Tag Archives: adventure

A Way Out

I found it difficult to classify A Way Out. It’s nearly a walking simulator, but too interactive for that. (It does frequently occupy the same story-telling space, though.) It’s on occasion a shooter. It’s definitely a light puzzle solver, going back almost to the middle days of your Kings’ Quests. I guess the best way to describe it is as a two player split screen[1] interactive movie, about breaking out of prison.

It’s also about more than that, in much the way that the TV series Prison Break was. I think it is fair to say that between watching all five(?) seasons of that, consuming two versions of Shawshank, and playing this game to completion, I will have no problems if I ever find myself in, er, diminished circumstances.

Downsides: antihero types. You are, after all, playing one of two people who wants to escape from prison, seeking revenge. But it’s rarely a dark take; mostly, in fact, it is kind and humanizing of everyone involved. It’s like, some people in prison are a danger to society and need to never come back. But some people in prison just, y’know, do crimes sometimes, and that doesn’t automatically make them bad people, even though probably you don’t want to have a crime done to you.

I bet that doesn’t make sense.

[1] Even if you play it online[2]! I found this at first pretty annoying but ultimately it grew on me. Thanks to illness in the house, we weren’t going to play couch co-op anyway. But at least it affirmatively worked, so now we can play Borderlands not on the couch, which means I won’t hate everything while trying to play it.
[2] Which is why even though I finally got a Series X, I played this on the XBox One. Mary, on the other hand, got the fancy treatment.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019)

Two milestones! Surprisingly to me, I’ve never finished a Switch game before. Like, I kind of finished the Mario game from one perspective, but from another I was barely halfway through it. Regardless, no review! So, oops. (Or not. It’s hard to know.) But also, I’ve never played a game that required specifying a year for version control. Link’s Awakening has had three versions, two on various GamesBoy in the ’90s, plus this one on the Switch.

As for what it is, it’s a mostly 2D game[1] set at a 3D angle, a la Link to the Past[2], where you[3] have shipwrecked onto a small island where nobody has heard of the concept of an outside world, where there’s a giant egg housing a Wind Fish (whatever that is), and where (surprise!) the monsters have started getting restless just lately. Also, the art is an adorably almost claymation thing, and every time I paused to actually look at it, it just… made me happy. You know?

There’s item / powerup collection, there’s dungeons, there’s secrets (not all of which I found)… it’s a Zelda game, is what I’m saying, and those are good on their own merits in the vast majority of instances. On top of that, there’s a surprisingly emotional core to the thing, where the act of playing the game as intended leaves you wondering whether you should do so. I dug it.

Also, weirdly, I played the whole game handheld. Bad for my neck, good for my ability to actually finish. This is a problematic realization, to be clear. Especially if you happen to be my neck.

[1] You can jump and dive, so it’s 2D with an extra two layers beyond the one you mostly exist in? Approximately.
[2] Arguably the best Zelda game ever made, Breath of the Wild notwithstanding. Inarguably the best 2D Zelda game ever made.
[3] by which I mean Link, the boy in the green tunic who acquired his first sword under, at best, suspicious circumstances

Donut County

The thing about Donut County is, it’s barely a game at all[1].

But if you can get past that, it’s pretty fun and funny. It’s approximately a knockoff of Katamari Damacy, but instead of rolling things up, you are a hole in the ground, and you are swallowing said things. Donut County is a county somewhere near alternate Los Angeles I guess?, inhabited by all manner of sentient animals and also for some reason this one girl. The only problem is that everyone and everything keeps disappearing into holes in the ground.

Who could be causing this? And why? And will you ever get to fly the sweet quadcopter that you can unlock if you reach level 10?

Anyway: as two hour games go, I definitely got my money and time investment’s worth.

[1] This is not entirely true. The last third adds more game elements, such that by the end, there’s some game there.

The Baron of Magister Valley

It has taken me over three months to read The Baron of Magister Valley. This is a) not a statement on the quality of the book, and also b) it’s really not okay.

What happened was, I read the first half of the book in a leisurely rush, around child-rearing and comics-reading. That half of the book was great! There were dire plots and secret prisons and just the very best kinds of intrigue, all surrounded by Paarfi’s oh so distinctive authorial voice. I was at each moment excited to learn what would happen next! Just like I should be.

And then suddenly they wanted me to come back to work. Which means I’ve had time for watching about a gajillion movies, but reading has just fallen apart on me. And at a snail’s pace crawl, I found that I just didn’t really care much about the revenge half[1] of the book. My assumption here is that reading the book with any kind of momentum would have prevented this malaise, and I would be glowing here instead of all mehed out.

Ultimately, I think the failures of the book were either the failures of my circumstances, or (less likely but certainly possible) the failures of the source material. Or, so unlikely that I hate to think it after the stretch of great books I’ve previously read by him, it could actually be the book, and this is a failure on Brust’s part.

But whatever the case, a book whose plot I did not care about and whose characters’ motivations were mostly uninteresting to me for an entire half of the story, and the second half no less!, a book who I mostly kept reading because, whatever else was going on, Paarfi knows how to make me laugh? That is not a book I can be excited about in a review. Alas.

[1] I should say here that I’m not actually hurling out spoilers; this book, like the others that “Paarfi” has written, are based on popular works of adventure fictions from the 18th or 19th centuries.

Mulan (1998)

Upon request, I have also watched OD[1] Mulan, and I have thoughts. Sort of.

One thing I think is that I’m missing a lot of context. Not only did I just watch the live-action remake, but I also live in a post-Frozen world, where Disney is going out of their way to be empowering, or at least egalitarian, in their gender politics. So Mulan marching off to war to [spoilers upcoming for a 20+ year old movie] become a war hero who at no point needs anyone to rescue her is pretty groundbreaking for a Disney who started off with main character “princesses” who never even took actions, much less actions to improve their own lives. My point is, context matters and this was probably a bigger deal of a movie in 1998 than it seems to me now. Which is good! I would be much less happy if it felt groundbreaking today.

Another thing I thing is, man, Disney musicals are hit or miss. And this one, musically? Mostly missed for me. Some of the songs were really bad, and almost none of them made any lasting impact on me. The two that rose above that included one that was also cringeworthy. I mean, it was supposed to be, but that didn’t really help? Oh well. That said, the further into the story I got, the fewer songs there were. So that part was helpful!

Lastly, I have comparative thoughts, which are these: I’m really grateful to this movie for existing, because the remake took every good thing about the original, processed and refined it into something that was purely better. The problems I had with the live-action version were directly a result of the movie feeling like a real historical document, as opposed to the animated Disney version of a folk legend. In folk legends, you can believe in people doing the right thing, just because it’s right. It’s harder in real life, and my point is, the remake felt real. I’m not sure Disney could have pulled that off without their own template to pull from. It’s not just “What if one of our old movies, but live action?” that Beauty and the Beast was. It really is its own new thing.

As for this? It’s alright, you know? And I like it when Ming-Na Wen is a badass, even if I can only hear her.

[1] Original Disney

Finding Dory

MV5BNzg4MjM2NDQ4MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzk3MTgyODE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Remember Finding Nemo? If my website hadn’t died while I was getting ready to start this review a couple of hours ago[1], I might have more to say about whether I remember it, but apparently that will not happen anytime soon[6]. But here’s what I remember of relevance: when that one fish whose name I had forgotten lost his kid Nemo, he found another fish whose name I had forgotten to help him out. Later, a sequel!

Thanks to the power of advertising, I now know that the second nameless fish is named Dory, and of course if there was going to be a sequel, they’d keep the name scheme intact, which also necessarily informs the plot. See, Dory, as you may or may not remember from the original[2], suffers from short term memory loss. Which means that once upon a time, she got lost, and she’s been lost ever since, even though she made new friends eventually like Nemo and what’s-his-name. I mean, it doesn’t mean that, but you can intuit it from her previous state of being completely alone in the ocean.

And then she figured out she got lost, and decided she wanted to get found, and there you have it: Finding Dory. That said, it’s a Pixar film, and therefore a kid movie[4]. That said, I actually felt like it was backward from the usual kid movie formula, in a way that maybe Pixar has always tried to achieve but with varying degrees of success. Because, this felt to me like a regular movie that has some jokes and gags thrown in to appease the kids in the audience, but mostly the eyerolling can be kept to a minimum.

I’m not sure this is even a justifiable take, but my reasoning is because of how delicately the concept of a mental disability was handled. On the one hand, yes, Dory causes a lot of her own problems, and it’s clear from both movies that when she’s on her own, she’s in a lot of trouble. She relies on the kindness of others to function in the world. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t improve the lives of those others in countless ways, and the film is careful to stay aware of both sides of Dory’s coin. There’s nothing especially trite here, nor anything especially dismissive.

….okay, both parts of that last sentence are untrue, because it is, after all, a kid movie. But the things that were trite were the inevitable result of a necessary happy ending[5], and the things that were dismissive were in service of the theme. You have to hold up the ugly mirror to see past it, to coin an implausible metaphor.

Anyway, it was pretty dang good. Also, the 5 minute short film with the sandpipers (a type of ocean bird that lives in tidal regions) was freaking revelatory. Not worth the price of admission, probably, but maybe you can find it somewhere on the internets or in the future even if the main event is not your cup of tea.

[1] Not unlike my Pixel C died randomly yesterday; lesson: I should stop touching technology apparently.
[2] I did not[3]; I only remembered that her personality was quirky in some way.
[3] Perhaps ironically? Probably not though.
[4] If you don’t believe me, try sitting through the endless crap parade that informs the previews.
[5] If you think that’s a spoiler, you don’t understand much about Pixar.
[6] Outcome, now that the site is back up: I don’t have a review of Finding Nemo. So, uh, nevermind?

Braid

51baP9k+ubLAnd then, the first and last game of the weekend[1], Braid. The downside of which is that I am obligated to find a way to review Braid. (The upside, obviously, is that it was a fantastic game, full of challenging and rewarding puzzles and a truly incredible (and incredibly presented!) climax to its story.)

The thing is, I don’t really want to say anything about it, because it is to be played, not told. So I’ll give you what you can see and what you can begin to intuit from the first two minutes of play, and then I’ll nod to myself and consider my job done[5]. Have you ever played Super Mario Bros.? The one for the original Nintendo (also there was a somewhat different arcade version) with the walking mushroom people and the giant lizard who kidnapped Princess Peach? Along every meaningful angle from which you could consider SMB, this game is the response to that game. </wise nod>

[1] I had played a great deal of it before[2], and I also took a break in the middle before coming back to wrestle with the last few, ultra-hard levels. Ultimately, there were seven such that a walkthrough was involved in[4], and of those, I only felt like I should have figured out two of them. The rest involved knowledge I had somehow missed having or ideas that would never have crossed my mind to attempt.
[2] Annoyingly, on the XBox 360. Will I go back for my gamerscore? Probably not![3]
[3] I mean because I’m pretty lazy, but honestly, going back for gamerscore feels like missing 100% of the point of the game, too.
[4] Awesomely, my host had the walkthrough and doled out the hints gradually, so sometimes it really was just a hint.
[5] If this sounds like a candyass way to conduct my affairs, well, a) maybe it is at that, but b) it doesn’t change the fact that I would be robbing you of an experience you owe yourself. If you play video games and people don’t sidle away from you because of things you say at social gatherings, then trust me. Just play the game. The five or ten bucks that it will cost you is worth it, as is the hour or three of time you’ll spend.

Journey

journey-game-screenshot-1-bI am returned, triumphant, from my long sojourn of, er, not writing the last two reviews I have owed. And if that doesn’t really sound like all that much of a Journey, it’s because I’m trying to create a parallel with my unfortunate experience playing a short indie game of the same name.

As you can see, last weekend was heavy with the light & easy games set, which… it did not convince me that small games that last a couple of hours is the way to go, but it certainly highlighted how much easier they are. I mean, yes to play, because you can’t write a particularly hard game that will only last 90 minutes, but especially I mean easy to find time for the playing of. Which is important! I can say anything I want about how much more I enjoy Dragon Age, but if I keep not turning on the XBox to play it, that claim rings pretty hollowly.

The irony is that Journey would otherwise be the perfect game to draw that comparison with. See, I finished it in about 20 minutes. You start out as a Jawa-looking dude[1] in the desert, climbing up a hill. Eventually, you see in the distance what look like places to go, and then you go to them, because you’ve ever played a videogame before. After doing some things in the desert which may or may not have any particular long-term relevance or unlock insightful cutscenes, you go through a portal to a snowy mountainscape. Or at least I did. After some additional snow-doings that may also have some kind of relevance or unlock some other set of cutscenes, a finale occurs. I can only speculate about all these things[2] because what happened to me was as follows: I collected a couple of glowing things in the desert, tried to take them back to a platform that looked like it might have been missing some glowing things but instead accidentally fell through a portal onto the mountain (was there a way back? I’m told yes, but it didn’t look like it) where I climbed for a while, turned right, dodged a (let’s say) dragon, climbed some more (briefly the climbing involved a Shaolin temple), and then after some brief spoilers[3], the game ended.

I’m pretty sure I did something wrong? You would think, in a game whose title explicitly alludes to the destination not mattering, it would not be so easy to perform a speed run, much less without intending to. Oh well. Perhaps I’ll play it again someday, when the memories have faded.

[1] Or possibly lady! If you’ve seen a Jawa before, you know I’m impressing my own opinion without any particular evidence.
[2] Well, not only speculate. I have hints from my incredulous host to go by as well.
[3] I’m taking it on faith that there were spoilers to be had. It was, from my perspective, merely an inexplicable happenstance.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I glanced at my reviews of the last couple Pirates movies, and they are a lot more positive than I remember the movies in my head. I wonder which of us is right! My point being, who can say how well you and / or future me can trust this forthcoming review of the fourth poncy Johnny Depp vehicle? Oh well, we’re both here, may as well read it anyway.

So, I have a few disconnected thoughts, and they are presented here in no particular order. On Stranger Tides demonstrates better than I remember the other movies having done that pirates, by and large, are bad people. Not so bad that I wish I hadn’t watched the movie, but I felt slimier than I really wanted to, once or twice. That said, the action set-pieces did a good job of distracting me from that sporadic feeling, much as they distracted me from what were at the time glaring plot holes, most of which I’ve forgotten since, which just goes to show you quite how successful said set-pieces were. The action wasn’t the best in the series or anything, because they’ve always been amazing. But it was absolutely at the same level of quality, minimum.

Two events stood out from the rest, though, and neither are spoilers, so I will tell you them! 1) Impressive use of the Greek literary technique, deus ex mickina. 2) Disturbingly spot-on interpretation of the Japanese dolphin capture / killing bays. (There’s a documentary in the last year or two, if you have no idea what I’m talking about. The descriptions have convinced me I would hate watching it, though.) But anyway, yeah, this was pretty good. Oh, right, some people want an inkling as to the plot, I forget that sometimes. What is is, is they’re looking for the Fountain of Youth.

Super 8

So, the thing about Super 8 is that you’re not really allowed to talk about it. There are these kids making a movie in 1979, as you do when you are kids and have a video camera and a friend who wants to make movies and video games haven’t been invented yet. And while they are at the train station filming a scene, they accidentally witness a pretty huge train wreck. All of this is in the teaser trailer from like 18 months ago, right? Anyway, after the wreck, things get mysterious, and that’s all I’m going to say.

What I suppose I am allowed to talk about, though, is the reactions it has been getting. I’ve seen people say that it implies there used to be magic in the world, but you have to go back in time to get it because now things are way too mundane for a big adventure. I have a little bit of sympathy for this, I do. Because I’ve thought to myself that if I had been older in the ’70s, I might have been one of those people making a Chainsaw or an Evil Dead, so I’m already a little predisposed to see the ordinary, everyday magic of widened possibilities in that era moreso than in this one, where you have to be slick and polished to even get any word of mouth going. (That’s not true, of course, but most of what I’ve seen for which that wasn’t true was just terrible. And clearly it wasn’t always thus.) But when I watch this movie, I don’t see anyone saying the magic has gone out of the world. I see someone saying, this is what the world was like when I was a kid. Of course, I also notice the freedom of movement and association those kids have versus what I expect kids today to have, and I wonder. They’re in a small town, and maybe things haven’t changed all that much? But if things have changed, we’re the adults now, deciding what kids of that age are doing, and if the magic of 30 years ago is absent these days, there’s really only us to blame for it. But for now, I think it’s mostly a difference of place than time, and that the young writers and directors of today will still be finding magic in their own childhoods as we near the middle of the century.

On a more technical level, I’ve also heard people make comparisons to Goonies or Gremlins. While those are both fine movies, I didn’t tweak to either comparison myself, except at the most superficial level. No, what it immediately made me think of, and I never found myself disagreeing later, was a sweeping Stephen King small-town epic, along the lines of It or Under the Dome. Only, presented on the screen far better than any of those have ever been. You may be aware that’s pretty high praise.