Monday, September 30, 2013

Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Once again, the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs series has gone above my expectations.  I wasn't expecting much from the first and really enjoyed it.  Based on the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 trailer, I was expecting to really enjoy it and I'm pretty sure I was smiling and laughing the entire time.

The plot is essentially Jurassic Park 2 and 3: the science that went wrong in the first one has gone ever further wrong creating an ecosystem of its own.  Instead of dinosaurs, however, it's food animals (or foodimals).  And even better than Jurassic Park 3, all the new types of creatures are actually well designed.  Just about every foodimal is created solely to be a pun (Shrimpanzee, Peanut Butter and Jellyfish, Mosquitoast, etc.), but beyond the awesomeness of that, they are all really beautiful and well thought out.

The entire movie is also incredibly well animated with lots of little subtle (and some not so subtle) visual jokes going on almost all the time.  There was one scene that totally reminded me of Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing where the scene and dialogue were about one thing, but the entire time, there's something happening visually that was way more entertaining.  There were also a couple characters who had me smiling pretty much the entire time they were on the screen just because of how their arms moved or the random stuff they were doing while they talked.

The following is a non-comprehensive list of who I think would like this movie:

  • People with kids
  • People who love puns
  • People who love good animation
  • People who love food
  • People who love food puns
  • People who love animated food puns
  • People who love to laugh
  • People looking for something lighthearted
  • People who secretly (or not so secretly) wished they had a living Strawberry, Pickle, or Tacodile Supreme
  • People who were told not to play with their food
  • Probably you

Friday, September 27, 2013

When Collecting Goes Wrong

Sorry, I'm not talking about hoarding, although I guess collecting goes wrong there, too.  I'm talking about collectibles in video games and how they can ruin certain types of games (or at least certain sections).  As I'm sure you're aware by this point, I love collecting things in games.  I love scouring every corner of a world to find all the hidden widgets and whatsits (especially if there's a tracker or some way to know if I've missed any), but I've come to the realization that collectibles lying on the ground can completely ruin any dramatic tension a game may have built up, not to mention any sense of sanity in the playable character.

Say your girlfriend just got kidnapped and you've chased the bad guys into some building.  Being a video game, chances are pretty good that you could just stand at the entrance indefinitely and the bad guys will never leave the building or try to find some other way to ferret away your girlfriend because you were just standing there.  Personally, I appreciate this bit of video game logic since it lets me move the story forward at my choice.  But it definitely kills the mood of the game if it's an intense moment and I stop because there might be some hidden goody in an adjacent room and I have to stop chasing them to go find it.

This happened a bunch during Last of Us where I'd meet someone and they'd say, "Come follow me to safety" and they'd just walk off.  Logically and cinematically, I should immediately follow them to make sure I'm safe.  But I know I can comically just ignore them to wander into all the rooms they should have already cleaned out of useful items to see if I can find anything since the story won't trigger until I reach a certain place and I know enemies won't be coming from anywhere until that point.  The problem I'm talking about is mostly with collectibles in games like Uncharted, Last of Us, and Remember Me.  The fairly linear, cinematic type games where the pacing is very important to the overall experience.

I think collectibles can be done in those games, but it should only be in the sections where you have no immediate goal to rush somewhere.  So, if the collectibles were only found in some kind of rest area, usually found right after a particularly intense part of the game, then it wouldn't really break the pacing much.  If they were consistent about it, then it would also help me to not constantly be breaking the action to scour all the corners of a room to see if I missed anything.  I could play the action sequences like action sequences and the collection sections like a crazy OCD packrat - essentially how I treat collecting in any open world game.  I am either running around in collection mode or I'm moving the story along, but I get to choose when to do both.  Of course, this is all because I can't stop myself from needing to collect everything and hating the feeling that I missed something, so as usual, maybe it's more a personal problem than a game design problem...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Games I Grew Up On: Zelda II - The Adventure of Link

The majority of video games used to be unforgiving where a lost life could mean you have to replay many hours of gameplay.  Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was a prime example of this.  You have a set number of lives, losing all of them sends you back to the palace where Zelda is stuck in an eternal slumber and you'll have to make the trek back to wherever you lost that last life.  If this was on the last boss, you'd have to fight your way back through the super difficult levels just to get to the super difficult dungeons to fight your way to the super difficult second to last boss and finally fight the final boss (which, fortunately, had a simple trick to defeat somewhat easily if you grew tired of making your way to him again).

Zelda II was one of those really rare sequels that has so little in common with the original that it's hard to see them as a series.  I guess there's still an overworld map, but you don't fight anything there.  Instead, if you touch an enemy in the overworld map, you get brought to a side scrolling view where you have to walk to either the left or right edge of the screen to get back to the overworld.  The game also had a (in my opinion) really awesome RPG aspect to it where killing monsters garnered XP that would eventually give you more levels to put into your health, your sword, or your magic.  All three of these were crucial and by the end of the game, you'll have maxed your level so you can't choose incorrectly, you just determine how hard/easy it is to make it through the game to the end.  The map also held a number of secret locations that stored extra hearts, important items, and more monsters that you'd either need a guide to play along with or memorize where they all are because they are visually indistinguishable from the land around them.

I've managed to beat this game once and I had a friend who just celebrated his victory over the game.  This is definitely a game where beating it is an accomplishment.  This game also just came out for the Wii U virtual console and is also available on the Wii and 3DS virtual consoles, so if you're really itching for some true challenge and exploration, then I would recommend this game.  I am Error.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Super Luigi U: The Timer Complex

Super Luigi U is a lot like every other side scrolling 2D Mario game.  You need to get from the beginning to the end of a level, there are special coins to collect, and hidden goodies along the way.  It's even more like Super Mario Bros. U than the rest because it's a redesigned version of the same game.  I haven't actually played the original one yet, so I'm not sure how redesigned the levels are, but there are three consistent changes throughout the game: No Mario (hooray!), Nabbit (nearly invincible playable character when playing with 2 or more players), and only 100 seconds to complete each level.

While the first two changes have their own fairly large impact to the game, the 100 seconds per level fairly drastically changes things for the better, with one side effect.  With only 100 seconds to play in each level, there isn't a lot of time to explore and test every pipe for secrets, so the secret coins have to be more cleverly hidden, but still be quick to reach.  Most of the time they'll be in a slightly harder to reach path or behind a hidden wall.  Some of them, I'm not entirely sure how you're supposed to get them without a sacrificial leap from a cooperative player (but I'm sure there are ways because all coins should be reachable with just Luigi alone).  100 seconds on the clock also means that at most, each level is only going to take a little over 1.5 minutes, which means that it's very easy to complete a given world within 30 minutes if you're not going for coins and not completing every level.  It also means that replaying a level over and over again to get those coins isn't as punishing.  With 100 seconds, there are no need for checkpoints, so you can't accidentally activate a checkpoint right after missing a Star Coin (thus having to play another level or beat the current one and play it again).

The side effect of the 100 seconds is that other Mario games have trained you to panic and rush when you hear the "Hurry up!" music that plays when a level's timer reaches 100 seconds.  Well, in Super Luigi U, every level starts with that noise and they certainly take advantage of the psychology by making a few levels here and there where you specifically have to slow down and wait right at the beginning.  Many a death was caused by the previous training from Mario games.

It's interesting to see how drastically a Mario game can change when the timer is so short.  It never really felt like I had to rush (unless I had stopped to explore too long), but it actually puts on the pressure of the clock that I haven't felt in nearly any other Mario game.  I generally hate time limits, but I think Super Luigi U finally made the timer in a Mario game actually purposeful.

Friday, September 20, 2013

First Look: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

One of the new TV shows I was looking forward to checking out this Fall aired this week, Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  This is one of those cases where advertising actually worked on me.  Thanks to watching TV online, I only ever really see like 5 ads.  Over and over and over again.  One of those ads (thanks to watching MasterChef) was for this show.  The fact that I was still laughing at most of the jokes in the ad after having watched it for so long definitely piqued my interest.

So, I am pleased to report that at least with the first episode, it looks like there is a lot more humor in the show than even the ads showed.  While the main character conflict (goof-off detective meets new by the book captain) is entertaining, I think my favorite character is probably Detective Rose Diaz, a super tough and scary lady who looks like she's suffering from a particular disorder.  The super awkward nervous cop who wants to go out with her is kind of an obvious source of humor, but it's done very well.  It's also nice that there doesn't seem to be any actual drama in the show (so far), just pure comedy.  I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more of this show and hoping that it wasn't just a really good pilot.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Books I Grew Up On: Two Minute Mysteries

Ever since starting this whole Blank I Grew Up On series, I've been struggling to remember the names of the books I read as a kid.  Thanks to Monday's post, I now remember one set of books, the Two Minute Mysteries series of books.  This was a series of books containing a whole slew of 2-3 page mysteries that was more an exercise in reading comprehension and critical thinking than a story with a plot.

Since each mystery is so short, there really wasn't much time to set things up or have a denouement of any sort for each of the stories.  It was mostly just a focus on that fun crucial part of mysteries where the detective catches someone making a mistake.  At the end of each story, the book would pose a question like, "How did the detective know that person was the killer?" with an upside answer explaining the subtle mistakes.  A lot of times the person mentioned something about the crime that the detective never told them (so they weren't supposed to know it).

I think this series was a good training tool for even deeper mystery solving and has prepared me well for the Phoenix Wright series.  Now I know to scrutinize pronoun use and crime timelines among other things.  The series has three books in all, but looking on Amazon, only the first one is still in print (and the others must be in huge demand since the new price is $150-200!).  Fortunately, if you read one, the others are pretty just more of the same.  If you're into mysteries, I'd give the main one a look since it's only $5.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Coming Attractions: Fall 2013 Video Games

  • September
    • The Wonderful 101
      • Out Now!
      • Strategic action game about controlling up to 100 super heroes at once much like Pikmin in a Pikmin game or like the armies in Little Kings Story
      • I've heard this is very difficult, so I'm probably going to put it on the end of my list for now
  • October
    • LEGO Marvel Super Heroes
      • October 18th
      • A TT Games LEGO game with Marvel super heroes
      • I have yet to be disappointed by a Lego game and they have only gotten better after each one
    • Sonic Lost World
      • October 22nd
      • A Super Mario Galaxy-style game involving Sonic and his universe
      • This looks like it will be pretty fun with even more Gamepad cooperative gameplay like Rayman Legends and Super Luigi U
    • Batman: Arkham Origins
      • October 25th
      • The prequel to the two previous Batman: Arkham games
      • Although this is developed by a different company, I still am hoping that this will be a quality adventure with a lot of detail and uniqueness for each of the villains.  I hope this game does justice to the other two and isn't just a quick cash grab
    • Wii Party U
      • October 25th
      • A Wii U mini-game party game akin to Mario Party, but with Miis
      • Honestly, I'm getting this for two reasons: It comes with a motion plus Wiimote and so far the Wii U has been a really good party system for my house on game nights with Nintendo Land, Super Luigi U, and Rayman Legends
    • Assasssin's Creed 4: Black Flag
      • October 29th
      • The fourth assassin ancestor of Desmond (I think it's the sixth main game in the series?) involving pirates and of course, assassins
      • I'm really hoping they utilize the Gamepad in some unique way, but even if it's just a more convenient map, it'll still be worth me purchasing it on the Wii U in my opinion
  • November
    • Watch Dogs
      • November 19th
      • Open world hacking game.  I don't know too much about the game because the short trailer a saw impressed me enough to convince me that I want it, so I stopped paying attention to anything about it (how I normally treat anything I am already convinced I want to buy)
      • Just like AC4, I'm hoping they make good use of the Gamepad and that there are a plethora of ways to hack through any given situation
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
      • November 22nd
      • A 3DS Legend of Zelda game that's essentially a successor to Link to the Past, which was my absolute favorite Zelda game ever
      • I hope the Overworld and Dark world is as vast and filled with as many little secrets as the SNES game
    • Super Mario World 3D
      • November 22nd
      • A sequel to the 3DS's Mario Land 3D, but adding in multiplayers and different character abilities like in Super Mario Bros. 2 (at least as far as I understand it)
      • Whether I end up playing it alone or with friends, Mario Land 3D was one of my favorite recent Mario games, so more games in this style excite me
  • Undetermined
    • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies
      • The fifth entry in the Phoenix Wright series of defense attorney detective/puzzle gameplay
      • I've only recently gone back and started playing the Phoenix Wright games, but they are definitely right up my alley: grand mysteries, awesome plot twists, and puzzle gameplay.  Essentially each one is an interactive story that reminds me of the Two Minute Mysteries I used to read as a kid

Friday, September 13, 2013

Coming Attractions: Fall 2013 Television

New shows are in bold.  Each show is followed by when it starts and what channel, roughly what I know about it, and my expectations for it
  • Sundays
    • The Amazing Race
      • Starts September 29th on CBS
      • One of my two favorite reality competitions where teams race around the world trying to complete various challenges and reach their destination before the other teams
      • Hopefully there won't be super annoying drama teams this year or if there are they get knocked out early (kind of a general hope for all reality competition shows)
    • Once Upon A Time
      • Starts September 29th on ABC
      • Every fairy tale you've ever heard is true, just in another dimension and this is a story about those dimensions and characters colliding with our own
      • I'm hoping there are more character reveals where the audience gets to try to figure them out during the episode
  • Mondays
    • Sleepy Hollow
      • Starts September 16th on FOX
      • Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman are in modern times
      • I'm not entirely sure what to expect, but this will get the normal three episode judgement of a new show, looks like it could be entertaining
    • How I Met Your Mother
      • Starts September 23rd on CBS
      • Final season where Ted will finally meet the mother
      • There better not be any nonsense about Robin and Ted getting back together, that should've stopped after season 2 and yet it keeps reoccuring
  • Tuesdays
    • Brooklyn Nine-Nine
      • Starts September 17th on FOX
      • Not sure the premise is, looks like a funny show about cops
      • The trailers for this were pretty funny, hopefully the trailers didn't show all the jokes
    • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
      • Starts September 24th on ABC
      • Joss Whedon.  Marvel.  Superheroes.
      • Joss Whedon.  Marvel.  Superheroes.
    • New Girl 
      • Starts September 17th on FOX
      • Zooey Deschanel being awkward and funny and a bunch of guys being funny
      • Honestly, I was starting to lose interest in this show near the end of last season, so I hope it gets me hooked again somehow
  • Wednesdays
    • The Tomorrow People
      • Starts October 9th on CW
      • Superheroes.
      • Superheroes.
    • Survivor
      • Starts September 18th on CBS
      • My other favorite reality competition because the people design the actual game aspects (both the overall game and the challenges) are really good and I love to see what they add/change next
      • Again, hoping there isn't a super drama contestant or if there is, they should at least be entertaining drama like Coach "The Dragon Slayer" Wade
    • Arrow
      • Starts October 9th on CW
      • Modern day, mostly realistic Green Lantern TV show
      • I was amazed by how much I like this show last year and hope they just continue being awesome!
  • Thursdays
    • The Crazy Ones
      • Starts September 26th on CBS
      • Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar in a comedy about something or other
      • Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar are enough to sell me on just about anything
    • Once Upon A Time in Wonderland
      • Starts October 10th on ABC
      • Once Upon A Time spin-off focused on the Wonderland dimension and Alice in the modern world
      • I'm honestly not expecting to like this one as much as the original for a number of reasons, but I'm hoping to be wrong
    • The Big Bang Theory
      • Starts September 26th on CBS
      • Seven characters getting more and more caricatured as their roles as nerds doing random stuff that is usually funny
      • I'm constantly going back and forth about how I feel about this show.  Some weeks it's hilarious.  Other weeks they take something geeky and portray it as inaccurately as possible in order to get cheap laughs and I get mad.  Other weeks Leonard is just completely incompetent at even the most basic common sense thing when it comes to interacting with Penny and it makes no sense.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

TV Shows I Grew Up On: Freakazoid

Super teen extraordinaire, Freakazoid, Freakazoid.  Runs around in underwear, Freakazoid, Freakazoid.  This was by far the most bizarre, but most hilarious superhero cartoon I watched while growing up.  Dexter Douglas was a mild-mannered (and stereotypical) computer nerd who had the (mis)fortune of buying a new model of computer that when a specific set of keys was pressed followed by Delete would send the user hurtling into cyberspace and give them the powers of the Internet.  His cat enters walks across the keyboard pressing all the right keys in order and naturally, Dexter tries to delete it and becomes the Freakazoid whenever he yells the words, "Aw, Freak Out!"  The Freakazoid is insane, slightly childish, and seems to have the powers of Looney Tunes cartoons (i.e. he can do whatever he feels like when the plot calls for it).

His villains include the likes of Arms Akimbo - a mafia thug whose arms got stuck akimbo, so he can't pick stuff up and he tends to flap his elbows a lot, Candle Jack - a kind of ghost-like villain who will kidnap anyone who says his name (which of course Freakazoid does even after knowing that because comedy demands it), The Lobe - a guy with a giant brain for a head, who at one point tried to turn everyone in the worlds to clowns, and many more equally ridiculous villains.  Sometimes they'll have short mini-adventures for other heroes like Lord Bravery (whose exploits involve fighting a bakery for the trademark to his name), The Huntsman (essentially a Charlton Heston Robin Hood), etc.  They also have hilarious songs every once in awhile like Bonjour Lobey (parody of Hello, Dolly!), educational bits like learning to say who cut the cheese in French, and Relax-o-Vision (basically just clips of fish swimming in an aquarium while relaxing music plays).  Freakazoid is a very silly and childish show that I still very much love.  It's basically the 90's version of Looney Tunes (even more so than Tiny Toons) and paired well with Animaniacs, which aired around the same time.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Coming Attractions: Fall 2013 Movies

  • September
    • Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2
      • Looks punnier than a Piers Anthony book in his Xanth series
      • I hope there are more jokes than what was in the trailer
  • October
    • Escape Plan
      • Sci-fi(ish) prison escape movie starring Rambo and the Governator, need I say more?
      • I'm hoping for some good twists (a staple of prison escape movies) and good action (a staple of Rocky and Conan)
  • November
    • Ender's Game
      • An amazing book they hopefully treat well and stars Harrison Ford
      • I'm hoping it's not terrible...
    • Thor: The Dark World
      • It's a Marvel comic book movie
      • I'm hoping it starts to make the weirdness that is Thanos a little more palatable to the masses
    • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
      • The book series is great (I think the 2nd one might be my favorite) and they did well enough with the first one
      • I'm hoping they use less stupid action camera work where you can't see what's happening
  • December
    • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
      • I want to see how beautiful they make Smaug and to see why they think a third movie is warranted
      • I'm hoping I can make it through the Mirkwood section to see an awesome looking dragon
    • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
      • I love lamp
      • I'm hoping for another giant battle between the various news channels

Friday, September 6, 2013

Review: Capture

Another interesting summer reality competition that debuted this year is the show, Capture.  Dressed up to be Hunger Games the TV show, but ending up more like the Syfy show, Cha$e, Capture is all about one team hunting down other teams in a large woodland area and tagging them with fancy devices called Talons.  Each episode, a team will be randomly selected to be the Hunt team and the rest will be the Prey.  The Hunt team has two 4 hour hunts in which they can capture a maximum of two teams.  If the Hunt doesn't catch any teams, they are automatically eliminated.  If they catch two teams, the remaining teams vote to eliminate one of the captured teams.  If the Hunt team only captures one team, then the captured team and the Hunt team are up for elimination.

During the hunt, there may be Sabotage events, Supply Stations opened, or Looking Glasses that are usable.  Sabotages task players with getting to a certain point to make another team have alarms blasting out of their vests or the Hunt team gets a compass pointer to them or some other bad targeted event.  Supply Stations contain some dinner of some sort, supplies received when they go back to camp after a hunt, and are also a large safe zone where the Hunt team cannot enter (at least while the station is open).  Looking Glasses let a Prey team see where all other teams are (including the Hunt team), but also let the Hunt team know that a Looking Glass was used.  After a Hunt is over, captured teams spend the night in cell, the Hunt team spends the night in a very fancy area with a luxury dinner, and the rest of the teams sleep on metal cots with rice and beans for dinner.

As the game goes on, all teams get more and more tired and alliances are made between Hunt and Prey teams.  There is a little bit of strategy to the game between the voting, who the Hunt team tries to capture (although, mostly they just wander around and capture whoever they can), and who gets sabotaged.  It should also be noted that within the first or second episode, someone already had said, "We didn't come here to make friends."  Is that a requirement of reality competition shows now?  Is it in a contract somewhere that someone has to say that?  Anyway, it's a pretty entertaining show and it hasn't ended yet.  The sabotages have gotten more interesting game design-wise, so it does seem like there was some thought behind the show.  If it makes it to a second season (usually not likely for summer reality competition shows), I'll watch it again.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Games I Grew Up On: Gauntlet Legends

Gauntlet Legends was a game my friends and I would actually willingly replay over and over again just to get our characters to level 99.  Essentially a revamp of the original Gauntlet, there are still monster generators, characters with different strengths and weaknesses, and magic potions and health items.  But this game adds a 3D look, bosses, hidden collectibles, and the ability to level up your characters to make them even better.  What I remember finding awesome is that you could actually see a visual difference between low level characters and high level characters, so it actually felt really satisfying to level up since you could see the difference.

Alongside the main four characters (Archer, Warrior, Valkyrie, and Wizard), players could unlock other characters like the Minotaur, Tigress, Jackal, Falconess, and the Sumner.  It was a pretty mindless hack and slash game overall (except for trying to find the collectibles), but I think that may be a good thing with four players cooperating.  A lot of times cooperative games that require actual thought (other than fight to fight strategy and communication) usually have one or two players strategizing and everyone else just doing what they're told or everyone starts fighting.  The game also had a sequel called Gauntlet Dark Legacy.  It pretty much just added more characters, but was otherwise the same game.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: Agricola

Agricola is a 1-5 player resource management game about farming.  It's quite possibly the most complicated resource management game I've played, but it's definitely a well designed game.  Just don't play without a lot of time set aside and players who are focused on the game.  But for the players truly interested in a deep game that requires a lot of planning and out playing each other.

The game board(s) are covered in the various actions a player can take.  Some actions gather accumulated resources, some build things, some give you new occupations, taking over starting player position, etc.  Just like Puerto Rico's roles, only one player can take each action, so it becomes not only a game about maximizing your turns, but out-thinking your opponents.  You have to not only have multiple strategies planned out, but they all have to be very flexible plans in case someone takes the action you were relying on, especially if you are playing a 5 player game.

Each round unlocks one new action that players can take and after set rounds, players must feed their families or become beggars.  As the game goes on, this harvest time comes sooner and sooner, making players have to alternate between making their farm grow and getting food out of their farm.  At the end of all the rounds, players score their farms (any missing animals, vegetables, or grains or unused fields subtract points, surpluses, upgraded houses, and a large family score a lot of points), and the highest score wins.  There's no way you're going to be able to have everything on your farm, so you generally have to try to be diverse and pick one or two places to have a surplus and hope no one else picked the same.  The only real downside I have with the game is that it takes so long that even though I want to play again to try other strategies, I just don't have enough time.  Fortunately, that's a smaller and slightly faster version for two players called Agricola: All Creatures Big And Small.