Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut (2012 - PC)

Lone Survivor is the only 2D sidescrolling, pixel-based survival horror game I've played, and it reminded me a lot of Silent Hill 2. I wasn't the world's biggest fan of that game, but oddly found myself thinking about it a lot more than I do most other games I only gave 2-1/2 stars to. Much like James Sutherland, Lone Survivor's protagonist searches an apartment complex that's overrun with zombies while a noise layer obscures vision. Also, much like Silent Hill 2, the threat may possibly be more psychological in origin than real.

The game has multiple endings, and if you play it like you would an action game - shooting everything in sight while not caring much about the actual "survival" elements, such as eating good food, sleeping on time, and helping people you meet - you'll likely end up with one of the "bad" endings. This left a sour impression on my first play because of the character's constant nagging for food and sleep, and the ending I got seemed nonsensical.

But if you play the game more how it's meant to be played, the hero bothers you less, and you could put yourself on a path to one of the better endings, which reveals more what the story is really about. You'll probably also pay more attention to the clues here and there and get a better sense of everything on a replay. So, those extra endings are really worth going for, though it probably won't hurt to look at a FAQ to be sure you'll get them. I ended up coming to appreciate the game much more as a result, and it certainly doesn't hurt that the soundtrack is excellent, too (the game's creator, Jasper Byrne, is a musician as well as a game designer and did most of the music himself).

And one of the things you can do is adopt a kitty! Bonus points just for that!
Rating: 3.5/5


Mega Man: Dr. Wily's Revenge (GB - 1991)

This is actually one of the first Game Boy games I ever owned as I bought it around the same time I got my original monochrome system that came with Tetris and I also bought Super Mario Land separately. Mega Man was the big winner of all those games and I spent the most time with it. It's mostly a remake of NES Mega Man with some elements of Mega Man 2 thrown in. Though it's shorter than a typical Mega Man game, it can be very challenging in spots, especially towards the end. The last two stages (Dr. Wily's castle and space station) are very long and difficult, and while you can continue at the space station, there is no password to take you directly to it. So you have to get through them both in one sitting.

The game is very good at capturing the look and feel of Mega Man on the small screen, much moreso than Super Mario Land was at capturing Super Mario Bros.. Not a heck of a lot of innovation from the NES series, but if you wanted portable Mega Man, this was certainly a good way to go.
Rating: 3.5/5


Super C (1990 - NES)

While I think the difficulty of NES Contra is overrated, it's possible that Super C is legitimately easier. I have never had to use the ten lives code to beat this game, despite that I often get tripped up on the giant, randomly-appearing mouths in the floor of Area 6. But even if I do die there, as long as I get a spreader gun before the boss of Area 7, the rest of the game is easy as slicing cake, especially the final boss which has a freakin' safe spot! (And for that matter, so does the boss in my right screenshot and I'm standing in it!)

Not that Super C doesn't contain any intense or memorable moments. The boss of Area 5 (a skull-laden spaceship that flies around erratically and drops tons of projectiles) is another part that tends to be nerve-wracking, and Area 4 (the elevator and showerhead boss) can be a bit tricky, too. But the rest is so easy I rarely find myself dying anywhere else, unlike Contra where it's possible I could slip up and die on any given stage.
Rating: 3/5


Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988 - NES)

Super Mario Bros. 2 is another NES game that's really easy and could be very short, too, if you discover its secret warp zones. While you can make the game a little more challenging for yourself by not using the Princess to float over everything, there are some stages where the temptation is just too high (like those castle turrets that lead to Fryguy in the ice world).

Still, though... The Mario mythos kind of owes a lot to this game. It's the first that gave Luigi a distinct tall/thin look as opposed to always being a palette swap of Mario (though he went back to it for SMB3 and Super Mario World, it would eventually become standard). It made Toad into more of a character than he had been before, and the Princess actually got an active role. It also introduced enemies like Shyguys and Bob-ombs that became staples in the Mario universe, although the final boss, Wart, has been sadly neglected over the years.

So, it's easy, but it's fun and colorful, with the various characters and enemies and animated objects taking on a highly-cartoonish look, rather than that standard "game sprite" look many previous games had, culminating in a full-sized, animated sleeping Mario head in the ending.

Definitely a game I like to revisit once in awhile, even if it's not revolutionary like its predecessor nor as epic and fulfilling as its successor.
Rating: 3.5/5


Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990 - NES)

Anyone who knows me or has read enough of this website knows that Super Mario Bros. 3 is in my top three favorite games of all time. You may also know that I had abandoned gaming for awhile when I got bored with the Atari 2600 and it's the game that sucked me back in. Over twenty years later, and it's still easy to see why this game was so revolutionary and popular. It's not just a sequel - it's a sequel that went all out in every direction. There is so much to see and do in this game that you could play it for hours, days, months, even years, and still not uncover all of its secrets.

But despite having tons of optional stuff and mini-games, it never forgets to be fun, challenging, and focused. As I said in my old full review, it "always keeps that one foot in reality". Along with the more laid-back stages that let you explore at your leisure (to a certain extent - there's always a timer to keep you alert), the auto-scrolling stages are some of the most exciting in the game. The airships that loom high in the sky while firing multitudes of projectiles at you are amongst the most inventive and memorable in not just this game, but the entire Mario series.

While the lack of a save feature may make the game difficult to finish, there are various items (like the hidden warp whistles) that allow you to skip some stages (and even entire worlds) should you have difficulty finding time to complete all of them. At least that can also provide replay value - going back to conquer those levels you skipped sometime.

Along with Castlevania III, SMB3 was the pinnacle of what the NES could do in terms of gameplay and artistry. The number of times it's been remade and rereleased is a testament to how timeless it is.
Rating: 5/5

The Walking Dead (2012 - PC)

Much like Telltale Games' Back to the Future, The Walking Dead is more interactive story than it is a game. The main difference is that this one has quicktime events and you can actually die if you don't do them right.

If you're open to this idea, then The Walking Dead can be an absorbing and heart-wrenching experience. You just have to understand this is not a game you play for challenge or even to tax your brain, despite having a few point-and-click adventure style puzzles. Just put enough time into it and you can complete about one chapter a night (with five total and some DLC content). So, I'm not going to criticize it based on that.

But since the game's plot is based so heavily around picking different lines of dialogue, it might've been nice if your choices could have had a bigger impact. The scripting can be so manipulative - I spent several nights wondering if had I made better choices if certain characters would've lived. But then looking over a fan-made flowchart revealed that those characters would've died (sooner or later) no matter what I did. The minor details may change depending on what you do, but the end results are ultimately the same.

But if you want a creepy, brutally unforgiving zombie survivalist story with great characterizations that'll make you reach for a box of tissues by the end, you probably can't do better than this. I'm beginning to think Telltale Games should handle all licensed product games, or at least developers who do should take lessons from them.

Speaking of which, you don't need to know anything about The Walking Dead comics or TV show to play this, as it's entirely self-contained and most of the characters are unique to this game. Apparently, it contains easter eggs for fans, but I'm not familiar with any other Walking Dead stuff and I was able to follow it just fine.

I will warn that the story can get very heavy at times and will force you to make some gut-churning decisions (even children are not safe in its world). Chapter 2 is the goriest and most disturbing, by far. So, if you can take Chapter 2, you shouldn't have much trouble with anything else, but that one is a real doozy! Especially if you're not used to violent horror movies.
Rating: 3.5/5

Fleetwood Mac: Unbroken Chain Unauthorized (Streaming Video - 2004)

Okay, what the heck is it with these music documentaries that don't actually use any of the band's music and show very, very little of the band doing anything live on stage? I know this stuff costs money, but that's the only thing that would make watching these videos worth it. Otherwise, you're better off reading the Wikipedia entry on Fleetwood Mac to learn the band's history and finding some videos on YouTube.

Also, I could hear the voice of one of my high school teachers yelling, "Give examples!" in my head while watching it. The movie has a horrible habit of mentioning things, then giving no examples of what they're talking about. For example (heh!): Saying how the lyrics of the songs on the album "Rumors" were about different members of the band and different things that were going on between them, but not one example of the lyrics and what they were referring to is provided.
Rating: 2/5

The Last Survivor (Streaming Video - 2010)

A rather heartfelt, if somewhat slow-moving, documentary about how survivors of the World War II Holocaust helped the survivors of the Rwanda genocide, who in turn, are helping the survivors of the genocide in Darfur. It doesn't go into very much detail about the actual conflicts, but more or less follows the lives of several people who survived them as they fled to places like Israel and America to escape the violence, many not knowing the status of the family and friends they left behind.

One little nitpick I have is that the camera often shows a closeup of a blurry object, like a flower, and then comes into focus on it. It's kind of annoying after awhile, and would implore the filmmakers not to do this so much in the future.

The story of a Jewish Holocaust survivor is told in pieces throughout the film, and the conclusion might just bring a tear to your eye.

Rating: 3/5

Birth School Metallica Death, Volume 1
Authors: Paul Brannigan & Ian Winwood; Reader: Ray Porter
(Audiobook & Original Book - 2013)

While I doubt there is any information in this book that hardcore fans don't already know about the revolutionary 80s heavy metal band, Metallica, if you're relatively new to them or just want someone to talk to you about Metallica for several hours, this audiobook is not a bad choice. Since it's Volume 1 (of 2), it only goes up to the release of the Black Album, but it covers just about everything you'd ever want to know until that point.

Things like the firing of Dave Mustaine, how James Hetfield was an unlikely frontman for the band since he was socially introverted, and the death of bassist Cliff Burton (that band did not have much luck with tour buses), yep, it's all in here. It's amazing how successful they were with almost no radio airplay of their music, and the book goes into detail on how and why that was possible.

And at least there's no crap about Napster anywhere to be found.

Rating: 4/5

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Author: Ken Kesey; Reader: Tom Parker
(Audiobook - 2008; Original Book - 1962)

Uh, yeah, this book is a classic. It's well-written. It has lots of symbolism. It's weird and surreal, and yet has concrete life messages about individuality versus corporate soullessness. You could probably read any number of reviews to hear the good side of the book.

What you hear about far less is the bad side, and unfortunately, it's very hard for me to not see this as a not-so-subtle metaphor for what would happen to society if women and black people took over. It doesn't help any that all the hospital orderlies are referred to almost exclusively as "the blacks". You could argue that Nurse Ratched is not the only female character in the book and is the only one who is portrayed negatively, but it does seem like the central conflict revolves around female vs. male expectations of society.

I enjoyed the movie that was based on this book. I don't remember it quite coming across to me this way, but I might need to see it again to be sure I just didn't notice it because I was younger and more naive at the time.

I know I tend to complain about racism and sexism in older works of literature a lot. I know that it was a different time and often there's no getting around it. I know what I'm "supposed" to do in the name of preserving and recommending works of literature that have been established as "great". But I still find it hard to do sometimes.

I guess if I had to talk more about what I liked about the book, I could say that since it's told entirely from Chief Bromden's perspective, it gives a much better sense of both why he's in the asylum and what his motivations are than the movie did. The ending is also way more ambiguous than the movie's ending. The movie's ending can only be interpreted literally, but I'm not 100% convinced that when the same thing happens in the book, it's not just one of Bromden's hallucinatory episodes again.

Rating: 3/5

Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot
Author: Masha Gessen; Reader: Carrington MacDuffie
(Audiobook & Original Book - 2014)

I'm not real sure I know what to think about this book. It's about the Russian feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, and how three of them got arrested after showing up unexpectedly at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior to perform a concert protesting Vladimir Putin. It's not that I don't think they fight for some good causes. It's just that their methods are a bit...well, questionable to say the least, and the beginning of the book doesn't go into much detail about what exactly they're protesting. It mainly talks about the three members who got arrested and what their early lives were like, and then suddenly they're harassing police officers, painting giant penises on bridges, and setting things on fire. Um, if people don't know what this is all about, then I don't blame them for thinking it was hooliganism.

There's also some conflicting information - during their trial they claimed their actions weren't actually directed at the church itself, only Putin. But their Wikipedia article says differently. The book also claims they actually performed music at the church before being chased away by security, but Wikipedia says all they did was jump around and punch the air, and then made a video on YouTube by editing footage from another church performance to only make it seem like they performed. Who's right? I don't know.

The most interesting part of the book is the section that talks about their lives in the Russian prisons, where the conditions are shockingly brutal and harsh (something you probably knew, but you don't have a clue just how bad it is until you actually hear about what goes on). I'm just not real sure I'm understanding everything leading up to it. This book is entirely from Pussy Riot's perspective, and they make it sound like it's ludicrous that anyone could've been spooked by their antics. Maybe you just have to live there to understand it.

Rating: 2.5/5



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