The Temple of Doom

1001 Spikes was released a few weeks ago across a slew of download platforms. People remarked on both its punishing difficulty and its 8-bit aesthetic. Those are remarkable things. The game is hard. The mechanics are tight, but the game tests the player’s timing, reflexes and (to a lesser degree) memory. The graphics and sound are both highly reminiscent of the early NES days, the days of Spelunker and Super Mario Bros. The look is not a slapdash imitation, but a loving recreation of that aesthetic. That loving recreation is the heart of the game. As you unlock more characters and modes it becomes clear that the whole game is just a love letter to 2-D video games.


The main game of 1001 Spikes is simple and sadistic. It is 30 Stages, at least initially, full of spikes and deathtraps and crumbling ruins. To beat a level, you must find the Key and get to the door. Simple, in theory. But it quickly gets hard. Spikes shoot out from the floor and ceiling. Statues spit darts out at the player. Blocks fall out from under and on top of the player as they run through. Most of these tricks are hinted at. Blocks that will crumble look a little different than solid ones. Statues that spit darts have slightly open mouths. Still, there are traps that you can’t see until you get to them. The game delights in catching the player off guard, in making you feel safe when you are really not. It isn’t really fair, but it never feels too cheap. The stages are short, most can be completed in less than a minute, and lives are plentiful. A death results in the loss of very little progress. Honestly, only a handful of the first 30 Stages require any sort of memorization. Most should take only a few attempts to learn some of the more devious traps and complete. While many of the traps are sadistic, the game itself is very friendly. You start with 1001 lives, and it is easy to get more. There are no checkpoints, but each stage is small. Plus, if you are well and truly stuck you can skip any and even all stages. Yes, you must beat all the stages to see the end of the game, but you can essentially do it in any order you want. The whole game is just expertly crafted danger.


Where the love letter to video games comes in is with the bonus modes and characters. There are three multiplayer focused modes. The first, The Golden Vase, is essentially Mario Bros, the one where two players compete to kill enemies and collect coins. Here there are no enemies, just a vase that gives coins when you hold it. Players must attack each other to get the most coins. It is a fun diversion for a few minutes, but far from substantial. Then there is The Lost Levels, a collection of regular stages that were designed with multiple players in mind. They are like the main game, but more wide open and are much easier with some teamwork. The only drawback is that they must be completed with only 100 lives, and lives go quick with multiple players. The third and best multiplayer mode is The Tower of Nannar. The players must climb the five levels of a tower, using the same mechanics as the main game, and fight a boss at the top. Instead of starting over with every death, players instead get ten lives and respawn pretty much instantly. The only weakness here is that there are only two towers. If there were 4 or 5 they could sell it as its own game.


The best part is all of the characters you play these modes, and the story mode, as. At first there are three characters other than main character Aban to choose from. Mr. Video game is obviously a Mario knock off, Slayer Aban is pretty much Simon Belmont and Knight Aban is Arthur from Ghosts and Goblins. It would be one thing if these were just costumes that made the characters look like other character, but each of these has special abilities that make them play somewhat like who they are supposed to be. Mr. Video Game can jump on enemies and shoots fireballs instead of throwing knives. Knight Aban loses his armor when he takes a hit and has that distinctive jumping motion. You can also unlock a Contra Aban, Ryu from Street Fighter and Ryu from Ninja Gaiden. Pretty much the only NES star not present is Mega Man. Then there are the actual guest stars. The stars from many indie platformers are unlockable as well. They too have distinctive abilities, making them feel as much like themselves. Altogether, it is like an all-star team of platforming heroes.


The overall feeling is that 1001 Spikes is made by people who love this kind of game. The main game speaks for itself, ingenious and occasionally deliberately unfair little game. But all the extras is what puts 1001 Spikes over the top. There is just a genuine love for 8-bit video games on display there and it makes for a supremely enjoyable package. Honestly, at the halfway point, this game is a solid contender for game of the year.


Brothers At War


I’ve been playing Final Fantasy Tactics for the first time in years thanks to USgamer Club. I’m trying out the War of the Lions version of the PSP. I’m not sure how much I like it. The rebalancing of the some of the jobs is almost definitely a good thing, but I can’t help it if I am more familiar with the older version. Plus, I like to unlock the classes earlier and spend time mixing and matching abilities. Then there is the slowdown. I’ve basically removed mages from my line up because they slow things down so much. One area that has definitely been improved in this version is the translation. Before, with a little work one could suss out the labyrinthine plot, but the nuances of character were almost completely lost. The new translation, often derided for being flowery, is much more cohesive and manages to give each major character a clear voice.

The gameplay in FFT is what it is. For my money, I still haven’t played a strategy RPG that has better mechanics than FFT. The game displays an attractive confidence in its design, just dropping the player down and letting them have their way with the game’s systems. The difficulty isn’t perfectly balanced; the game can be overwhelming to newcomers and a breeze to veterans. Still, there is something eminently satisfying about putting together a new and effective skill combination. On this playthrough I discovered the power of a Black Mage with Samurai skills. I won’t say it’s perfect or couldn’t be improved, but I don’t think anyone has done the genre better.


FFT’s story is one of the best to appear in a video game. That is not exactly high praise, as most games aspire and frequently fail to reach the narrative “heights” of Hollywood action movies. Tactics, though, aims for something much more like current fantasy darling Game of Thrones. (unrelated aside: I kind of hate Game of Thrones. Actually, I haven’t watched the show; it is more the book series that I’m not a fan of. It often seems dark for the sake of darkness. Tyrion is a great character, though. It feels ponderous and mean.) While it does get a little sidetracked into something a little more Dragon Ball Z-esque near the end, the bulk of the game really achieves that.


The first chapter is especially good. I love the character dynamic between Delita and Ramza. They start in exactly the same place with one major exception. They are both Knights in training and they both have an adoring younger sister, the only difference is that while Ramza is the youngest son of House Beoulve, Delita is something of a Beoulve charity case. While scenes with Barbaneth Beoulve show that he, like Ramza, likely considered Delita and his sister the same as family that is not true of Ramza’s two older brothers, Dycedarg and Zalbaag. Ramza and Delita are closer than brothers, but due to the circumstances of their birth that first chapter sets them on divergent paths.

I love that narrative device of two friends separated like this. I wrote about that yesterday with The Count of Monte Cristo, but it is better done here. Ramza and Delita never really stop being friends, it is just the reality of the world forces them apart. Partly due to his nature, partly due to his more advantageous birth, Ramza is able to maintain his idealism throughout the story. Delita has no such luxury; any idealism he had is forcibly removed at the end of the first chapter. From then on he tries to use the corrupt system for himself rather than trying to live within it. He realizes that the rules are rigged and stops playing the game. While he wouldn’t hesitate to take out Ramza, he would rather not be forced to.


There are two other characters in the first chapter that help illuminate their growth. The first is Argath (Algus in the PS1 version). He is a monster, but he is wise to how the world works. What he says about lower class people like Delita is morally reprehensible, but he is correct as to the practical nature of the world of FFT. What Delita realizes is that, as much as he and Ramza wish it weren’t true, Argath is right, people like Delita are worth less than the nobles. Argath is also an ungrateful, boot licking little bastard, but he is not the only one to betray Delita and Ramza. Though it is not clear at the time, Dycedarg is a complete scheming monster and while he doesn’t do it himself, Zalbaag is party to the order that results in Tietra’s (Delita’s sister) death. Argath is the tool that shows the protagonists how the world works. Then there is Wiegraf, leader of the Corpse Brigade. He, like Delita, is from the lower class. When promises to soldiers are not kept after the war ends, he learns the same lessons about his worth as Delita. His response is to take a very direct approach to fixing the situation. He starts a rebellion, fighting for what he and his men are owed. He is morally right, but he has no chance at success. He is too determined to play by the rules. He won’t stoop to kidnapping or assassination, something that the supposedly honorable noble class is more than willing to do. Delita learns from him what happens to those who openly oppose the system. All the power is on the other side, there is nothing to be gained from fighting it. Delita must use the system to destroy it. Delita learns a whole lot more than Ramza in the first chapter. Ramza just learns that the world of honor that he and a select few others including his dad, believe in isn’t real. It is easy to praise Delita for realizing the truth of the situation and changing to affect change, but I think Ramza’s choice is greater. He determinedly sticks to what he learned from his father is right, those outmoded ideals. He never wavers.

There is another game that uses a similar brothers/friends set up: Suikoden 2. In that one the two friends are betrayed by and forcibly separated from their home country. While they share a goal of taking down the monster that is Luca Blight, soon their methods are forced to diverge. The player character (let’s call him Riou) becomes the leader of their home’s bitter enemy while his counterpart Jowy insinuates himself in with the villain and works from the inside. SPOILERS After Blight is shockingly dealt with around the midpoint of the game, the two friends find themselves reluctantly leading countries at war with each other, neither able to end the war and betray the people who they lead. It makes the whole second half of the game a somber affair. No longer are you fighting against a sadistic monster but instead your best friend. I wish there were more stories that use this set up. I also wish that Suikoden 2 could get a retranslation on par with Final Fantasy Tactics, though preferably not in the same style.


I’ve just about finished with Tactics. I’m well into chapter 4, only a few hours of concentrated play away from finishing things up. That game really holds up well, especially with the comprehensible story. I have thought before on a video game canon, which games need to be played by all fans of games. Tactics would make my list. It is an essential game. Not necessarily to beat, because that can be a grueling task, but at least to experience. Honestly, the idea of a video game canon is worthy of its own post.

He’s a Count, Not a Saint

I recently watched The Count of Monte Cristo (2002). I love that movie. I can easily understand someone disagreeing with this. Though it shares the name of a famous novel, it is only loosely based on it. It is not just an abridged version; it has been drastically altered. That being said, judged simply as a movie about revenge rather than an adaptation of a classic, it is really good. It isn’t the best swashbuckler around, but those come around infrequently enough that even a merely pretty good one is reason to celebrate. And I love swashbucklers. Give me a movie with adventure and fencing and fun banter and I’ll watch it all day.


This is a genre that I have always loved. Growing up my brother’s and I had The Princess Bride constantly being played in the VCR. It is still among my all-time favorite movies. We also watched a lot of The Three Musketeers (1993), but I don’t recall that one actually being very good. The late 90’s brought a few more, like The Mask of Zorro and The Man in the Iron Mask. (I realize how many of the films I’ve mentioned are based on Dumas books.) That was about the same time that I went back and watched some of the classics of the genre. Stuff like The Adventures of Robin Hood and Captain Blood, both starring Errol Flynn.

But the Count of Monte Cristo, it is pretty good. It’s got a really good cast: Jim Caveziel, Guy Pearce and Richard Harris are the big three. Plus, it features Man of Steel’s Henry Cavill in an early role. While it has nothing of the complexity of the novel, it is an excellent portrayal of some universal themes: jealousy, love, despair, betrayal and most of all revenge. It does this with enough humor to keep everything enjoyable. Terrible things happen to good people, but they never seem to lose their sense of humor about it.

The standout scene is easily the final showdown in at an old, crumbling building and the field outside of it. After a brief swordfight in the building, everything comes out, all the betrayals and plots are laid bare. Count Mondego, the villain, is completely defeated, but he manages to escape. Finally letting go of his desire for revenge, Dantes lets him go. However, Mondego stops not far into his escape. He looks down the deserted road and countryside and realizes that there is nowhere and no one for him to run. So he returns to force that final confrontation. It is his character throughout the film that he is jealous of Dantes no matter what Dantes has. Even when he takes it, it doesn’t make him happy. He could work to rebuild his life. He still has his title to protect him. But, in his words, he “can’t live in a world where [Dantes] has everything and [he] has nothing.” Even though he knows fighting him won’t solve any of his problems, that is still what he chooses to do.

It is just a really enjoyable movie. Flawed, to be sure, but eminently watchable. It came to mind for me this week because I have a thing for stories with this one’s set up of two friends, two brothers, that either turn on each other or are forced to opposite sides of a conflict. This dynamic is something that has greatly affected my writing over the years. Maybe it’s because I have a ton of brothers, maybe it is the wealth of stories that focus on brothers that I encountered when I was growing up. While I could name a handful of books and video games that deal with this, and in fact I have written something about a couple of video games that do so to go up tomorrow, I was having trouble thinking up many film examples. This is the only one that came immediately to mind, and the only one that was a formative part of my tastes.

A Little Bit on Violent Video Games

I started playing the first Assassin’s Creed game recently. I may not finish it. It feels much like Assassin’s Creed III, but severely limited. That is not necessarily its fault, one would hope that a series would improve as it went along, it doesn’t make it any more fun to play. It did make me think about a problem Still, the game is beautiful in many ways and troubling in quite a few as well.


What I find beautiful and troubling is that they can make such a detailed recreation of the Middle East during the Crusades and can think of nothing to do with it other than have the players kill people. I’m not complaining about there being killing in a game called Assassin’s Creed, it’s pretty obvious what the game is going to be about. However, I do think it is something of a problem that nearly all games come down to the same thing. I’m not against violent video games on the whole; I just wish that it wasn’t redundant to call them so. The majority of games are violent. The rare games are the ones that aren’t violent.

That is not necessarily true of movies. There are a lot of action movies that have a similar level of violence to video games, though presented over a much shorter time so it feels a little less grating to me, but there are tons of thriving genres of movie were no one throws a punch, let alone kills someone. Why can’t video games move beyond the action movie template?

I just wish that developers could find another way for player’s to interact with the world rather than just killing things. They can create wonderful, living worlds but it all boils down to killing things. I don’t really have a solution; generally the not fighting stuff in games is less fun than the fighting. In Assassin’s Creed, though, the most fun I had was in exploring. I would take games just about that. I don’t really have much more to add. This is just something that weighs on me as I play Assassin’s Creed, among other games. I climb to the top of a tower and look down on a bustling city, but then I remember that I all I can do down there is kill people.

The Wild World of Mario Sports

I’ve spent a lot of time recently playing a couple of Mario sports games, Mario Golf Toadstool Tour and Mario Kart 8. Both are excellent, but I don’t have much of a review for either of them. It is Mario Kart and a Golf game, they are what they are. Still, both are excellent entries in their respective series and prove that whatever trouble they might be having, Nintendo routinely puts put some of the best software in the world.


Mario Golf is probably the harder one for me to evaluate, since I am significantly less familiar with what came before it. I played some of the N64 game back in the day, but I haven’t played it lately and I don’t remember much. I did play a ton of Hot Shots Golf, which unless I’m mistaken is also made by Camelot, the developers of the Mario Golf Series. The golf mechanics here are simple and fun. It is just a three tap swing. The first starts the back swing, the second determines power and the last is for accuracy. There are a lot of little tricks for backspin or forespin and the like. Even for someone who has little love for the Mushroom Kingdom, this is a solid game.


There are some awkward parts. The content of the game is split between Castle Club mode and Free Play mode. I don’t really see the reason to split things the way they have. It isn’t strictly a problem, just a slight annoyance to have to go back to the main menu to switch from playing a tournament to go to challenge mode. There is no reason that one of the various Toads filling the Club couldn’t offer the challenges. For some people, the presence of Day 1 DLC is a problem, but I don’t have a problem with it. The game doesn’t feel lacking without it; there is more than enough content on the cart. Three full 18 hole courses and six 9 hole courses. My biggest problem with it is that it doesn’t leverage the Mario cast as well as it could. They are around and full of their usual personality, but the game really encourages the player to play as their Mii. The Mii is the only available character in Castle Club and once the player has unlocked a few items the Mii is easily the best character. Unfortunately, having the Mii be that prominent shoves Mario, Luigi and crew off to the side.


Mario Kart 8, despite also having a Mii option, doesn’t have that problem. The personality of the Mushroom Kingdom inhabitants simply oozes out of the racers and the courses of this game. In Mario Golf, opportunities for the golfers to show their personalities are rather limited; only after a hole and really only one at a time. In MK8, there numerous chances for them to show off. It makes for a very colorful game. Check the Luigi death stare videos for an example. Or the chanting Shy Guys on Shy Guy Mountain. Or the signs on any of the courses. It is a game that bursts with personality.


The racing, as usual, is pretty great as well. I really like a lot of the new courses, and selection of returning favorites is excellent. They added the Koopalings to the roster, but also added a few more babies and lost a few interesting racers, so that is a wash. Many people complained about Mario Kart Wii’s item balance. I never had any more problems with them that I did in any other game in the series, but MK8 has dialed back some of the more obnoxious ones. Blue Shells do seem to be rarer, and POW Blocks are gone. People seem to be really down on MKWii in general. I liked it. More than seeming favorite MK DS, for sure. But MK8 is just better in every way. There’s not a lot to say, it’s Mario Kart.

These games have reminded me that I love the Mushroom Kingdom. I wish that we got to see more of Mario’s side characters in games other than the sports games. I don’t want the main Mario games to become Mario and his crappy friends like Sonic. (Though you could argue that’s just what Super Mario 3D World is and it is excellent) But the RPGs could use more appearances by the likes of Rosalina and Toadette. My personal favorite is Daisy, who has one real game appearance to date. I liked Paper Mario: Sticker Star, but I was very disappointed that all of the supporting characters were generic Toads. Also, RPG characters can’t seem to break into the rest of the games. Does anyone doubt that Fawful would be an excellent addition to the Mario Kart roster?


While there are some entirely valid complaints about diversity in the roster, but I really like the Mario cast. Over the last 30 years, Nintendo has done a great job of creating a cast that all have fairly defined roles but can fit into a wide variety of situations, like Loony Tunes or the Muppets. Not quite on the level of those two, but better than anything else in video games. The best example of this is the evolution of Luigi. He started as just off-color Mario for the second player. With SMB2 he became taller and had a higher, floatier jump. When he starred in Luigi’s Mansion he acquired a hefty dose of cowardice. In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga he was constantly forgotten. With each appearance, his character changed a little until we got the version we have now. Luigi’s is Mario’s high-jumping, scaredy cat brother who has a tendency to fade into the background. He’s has become a unique and interesting character. Most of the cast has went through a similar, though less drastic, transformation. I just really like the Mario gang and really enjoy most of Nintendo’s arcade sports titles.

Ranking the Pixar Catalogue

This was supposed to be a supplementary piece when I was ranking all the Disney movies, but I fell behind on that and didn’t get to this. The other day I caught the back half of Ratatouille and it made me want to finish this up. Ranking Pixar’s catalogue is tough, because with one exception they are all great films. The difference between the best Pixar movie and the third worst is razor thin. It largely comes down to personal preference rather than any intrinsic strengths or weaknesses in any of these movies.


14. Cars 2: This is widely accepted as the worst film Pixar has made. I saw it for the first time not too long ago and it is not as bad as its reputation would suggest. It is okay. In terms of Pixar movies is pretty bad, but compared to the wide world of animated movies is still worth watching. The biggest problem with Cars 2 is that it stars Mater and Mater is not a strong enough character to carry a movie. He is fine in smaller doses, like in the first Cars, but here there is just too much of him.


13. Cars: This movie is head and shoulders above its sequel, but it is still one of the weaker Pixar films. The world of Cars doesn’t hold up to even the most rudimentary scrutiny. It is a strange, unbelievable world. Otherwise, its big problem is that its focus is not quite as universal as most of their films. Nostalgia for Route 66 does not have as wide of an appeal as Finding Nemo’s focus on fatherhood.


12. A Bug’s Life: The Seven Samurai with bugs. It is fun but forgettable. As in, I forgot to put it on the list the first time I made it. I like it, but I’m not a too big a fan of any of the characters.


11. Finding Nemo: I expect most people have this one much higher on the list than I do. I see why so many people absolutely love it, but while I like it, it is far from my favorite. Mostly that is because of Dory. I find her incredibly annoying; I simply hate that character. Otherwise, it is a great movie.


10. Brave: This feels like Pixar makes a Disney movie, and they did it better than Disney had for more than a decade. I still haven’t seen Frozen to know if Disney has topped them. Brave has a few rough patches, but it shines through them anyway.


9. Toy Story 2: This is easily the weakest of the Toy Story trilogy. There is nothing really wrong with it, it just feels slightly superfluous. It is a perfectly fine movie, but it doesn’t add a whole lot.  Other than Jessie, I guess.   That is a pretty worthwhile addition.


8. Monsters University: Another sequel and this one is a little better. I liked seeing the Monsters, Inc characters again, though the main focus of this film seems to be to make an animated Animal House.  I think we really needed an animated Animal House.


7. Ratatouille: Rats in the kitchen. It is hard to get past that, even if it is in service of a story about struggling to realize your dreams no matter the obstacles. That may be the lesson of nearly every animated movie, but Ratatouille does it better than anyone else.


6. Toy Story: This is the movie that started it all and it holds up. Not the animation so much, which does look rather rough now. But at the time it was a revelation. The story, though, absolutely holds up. Woody and Buzz are some great characters.


5. Toy Story 3: The most striking part of the 3rd Toy Story is how adult its subject matter is. Yes, it is still a movie about talking toys, but it is also about growing old. A quite poignant take on that subject, as well. It is just a really very good movie.


4. Monsters, Inc: This may just be Pixar’s most fun outing. The world of Monsters, Inc lends itself really well to jokes and Mike and Sully are a fun duo. It lacks a little of the emotional side that many of their other output, but it is so enjoyable it is easy to ignore the lack.


3. Up: The opening scene in this is simply touching. The rest of the movie isn’t half bad either. This movie combines touching moments with comedy better than most.


2. Wall-E: The first half of this movie is absolutely amazing. The second half is a big step down, but it is still strong. It is simply charming. The love story between Wall-E and EVE is one of the most touching I’ve seen in an animated film. This is a great sci-fi movie.


1. The Incredibles: This might be the best superhero movie ever made. It is just so perfect. Mr. Incredible is a great character. He is powerful and heroic, but also fallible and relatable. The rest of the family is great too. The scene when they return to the city in the van is one of my absolute favorite scenes in any movie. While I prefer that Pixar doing new things, if they are doing sequels as sequel to The Incredibles should be at the top of the list.

What I Read in May ‘14

I hit my reading average again in May. I would be reading more, but I am stuck on a book I’m really not enjoying. Not because the book is particularly bad, it is just not what I want to read right now. Unfortunately, I am constitutionally incapable of not finishing a book I’ve started. So instead of reading, I do something else, like play DS or watch basketball. Still, I guarantee that I’ll have that book finished by the end of June and hopefully a higher total number of books read. This month is almost all mysteries.


The Magician’s Nephew

CS Lewis

I really wish I had read the Narnia books when I was younger. The two I’ve read so far have been excellent children’s books, but definitely children’s books. They are good, but definitely for a young audience. Still, CS Lewis is a great writer and he writes kids really well. His child characters actually feel like children, changing rapidly from the most selfish little assholes to kind and generous sweethearts. Of course, the children don’t appear quite as simply foolish as many of the adult characters here. The magician is a complete fool, and even the Witch is both dangerous and ridiculous.

This is a slightly more involved tale that The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe. That one is fairly simple. They children go to Narnia, then save Narnia. Here, you have Polly and Digory going back and forth, visiting several different worlds, accidentally bringing people back with them, and the creation of Narnia. But the book is no longer than the next one (since I read them out of order) just a little more scattered. Still, there is something clearly building in Lewis’ melding of mythologies.


A Bitter Truth

Charles Todd

This is the first (I think) in a series of mysteries about Bess Crawford, a WW1 Nurse. She returns to England on leave only to find a battered woman freezing on her doorstep, so she takes her in. Helping Lydia, the woman on the doorstep,  leads to Bess getting involved in a murder and a mystery about a missing child. It is not great, but it is largely enjoyable. Lydia’s family is haunted by past and current traumas and their suspicious behavior is actually justified by the situation. At least, it is if you accept the pall cast over this family by a death that happened more than 30 years before.

Bess is an interesting enough character, but her role in this book is odd. She plays the role of the traditional detective, investigating the mystery but revealing little about herself. But when it comes to the actual crime, she doesn’t do much. She is mostly an observer. Now, with the plot thread about the missing child she is the big mover, but she has little to do with checking murder. Still, it was a fun read overall.


A Murder is Announced

Agatha Christie

Another Miss Marple mystery. I am starting to get a better feel for how Marple’s stories work. She doesn’t really do most of the investigating, she simply solves. Other people do the legwork. Miss Marple does more investigating in this book than she did in the previous books. She actually gets involved rather than just showing up to name the murderer.

This is a rather fun story. Several neighbors of Letitia Blacklock all get letters saying there is going to be a murder that night. There was a party planned, and everyone assumes it is part of a party game. When someone actually dies during a quickly deduced fake break in, everyone’s secrets start to come to light. The eventual solution is a little farfetched, but in a fun way. It is not something that anyone would guess, but doesn’t really break the rules.


Unnatural Causes

PD James

I picked up two of these Dalgliesh books when they were cheap on Amazon, and now I’ve read them both. They are very good mysteries, with very strong suspect characters and crimes, but I don’t care at all about the protagonist. Maybe I need to read more of these or read them in order, but he’s left no impression on me after two books. He’s just kind of there to move the plot along.

Here, a man washes up in his boat with both of his hands severed. Suspicion then falls on the inhabitants, most of them writers, of the small community where the deceased man lived. Dalgliesh happened to be visiting his Aunt, a resident of said community, at the time and assists in solving the murder. Neither of James’ books really lit me on fire. There is nothing particularly wrong with this book, but it simply didn’t grab my interest.

Some Unsolicited Thoughts on E3

Even though I am mostly done with new video games, I eagerly tuned in to stream a lot of E3 presentations. Partly it was that I was enjoying mocking the extravagance of the whole affair with some people online, but mostly it was because I want video game companies to win me back. Long story short, they failed with years E3. Well, one company has me excited to play their upcoming games, but the rest left me as cold and disinterested as I was before.

There are a few upcoming games that do look at least somewhat interesting. Reading some impressions of Alien: Isolation made that game sound great, even though it doesn’t sound like the kind of thing I would end up having any fun with. It sounded like it might be genuinely tense and scary and I hate horror stuff. I don’t know that I could handle it. Metal Gear Solid V looks like more Metal Gear, which I tend to enjoy even when it’s bad. Ori and the Black Forest from Microsoft’s show looked cool. I am very interested in Scalebound if Hideki Kamiya is directing it and not just acting as Platinum’s spokesperson in presenting it. The new Assassin’s Creed continues to let players kill people in funny hats in various historical locales. (More on that series in a few days) If it comes close to fulfilling its lofty promise, No Man’s Sky should be a delight. Overall, though, nothing changed my mind about sinking money into either a PS4 or and Xbone.


Nintendo did sell me on a number of their upcoming titles. Honestly, I loved just about everything I saw from Nintendo. That’s not just me being a fanboy, it is mostly because Nintendo’s offerings were so different from what everyone else had on display. Everything else was shooters, with a few asides for indie games. Nintendo’s offerings were more along the lines of classic gaming genres: platformers and action games. Their games were also more colorful, more varied than what anyone else had to offer. You might compare the look of Little Big Planet to Yoshi’s Wooly World, though I think Yoshi looks better, but there was nothing else like Kirby and the Rainbow Curse’s claymatian look. The new Zelda may be open world, but it hasn’t lost the beautiful watercolor looking world from Skyward Sword.

My biggest interest in E3 was to plan my fall video game budget. I came away wanting to pick up all four of Nintendo’s WiiU fall offerings. I should be on the fence for Hyrule Warriors. I’ve played a few Warriors or Warriors-esque games, and I enjoy them for a while but usually loose interest pretty fast. A fine choice to a $20 pick a couple of years later, but usually not a good use of $60. However, I am a sucker for Zelda and it looks like they are using the setting effectively. Also, it comes out earlier than most of the other upcoming games I want, so it will be available when I haven’t yet spent my gaming budget. So I’ll likely pick it up. Then there is Bayonetta 2. It has long looked awesome, as most things from Platinum do, and the first game is included in the package, which is a big selling point. The other two games, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker and Smash Brothers 4, don’t have solid release dates, but I will definitely pick them up. The Captain Toad stages were among the best parts of Super Mario 3D World, so a whole game of them should be great. And nothing will keep me from Smash Bros.


Which brings me to the next part of fall budget: the 3DS. That handheld isn’t quite having the same unstoppable year that it had last year, but there is still plenty of stuff coming out. Most notably, Smash Bros. Nintendo was truly devious splitting up the releases of the 3DS and WiiU versions of that game. If they came out at the same time I would pick the WiiU one and maybe picked up the 3DS version a while later. Now, I am going to get the 3DS one because I’m not waiting any longer than I have to for that game, but I am also going to get the WiiU one when it is released because that is my preferred platform. There is also Persona Q, which finally got a release date and Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright, which I remain excited for.

There was some other good 3DS stuff around. Another Pokemon remake, which I am going to pass on for the time being. It’s just pretty far down my list right now. And then there is Fantasy Life from Level 5. It looks like the kind of thing I should enjoy, but I’m getting a feeling similar to Animal Crossing, which I couldn’t manage to have any fun with. Finally, though I don’t think it was shown at E3 at all, is the new Final Fantasy Theatrhythm game, which I am still one the fence on.


I was really interested in a couple of Nintendo’s new IPs. Splatoon is a squad shooter with a decidedly Nintendo twist. The characters are squid girls wielding ink guns as they try to cover the whole stage in ink. It looked like a more arcadey take on the genre, like older stuff. I’m not much of a shooter guy, but it did look fun. Then there was Codename: STEAM, a strategy RPG that looks like Valkyria Chronicles mixed with a Jack Kirby comic. In other words, it looks perfect. While it is still apparent that the bulk of the video game industry is not for me at all, I am glad to see that there is still a large amount of stuff that I should enjoy.

Now Playing in May 2014

I ended up with a lot more time to play games in May than I expected. Part of that is that my job allows me to actually play my 3DS while working. So games like Kirby 3D and Mario Golf were easy to make progress in.  Plus, I finished up a couple of games that I had started long ago.  Still, I played a lot and a wide variety of games on a variety of systems in a variety of genres.


Batman Arkham Asylum: I ended up playing this a lot sooner than I expected. Honestly, I like it more than Arkham City. Arkham City is bigger, more ambitious; Arkham Asylum is more compact and focused.  There are plenty of advancements from the sequel that I missed, but on whole I prefer the focused approach here.  The grossness of the character designs that I complained about in AC are lessened here, though still definitely present.  AA has a cohesiveness to it.  Each objective flows right into the next fairly logically, without the jumping around that AC has, trying to justify the inclusion of all of the characters and villains, whether or not it makes sense.  You do lose the joy of zipping around Gotham City, stopping random crimes and getting caught up in sidequests.  The two games are close in quality, but I just prefer AA a tiny bit more.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask: wrote about it here.

Etrian Odyssey Untold: wrote about it here.

NES Remix 2: Almost all of the games here are better than the ones in the first NES Remix, but they don’t break up quite as well into small challenges.  Still, it is hard to complain about any game that combines SMB2, SMB3, and Kirby’s Adventure.  It is still the same effective concept, taking old games and making them into tiny challenges, as well as doing Remixes that combine or alter them.  It is a ton of fun.  I really hope Nintendo keeps doing this.  I would kill for a Gameboy Remix or SNES Remix.

Kirby Triple Deluxe: wrote about it here.

Mario Golf Toadstool Tour: I’m going to call this beaten.  I’ve seen the credits; I’ve unlocked all the courses and most of the characters.  But I am still playing it; see the entry in the next section.

Monster World 4: wrote about it here.

Soul Calibur 5: A long time ago, I was pretty dang good at Soul Calibur 2.  I could regularly beat all of my friends, especially if I chose Kilik.  Soul Calibur 3, to my eye at least, added nothing, aside from the create-a-character, which I didn’t have much fun with.  I skipped SC4, but I snagged SC5 for cheap off of PSN.  I kind of hate it.  Most of the characters have been replaced or simply removed.  I don’t like the replacements.  I played through the story mode, which focused on probably the two least interesting ones.  The ones not featured in the story have almost no characterization.  Less than you would get even from arcade mode of the average fighting game.  Plus, most of them are just replacements for characters from the previous games, making them all feel like knock-offs.  The gameplay, at first blush at least, is largely the same.  I just couldn’t get over the roster shuffle.  It doesn’t play any better than SC2, I don’t know why I shouldn’t play that instead.

Persona 4 Arena: wrote about it here.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2: wrote about it here.


Mario Golf Toadstool Tour: They removed most of the RPG mechanics that are sometimes present, but damn if Camelot doesn’t know how to make a golf game.  This is not the best put together game on the organizational side, with the meat of the game split between the Mii-centric and Free Play, meaning that you have to switch back and forth to see everything.  It also doesn’t leverage the Mario setting as well as it could, especially since your Mii will soon be easily the best character to choose, since you can alter it to fit what you need.  Still, it is a hell of a golf game and I love the Mario characters.

Advance Wars: I always wanted to play this game back when it was new, but I never managed to track it down.  I’ve played it enough now to realize I prefer Fire Emblem’s brand of this particular sort of GBA tactics game.  Still, this is a fine a game, and I hope to finish it before too long, though I have been distracted by other things lately.

Yoshi’s Island: I’ve only played the first few stages, but so far this game is everything it’s cracked up to be.  It will never be my favorite Mario game, because it’s just too pokey, but it is still damn good.

Mario Kart 8: I’ve just got this.  It is great.  I am a little annoyed reading reviews that talk about how bad Mario Kart Wii was.  It is like living in some kind of alternate dimension.  The game wasn’t perfect, but it was still largely great and had some excellent online play.  The unlocking methods in this game are a little annoying, but playing it is so much fun I don’t care.

Child of Light: This game is purely delightful.  It is a mix of a fairly simple RPG and a 2D sidescroller.  It uses a battle system much like the Grandia series, with an emphasis on manipulating the turn order.  It is also beautiful.  The graphics are excellent and music is amazing.  I think I’ll have a full post when I finish this game.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey: I am more than halfway through this, and that might be where I stop again.  It may be set up like Etrian Odyssey, but I feel crippled playing it since they removed the mapping options.  There is nothing better than an invisible maze, especially one played on a system with two screens, one of which is used as a map.  Why just a map when it can be a useless map?  I like the rest of the game.  The story has an interesting sci-fi hook backed up with solid mythological underpinnings.  But if it doesn’t cut out this teleporting and mapping garbage I am just going to give up on it.  Life is too short to put up with this kind of nonsense.

Inazuma 11: This is Dragon Quest by way of a sports game.  It is a fun sort of ridiculous, though the gameplay is too simple to really capitalize on the concept.  Still, it is an enjoyably, low impact romp.  I love that it imagines a world were all disagreements are settled with soccer and all problems can be solved with soccer.  The game is just as blindly focused as the goofy protagonist.  Once you strip out the story, though, it is kind of dull.

Persona PSP: I bought this off of PSN and played the first couple of hours.  I’m not sure how much I like it.  The controls are awkward, the mechanics strange and the whole thing is just sort of obtuse.  Still, I think if I put a little more time in on it things will start to click.  The story is as least interesting.


Pikmin 3: I definitely intend to get to this game soon.  It just keeps falling through the cracks.

Digital Devil Saga 2: This is the next game up in my quest to clear my backlog of SMT games.

Remember Me: I actually started this a bit last month.  It has an interesting setting, but so far the gameplay is dead simple.  I’ll stick with it until I get bored, then move on to something else.  For some reason I feel the need to at least try out all of the PS+ I’ve downloaded.

Legend of Zelda: 4 Swords Adventure: Unless Minish Cap shows up on the Virtual Console in the next week or two, a definite possibility considering it is out in Europe and Japan already, this is next Zelda game I am going to complete.

Shantae: Monster World IV reminded me of the little bit of this game I played when I first downloaded it last year.  I got lost right after the opening section and moved on to other things.  But with another Shantae game coming soon, I hope any way that game is months late, I feel the need to beat this one.  Plus, I crave another taste of something like MW4.

Surviving Another Week in Tokyo


It is rare that a game improves on all of the faults of its predecessor and still doesn’t feel like an appreciably better game.  Devil Survivor 2 manages to achieve this feat.  Nearly all the problems I had with the first Devil Survivor are eliminated or lessened, but I didn’t really like DS2 any more than I liked DS1.  I did like DS1; it was often frustrating but the core gameplay was solid and the story was decent enough.  Devil Survivor 2 doesn’t greatly shake things up, it merely sands down all the little problems that held back the first game, without introducing new problems to replace them and still manages to not really be an improvement.

One of the problems I had with DS1 was that I constantly felt lost.  I couldn’t easily judge if I was spending my limited time effectively.  The game takes place over a week and the clock moves with each scene you trigger, so you have decide which story paths to follow.  This same system is in place in Devil Survivor 2, but the game does a better job of communicating your progress and the relative importance of each scene.  Maybe that was because I was quicker to turn to a walkthrough when I was struggling, but DS2 does make some changes to make things easier.  There are fewer time dependent missions that could result in the loss of a character.  Plus, the game now has a system to tell the player how they stand with the rest of the cast.  It is similar to Persona’s S-Links, but much less integral to the game until the end.  The extra scenes are mostly just get to know the other characters and build a relationship with them.  It just makes things easier.


Another way the first game made me feel lost was with its lack of a compendium.  You could buy and fuse all the demons you wanted to, but once you fused it, it was gone forever.  So if you managed to fuse a demon with a great combination of skills, or even one skill that you wanted to move to another demon, you only had once chance to do it.  Devil Survivor 2 adds a compendium, but it barely fixes the problem, since it is so expensive that you can hardly use it.  On replays the cost can come down, but by then it isn’t as needed.  Still, its very existence is an improvement.

Possibly the biggest annoyance on the gameplay side of playing Devil Survivor were missions with NPCs, because those NPCs were completely suicidal.  They would either charge into enemies or simply fail to even attempt to escape, resulting in game overs for the player no matter what they did.  Devil Survivor 2 has much fewer escort missions, fewer NPCs and the NPCs it does have tend to be sturdier and smarter.  Really, just eliminating most of those sorts of battles is a big improvement.


With all of these improvement, then why isn’t the game anymore fun?  The biggest reason is that the story is stupendously inconsistent.  Sometimes you see a scene about people starving, a couple hours or later you are having a feast to celebrate a victory.  One scene talks about how powerful and dangerous some sealed demons are, in another a party member beats one of those demons into submission with a laptop.  The story in DS1 wasn’t any great shakes either, keeping most of the cast hidden for the first couple of days and making it hard to get a read on anybody other than Atsuro and Yuzu.  I don’t remember the tone being that all over the place though.  The tonal inconsistency of Devil Survivor 2 really kills the game.

I tend to be harsher on games in the Shin Megami Tensei mega series that I am of other games because the bar has been set so high.  It is the difference between Sonic Generations and New Super Mario Bros 2.  I would call NSMB2 the better game, but it feels worse because every other Mario game is better.  Sonic Generations, though, it the best game in its series in a decade or so, so the fault with it are easier to dismiss.  That is how I feel about the Devil Survivor games.  They aren’t as good as many of the other SMT games, but they are still better than most of the other games available.