Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Book Review - Wizardex I: The North Country

Today I'm stepping into new territory by reviewing a book I recently read. The title is Wizardex I: The North Country and it's written by Michael Perry, a dear friend of mine who I first met in college orientation during the summer of 2005 at SUNY Oneonta. Thanks for sharing your book with me Mike!

In what I hope is the first book in a series of many, Wizardex I: The North Country follows the story of six friends who are granted magical powers by objects known as lesser stones. An evil plot is underfoot to upset the peaceful balance that has existed among humans, elves and dwarves for many years and it's up to Rudgaf the red wizard, his wizard friends and the beautiful elf Ramona to stop it from happening.

The tale starts with Rudgaf receiving a letter from the dwarven king Moldof asking him to investigate an attack that occurred on the elven city of Behnon. Rudgaf begins his journey south and eventually meets the quick witted female elf Ramona who accompanies him. Along the way they are met with great challenges and deadly foes, but luckily Rudgaf and Ramona are no strangers to fighting. Rudgaf is a master of fire-based magic, while Ramona has an expert dexterity when it comes to daggers.

As I read through the story I couldn't help but fall in love with the personalities of both Rudgaf and Ramona and the dynamic that exists between them. Rudgaf, while being wise and cautious, can also be quick to act and compassionate. Ramona on the other hand is sarcastic and playful as well as someone who cares too much and lets her feelings get the best of her at times. The other wizards, notably Danagan, Lord of the Grey and Joem, Lord of the Yellow also captivated me with their thief-like and voice of reason personas respectively.

The encounters that Ramona and Rudgaf have with both a horrifying Hydra and other menacing foes are the most exciting aspects of the book and always had me at the edge of my seat. Without revealing too much about the plot, the main antagonist reminded me of a Voldemort-like fellow who could do great damage to the lesser stone wizards, both physically and psychologically and I can't wait to see what he's planning next. The character development in Wizardex I: The North Country is Mr. Perry's greatest strength and what will have me coming back for future installments in the Wizardex series.

The settings he paints are also imaginative and I could see them vividly while reading as he goes in great depth of detail to describe them in his writing. The 264 page length of the story can be finished in a handful of sittings and while I enjoyed it immensely, I was left wanting to read more about happens next in the intricate story that Mr. Perry has created.

Well done my friend, I only hope that my reunion with Rudgaf and Ramona comes sooner, rather than later.

My review: 4.5/5 Cheese Steaks

Wizardex I: The North Country was released on November 14, 2016 and can be found in both a Kindle and paperback version on Amazon here. The Kindle version is $2.99, while the paperback version is $24.99. 


Thursday, January 19, 2017

7 Games in 2017 that I'm excited for

2017 marks a new year filled with new games to play. My resolution this year?...Play a lot more games than I did in 2016. Lucky for me, 2017 is shaping up to be a huge year of must-play games being released. Below you will find the 7 games that I am most excited to get my hands on this year.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Microsoft Windows)
Release Date: January 24, 2017

Resident Evil is a series that will always be close to my heart (mostly for making it beat faster) and with RE 7 coming out next week I can't help but get that feeling of dread and helplessness within me once more. After playing the Beginning Hour demo I'm certain that this will be the scariest RE title that I have ever experienced. The newly implemented 1st person perspective provides a whole new layer of fear of not knowing what's in the room with you and with headphones on it will be even more heart wrenching. I can't even imagine how scary it will be to play this one in VR on the PS4! After the less than satisfactory Resident Evil 6, Capcom is bound to bounce back and impress us with this new must-experience title for horror game fans. 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Wii U  
Release Date: March 3, 2017

The Legend of Zelda has always been a staple of Nintendo consoles and is one of the most played game series among Nintendo fans. From all the footage I have seen of the game, Breath of the Wild looks astonishing on both the Wii U and the Switch. This time around an open world environment exists and allows the player to explore any of the game's dungeons in whichever order they see fit. The combat also looks intuitive and the voice acting (a series first!) and music seem top-notch. This is the first time I have been genuinely excited for a Zelda game since Wind Waker on the Gamecube and once March comes around you can expect to see me playing this on my Wii U.

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Windows), Mac, Linux, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: April 11, 2017

Way back when the Nintendo 64 was at the height of its popularity there came a game called Banjo-Kazooie created by the company Rare. It had tight platforming, inventive puzzles, catchy music and a slew of memorable characters. A sequel titled Banjo-Tooie came out a couple years later and continued to build on what made the first game so great with new levels to explore. Unfortunately after Tooie, Rare was bought out by Microsoft and the series wasn't utilized to its fullest after that. Fast forward to now and we are about to be met by its spiritual successor Yooka-Laylee, a game made by ex-members of Rare in the newly formed Playtonic Games. Everything about the game looks to be on par with what fans of the Banjo-Kazooie series were hoping for. This will be a day one purchase for me and a dream come true after waiting for 16 years!

Platforms: Xbox One, PC (Microsoft Windows)
Release Date: Mid-2017

New run and gun games are hard to come by, but lucky for us Canadian brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer had the vision of Cuphead in their minds. Inspired by old-timey cartoons (specifically the 1930s), Cuphead follows the story of Cuphead and his friend Mugman as they must repay a debt to the devil after losing a bet. With gameplay reminiscent of Contra and Gunstar Heroes, Cuphead looks like it will be an absolute blast to play. Its art style is also something that hasn't really been done before in a game and the hand-drawn animations and painted backgrounds look great. If you ever wanted to experience a run and gun game starring characters that look like they came out of a classic Disney cartoon than look no further than Cuphead.

Splatoon 2
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Summer 2017

Just a week ago Nintendo had their Switch presentation revealing all sorts of new games for their new home console/portable hybrid. One of these was Splatoon 2, the sequel to 2015's Splatoon and it looks awesome! Splatoon in a way redefined Nintendo and their online community by providing a competitive shooter on the Wii U console that was still family-friendly and a lot of fun to play. Splatoon 2 adds new weapons, specials, gear and stages to the mix, all while keeping the fast-paced strategic gameplay and team battles intact. While I may not be getting a Switch on day one, Splatoon 2 might be the reason I pick one up when the game launches this summer.

Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Windows), Mac, Linux
Release Date: TBD 2017

Crowdfunded on Kickstarter back in 2015, Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove is finally coming (fingers crossed) this year. Toejam and Earl made their first appearance on the Sega Genesis back in the early 90s and the rest is history. TJ & E are two aliens from Funkotron that crash landed on Earth and had to find the missing pieces of their spaceship so that they could go home. While on Earth they had to deal with annoying earthlings that provided trouble for them at every turn. Back in the Groove is a retelling of this story with elements of both Genesis titles thrown in as well as some new ones to be seen. Anyone who loved the funky, hip-hop duo of aliens in the original games is sure to find something to love in Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove when it hits later this year. 

Super Mario Odyssey
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Holiday 2017

Everyone loves Mario right? Sadly I have to admit that I wasn't impressed by Mario's last few console outings. While the Super Mario Galaxy titles were great in their own way, I just didn't care enough to finish either of them. With Super Mario Odyssey, Mario seems to be going back to his roots in more of an open-world level design like the ones found in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. This time around Mario visits many different locations including a New York City like area and uses his hat to jump across wide chasms and reach higher areas. The story of Odyssey also made me laugh as you must help Mario prevent a wedding between Bowser and Princess Peach from happening. I don't remember the last time I was this excited for a Mario game and you should be too when it hits stores this Holiday season!

What games are you most excited for that are coming out in 2017? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fran Bow Review

Fran Bow is the first game I completed in 2017. A point-and-click adventure game that throws horror and hallucinations into the mix, Fran Bow is creepy and oftentimes unsettling. You take control of the character Fran Bow Dagenhart as you try to figure out who killed your parents and left them bloody and dismembered in their bedroom. After discovering this horrific scene Fran runs into the nearby forest outside of her house with her black cat Mr. Midnight and collapses on the ground. She is later found by police and taken to a mental institute for children.

This is where the game begins as you try to figure out who butchered your parents and why you have been brought to this institute. After a recent session with your psychiatrist Dr. Deern, he gives you a new type of medicine called Duotine. The medicine is supposed to "create a door between the subconscious and conscious," and when Fran takes it she sees hallucinations of morbid scenes involving the people and objects around her. 

Taking a Duotine pill will allow Fran to see characters and items she couldn't see before and allows her to progress through the game further. After finding items you'll have to figure out what they are used for and oftentimes you will even have to combine certain items (just like the classic Resident Evil Titles) to make new items. While this can be frustrating at times, with a little bit of thought and experimentation you'll be solving Fran Bow's puzzles in no time.

 Just some of the many items you will find in Fran Bow

Without saying too much about the story, as I don't want to spoil it, Fran Bow gets progressively more frightening and unsettling as you get closer to the end. It also isn't for the faint of heart or those that don't do well with blood and horrific scenes. I love horror games, but even I found myself cringing at some of the images I was shown. The music and sound effects also do a great job of encouraging uneasiness.

If you can get past the extremely high level of creepiness, you're in for a treat. The main appeal of Fran Bow is the imaginative characters and environments you'll encounter throughout the game and their interactions with Fran. Killmonday also did a great job of including a great amount of lore and detail into the story. The illustrations and art style also made me feel like I was reading a children's storybook at times and I couldn't help but think of Alice in Wonderland as I played.

    Speaking with the many inhabitants of the world is a must to progress

The five chapters found within Fran Bow are storytelling at its finest and definitely worth the ride. Everyone who plays will likely interpret the story differently, as it's left up to your imagination and the clues left throughout the game.

Overall, Fran Bow is a game that I will remember for a long time due to the sheer shock value associated with it and the disturbing scenes I bared witness to. If you're the type of person who enjoys a good story and can handle blood and guts then I highly suggest experiencing Killmonday's game.

My Review: 8/10


Monday, January 2, 2017

My Top Video Games of 2016

Another year is over and we're left with more new game releases than we can count. 2016 saw many new options for us to indulge in, covering just about every genre we can think of. That being said, here are my favorite games of 2016 that I played. I'm also going to include some honorable mentions that I have not played, but games my friends loved that came out this year.

My Top 5 Games of the Year (in no particular order):
The Witness
Available on: PC,
PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Developer: Thekla Inc
Publisher: Thekla Inc
Created by:
Jonathan Blow

Initial Release: January 26, 2016

After fully embracing the PC gaming life (and buying a capable tower), The Witness was one of the first games I downloaded to experience on my new machine. I followed the game for most of its development cycle and couldn't wait to get my hands on the creator of Braid's next game. I wasn't let down. The Witness provides a serene environment to explore with mysteries hidden at every corner. Best described as a 1st Person Puzzle/Adventure game, it left me speechless with its aesthetically pleasing surroundings, calming sounds of nature and clever puzzle design. If you love exploration games and using your brain then this one is for you.

Pokémon Sun and Moon
Available on: Nintendo 3DS

Game Freak
Publisher: The Pokémon Company

Release Date: November 18, 2016

I've been a huge Pokémon fan since I was 12 and received a copy of Pokémon Yellow as a gift to play on my Game Boy Color. Ever since that first adventure with my Pikachu by my side, I knew that Nintendo and Game Freak had something special, but little did I know how much sticking power the series would have over the years. Whether I was 12 or in college, I always found something to like about each new version of Pokémon that would come out. Pokémon Sun and Moon is no exception to this and is hands-down one of my favorite Pokémon games of all-time. Some improvements include HM moves being eliminated entirely and a reminder of what moves are effective and ineffective while in battle. Couple this in with an interesting story and the best visuals I've seen in a Pokémon game and you've got one of my top picks of 2016.

Available on: PlayStation 4,
Xbox One, PC (Windows)

Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks 

Release Date: May 13, 2016 

Gamers know Doom as the 1st Person Shooter where, as a space marine, you must take out all the demons of Hell in your pathway before they do the same to you. To survive you must utilize a wide variety of weapons including a chainsaw, rocket launcher, and other moddable guns such as a shotgun and assault rifle. Using quick thinking and an even quicker trigger finger, this game brings back the fond memories of the first two Doom games, while providing an updated take that includes impressive graphics and near flawless gameplay. Look no further than 2016's Doom if you're looking for a fast, satisfying and frantic shooter. Oh yeah the BFG is back too!

Mario Party: Star Rush
Available on: Nintendo 3DS

Developer: Nd Cube
Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date: November 4, 2016

Mario Party is one of my all time favorite game series. I loved the original games on the Nintendo 64 and even the majority of them on the Gamecube, but things started to go south in the Wii releases for Mario and his friends. Mario Party 8, 9 and 10 were all pretty lackluster and somehow lost the magic that I grew to love with the earlier games. Since then I have patiently been waiting for the next great Mario Party title and Mario Party: Star Rush is it. Gone is the traditional everyone take turns and rolls individually format, but also gone is the move as a group mechanic found within the Wii games. Instead we are given a breath of fresh air as every player rolls a dice block at the same time and moves simultaneously within the game board, collecting coins and stars to their hearts content. Mini-games are also abundant and I can happily say that their design is smart and enjoyable, making great use of the 3DS hardware. The best part of Star Rush however is that only one copy of the game is needed for 4 people to play (As long as everyone has their own 3DS!) after downloading a free guest pass. While it isn't without its issues, Mario Party: Star Rush still remains my Multiplayer Game of the Year because it reignited my love of playing games in the same room with my closest friends and family.  

Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC (Windows)

Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Playdead

Initial Release: 
June 29, 2016

Playdead, known as the guys who made Limbo, are back again with their latest effort Inside. Coming out 6 years after Limbo, the game follows the story of a young boy who breaks into a research facility for unknown reasons. Using the same two-dimensional platforming gameplay that was first seen in Limbo, you must control the boy to solve puzzles and avoid being captured by scientists. The whole game has no dialogue, but instead focuses on detailed sound effects and musical cues. One wrong step or move can lead you right to the boy's grisly death. Figuring out why you are there and the motivations of the boy make for a truly engrossing story that can be left up to interpretation. A must-play and a work of art.

Honorable Mentions

Best PS4 Exclusive: 
Best Xbox One Exclusive:

Best Wii U Exclusive:

Best Single Player Experiences:

Best Multiplayer Game:

Best Shooters:

Most Difficult Game:

Biggest Disappointments:
So there you have it, the Top Games of 2016! Do you agree with my list and the honorable mentions? Which games did I leave out that you feel deserve recognition of being great games that came out last year? Let me know in the comments!