Category Archives: Reviews

The Wonderful PlayStation Vue

I dropped cable TV years ago and for some time survived on Netflix and/or Amazon Prime.
Maybe a year or two ago I tried out PlayStation Vue, a live channel streaming service. It’s just like cable TV without some of the local channels, all streamed over the internet with no connect/disconnect charges or contracts.

I love it, especially that I can keep it for 2-4 months then get rid of it if I become too busy, without having to return a cable box or pay fees.

Check it out at https://www.playstation.com/en-us/network/vue/

“Brave Dungeon” for 3DS

This cheap $5 hack and slash “RPG” provides plenty of fun if you just want to battle monsters and level up while advancing further through five different dungeons. Each floor of each dungeon has a boss to fight. The aesthetics are simple but pleasant, and the controls are very basic since it consists of turn-based battles only. There’s not much beyond that… while you can swap party members there’s really no reason to. There are some cool items that you collect while adventuring, and that’s the main upgrade path for the game. Worth $5 for sure!

Alchemic Dungeons – a New Awesome 3DS Digital Game

The 8-bit/pixelated graphics of “Alchemic Dungeons” definitely remind me of old DOS or NES games – but the colors seem more vibrant and the graphics more sophisticated.

You choose one of four classes (Fighter, Hunter, Dwarf, or Witch – I think the Hunter is the best class) and go on your way adventuring in a hack and slash sort of style. There are about a hundred items you can craft with materials you collect on your adventures.

I finished the first real stage (not counting the short tutorial), the “Phantom Forest”, after trying again and again – but I definitely learned the basic strategy of the gameplay, and I think later stages will be easier if strategy is applied.

The only real issue with this game is the music gets a bit repetitive… but other than that I highly recommend it!

UPDATE: I’ve since beaten the second stage, which was even more difficult. And an important note: this is a turn-based hack and slash, so you only get to do one thing, then the enemies move/attack, etc.

Game Review – “Assassin’s Creed II” for Xbox 360

Game Title: Assassin’s Creed II
Game System: Xbox 360

Rating
Graphics: 9 / 10
Gameplay: 9 / 10
Replay Value: 6 / 10
Difficulty: Average. Short challenging moments in between longer easier adventures.

Having only begun the first Assassin’s Creed after finishing the second, I can’t really do much of a comparison between the two. However, I think the sequel stands on its own as a genuinely fun, captivating game of mild difficulty – it seems easier than the first one.

Most of the gameplay revolves around avoiding the guards, parkour around the rooftops and eliminating certain targets, and it’s the kills which are the main anchors of the storyline (perhaps unsurprising given the game title). While there are open-world elements in that you can explore the environments (read: cities) that you visit, there is a clear path of how to move the story forwards. Your “next step” is generally made clear by blinking icons in the mini-map and full map, and between the maps and the compass it’s easy to find your next activity.

As the game progresses certain “meta-tasks” arise, that is, activities that span across multiple cities and parts of the game. The two most prominent examples of this are codex pages that you have to have deciphered, and certain locations that hold secret relics (which are hard to explain without revealing certain sub-plots).

The combat is fluid and fun, but due to the abundance of “medicine” that heals a significant part of your health, fighting is rarely much of a challenge, even when it’s many against one. As you progress, you get to buy better armor, which gives you more health, and better weapons that increase your attack speed and damage.

While the game is so easy that at times it almost feels like watching a movie rather than playing a game, the story and gameplay is continuously entertaining and I highly recommend it.

Retro Game Review – “Dragon Warrior” for NES

Game Title: Dragon Warrior
Game System: NES

Rating
Graphics: 7 / 10
Gameplay: 8 / 10
Replay Value: 4 / 10
Difficulty: This game is more a time investment than a difficult challenge

I finally beat this game a week or two ago. It’s one of my absolute favorite old RPGs, and was a fairly early hack and slash RPG. The premise is you’re a warrior tasked with defeating the dragonlord to basically save the world. You’ll spend most of your time leveling up to face more and more difficult dungeons and roaming monsters over the course of maybe 20 hours. You wander around an overworld map facing enemies that appear at random intervals, wandering from town to town and speaking to locals for clues to the fairly simple puzzles/hidden items spread throughout the game.

Gold, to buy better weapons, armor and items, as well as room and board at inns to restore health and magic points, is difficult to amass early in the game but is absurdly plentiful later on. As you level up and have increased stats, you face enemies that both provide more XP and more gold, making it possible to buy increasingly expensive and powerful weapons and armor.

The best part of the game is the monster fighting sequences. Each monster has a brightly colored image that pops up when you encounter the enemy. Some monsters are just variations of color or minor detail built upon other monster art, but there are many unique designs overall.

The most dangerous part of the game is questing too long and letting your health get so low that you can’t make it back home – but the entire time I played I only died a few times.

Overall a classic RPG for the NES that’s a blast to play once, but not so much a second time.

Warcraft, the Movie…

This past weekend I watched Warcraft… pretty disappointing. Poor acting, not much of a script and nothing too surprising or interesting.

I’ve never played World of Warcraft, but I did thoroughly enjoy Warcraft and Warcraft II, in the days when it was an RTS game not an RPG (I didn’t find Warcraft III as interesting as the first two). There were a few nostalgic references to those RTS games but that didn’t make the movie that much better.

Should have rented it before buying… oh well.

Retro Game Review – “Battle Chess” for NES

Game Title: Battle Chess
Game System: NES

Rating
Graphics: 7 / 10
Gameplay: 8 / 10
Replay Value: 8 / 10
Difficulty: For casual chess players, there is more than enough of a challenge here.

This chess game is solely responsible for my wanting a blue and red chess set, due to the colors of the two sides in the game. Sadly, such a chess set would be mostly for show, as I’m not terribly interested in chess – please keep in mind that I’m reviewing this game as a mildly interested beginner at chess.

The graphics offer 2D and 3D modes. The 2D mode has a quicker feel due to a lack of animations, and the chess pieces have a nice clean look. It’s the 3D look, however, that inspired my imagination playing this game as a kid. Every time a move is made the pieces slowly (and I do mean really slowly) walk to their new destination. If they take a piece as part of the move, a short 10-second animation is shown of them fighting one another.

These 3D fight scenes are cool, but the sluggish pace of moving pieces in the 3D setting can make you really, really want to switch to the 2D mode and its more responsive feel. There are a host of sounds that accompany the 3D mode and add some nice atmosphere generally lacking in chess games.

Due to my lack of chess skills I only play on the “novice” difficulty setting, and there are a number of levels beyond that. The NES’ humble processor performance is obvious when the computer will sometimes think for 5 or more seconds before making a move – but it’s generally not enough of a delay to become truly annoying. You can also play in a two-player mode instead of playing the computer.

Overall a fun chess game with more than enough difficulty for beginners and beyond.

Guitar Pedals – MXR Distortion +

One of the reasons I bought a Jackson electric guitar as my first guitar, many years ago, was because that’s what Randy Rhoads of Ozzy Osbourne played (though he played a variation on the Flying V body shape – cool but a little too extreme for me). The MXR Distortion + was just as key in the tone and nature of his sound.

This MXR pedal is not very high-distortion, like many modern distortion and overdrive pedals. But the tone is sweet and smooth, and remarkably articulate; it’s an optimal pedal for shredding, providing just enough bite to carry the gentle fuzzy base tone through the mix.

The pedal is a nice sunny yellow, with a stomp switch and two knobs: “Output” and “Distortion”. Generally, I keep the distortion knob ¾ up or higher, and the output from 12 o’clock to 2 o’clock. If you really crank up the output close to max it gets a bit fuzzier as the sound breaks up. I much prefer the definition provided by moderate output volume settings.

This is easily my favorite guitar pedal, and it’s built to last with MXR’s durable metal design.

Retro Game Review – “Dr. Mario” for NES

Game Title: Dr. Mario
Game System: NES

Rating
Graphics: 8 / 10
Gameplay: 8 / 10
Replay Value: 9 / 10
Difficulty: Varies by level from simple to more or less impossible

Bright, colorful graphics, 8-bit looping soundtracks that never seem to get old, and addictive gameplay – Dr. Mario has all the elements of a great NES game.

Let’s start with the familiar comparison to Tetris that all similar puzzle games undergo: yes, rotatable items falling from the top of the screen must be matched up in certain ways to score points and proceed through the game. In the case of Dr Mario, the point is not to eliminate falling block shapes – rather, the falling “pills” are used to neutralize and remove viruses – colorful, squirming humanoid creatures. When any four pill halves and/or viruses of the same color are matched together, they’re eliminated and the player scores points. Even four pill halves can eliminate each other, without any viruses being affected.

Generally it’s easier to match four vertically, as the pills can always be stacked up vertically – but once in awhile a horizontal match occurs and adds some variety. When four are matched, any pill pieces that are no longer “anchored” on a stack of items fall down and settle on whatever is below them.

You lose the game if the falling pills reach the top of the “bottle”-shaped container that the gameplay takes place in, obstructing further pill pieces from falling into the playing field.

The first few levels are good for learning the rules and strategy of the game, but the midrange of the levels are the most fun. The most difficult parts of each level are the start and finish: the start because there isn’t much room from the top viruses to the top of the playing field, and the finish because lots of pill pieces can build up and accumulate on various corners, as well as the wrong color pills ending up on differently colored viruses.

While higher levels have more viruses, there is a certain advantage to having more viruses of similar colors next to each other – making it easier to match multiple viruses while using fewer pill pieces.

There are a few nice graphical touches, including a magnifying lens that shows close-ups of the viruses as they’re being defeated, and Mario on the other side of the screen, tossing each pill into the playing field. You can see which pill is up next at any time, as Mario holds onto it for a bit before tossing it into the bottle.

Overall, a great game that is, in my opinion, better than Tetris, and a great deal of fun.

ReSharper Ultimate – Amazing!

I recently installed a demo/trial of ReSharper Ultimate – and it’s phenomenal.  In just a few hours I was able to apply hundreds of small tweaks and adjustments, improving the quality and readability of my code.  It’s almost like having an expert coder sitting next to you, giving tips and insight into the functions and classes.

Another great tool in the Ultimate package is dotCover – a much better test runner than what Visual Studio typically has with NUnit, my unit-testing framework of choice.

Thanks to JetBrains for creating such an amazing tool!  This is Visual Studio the way it should be.

Check it out at:

https://www.jetbrains.com/dotnet/