The Wolverine Review – Comic Book Movies can be More than Non-Stop Action


“Eternity can be a curse. The losses you have had to suffer… a man can run out of things to care for, lose his purpose.” So begins Logan’s journey to rediscover a reason to live and a summer blockbuster film that aspires to be more than its pedigree. Does The Wolverine accomplish its goal to be both an exciting comic book film and a  personal character journey? For the most part, yes. Despite some small shortcomings, The Wolverine rises above the pack of mediocre genre films and accomplishes something unique; Director James Mangold has created a comic book film that is simultaneously action packed and deeply intimate. This X-Men spinoff is certainly worth seeing, which is something that could not be said about the adamantium man’s first solo endeavor.

In many ways, this film is more than a comic-book film, but it manages to do so by embracing its comic-book roots. That’s right, Wolverine’s got roots son.

The Wolverine is unique in the fact that it is pretty much a strait-forward adaptation of the limited run Wolverine penned by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. Despite Bryan Singer and other film directors’ reluctance to willingly adapt a single comic storyline, Mangold has proved that comics can certainly be adapted successfully, even if doing so sacrifices the groundedness that typifies the recent cadre of recent genre films. The Wolverine, spoiler-alert, focuses on Logan (does he have a last name?) and picks off after the events of the middling film X-Men: The Last Stand. The very fact that The Wolverine in many ways redeems the previous film’s horrendous storyline is proof enough that Mangold and writers Mark Bomback and Scott Frank know what they are doing. Logan is once again drifting from place to place, befriending the wildlife and getting into a barfight here and there for kicks. During one such encounter, he comes across another mutant, the japanese ninja who can foresee a person’s death, Yukio, who offers him the opportunity to fly to Japan to send off an old war-buddy, Yashida, the multi-billion dollar leader of the technological powerhouse Yashida Corporation. Yashida offers the Logan, who is literallyl haunted by the death of (spoilers of The Last Stand) Jean Gray, the opportunity to sacrifice his immortality so that he can put those ghosts to rest (or maybe even join them in the afterlife). What follows is a Wolverine story unlike any others as Logan is both physically and emotionally vulnerable, which makes for satisfying and engrossing filmmaking that is also tinged with that dry wit that the X-Men films are known for. Logan soon finds himself as the bodyguard for Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko, as they run from those who want both Logan’s healing powers and Yashida’s powerful technological empire. It is an exciting ride that fluctuates nicely between personal story driven moments and pulse-pounding action. In summary, it checks all the boxes of a summer blockbuster but with the maturity to acknowledge that it is characters that makes these stories worth watching.

Yup, those are ninjas. If you are thinking “awesome” than this is the movie for you. If you are thinking “cheese” than you might want to sit this one out, or go check out your pantry.

That said, once Logan accepts and steps off the plane in Japan, the rest of the film sticks to this unique locale. Yup, The Wolverine almost exclusively takes place in modern day Japan, which comic book lovers like myself will totally dig, and those who might not be comfortable with some subtitles and ninja warriors might shy away from. Mangold totally embraces the idea of Logan/Wolverine as a Ronin, a warrior without a master or purpose, which is one of the film’s strengths and possibly its weakness depending on who is watching it. For me, I was totally engrossed with the whole “fish out of water” aspect of the film, and loved watching Logan fall for the Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko, and engage in bloody fights with members of the japanese mob on top of a 300 mile-an-hour bullet train. But for my wife, and I can imagine many that are not as comfortable within the geek sub-culture, this setting might be a bit of a turn-off. What makes Singer’s films, and even the more recent X-Men: First Class, is the accessibility of it all. These filmmakers take the comic-book out of the comic-book movie and instead drop these engrossing characters in a very real world, or at least as real as teleporting blue ninja monsters like Nightcrawler can tolerate. Not so with the The Wolverine; because Mangold and his team openly adapted a comic series, they chose to embrace every aspect of it, including its foreign setting, and went even further in some cases with the final encounter with the Silver Samurai (I am not spoiling anything here that wasn’t in the trailer). Still, if you can buy into this very comic-booky (definitely a word) world, what you will get in return is a highly engaging and exciting film that delivers on as both an action film and an emotionally driven character story that asks some great questions of its protagonist: questions such as, “what does it mean to be immortal,” “do warriors search for a honorable death or simply something to fight for?” The fact that Hugh Jackman has created a character believable enough to sustain such probing questions is testament enough to the power of this film. While the ending of the film (certainly the weakest part of the film, but still eons better than Wolverine Origins) may not stand up to these philosophical ponderings, it is still a satisfying conclusion to a very well-rounded foreign excursion, made all the better by an after-credits scene that is so incredible it had me clapping in the theater afterwards. Seriously, that scene got me so pumped for the forthcoming Days of Future Past, I can’t stand it. So if you like comics or appreciate a summer blockbuster with as much heart and it has explosions, than The Wolverine is more than worth your time, despite a mediocre conclusion. You just may want to go with a group of your buddies and maybe not your significant other or your parent (unless he or she loves comics, in which case, more power to you).

I am giving The Wolverine a B+.

So what do you think? Are you going to see The Wolverine, or are you too turned off by the setting or the terrible Wolverine Origins? If you saw it, what was your favorite part, and what, for the love of all thats good, did you think of the after-credits scene?! Let me know in the comments below.


Top 3 Steam Summer Sale Indie Games


So the summer is here, and with it comes sunshine, sandals, suntans, and, most importantly, the Steam Summer Sale. It has been a joyous week and a half of scooping up dirt cheap video games, especially interesting titles that I wouldn’t normally be interested in. This year for the summer sales I gave myself a limit: no titles over ten bucks. It was a tough rule to live by with such delicious deals on games like Bioshock Infinite and Far Cry 3 staring me and my freshly built PC in the face, but I resisted and instead of blowing my cash on few big names, instead I scooped up a collection of cheap, but no less exciting titles. What follows are three of my absolute favorite purchases from the Steam Summer Sale. Each goes to show that it is not the cost or the size of the developer that determines an exceptional gaming experience.

Bit Trip Runner 2


When I was online and any of my Steam friends asked me which game they should pick up during the sale, without hesitation I recommended Runner2. While the game is utterly ridiculous to look it, Runner2 certainly stands out as one of the most consistently enjoyable and compulsively playable gaming experiences I have had recently. Runner2 puts you in the monochromatic sneakers of Commander Video along with a cohort of other zany characters as you move through short stages avoiding obstacles and collecting different items, all to the incredible, constantly evolving soundtrack of your own making. Phew, that sentence was almost as long as one of the levels. You see, Runner2 is at its heart a music game, where instead of playing plastic instruments you make music with every action performed on screen, be it collecting gold or avoiding obstacles. The result is music that is equally as rich and layered as any music game to date.

Seriously, the music in this game is as ridiculous and utterly engaging as the pitch perfect gameplay and symphonic art design.

Runner2 is a masterpiece where you guide Commander video through increasingly complex obstacles in environments that range from a countryside to a beach-side harbor, to the 8-bit world reminiscent of the first game in the series. But unlike the first game, Runner2 makes a multitude of improvements that make the game both approachable and more immediately playable. The controls are perfect, a requirement for a running game like this where mistiming how long you hold the jump button might completely botch your run. That being said, the inclusion of checkpoints and multiple difficulty levels along with a simple yet increasingly complex series of commands makes the levels consistently challenging but always fair.

Is that a pickle floating there on the screen above a branching level layout? Why yes it is and it is par for the course.

I don’t even want to mention collectibles like new characters, tons of character skins and the 1000s of collectible gold pieces makes this a game worth playing and replaying. I was able to get through every stage on the “Just Right” or normal difficulty with most of the collectibles in around 6 or 7 hours, but I missed a ton of the secret stages and of course the two other difficulty levels, each of which contributes to the dynamic music of each level. And again, that music…. wow, get the soundtrack edition like I did because you will want to listen to these tunes again and again, even when the game stops. They are that good. So if you like music, runners, or even if you just need some more joy in your life, check out Runner2. If this game can’t make you happy you need medical attention.

The Swapper

I hadn’t heard much about this one until I scooped it up on a flash sale, but I am more than thrilled that I did. Rarely are puzzle games so innately thought provoking as The Swapper with its eerie, claymation-esk art style and brain teasingly difficult puzzles. The first time I explored this strange, science fiction world I was immediately sucked into the story of my isolated spaceman and his (or is it her) swapper machine.This device allows the player to create four copies which then parrot the player’s movement unless the character decides to “swap” their soul into them in the same way the portal gun shoots different colored portals. But while this is the only gameplay mechanic the player is given, it is more than sufficient to make the complex puzzles that are the game’s bread and butter.

This game puts multiple personality disorder in a whole new light.

These puzzle rooms slowly introduce different obstacles like different colored lights that change the game in subtle but increasingly nuanced ways. For example, you can’t create new clones in blue light but if you can manage to get a clone in there then you can swap into it (if that makes any sense at all). While most of these puzzles are ingenious and that moment when you finally crack the code totally worth waiting for, there were a few where the solution required pixel perfect placement of your clones in order to succeed, which creates some rather frustrating moments where the solution may not seem apparent despite the fact you may be just inches away from completing it correctly. Unlike portal or other recent puzzle titles, this game is certainly a thinking man’s game that requires careful pre-planning and trial and error to accomplish some of the more difficult brain teasers.

I kept expecting a space monster to come out and eat my clones, but it never happened.

But the puzzles, while brilliant, are complemented by an incredibly haunting art design. Sound, lighting and especially the environments themselves are all worth mentioning, as together they create a haunting and mysterious world that I couldn’t get enough of. The art style is characterized by a type of claymation feel, with soft squishy bodies that is offset by some truly disturbing sound design. The first time one of your clones falls to its death you have no choice but to shudder. While the majority of The Swapper takes place on a space station of some kind, the environments are constantly shifting between blue industrial spaces to lush greeneries and unsettling white laboratories. Each area brings with it new places to explore and new puzzles to solve even while teasing out the game’s narrative. And what a narrative it is, filled with the philosophic ponderings equal to many a good science fiction novel. For example, are these disposable clones that you are forced to create and discard ad nauseum simply empty husks or something far more disturbing? The narrative is smart enough not to simply toss out empty answers but is always evoking deeper mysteries and moral implications. By the narratives end, when faced with a hard choice, I was fully entranced by the moral implications of this incredibly rich little puzzle game. The Swapper is short, clocking in around 3 hours or so not including the pursuit of the rumored hidden rooms that the Steam achievements hint at, but like Limbo and other indie puzzlers, this is a one-off experience that probably would lose much of its charm in a second playthrough. Still, this is a journey worth making and a true testament to the power of storytelling and art design in gaming, even if some of the puzzles are a little more frustrating than they need to be.

Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine
Heist movies like Ocean’s 11, Reservoir Dogs and The Italian Job are some of my favorite films, so when I heard about the highly anticipated indie game with the long title and amazing pixelart style, Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine, I was totally on board. Of course, that was three years ago when developers Pocketwatch Games nabbed an IGF award for “Excellence in Design” back in 2010. Despite falling off the face of the planet for a while like some other notable indie titles (Fez I’m looking at you), I am glad to report that this top-down stealth action puzzler defintely demonstrates the high level of polish expected of such a long development cycle.

You’ve got to see this one in action to get its simplistic but always frenetic energy. Screenshots don’t do it justice.

Monaco‘s concept can be traced all the way back to Pac-Man, except replace the dots with gold and the ghosts with policemen and you get the foundation of the gameplay. Now, add in the idea that your Pac-Man like avatar can only see what is in front of him, same with the various people out to apprehend you, and life as a thief gets a lot more interesting. Further differentiating itself from its fore-bearers, in Monaco you have the ability to choose a thief with a particular skill set. My personal favorite is the Cleaner, who can sneak up on unsuspecting enemies and knock them out for a short period with chloroform. Or maybe you would prefer the hacker, who can release viruses from electrical sockets to knock out power in any device, be it a triplaser or electronically sealed door. Your character selection has serious implications on how you play, allowing the more skilled player to slip past guards in increasingly clever ways.

The Cleaner is a cold son of a gun, but he gets the job done quick.

But sometimes the fun really begins when the guards are alerted, especially in multiplayer, which is definitely the way the developers want you to play. As the other players may or may not roam around the environments like bumbling fools instead of suave thieves, it is likely that someone will gain the attention of the fuzz, creating a mad dash for the loot and exit before you are apprehended. These moments are hilarious and thrilling, and somehow never infuriating like they certainly could be (and often are in games like Splinter Cell or other stealth titles). Your character’s stout health bar helps with this, and other players can revive you if you happen to fall, though they might not until after they are done cleaning out the level’s cash. The environments themselves are often varied containing multiple levels and numerous types of obstacles, but each level is never more than 5 to 10 minutes, especially in multiplayer. Playing the game alone is really an entirely different, though certainly enjoyable experience. The few levels I did alone I took at a much slower pace, often avoiding notice completely and stripping clearing each environment room by room. It is really like getting two games in one, as multiplayer is so frenetic whereas single player is much closer to a true top down stealth title. I am actually quite shocked how natural both styles of gameplay actually work, but that only goes to show you how polished Monaco actually is.

If you have a sharp eye you can pick out the monkey following one of the players at the bottom of the shot. The monkey prefers gold instead of bananas.

The art design is top notch, with excellent pixelart sprites and a phenomenal use of lighting. The game runs with a brightly lit and colorfully animated world that perfectly fits the neon drenched European local of Monaco. The story, while cute, is nothing that really ever caught my attention, which is fine because the game plays like more of an arcade game than anything. The inclusion of a robust level editor, which promises a consistent stream of new and challenging levels gives more than enough reason to come back again and again to Monaco. I am really excited to see what this little indie gem evolves into, as it certainly has all the right components to be a hit. Monoco: What’s Yours is Mine is the arcade heist game that demonstrates what happens when a talented design team decides to take a simple concept and turn it into an indie masterpiece.

So what do you think about my selections? Any cheap indie titles that should be on this list? What did you pick up on the summer sale? Any unexpected purchases that played out in your favor? Let me know in the comments below!

Despicable Me 2 – Review

“It’s so funny I’m gonna die!” were the words I swear I heard coming out of my wife’s mouth when we were leaving the theater after seeing Despicable Me 2, the sequel to one of our favorite computer animated comedies of all time. Okay, so maybe my wife didn’t say those exact words, but she should have because that would have been really clever and a good start to my blog, so I am going to say she did anyway.

Which brings me to confession time:
So, when going to the movies with my lovely wife I would love to say that we go see some new crazy comedy, or the latest action/romantic flick, or a serious oscar drama. I would love to say that, but I would be lying. The truth is that, 9 out of 10 times, if we are going to go see a movie in the theaters, it is probably going to be a computer animated kids movie. For example, we took some time out of luxurious honeymoon in a small town in Colorado to take three buses to get to the nearest theater so that we could see the incredible conclusion to the saga we had been waiting for: Toy Story 3. It was awesome. End of confession…

Wiig’s  Lucy is a great complement to Carrell’s Gru.

So yes, we saw Despicable Me 2, and I am happy to report that it is… hilarious! Seriously though, this one doesn’t disappoint. From the very beginning, it is made apparent that directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud have not forgotten that dark and fluffy comedy that made the first film so uniquely engaging. An example super early in the film is when Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) dresses up like the fairy godmother as the kids play in an obstacle course filled with deadly traps. It is scenes like this, where Gru’s villainous personality is mixed with the fluffy childishness of his three adopted girls that stand out above the ever-increasing range of computer animated features coming out now. I was really happy to see that the three girls maintained their prominence in the sequel (especially Agnes, the youngest who has a strange obsession with unicorns). Without the girls much of the charm would be lost, and indeed, some of my least favorite scenes were when Gru was off on his own without the little rascals. That said, the addition of Agent Lucy Wilde (voiced by Kristen Wiig) certainly contributed to the zany antics of Gru and his girls. Wiig brings her characteristic charm and quirkiness to the role, and she is a solid, if a little predictable, complement to Carrell’s Gru. If I had one critique of Lucy Wilde it is that she falls into a few female stereotypes that a smart film like Despicable Me with its plethora of unique plot devices like adoption, diversity, and trademark dark humor doesn’t need. Keep up the creative plotting people!

Looks like Gru’s in with the good guys now…

Speaking of plot, Despicable Me 2‘s is exciting and fun, if slightly predictable. The film opens with another heist scene, similar to the first film, which is fun but more of the same. The show really starts when the camera shifts to Gru’s home, wherein he is hosting a birthday party for Agnes (as mentioned above) apparently having embraced his role as a father after the events of the first movie. After the guffah-inducing events of the party, Gru gets “recruited” by Agend Wilde to be a member of the “Anti-Villain League.” These events were basically shown in the many theatrical trailers, but I have to say I really appreciated that, after that short sequence, the rest of the film was never shown in the previews (which my wife and I had watched multiple times of course). What follows is a pretty standard “who-done-it” plot with Gru and Wilde trying to uncover the mastermind who pulled off the heist at the film’s introduction. There are various plot twists and some fun new characters (there is a pet chicken at one point that practically steals the show) but it is all rather predictable. That was okay for me though; I don’t go to these films to be blown away by new plot devices, I go to laugh and soak up the silly absurdity of Gru, his girls and his minions. Speaking of the minions, it is clear these clowns are a big hit because they get a lot of screen time for their various completely absurd hijinks. While most of their comedy is mostly slapstick, which is certainly funny, some of it is completely over the top and hilarious, especially for those old enough to catch some of the references back to the 90s, classic sci-fi films and even a few boy-bands that shall remain nameless. Seriously, the minions at the end of the film had all of us in the audience over twelve (there admittedly wasn’t many) laughing our butts off. That ending is absolutely comic genius.

Minions play an even larger role, which usually ends in more hilarity.

Before writing this piece I asked my wife what her favorite movie of the summer was, and after deliberating for a little bit, she said that above Pixar’s Monster’s University, Despicable Me 2 was her absolutely favorite. As for me, while I certainly could find a few areas to nit-pic, like the conventional plot and treatment of Lucy Wilde, this was a sequel that certainly doesn’t disappoint. If you were a fan of the original Despicable Me, or even if you are just a person who likes computer animated comedies and lived through the 90s, then I think you would agree with me when I give Despicable Me 2 Must Watch.

What did you think? Did you like Despicable Me and its dark and fluffy comedy, or were you not a fan? Should I be embarrassed for my wife and I’s shared love of computer animated movies? Let me know what you think and I will definitely respond to your comments!

Proteus – Summer of Indie Pt 2


Welcome to the second installment of my Summer of Indie series. Now I know I said I would be talking about Proteus and Dear Esther but I really didn’t like the latter as much as I thought. Maybe in a later piece I will try to articulate why, but for now I want to talk about the much underappreciated Proteus, whose creators Ed Key and David Kanaga have not gotten enough attention despite the multitude of indie awards they have received. So today during the Summer of Indie lets talk about Proteus.


Before I get too deep here, I want to say that I am still not quite sure that Proteus is a game so much as a simulated, three-dimensional oral and visual experience. That’s a lot to take in, I know. What I mean by this is Proteus puts you in a strange and surreal local where you are not tasked with any particular end-goal, which is very different than most other games out there. I guess the most popular comparison would be a game like Minecraft, in which you simply find yourself in a world and it is up to you to decide what to do next. Yet unlike Minecraft and other crafting games, Proteus does not give the player any sort of abilities besides walking through the environment, looking around and taking screenshots (which I did liberally, as all of the following are from my game). So without further ado, I am going to dive into this bright, and above all, joyful world.

The word “giddy” kept coming to my mind while playing. 

The opening to Proteus really sets the stage for the 45 minute to an hour and a half experience. Upon starting up Proteus, the screen slowly irises open, like an eye opening from a long nights sleep. Your character is standing ankle deep in an expansive, pixellated body of water. In the distance looms an island populated with a few trees with a tall mountain scraping the sky behind them. That said, it is impossible for me to say what exactly will greet your waking eye when you play because each experience is unique in Proteus. The popular term is “emergent gameplay” and while it is hard for me to connect Proteus to a word like “gameplay,” this game is completely emergent. Much like Minecraft‘s expansive worlds, Proteus also creates an entirely new landscape that you get to explore each time you boot it up. For example, the second time I roamed Proteus my island had a massive tree in middle of it, which I called the “world tree” just because I could. The first time no such tree existed but there was a large stretch of mountains that ran along my islands edge.

Your world will probably look nothing like this. Don’t hate.

But back to that start, upon “waking up” I instinctively started moving towards the island. Once I made it to the shore, I noticed a neon pink pixellated tree shedding square leaves on the ground. The soundscape changed as I approached, the synthetic strings of the ocean was mixed with tinkling tones that grew louder as I approached the tree. Moving from there up the side of a hill dotted with yellow flowers, the sound changed again to include birds chirping and a light bell. I soon ran across some creatures I might describe as bright orange chickens, pecking at the ground. I must have startled them because they soon moved away, making lights digital beats as they moved off to the distance. I chased them around for a while until I got distracted by a mountain I wanted to climb, or a large tree, or a bunny that bounded off when I approached. It went on like this for a good ten minutes until the sun began to set, the sky shifting gradually from blue to orange to grey as a storm rolled in with the onset of night. I could climb a mountain to escape this cloudy night and look up at the night sky decorated by stars and a massive moon or look look at the shifting clouds below and the mountains peeking out above the clouds. It was simply beautiful in that this world was simple and yet beautiful to look out upon.

Is that pixel snow? Why yes it is…

I hesitate to write further about my experience after this point because it was so uniquely mine and each event I experienced I found on my own, guided by my own natural curiosity instead of a quest tracker or other traditional game device. But Proteus is not simply one randomly generated landscape; this experience does have a beginning, middle and end. I am not giving away much when I say that the island shifts between the four seasons which is activated by a subtle game mechanic in the world that you have to discover for yourself. Each season offers its own unique soundscape and visual landscape despite keeping the same island layout. While these seasonal experiences are interesting, I was happy that the timer for each day is about 15 minutes, because some seasons like winter are rather barren (understandably so). But I want to say again, Proteus has a proper ending, which I must say left me breathless, a feat that doesn’t often happen in video games, or in other media for that matter. Seriously, Proteus isn’t over until you hit the title screen again, and until you do keep playing; the ending is totally worth it and something I will not spoil for you (though I would love to talk about it in the comments section).

“If only stuff like this happened in real life,” says the geek.

So in the end is Proteus a game? I am not sure but I am also not sure I care. Proteus is a digital world that is entirely unique and completely player driven. I could see many people getting bored with it and stopping thirty minutes in just because the sense of joyous awe might begin to wear off, but for those of you that love to get lost in nature, or for those of you that love to play games simply to experience another world, then I can’t recommend Proteus enough. Keep in mind that once you have journeyed on Proteus‘s island once, maybe twice, you will probably not feel the desire to again, which might be too much of a constraint to spend the ten bucks on, which is the game’s full retail price on Steam. But, if you catch it on sale (like say during the Steam Summer Sale) or in a bundle (like I did) then Proteus is totally worth it. Trust me, no cup of coffee offers the same experience as a hour or so exploring the stunning, joyfully designed world of Proteus, which is why I am giving Proteus a solid Pick up on Sale.


So, what do you think? Have you played this indie gem? If you haven’t would you consider it? Should more games like this be made? Leave your comments below and let me know what you think!

Summer of Indie Pt. 1 – Thomas was Alone

It’s summer, which in case you haven’t already noticed means that there are basically no new games coming out. With promotions like the Steam Summer Sale and the XBLA Summer of Arcade, it is clear that gamers are supposed to be playing through some indie games when they are sunbathing on the beach, if you happen to live in Florida, or dancing in sprinklers, if you don’t. So today I am beginning the first of what I hope to be many articles highlighting some indie games I have played recently. What I love about these games is that each game offers a truly unique experience that could only happen in an indie title. But I am getting ahead of myself, so without further ado lets jump in to my first summer indie title.

Thomas was Alone

Let me get this out of the way to start, Thomas was Alone (which I will now refer to as TwA) is a masterpiece. Seriously, this game it in my top five indie games of all time alongside other works of genius like Bastion and Braid. I name those two, particular games because of the shared elements that TwA employs as well. Like Braid, TwA is a story driven puzzle game. Or is it platformer? I guess it’s a bit of both. While the puzzles maybe aren’t quite as ingenious or head scratching as Braid’s, they are just as engaging. To put it in perspective, upon firing up TwA I did not stop playing until the games conclusion, solving puzzle after addictive puzzle until the credits rolled some two hours later. Yes the game is short, but it is also immensely satisfying and you could probably pick it up for less than a cup of coffee. The puzzle mechanics are simple, physics driven gameplay primarily involving jumping, sliding and falling until you reach a goal “portal” which is often located “up and to the right.” Nothing special right? Wrong. The game quickly introduces multiple character pieces who each have their own “special powers.” For example one of the characters acts as a springboard of sorts, allowing the other characters to bound off her to reach higher places in the level. Notice I said “her” not “it,” more on that in a moment. Another character can float on the otherwise deadly water, acting as a raft to ferry the player characters to new areas. The game slowly introduces each character’s mechanics before asking the player to employ them in concert with the other characters in order to reach the increasingly difficult goal “portal.” By the middle of the game I was quickly dissecting the level’s layout in order to effectively utilize my small five piece army of character sprites to get each of them to the end (you can only end the level once each character is aligned with their specific goal portal). TwA is a game that requires coordination and planning instead of quick thinking (with a few levels being the exception). Yet as complicated as these obstacle courses got, they were never frustratingly so like some of the Braid puzzles. At the end of the more complicated levels I would often sit back quite satisfied with my accomplishment before diving back into the next level.

Don’t judge a game by its screenshot. You have to see this one in-motion.

But viewing TwA as simply a puzzle platformer game would be to do it a disservice. I would even go so far as to say that the puzzles themselves are second to the actual story. Thomas was Alone tells the story of a red quadrilateral AI called Thomas. Yes, you read correctly, this game’s protagonist is a red rectangle. Upon first reading about this game I too thought this was ridiculous, but ten minutes into the game I was entranced by this plucky little sprite who was simply looking for a friend. You see, Thomas starts the game alone, forced to speculate about the word he inhabits to himself. This speculation is transmitted to the player in the form of narration by the phenomenal Danny Wallace. Wallace’s narration is both charming and intuitive, often reflecting on the very actions you are taking the moment you take them. You see, this is a game in which the gameplay and the story are interwoven to the extent that they are greater than the sum of any individual part. By the end of the story I had experienced joy as Thomas befriended each new quadrilateral, fear as he dodged the pursuing pixel cloud of death, and delight at the various narrated anecdotes.

The gang’s all here.

The story and gameplay are also augmented by a simply phenomenal soundtrack and a minimalistic art design. The soundtrack is composed of a mix of simply piano melodies and electronic beats that is always subtle and complements the narrative beautifully. I am listening to TwA‘s soundtrack right now, and am reminded by games various themes of the dynamic range the game hits emotionally with distorted piano notes punctuated with digital tones to create a melancholic sound. The art design is equally effective as the soundtrack, with Thomas’s digital world filled with shadow and light that is extremely simple but always effective. Sometimes this minimalistic design of light and shadow creates moments of hesitation when it comes to judging jumps and heights of objects, especially for those characters that can barely jump. But these are rare moments, and are never confusing. TwA uses its art and sound to contribute in meaningful ways to the narrative and gameplay, which all work together to create a incredibly compelling experience.

So in case you couldn’t tell, I am in love with Thomas was Alone, and whether you consider yourself a hardcore gamer or only play Mario, like my wife, I am willing to bet that you too would fall in love with Thomas and his gang of misfit quadrilaterals. This is a game about friendship, working together and finding out that no one should go through this world alone, and that is a game I can get behind. You simply Must Play Thomas was Alone.

Check back again in a few days when I look at two short and incredibly unique titles, Proteus and Dear Esther. See you then.

World War Z – Review

I want to start by saying that I was not planning on seeing this movie. It’s not that I have anything against Brad Pitt or zombie films, it is just that I didn’t see anything in the previews or the write ups on the film that particularly interested me. That said, a friend wanted to see a movie and World War Z has been receiving surprisingly decent reviews so I was happy to go and check it out. All that to say, when I walked into the theater I had rather low expectations.

Brad Pitt produces and stars in this one, but I couldn’t help thinking that Will Smith could easily have done the same movie with the same result.

I am glad to report that World War Z is a pretty good zombie flick. Just don’t go expecting your mind to be blown.

World War Z, which was produced by Pitt, focuses on the character of Gerry Lane, who begins as a retired United Nations officer that apparently has seen his fair share of action. The film begins with Lane and his family, his wife (played by Mireille Enos) and two daughters, taking part in the mass exodus out of New York after some type of viral outbreak apparently turns humans into super fast moving, biting zombies. What ensues is a thrilling sequence that sees Lane and his family trying to stay alive while trying to find someplace safe. I am not going to ruin these opening moments for you, but suffice to say they certainly deliver the non-stop thrills one would expect in a summer blockbuster.

This sequence also introduces Lane’s motto “movement is life” which could be taken as inspiration of the remainder of the film, as Lane soon visits South Korea, Israel, and Wales in his search for a way to find a cure. Lane is unwillingly drafted as savior of the world due to his past experiences in “dangerous places.” I know, so many stereotypical zombie tropes in so little time, but the film has a sense of self-awareness which I can appreciate. At one point, during another awe-inspiring sequence in Israel, Lane chops a limb off of a soldier to save them from being infected, and after the danger has passed they exchange a knowing glance almost as if Pitt is acknowledging that there is nothing new going on here. But that doesn’t stop the film from delivering non-stop chaotic action including numerous harrowing encounters with the undead (seriously, do zombies always have to be dead, really) that somehow manages to balance both massive encounters with citywide destruction and intimate moments with just a few people in cramped hallways. Each sequence is equally as harrowing to watch and Pitt’s character works both as an observer and as an action hero.

Seriously, the sequence this poster is based on is absolutely nuts.

But I will say it again, there really isn’t anything new that World War Z brings to the table. At the end of the film though, that fact didn’t really bother me as much as I thought it would. I mean really, not since I am Legend has there been such a universally competent Hollywood retelling of the zombie narrative. The action sequences are incredible, the scares are tangible and frequent (even though sometimes you can see them coming) and the acting is certainly decent enough to support this world ending tale. For some people that would be enough to warrant a trip to the theater to check it out on the big screen. Is the plot a bit contrived? Absolutely yes, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth seeing if you are looking for a fun thriller that certainly delivers in every area a zombie flick should. And the film does lightly touch on some interesting themes like global unity; this is certainly a positive apocalyptic narrative wherein human ingenuity and our adaptability ultimately bests anything Mother Nature can throw at us. Plus, the zombies themselves (also called zekes, just to keep things interesting) are pretty freaky with snapping teeth, fast moving bodies and the ability to group together as a writhing mass of destruction. But for me, with my hi-def television and home surround sound, I would have been just as satisfied renting the movie as much as seeing it inn the theaters, which is why I am giving World War Z a solid and respectable Rent It.

Badland – iOS Review


Let’s talk about the iOS game, Badland (I want to add an ‘s’ so bad, but I will resist). This game has been on my radar for a few weeks now, but that I have finally been able to get my hands on thanks to a sweet sale when it won the WWDC Apple Design Award. So lets just start there; this game is incredibly beautiful both to play and watch. First I want to talk visuals. Look at those pictures above, that is all gameplay, and I promise you if you took a picture of the screen anytime while playing you would have a shot very similar to any of those above. This game takes the minimalistic design of other games like limbo with simple silhouettes making up the landscape in the foreground, but then they pair that black architecture with a bright, lush background that really just makes you want to sit back and stare at your screen, which you have the option to do as there are moments scattered throughout where you simply just glide as you watch the landscape roll by for a few seconds. A very nice touch.

The wonderful aspect of the game though is that not only is this game great to look at but it plays equally as well. Badland can best be described as a cave flyer with a heavy emphasis on physics based gameplay. Think Jetpack Joyride meets Tiny Wings. The game runs with a consistently smooth framerate, at least on my iPad 3rd gen, which is fantastic because when you get forty of your little flying bat creatures on screen along with everything else I could see lesser games losing a few frames. The game is extremely well polished in that respect. I will say though that the game can be challenging to play though, and this coming from a gamer. It took me a few rounds to adjust to the way my little creature flies and even longer to adjust to the effect of the various power-ups scattered across the stages. I could see some people getting turned off, but I would encourage those people to not get frustrated and try again. The pause screen even has suggestions every time you pause.

ImageSeriously, what am I? 

The goal is always to simply survive to the end of stage, avoiding both the environmental traps and the always encroaching edge of the screen (fall off the leftmost edge of the screen and lose). While these environmental puzzles start off simple enough they quickly escalate until it becomes truly challenging to get to the end of the stage. And that is where my second concern comes in. The physics are set up in such a way that sometimes it feels like more of a trial and error game than the tight physics puzzler that it may pretend to be. This identity crisis can be supported by each stage’s challenges, which range from getting more of your little creatures to the end of the stage to making it through the stage without dying (and many, many others). I am usually a perfectionist when it comes to these types of challenges, but I don’t find myself coming back to accomplish these because I feel like the result would be more frustrating that challenging because of the often emergent physics system. This system is exciting most of the time because of the often erratic behavior of the environment and player’s creatures, but I am concerned that if I went back and attempted to accomplish these goals I would become quite frustrated. But that is not a deal breaker for me because for the price you get dozens of levels and a constant stream of new level packs (as of writing the second level update just came out) and each set brings with it new traps and exciting level layouts. These designers are not simply rehashing old tropes but iterating. Seriously, some of these later levels are ingenious, I love it.

So to wrap this review up I just want to say that Badland is a testament to the brilliant new development team at Frogmind and I can’t wait to go back and play more levels with my strange new bat creature crew. Yes the physics can be a little unpredictable and the challenges a bit too much, but that doesn’t dimiinish the brilliance of the visuals and the exciting and fun gameplay, which is why  I am giving BadlandMust Play.