  Some dialogue and scenes were a bit cheesy though.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book Review: The Austere Academy


Review:  #407
Title:  The Austere Academy
Series:  A Series of Unfortunate Events - 5th book
Author:  Lemony Snicket
Read Before:  yes
My Comments:  While it starts out and carries on like the previous book, right at the end when you think that it is going to be as predictable, it pulls out an interesting plot element.  Sure, it results in a cliffhanger, but in hindsight, it is also the start of the main, overarching book for the rest of the series.  While the plan for Count Olaf does not become clear until the end, it is one of his more… clever plans, although still fairly stupid.  The plan developed by Violet was much more disappointing as it did not even feel plausible.  It is a testament of the author to risk creating so many unlikeable characters, although at least this time, there are two side characters that are more constructive.  There weren’t as many ramblings going on, which helped the flow of the story.
Rating:  6/10

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Journey Collector's Edition (PS3)


Journey:
You've heard it everywhere, Journey is a short game.  You can easily finish in the first playthrough in 1.5 to 2 hours, depending if you like to explore the environment or not.  Although it's not the best game for exploring since there aren't too many collectibles as rewards and it can be slow going sometimes.  That said, Journey felt like it was the perfect length for a game of this type of gameplay, because if it was much longer, then it would lose the specialness that makes Journey so unique.  The art direction is great and there are many areas where it was simply breathtaking.  You would be going into this new area and the sun would be shining down, casting shadows while the sand will be sparkling and shimmering.  The desert turns into this wavy glossy surface and it just looks amazing.  This happens often and is such a treat for your eyes.  As special as some of the graphics is, there was one section later on in the game (in the snow levels) where it felt subpar and the colouring and textures looked flat compared to the rest of the game.  The game design is minimalistic, which works wonders here.

The simple controls mean that it is easy to pick up and learn, and it gives an innocent feel to the game.  The music fits with the atmosphere and there were a few moments in the game where something unexpected would happen and pumps you full of adrenaline.  The beginning of the game was good but it gets slightly bogged down in the middle before picking up again in the end.  The ending levels were really fun to play and you feel a rush as you complete it especially by as this time, you're used to the controls, it was extremely enjoyable.  Journey had one of the best implementation of multiplayer ever.  It is anonymous (although you do get to see who you ended up meeting by the end of the game), and true to the title, if you end up journeying the whole game with someone (or at least the majority of the game), it creates an engaging experience as you pass through obstacles together, and signal to each other through limited communication.  What's special is that this type of multiplayer brings out the best in players, you're not competing or killing the other player.

You are journeying together, maybe the other player is more experienced and they will show you some hidden secrets, and then you in turn, pass on that knowledge the next time.  At worse, you just go your separate ways.  The story is probably the weakest aspect since it is basically showing this random, shrouded figure, travelling through the desert to a mountain in the distance.  The ending doesn't provide many revelations, it's all down to your interpretation (which was the intention of the developers).  It works although it is not the story, but the process in controlling your character, that provides the emotional aspect of the title.  There was one event near the end of the game, when the character was close to the mountain in the snow where it would touch your heart.  There are many instances in the game where you can see the developers put in subtle nods and attention to detail.  As the camera angle changes automatically while you're playing to show you what the developers intended, sometimes it can get in the way when you just want to shift the camera and you need to fight it so you get to see where you're going.  Overall, an amazing and unique game that would truly get you in touch with your emotional side.

Flower:
A very different game, in terms of gameplay and overall design philosophy.  Like Journey, this game is about the experience but I found it lacking compared to Journey.  It didn't evoke as much emotion.  It feels more abstract and is harder to understand.  Story is basically a flower petal transforming the environments back into their natural, beautiful self.  Restoring a rundown, polluted, grey and dreary city.  There is significance in the message and it feels like it is trying to push about caring for the environment.  The concept of the game is that you control one flower petal at first, then move it around and whenever it touches another closed flower, that flower blooms and another petal is added.  It reminded me somewhat of Snake (the mobile game on Nokia phones) in that by the end of the level, you get this huge flower 'tail'.  Interesting, the game's primary control is the sixaxis (i.e. motion control), which could have been a recipe for disaster.  Instead, it is executed well and controlling where you want to go, generally, is easy and does what you want.  Of course, there were times where the camera swings about as this is not a perfect and precise control method (try not to get motion sick!).

The only other thing that you can do is control the speed at which you're going, by holding down any button (which is pretty sweet).  One of the really nice touches is whenever you bloom a flower, it creates a musical chime, it actually gets addictive trying to bloom all the flowers.  The game is relaxing and when you clear an area, turning it from a dead and grey land into a lush green environment filled with colourful flowers, it feels good.  It creates a beautiful landscape and makes all that effort worthwhile.  The music wasn't too memorable but it suited the carefree nature of the game.  The last level of the game was excellent.  It seemed to push the boundaries of the game, giving you a colourful playground to do as you wish.  Rushing through the road was fun and in the end, the finale, it was done well and the music there only served to elevate the scene even further.  Flower also has one of the best credits I've seen, it's interactive and basically, you 'play' the credits like it was another level, blooming flowers and collecting their petals.  The twist is that there are names above each flower, when done this way, you actually read the credits and makes it less boring to sit through.  Overall, an interesting game, the graphics and landscape are pleasing to the eye, although it is definitely not a game for everyone.

Flow:
In my opinion, Flow is the worst out of the three games in this collection, I'm actually glad the money I forked out wasn't only for this game, otherwise I would have regretted my purchase.  The controls are unorthodox, and not in a good way.  Similar to Flower, you use the sixaxis for movement and any button to perform a special action.  However, the way the sixaxis controls your character doesn't feel natural and it doesn't go the way you would expect it to.  Since the game is played on a 2D plane, motion control isn't as effective.  I wished the developers could have given you a more traditional control scheme as an optional alternative.  The game's music and overall atmosphere is very relaxing and it gives you something to wonder about.  The premise is good, in that you start off small and then gobble up things to get bigger and bigger, "evolving" into something more.  That's the most interesting part of the game, to keep eating and see the evolution take place.

There are six different lifeforms you end up controlling.  What the game doesn't explain to you properly is when one campaign ends and the next one begins, since it is just a cycle, it felt like a neverending thing as you keep going down each 'layer' and never reaching any worthwhile objective (okay, you get a new lifeform to play as but the game gets so mundane and more of the same after the third time this happens).  The designs of the lifeforms are unique and interesting.  They are probably the best parts of the game.  The graphics are simple but also visually appealing, suiting a game of this nature.  The credits form a playable level, this interactivity made it much more effective and entertaining.  The trophies are fairly annoying and on the whole, Flow felt lacking and quite boring.  Unlike Flower or Journey, the message and reflection isn't as strong, nor does it invoke any powerful emotions.  Flow sounded great in theory but it just wasn't that fun in execution.

Bonus Features:
There are "special features" of sorts included in the disc to make it seem more like a "collector's" edition instead of just a collection.  They are all digital content.  Bonuses include developer commentary on all three games, which is pretty neat.  Considering that each game can be finished under two hours, these commentary feels the right length too (okay, as a disclaimer, I never really fully watched any, I'm just guessing here).  There are also soundtracks (although I don't think they can be exported outside of the PS3), concept art and trailers.  As well as that, there are three local multiplayer games, Grave Digger, Duke Wars and Nostril Shot.  Key word is "multiplayer", therefore sadly, you won't have much fun playing alone as they were built with 2+ players in mind.  The graphics throws you back into the 16 bit era and feels like rough drawings since they were created in an internal "24 hour game jam" by the developers.  It is nice that they bothered to include extras like this though.

Onto the minigames themselves, Grave Digger is a collecting game, in that you kill zombies, collect their skulls and bank the points.  Duke Wars is a strategy game, raising peasants, collecting wood and gold.  Nostril Shot is a shoot 'em up and probably the one you'll get the most fun out of alone.  It's actually ridiculous with the number of enemies it throws at you at any one time, which adds to the charm.  Overall, these minigames won't make or break the decision to get this set.  One of the annoying things about this is that the physical copy is basically just an install disc.  You end up having to install all the games onto your hard drive, which somewhat defeats the purpose.  You still require the disc in the slot to play the games but it just feels somewhat odd.  I guess it is understandable considering the games are all downloadable titles first and foremost and it is just easier to do it like this.

Overall:
If you have an interest in Journey, then this set is worth the entry price.  Why?  Since the price of this edition is almost the same as the downloadable version, but you get two extra games.  Flower is worthwhile, giving a different feel to Journey while Flow is mediocre (but you may like it).  Nevertheless, good value for money and I had a good time playing through all through.  That said, each game can be finished within two hours, so they can feel somewhat short.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Frobisher Says! (Vita)


This is basically a collection of minigames that showcase the Vita's different control inputs.  You'll be using all of the Vita's functions such as tilting and the rear touch pad.  These minigames are very short, most lasting a few seconds.  The aim of the game is to play a string of them one after another to get a high score at the end.


The short nature of the minigames keep the game interesting but if you play it for long periods at a time, it can get dull and you'll start to hate the voice that repeatedly says "Frobisher says..."  At least in the beginning while you play and succeed, more varieties of minigames unlock and so something different will come up.  That said, before too long, you'll find that you're repeatedly playing the same minigames and it gets really old really fast (like... after two hours, you don't want to play any more, assuming you've lasted that long).


There are a decent amount of minigames and whenever a new one pops up, it is refreshing to see what you can do.  Some of the minigames work well, and of course, there will be some that doesn't.  The ones requiring the camera are annoying in that it requires good lighting for it to work (the concept may be nice, like detecting when you're smiling but the execution requires a good bright background).


A sample of what you can do are:  squishing heads by pressing both the rear and front touch together, control an alligator in an extremely simple platformer or beat up a bear in a boxing match.  The minigames that unlock later in the game (achieving milestones such as playing 300+ games) and the ones in the DLC (although I only got the Super Fun Pack) are more interesting and clever.


The art direction is pretty, it's cartoony and suits the humour of the game (every time you finish a minigame, Frobisher will say an amusing one-liner).  It's bright, colourful and eye-catching.  Some of the backgrounds are distinctive.  In the end, there are two reasons why you would get this game, first, it's free and second, it comes with trophies.  Otherwise, this is a pointless game that won't keep your attention for too long, although it is still somewhat fun to play for one or two hours.

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