Monday, February 29, 2016

Go on Reckless 8-Bit Police Car Chases in Smashy Road

Sometimes, the best video games are the simplest to play and the most addictive in their appeal. They may not have complex plots or high resolution graphics, but such things don't matter if the games keep you coming back for more ... and more ... and more. This was the plan of success for most early game consoles and popular coin-op arcade games during the '80s. It is also the popularity strategy for Smashy Road, an isometric retro racing game by Bearbit Studios. Read on for my complete review.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Mind-Bending 3D Geometric Puzzles + Minimalist Fairy Tale = Monument Valley Video Game

Even though I'm a tech-loving geek, I've been reluctant to accept cell phones and tablets as mediums with which to regularly play video games. I've used my cell phone in the past to play simple games to pass the time, but I couldn't imagine this kind of gaming to equal or surpass PCs and game consoles. Yet upon recent consideration, I've come to realize that what makes this form of gaming worthwhile is the kind of game that one chooses to play on a cell phone or a tablet. The kind of game that I'm talking about in this post is Monument Valley by Ustwo.

Monument Valley is a touchscreen-based puzzle game that depicts the silent Princess Ida's exploration of a lost civilization's "sacred geometry" to discover its secrets. Players use the touchscreen to move Ida through each level and manipulate the many knobs and levers that are hidden within the isometric puzzles. Currently, the game consists of ten levels with an extra level called "Ida's Dream" and an expansion pack of puzzles called "Forgotten Shores".

I've played many games with dense, detailed environments and elaborate usage of sound, but Monument Valley is a perfect example of how simple and smart arrangements--and rearrangements--of colors, lines and forms can create the most unforgettable gaming experiences. Even though it's a game, I felt many times like I was watching a whimsical and elegantly animated children's story, something that perhaps Studio Ghibli would make.

Three of the many amazing puzzles in Monument Valley.

In some ways, Monument Valley is an exercise in contradictions. On the one hand, the layout of each level are simple and uncluttered, with bold colors and clear lines; on the other are the puzzles themselves, which stunningly bend the rules of shapes and perspective in ways that would make M.C. Escher proud.

Some might be disappointed over how simple it is to figure out most of the puzzles once the player understands the game's logic. Nevertheless, even though I finished the game and its expansion pack within a few hours, it kept me engrossed and amazed in ways that few games do. That experience alone is enough for me to recommended Monument Valley to gamers of all stripes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Great Moments in Geek Collectibles History: McFarlane Toys' Alien Queen

Watching horror and sci-fi films is easy, but collecting screen-accurate merchandise based on those films is hard.

In this post, I'll be taking a look at the Alien Queen figure that was produced by McFarlane Toys in 2003 as part of its Movie Maniacs line. At the time of its release, this figure was one of the few Alien Queen replicas that could be bought for a reasonable price. The film collectibles market has changed considerably since then, and this figure represents are pivotal moment in how the market had changed from expensive statues, busts and model kits of the '80s and '90s to the much more affordable items that are available today. Read on ...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Jaws 2: The Making of The Hollywood Sequel Book Review

Fantasy, horror and sci-fi fans are known for the many, many things they use to show their appreciation of the franchises they love: cosplay, fan films, collectible collections, websites, and so on. Yet it's a rare situation when fans take the initiative to research and document the behind-the-scene details of the more obscure and less glamorous aspects of their favorite films and TV shows. Such is the case of Jaws 2: The Making of The Hollywood Sequel, which was written by Louis R. Pisano and Michael A. Smith and published by BearManor Media. Read on for my complete review of this long overdue treat for Jaws franchise fans.

Friday, February 12, 2016

NECA Enters the Die-Cast Replicas Market with Cinemachines

Oh, NECA ... you just keep getting cooler.

Between its ongoing Predator action figure line and its expanding line of Alien action figures, I'm in nerd heaven. Yet it appears that someone at NECA thinks that figures aren't enough for fans and collectors, so it's releasing a series of six-inch, die-cast replicas of vehicles from sci-fi movies in its new Cinemachines line.

The initial Cinemachines items will be four vehicles from Alien and four from Aliens (see above). In addition to the Colonial Marine vehicles from Aliens, the line will also include a Daihotai Tractor, a vehicle that only appeared in the director's cut of the sequel. (Fun trivia fact: Micro Machines also planned on releasing a Daihotai Tractor as part of its Aliens Action Fleet line back in the '90s, but only a prototype was made.) Upcoming releases will include an Aerial Hunter-Killer (HK) and HK Tank from The Terminator, as well as the space ship that was briefly seen in the first few minutes of Predator.

NECA Cinemachines' Aerial HK (above) and HK Tank (below).

Plenty of vehicles from other movies could be added to Cinemachines, although whether they'll produce more from the Alien, Predator and/or Terminator franchises remains to be seen. These replicas are much cheaper than most other collectibles; however, with a price tag that averages at $25 per item, fans could easily spend a significant chunk of change if they want to collect the entire Cinemachines line.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Five Things that Should Stay the Same in Video Gaming

Because I'm a video gaming geek, I think I'm very fortunate to have been born at a time when I could witness video gaming during its earliest days (e.g., the early generations of home gaming consoles, early video game magazines, coin-op arcades in shopping malls everywhere, etc.) and its subsequent evolution into what it has become today. While so many more changes are waiting on the horizon, here is my list of five things that I hope remain consistent in future generations of video game systems and titles. Read on ...

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Teenager Makes a Faustian Deal in Death Note (2006 - 2007)

I'm very late to the party for this animated series, but better late than never: If you love unique titles in horror TV, then Death Note is an absolute must-watch.

Death Note started as a manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata between 2003 and 2006. An anime adaptation of the manga series aired in Japan from 2006 to 2007, running for a total of 37 episodes; this review covers the anime series. I noticed that this series was finding a fan base in the U.S. years ago, but I didn't bother watching it until Netflix started carrying it. Now that I've finally watched the whole thing, I can say that its popularity is completely justified.

Death Note tells the story of Light Yagami, and exceptionally intelligent teenager who stumbles upon a supernatural notebook called a "Death Note". According to the rules stated within the book, people who have their names written on its pages will die shortly afterwards. Convinced that the Death Note can help him bring about a better world by getting rid of "bad" people, Light uses it to go on a killing spree against criminals--and anyone who gets in the way of his vision. The Japanese police soon notice that jailed felons are dying by the dozens and launch their own investigation, thus beginning a cat-and-mouse game between Light and the detectives who are determined to stop him.

Because its main character is an anti-hero, Death Note shares some thematic similarities with live-action TV shows such as Dexter and Hannibal. However, Light is in a league of his own when it comes to committing evil deeds according to a deranged moral code. Light sees the Death Note as his path to godhood and that whoever he kills in the process--and however he kills them--is completely justified in order to remake the world according to his rule. His sinister plotting also prompts him to experiment with what the Death Note is fully capable of doing to both its user and its victims, which leads the story into a variety of unexpected twists and turns. If the authors of ancient Greek tragedies were alive today, they'd love Death Note.

Deadly delusions of grandeur: Light Yagami in Death Note.

Death Note also stands apart from other horror TV fare by taking its time to play with the cursed artifact trope. Whenever a cursed artifact shows up in an anthology series such as The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery, it is usually part of a tidy, single-episode morality play where the user of the artifact is inevitably condemned to suffer an ironic fate. Whenever a cursed artifact shows up in an serialized show such as Warehouse 13 or The Librarians, protagonists who are well-versed in the supernatural arrive at some point in the episode to stop the artifact and/or its user before too many people are killed. Neither of these narrative patterns apply to Death Note; in this case, a single cursed artifact is the foundation of the story and everything else that happens during the series--character developments, narrative arcs, etc.--tie back to the artifact. I've never seen another horror TV show quite like this, and it was intriguing to watch a plot device that is normally tossed aside at the end of an episode become the focal point of an entire series.

I could say more about this series, but that would be giving away too much. Even if anime isn't your preferred form of TV entertainment, Death Note is still a quality series for anyone who is a horror fan.