Console Games Featured

Vintage Gaming – Super Dodge Ball

Super Dodge Ball might just be the ideal game from the 8-bit era that you didn’t play.  It’s exactly what the title says, your team (USA in our NES version) battles dodge ball teams from around the globe in a tournament.  Each team (from places like Iceland, Kenya and China) had different strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes their dodge ball courts themselves provided difficulties, such as the Iceland court being…icy.  Each member of the teams could dash, jump, throw and catch the dodge balls, and also had superpowered moves if you timed them right while dashing or dashing/jumping.

If you check out the screenshots below, you might notice that it bears more than a passing resemblance to last week’s OGT entrant, River City Ransom.  That’s because, in Japan, there was a whole series of ‘Kunio-kun’ games (Kunio being the main character in most of them), with only a few making it over here.  SDB was made for a few other platforms, and is currently available via the Wii Virtual Console.  In addition to the tournament mode, you had 2 player VS play, as well as a schoolyard brawl mode (also 1 or 2 players).  There is one thing that makes Super Dodge Ball hard to enjoy in it’s original environment – there can be many times where there is too much activity on the screen and the characters flicker.  It was a limitation of the NES.  Still, I got past it easily and it shouldn’t stop you.

I consider Super Dodge Ball an ‘ideal’ NES game because it does exactly what you need it to do.  It’s easy to learn – your buddies could pick it up in a few minutes – but hard enough to entertain.  The same goofily endearing graphics from River City Ransom make nailing a guy with one of your super shots particularly fun.  It’s simple fun, and we can all use that.  Check it out, won’t you?

Console Games Featured PC Games

Vintage Gaming – Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast

First person shooters were huge for me when I was younger, despite the fact I wasn’t very good at them.  That meant FPS’s that still had a single player story were much loved and more likely to be bought.  Jedi Outcast was the second ‘Jedi Knight’ game but the third game starring Kyle Katarn, one of my favorite ‘Expanded Universe’ Star Wars characters.  In Dark Forces, we learn that Katarn was instrumental in the theft of the original Death Star plans delivered to Princess Leia.  In Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, Katarn learns of his Force sensitivity and defeats a Dark Jedi who killed his father.

The Kyle Katarn we see in JK2 is an older man who has set aside his Jedi ways and is trying to just live his mercenary life, having been scarred by very nearly turning to the Dark Side.  However, things go wrong when he encounters a Dark Jedi and is soundly defeated – and his partner presumed murdered – when investigating odd Imperial activity relating to Jedi history.  He takes up his lightsaber once more find the culprits.

The game used a modified Quake III: Team Arena engine which looked plenty good for the time, and performed well.  All of the typical Force powers are there, including lightning and grip (choke), and if there’s one problem, it’s that you don’t have the powers and your saber right off the bat due to the story.  Which is a great story, by the way, with the expected cameos (including Billy Dee Williams as Lando).

The other side of this is the multiplayer.  It was pretty popular for it’s time, I had a great time playing JK2 with friends and at LAN parties, and still install it for nostalgia’s sake every once in a while.  I keep it unpatched so I can use the ridiculously fun if overpowered Force grip power to grab dudes and toss them off ledges.  The bots are fun to play against and can have dynamic difficulty (so you don’t constantly pwn them).  Very handy if you don’t have enough people looking to play.  A nice touch with that is each bot plays differently – the Lando bot doesn’t use the Force, for example, but is deadly with the other weapons.  Which are fun Star Wars-ized versions of your typical FPS weapons.  Each has an alt-fire mode to add a little more depth.

But really, if you are playing this or any of the other Jedi Knight games (which will be covered too, all are awesome), you want to fight with a lightsaber.  You will not be disappointed with JK2 for this, as it kicks ass.  3 different combat styles, each with different special moves, combined with the ability to throw your saber, saber clashes and more really make the lightsaber combat sing.  Another nice touch is the ability to challenge another player to single combat, allowing you to duel your opponent without taking any damage from (or doing damage to) everyone else in the level.

Look, this is one game I could go on and on about (500 words and counting!) but I say, let’s play it.  SO, I am going to get my JK2 server up and running, maybe tonight, and I challenge anyone who wants to be destroyed beat the snot out of me to dig out their copy and have a go.  I’ll update the post with the server IP when I get it going.

Console Games Featured PC Games

Game Review – Tomb Raider

I played bits and pieces of the early Tomb Raider games, but was never a fan of them.  I didn’t seek them out.  But I kept hearing how good this new one was, at least before everyone moved on to Bioshock: Infinite, and when I saw a good deal, I jumped in and bought it.  I’m glad that I did.

Tomb Raider acts as a sort of reboot for the franchise.  How did Lara Croft get to be the guns akimbo, dinosaur killing, treasure finding badass?  Well, you’ll know after this.  Lara is part of an archaeological team looking for an ancient empire named Yamatai.  She figures out that they’ve been heading in the wrong direction, and as a result, they end up shipwrecked.  She blames herself.  People die, and she blames herself more.  She becomes determined to find a way off the island, complicated by the fact that any craft that approaches by land or sea gets knocked around and destroyed by strange storms.  She finds evidence that it’s been happening for hundreds of years, and that the island’s inhabitants are the survivors of those wrecks.

The look of the game hearkens back to Indiana Jones, but what the game really plays like to me is Batman: Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, if instead of beating everyone with fists, Bats went all Oliver Queen on people.  Secret, hidden things to find and collect abound.  Instead of Detective Mode there’s ‘Survival Insticts’ which helps hidden items, climbable areas, and living creatures.  There are puzzles, In which you have to find a way past an obstacle or blocked path.  They are just difficult enough to be fun, but not to frustrate you into oblivion.  I only got stuck once, and once I checked the walkthrough for the puzzle that got me, I decided I must be too tired and went to bed.

The main story arc took me about 15 hours or so to finish – but I only found 71% of the stuff available to find, and almost no complete sets.  You can go back after the game is over and find the rest if you like, and as you are playing, you can fast travel via campsites.  I didn’t do that though, as I wanted to see the story.  One other note – there is a point where Lara is about to be sexually assaulted, which generated a ton of discussion when the game was being first talked about.  It’s not worse than the typical ‘female hero is tied up and rescued just in the nick of time’ trope, though in this case Lara basically rescues herself and shoots the guy in the face.  If this is something that will bother you, the game is probably best avoided.

So what’s the verdict?  I had a blast.  I played until 3 in the morning a couple of times, wanting to see one more thing, reveal one more important plot point.  That doesn’t happen to me much any more.  There’s a few rough patches, the infamous one is how quickly she gets over killing her first person, but that’s to be expected in a video game.  If you want to see what the game looks like on a decent but not world-beating PC, check the gallery below.  If you wish to purchase the game, here’s an Amazon link (it installs via Steam).  It’s also available on PS3 and Xbox360, just change the option under Platform.

Featured Movies Review

Movie Review – G.I. Joe: Retaliation

GI_Joe-_Retaliation_27I was never a G.I. Joe kid growing up – I don’t remember it being forbidden, but discouraged, but it was also always on opposite something else I wanted to watch.  I went to see this with a couple of friends who were way more into the Joes than I ever was, including one that had read the comics in addition to watched the cartoons.  I mostly treated the movie as a generic sci-fi action movie that happened to be based on licensed characters, and it was an interesting comparison.

I just spent a few minutes trying to write a synopsis for the plot and broke up laughing.  I think that means it’s a true plot worth of the Cobra you know from the old cartoon.  Think Goldeneye, but sillier.  The writing is pretty bad, but in an entertaining ‘groanworthy’ fashion.  Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is a solid addition to the cast – he does well with lackluster material.  I like him as an action star.  Jonathan Pryce as the ‘President’ was fine.  Byung-hyun Lee as Storm Shadow and Ray Park as Snake Eyes kept the martial arts action legit.  Bruce Willis was having fun, but felt like a third wheel at times.  Didn’t need him at all.

Look, I’m not going to say it was great.  But the action sequences were crazy like you’d expect from G.I. Joe, and the Cobra superweapon was actually scary.  Don’t concentrate on it too hard, is all.

Featured Movies Review

Movie Review – The Croods

533_fullwidthI almost didn’t go see The Croods.  When I was just seeing the stand-ups and posters in the theaters, it didn’t appeal to me.  Cavemen really do little for me – how many jokes can you make about them, anyway?  Early clips and trailers did little to disuade me from that notion.  What actually got me interested was seeing that Chris Sanders was behind it.  Lilo and Stitch and How to Train your Dragon are big hits around here, and enjoyable for all ages, so I took the two oldest kids to check it out.  Everybody loved it.  Sure, it had some old jokes, but old jokes are still funny if well executed.  There’s more heart here than you realize – it kind of sneaks up on you in classic Chris Sanders fashion.

If you’re looking for a good family movie to see while you’re waiting for Despicable Me 2 or Monsters University, this is it.  Bring a few tissues, and prepare to ooh and aah at the visuals.

Featured PC Games Review

SimCity – My Impressions

Spark_2013-03-27_02-58-20If you are reading this, you probably know all the debates on the new SimCity, about always-on (and whether it’s needed), how scummy EA is, the stupid decisions leading up to the release of the game, and so on.  I’ll be touching on all of that, as well as the actual gameplay.

First, Origin.  I really don’t like Origin as a platform.  Steam already won out for me as far as a game hosting platform, I didn’t need another one with all different ‘friends’.  They also didn’t let you pre-load the game, which would’ve helped EA immensely when the release hit.  It’s also an extra layer of clcking to even GET to the game, as you click Play on Origin, but that doesn’t, you know, PLAY the game, that opens another window, which runs the updater, and then you get to click again.  Why?  Isn’t that the benefit of having an always-on client?  You make me use it, but it provides no convenience or benefit to me.

So, you’re in the game finally.  A note on regions:  forget, at least for now, trying to join random folks in a public region.  You can’t sort them by any means, or filter out filled regions.  They come up in the same order each time, so you’d have to page past every full region to try and find one with a city site open.  That’s actually just a theory, as I paged past dozens of regions and never got far enough to find one with open spots.  Hopefully you are playing with friends, and you can click their name and join their regions (or get invited to private regions).  I won’t tell you that sometimes friend requests are buggy, though.

Once you’ve battled past these issues though, and you are in a city site, and building…well, it’s just great.  The simplifications to zoning, power and water help to cut down on pointless busywork.  Curved roads can be difficult to work with, but can make for some lovely designs – I wish there were some oddly shaped buildings that could better take advantage of the space though.  At least for me, the game seems bring along something new to manage at just the right time, which is usually when I’m feeling pretty confident in my mayoral abilities.  It hasn’t felt particularly hard to me, even at 125k inhabitants, but there were a few touchy moments.  Usually they were caused by changes my region-mates made, like using up all the water or sewer capacity I was using while I was signed off.  That’s an annoying side effect of the asynchronous multiplayer, especially if you don’t have the money/space to easily fix the issue when you do jump back in.

Now, the question:  Should I buy this game?  Looking at just the game itself, and not the opinions on EA and Origin, it’s a qualified yes.  Can you get your head around building a smaller, focused city versus a huge sprawling megalopolis?  Do you have friends you’d like to play a SimCity game with?  Go for it.  If not, you may just want to play SC2k again.  This doesn’t replace that, at least for me.

Featured Movies

Movie Review – Lincoln

This isn’t normally what I go to the movies for, which if you’ve read my previous reviews, you could probably guess.  It’s not exactly comparable to The Avengers or Ponyo.  Still, Lincoln is a damn fine movie.  The main thrust of the movie examines Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he pushes to get the 13th amendment through the House of Representatives early in 1865.  Mixed with this is marriage strife, caused in part by Robert Todd Lincoln’s (Robin, er, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) desire to join the Union army.  Sally Field was excellent as Mary Todd Lincoln, as well.

The scene-stealer for me, was Tommy Lee Jones as Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens.  He had the best lines, thanks in part to the fact that the debates in the House were as much rap battles with put-downs and sly remarks as they were stately debates.  You can add James Spader and Tim Blake Nelson to that list of scene-stealing too, as lobbyists employed to try and win over lame-duck Democrats to the Republican side on the amendment.

The Oscar buzz for this film is well-deserved.  I could listen to this version of Lincoln tell his stories for hours.  Definitely well worth seeing if you are in the mood for some more thoughtful fare before the big summer movie season.

Comics Featured Review

Book Review – Dragon Age: Those Who Speak

I got my hands on a galley copy of Dragon Age: Those Who Speak, the latest graphic novel filling in the gaps in the Dragon Age universe.  Written by David Gaider, this comic follows Dragon Age: The Silent Grove and takes Alistair, Varric and Isabela to the Tevinter Imperium, giving us a taste of that foul place, continuing Alistair’s quest to find out what happened to King Maric. This book seemed to move along a bit better, and gives you some insight into our favorite pirate lass. It felt more like the characters I’m used to, while still giving some depth which was needed.  Oh, and there’s one more ‘friendly’ face that appears but I won’t spoil it. Definitely worth picking up if you’re itching for something to hold you over until Dragon Age III: Inquisition comes out.

Previously available as individual comics (in three parts), what I reviewed represents a collection of all three, available in February.

Featured Movies Review

Movie Review – Rise of the Guardians

Rise of the Guardians is the latest William Joyce property to be adapted to the big screen, though I would caution that it’s a pretty loose adaptation.  It’s a Dreamworks production, so the visuals are great.  The story follows the Guardians of childhood – somewhat nebulously defined, but Santa (“North”), the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy are charged with protecting the children of the world.  Santa is not your Norman Rockwell guy, but a tatted up, scimitar-wielding tough guy.  The Easter Bunny is an Aussie rabbit that OF COURSE is armed with boomerags.  You know what both of them do for kids.  The Sandman makes sure there are sweet dreams, and the Tooth Fairy isn’t gathering teeth so much as good memories.  The Man in the Moon acts as a guiding force for the Guardians.

Jack Frost is a wild card in the mix.  He obviously has mystical powers, just like the Guardians, but he seems to just wander the world, invisible to everyone, causing trouble as a young man does.  When Loki Pitch Black, the boogeyman, returns, the Man in the Moon makes Jack Frost a Guardian, much to the chagrin of the rest of the team.  As you might expect, there is turmoil and strife, and Jack eventually learns who he is (oh yeah – he forgot his childhood before he became magic) and what his special talent is.

All in all it was an entertaining movie, though not one that has embedded itself in mine and my kids’ conciousness the way Despicable Me has, for example.  If you are looking for a movie to see as a family over the holidays, this is a good choice.

Featured Movies Review

Lightning Movie Reviews – Skyfall, Wreck-It Ralph and The Man with the Iron Fists

Spoiler – this is the ‘room’ where the ghosts from Pac-Man live

I have been to several movies lately, and have been remiss in reviewing them.  I aim to make up for that now.  Here are my quick hit thoughts on the movies in the title.

  • Skyfall – This is an amazing movie, but not for the reasons you’d expect for a Bond movie.  Sure, there’s action, exotic locales, babes and all the usual trappings.  But it’s a very personal story for Bond and M, one that might just tug at your heartstrings a bit.  Also, if you are one of those Bond purists who decried the Craig era Bond going away from some classic elements from the 60s and 70s movies, the end to this one should feel like wrapping up in a warm blanket.  I won’t say more because *I* wasn’t spoiled about any of this, and you shouldn’t either.  See this movie.
  • Wreck-It Ralph – Shifting gears a bit, I took my kids to see this a week or so ago.  It’s a wonderful movie, playing well with your classic video game friends and foes, and using the associated tropes to tell a good story.  Try and catch all the references – I never had a Sega system of any kind, so some of the obscure characters from that side of things escaped me – but stay for the great characters.  Ralph is a big lug who’s easy to root for, forced to live in the dump by the ‘good’ characters in his game.  Vanellope is actually not as annoying as the trailers might make you think, and the love story angle with Fix-It Felix Jr. and Sgt. Calhoun is hilarious (but still rings true).  Find some kids and take them.
  • The Man with the Iron Fists – This was obviously made by someone (The RZA) who loves Quentin Tarantino’s movies, but learned all the wrong lessons from them.  The action is obscured and hard to follow.  The humor elements are out of place.  The hero character is under-developed.  Only Russell Crowe seems to be having any fun (and it’s almost worth it just to see him) but this is a ‘wait for SpikeTV’ type of film.  Seriously, it’s going to be one of their favorites, I’m sure.

I hope that helps, and if you have any other questions, comment away!

Featured Movies Review

Movie Review – Hotel Transylvania

We saw Hotel Transylvania recently, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  Adam Sandler voices Dracula, who, it turns out, isn’t such a bad guy.  He just wants to raise his daughter Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez) in peace, so he builds a monsters-only hotel surrounded by layers of defenses to keep the outside world at bay.  It works for the first 118 years of her life, but of course, a human gets in and hilarity ensues.

I was nervous about whether or not Genndy Tartakovsky’s style could translate to a 3D animated film, but the Samurai Jack creator did great in his first feature.  The action scenes are a strong suit but it’s well-balanced by some surprisingly poignant moments.  I can’t say that the animation itself was on par with Pixar, but definitely respectable – right there with Illumination’s Despicable Me.  You have some great side characters, though I think Kevin James’s voice sticks out a bit instead of blending in. 

If you have kids, it’s a good way to spend an afternoon.  It won’t probably become a smash hit, but it’ll be a movie you’ll enjoy watching at Halloween every year.  Now let’s hope Genndy can get that Samurai Jack movie back in production!

Featured Life Review

How to Train Your Dragon Live!

The fam and I saw the How to Train Your Dragon Live show over the weekend, and we have pictures!  It’s a tough thing to photograph, but these are the best.  And of course, a few pictures of the cutest kids in the world are in there.