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    • Video Game Review: American McGee’s Alice
      After the recent release of “Alice: Madness Returns,” I  picked up a copy. With each copy, console gamers also got a free download of  the original “American McGee’s Alice.” Before playing the new Alice, I had to  go back and beat the original again. While many things were just as I had  remembered, I’m glad […]
    • Video Game Rant: Donkey Kong Country Returns
      One of my favorite games of all time is Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2. When I heard they were making a new one, I was super excited, but also somewhat skeptical. So a few months ago, I picked up a copy of Donkey Kong Country Returns to try out the new game. My fiancee also joined […]
    • Scott Pilgrim Versus the World: Movie Review
       (Warning: some spoilers) When they decided to turn this Canadian comic into a movie, I’m not sure they were aware of what a cult smash hit this would be. Topping the charts for Blu-rays on the first day it was released on home video, it’s also been on several top ten lists. It appeals to […]
    • Good Kitty: WoW Feral Cat DPS Rotation
      ***Note: this information is from before Cataclysm. There have been major changes to the class. See my sources below for more updated information.*** When I rolled Druid on the first character I legitimately got to level 80, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I leveled Feral Cat, and when I hit 80, I realized […]
    • Finding a Job
      This is a digression from my usual topics, but I wanted to share some of my strategies with other unemployed or soon to be unemployed people out there. My job search has been the focus of my free time lately, so I figured it would be the perfect topic for my next post. 1)      Assess […]
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Video Game Review: American McGee’s Alice


After the recent release of “Alice: Madness Returns,” I  picked up a copy. With each copy, console gamers also got a free download of  the original “American McGee’s Alice.” Before playing the new Alice, I had to  go back and beat the original again. While many things were just as I had  remembered, I’m glad I played through it again. The story, characters, and  graphics for the most part have aged well for a ten year old game, and as for  the rest, I’m hoping that the kinks in gameplay will be worked out in the  sequel.

“Alice” starts off with quite a dramatic cutscene explaining the basic plot to the story. It is definitely not Lewis Carroll’s canon material. Yet it does give the player a chance to explore a much darker Wonderland. This is not the Disney version of the famous realm; it’s more akin to a nightmare world. You’ll see all the familiar  characters, such as the Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, and the Caterpillar, but darkly modified. The plot is pretty unique, so I won’t spoil anything here. The dialogues, between Alice and the Cat especially, are pretty entertaining, and rely on sarcasm and quick wit, plus the occasional serious plot-related theme. It’s actually quite creative, taking the same overarching theme from the books and turning it around, looking at it in a different light.

You’ll traverse areas such as the Caterpillar’s forest and the Red Queen’s castle, and you will also fight your way through a clockwork factory and school. The environments in the game are, for the most part, seriously creepy, and look as if they belong in a survival horror game. The insane asylum and school look very similar. Both have strangely-proportioned rooms, platforms that lead to nowhere, and long guarded corridors with strange statues or random flying objects. Both feature diminutive nutcases who run around with goofy smiles on their faces and huge metal contraptions on their heads, presumably from a lobotomy. Some are making funny noises, others are crying, and still others are punching themselves in the faces. In one area, you’ll face what I think are cousins to Half Life’s headcrabs with neurotoxins, or maybe Sid’s baby doll/spider thing from Toy Story. These not-quite-right creatures, in addition to the broken and bent scenery (literally), help lend these areas a twisted feel.

Combat is one of the game’s weaker elements. Alice is always strafing, so maneuvering around enemies and platforming can be tricky. Most of the enemies in the game are somewhat lackluster in their variety, and the bosses can be a bit of a bore. The main enemy is the generic playing card in its many incarnations, but more creative enemies including the Boojum, a kind of flying banshee, chess pieces, and giant robots. Some enemies are downright easy to defeat, and for others, you’ll have to use a bit more strategy. For example, ranged weapons work best on the Boojum, and the best strategy I found for fighting robots was calculated retreat. The boss battles are somewhat challenging, but once you’ve found each boss’s weakness, it’s usually just a matter of waiting until your magic regenerates so you can continue to use your good weapons. Then it’s just rinse and repeat, usually with the use of only one or two weapons.

Despite the lack of variety in enemies, there are quite a few fun toys and weapons to play with in this game. My go-to weapon is the crochet mallet, with its ranged attack and close quarters melee capabilities. For many enemies in tight spaces, the Jack in the Box flame thrower is quite effective. If you like fire, there’s the Jabberwock Eye staff that acts like a laser, and there’s the Ice Wand for you ice types. Fun!

There are a few other problems with the game as well. Do not rely on the game’s auto-save function. I found myself saving at least every 30 seconds during difficult sections. Otherwise, I’d have to replay entire levels. It is a very linear game that does not encourage a lot of extra exploration, so don’t expect to be able to wander about in the madness. You’ll have to solve puzzles that are often almost too easy and perform platforming moves that aren’t so easy with Alice’s constant strafing. For example, to collect the parts of a growth potion, you need to visit various parts of the school, then maybe fight a Cardguard or two.

Gameplay issues aside, you should play this game for three reasons. The weapons are pretty cool and fun to use, whether you’re using it against the same old enemies or in a lengthy boss fight. The environments and characters are close enough to the originals that it feels familiar, yet they’re done with such a different interpretation that it feels almost like an opposite world. But it’s the story that really gets you through this game. Every twisted character, every creepy location, every plot turn tells you a lot about what’s happened to Alice, and also what she’ll have to go through to change it all back. Don’t let my little criticisms turn you off from playing
this game; it’s still an entertaining game, especially on the first playthrough. Let’s see what the sequel has in store for us too in my next review!

Scott Pilgrim Versus the World: Movie Review


 (Warning: some spoilers) When they decided to turn this Canadian comic into a movie, I’m not sure they were aware of what a cult smash hit this would be. Topping the charts for Blu-rays on the first day it was released on home video, it’s also been on several top ten lists. It appeals to a younger generation and nerds everywhere with its pop culture references and video game atmosphere. Even the basic premise sounds like it was pulled from a classic arcade game: Scott Pilgrim must defeat love interest Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes to win her heart.

Awkward Scott Pilgrim’s (Michael Cera) love life is anything but ordinary. Ramona Flowers is Scott’s dream girl (literally), and he has to choose between her and his new high school girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Ramona is a pink-haired, too-cool badass with a mysterious past, and Knives is a sweet girl who all his friends say is too young for him. After Scott and Ramona get involved, Scott’s band Sex Bob-omb enters into a Battle of the Bands, which turns out to be a real battle after Ramona’s first evil ex shows up. The rest of the movie involves Scott’s battles of all 7 evil exes using all sorts of cool methods, from a bass guitar to some sweet ninja moves. When the past comes back to bite you, the characters in this movie bite back.

The musical qualities of the movie were equally as important as the plot and visuals. The soundtrack to the movie is epic, including a song about a garbage truck. Some of the featured artists with originals and covers from the movie include Beck and Metric (bands also featured on Rock Band 3). There’s also plenty of 8-bit inspired music as well, such as the Zelda fairy fountain theme. What’s more impressive is the actors actually learned how to play their instruments and are featured on the soundtrack.

Some of the original comic style has been preserved in the movie: an introduction to Scott’s apartment includes labels on the items in it, straight from a comic panel, and some of Ramona’s flashbacks are cartoon/comic style. Video game references abound in this movie as well; enemies explode into coins and give Scott points when defeated, for example. Scott and Knives play a rhythm/martial arts arcade game called Ninja Ninja Revolution, and Scott’s pickup line for Ramona is a story about the origins of Pac-Man. The band is named for the Mario Bros. enemy. There are tons more; for a list of every video game reference in the movie click here: http://blogs.ocweekly.com/heardmentality/2010/08/every_video_game_reference_in.php

The movie is a quirky blend of fantasy, drama, comedy, and romance with great characters. Scott has a lot of great one-liners, and the other characters in the movie are all funny in their own way, from Scott’s gay roommate and rock star ex-girlfriend to his pushy sister and angry drummer. These characters are definitely not cookie cutter Hollywood cutouts.

I’ve seen this movie three times and everyone I’ve recommended it to has really enjoyed it. So if you feel nostalgic for the arcade days or you’re in the mood for a unique comedy, pick up a copy today and prepare for a fun action-adventure game on your TV screen. Game Start!

Battle of Bethesda: Oblivion vs. Fallout


In 2006 Bethesda Softworks released Oblivion, the much anticipated fourth game in the massive RPG series The Elder Scrolls. Two years later, they came out with the third game in the FPS roleplaying Fallout series, which was also raved about even before its release. The two newest games in these role playing series have a lot of things in common, but which one has better stats overall?

Story: Oblivion

No spoilers here, but Oblivion’s many quest lines are much more involving and lead to much nicer perks than Fallout, especially compared to its somewhat disappointing final cutscene. Fallout’s story is not without intrigue though; quests often involve more options based on your character’s ethics, such as the quest chain involving Megaton and its unexploded atomic bomb.

Character: Fallout


The ethical system in Oblivion, based on Fame and Infamy points, has been improved with Fallout’s  spectrum of Good vs. Evil. With dialogue, rather than having to play a simple Speech mini-game, Fallout’s options are based on a character’s morality and also stats, and, and there are often many hilarious exchanges possible with the survivors, which include children and zombies.

Environment: Tie

A detailed landscape filled with creepy zombies, abandoned ruins, and strange creatures: this could describe either game, and both pull it off in different ways. Walking into a Necromancer’s lair in an Ayleid ruin can be as breathtaking as standing at the top of a mountain and watching the sunrise in Oblivion. Fallout’s post-apocalyptic ruins of the Washington, D.C. area are highly realistic, and at the same time the retro-futuristic 1950’s-inspired style gives us an interesting and highly detailed take on life after nuclear war.

Combat: Oblivion

As an FPS, Fallout’s combat options revolve around gunplay and, to a lesser extent, melee fighting. The V.A.T.S. (Vault Assisted Targeting System) is a nice way to make every shot count, with the option of turning battles into somewhat more turn based affairs, kind of like bullet-time. Oblivion’s options are based on stealth, magic, and melee combat. Though the V.A.T.S. system makes battle a bit easier, combat in Oblivion offers more options to combine specialties without forcing any choices.

Overall: Oblivion

Although Bethesda has definitely tweaked some of the engaging elements that made their games great, there are still some features of Oblivion that have yet to be topped. But whether or not you prefer fantasy and fireballs to zombies and Vault Boy, you’re still going to get sucked into a highly realized world where you have all the power.

Movie Review- Prince of Persia: The Sands Of Time


Movie poster

 I was skeptical when I saw this movie poster in theaters. It couldn’t be as good as the game; the unique music, combat, environment, and storyline would never be translated well. But despite my initial negativity and reluctance to get my hopes up about yet another video game remake, I was pleasantly surprised by the end product.

To prepare for the movie release, I replayed the The Sands of Time for Gamecube. The 2003 3rd-person adventure game by Ubisoft was created to “breathe new life” into the series and the action/adventure genre. It won IGN’s PS2 game of the Year award, and in general was highly praised for its beautiful graphics, unique acrobatic platforming, intuitive combat controls, storyline and characters, and the fun time powers of the Dagger of Time. You can also see its influence in more recent games like Assassin’s Creed. (Source: Wikipedia)

Video game cover

So that’s what Disney and Director Mike Newell of the 2010 movie had to work with. And in my opinion what they did with it was a complete success. They changed the plot a bit; they gave the Prince a name (Dastan) and turned him into an orphan who is adopted into the royal family. They also added more characters and eliminated the opening of the Hourglass in favor of better dialogue and deeper development of characters and thematic elements. Lack of sand zombies was my major complaint, but I think it was a bold move that paid off in better dialogue and more engaging characters that were still familiar from the game.

Gorgeous environments.

Despite the lack of the traditional monsters, there is still plenty of combat. The Prince’s acrobatics are gravity-defying, and look like they were pulled straight from the newer Prince of Persia games, including the classic wall runs and jumps. The environments are very impressive and bring you back to the game as well. The music fit the movie but was nothing special compared to the game’s unique soundtrack.

Prince Dastan and Princess Tamina.

Overall it’s a great movie in its own right, with an interesting plot, engaging characters, and plenty of action. The secret to this movie’s success was that its creators remained true to the game and genre, taking the good elements and revamping some of the other stuff. They kept the same kind of music, were surprisingly accurate in recreating the Prince’s stunts, and actually improved the dynamic between the two main characters. Replaying the game reminded me how terrible the dialogue could be sometimes, but the movie upgraded the snarky, biting comments between the Prince and Princess.

Finally, it seems the curse of video game-based movies has been lifted! Silent Hill was the first video game-based movie that didn’t absolutely bomb (though this is a debatable point); one that many fans actually seemed to like, and now Prince of Persia has come along as the second. Only time will tell if other directors will follow this promising start to elevate this previously horrifying genre. So go check out this awesome retelling of Sands of Time and prepare to be amazed!

Movie posters featuring our main characters.

For more information:

Synopsis on IMDB

Video Games Blogger Post: Sequels?

Silent Hill: Homecoming


gameplay.comPros:

–          Cool monsters

–          Lots of scares

–          New environments and old favorites

–          Tie-ins to previous Silent Hill storylines

–          Improved combat controls, including all-new strafing action!

Cons:

–          Lack of monster variety

–          Weak, irregular storyline

–          Typical bad ending on 1st playthrough

–          Tie-ins to the movie version

–          Battle is still a bit off

Silent Hill: Homecoming utilizes many conventions of the series and also breaks the mold in some areas. It’s an interesting blend of old and new, even in the basic plot: Alex Sheppard has come home to Shepherd’s Glen, a town with a mysterious connection to Silent Hill, and is looking for his missing brother (sound familiar?). Despite the cliché plot, expect some new monsters, new puzzles, and plenty of scares to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The graphics on the Xbox360 version are great, allowing you to immerse yourself in the detailed environments, featuring redone versions or different locations of traditional locales like the prison and hospital, plus an all-new haunted town. Akira Yamaoko’s music is still excellent, with another killer intro song by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, and the atmospheric music is a bit sparse but still powerful. The plot is intriguing but nothing terribly new, and not much is revealed until very late in the game, though I’ll reserve all judgments until I’ve gotten the good/UFO ending(s).

ign.comA larger variety of monsters would have been nice, but that’s always been an issue with the game. They went with a nice mix of old favorites like the dog and nurse and newer enemies like Schism and the Needler. The boss fights are seriously freaky, though I think you fight the same boss 3 different times.

Homecoming’s battle system is generally an improvement, incorporating more interactions with the environment in and out of battle, but still uses the traditional elements of Silent Hill battle like auto-target and combos. There is now an auto-strafe function, which makes movement a bit easier, and finishing moves are more automatic for many regular enemy fights. The only problem is that enemies are smarter and the controls aren’t terribly responsive, which means battle is still difficult until you figure out the new controls.

maxiconsole.comOne of the things that bothered me was how they tried to incorporate elements from the Silent Hill movie into Homecoming. In general, movie canon and game canon are completely separated in many fans’ eyes. And considering the mixed reception of the movie, I don’t think this should be an exception. Some of the things they used were cool, like the barbed wire around the church, but some just seemed like arbitrary movie references, like the Cult members.

Overall: A step in the right direction. Takes what Silent Hill is bad at and tries to revamp it. Takes what the series is liked for and continues the survival horror tradition. My personal ratings for the entire series would be: 3, Homecoming, 4, 2, Origins, 1. Being a die-hard Silent Hill fan, I’d definitely say this game is a good addition to the series, and something worth picking up. Let’s just pretend Shattered Memories never even happened.

Shattered Memories made me shatter my Wiimote!


Reimagining of the original Silent Hill does not mean improvement.

When I think Silent Hill, I think revolting monsters, shock value and creepy atmosphere, terrible fighting system, and general mind-melting confusion when it comes to plot. You get all of this, but with some huge changes, and surprisingly, they actually managed to make a game that I think is worse than the original Silent Hill for Play Station.

The basic setup of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, the 2009 Wii game by Konami is that you play as Harry Mason who is looking for his missing daughter in Silent Hill. After that, there is very little in common with this and the original game. The first thing that strikes you when you start playing is the camera. It’s kind of like 3rd person over the shoulder, only the cameraman is a gay midget, because the camera is always aimed at Harry’s butt and Harry takes up most of the screen. It’s actually more annoying than the PlayStation camera angles.

The flashlight is somewhat cool, because you point the Wiimote at the screen as your flashlight. Yet like all Wii games that use the Wiimote in this way, it can be somewhat problematic at times when you have to interact with objects that are not entirely intuitive. This applies to the phone system as well; your phone is your link to everything, it includes your map, save system, photos, and messages, but it doesn’t always come naturally.

Harry will explore the real world and uncover clues about where his daughter is, interacting with other characters like our familiar nurse and cop, though even these characters are very different. Just when he seems to be getting a lead, he enters Silent Hill world. There it seems hell has frozen over; everything is icy, which is problematic because everything looks the same. Harry will then have to run from a shload of monsters that look basically the same (something like fast nurse monsters).

The objective in Silent Hill world is to run as fast as you can, avoiding this boring and endless stream of enemies, through tons of rooms, doors, and hallways that all look the same, until you happen upon the correct route of escape. It’s hard to use the map, because it doesn’t pause the game, and everything looks the same anyway. There may be a simple puzzle to solve. Eventually Harry wakes up in the normal world, to start the process all over again.

Survival horror is about knowing when to run and when not to run. This game is all about running, because you can’t actually fight enemies. You can only knock them off you if they jump on you, or scare them with flares, or knock furniture in their way to impede them. Frankly, it sucks. I miss the days of the melee weapons, and the guns with limited ammo. There is no sense of conservation of supplies because there are no items. You can collect “memories” which serve no real purpose for gameplay or narrative. There is also no health system; you can take a certain number of hits before you go down and have to start that whole area over again, which is almost as frustrating as save points can be.

In addition to the main story, there is a disjointed and fairly uninteresting set of side notes. They come in the form of texts, voicemails, and photos. It takes a somewhat investigative approach, wherein you must approach certain locations of spiritual disturbance, which is a neat idea. However, it includes so much useless information from the regular people of Silent Hill who do not matter and are not included in the main plot, and it does not enlighten any aspect of the back story of Silent Hill. Very frustrating.

The only interesting thing about this game is that your adventures between the real world and the ice world are broken up with encounters with your therapist. You get to answer questions that reveal something of your psyche and personality, and your reactions and choices are reflected in the game, for example, in characters’ reactions to you, their outfits, etc. Your choices affect the game, and even if it’s not always in significant ways, it’s a cool idea.

Overall, this game is a lot like the previous Silent Hills. Terrible cameras, annoying enemies. The end leaves you confused, freaked out, and somewhat disappointed. Has a few cool ideas but doesn’t really deliver (see Silent Hill 4). The differences? No fighting, not as much of a creepy atmosphere, and unfortunately not a very engaging story. If you’re looking for a re-imagining of Silent Hill, play the original on an emulator.

Borderlands: If Fallout 3 and WoW had a baby


A multiplayer FPS RPG. Shoot things and get better stuff. Sounds awesome, right?

Set on the futuristic planet Pandora, part trash dump, part Western movie set, part desert wasteland, it kind of looks like Fallout 3, or the planet from Trigun. Your mission is to find the way to open the mythical Vault, a long sought-after treasure trove located somewhere on Pandora. On your quest, you get to kill shit, loot stuff, level up, and, you know, help out the townspeople and all that crap.

FPS element: Pick your weapons: sniper rifle, melee, shotgun, repeater pistol, revolver, SMG, combat rifle, rocket launcher, grenades. RPG element: Pick your special power: go into invincible Phasewalk mode, throw down a turret, send a hawk after your enemies, or go berserk and pummel the mobs.

Level cap is 50, and it works much like a simplified version of World of Warcraft  or Diablo. You get points for leveling that you can put into 3 skill trees. The roleplaying elements are somewhat stilted though. You can’t expect a lot of character development in a multiplayer game, because characters are already pretty much pre-built, but you can choose how to tackle obstacles with your gun and skill tree choices.

So, if you hate dealing with complicated stats and plots (ala Final Fantasy) and like the level up system of Fallout, where it’s more like perks that add to your gun and melee killing abilities rather than learning new ways of magically disposing of enemies, you’ll probably enjoy this system.

Quests are pretty standard RPG-deals; kill something, collect something, talk to someone; nothing interesting. While the multiplayer option is cool, it’s not perfect. Playing on LAN is pretty simple, but I did have a few incidents with glitched quests. I haven’t had any luck with getting an internet game going yet. Plot-wise, I feel like the game promised more than it delivered. It had some neat ideas, but it leaves you hanging at the end without really explaining anything.

The game environments are very smooth, yet somewhat uniform (I got lost fairly often). The music is highly reminiscent of a Western, and when you’re about to fight a horde or a boss, you get a nice musical cue to let you know ‘oh crap, time to take cover.’

Upsides: good leveling system, cool powers, awesome zombie island expansion.

Downsides: multiplayer has its problems, disappointing finale, somewhat limited enemies, sometimes too similar environments.

Overall, the badass gameplay makes up for the lack of narrative elements, and the multiplayer function increases its playability and replay value. Borderlands is an awesome game to pick up and play with a friend to make you feel like you’re a couple of bandits, or to solo and feel like Clint Eastwood. Welcome to Pandora– “it’s a beautiful day, full of opportunity!”