Hello there!

A little bit about this project

I play a lot of video games. I quite enjoy them. I decided I should try to do just a little bit more with my passion, so I started Belated Reviews. I often play games that are new to me but not to the community at large. I know there are others like me who may benefit from a new review of an older game, whether they’re trying to see if it’s worth buying or are just interested in the opinions of others.

And I probably won’t just stick to games, either! I’m running fast and loose with the rules here because I mainly wanted an outlet where I could discuss my passions and publish my writing.

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.


Resident Evil: A New Resident In My Heart

Resident Evil—the original PlayStation game—came out when I was eight years old (1996). It was hard enough to convince my mother to let me play a T-rated game at the time, so there was no chance in hell I would be playing this game any time soon. I once snuck Turok for the N64 past her via a Blockbuster rental (yikes, that is an old sentence), but she caught wind and developed hawk-like abilities when it came to spotting ESRB ratings on game packaging. Fast forward to 2020: There’s a viral pandemic sweeping the world—well, really just sweeping the U.S. at this point—so what better time to play a game in which an evil corporation created a bunch of zombies with a virus while trying to create superhuman, bio-weapon soldiers?

I did eventually play a Resident Evil game, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, sometime around 2008Honestly, I kind of hated it. It wasn’t a bad game per se, I had just been spoiled by modern controller mechanics and game graphics. The controls felt clunky, the graphics were what should be expected from the first PlayStation, and I wasn’t a fan of the fixed camera mechanics. From what I’ve seen on YouTube, the first game was even worse than the third, and it had some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard. Then, in 2001, Nintendo and Capcom struck an exclusivity deal to bring the RE franchise to the then new GameCube, including a remake of the original game. Whether you like it or not, Capcom has continued that trend, releasing an HD remaster of the remake in 2015, and remakes of the second and third games in 2019 and 2020 respectively. 

I played the Switch port of the HD remaster, and considering this is a port of a remastered game that came out almost 20 years ago, it’s absolutely phenomenal. The controls can still get a little confusing due to the fixed camera, but they are much smoother than the old Nemesis experience. Plus, the fixed camera works to add a level of dread to the overall ambience of the game. That was always the point, but modern game engines have vastly improved its performance. That coupled with the improved graphics led to some great jump scares involving strategically placed mirrors at the ends of hallways. (The real monster was you, the player, all along!)

Speaking of scares, though, this game does not disappoint. It may not quite reach the level of Dead Space, a game whose ambience and tension teeter near perfection (and honestly probably owes a lot to the RE franchise), but I haven’t been as satisfyingly horrified curled up on the couch in the dark since my first playthrough of that title. (To be fair, survival horror, while enjoyable, is not my forte.) The two games have a lot of similarities: cramped hallways in a seemingly abandoned place—one a derelict spaceship and the other a creepy mansion—plenty of misdirects that get your heart pumping, and piles of reanimated, undead baddies blocking your path to victory. 

A few moments stand out to me, ranging from misdirect to imminent threat. I visibly jumped when a window broke and dropped a piece of glass; no obvious enemy, just a broken window. Later, I jumped again when a vine reached through a hole in the floor and grabbed me. It wasn’t even the first time I had encountered that plant; I just forgot about it and paid the price. The last one (that I’ll mention) lies directly in the imminent threat category. Somewhere around the two-thirds mark of the game, players will encounter one of the last rank-and-file members of Umbrella Corporation’s army of freaks. Right after entering the mansion from an exterior corridor, a cutscene will trigger from the point of view of some unknown monster galloping down the very corridor you just exited. A particularly aggressive monster leaps through the window, and its movements suggest it’s far more agile than the zombies you have been dealing with up until now. I didn’t jump, but this was one of a few moments that actually made me want to run away rather than stand, fight, and hope for the best. The moment worsens when two more of the creatures break in when you flee to the next room. It’s times like these that remind you just how scarce the ammo can be in this house of horrors.

I really didn’t have many complaints about this game. From what I could tell, the HD remake improved on almost every single thing it could from the original. I will warn anyone who becomes inspired to play this game for the first time not to save your game too much. This game operates on both an item and location saving mechanic—ink ribbon and old typewriters to be specific. If you don’t have any ink ribbon, the type writer is useless. I actually restarted at one point because I ran out and couldn’t seem to find any more. My other main complaint is a sort of tandem complaint in that the end of the game gets a little puzzle heavy. This isn’t so much a problem in itself, but it means players have to run back and forth between storage locations because of an eight-item inventory cap and no way of exchanging or dropping items on the fly. Unless you get really lucky and happen to have the right items at all the right times, this means a lot of back tracking and item wrangling. 

Despite that, I will say that this game is a “should play” (I won’t go so far as to say “must”) for anyone who hasn’t yet. It’s got just enough ham left to come across as a bit of a b-movie-style classic, but it’s well worth the journey. If you’ve played the original games, this is a great way to rekindle the nostalgia while engaging with what those games could have been. If you’ve never played the original games, this is a great place to start, especially with Capcom’s recent remakes of the second and third games, both of which I’m looking forward to playing. For now, I’ll occupy myself by replaying this one. There are multiple endings and other characters to play as, so replay value looks pretty high from here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! Please consider subscribing (Home Page) or donating (below). Anything you think I should review? Drop me a comment below! I can’t promise I’ll be able to get to it unless I can find it on a good sale, but I certainly will try.

Potentially Big News

I have something in the works that I don’t want to say too much about yet, but I may be getting an advance copy of a brand new game to review! This will be the least belated of any of my reviews, but that’s in keeping with my fast-and-loose rules style. Thanks to all of my readers for their continued support. Keep your fingers crossed for some awesome things to come!

The Sinking City Treads Water in a Choppy Sea

When a friend of mine shared the cinematic trailer for Frogwares’ The Sinking City on Facebook sometime in the summer or fall of 2018, I was instantly hooked. The game had a nice, eerie sheen to it, one that Lovecraft flirted with often but attained only sometimes (in my experience; I’ve only read about half of his work). Fast forward to May 2020: In usual fashion, I saw this game on sale and, having had it on a back burner in my mind for some time, purchased it. After 69 hours (nice!) of gameplay, I don’t think I would have regretted paying full price all that much, but I’m certainly happy I didn’t.

Players take on the identity of one Charles Reed, a private investigator from Boston who is searching for the source of his nightmarish visions. We start off as his ship is docking in Oakmont, Massachusetts, a dark and dreary place that has seen much, much better days. Through some minor investigating, players discover a massive flood recently devastated the town, leaving many streets flooded and many buildings covered in barnacles. There are even the corpses of great white sharks littering the streets with huge chunks that appear to have been bitten off by some larger monstrosity. The aesthetic perfectly captures the Lovecraftian legacy it is referencing though, much like many of Lovecraft’s stories, the alluring promise of terror sometimes fizzles out before it can really set sail.

Unfortunately, the game didn’t have quite as much of that eerie veneer the trailer promised. That isn’t to say there aren’t some very good tidbits of atmospheric shivers—an unholy baby that leaves bloody handprints on the wall and ceiling or a ghostly witch that sews her victims’ mouths shut—but this game has nothing on the nerve-wracking suspense and jump scares of the likes of Dead Space despite the similarity between the necromorphs of the latter and the wylebeasts of the former. Some of this is due to the voice acting. Most of it is good enough, but some performances leave a lot to be desired, coming across as overly dramatic or too stiff.

The narrative is really where the game shines, creating something new out of something old and both drawing on while adding to the Cthulhu Mythos. One of the largest influences for the story is Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Innsmouthers filling a number of the NPC ranks. The game makes heavy allusions to the Deep Ones: The Esoteric Order of Dagon makes an appearance, you can find the Deep Ones’ gold hidden throughout the city, and you can even find a note that mentions Obed Marsh, the original founder of the EOD. Even more on the nose for Lovecraft readers (but, like, satisfyingly so): The name of the hotel Charles stays in is The Devil’s Reef Hotel!

The largest problem is the game’s inability to truly immerse the player in the dread. For instance, Charles has a sanity bar alongside his health bar. The more time he spends around wylebeasts, occult objects, or simply disturbing scenes, the less sane he becomes. As the meter dwindles, visions of eldritch horrors, varying murderous men, or even Charles himself hanging from a noose will obscure the screen. These visions operate more like an obvious game mechanic than anything truly terrifying, taking away from the feeling of madness and making it more of a contrived difficulty setting. The best executions of Charles’s fraying sanity come during cut scenes, which explains why the magic of the cinematic trailer worked so well. 

The ideas are definitely there, but they exist in a solely cinematic sense. One particularly great example is a scene in which Charles attempts to shoot an oncoming wylebeast, but each time the light flickers, both the gun in his hands and the creature disappear. There are at least two scenes involving characters Charles has killed returning (most if not all the cases have multiple conclusions), bringing with them bleeding walls and floods of blood to rival the imagination of Stanley Kubrick. The failing is that these two iterations of the same concept, the gameplay version and the cinematic, do not weave together well, making for a passable but less-than-amazing gaming experience.

And the gameplay is passable and, at times, borders on amazing. Frogwares is known for their Sherlock Holmes series of games, so it’s not terribly surprising that one of the better game mechanics is the investigative segments. They are by no means perfect, and the Sherlock series from my very limited experience—I’ve played one; there are currently eight with a ninth in production—is the better puzzler. That said, the juggling between investigating and shooting worked fairly well in my experience. Many have found the combat frustrating, which I found is true early on but becomes much less so as you progress. The gunplay pales in comparison to true shooter games, but the game couples its slight learning curve with a relative lack of a deluge of enemies. The game is also very open about telling you it is often better to run. Ammo is fairly scarce, especially early on, and your pockets are not as deep as, say, in Elder Scrolls.

The game is like an impressionist painting of sorts. If you look too closely, all you see are the brush strokes; you lose the story under all of the repetitively designed building interiors or collision detection issues (I really wanted that loot chest, but the train car just wouldn’t let me in). So if you’re looking for a pretty good Cthulhu Mythos story that plays OK, this isn’t a bad option if you can find it on sale. If you’re looking for a truly great puzzle or shooter game, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.

Thanks, as always, for reading! Please consider subscribing (Home Page) or donating (below). Anything you think I should review? Drop me a comment! I can’t promise I’ll be able to get to it unless I can find it on a good sale, but I certainly will try.

Medical Binge: A look at healthcare through the lens of the streaming industry

This article is a bit out of left (pun mostly intended) field compared with the others on this site, but as I said early on, I’m playing fast and loose with the whole “this is a review site” rule structure. Really, this is an outlet for my writing, but now I’m just getting sidetracked. I just finished watching a Some More News episode about Quibi on YouTube, and it got me thinking about the streaming industry and how it might compare to that of healthcare. I may run the risk of alienating some readers due to the politicized nature of this topic, but this discussion keeps coming up, so it’s obviously not over. Also, you should check out Some More News if you want a good, crass, left-wing take down of current news stories. Content warning for language, but I doubt that’s a huge issue for most of you.

Anyway, Quibi is yet another streaming service in the glut of streaming services that have risen and fallen over the last decade. (An article over at Flixed tells me there’s over 200 different services when we consider the international market.) Most people know about the big four—Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Disney Plus—but it seems everyone wants to get in on the streaming game these days. Quibi seems to be going the way of such services as Seeso, but there’s always time for a surprise. 

Again, I’ve sidetracked myself. I’m not really here to talk about streaming services all that much. If you want more info on Quibi, check out the Some More News episode mentioned earlier. I’m here to bring up everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving dinner topic: healthcare. When confronted with the idea of publicly funded healthcare, many people like to make the argument about choice. Here, the choice refers to whether to purchase healthcare from a provider, much like the choice of which streaming services to buy into if any at all. That argument does work when the focus is our current system, but the point of the conversation has been how to move forward.

This is where the negative similarities between the industries arise: When there are so many “choices” for access, the actual product gets obstructed. Let’s say I wanted to watch Good Omens. That would mean a subscription or borrowed login to Amazon Prime. But Amazon, as we all should know by now, doesn’t have Orange is the New Black or The Handmaid’s Tale. After all that binging, you may even want to hop over to Disney Plus for The MandalorianAlong those same lines, different healthcare providers give us access to different networks of doctors and hospitals—unless we’re talking about HMOs, but that’s a bear to shave on another day.

When all is said and done, I want the option to see any doctor in any hospital or watch any show from any service (without paying the exorbitant cost for the current access structure, of course). The true choice should be about—and I hate to commodify something as necessary as medicine—the product delivered, not the vector through which it is delivered. I really don’t think anyone has a zealous drive to buy into Netflix, Hulu, Prime, Disney Plus, Seeso, Quibi, or any of the myriad streaming services cropping up like some deadly virus at a protest to reopen hair salons. (Too soon?) People care about the shows behind the paywall, and the same is—or at the very least should—be true about healthcare.

As always, thank you for reading. If you like Belated Reviews and want to see more, consider donating down below beneath the comments. You can subscribe to get my content directly in your email on the homepage.

Red Dead Redemptions

At the start of this whole quarantine business, my wife was eagerly anticipating the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I, too, eagerly waited for Doom Eternal. March 20, 2020, turned out to be the most perfectly hilarious crossover game release date. I had one problem: My PC specs are too low at present to play the newest iteration of space-demon mayhem, and we had deliberately planned this set up so we wouldn’t fight for different games on the same console. So I instead downloaded Red Dead Redemption 2.

After 191 hours, I had finished the main story of the game and achieved a total of 87.8% completion. (There is a ton of stuff in this game.) Having finished the prequel to 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, I decided to revisit John Marston’s fantasy Wild West to see how the older story felt with all of this new information in mind. This isn’t so much a review as a comparison between the two games though both are well worth your money and time. Spoilers follow for both games, so proceed with caution.

First off, the second game is by far the richer and more mature of the two—from a story telling perspective; they are each rated M for Mature for good reason. There’s a narrative continuity that permeates the entire game that seems to be a little lacking upon revisiting RDR. It’s not that the first game didn’t have a story, but after the immersive narrative of the second, it does feel more like vignettes linked by a main character and overarching yet simple plot. Even though we know from the first game the overall direction of RDR2, the story is expansive enough to keep players engaged despite the fatalism of it all.

This, however, does bring up a few issues, mainly the complete absence of any mention of two huge characters from earlier in the timeline in the first game. RDR sees John Marston, at the behest of federal agents, tracking down former gang mate  Bill Williamson. From the sound of it, Bill was a mean son-of-a-bitch and one of the worst of Dutch Van der Linde’s gang. Bill will escape to Mexico, which introduces us to another former gang mate of Marston’s, Javier Escuella. From the way John speaks to Javier, it sounds like he was a large part of why John left the gang. You would think he had been Dutch’s right hand man.

Except he wasn’t. Javier seems fairly sympathetic in RDR2, only departing from Arthur Morgan’s way of thinking toward the end of RDR2. (More on Arthur in a moment.) Javier will say things in random moments of dialogue about “sticking with Dutch,” who becomes more and more obviously unhinged toward the end of the second game. He and John have a difference of opinion there—just as a statement of fact; they don’t even directly address each other about it in-game—but the malicious intent implied by the first game is lacking. Bill, too, just seems like another one of the gang following Dutch without any inkling of what’s really happening in his sociopathic head. It’s addressed that a lot of the gang doesn’t have the highest opinion of John, but Dutch seems to be the main culprit for the malicious behavior alluded to in the first game. Most of the animosity I would have expected from Bill and Javier after their treatment in RDR comes from a completely new character, Micah Bell. 

Now Micah is a terrible person; the game takes no time driving us in that direction. We first meet him needlessly tormenting a woman found in a house a rival gang had taken over. Arthur and Dutch both admonish him, but his stupidity winds up knocking a lamp off a table and burning the house down, which we later discover belonged to the woman and her now deceased husband. Later, the game has us break him out of jail in the town of Strawberry. That would be all fine and good except Micah decides to lead us on a rampage through the town, shooting the place up and alerting every lawman, deputy, vigilant citizen, and innocent bystander in the whole place. The reason: He wanted his guns back from a former associate who happened to live there.

By the end of the game, we—as John Marston—get to shoot Micah, and, boy, had I been wanting to the entire game! I specify that we do this as John Marston because, as some of my readers may know, the main character of RDR2 is a man named Arthur Morgan, not John. The John-and-Micah scene happens in the epilogue of the game, after Arthur has left this mortal plane, having succumbed to his worsening tuberculosis. Before his death, he made it a point to get John, Abigail, and their son, Jack, out of the gang and to safety. Despite their differences early on, Arthur comes to care for John and wants to help him and his family go straight if he can. After the events of RDR2, Micah and Arthur are never heard of again. 

In all fairness, the first game predates the second by eight years. Arthur and Micah didn’t exist back in 2010. That being said, Rockstar could have taken a little more care to ensure the games matched up narratively a bit better. There are a couple other small differences to discuss, but those delve into the realm of nit picking. This ends the big, narrative differences I wanted to discuss.

RDR2 takes a slightly strange moral high horse (pun mildly intended; you’ll see what I mean). Both games use an Honor system that changes based on whether you perform good or bad deeds in the game. My main problem is that there is a lack in consistency between the two games when their moral codes come into question. In RDR, you can loot any body you find with a net zero change in Honor. In RDR2, you will lose Honor for looting a dead person if they had been considered an innocent bystander before their death, even if you didn’t kill them. The first game takes a solid stance: The dead no longer need their worldly possessions, so we are not to be judged harshly by taking them. Maybe this is a subtle jab at the differences between 19th- and 20th-century thinking?

And now for the pun: You could skin a dead horse in the first game. A little sad? PETA enraging? Sure. But when your trusty steed has kicked the bucket—usually through no fault of your own, of course—why not ensure the parts go to good use? I mean, glue is a useful thing! (Not that you make glue in the game; you can sell the hide and the meat at a trading post. Maybe they make the glue?) You can lose Honor if you shoot your own horse…. It can happen. A wolf runs up to attack, you’re aiming down at the ground tracking the wolf and BAM! Oops… In RDR2, however, you lose honor for every horse, even if their owner is trying to murder the crap out of you. I’m sorry, but that horse is guilty by association. I shouldn’t be seen as a nefarious criminal if I accidentally take out his horse! (I mean, it’s a game about being a nefarious criminal, but a nefarious criminal with a heart of gold! And tuberculosis.)

As always, thank you for reading! If you like what I’m doing, please subscribe via the homepage, and if you have any extra stimulus money, feel free to send it my way with my handy donation button below!

Starlink: Battle for Atlas: A Fantastic Game With A Huge Flaw

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an open-world action-adventure game set in the distant star system of Atlas. In the vaguely distant future, a group of pilots known as the Starlink Initiative travel to Atlas searching for answers about the origins of an alien known as Judge (also a member of Starlink). Once there, things head south pretty quickly: Unknown enemies are following the courier you’re there to meet, hostiles board your mothership and kidnap the project leader and your power core, and because of this, all of your team’s ships lose power and plummet to the planet below. 

This is where it gets good, and I encourage all of you to get this game on the Nintendo Switch if you have one: In the Switch port of this game, Fox McCloud is a playable character, and the Star Fox team have been added fairly seamlessly into the story with unique dialogue, presence in cutscenes, and their own set of side missions involving Wolf. Every pilot in the game has their own special ability, and Fox’s is particularly satisfying. When the battle gets a little too hot to handle, you can call in a Star Fox buddy to help out. The kicker—for me anyway—is the music associated with this action is the classic synthy goodness that is the Corneria theme music heard throughout the various iterations of Star Fox games over the years.

Even without the Star Fox elements, I would still consider this a very good game. Aesthetically, this game offers a color palette and creature/planet design reminiscent of No Man’s Sky without any of the inherent baggage that follows that title (it has improved, but that’s a topic for another article) alongside a more family-friendly Borderlands or Mass Effect feel. The encyclopedic database entries definitely follow the Mass Effect vibe though maybe not to the same extreme, and the wide array of characters fits both of those other games. 

This, unfortunately, leads me to that huge flaw I mentioned earlier. There are 18 total pilots once all the DLC content has been factored in, many of whom have a unique ship associated with them. Each of these pilots and ships (and even extra weapons!) are available as physical toys-to-life companion pieces that fit into the included controller dock. The toys are not necessary as the pilots, ships, and weapons are also available as digital downloads, but the micro-transaction gouging problem still remains. If you were to buy both DLC bundle packages on the Switch eStore, it would cost you about $110 before taxes. And this doesn’t even include the Star Fox pilots package, which is another $12 on top. (Full disclosure: I went to check the prices through the in-game eShop connection and found collections one and two on sale for a total price of $30, so if you were interested in purchasing these items, you might luck into a sale as I did.) The toys do have one advantage over the digital version: Players can swap weapons, ship parts, or even entire ships in real time by swapping the parts connected to the dock while digital parts would need to be changed out by using the pause menu. The biggest problem for me is the collector in me wants to get it all—in toy form ideally—but the gamer in me hates the money grab.

That being said, it is not necessary to buy anything other than the basic starter package; you can complete the game with a single ship and a single pilot without the entire arsenal of extra weapons. There are some element-specific puzzles that will be more difficult to complete without them—there are spires you can unlock by using different elemental weapons, but you can often find throwable canisters matching the required element strewn about. The starter packs include ice and fire weapons—Perhaps there’s a song there? (Sorry, I had to!)—so those elemental challenges are already taken care of, but that leaves gravity and stasis energy as extra purchases or extra challenges.

All in all, this game is worth the base price at least, even more so if you can find a good sale. The combat, both on land and in space, is engaging and satisfyingly challenging without ever feeling too overwhelming though I did play on Normal difficulty, leaving two extra levels of pain to experience. The controls are intuitive with the sole exception of the racing side missions on the Crimson Moon; the racing remap of the controls took some getting used to, and even then I still didn’t really like it (meaning the controls; the racing itself was fairly fun). After a while, the gameplay can get a little repetitive, but there are enough different activities to do it’s easy enough to switch things up and decide to explore uncharted parts of different planets (there are seven plus the Crimson Moon) or the space between them, take on outlaw hideouts or Legion dreadnoughts, or just gather resources and analyze flora and fauna data to flesh out your database. My first play through—without a 100% completion rate, mind you—took about 99 hours including the post-final-boss threat management section where you fight back the Legion until the now-expanded Starlink team controls each planet. Plus, this is the only thing that comes close to a  new Star Fox game for the foreseeable future, so I would say this is a must have for any Switch owners out there!

Thanks for reading! As always, if you like what I’m doing, please subscribe on the homepage and/or donate below.

A Good Game About The Great War

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a side scrolling puzzle game set during World War I. It follows four main characters—Karl, Emile, Freddie, and Anna— and a dog named Walt as their lives intersect across the Western Front. The comic book art style presents a level of whimsy between the audience and the very somber subject matter, which could be a little jarring at times, alongside an Amélie-esque soundtrack. This game surprised me. At first glance, I thought it’s cartoonish and sometimes campy presentation detracted from its serious subject matter. And then I met Cassie. 

Spoilers follow. Continue at your discretion.

Cassie is a dog—a different dog than Walt, the one from the main portion of the game. I encountered her in one of the bonus features, a short comic called “Valiant Hearts: Dogs of War.” Walt and Cassie were litter mates before the war. They helped save a drowning soldier near their farm and, due to their acts of bravery, are eventually taken to the army to be trained as war dogs. They are separated, one training to be a medic and the other a messenger. The war rages on, life in the trenches remains bleak, and eventually Cassie is killed in an artillery barrage. This was the first time Valiant Hearts made me cry.

After that, I approached the game with a new level of respect. Perhaps the camp was a warranted approach to a story about the First World War. Upon further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that the game mirrors the popular sentiments of the early days of the war: the idea that the war would be finished by Christmas of 1914 and the notion that war was an adventurous means for young men to gain honor and make a name for themselves. The execution may not be perfect—I would have encouraged the developers to make all of the educational historical data available after completing a level rather than tying some of it to hidden collectibles strewn about the landscape—but knowing this could help some players who are on the fence take the plunge. These days, the price point isn’t terribly restrictive, but I would still encourage players to seek it out on sale due to how short the game is.

The game slowly increases in brutality, pulling away the veneer of adventurous honor. At one point, players find themselves crawling up a mountain of the dead to reach a higher portion of a trench during a push called the Nivelle Offensive. This is when I caught myself thinking it was a good decision to separate the audience from the brutal reality via cartoonish graphics. By this point in the game, players have taken out the main antagonist, a slightly over-the-top villain by the name of Baron Von Dorf, leaving an even greater antagonist: The war itself and those forcing the soldiers to fight it. 

We play as Emile when climbing the hill of bodies. A bombastic commanding officer keeps popping up along the way, pressing the men onwards with his whistle and pointed finger while doing apparently zero leg work. Eventually, we reach a point where we can go no farther. Venturing forth means guaranteed death by machine gun. The characters around us refuse to move despite the commander’s blustering attempts. The only way to progress the story is to hit the commanding officer. Though not Emile’s intent, the officer dies. He is court-martialed and executed, thus ending the game. 

Players spend the final moments of the game walking Emile toward the inevitable as he narrates his final letter to his daughter. It’s an emotionally poignant moment, especially considering we were driving past obstacles to the Can-Can a few gameplay hours before. And then they show the dog…. One of the final images of the game is Karl next to his wife, Emile’s daughter, Marie with their son, Victor, and Walt the courageous dog standing over Emile’s grave. Nothing even happens to the dog; merely his presence was enough: This was the second time Valiant Hearts made me cry.

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My Little Life in Stardew Valley: A Review

Seeing Stardew Valley pop up in my suggested games lists over the years, I wasn’t ever sure if I would take the leap and buy it. I found myself regretting one of my last purchases (see my last review about Hello Neighbor) while one of my friends’ comments about this game played through my mind. (In response to someone’s Facebook comment, she stated, “IT’S SUCH A GOOD, SOOTHING GAME!” which I would say is true 99% of the time. Some of the battles can get a little hairy at higher levels, but that’s getting me off track.) It was on sale on the Nintendo Switch eShop at the time, so I decided to go for it. Now, I find myself over 100 hours and three in-game years into my adventure, and I can’t seem to put it down.

The game starts out with you—at least your created game character—working a soul sucking job for a major corporation. You need a change in your life, and you remember that your grandfather had given you something on his death bed, something that you were to open “when you needed it.” See, grandpa had a farm out in the country. It’s fallen into disrepair over the years, but it’s just the kind of change you were looking for. The rest… Well, the rest is your new life in Stardew Valley.

In the vein of games like Harvest Moon—which, full disclosure, I have yet to play—this game is a farming simulator with a charming, top-down, pixel-graphics presentation though I have heard this iteration of the genre brings a lot of innovative twists to the tried and true. For instance, it sounds like there’s a great deal more diversity in your social choices in this game, so you can live whichever life you care to explore. And, unlike Harvest Moon, combat is on the table—or, more accurately, in the mines.

I will say the enemies walk the line between referential and derivative. While the bugs present some form of nuance, RPGs tend to be lousy with the likes of slimes, skeletons, and bats. There are some more unique enemies later on in the game, but it takes a while to get there. And that’s not to say this is necessarily a bad thing; it is a point, however, where the innovative formula feels absent.

Since we’re speaking of bad, though, I will mention a couple of frustrations I have had along the way. These will get fairly specific because, on the whole, this game is pretty damn solid, so I’m nitpicking a bit here:

There should be an “Are you sure?” prompt when giving gifts to other villagers because I cannot tell you how many times I accidentally gave someone fish bait or a piece of garbage when attempting to talk to them. (You need to make sure you have a tool and not an item active when talking to someone; otherwise you just hand them whatever item you have highlighted, for better or worse.) The game has this prompt for food items you can consume yourself, so why not for items you can give to others?

While we’re on the subject of gift giving, I would like to address how easy it can be to give a gift to someone other than your intended target. If you wanted to give a pizza to, say, Sam because it’s one of his favorites (yes, the townsfolk have unique likes and dislikes), but he was standing too close to Abigail—honestly, I don’t know her opinion of pizza, but let’s say she hates it for argument’s sake—there’s nothing in the game to stop you from simply wasting the pizza on someone who will not appreciate it in the slightest. Thankfully there doesn’t seem to be any truly negative consequences in the long run; the disappointed character will simply turn their nose up at your gift and say something snooty or crestfallen. That pizza still cost 600 gold, so I would like it to get in the right hands, thank you very much!

The exhaustion mechanic sneaks up on you, especially since there’s not much warning the first time it happens. If you stay awake into the wee hours of the morning, your character will automatically pass out where they stand at 2 a.m. The first time, though, is a little forgiving in that you probably don’t have much to lose at that point (you always lose some gold and sometimes gold and various items). My main problem is that it will happen to you even on your own property or inside your own home! It appears that you won’t lose anything when inside your own home, but it can still be very frustrating when you’re booking it to your bed only to topple to the floor mere feet away. And there doesn’t seem to be a way around this mechanic,
no energy drink or espresso beverage to keep you going on fumes through an all nighter. I guess that’s the point, to set up an obstacle to keep players wary, but the execution could be ever so slightly better.

But as I said before, I haven’t been able to put this game down. As the seasons in Stardew Valley have turned into years and I’ve expanded my crops and livestock, made friends with my neighbors, and slowly explored the secrets hidden throughout, I’ve found my Switch glued to my hands. Even at 100+ hours of gameplay, I’m still probing the mysteries found in the mines and caves; I’m still finding new products to craft, new crops to grow, or new livestock to raise; I’m still finding out what gifts everyone in town loves or hates, still trying to reach the maximum friendship level with all of my neighbors. Most importantly, I’m still having fun. I haven’t continued this game out of a sense of completionism or a need to gather data for my review. With the few frustrating exceptions mentioned, I have loved every minute of this game, the scenery, the soundtrack, the story, the gameplay.

Just when you think you’ve settled into the pattern, the game will throw something new into the mix: A new neighbor comes home from an extended period away; a new path opens to an unexplored area; a strange note pops up challenging you to delve farther into the mines and caves. And game creator Eric Barone has done a fantastic job creating characters and a world you can latch on to. I’m slowly filling up the friendship hearts of everyone in town so I can see all of their stories unfold, but not out of a sense of necessity; I legitimately want to see how the story evolves and the social scenery changes amongst the folks of Pelican Town. Plus he’s given us some really great bits of filler that don’t feel like filler; they feel like the genuine fabric of world building.

For instance, there are two mini-games you can play at the tavern in town. The first is called Journey of the Prairie King, a SmashTV-style shooter with an Old West aesthetic. The gameplay is phenomenal, my only complaint being the random numbers generator (RNG) can make some of the enemy spawns a little overwhelming. The game itself is great, but there’s a particular piece of music in it that I find transcendent: Every level has a boss fight between your cowboy avatar and another miniature outlaw, and the music for the battle is so perfectly crafted. It’s like a Clint Eastwood movie played through a Super Nintendo. It’s referential while still being fantastically catchy.

The second mini-game isn’t quite as good but is still legitimately playable. Junimo Kart unlocks a little later in the game, so it is not immediately playable upon arrival in Pelican Town. You play as a Junimo, a little forest sprite, riding a mine cart through perilous, crumbling tracks littered with obstacles. There are two modes, a progress mode and an endless mode. The main difference between them is the presence of lives representing how many times you can fail. Progress mode starts with three lives with the ability to gain more throughout while endless mode starts you back at the beginning every time you crash your cart. Endless mode is more about generating points (you rack up points as you move farther along the track and pick up coins) while progress mode is set up more like a story-mode game with levels. My main complaint about this is, again, the RNG, which can create some punishing track formations that feel harsher than most of what JotPK throws at you.

A good chunk of the world building, though, is up to you. You arrange your crops and farm buildings however you would like—I’ve chosen a more haphazard approach, planting around sprinklers I already have set up and filling the holes left by already harvested crops; I’ve seen some very well organized plots with paths and rows of neatly kept produce, and I think to myself, How can anyone find the time for that? In classic Pokémon fashion, you can change the names of your livestock, and I’ve oscillated between clever—at least, I think they’re clever—puns and crudely teenage humor. I have a duck named Launchpad, a cow named Mooleficent, and a goat named Scrotes (ya know, because McGoats?). That is not an exhaustive list of all of them, but I wanted to give you an example of my lovingly, if sophomorically, named flock.

There is something zen about “waking up” every morning on your little country estate to run about harvesting crops, milking cows, collecting eggs, or mowing down long stands of grass with a scythe. Even the rain sounds are calming and meditative. As I said earlier, I 99% agreed with my friend who said this game was good and calming. I’ve needed emergency surgery due to fighting cave monsters one too many times to agree 100%. If you’re at all on the fence about this game, though, I highly recommend it, especially if you like farming/resource management simulators like Harvest Moon, Minecraft, or Terraria. As always, please subscribe at the bottom of the homepage if you want to keep up with all my articles! Thanks for stopping by.

The Mysterious Stranger: Who Could It Be at the End of Episode 5 of The Mandalorian?

I came into this thinking I had something figured out, that I was going to prove definitively that I knew something about this shadowy figure from the end of “The Gunslinger.” I set up a hypothesis while watching the rest of the series. I thought it was almost bullet proof, but when I went back to review in preparation for this article, I discovered my hypothesis—at least my justification for it—was probably wrong. With that said, let’s jump into some theories about who this character could possibly (and possibly not) be.

SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN FOLLOW! Do not continue if these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Have some Baby Yoda as a consolation prize.

Seriously, don’t continue if you don’t want spoilers for episode five onward. Baby Yoda has warned you

Ok, so as most of you who are still with me know, the fifth episode of The Mandalorian closes with a shot of a caped—or jacketed (more on that later)—individual standing over the corpse of Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), a highly skilled assassin with a bounty on her head. The internet has been aflutter for a while with discussions of who this might be. Some have been saying it could be Boba Fett. Phil Owen over at The Wrap lays out a fairly convincing argument though I disagree. One item on his list: the presence of a beeping sound similar to one we hear emitting from what I would assume would be Fett’s helmet in the maligned special edition of A New Hope.

To rebut, I point to another instance of a similar sound at the 18:17 mark of a different fifth episode, The Empire Strikes Back. During this scene, the rebels have just detected strange readings that turn out to be a Viper probe droid. You can find a second, clearer instance of the sound at the 18:57 mark right before the droid retracts its antennae. (You’re on your own finding these; it would seem this is the hardest scene to find in full on YouTube.) It would seem this is the sound certain scanners make in the Star Wars universe, meaning a different tracker could be the user, not just everyone’s favorite Sarlacc fodder.

Owens also points to the jangling spurs sound we hear while the mysterious figure walks. While that is the most likely indicator that this could be Fett, I have to point to show creator Jon Favreau’s interview on Good Morning America. When asked if Boba Fett would be in The Mandalorian, Favreau stated, “Boba Fett is not; they’re all new, original characters.” This is where my trouble begins because I had originally wanted to argue that this individual could be the Clone Wars era bounty hunter Cad Bane. If anyone looks like he deserves a jangly spurs sound effect, it’s that duster-clad, planter-hat-topped Duros! Perhaps Favreau meant non-movie when he said original, but that’s not much to go on. It doesn’t help matters that Bane was slated for death in the cancelled seventh season of The Clone Wars. With a new seventh season about to launch, perhaps his fate will be decided once and for all.

Caitlin Gallagher laid out a veritable laundry list over at Bustle, including the unlikely— but fun to consider—theory that it could be Luke Skywalker. Two entries included on that list, though, are what I have concluded are the most realistic. 1) It could be Mando’s old “boss,” Greef Carga, or 2) the more likely candidate, it could be the first time we see the big, bad Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). Initially, I thought his cape was longer than the one we saw in “The Gunslinger,” but upon closer analysis, my initial hypothesis, as mentioned earlier, broke down.

The cape (or duster?) from Episode Five
The fabulous Moff Gideon

You can see in the two screenshots above that the cape falls somewhere between mid-calf and just above the ankle on both characters. One reservation I have about definitively siding with the Moff Gideon argument, though, is the lack of the spur sound when we finally do meet him in episode seven, “The Reckoning.” It would seem a major oversight to introduce such a unique sound associated with a character only to sideline it later. The other reservation is the lack of any acknowledgment or allusion to the previous episode. While it doesn’t completely nix the possibility, it lacks a narrative continuity that seems amateurish for the likes of Favreau and episode director, Deborah Chow. While it isn’t necessary to explicitly spell it out, the complete lack of any narrative acknowledgment could be telling. At this point, audiences will have to wait for answers from season two of The Mandalorian later this year on Disney Plus.

It’s A Dismal Day in the Neighborhood: A review of Hello Neighbor

After my last review, I went prowling for sales, hoping to find a new game to play at an affordable price. Enter Hello Neighbor on the Nintendo Switch eStore! I had wanted to play this game since my first encounter with its promotional images a couple years ago. It presented a quaint, cartoony aesthetic but promised a potentially dark undertone I found intriguing. I really did want to like this game. I just… didn’t.

The game opens on a suburban street bathed in sunlight. There’s a rainbow colored ball lying in the street followed by a shot of a young boy running. He kicks the ball down the street, sending it bouncing along until it comes to a stop four—fairly large, mind you—properties down. The game then turns the controls over to you while you chase the ball down only to wrest them away again with another cut scene, which probably means the creators should have just started at the second cut scene. 

Anyway, the child leans down to pick up his ball when he hears glass shattering and a scream coming from the house on his left. As he creeps closer, we can see a man, the titular neighbor, struggling against an unseen person… or thing. (Ooo, spooky!) The boy sneaks closer, climbing up onto the porch, and peers into the front window in time to see the neighbor slam a door shut and lock it, all while his victim continues to struggle and scream on the other side. (It’s a little surprising this game got an E rating from the ESRB though there’s really nothing visually horrifying throughout its entirety.) The neighbor leans back against the door, looking both tired and emotionally devastated, only to look up and see you, the player/child, spying on him. The game thrusts the controls back into your hands only to have the neighbor jump through the window and catch you for the first of what will be many times, which seems like par for the course in hindsight.

Welcome to Hello Neighbor, a game that looks like the movie Disturbia written by Dr. Seuss, directed by Tim Burton, and rushed through production by a studio who couldn’t decide whether they wanted a stealth game with erratic AI disguised as difficulty, a platformer with shoddy physics, or a puzzle game with mind-numbingly frustrating solutions. While the basic premise is just a watered down version of the aforementioned film, there really was a lot of promise. Unfortunately, the level design coupled with the problems listed above left me nearly tearing my hair out. For instance, the house of Act 1 (the house gets bigger and more convoluted with each passing act) is so small that it’s counterintuitively difficult to avoid being caught. 

The solution to the first puzzle, though, was deceptively simple. The main problem was the shoddy physics and poor controls deceived me into thinking I couldn’t possibly be doing the right thing. Players are required to climb a ladder—remembering the Burton-and-Seuss-esque aesthetic—to get to the roof, only we need to place a box on the top rung to make the jump. This box is as likely to glitch or fall as it is to stay put, and the child jumps with the grace and elegance of a sloth tranqued out on benzos. Imagine my rage when I broke down and looked at an online game guide to find out that this abandoned method was, in fact, the right one. And this was a simple puzzle!

Another puzzle solution I read about online was one of the final nails in the coffin for me; I quit before reaching the finish line. Apparently in Act 3, players are supposed to find three bits of cake strewn throughout what appears to be the Weasley’s Burrow (if it had been built by a drunk hoarder) and four mannequins to place around the table with said cake. This triggers an oversized birthday present on the ceiling to open, giving the player a pellet rifle. When I read this, I felt the days, weeks, and months stretching out ahead of me, tedium becoming my every waking moment, my only companions being the four items in the criminally small inventory my character could carry. I put down my controller and shut down my Switch for the night.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a little bit of fun with this game. When I got sick of being stuck on a puzzle, I often turned to throwing stuff at the neighbor, making him fall over and grunt in frustration. There were other segments that felt satisfying, too, like the supermarket and pantry-for-giants nightmares. Sadly, the main thing those last two bits have in common is the absence of the neighbor. His constant gasping at seeing you accompanied by the foreboding bass line started to feel like a prison I could never escape, so these reprieves from the main antagonist were welcome ones. The puzzles presented felt straightforward and, most importantly, solvable while not being too easy. This leads me to one of my largest complaints about the game: When your game feels more playable without your main antagonist—whether he’s glitched himself into a corner and can’t move or you’re playing through a dreamscape—perhaps your antagonist is a little broken.

Actually, there are a lot of broken things to discuss about this game, but some of them were downright hilarious! At one point, the neighbor was about to catch me but glitched out of the room backwards along the train track he has somehow added to his house in Act 3 as if he were some trippy Thomas the Tank Engine. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to record that one. I was able to record some chairs that didn’t want to sit still or obey the laws of physics, and I have a couple clips of the neighbor stuck in various feedback loops.

But for every funny glitch, there are probably three—if not more—infuriating ones. At one point, I glitched out of the train mentioned above. I almost fell to my death but was able to switch over to the umbrella in my inventory fast enough to avoid restarting (more Seussical Burtonness in action). At another, an item in my inventory appeared invisible in my hand. I thought perhaps putting it down could spur the rendering process, but that particular crank wheel was lost to oblivion. The glitch that finally made me quit and start writing this review involved a skateboard that needed to be placed just so glitching either through the floor or completely out of existence.

Maybe these particular issues are unique to the port on the Switch. Having not played on Xbox, PlayStation, PC, Android (I do not understand how this game was this popular!), or iOS, I couldn’t tell you, but I would be wary if you’re looking at diving in on any platform. Even at the discounted price of $10, I don’t feel like this game has a lot going for it. Maybe if you could get a free download and want to see how much stuff you can stack in an oven before it all glitches in a glorious cacophony of crashing and gyrating pixels. Otherwise, it might be best to sit this one out.

And now, here are some of the glitches I was able to record! And if you like what I’m doing, don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list on the home page.