Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (8/10)

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As with all Tarantino movies, this is entertaining from beginning to end with tons of nostalgic details. I don’t think it ranks with his best work. For one thing, I miss the snappy dialogue of his 90s masterpieces. But it is a well told story of the end of an era. Not so coincidentally, it’s the exact same theme as my favorite movie, Once Upon a Time in the West.

Flashback on PC (7/10)

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I must have attempted to play this game about a dozen times. I would download it from some abandonware site, fire up DosBox, and then proceed to be frustrated out of my mind by the sluggish controls and unfair level design. Or maybe I was just terrible at that first jungle level.

Well, this is the 25th anniversary remastered edition. It’s more or less the original game emulated, but there are a few quality of life improvements. First and foremost is the ability to rewind the game after you die for an immediate do-over. Second, there are on-screen help boxes to guide you through the cryptic control scheme. There are also a bonus “street art” pickups on the levels (which are a complete waste of time) and the ability to switch to that goddawful “SuperHQ” graphics mode where the pixels are all smoothed out. Does anybody think that mode looks good? It just negates any pixel art charm.

A lot of the game is still frustrating as hell, but at least I didn’t have to reload after each of my million deaths. As beautiful as the Prince of Persia-esque rotoscope animations are, they are what make controlling your character such a pain. You are surrounded by monsters and you have to wait for what seems like an eternity for the gun-draw animation to finish. By the time it’s done you are already mashing the keys and inadvertently hitting the sheathe weapon key.

Eventually I was able to get used to the controls (somewhat) and just appreciate the artistry of the visual design. This game was touted as the follow-up to Out of this World and it has a similar feel. But it’s a much more of a standard platform game in the mold of the previously mentioned Prince of Persia. The story is told through its wonderful vector art cutscenes and less through your direct actions. There are a few inventory puzzles to solve, and an early section which starts to feel like a quest driven RPG. More of that would have been nice, but as a platformer it holds up pretty well.

Abzû on PC (5/10)

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Hey, it’s a walking simulator with a twist… swimming! I’ll give it this, Abzû is a very nice looking and great sounding game. The score is magnificent. You know the soundtrack has to be good when seemingly half of the game credits are taken up with the names of the various instrumentalists. Unfortunately, like all of these “art” games, there isn’t much in terms of a game here. You just swim around, (literally) look at fish, and occasionally click on a hot-spot. I’d be more forgiving if there was a good story to follow but, “evil thing making the ocean all evil and the only way to stop it is to swim to the end of a tunnel” is not a good story.

The Silent Age on PC (6/10)

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The biggest puzzle in this modestly sized point-and-click adventure is figuring out how to get it to even run. I bought it for 99¢ in a Steam sale a year or two ago and when I finally got around to playing it, I discovered that it would crash immediately after launching. Well, let me spoil this first puzzle for you: the game won’t run if you have Citrix Receiver installed on your computer (same for any game based on the Unity Engine). There is a fix that involves reinstalling Citrix with some command line flags. Goggle it.

Anyhow, once the game is up and running you will see its flat, vector art style with simple animations and colorful palette. This is mostly a story driven adventure in which I found the puzzles not to be very challenging. Basically, if you find an object, you know it is going to be used to unlock some other object. The only place where things get a little tricky is when time travel comes in to play. A handful of puzzles involve setting up things in the past and finding your results in the future. These are rare. Mostly time travel is only a means of navigating to hidden exits.

That said, for the money, it provides enough story and things to explore to keep it interesting and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I say that a lot, don’t I?

The Witcher TV Series

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Just finished watching The Witcher on Netflix. I’m probably biased from playing the games, but I thought it was quite good. The lead’s voice takes some time to get used to. Seems like he is just doing an impression of the game’s growly voice actor (complete with the hmms and nose breathing). The series takes about four episodes to start clicking. It’s then that you realize that the story is not being told in chronological order and you start to see how the characters relate. My main quibble is that it jumps into the magic stuff a bit too quickly before laying out ground rules. Going full “epic” so fast is overwhelming. It’s when the show focuses on its characters that it becomes fun. Like an old episode of Hercules or Xena. That is all.