Hercules Review


I can’t in good conscience call Hercules a good movie. It is not. It has many glaring faults. However, I can’t say that I did not greatly enjoy watching it. This film is much like its star. Dwayne Johnson is almost always entertaining; affable and watchable even when the material he is working with isn’t worth your time. Hercules is generally charming and enjoyable, but large parts of it are simply poorly made.

While the film tries to portray the overtly mythological elements of Hercules and his origins as too ridiculous to believe, merely legends created by his nephew Iolaus to scare his enemies, the feats it does show him complete are just as ridiculous. Plus, there is the fact that there is nothing that seems unbelievable with Dwayne Johnson in the title role. If the movie tells me he can wrestle a lion the size of an elephant, then I believe The Rock can do it. Johnson’s Hercules is great. He is larger than life; that perfect combination of heart and menace. The supporting cast is largely good as well. Hercules’s gang is given just enough characterization that they feel like a group of old friends.

It also features some very well constructed action scenes. They are patently ridiculous, but enjoyable. Sure, Herc spends a lot of time training some farmers to form a phalanx, but when battle comes, he and his friends stand outside and fight on their own. Still, the action is reasonably stylish and perfectly comprehensible. It is fun to watch. To go with the ridiculous nature of the fights, there is also a heaping dose of humor. Aside from Hercules himself, the rest of the characters seem to recognize the ridiculousness of the scenarios in which they find themselves. The humor mostly lands.

The big problems are numerous and obvious. There are instances of lack of continuity from shot to shot. In one scene Hercules enters without his weapon, a fearsome looking club, but a few shots later it is there. It makes no sense for it to be there unless Hercules brought it and the viewer clearly saw it didn’t. The premise of a late heel turn simply doesn’t work with what came before it. It isn’t surprising, you almost have to see it coming, and it is just nonsensical. There are plenty of twists like that heel turn, twists that are both obvious and unearned. Then there is the supposed mystery about whether or not Hercules killed his family, as in the actual myths. There is no way that anyone could believe the Hercules portrayed in this movie is at all capable of such a thing.

Hercules is fun to watch, easy to enjoy and severely flawed. You have to fight the urge to mock the more obvious and blatant head scratching moments. Still, despite staring right into these flaws, I found myself having a lot of fun. Anyone going to see this movie wants to see Dwayne Johnson perform legendary feats as Hercules, and that the film delivers. You see him kill a half-dozen men with one blow, Use one giant wolf to batter another giant wolf to death and throw a charging horse. It is amazing. I can’t say Hercules is good, I can’t even recommend anyone watch it at all, but I definitely enjoyed it.

Unfinished Business with Suikoden 2

As I’ve said before, I love Suikoden 2. Playing Final Fantasy Tactics reminded me of some similarities between the games’ stories, so after completing FFT I started a new file on Suikoden 2. Not only did I want to refresh my memory, but I also have unfinished business with that game. I may have beaten more than a half dozen times, but there is one part of the game I’ve never experienced. I have never been able to complete Clive’s Quest.


Clive’s Quest is a sidequest in Suikoden 2 centering on a character named … wait for it … Clive. In order to complete that sidequest you have to essentially beat the game in less than 20 hours. A tall task in a game that generally usually takes me more than 40. It is certainly possible, even without using some of the more involved tactics players have come up. All you have to do is skip almost all of the optional stuff in the game. This time, I was determined to see Clive’s Quest through. That determination, however, petered out around the time I hit South Window, a town you visit at about the one quarter mark of the game. At that point I realized how much I missed all the optional stuff you have to skip to complete that quest.

The Suikoden games are filled to the brim with optional things. You don’t have to work very hard to find most of them, simply walk around your castle and they happen. The spontaneity of these scenes is what makes the world of Suikoden seem so alive. It feels like this stuff is happening whether you are there to see it or not. Sure, there is fun stuff like having your army detective investigate each of the 108 Stars of Destiny that make up your party, but there is also more subtle stuff like stepping into the dining hall and seeing the two dog-like Kobolds performing a dance number. The more you poke around the game world, the more stuff happens that fleshes out the characters and the world.


One the few of these bonus scenes that excludes the rest is Clive’s Quest. To see Clive and Elsa’s story play out, you have to reach certain towns before too much time passes on the game clock, the last being what is essentially the last dungeon with right around 21 hours on the clock. I can’t ever force myself to miss all the good stuff just to get those few elusive scenes. It is just about the only thing I haven’t done in this game. I’ve recruited both Valeria and Kasumi, since you have to choose one or the other. I’ve gotten all of the endings, even the one when Riou (the “canon” name for the protagonist) and Nanami run away instead of finishing the game. I’ve even intentionally let Ridley die so I could recruit his son Boris. Unfortunately I have never been able to force myself to ignore all the other stuff I could see just for Clive. After failing recently, I’m not sure I ever will.

Still, each failure to complete Clive’s Quest is another time I play through Suikoden 2, so none of them are truly failures. Each time I play through the game it is a joy. I really wish Konami would make this game available for purchase on some download service. If I am really wishing for things I can’t have, I might as well wish that Konami would take the time to retranslate the game. Again much like Final Fantasy Tactics, the translation is got in the late 90’s was serviceable at best and unforgivably sloppy at worst. Unfortunately, the game tends toward the latter. It is the biggest flaw in what is otherwise a great game.

My 5 Most Hated Games

I made a handful of these lists a few years ago, hoping to start a blog feature called Top 5 Friday. That never really came to fruition. Is this me making another go of it? Not really. I’m just going to post Top 5 lists whenever I don’t have anything else to put up.

Today’s list is my 5 most hated games. This is not a list of the 5 worst games I’ve ever played, though there would be some crossover with the games on that list, but the 5 games that got the most visceral hateful reaction from me. With simply a terrible game it is easy to just shut it off and never play it again. To get me to truly hate something, I have to care about it to begin with’ as well as spend enough time with it to get me to really dislike it. So this list has a lot of sequels and RPGs. Bad sequels to games that I really liked and bad RPGs that I spent way too long playing.


5: Star Wars Rogue Squadron 3: Rebel Strike – The first two Rogue Squadron games were excellent. The third looked to continue this, but included bafflingly awful on foot missions. I was at the height of my Star Wars fandom, and had spent so much time with Rogue Squadron 2 that I could barely wait for Rebel Strike. It couldn’t have disappointed me more. I hated it so much that I sold it back to Gamestop after only a few weeks, something I never do. Maybe I judged it harshly, but even after 10 years it was one of the first games that came to mind for this list.


4: Tales of the Abyss – This is likely the best game on this list, as well as a game I really wanted to like. Tales of Symphonia hit me at just the right time in High School, especially for an RPG fan playing on the RPG starved Gamecube. I went to considerable length to track down its sequel. Aside from my natural inclination to like it, Tales of the Abyss came highly recommended, both for its improved battle system and its story. The improved battle system held up its end of the bargain; the story not so much. Tales of the Abyss is a long game, nearly 60 hours. A duration that is hard to stomach with a cast of unlikeable, irredeemable assholes that make up the player’s party in this game. I couldn’t stand this group of characters. At a certain point all of the characters ruin whatever likeability they ever had, and the game expects the player to side with them. I hated every minute I had to spend with that despicable group of anime clichés.


3: Lunar Dragon Song – I love the first two Lunar games. When a sequel hit early in the DS’s life I was overjoyed. Then I played it. It makes every mistake an RPG could make. This game has no redeeming qualities. Worst of all, it got my hopes up for the continuation of a great series that this game really doesn’t deserve to be a part of.


2: Hydlide – A kid with an NES probably had a limited amount of funds to get games with. One of my first choices was Hydlide. At the time every game was a new experience, I just had to figure out how each game worked. I spent hours trying to crack Hydlide, assuming that once I learned how it worked it would be fun. I never learned how it worked and it was never fun. Even later, when I learned how it worked it was still awful. This one has a special place pf hate in my heart for being my first bad game.


1: Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth – All the previews of this game highlighted how like Final Fantasy Tactics this game it. At this point I had never seen anything like FFT, so another game like that sounded like a dream come true. So I begged my Mom to take to Funcoland to spend $40 on this game. Then I played it. It was like FFT; like FFT’s mentally challenged cousin. The game expected the player to grind incessantly. There was nothing even close to the Job system. In fact, the game seemed to go out of the way to hide how it worked mostly because I don’t think most of its systems did work. It looks like FFT, but it plays like a nightmare. After a week of unremitting agony, I finally convinced my Mom to drive me back and exchange it, getting I think Final Fantasy IX. That should be the end of this tale, but that would not get this game to the top of my most hated list. Years later, Hoshigami was released on the DS. I was both still a fan of strategy RPGs and still remembered how much I disliked this game. But all the preview talked about how it fixed the problems with original version. So I plunked down $30 on this game again. And it was still awful. This time I was not able to get my money back. I hate this game not just because it was bad, but because it fooled me twice. Fool me twice shame on me, I know, but that doesn’t make me hate this game less.

2nd Quest: The Phantom Hourglass


The Legend of Zelda games on the DS are probably the most divisive in the series. Both The Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks share the same conflicting control scheme. They also tried to recreate the look of the console Zeldas on a handheld that wasn’t quite powerful enough to do it right. The cel-shaded look from Wind Waker returns here, and it mostly works despite the DS being a terrible system for 3D graphics. It looks slightly worse than Ocarina of Time did. With the DS Zelda games, Nintendo could have taken the easy route and just made what was essentially A Link to the Past on a handheld and everyone would have loved it. They did that with A Link Between Worlds. They went for something else entirely. I can’t say it completely worked out, but it was a noble experiment.


The most divisive part of The Phantom Hourglass is the stylus controls. In what seems a desperate, and completely unnecessary, attempt by Nintendo to prove the usefulness of their touchscreen enabled DS very few actions in Phantom Hourglass use button presses, nearly everything is done with the stylus. Despite the fact that the controls are very different from the rest of the series or really any other game, playing Phantom Hourglass soon feels natural. There are times when the controls are awkward, mostly when the game is pulling mechanics straight in from previous Zelda games, but for the most part they are excellent. Many actions are streamlined, like picking up and throwing pots and rocks. It takes just two taps of the stylus to execute. Drawing paths for the boomerang or bombchus and aiming the bow are likewise very natural. The combat, however, suffers greatly. Swinging the sword boils down to imprecise flailing. Luckily, most enemies are designed to be taken down with such flailing, making it only a slight problem. The requisite bout of batting an energy ball back and forth with a boss is awful, though. It is all but impossible to be precise. I can understand how the controls are a love them or hate them prospect; they are far different from what players are used to, but I have to say they impressed me with how well they work.


The other common complaint with Phantom Hourglass is about the Temple of the Ocean King. This is a dungeon that the player must go through multiple times throughout the game, each time going a few floors deeper than the time before. It is a decent idea of the surface, but the execution completely ruins the idea. Other than the chests you open, the dungeon resets each time, so you have to solve each puzzle again. Also, the dungeon is timed. So not only do you have to redo the dungeon, you have to redo it quickly. That’s not all; it is also a stealth dungeon, full of enemies called Phantoms, giant ghostly knights that the player can’t hurt. So you have to repeatedly, quickly sneak through this same dungeon more than a half dozen times. It was a poor design decision. And since it forms the backbone of the game, it really hampers the proceedings.

The biggest flaw, though, is the overworld. Returning to the look and world of Wind Waker was great, but the barely interactive sailing on the world map is the worst. I understand that space on the DS cart is limited and maybe they couldn’t do a big overworld, but knowing that the map was a necessary compromise needed to get that ugly low-poly 3D look, doesn’t help sell it. This is a Zelda game where exploring is a chore that I spent most of my time trying to avoid. That is as far away from the normal Zelda experience possible.

ph2Luckily the dungeons are all really good. When the game gets out if its own way and just lets the player play, it is a damn fine game. The available tools are limited, but the game comes up with multiple ways to use most of them. The grappling hook is really great in this regard. You can use it like the hookshot, but you can also use it to make tightropes across pits and like a slingshot to shoot the Link across some holes. It is the standout tool of the game. Most of the dungeons have some really great puzzles. They are not confined to one room, some of the better puzzles continue across several floors. They are truly satisfying.

The Phantom Hourglass is a flawed game. Most of the problems with the game could be fairly easily fixed. Taking out the repeating part of the Temple of the Ocean King mostly solves that problem and just giving the player direct control of the world map would make it less annoying. Still, despite those problems, The Phantom Hourglass is a largely enjoyable game. I find how experimental it is laudable, but that doesn’t really make it necessarily a good game. It is a divisive entry in the series with good reason. I liked The Phantom Hourglass, but I don’t see myself coming back to it any time soon.

Conquering Castlevania

I’ve never really gotten the old school Casltevanias. Sure, I played the first two on the NES, but the first was too hard for me at seven years old and the second was too inscrutable. I watched other people enjoy them and recognized their excellence, but I was never able to really enjoy playing Castlevania. At least not until Symphony of the Night turned the series into exploratory action-rpgs. Those games, while varying greatly in quality, were exactly my thing. I ate those GBA and DS up.


Oddly enough, though, I’ve never played Symphony of the Night, probably the most celebrated game in the series and the originator of the half of the series I really like.  Unfortunately, by the time I got a Playstation, Symphony was already hard to find and expensive. Plus, I had yet to realize how much I like that sort of game. It has been a game on my “to play” list for most of the last decade. A few years ago I bought the Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP to make up for this. However, until recently my PSP was a time-share that I rarely got to take advantage of. So I still didn’t have the chance to play it.


A couple of weeks ago, I determined to make time to play it and was greatly disappointed to find out that I had to play Rondo of Blood to unlock Symphony of the Night. However, I buckled down and got to playing it. The result was shocking. I unlocked Symphony in about 30 minutes, but I kept playing Rondo. For some reason classic Castlevania clicked with me this time. The low poly 3D models look like crap next to sprites from the original version, but the game still plays just about as well. It helps that Richter has a slightly more robust move set than is usual for a Belmont. That backflip makes a load of difference once mastered. I played the first few levels to unlock Symphony. After that, I was purposely, methodically taking the game apart. I’m still not all that great at the game, very few of the levels were beaten without continuing, but for once it seemed worth it to me to learn them. And with the exception of Stage 5′, I beat them all.


Rondo of Blood is just a great game. It is difficult, but not unfairly so. It is not about rote memorization, but about learning how to deal with each kind of enemy then dealing with those enemies in different situations. Each victory is hard fought and feels earned. It also helps that the game saves your progress and lets you start from any level you’ve reached. Which means no repeating early levels over and over to get to the harder ones. It also helps with uncovering all the extra paths and finding all the hidden secrets. It is a great game.

I almost neglected to mention the best part: playing as Maria. In the game Richter must save a handful of captured maidens. One of them, Maria Renard, is a playable character. While all the horror imagery from the game stays the same, playing as this little girl in a pink dress turns the whole thing into something of a joke. She easily outclasses Richter’s mobility, having a double jump and a slide technique. Instead of his assortment of knives and axes to throw at enemies, Maria is armed with birds and kitties and a big turtle shell to hide in. She doesn’t find meat hidden in the walls, she finds cake and ice cream. It is absurdly hilarious. She is the best bonus character I’ve ever encountered.

Maria in action

Maria in action


I wanted to be sure that my new found appreciation for Casltevania was not just this game, so I downloaded Super Castlevania 4 on my WiiU to try it out. I was delighted to find that my groove from playing Rondo transferred over. I haven’t beaten it yet, but I’ve sped through the first five levels. I’m liking it enough that I’m thinking of getting the NES games too. Probably not until I’ve finished Symphony of the Night, which I’ve finally started.

Arrested Development Season 4


It has been more than a year since Season 4 of what I consider the greatest show to ever air on American television premiered on Netflix. I had planned to write a review of it after I gorged on the fifteen plus-sized episodes, but after a couple abortive attempts I gave up on it. A few weeks ago I found myself watching through the show again and when I got to the new stuff, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I liked it the first time, but this time through it really clicked for me. While this new season is a different beast than the original run it is almost as good. I think it is a shame that many people seem to have written it off as a poor addition.

It does have its faults. The first and biggest one is that they couldn’t get the entire cast there at the same time for the bulk of the episodes. The busy schedules of the stars more than half a decade after the show ended is the unfortunate reality we live in. In order to get any new Arrested Development at all we had to accept that the cast was going to be scattered. This does kill one of the best parts of the show, the crack timing of all the characters in every scene. Season 4 is at its best when it has most of its characters together; scenes which are all the more notable for how infrequent they are. By giving each of the characters room to breathe on their own it becomes apparent that most of them are wholly unlikable. Early on even the usually relatable, though never as good a person as he thinks he is, Michael looks incredibly bad.

The second big problem is the ending. Spoiling as little as possible, I have to say that it is unconscionable that they ended it with a cliffhanger. The show has already gotten one miracle revival. No matter what hopes the creators and cast have for a movie or another Netflix season, they needed to end this with some closure. Instead, many of the plot threads only sort of tie together into an opening for the next story. Much like how the bulk of the episodes end. If there was a solid guarantee of more Arrested Development, then maybe the ending would be acceptable.  Since there isn’t it makes the ending we received somewhat tragic. Especially in light of the nearly perfect conclusion Season 3 had.

Still, Season 4 works. Individually, each episode may not be perfect, but the season as a whole tells a great story. It is still subtle, clever and layered, but the usual 3 episode story is blown up into a 15 episode season. It works even better on second viewing; once the viewer knows what’s coming many of the jokes hit all the harder. It is like getting tiny glimpses of the gears in a watch. At first you can only see a few of the moving parts and have no idea how it all fits together. Each episode shows another small part, but each glimpse tells more the bigger picture. Once it all is revealed, the intricate nature of how it all works together is apparent. What is most amazing about this is that they manage to do without the character actually interacting, other than in pairs and with Michael.

They actually make the separated cast work with the story. Without Michael there to keep everyone together, the family has dispersed over the six or so years since the show ended. Lucille has gone to prison, George Sr is near the Mexican border scamming CEO’s, George Michael has gone to college, etc. While most of their circumstances are roughly the same, though their precise situation is different, when the show starts Michael has hit rock bottom. It is hard to see him like that. The others are awful enough that the viewer can enjoy their failures. While Michael tends to be self-righteous and smug, but he is usually a smidge or so better the rest of his family. It’s not a lot, but he at least seems redeemable. At the start here he is pushed to the worst possible level of his indulging his faults. The whole season seems to be Michael’s refusal to actually climb back out of that hole. Every time he gets close, he jumps right back in. In the last episode, when George Michael finally punches him in the face it feels well-deserved.

Once I accepted that the show can’t be exactly like it was before, I gained a greater appreciation for what Season 4 is and what it does. Instead of futilely trying to recreate the magic of the original run, it keeps many of the same traits and does something slightly different. Season 4 is not the continuing misadventures of this horrible family; it is one big overarching episode in their story. And it is a pretty damn good episode. I only hope they get the chance to finish the story.

What I Read in June ‘14

Another four book month and this one includes a reread. At least I finally got the millstone that is Acacia off my back. I am so glad to not be reading that book any more. I hope to keep up the pace in July, which it looks like I will at this point.



David Anthony Durham

This is the book that has been slowing me down for the better part of four months. It came highly recommended by some people I know, but the more I read it the less I enjoyed it. It follows the royal family of the Acacian Empire: the Emperor and his four children. At the end of the first part, the Emperor is killed, his empire crushed and the children are scattered. It is quite similar in set up to A Song of Ice and Fire. In the second half of the book, the children have grown and they come together to save their homeland. The big twist is that the protagonist’s empire is an awful place. The government distributes drugs to the populace and pays of a distant power with a yearly quota of slaves. Of course, the people that conquer them are no better.

My big problem with this book is that is ponderously written. It features a lot of telling rather than showing. Instead of having the read find out about the drugs or slaves, it just flat tells it in narration. The reader doesn’t get to see the characters mature, they are just told that it happens. It switched between the four, as well as a few other characters so frequently that it is hard for any of them to build any narrative momentum.

SPOILERS. I also don’t buy a lot of the events in the second half of the book. The eldest daughter is captured by the bad guys and spends ten years (or however many it was) a essentially a prisoner trapped in the palace. Suddenly, she goes from hating Hamish Mien, the villain, she falls in love with him. Falling for her captor, that is an understandable development, but having her hate him for all those years before suddenly changing her mind was hard to swallow. Then there is the death of the eldest son. While leading an army, he accepts a duel to the death to determine a battle. Instead of finishing a battle he has already essentially won, he chooses to fight a man he knows he can’t beat in a duel that even he calls a bad idea as soon as it is suggested. It is just a monumentally stupid plot twist. END SPOILERS

Those moments of just flat out stupidity, on top of how far removed the book keeps the reader from the characters, really killed the book for me. I understand why this got recommended to me, but I really didn’t enjoy it at all.


The Five Red Herrings

Dorothy Sayers

Another Wimsey mystery. Possibly my least favorite in the series. There is just no personal stake here. There is no victim to feel for or diabolical criminal to catch. There is just a guy that nobody liked getting killed and everyone is a suspect because nobody liked him. Wimsey also doesn’t get a lot to do in this book. That was also true of Gaudy Night, but there he was replaced by his love interest and an interesting character on her own. Here he is replaced by some bland policemen. The mystery itself is actually quite enjoyable, but most of the Wimsey stories I’ve read have had another layer that this one lacks.


Diamonds are Forever

Ian Fleming

The odd thing about this fourth Bond novel is that the spy stuff doesn’t really get going until past the halfway point of the book, and even then there is very little of it. Bond is investigating a diamond smuggling operation, so he goes somewhat undercover and smuggles some diamonds into America. His payment is arranged by the mobsters he’s smuggling for in a fixed horse race. He meets up with former CIA Agent Felix Leiter, who is investigating the same people. Leiter throws arranges for the fixed jockey to throw the race. So Bond’s mobster employers arrange for him to get paid with fixed gambling. So he goes to Vegas.

I guess the point of the book is Bond’s growth as a character. He feels like he’s moved on from Vesper in Casino Royale and actually connects with her as a person. Most of the book is just Bond touring America and sharing his thoughts. Unsurprisingly, his thoughts tend to be sexist and racist. Shocking, I know. This book was pretty much the opposite of what I want from a Bond story. I would rather have action and monomaniacal villains, not normal gangsters and ruminations on the fleeting nature of life and love.


The Eyre Affair

Japser Fforde

I first read this more than two years ago and absolutely loved it. Now that I’ve read the rest of the series, as well as the rest of Fforde’s body of work, I still love. It is a great book. One of my absolute favorites.

Thursday Next is just a great character. She is highly competent and brave, but also flawed. The big conflict between her and her love interest is that she is unwilling to admit that the tragedy she was involved with in the ongoing, at least in the books reality, Crimean War was at least partly the fault of her brother who died in that tragedy. It is her loyalty to her brother straining everything else because he was at fault. She is also the perfect kind of character to be the lead this sort of screwed up mystery. She is tolerant of nonsense while not stooping to participate in it.

I think on of things that draws me to this is that Jane Eyre is one of my favorite classic novels. It is also a weird book, being kind of Gothic and kind of a fairy tale and kind of a romance. It is the prefect book to fiddle with in this sort of meta-fictional manner. Read this.

2nd Quest The Minish Cap

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is Capcom’s third (technically 4th if we count the 4 Swords mode from the GBA Link to the Past port as its own game) and final game in the Zelda universe. Their first two games, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, were solid Gameboy games that were built on the bones of Link’s Awakening. While neither is perfect, both are solid games. With The Minish Cap, Capcom finally got it right. For the most part.


The Minish Cap starts with young Link and Zelda attending a fair in Hyrule town before going to the castle. There, the evil sorcerer Vaati takes control of the elemental powers and turns Zelda to stone. The only clue Link has to go on to save her is a legend about the Picori, a race of tiny people. Soon, through the use of the titular Minish Cap, a magic hat (not really, but that is close a close enough explanation) that gives Link the ability to shrink himself down to tiny size to meet with the tiny Picori as well as with the reach previously unreachable areas. It gives the game a fairly original hook.

First and foremost, The Minish Cap is a fine looking game. The backgrounds are detailed and colorful; the character sprites, though they look a little over rendered, are still magnificent. Minish Cap is easily the best looking 2D Zelda game. The detail in the surroundings is especially impressive when you shrink down. The bosses look nice, but most of them are just big versions of regular enemies, which is a little disappointing.


It is also just a lot of fun to play. The selection of tools, while small, gives Link an interesting move set. Almost all of them appear in other games, but here they all used rather well. Plus, there are several sword abilities that are only useable with specific items. The game actually gives the player Link’s down stab from Zelda 2. The dungeons, while few in number, are inventively laid out and just generally a joy to play through.

The biggest problem with The Minish Cap is that it is just too darn short. There are only five dungeons and the word map is tiny. For a series that is generally as expansive and epic as Zelda, The Minish Cap is disappointingly brief. The game ends just as it gets going. There are a couple spots it looks like more dungeons could have been added, like the Graveyard and the mountain, but they were already pushing the game’s scenario to include 5 dungeons.


A slightly lesser problem is how gated the game feels. There are a lot of spots where you are blocked off by a hole with a rock to push into it from the other side. Those spots work for me. There you just need to get the right item to advance, a perfectly valid reason to block the player off. The spots where your hat won’t let you go somewhere until you so somewhere else or talk to someone else first. That sort of nonsense is prevalent in this game. Then there are the Kinstones. Many of the other characters have half a kinstone and Link must find the other half and match them up. When he does, it unlocks something on the map, like a piece of a heart or a cave full of rupees. It essentially takes all the reward out of exploring, since you have to find the kinstones before you can actually find most of the stuff.


Taken for what it is, The Minish Cap is an excellent game. But it is something far different from the regular Zelda game. Instead of a relatively open game about exploring. The Minish Cap is a very structured experience. The game is telling its story and the player is not really allowed to deviate from it. Fortunately, while the game is very guided toury, it is a singularly fun tour. Until A Link Between Worlds, I would say this was the best handheld Zelda game. The Minish Cap is a brief little delight.

Shovel Knight Already Used All the Good Shovel Puns

sk1I feel like I wasted my love letter to NES games article on 1001 Spikes after playing Shovel Knight. I still love 1001 Spikes and wouldn’t change anything I wrote about it, but Shovel Knight is definitely a more heartfelt love letter than it was. 1001 Spikes and Shovel Knight have a similar effect, though they reach it from opposite directions. 1001 Spikes looks like an early 8-bit game, but it doesn’t really play like any of them. It is deliberately and viciously cruel to the player, but not in the same ways that archaic 8-bit games were hard. It’s difficultly is on purpose, part of a joke on the player, not like actual old games’ desire to wring quarters out of players or artificially inflate the playtime. Shovel Knight is more like a late NES game, but informed by more than 20 years of game development. Its creators have described it as an NES game that plays like you remember them playing rather than how they actually did. That is accurate. While it pushes the NES aesthetic a little further than some later games on the system (check out Yacht Club Games breakdowns of how they broke from NES limits on Gamasutra), it looks and moves just like and NES game, only with all of the rough edges sanded off.


Shovel Knight pulls from tons of NES games. Its world map is much like Super Mario Bros. 3, its 8 evil Knight in the Order of No Quarter are much like Mega Man’s 8 Robot Masters, the Shovel Drop move is the same as the cane pogo from DuckTales, etc. However, it weaves these myriad influences into something new and unique. Shovel Knight moves like Mega Man, more agile than a Belmont but lacking the momentum of Mario, but he is mostly restricted to melee combat. The controls are pitch perfect. Plenty of parts of the game seem incredibly difficult, but are actually quite easy thanks to how well the protagonist controls. There is a cool risk/reward system with the checkpoints, where the player can break them for more money, but then they won’t respawn at them. What is lacks are those really cheap moments that tend to abound in even the best NES games. In fact, Shovel Knight occasionally feels too easy, at least until you try a new game plus.


What the game does best is create a world highly reminiscent of an NES game, with that particular sort of non-logic that rules that era. The main character is a knight that fights with a shovel, but other than an avalanche of puns no one comments on it. The shop owner beats the player to all the good treasures and makes him buy them from him in the dungeon. Then there is the Troupple King, who is half trout and half apple. He dances and fills up the player’s chalices with helpful ichors. Everything is just slightly weird and wholly charming.


A feeling of love for 8-bit action games simply permeates Shovel Knight. The player can feel it. For players that can remember spending weekends renting Mega Man or Castlevania and playing it as much as possible, this game feels like coming home. I don’t know how to keep writing about this game without straight gushing about it. Like the music, which is excellent. Same goes for the graphics. The whole package perfectly captures the aesthetic of the era. Then there is the pdf instruction manual made to look just like an instruction manual from the NES era. I know I can be a sucker for nostalgia, and no game has more effectively given me the sort of nostalgia that I want than Shovel Knight. Aside from that, though, I genuinely believe that it is a very good game. The levels may be a touch too long and a touch too easy, but it is immensely playable. After beating it the first time, I immediately fired up it up to play a second time. I never do that. If you are a person with any affection for NES games, you owe it to yourself to play Shovel Knight. It is just the best.

Now Playing in June ‘14

Thanks to the hours I work at my job now, I had a lot of time to play handheld games this last month. I plowed through a lot of them. Which is casing me a problem: I am running out of 3DS games to play. Sure, I’ve got a healthy library of PSP games to get through and sizable stack of regular DS games left. Anyway, that really inflated the number of games I played last month.




When I first started playing this I kind of hated it. While it looks great, the main character’s sprite takes up too much of the screen leaving little room for anything else. Like where you are supposed to be jumping to. Plus, it starts out really hard. You can only take a couple of hits and your basic hair attack has too little range. The game gets easier as you go along, since you get more hearts and abilities, but it never fixes the hair or screen size problems. Shantae is a game chafing against the restrictions of the GBC. It wants to be Monster World IV, but the system isn’t powerful enough to allow it. The second half of the game, though, is really good. Once you grow used to some of the games limitations, there is a very fun game here. I thought I needed to hurry to beat this before its sequel hit, but it turns out that it is coming out a few months later than I had hoped. Still, I am again very excited for it.

Shovel Knight: wrote about it here.

1001 Spikes: wrote about it here.

Child of Light:


This game is beautiful, both visually and aurally. The use of rhyme for all of the dialogue is something of a mixed bag. It works most of the time, but if the game had been any longer than Child of Light’s ten hours it would have likely grown highly annoying. I am simply glad this game exists. It is an RPG from Ubisoft using the tools they made Rayman Legends with. There is some light platforming here, but mostly it is just an RPG. Along with looking and sounding great, the battle system is also excellent. It works largely like the Grandia battle system, with every character represented on a line showing when their turn is coming up and the focus of most of the battles is to manipulate the timing to delay your enemy’s turns and maximize your own. It doesn’t get as complex as it could have, but it is explored pretty well for all the longer the game is. I hope this was a success for Ubisoft and we can get more gems like this.



This game would be a great tragedy if Cave Story didn’t exist. Ikachan is not really a great game. It might be too short to even consider it a whole game. But it looks really good and there is just something charming about the world and characters of this game. That look and charm translated perfectly into Cave Story, one of the true indie classics. It took everything that Ikachan did well and did it better, plus it did so much more. Ikachan feels a little like a rough draft or even just an outline of a game. It is fun enough, but there just isn’t enough there. Plus, some of the movement limitations can be annoying. I’m glad I played it and I’m glad I only paid 2.50 for it. It is a fine supplement to Cave Story, but doesn’t really stand on its own.

Mario Kart 8: wrote about it here.

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward: I saw one ending, though there are nearly a dozen in this game. I don’t feel the need to play this anymore. It is a visual novel with some adventure game puzzles. Which means it lives and dies by its story. And I don’t care much for that story. Not because the story is poorly written or anything; it is just not my cup of tea. This one is just not for me.

Super Mario 3D Land: I beat the main game last year and loved it. A couple of weeks ago I got the itch to play it again and powered my way through the last few of the special worlds. The early part of the game is too easy and the very end is too hard. But that middle ¾ or so are just excellent. I really like this game. Every level is just so creative and inventive. Best game on the 3DS.


SMT Strange Journey: I cleared Eridanus and moved on to the next area. I love this series and I love other first person dungeon crawlers, but this one sometimes is more tiresome than fun. Hopefully I am about to turn a corner and start enjoying it again.

Inazuma 11: I pushed through another story mission. This game isn’t quite clicking with me.

Pushmo World:


Pushmo was a lot of fun. The first fifty of these puzzles are just as fun. I can’t saw it adds a whole lot to the formula, but it is such a great formula that it doesn’t matter. I don’t know how many puzzles are here, but I expect to keep working through them, and player created ones, for quite some time.

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions: I’ve already wrote some about this. It is still FFT. It is still easy to lose hours and hours just learning skills. I hope for this to be a short playthrough (ie 45ish hours) and have been pretty efficient in learning important skills.

Legend of Zelda 4 Swords Adventure: I’ve cleared the first world. Like the mode from the GBA Link to the Past port, this is like Zelda the arcade game. It is different from the usual Zelda experience, but still a lot of fun. The most disappointing part is that I’ll never get to experience this game the way it was intended, since I’ll never get to play it with three other people with their own GBA’s and link cables. Still, it is a lot of fun.

Assassin’s Creed: I’ve written about this already. I’ve almost finished it.

Yumi’s Odd Odyssey: I’ve beaten the first ten levels and the first boss. I can’t for the life of me get to either of the extra exits. I really like what I’ve played of this game so far, but I fear I will never be able to experience any more of it.

Dillon’s Rolling Western:


This is one of those DS games that are simply designed for right-handed people. I am not right handed. Therefore, I have great difficulty playing this game. I like it, but maybe not enough to put up with the hassle and actual, physical pain associated with playing it. If I can figure out a way to comfortably control it I’ll probably finish it up right quick.

Remember Me: I am about a quarter of the way through this game. It does a great job of creating a world, but not such a great job of giving the player interesting things to do. It is just a beat-em-up with some light Prince of Persia climbing around. The setting when allowed shine, is breathtaking. I don’t know that I am going to stick with it long enough to beat it, but I’m glad I’ve seen what I have of it.

Persona: The start of this game is unfriendly. It does a bad job of communicating to the player just how the game works. I was muddling through pretty well, though. At least, I was before I got distracted by Tactics. I’ll get back to it soon. I’ve already chosen my path and last party member.


Pikmin 3: sigh

Resident Evil 5: My brother and I are going to play this together in the next couple of weeks. Despite my absurdly low tolerance for horror, I do like this series. Mostly because even the scary games aren’t all that scary. Not that not being scary stopped RE4 from sending my crying out of my room occasionally.

Baldurs Gate Enhanced Edition: This game and its sequel are the only games I allowed myself to buy in the Steam Summer Sale. I’ve played through the first 2 chapters of Baldurs Gate a lot, but never gotten much further. I really want to see it through this time.

Legend of Zelda Minish Cap: It came to the WiiU VC, so I’m getting on it, though it will have to compete with 4 Swords for Zelda playtime. I am going to finish up this Zelda series replay before the end of the year, I swear it.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Shadow War: I saw it in an eShop sale and couldn’t resist. Plus, I am running low on unbeaten 3DS games. I’ve heard good things and like strategy RPGs, so we’ll see, but it will have to wait until I finish FFT before I really dig into it.