Etrian Odyssey on Nintendo DS (8/10)

Rat Battle in Etrian OdysseyEtrian Odyssey is an old-school RPG in the vein of Wizardy or The Bard's Tale. That is, you assemble a party of adventurers, go to a town hub to gather quests and equipment, then delve into an uncharted labyrinth killing monsters and mapping your progress. There isn't much of a story to follow here. Your goal is to find the "secret of the labyrinth" which, spoiler alert, has something to do with global warming (97% of scientists agree this is a dumb twist). Exploration and combat are the real core of the game, and the mapping of the maze is the primary gimmick. A task for which the DS is excellently suited. No need for graph paper. Just use the stylus and mark your map directly in the game. I can't tell you how frustrating it was playing Bard's Tale, carefully mapping away, only to have my time-consuming efforts foiled when the map ran off the edge of the graph paper. I'd then have to tape a second piece to the side or, worse, start over from scratch.

My Fleetwood Mac Cover

For the past half-year or so I have been participating in the PRF Monthly Tribute series where various artists and friends cover a different band each month. This month I did a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Big Love." I thought there were not enough references to Zardoz in the Fleetwood Mac oeuvre, so I fixed that. 

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt (9/10)

Required reading for anyone who is sick of the political name calling and soft bigotry that permeates every single political post on social media. Written in an entertaining and adequately humble style, The Righteous Mind provides a well-researched, scientific answer to the question, "Why can't we all just get along?"

Fight Back to School (4/10)

Stephen Chow could not save this tone deaf action/comedy. Made in the late eighties, there are maybe two or three genuinely funny moments in the movie. The rest barely rises to the comedic heights of an episode of Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Mix with that action that is way too violent for the grade school tone and a squirmy love interest plot line involving a teacher and student. It's hard to believe Chow amounted anything after this.

The Hateful Eight (7/10)

This was my least favorite of all the Tarantino films I've watched (I still haven't seen Inglorious Basterds). Even Death Proof, which also had shallow characterization and a paper thin plot, managed to entertain me a bit more with its breathless action. But, in the end, I think I enjoyed The Hateful Eight more than not. The music is great and there are plenty of clever moments. I think it was just a general lack of character development and maybe just a bit too much filler that kept this from being great.

Pandora's Tower on Nintendo Wii (8/10)

Pandora's Tower US Box ArtIt's been quite some time since I've played through a game on the Wii. Pandora's Tower is certainly one of the best looking games on the platform. It follows the standard console action/adventure game formula: a series of areas to explore, a new ability added in each area, and a boss at the end of the section that requires mastery of that ability to be defeated. Wrapped around this is a sappy story of the girl who has been cursed and must now be fed monster guts in order to cure herself. I'm really not one for the Japanese anime-style of story telling, but it wasn't as horrible and convoluted as the genre can be. I especially liked the scenes of Elena gobbling up gore... well, at least I did the first dozen times I watched that cut scene. The 39th time... not so much.

Bad Penny by John D. Brown (7/10)

I enjoyed his fantasy series, so I thought I'd try out Brown's crime thriller series. This is the story of an ex-military/ex-con who gets caught up in a kidnapping plot when all he wants to do is make good with his life. The book reads like an episodic television series without much deep characterization but lots of action. I appreciated Sam the Mormon, bible-loving sidekick who, for a change, is not depicted as a zealot freak or a dimwit.

Vertigo by Hermann, Bernard (6/10)

Format: 
CD

In my limited listening experience, all Bernard Hermann scores sound pretty much the same. I got this mostly based on Laika and the Cosmonauts' cover of "Scene D'Amour." Along with that track, there are a few exciting moments on this CD, but for the most part this is forgettable and samey.

A Chinese Odyssey (Parts 1 & 2) (6/10)

Long before he directed Journey to the West, Stephen Chow starred in this version of the Monkey King's story. The story is divided into two movies: "Pandora's Box" and "Cinderlla." I enjoyed the first part which felt like a lighthearted Chow film with fun characters, slapstick humor and a simple plot. But the second part is a confusing mess of time travel and body swapping. By the end, I literally had no idea what was going on.

Machinarium on PC (7/10)

Macinarium

Okay, first things first. Machinarium is a beautiful game with excellent art direction, sound and music. However, something about this point-and-click adventure just didn't... er... click for me. It could be the fact that the game erased my save files halfway through my first attempt. I didn't pick it up again for at least a month after that. But I think this is just a little too puzzley for my tastes. At times I really didn't have any motivation other than there was a guy who had an object that would obviously be useful somewhere.

The Wave by Todd Strasser (5/10)

This short novel tries to show how it was possible for normal German's to just sit back and let the Nazi's take over. Apparently all it takes is for one history teacher to treat his students like a drill instructor would and you have an instant fascist movement. I never really bought the whole concept. It was kind of like reading an ABC After School Special.

Teenagent on Ms-DOS (3/10)

Teenagent

You can download and play Teenagent for free from GOG.com, and, because of my obsessive-compulsive nature when it comes to completing games I own, I felt obliged to give it a whirl. It took about 45 minutes of frustration for me to realize that this point-and-click adventure really wasn't worth the logic-defying effort. This game commits all the puzzle design sins of 90's adventure games. It's the type of game design that pretty much killed the genre.

Outlast on PC (8/10)

Outlast

Outlast is one of the most nerve-racking games I have played. The game delights in distracting your attention then blasting you with a heart-stopping jump scare. The first couple of hours, when you don't really know what to expect, are the worst. This is a stealth game in which you have no weapons, no means of defending yourself. Your only tool is a video camera with an infrared mode to help you see in the darkness. Other than that, the available options to avoid being killed are either to hide or to run. As the game progressed, I realized that running was far more useful than cowering under a bed or in a locker.

Shadowrun Returns on PC (7/10)

Shadowrun Returns

I was initially drawn to the isometric art style of this turn-based RPG. My hope was that it would play like Wasteland 2 but I wasn't sure what to expect. The combat is similar, but it has nowhere near the depth and strategy. I some ways that's good. Shadowrun Returns feels much more casual and less nitpicky with things like ammo and inventory management. But, even though it's party-based, you only really control the development of your one character. The other combatants are just expendable hired hands with little to no backstory.

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