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Phoning Home – A Review (PC)

The current landscape of gaming has made it much easier for independent game makers to get their products made and published.  Kickstarter, Indigogo, and Steam Greenlight have opened the gates for many game makers to get their ideas made, and into the hands of the public.  However, not all games are made equal.  For every great game that comes out, there are usually five to six really, really bad games that came out with it.  One such game to get made this way is Phoning Home, by Ion Lands.  Phoning Home made its way through the Steam Greenlight community, and into my hands prior to its official release.  Is Phoning Home one of the good games to make it to market, or something to avoid and forget about all together?  Let’s take a closer look at Phoning Home by Ion Lands.

Story

In Phoning Home you play as a droid named ION, and begin the game by crash landing your ship on an unknown planet.  Your ship’s AI immediately sets you out to collect materials and craft parts to repair the communications array to contact your home planet for extraction.  As you explore the alien planet, you soon discover remnants of an older alien civilization, and another spacecraft, who is missing its own exploration unit, named ANI.  ION quickly realizes that escape from this planet is impossible, without ANI’s aide and sets out to find her.  ANI is discovered, but is also a bit mad, but is absolutely essential in your quest to escape.  Together, you and ANI begin searching for ways to get off the planet, while also exploring the ancient civilization and discovering what other resources are available on the planet.

The story is pretty generic, as these types of stories go, but still will keep you interested throughout the entire game.  The most interesting aspect of the story is the interdependence between ION and ANI.  ANI is extremely dependent on ION to move around the landscape, but ION cannot make it off the planet without ANI’s systems, so what develops is a story that really centers around two characters that are vital to each other for survival.  The story of Phoning Home went a lot deeper than I was expecting it to.

Game Play

You begin the game by completing some rudimentary quests for your ship’s AI unit, trying to get certain systems back online.  ION moves around the open world very well, with a jump pack and a sprint function to help you get around.  However, using the jump pack burns fuel faster, and using the sprint function will drain your battery.  This makes gathering of resources and crafting vital to progressing through Phoning Home.  

As you explore the planet, you will discover different resources that you can use in crafting.  Resources are initially unknown and not on the map, until you discover them.  Once you have located and gathered a particular resource, that resource will now show up on your HUD and makes finding more of the same resources easier.  ION can only hold a certain amount of each resource, so gathering maximum amounts and constantly crafting fuel and batteries is a great way to make sure you can get around whenever you need to.  Crafting is also done very simply, yet still felt satisfying.  In the crafting menu, you will see a list of all the objects that you can craft, and the materials that are needed to craft that object.  Once you have all the materials, you simply click on the item you want to craft and it is created and placed in your inventory.  Some items require multiple parts to create, so you will need to gather a larger batch of resources.

These items you can craft also include upgrades to ION, including weapons, teleporters, or magnetics that help you move ANI around.  Each upgrade changes the way the game is played and are realized at certain points of the game.  Your ship’s AI will contact you when a new upgrade or item is now craftable, and all you need to do then is locate the right resources to craft and unlock it.  Crafting these upgrades and items are vital to the overall game play of Phoning Home because of the constant shift and threat of the terrain.  ION will take damage from falls, creatures, and even the weather.  Repair kits, batteries, and fuel are in constant need and so you will spend most of your time gathering and crafting, as you explore your planet.

If crafting and resource gathering is half of the game here, then the other half is survival and solving puzzles.  ION is only outfitted with a pipe as a weapon in the beginning, so combat isn’t an option.  Large rock creatures will just crush you with boulders if you get to close, so you best learn to keep your distance.  Later, you will get some photon blasters and other weapons, but the option to hide and wait is usually the better option.  You will also have to deal with ANI, in what becomes long escort mission.  ANI has her own health bars and abilities, so you need to keep her alive at all costs.  ANI is also not outfitted with the same gear you are, so cannot fly or create her own teleport portals.  That’s all you, bud.  You will have to lift her over rocks, create portals to help her climb, or use your magnetics to get her to keep up with you as you run away from a very large rock creature using your head for target practice.

Aesthetics

Usually, indie games go with a drastically different aesthetic or really leave one aspect of the design short to save money.  Phoning Home’s aesthetic is impressive and really works well with the game.  ION does look a little too much like Wall-E for my taste, I would have liked to have seen something that really could stand out as being unique to Phoning Home.  The graphics aren’t awe inspiring but still do a hell of a job making the alien planet interesting to explore.  The planet has many different climates to explore and the planet looks just close enough to Earth to allow you to understand what it is you are looking at, but different enough to know that you are on an alien world.

The sound design, music, and voice acting are done extremely well.  Everything about Phoning Home feels much more polished than your average indie game, but the voice acting and music are easily the highlights of the aesthetic.  The voice acting was really well done, with just enough emotion to keep you invested in the story, but not too much to stop sounding like it would come from an A.I.  The music fits the feeling of the game, of being lost on a strange planet far from home.  It’s immediately the one area that you can just feel that the developers put a huge emphasis on and it comes off almost perfect.  The game feels very atmospheric thanks to the soundtrack.

Final Thoughts

Phoning Home is one of those good games that really shows what Steam Greenlight is really capable of.  Solid storytelling, decent graphics, and a great aesthetic (minus the Wall-E look) makes Phoning Home a must play for those that are looking for a game about gathering resources and exploration.  Phoning Home officially released on Steam on February 7.


Phoning Home Review Score

(3 out of 5 Stars)


 

Star Wars Rogue One Pinball Review

I was fortunate to see all the Star Wars movies in theaters, when they originally came out.  There was a close call during Return of the Jedi when my large soda fell off the banister onto the seats below me. Thankfully, my mom was there, told them it was an accident, and I got to finish the movie with the Ewoks dancing in the trees and the audience cussing below me.  When it comes to real life pinball, I have done an excellent job keeping that streak alive as well, whereas I feel shamed at how many virtual Star Wars tables I have yet to experience.  There are A LOT, and they are all for Zen Studios’ Pinball Fx 2 platform, which combines exceptional bumper, flipper, and ball physics while adding 3D animated elements. I have finally got to turn this around with Star Wars Rogue One which, though it is just one table of many, is a very nice spot to start!

First Plunger:

I feel this is a good place to start for a couple reasons, this is the most recent table to be released and this table is a binding point between the original trilogy’s A New Hope and everything that has been deemed to be canon before it. Players should have a sense of the original trilogy and its worlds while appreciating what came before, but was written afterwards. It makes more sense if you make a chart but I try not to subject readers to charts. Just games.

When Star Wars Rogue One’s trailer came out, the thing that really caught and excited fans was the return of the mighty AT-AT walkers from the Hoth battle in The Empire Strikes Back. They are a slightly different model, the AT-ACT (All Terrain Armored Cargo Transport) and, instead of trudging through desolate snowy tundra, they are seen stomping flat palm trees and blasting sandy beaches. This was the landscape that Star Wars Rogue One Pinball chose with craters and sand to the sides of the table and on the video screen you see AT-AT feet coming down on targets.  The table action , however, is more sky oriented with the main bumpers being TiE fighters next to a rebel U-Wing that is above the raised metal side track on one side.  The other side has a well known imperial leader locking your balls for multi-ball and down by the plunger is our heroine, Jyn Erso.  I’ll be honest I wish I could have seen an AT-AT standing out on the table but there is really only so much room so much of the story and characters and vehicles we wish to see are shown in mini games on the video board.  I won’t expose anymore about them than I have but I will say keep playing and playing, there is way more to this table than what is on the surface. Wait… what is that in the distance…

…nevermind.

The artwork is great, the sound is amazing and the animations both in the mini video board and 3D characters that make appearances are absolutely awesome. It is just as much fun to watch being it played, especially if you have a real pinball wizard in the house that can show you things you haven’t seen yet.  The table plays fast, like really fast, and has four flippers so speed shooting around the board leaving silver trails is not just likely but would be hard to avoid!

Last Match:

Well there is no match ball actually but Star Wars Rogue One Pinball is great and makes me want to play the other dozen or so really badly. The pinball machine feels as much a part of Star Wars canon as the movie it was based on and I could see it being put right up their with the cartoons, movies and books accepted for the prestigious role of canon. Now I have to go watch Star Wars Rogue One and A New Hope again, in a theater without balconies and soda mishaps.


Star Wars: Rogue One Pinball Review Score

 (5 out of 5 Imperial Logos)


 

Double Dragon IV Review

When I say Double Dragon IV the average gamer should furrow his eyebrows and the older one should then raise one. Double Dragon IV? Did they make a DDIV? It’s possible I guess but, man, talk about a stroll down memory lane! And that is exactly what it is as the original development team from the Double Dragon series has given us this retro gem to load up on Steam. Now we can show the youth what side scrollers were like back in the old school days.

Cue The Cheesy Disco:

Double Dragon IV picks up where Double Dragon II left off about 30 years ago. Since new wave was in full effect and grunge was getting ready to throw on the flannel, players were treated to disco MIDI music because it never dies (surprisingly the moment I heard the theme here again I was humming along immediately and stopped any other sounds in the room). After the amazing battles of the previous Double Dragon, our heroes Billy and Jimmy made dojos across the country to help people feel safe wherever they lived. I was on a hot trip across the desert to check on their West Coast dojos that a black car attacked them, running their vehicle off the road and generally pissing off two guys you didn’t want to mess with.  I mean had these guys never heard of the events of Double Dragon II? All the kicking and punching and elbows and kneeing.  And what about the jumps, those glorious jumps?

But every bad guy needs to be bad and usually follows a “boss”, so a new one had surfaced and he brought a lot of fellas along.  As a matter of fact a lot of the lower level baddies are ones you kicked the butt of before and because they think their boss is stronger so they have come back for another beating. Our boys even know the cronies by name and ask them why, why come back for more beatings? They just never seem to learn.

New ones come along and for each level you clear you unlock characters you can use on two player duel mode.  There is co-op fighting, duel and climbing the tower and in the end you fight the ultra secret boss that has pulled all the wrong doers together!

The game’s sound is clear and campy, sounding right out of the mid-1980s, as do the graphics. There are some pretty challenging levels but as long as you clear one, you can restart at the next level with your remaining lives.  Once you run out of lives you can restart at the level you lost you last one on.  So if you are on level 16 and had a hard time on an obstacle and you can’t get you lose all but you last life completing it and you move onto the next level if you are full dead you can continue at your highest level with all of your lives.  This isn’t really obvious at first partially from a bit of difficulty navigating the menu but once you figure out you can enjoy the game without raging on a trap that kills you.

Bowing Out For Now:

Double Dragon IV is such a brilliant taste of nostalgia you would think that it is actually being played on a bit cartridge on a first gen system. It is equal parts fun and challenge while delivering the feel to gamers who didn’t live through that time an idea what the games were like. I look forward to hearing that classic MIDI music again soon…


Double Dragon IV Review Score

(5 out of 5 Stars)


 

HUSK Review

I heard that HUSK was a dark suspenseful indie game coming down the line in the vein of Silent Hill, and that it was one of the games to watch for in 2017. Even the name sounded intriguing… HUSK. So, one dark and stormy night when the family was off to a mother/daughter dinner I put on the headset and killed the lights to give HUSK a try.

So first thing to know is that the game gives you two important warnings, one is that if you have problems with epileptic seizures from light then you may not want to play this game. If you do have a seizure, stop playing immediately and call a doctor. The other warning though is important and interesting, but might have been better used at the end of the game because it is an important message but sets the tone for the entire game and is maybe not a necessary tone. Because it warns the player that “If you are a witness or a victim of domestic abuse call…”, you automatically try to figure out how everything in the game is associated with domestic abuse rather than what the monsters are. In a way it “de-monsterizes” the creatures that are representing a monstrous subject.

If I were not trying to figure out what the monsters represented in a domestic abuse situation, I probably would have gone with Jewish folklore because they greatly resemble the description of a golem, featureless creatures made of clay following the commands of it’s creator. In one part earlier in the game there was an apartment full of giant broken dolls making you wonder if those are supposed to represent the player’s daughter or whether it is supposed to represent his own childhood that was destroyed and resulted in him hurting his family. Basically the whole game is seeded with thoughts of where each moment fits into interpretations of domestic abuse instead of horror or suspense that eventually you discover is the result of domestic abuse.

The way game creates borders of where you can go and where you can’t is done in a pretty cool way, everything you can’t touch or get too close to drips a black ichor that will kill you in seconds quickly teaching you that black stuff covering buildings or swallowing cars means bad.

The game is still definitely new and definitely in the works.  I had collision errors where I got stuck in rocks, I had fatal errors that completely crashed the game and I had to start back over at the last save point. A couple of times I went to shoot a creature and my hands kept playing clap with the gun instead of aiming and fireing.  This can also be a very exciting time in video game development though, a chance to experience a game when it is still pretty new and finding it’s voice, building it’s way up and creating it’s community.

HUSK is already fun, even though it is still a work in progress in many ways.  So far, it is having new patches released every couple days to fix bugs and fine tune sections so it isn’t really fair to give it a star grading.  If you like your game polished give it a while before jumping in, keep an eye on the game notes on Steam then join when you are ready. I think that by the end of this year, it will be named as one of the indie games you should have played in 2017.


HUSK Review Score

(3 out of 5 Stars)


 

Sure Shot HD Big Buck Hunter Pro Review

You might have seen the arcade version of Big Buck Hunter in a bar or mega arcade near you.  I know of at least three locations here in Las Vegas and sometimes I feel sorry for the person managing those games.  They are insanely popular but there seems to be a direct correlation between how much alcohol is consumed and how much abuse the gun controllers take. This last CES I got to see the game in home version form at a fairly tame event called Showstoppers where you can get one on one with well maintained gear and get a proper feel for how it is designed.  My first question was why is this relatively older but well known arcade game at a mostly indie company event filled with first time shows.  Then I realized it was because of the other reason that games and devices show up at Showstoppers: innovations.  Big Buck Hunter Pro home edition had gone Bluetooth.  This I had to see! Due to a line I took in the new information, dropped off my business card and just recently some big bucks started running through my humble abode.

First Shot:

We are currently remodeling our media room so our high quality HD television is still in the box on the first floor of the house.  That meant I was going to have to do the gaming test on one of our older non-smart televisions.  I thought this might cause a problem for it to read where I was shooting and that eventually after a few shots of flashing light a dog would come up on the screen giggling at me.  I remember the old days of Duck Hunt, and not too fondly I might add, and no matter how I wanted to remind myself going in that this wasn’t the light gun of yore I still kinda anticipated it.  It didn’t take long for that feeling to shift away because even though I was still pretty much as bad as I remembered at Big Buck Hunter Pro it acted just like the arcade.  It tracked on the screen beautifully, even when I missed I knew it was me and not the gun because it showed me where my shot when when it missed and where my shot landed when I hit.  I understood early I will need to change my name on the game to my reviewer name because my given account was looking pretty pathetic but I was improving, and I felt eventually I would hit a ranking I could be proud of.

The ranking system is very cool too, since you can get a local ranking but you also get a global ranking by connecting the system to your wifi.  This also allows you to buy upgrades and add-ons, which for Big Buck Hunter I already own.

This isn’t the coolest thing about the Sure Shot HD Big Buck Hunter system, as I love the fact that they realized that shooting at big game wasn’t the only thing this Bluetooth gun could do.  So they created a side-scroller game name Major Mayhem where you help a Rambo/Commando type figure fight his way through jungles filled with ninjas to help stop a maniac who stole your girlfriend! The game is cheesy and doesn’t take itself at all seriously, but you get to blast your way along as they pop up behind huts and rocks trying to shoot you or get you to shoot a periodic scientist being held captive. If you free the scientist you get a temporary weapon boost and some coins towards your score. At the end of a level you can take those coins and make improvements on your weapons or unlock new ones.  Be forewarned though that when you are shooting you are peeking out from behind cover so yes a pistol shoots slower but you spend more time in safety than with a machine gun.  I got so addicted to this game that I had to take a break before playing the third game until the next day, even holding the shotgun properly in the notch in my shoulder my arm just got tired from holding it so long.

The third game that I downloaded onto the system was Thug In Time which was about a time hopping commando type fighting vikings and such. This game was a top down looking game and where you moved your barrel off of center was the direction your thug went. This one took a long time to master the controls of and I might be giving my skills a bit too much credit to say I mastered them. I needed to stand the exact ideal distance from the television marker or my control went mushy and even when I could see where I needed to fire getting past obstacles at the same time proved very challenging.  I was on normal level, maybe I should drop it back to easy until I really get the hang of it but it might just be a slow game to learn because it isn’t the traditional kind of movement we make with a game gun.

I mentioned above that the game used bluetooth and the way it does almost borders on magical to me. You get a slim little box you set below or above your screen. One end plugs into the television HDMI to show what is going on in the game. Another plug goes down and plugs into the USB port on your television for power. Now since I was working on an older television I was concerned at first about powering then I realized you can just plug it into any phone recharging battery! So I just grabbed an old one that was charged and sitting around and plugged it into the game system’s USB and it fired up.  If you own a quality name battery like I own a few of you might be able to play for days using the same battery it drains so little life. So this makes the gaming unit a completely portable system that you just need to be able to plug into a television with HDMI to use.

The Sure Shot HD gun controller runs off AA batteries so no worries about charging it, just keep a couple of spares around or set yourself up with rechargeable ones.  You plug the game system onto the USB connection, press the button on the top of the shotgun and it will have you calibrate the corners of the screen for the television you are working off of they away you go playing just like that.  You can have different profiles for different players in the house so that if you have a favorite weapon setup it will be saved to your profile and ready to go the next time you log in.

Once you get the hang of it you can participate in online tournaments, have rival challenges and find your spot on the global leaderboard.

Last Shot For Now:

The Sure Shot HD Big Buck Hunter Pro is a great jump forward in bringing arcade play into the home then taking it on the road. It’s easy to power, easy to travel with and more games are already expected in the future so I’m sure we will be revisiting this system when they do.  Hopefully I will have a second controller around then for two player.  Meanwhile I have gun, will travel…


Sure Shot HD Big Buck Hunter Pro Review Score

(5 out of 5 Stars)


 

Stern Pinball Arcade Review on Xbox One

It may seem strange. but in this video game reviewer’s house, pinball is king.  To have our own pinball machines is something so awesome that if we were offered a sexy new car or a dozen of our favorite tables, one of our bedrooms would immediately be converted into an arcade (I think we may even have a design plan for it somewhere)…  Thankfully, The Pinball Hall Of Fame is located only a few minutes away so that when we get the urge to play, or a fellow ball addict comes to town, we can head into that dimly lit warehouse filled with the sounds of games dating from the early ’50s or so up to last week.  So though we can’t get the real thing in our house, we have watched the evolution of pinball video game physics evolve over the years until what they are today which could only be improved with VR.  One question always on our minds is when are we going to get a nice collection of Stern pinball machines for the next gen consoles that can do them justice? Wait no longer as the Stern Pinball Arcade has arrived.

Description:

Ten of the Greatest Pinball Tables from Stern Pinball Inc. 3D Arcade – Classic arcade setting with pinball tables, neon lighting, novelty props and original works of art created by “Dirty Donny”. ROM Emulation and code compiled from real tables – 100% accurate game play and graphics of real world pinball machines (AC/DC Premium, Star Trek Premium, Mustang Premium, High Roller Casino, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, Harley Davidson 3rd Edition, Last Action Hero, Phantom of the Opera and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). Included are detailed tutorials of each table to teach you how to become a Pinball Wizard!

Features:

  • DLC – Table Packs, Pro Upgrades, Bundles and new features released regularly
  • Leaderboards – Bragging rights over friends or all players world-wide for each table
  • Table Goals – accomplishments tied to learning and mastering each table.
  • Arcade Play – Single and multi-player games on any of the tables.
  • Stern Challenge – In this mode, users must hit a target score on each of the tables to earn Challenge points before moving on to the next table. Playing challenge mode from beginning to end is a full game experience in itself.

Plunge Away!:

When it came to this review this was one of the first ones where Mrs. Ripper gets to play the tables first. I’m pretty crazy about pinball but she is downright scary. Any of our friends who have come to town and gone with use to the Pinball Hall will attest to how hard it is to get her out of there. At home she has her own game addictions that eat up hours but when the Stern Pinball Arcade game came in playing a few minutes before bed became trying to get to sleep before the sun came up. I don’t put the game’s Description and Features in a review much anymore but Stern was very generous with how many games are in this set and we have played all but one or two at the Hall Of Fame so we just want to get right into the meat and potatoes of each table.

Starship Troopers:

The movie this table is created from of is based off a wonderful bit of satirical writing by Robert Heinlein and Stern has done a great job of melded both into the table.  It faithfully recreates the real table in arcades with maybe a couple of improvements. For instance, the bugs are on springs so they sometimes wiggle at odd times and this is so beautifully represented. This is probably one of my top five all time pinball machines and I have been playing pinball since I was about six! The sound is perfectly crisp with all the great and hilarious soundbytes from the movie. So much happens in this game that it is almost as fun to watch as it is to play and you will find yourself spouting quotes from the game and movie for days to come…  Because it is an ugly planet, a bug planet and the Roughnecks are here to clean it up.

Phantom of The Opera:

This games is one I am least familiar with, but I did recall its amazing artwork. It may have been one of the reasons “Dirty Donny” got his nickname, because the Phantom is portrayed with such care and detail as is the lingerie-clad Christine who looks off the table with a “come hither” gaze. It is a dark and creepy table which suits me just fine (did you know that the Phantom of The Opera is inspired in part by historical events?) and the music on the table which in this rare case is almost as important as the action terrifically rendered. The play is a nice medium paced so that you can take the action in nicely while at the same time enjoying the challenges. Mrs. Ripper and I played for a really long time on this table enjoying the ambiance as well as the action and reminding us a little of a trip to see Phantom in L.A. many songs ago.

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!:

This table was a long play for me because I have always been a Ripley’s fan. I had the books growing up, watched the television show, lost tons of money on the casino machine and spent many hours on the real pinball table.  Mrs. Ripper was patient with me while I played a lot at the casino, at the pinball hall and when I was reviewing the video game. Every time the game announced we were flying to another part of the world for another bit of strange facts I found myself caring far less about my score than the trivia I was about to hear. It might be something as simple as “traveling to Australia! You just got a boomerang weapon score!” and show a little animation on the corner table screen but I found myself grinning every time.  The only complaint has nothing to do with the video game but rather the original design of the board which was have no ball save. We have become kind of dependent on those these days.

The Last Action Hero:

The fun thing about this table is they just got Arnold Schwarzenegger to just do a whole bunch of his lines from his different movies. I admit that it has been a while since I played the table or watched the movie but that might have actually made it better because I don’t know if they had used all of Arnold’s lines in the movie from all his other movies. I laughed the whole way through playing it and tried to remember when I quote would pop up to say it with the game. This table is definitely more for the heavy pinball player though because it is a hard table with no match at the end.  The ramps are nice but hard to run, you’ll feel you earned it when you get it and the ramp performs some extra action. When Arnold says “Hasta La Vista Baby” you’ll nod with pride or slink on to the next table in shame.

High Roller Casino:

Since The Pinball Hall Of Fame is located in Las Vegas there is definitely a lot of love for this machine and the Hall Of Fame makes sure it is always working at it’s best. So I have gotten a lot of time in on this classic table that really does feel like a full casino. There is a roulette wheel right off the plunger alley, poker hands to fill, slot machine simulations and even the video screen bonus is a high/low game where you push your luck or don’t in real Vegas gambling fashion. There are so many sounds going on the game that it actually feels like a casino when it isn’t your turn. When it is your turn you are going “Come On Black!”

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:

More amazing artwork on the table by “Dirty Donny” as Frankenstein’s monster’s shadow towers over The Bride Of Frankenstein.  The beauty of the table is a bit overshadowed by a terrific rendition of the monster’s head at the middle-top of the machine which turns back and forth as the game progresses. This game gives you a neat and pretty rare opportunity to choose your own music between Edgar Winter’s version and the movie soundtrack. The Edgar Winter’s version is cool and goes great with the turning creepy monster head but “Dirty Donny” did such amazing work with the art that it really feels like the soundtrack fits the game better creating an immersive atmosphere. The table even pushes this further by saying the quote “all that I once loved lies in a shallow grave.”

Harley Davidson 3rd Edition:

This game is just a bunch of fun. The front of a motorcycle at the top that pops a wheelie to let out multi-balls, the table plays instrumental versions of Bad To The Bone and Born To Be Wild, all the while blasting sounds of semi trucks, screeching tires, and honking.  It sounds like you are flying around on a mad road trip on your hog and there are plenty of close calls. Then a four ball multi-ball comes at you and the noise and action on the table just kick it up one more notch. This is a fun table that gets your blood pumping with just the sound effects alone, add the table action plus a hilarious video mini game and you might need a rest afterwards.

Mustang Premium:

This is the surf city styling of pinball. A little Jan and Dean Drag City playing as you use your pinball to “upgrade” a mustang on a turning table to make it more drag worthy. The game has a chilling vibe to it as you race you pinball up plunger alley and around the table. You’ll find yourself humming old surf tunes in no time as this table really captures the era of Beach Blanket Bingo and the surf song.

Star Trek Premium:

For the trekkies out there, Star Trek Premium is a barrage of flashing lights, ships and asteroids, and lots of futuristic noise. It sounds awesome, it plays awesome, everything about it is awesome.  I had played a version of this in the arcade (not sure if it was “premium”) so the video version had a lot to live up to and it did.  They went through and put in all the deep details the table is loaded with (the design shows so much love it must have been done by a trekkie) so that though I am a huge fan of the monster tables I could see this one being the one I play the most. There is something constantly going on, usually multiple things and the game pack is probably worth it for this game alone.

If you are not as big of a fan of the reboot film as you were, say, next generation then when you get to that table arrow down instead of starting the game and there you go! An older Star Trek machine with plenty of bells, whistles and lights, just the older casts.

AC/DC Premium:

Finishing off this set of tables is a pretty straight forward one that lets you rock out with your flippers out. “Dirty Donnie” and the design team at Stern tried their best to simulate what it would be like to be at a hard rocking concert show with all the effects. The did a nice job bringing an experience that keeps you bopping your head and hitting the flippers to the beat. The fact is a lot of people like to listen to their rock while they play video games so why not make a video game about a rock and roll pinball table? This was an perfect choice and a fun play.

But how do the really help make the atmosphere? They have THREE tables showing AC/DC evolving over the years through the table versions! Donnie was obviously a huge fan of theirs to keep coming up with new tables but we are the one who get the reward.  When you get on the AC/DC table just press the down arrow on your controller to get to the other tables.

Resting My Flipper Fingers:

The game teases a Ghostbusters table coming out in the near future and I will be looking greatly forward to it.  Until then I will just have to dream about having our own pinball machine and play Stern Pinball Arcade for the next best thing.


Stern Pinball Arcade Review Score

(5 out of 5 Stars)


 

The Flame In The Flood Review (PlayStation 4)

My EIC asked if I would like to play a game called The Flame In The Flood so being a bit of a junkie for indie games he had me at hello.  Then I watched a trailer that was designed to introduce the graphics and the musician they had scoring the game.  I was gobsmacked – the colors are vibrant and artistic, the music rocks, and unlike most survival adventure games where you cruise along by yourself you get a cute little helper dog. This pooch looks like a pup I might adopt from the humane society in real life, since in game odds are the humane society got washed away with the storm.  The suddenly I got nervous and though I knew I have to play the game, take this beautiful trip I would have one thought in the back of my mind throughout the whole game: THEY HAD BETTER NOT KILL THE DOG.  They can get away with killing a lot of things in a game: brain altered teens, women who breath through their skin, whole planets even, but I had better not see any puppies or kitties die.  With this in mind I dove head first into the game (get it? Flood jokes!).

A Rapid Start:

Lucky for me, everything is neat looking so I was walking around looking at the environment and clicking on everything I saw and as a result I learned things before I even hit the river.  Aesop the dog actually was not mine (it is now, try to take it from me!) and there were a lot of supplies and crafting you can learn and start building up before you even leave the original base.  Water, even rain water might give you your own person mud floods so be sure to clean the water using the steps they tell you almost right away.  Also when Aesop barks it’s best if you listen because he is either telling you  where good things are or bad things.  These aren’t game spoilers because unless you go crazy gung ho and immediately jump on the raft and start ramming into rocks this is kind of presented like a tutorial.  So looking around pays in double ways, you learn things and you get to take in the stylized 3rd person almost top down view of your lonesome duo.  You want to collect all you can but inventory is very limited so craft what you can at try to keep space open.

When you start hitting the river there are only certain places that you can park your raft so practice hitting them all and taking the river as slow as you can.  Once it speeds up and the rapids get worse then you will either have to start over to get those skills you didn’t earn at the beginning or try to learn fast.  Catching food and avoiding enemies is the same way, learn early or just become another victim of the flood.  Or other things…

What kind of surprised me was how much crafting you can do what with the inventory space being sparse. I also loved the somewhat open world, allowing players to stop at any of the docks when you want and craft what you want. The only things real issues with that is you are a victim to the water flow and a small inventory – though who knows what and who you might encounter deeper on you journey (more space, more space!).

Going With The Flow:

The Flame In The Flood is one of the most beautiful games I have played in recent time and the folksy music goes perfectly along with the gorgeous desolation.  If you have patience and a knack for crafting you might find yourself putting a lot of time and enjoyment into this game and no, traveler, they do not kill the dog.


The Flame In The Flood Review Scored:

(5 out of 5 Stars)


 

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Review (PC)

Telltale Games has pretty much gone all-in on the episodic graphic adventure game genre.  Out of the 12 or so games released by Telltale Games, I have played and completed about a quarter of them, so I wasn’t a stranger to this genre when The Walking Dead: A New Frontier came across my desk.  What I love about these types of games is the way that Telltale Games really focuses on the narrative and character development, while still making the games engaging to play as an actual game.  I felt that Batman:  The Telltale Series really had improved on this genre greatly over the last two games that I had played.  So, where then does The Walking Dead: A New Frontier fit in?  Let’s take a closer look.

Story

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is the fourth game by Telltale Games that takes place within the Robert Kirkman world of The Walking Dead.  This time around, you play as Javier Garcia, a former professional baseball player who is trying to keep the remnants of his family alive during the zombie apocalypse.  The story begins just as the zombies are beginning to rise, with Javier trying to reach his dying father’s home.  Due to the traffic that is being caused by the initial stages of the zombie outbreak, Javier reaches the house moments after his father passes away.  On the steps of the home Javier’s brother, David, is waiting for Javier and the two siblings begin to argue over family matters.  After the two brothers calm down, the family begins to prepare to move the corpse of the father, when one of the children tells the brothers that the father is awake.  Javier and David, along with the rest of the family, move cautiously into the room, only to find that their father has become a zombie.  Their father attacks, and is subdued, but only after biting the brothers’ mother.  The family races the mother out to a van, to try to get her to the emergency room.  Then the real story begins.

The first part of the first episode does a great job in building up the new characters so the player can get a feel for them.  The Walking Dead: A New Frontier introduces a whole new set of characters that you control.  When the game resumes, Javier is in the same van from the introduction, but with David’s wife, Kate, and David’s two children, Gabe and Mariana.  From the immediate outset of the game, you get the feeling that this group has been on the run for far too long, and is in desperate need for a safe place.  Now, I don’t want to get too much into the story blow for blow, but if you know anything about the Walking Dead universe, you can imagine that their bad day just goes downhill from there.

Let’s get a few things out in the open first, you will play as a whole new set of characters, with some characters from Seasons 1 and 2 making appearances.  Ultimately, that means that The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is connected to Seasons 1 and 2, but not a direct sequel.  The Walking Dead: A New Frontier occurs roughly 3 years after Season 2, and introduces a new human faction, in the New Frontier.  Pretty much like most other factions within The Walking Dead, the New Frontier started off as decent enough folks but have degenerated into brutal and savage individuals who raid other settlements for supplies.

Now, I never played any of the other Walking Dead games by Telltale, so I had no connection to any characters.  I only know that some of the characters appeared in earlier games, because I did some research on those characters.  So that really meant that I wasn’t as invested in those returning characters as somebody who had played the other games would be.  With that being said, I still feel that Telltale Games does some of the best work when it comes to narrative storytelling in video game form.  Does this feel like a Walking Dead game?  Yes, to me it does.  I know that others that I have talked to that might be bigger fans of the series had their issues and critiques, but I absolutely enjoyed my time with The Walking Dead: A New Frontier.

Gameplay

Let’s go over the game play for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier for the one or two of you out there that have yet to play an episodic graphic adventure game.  The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is a point and click adventure game that allows the player to take control of the main characters of the story.  Depending on what part of the story you are in, the main character will change, but for the most part in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier  you will be playing as Javier.  You move your character around parts of the game, interacting with items or initiating conversation with characters.  During some of the conversations, you will be given choices as to what your character will say, and  you have to respond within the time limit given by the options.  Of course, just like in real life, silence is always an option.  The other characters in the game will remember your responses, and your decisions that you make during the game.  These decisions will affect future interactions, and have consequences.  These consequences can be tiny and insignificant, or can lead to the death of a character.  The Walking Dead: A New Frontier will also access any old save file that you have from Seasons 1 or 2, so any past decisions will carry over into the new game.

Combat is mostly quick time events, with the player pressing certain keys according to the prompts on the screen.  In some cases, you will have to move the cursor until it is within a shrinking circle and click the mouse button to initiate that action.  These quick time events always seem to come up when I have my guard down, enjoying the story telling.  The button sequence is fairly forgiving, and missing one does not mean immediate failure or death.

Really, there isn’t anything new or exciting here that hasn’t been done about twelve times before.  However, just like the old adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  Everything here works just perfectly, and draws the player even deeper into the world that Robert Kirkman has built.

Aesthetics

The aesthetics for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier are exactly the same as all of the other games in the series.  The visuals are done in a very cartoony way, with cell shading and heavy outlines around the objects in game.  This makes you feel like you are playing a graphic novel.  I still love the visuals of these types of games from Telltale Games, and feel that the aesthetics fit perfectly.  If you have never played a game like this before, imagine your favorite comic book coming to life, and you will have a great image as to what The Walking Dead: A New Frontier looks like.

The sound design again is nearly flawless for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier.  Telltale Games always puts a lot of effort in their actors and the dialogue that goes into these games.  A great story can easily be ruined by an actor that isn’t into her or his part.  Every actor that is in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier feels like they gave it their all.  I do not remember any dialogue or performance that felt cheesy, over the top, or just bad.  The music and sound effects also worked brilliantly to bring the story to life.

Final Thoughts

After twelve episodic graphic adventure games, Telltale Games has got the formula down.  What you get with The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is another polished episodic graphic adventure game that fits nicely into Telltale’s collection.  Now, whether it’s a great The Walking Dead game or not, I can’t help you there.  I know the comics, and have seen some of the television show, but I never did play any of Season 1 or 2 or even the Michonne game by Telltale, to tell you if The Walking Dead: A New Frontier fits perfectly.  I can tell you this, I enjoyed my time with The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, just like I did with Telltale’s other games that I have played.  The story is engaging and really focuses on character development, the gameplay is simple yet is immersive enough to feel like you are still playing a game, and the aesthetics are just fantastic.  The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is another solid game by Telltale Games, and should definitely be checked out by anyone that is a fan of this style of genre.  The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is available now on Steam.


The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Chapters 1 & 2 Review Score:

 (4 out of 5 Stars)


 

Monster Firecracker Pholite Speaker

I have used several wireless, portable speakers over the years.  One of the first ones I had looked like a really large ice chest and ran off a half dozen “D” batteries. It gave some pretty good sound with a nice connection, the problem was its size and weight. Over the years there have been plenty of companies working on it and, thankfully, Monster (now Monster Cables) was among them and they felt that creating a unit with great sound was key but why not also add a speaker phone and photo fill illumination while they were at it.  With that, they brought us the Monster Firecracker Pholite Speaker.

Light It Up:

I’ll be honest at first I thought the light option was a strange one.  Everything else made total sense, if you are poolside during the summer you want to have a water resistant speaker that can fill the yard with beats and you don’t have to go grab your phone and possibly get it wet if you get a call, hit a button and away you talk (though it would be nice if you tell the person at the other end they have just joined the pool party).  Aiding in preventing water, dust and other environmental damage is a rubber plate that covers a 3.5mm input in case your Bluetooth just isn’t doing the job and a micro mini port located under the same plate to make sure to keep a little sand from stopping the festivities.

It’s small yet looks and feels rugged, it has a solid screw down pack clip so you can clip it on, screw it tight and go hiking letting the group listen to your tunes  while knowing if you take a bit of a slip you will still be fine and if you get a call after hitting a quick button you can continue your ascent hands free of the call.  If you wind up hiking late you have a flashlight on your Firecracker you can fire up and keep safe on the trails which is a surprising recurring accident or death issue in any outdoor environment.

What is even more interesting about the flashlight on the Firecracker is that it isn’t just designed to be a flashlight it is also designed to be a filler light.  Those into photography will usually get this reference immediately and those not into it will probably get it without realizing it.  The name is somewhat straight forward in that it is a light that fills in area where there is too much shadow.  For example if you have a friend you want to take a picture of  in front of a building during a setting sun you would turn on this light and it is the proper kelvins to front light the subject to make them not look all shadowy.  The 5000 degree kelvin light would also be great as a plugged in light for webcasters such as Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and Periscope that can be adjusted to try to help remove some of the washed out look of the caster by turning down the brightness of the monitor and using the light at wherever fills in best.

Most importantly you have a Monster product which means you can rely on big boom coming from a little box.

Tech Specs:

  • “Baby Blaster” form factor
  • Built in super-bright 7 hour flashlight
    • High-intensity daylight, 5000K
    • 500 Lumens
  • Pure Monster Sound™ wirelessly with NFC
  • Stereo (from 2 Full-Range Drivers) with passive bass radiator
  • High intelligibility mic for calls
  • 25+ Hours of continuous play
  • Splash resistant (IPX-5)
  • Heavy-duty cabinet with color-matched strap and carabiner clip
  • Sealed Port for aux in (3.5mm) and power
  • Black, Gold, Red, Green Camo

Last Call:

Monster Firecracker Pholite is like a multi-army knife of sound, give giving big booms, solid pairing, great chat sound and even great multi-use light source all in one little box.  Right now it is a little hard to find in the U.S. but it can be found on Monster’s website for about $130 dollars.  Make sure to grab it on your way out the door so you will be ready for whatever life asks of you.


Monster Firecracker Pholite Review Score

(5 out of 5 Stars)


 

GameSir G3s Gamepad Review

I game a lot, someone might say I’m always gaming (I have a game running in the background right now).   I started at about 5 years old and the only thing I collected more than game systems is game controllers and setups.  The controller that comes with the system isn’t always what the player will find fits their gaming style best but sometimes, such in the case of the GameSir G3s Gamepad, one controller can be the one to rule more than one system.

Game On:

First off the controller looks like a PlayStation 3 controller and quickly and easily pairs with the systems.  The controller is a little lighter weight than the normal PS controller for a reason we will get up to later and as a result can be far more comfortable for much longer.  This also is nice in case you decide to add adapters or extra padding to your controllers making it become so that some parts like KontrolFreeks FPS stick extender.

One of the best reasons the controller also works with Android phones which attach onto the GameSir G3s’ individual mobile bracket that can be connected around the controller and expanded to fit your Android device in.  Then you simply connect to the two systems,  download a couple games and away you go on a portable system using a full size console controller.  This of course makes the device a bit top heavy but since you can screw down the desired angle of the device onto the top so you will have it as forward, back, or evenly heavy as you find comfortable.  The bracket folds up nicely in your pocket when you aren’t using it so that it is always handy.

Another nice aspect of the GameSir’s versatility is that it goes great with Window’s PC systems using a USB dongle so it is wireless and if you are more used to PlayStation controllers than Windows ones this is a great opportunity to use that style.  The GameSir G3s also works with Smart TV/boxes

Tech Specs:

  • 32-bit high-speed MCU chip, high sensitivity and on time response.
  • Support iCade, X-input, D-input and Android native mode games.
  • Lasts for 18 hours working time, built-in rechargeable battery, double shock vibration.
  • Multi-Platforms: Android/Windows/PS3. Connection: 2.4GHz/Bluetooth 4.0/ Wired connection.
  • Free App “Happy Chick”game emulator brings you more authentic gaming experience, you can scan the QR Code in User Manual to install it.

Game Over!:

GameSir’s G3s is the controller you want around your house and on the go.  Whether it is your Android, Smart TV, PC or gaming console the G3s is the controller you need.  It usually retails for about $80 dollars but, right now, it is priced at 60% off on Amazon so get it while the getting is good!


GameSir G3s Gamepad Review Scored:

(5 out of 5 Stars)