Duck Hunt (1985 - NES)

I've mentioned on this site several times in the past that I was never a huge fan of Zapper games. People who like Zapper games almost unanimously love Duck Hunt and tend to agree it's the best Zapper game that exists. Unfortunately for me, that kind of explains why I'm not big on them.

Duck Hunt is very simple and really only exists to give players something to do with the Zapper. You choose a game setting, and either one duck, two ducks, or two clay pigeons fly onto the screen and you shoot at them. That's it. On the duck stages, if you miss, your hunting dog laughs at you - one of the most infamous and iconic scenes of the 8-bit era - and the game goes on for 99 rounds. Instead of an ending, you get a kill screen - evidence that even Nintendo didn't think anyone would play this game for that long.

Nowadays, you don't even need a Zapper if you play it emulated with a mouse. But that just makes the game even easier, more pointless, and boring. The only reason I did it was for the easy achievements at the RetroAchievements website.

So, if you missed out on the 8-bit era and can't find a working Zapper nor a TV set to play it on, don't feel bad. You don't need to play this game. If you must experience the laughing dog either emulate it for a few minutes or watch a YouTube video of someone else playing it.

Rating: 2/5


DuckTales (1989 - NES)

DuckTales is considered an NES classic by many gaming enthusiasts, but after finally having played and finished it myself decades after its release, I find myself hesitant to call it that (which is also how I feel about other NES Disney games I've finished, so I don't think it's a matter of it being "good for its time"). It's easiest to cite that the game is too short and easy, and that the pogo controls are somewhat awkward and unintuitive, but even moreso was this nagging feeling that the game was unfinished.

The worlds are often much bigger than they need to be. Most of them can be finished in a matter of minutes if you know (or happen upon) the direct route to the boss. Exploring the rest helps you earn money towards the best ending, but often yields nothing else of interest. A weirdly suspect event happens upon first trying to enter the African Mines level - you are forced back to the Transylvania level to look for a key to open it. This is the only time that happens, so it seems like maybe it was planned for Scrooge to explore one stage for an item that would be necessary in another stage more often, and that's why they're so big, but this is the only place where it was implemented.

Although the stages are big, there's still only five of them, far fewer than what can be found in many other Capcom NES games, such as their Mega Man series, and the sixth and final stage retreads Transylvania (again, making it the third time you have to go there), and despite that stage having a large amount of optional territory, you take the same route to the final boss.

So, yeah. Unless you plan to get the $0 ending (which I've actually done, twice now), don't expect much challenge or longevity out of this game. And while the soundtrack is okay, I'm not sold on the Moon theme the way many others are. In fact, I liked the Amazon and Himalayas music the best.

Rating: 2.5/5


Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (2004 - GBA)

Kingdom Hearts, as you probably know, is a series where Final Fantasy characters and Disney characters occupy the same space-time continuum and you don't really bother to think if any of it makes any sense or not. As a young boy named Sora, you travel through a multitude of Disney and Final Fantasy-themed worlds, fighting enemies and bosses, learning skills, and revealing chunks of story along the way. It is, in some ways, funny to see Square characters that previously only appeared in Playstation games (Cloud, Squall, Aeris), making their debut on a Nintendo system.

This is the only Kingdom Hearts game I've ever played, so I imagine the story will have more meaning for those who played the original Playstation 2 game as it seems to be a direct sequel, yet the ending is written in such a way that it could have no impact on the series' general storyline had they wanted to ignore it for future installments. After beating Sora's quest, you can replay an abridged version of the game with rival character, Riku, who has a different final boss.

The game has a unique battle system that combines sidescrolling beat-em-up style real-time controls with a turn-based system that feeds off of cards in your inventory. For each card you own, you can press a button to initiate an attack, magic, or item. Enemies fight the same way, and you can stop each other's moves by playing cards of a higher number. Cards can also be stocked 2-3 at a time to execute special attacks and combos.

Despite the game having cutesy graphics and Disney properties, it is not a game for preschoolers. While button-mashing will get you through the early segments, later worlds become much harder with bosses that will force you to have some mastery over the complicated battle system. You will need to build a good deck of cards and learn winning strategies and expert timing to break enemies' attacks. Leveling up can make things easier, but you can't rely on it entirely.

I would prefer not to spoil what Disney worlds and characters appear as waiting to see what comes next is part of the fun. One issue that hurts the adventuring aspect somewhat is that every world plays out the same way. Sora creates rooms by using world cards and unlocks doors in these rooms that lead to either story segments or boss fights. This has the effect of making every stage feel like the one before it, only with a new facelift.

Even so, it's a challenging game with a lot to do that has beautiful pixel art, some decent music, and a story about stereotypical skinny anime villains in dark suits with messy hair trying to conquer the Disney worlds. Few things are more surreal than that.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Walking Dead Season Two (2013 - PC)

I'm sorry to report that I didn't enjoy this one as much as Season One. The story is missing something without the dynamics between Lee and Clementine. New characters are constantly introduced, but they're either uninteresting, unlikable, or killed off before they get to do much.

Zombies as villains are a one-trick pony, so situations between the humans are escalated to provide conflict. Season Two is not as good at making those situations as interesting or shocking as Season One was, and it sometimes feels obvious the story went through changes during development between chapters. Hardly anything even happens before Chapter 3, and for the first time that I can recall for this series, some events made little or no sense. Spoilers: Why was Arvo putting the medicine in a trash can instead of taking it back to the house? Why didn't Jane just tell Kenny the truth about the baby? It's one thing to keep up a lie, but how many people would be willing to die to keep up a lie? How does moving a cannon cause a deck to collapse when the deck was presumably designed to hold its weight and the weight of people who would be standing on it? And after reading up on wind turbine noise, I'm not real sure what happens during that part is compliant with reality.

Choices matter a little more in this season, but mostly only towards the very end, where they determine which of several different endings you'll receive. I watched the endings I didn't get on YouTube and didn't feel very strongly about any of them. Clementine's a charming character and all, but the way she keeps finding clusters of people who have survived the apocalypse right before they're about to die makes her seem like Typhoid Mary.

Rating: 2.5/5


Wonder Boy in Monster World (1992 - GEN)

Fun and colorful sidescrolling adventure game in the vein of Ys III, Faxanadu, and Legacy of the Wizard. The best things Monster World has going for it are its art style (some areas of the game have sketchy graphics reminiscent of Yoshi's Island and the bosses look like they walked right out of a Saturday morning cartoon), large dungeons with abundant puzzles, and occasional gimmicks, such as Shion's ability to shrink for some areas and take a CPU-controlled helper character with him into dangerous territories. Shion even plays melodies on an ocarina to open doors, years before Ocarina of Time would do it.

I seem to have played quite a few games this year whose bold, cartoony graphics might give the impression that they are good for children, but Monster World has some incredibly tough segments, particularly a platforming sequence right before the penultimate boss that is similar to the parts with the disappearing blocks in the Mega Man series, only with no items to make it any easier. Shion is a bit stiff to control and moves slowly until you get a decent pair of boots to speed him up. Exploring the world to find hidden items is fun, but sometimes a bit difficult because of the invisible doors that can be tough to find. Even if Shion is standing in the right spot, pressing Up doesn't always open them if he's not situated *exactly* right. I also never figured out how to equip more than one item at a time, which made healing and using magic in some situations harder than it needed to be.

Don't expect much out of the story. It begins with Shion deciding to leave his home to stop the monsters invading his world and that's pretty much all there is until a weird little plot twist near the end. But with games in this genre being somewhat rare, I can easily recommend this to anyone who wants to play a good one that they may not have played before. It's not necessary to play any previous Wonder Boy games as this one is self-contained and has a new cast of characters.

Rating: 3.5/5

Hellboy (2004 - DVD)

The special features on this DVD really show that the people who made this movie cared a lot about the visuals and special effects. I only wish as much care had gone into the script.

The villains are flat and uninteresting. The main villain is Rasputin, so he doesn't need a motive because, well, everyone knows he's evil by default. His right-hand man is a Nazi zombie of sorts who is controlled like a puppet and has no mind (and therefore no personality) of his own. As if the idea of this movie didn't evoke Ghostbusters enough as it is, their minions are creatures that resemble a cross between Terrordogs and the Predator.

I know the reason they have a human main character is because he's supposed to represent "us" - the everyday person who is suddenly thrust into this world of demons and magic and sees things through our eyes. But I just didn't find him interesting, cared nothing for the love triangle, and would've liked for the story to have focused more on Hellboy, because, well isn't that why anyone would watch this?

And the ending is ridiculous. Maybe if the movie had been a straight-up comedy, I would've appreciated it more, but when characters are getting violently killed it's hard to see it as such. The tone is wobbly.

One really positive thing I can say about it is that Ron Perlman is fantastic as Hellboy, almost like he was born for the role or it came into existence just for him, and I appreciate the character's fondness for cats. The scene where he fights a demon while holding a box of kittens in one hand, however, was a little over-the-top, even for me.

Rating: 2.5/5

Inglourious Basterds (2009 - DVD)

It was weird watching this movie back-to-back with Hellboy since both have Nazis, but where that movie failed to give its villains any interesting personality traits, this movie has one of the most well-written villainous characters I've seen. I can imagine when dealing with Nazis the temptation to write them as lowbrow as possible is probably high. But the fact that Hans Landa is actually smart, and good at what he does and proud of it, is what makes him menacing. He doesn't need magical powers or immortality, when this guy shows up, you know you're fucked.

There's a famous saying attributed to Alfred Hitchcock that if a bomb explodes under a table, that's action, but if it doesn't explode, that's suspense. Almost every scene in this movie has a bomb under the table - sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. It really keeps you on edge, and when those bombs eventually do go off, they can even rewrite history.

In short, yeah, this is my favorite Quentin Tarantino movie so far. All his techniques from his previous films were raised to perfection here and the performances are all fantastic. And while I sometimes think he's a little overrated when it comes to his soundtrack choices, the use of David Bowie's "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" made me a fan of that song.

Rating: 4.5/5

Author: Drew Hayes; Reader: Roger Wayne
(Audiobook & Original Book - 2014)

Explaining what this book is about is going to be a bit tricky. A group of gamers are involved in a Dungeons & Dragons-style tabletop role-playing game when they get their characters killed at the very beginning because they don't feel like paying attention to the (admittedly hard-assed) rules. This story imagines that this fantasy world does not just exist in the players' heads, but is a real place in some capacity. A group of "NPCs" (or Non-Player Characters) in this world notice the dead party in their tavern and for complicated reasons, decide to take their place and continue the quest they had started.

These NPCs consist of a human man, a princess, a half-orc, and a gnome. (The gnome is quite clearly the author's favorite character.) At first, they take up the roles that seem most stereotypically suited to them - the human is the Paladin, the princess is the sorceress, the half-orc is the warrior, and the gnome is the thief. But after several hapless adventures, they discover their true talents and swap places. Meanwhile, that group of human players from the real world have rolled up a new party and continued their quest, which complicates things for our NPC heroes.

Other than the gnome who is given far more background and personality than anyone else, these characters are not exactly a well of depth. Some readers may be off-put by the human gamers being (with one major exception) colossal jerks. But maybe the book does deserve some praise for actually describing its fight scenes (sometimes fantasy novels find ways to not do this by having characters fall asleep or get knocked out), and for its various riffs on RPG conventions.

So, it's not a classic work of literature, but may it be a fun read or listen for anyone familiar with the role-playing genre, whether it's via tabletop, video games, or both.

Rating: 3/5



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