Don’t Starve Review

Sandbox survival games have exploded in popularity in recent years. The concept is so basic and yet so addictive: players are thrust into a hostile world and must survive. One starts off by gathering resources, building tools and then goes on to make a shelter and fend off hostile creatures. A myriad of games have taken a different approach on the genre. Minecraft focuses more on the building aspect and less on combat. Terraria however, focuses more on adventuring and combat while feeling like an RPG. The list of examples goes on and on. Don’t Starve serves as a welcome addition to this style of games. With a large focus on surviving, without sacrificing depth, and an unforgiving difficulty, Don’t Starve will draw you into its lively world and keep you busy for many hours to come.

Players assume the role of Wilson, a scientist pulled into a different dimension. There they are greeted by the enigmatic Maxwell. This apparent nemesis informs you that you should better find food before night comes and promptly disappears. And so your adventure begins. As Wilson, you wander through this strange land striving for survival while trying to retain your sanity. Add in a myriad of monsters and the looming threat of winter and players are in for a great challenge. Contrary to the game’s title, not starving will turn out to be the least of the your worries.

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Of course I do not look good. You kidnapped me for Pete’s sake!

The first few minutes of the adventure will be spent exploring and gathering crucial resources like flints, branches, bushes, and food. All for the purpose of setting up a simple camp for the night. Those menial tasks, while important for your survival, start getting old as the game goes on. The crafting system itself is simple but deep, however the difficulty of acquiring some materials leaves something to be desired. The fact that death is irreversible in most cases leads to many infuriating moments and extra hours backtracking your progress. In addition, managing the hunger and sanity meters can be quite a chore at times. Combined with the fact that your only reward for playing is unlocking new characters, this can lead to decreased replay value for some players. Don’t Starve is unforgivable in terms of difficulty.

However for all its quirks, Don’t Starve makes up in depth and a beautiful world to explore. Be it the underground caves or the surface world, players are bound to encounter a lot of surprises, and probably deaths, while exploring. From the lovely pig villages to the deadly spider dens, exploring always turns up something new, whether that is a natural hazard or just a buffalo habitat. Beware though. While traps are rare, they can be quite deadly. Also you might want to avoid wandering in the dark. Getting mauled to death by an unseen monster can be quite unpleasant.

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A pretty staff surrounded by 5 hounds. What could possibly go wrong?

Speaking of monsters, this game has an abundance of them. These range from feeble spiders to terrifying spider queens to hellish hounds and anthropomorphic walrus hunting parties! While the monster roster is pretty interesting, combat itself is quite dull, consisting of swinging at each other until someone dies. However, the clunkiness of combat serves to further outline the fact that your survival is no joking matter.

Players aspiring to survive for a long time in Don’t Starve better do a lot of planning in advance. Whether it’s saving food supplies for winter or setting up a safe base or stealing an egg from the local giant bird nest, caution is advised. As mentioned above, the game doesn’t make light of mistakes and should the winter season find you unprepared, you are in for a slow freezing death. The season system adds extra difficulty to an already difficult game while also making some significant gameplay changes on the map. Local wildlife during winter and spring/summer differs greatly. Also some food sources are rather scarce. This kind of difficulty spike may probably turn off quite a number of players.

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I have to admit it. Stealing its egg wasn’t the best idea.

For all those that are bored by the challenges above, in the wild lies a gate. It leads to adventure mode which is pretty much treasure hunting among 5 different worlds of varying themes. This is also the only way of beating the game. Each world, remaining true to the Don’t Starve spirit, ramps up in difficulty. If there’s one thing that’s persistent about this game, that is how difficult it can be at times. Be warned.

Putting difficulty aside, this game’s design has a unique charm to it. The environment and the characters are lively and have a Tim Burtonesque style to them. Add in the appropriate soundtrack that plays here and there and you have a pretty engaging game. Combine all this with deliberate and careful gameplay and you have a small indie gem.

Don’t Starve is an interesting experimentation on the sandbox survival genre. It has a simple yet addictive and deep gameplay. If there’s one thing that’s holding it back, that’s its unforgiving difficulty. However, whether you are up for the challenge or not, surviving in Don’t Starve is a fun experience and it will keep you coming back for more. Even after you ragequit because of your last death. That’s a feat few of games can boast about.

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Have fun and remember… Don’t Starve!

Don’t Starve score: 4/5

-Peter Pitidis

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Kick Ass 2: Kicked the Bucket?

When the first Kick Ass movie hit theatres in 2010, audiences everywhere were dazzled by the immense violence and ass-kickery that was delivered to them.  Seeing an elementary school girl taking out an entire floor of mafia thugs all her own was worth the ticket price alone.  However, where Kick Ass 1 shone, Kick Ass 2 failed to deliver.  The overall mysticism of the world had seemingly been lost in the process.

Kick Ass stars, Jim Carrey, Cloe Grace Moretz, Aaron Johnson, and Christoper Mintz-Plasse

Kick Ass stars, Jim Carrey, Cloe Grace Moretz, Aaron Johnson, and Christoper Mintz-Plasse

WARNING: spoilers ahead.  Kick Ass 2 opens in the same exact place that Kick Ass 1 started; with geeky, down on his luck, Dave Lizewski, (Aaron Johnson), and his message that he’d like to deliver to the world.  As if blowing up one of the biggest Maffia Bosses in New York wasn’t message enough.  It almost seems as though Jeff Wadlow, (Director), seemingly tried to recreate the exact Kick Ass 1 film, but with more people dressed up; all the while attempting to trick the audience into believing that it is a sequel.

If we actually look at the two movies, each starts with Dave’s narration about how heroes need to exist.  Then we have the adult male character that can obviously kick more ass than the main character, (who was once Nicholas Cage is now Jim Carrey).  Then a bunch of scenes where Dave gets beat up and Hit-Girl, (Chloe Grace Moretz), needs to save the day.  Then we have the new budding romance where Dave gets laid a few times.  About half way through the film one of the main characters dies, (guess who), then the other characters have motivation, (and reason), to retaliate and fight off the rest of the bad guys without having to look like idiots, (or even calling the police for that matter).  Even the final scene, (in this case the final scene is after the credits), has the same old used up villain saying that he’ll find his revenge on Kick Ass.

Cloe Grace Moretz as hit-Girl

Cloe Grace Moretz as hit-Girl

It was once almost shocking to see the main character get his own butt kicked a few times, but now, it’s just sad, and almost awkward.  Too many scenes seemed forced.  One scene comes to mind with Christopher Mintz-Plasse, (Chris D’Amico), involving him brutally murdering his own mother simply because she threw away some of his clothes.  This is not funny, nor is it amusing.  And the fact that he was not thrown in jail simply amazes at how redundantly idiotic this movie could be at times.  And the transformation of Mintz-Plasse’s character from Red-Mist to The Mother-Fucker underlines the entire theme of the movie; “We will say and do stupid things to make you think that we are funny”.

Jeff Wadlow doesn’t do much in reconciling with the audience.  At every turn there is a cheesy twist or an obvious deluded teenage drama quarrel.  Where the first movie in this series took itself as a parody, this one can’t seem to choose whether it would like to be a comedy, or drama, or all out engrossing action flick.  Not much is done to helping the audience understand the direction needed to be taken.  The movie itself seems as confused and poorly written as its own main character.

It wasn’t all bad however.  Jim Carrey does shine in his role as Colonel Stars and Stripes, (even as much as he’d like to refuse to promote this movie, and rightfully so).  Also, Donald Fasion does well with his role as Dr. Gravity, and pretty much becomes the only character in the entire movie that understands that this was supposed to be a comedy.  The additions of new heroes helped progress the story along a bit more, and the new faces at least didn’t hold back the film.

Dr. Gravity with his aluminum foil rapped baseball bat

Dr. Gravity with his aluminum foil rapped baseball bat

Most people will probably disagree with me when it comes to this movie, and exiting the theatre I heard nothing but great reviews from the other movie goers.  Without trying to sound mean, and I say that will all honesty, this movie was meant to be watch with about half a brain.  Take this scene from the beginning of the movie for example.  Chris D’Amico’s mother was talking about how she moved them to Long Island to be more normal, obviously implying otherwise.  (I myself am from Long Island, and understood this jest as a ‘dis’, for lack of better terms).  It wasn’t until mostly everyone in the theatre was laughing, not because they understood that Long Island was being made fun of, but because the place where they reside was just mentioned in a movie.

That being said, when Kick Ass 3 eventually comes out, and believe me, it will, I will be right up there in the front of the line with the other fanatics to get a good seat.  Why, you may say; because I believe in a good redemption story.  Here’s to hoping the writing staff actually cares the next time around.

 

Rotten Tomatoes Score as of 8/16/2013: 28%

My Score: 42%

 

Rogue Legacy Review

Roguelike games are known for taking dungeon crawling and death to the extreme. The player character must venture through a dungeon and survive. Death is permanent. No continues, no retries. Back in the day your save file was deleted, an event which incited tantrums around the globe; rumors concerning street riots remain unconfirmed up to this day. All in all, the roguelike design is centered around the simple concept that your character only lives once. Rogue Legacy takes this trope, spins it on its head, and mixes in Metroidvania elements. The result is a game that’s bound to suck you in.

The goal is pretty simple: brave castle Hamson and conquer it. It’s up to you and your family to carry this duty out. The game itself is pretty straightforward. You slash your way through the legions of darkness in a randomly generated dungeon. Should you die, one of your descendants will continue the quest in your place. All upgrades and equipment carry over to your children. On top of that, each one of them is a  snowflake in their own way; gameplay wise, they’re all unique. By introducing this element, Rogue Legacy takes the concept of permanent death and adds a fun factor on it, all the while giving players a sense of progress.

ImageFacing the legions of darkness has never been more fun.

Before entering the castle, you can unlock new abilities, buy new weapons, and select your equipment. This is your one and only chance to actually make any changes before venturing into castle Hamson. However, before one is allowed to go back in the dungeon, they must forsake all their gold to Charon, the dungeon keeper. It’s a process which is bound to give the player a small tear running down their face. Gold is of great importance in Rogue Legacy. Players will find themselves scavenging the various rooms for that little extra income. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that in this regard, Rogue Legacy brings out the hoarder in all of us. There’s even a class designed with that purpose in mind; essentially you can have children whose only purpose is to gather gold and treasures for their family and then die. I’ll let that sink in for a bit.

Gold is a resource to be spent on unlocking new abilities, buying new equipment, etc. You should spend it immediately lest you witness it being given as a toll to that shady gatekeeper. I hate that guy. What does he do with all that gold anyway?!?!?

ImageEnter the blacksmith, the Fortune Teller, the Architect…and the training dummy! They’re a rowdy bunch!

While traversing through Hamson, adventurers will come across an abundance of treasures, whether it is gold, blueprints for weapons and armor or runes to bestow you new abilities. You will also come across a variety of enemies. Hamson is after all infested with demons, all bound to kill anyone who trespasses. They range from ghosts to hulking knights to demonic paintings and variations thereof. The rooms are generated randomly for each character which makes each venturing through castle Hamson unique. Once players unlock the Architect they can lock in the previous castle design instead of having to start all over. Hamson is divided into 4 areas: the castle in the east, the tower in the north, the forest in the west and the dungeon in the south. You enter Hamson by the castle area and are free to venture at any of the above areas. As it is to be expected, there’s a certain order which is best for newbies.

In each area lies a boss. Beating it grants the players some upgrades and a lot of gold. Alas that is no trivial task and usually a lot of descendants will be sacrificed in order to bring the towering monstrosities down. Players are bound to find many surprises since there’s a good amount of easter eggs and mini games; a music jukebox, a shooting gallery mini-game and miscellaneous developer notes are some of the things hiding in those castle halls. These little details help spice the game up and keep it fresh.

ImageBosses will give players a run for their money.

In your quest, you are equipped with a sword, a spell and a special ability. There are a variety classes including classic roles like the tanking character, the glass cannon, the fragile mage, hybrid classes etc. While each one brings its own unique spin at the table melee combat is stale in contrast to ranged . Combat is simple and straightforward but depending on the class, players will have to adapt a different approach. My favourite class was the Hokage. Yes, you read the name right. It is a glass cannon class which slaughters most regular enemies in a single hit. It kind of falls off as you advance in the game but nothing beats the special ability of having a wooden log take damage in your place. Rogue Legacy has an abundance of pop culture and gaming references often used for humour. It’s those kind of shenanigans along with easter eggs that help establish the game’s identity.

No matter how adept one is at monster slaying, they are fated to fall. And that’s where their children come in. Once a player perishes they must choose one of their descendants to continue in their stead. This may sound simple enough, but each child has its own class and traits. Traits are a pretty fun part of Rogue Legacy. Some traits are harmless, while others are game changing–or even game breaking. They can even change the entire playstyle of a whole class. For example you could be a Barbarian, the tank class of the game, having their mana and health pools swapped; in effect, your character went from being a tough character to being a fragile character. Even when one picks a child with traits that are unknown to them, and potentially harmful, there’s still a giggle to be had because of the unexpected surpises. Those can range from funny ones, like the player character yelling profanities each time they are hit, to game breaking ones, like the entire game screen turned upside down. This gameplay element coupled with the leveling system makes Rogue Legacy deceivingly addictive in the long run.

ImageOnce in a while, one can have a child that’s just plain crazy.

The controls are tight and responsive and players should never feel the urge to blame the game for their deaths. The graphics are okay and serve the game well. The environments are carefully designed and have quite a few funny details. But for all its merits, Rogue Legacy can sometimes feel repetitive. Be it that players will have to venture through the same randomly generated areas to grind or having to fight the same boss over and over or dying many times in a row in order to get a descedant with the class they want, Rogue Legacy can get tiresome from time to time. But you will find yourself back looking for  more. This game teaches you more about yourself than you would like to. For all I know, it taught me, that given control over a family with infinite descendants I would send many of them to their death in a Machavelian way for the sake of some gold and a fancy manor. I sacrificed 332 lives for a freaking manor!

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Behold, The endeavors of countless generations!

Rogue Legacy manages to combine the harshness of roguelikes with the coolness and pacing of Metroidvania games in order to deliver a unique experience both accesible and challenging. With each death you come closer to your goal and become more powerful. In the end, Rogue Legacy is a mixture of cruelty and mercy, a rare gem among indie games.

Rogue Legacy score: 4/5

-Peter Pitidis

A Game of Thrones: the Board Game

If you’ve picked up this game, then surely you are a fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, (whether it be the TV show or the novelization). If not, then you might have a harder time getting into the game than others. Fantasy Fight Games does an amazing job at translating the events of the novels to board game form, and it would be most enjoyed by people who understand the context of the regions and houses they fight for.

got

What’s needed to play the game: an endless amount of patience, at least 3 players, (more fun with 4-6), simple mathematic skills, at least 3 free hours, (can sometimes last longer than 5 hours depending on how many players and how quick they can make decisions), and calm friends, (I cannot stress this one enough).

When first opening the box, you’ll notice many different pieces, cards, and a rule book that could count as its own short story. With a length of 31 pages, it might take you a while to get through the rules themselves, so be prepared to sit down for a minimum of two hours, just to learn the rules. Even after you think that you’ve learned everything that can be, be prepared to delve back into the rule ‘tome’ many times. Even if you’ve played multiple times, that book will be your best friend in this game.

pieces

Speaking of best friends, be prepared to lose a few. You probably think that I am joking, and I think that I am as well, but I’m certain that there are people out there that can take games like this seriously. This game can turn the nonchalant board game player into a raging beast of madness. Even if you are thinking, “That won’t happen to me”, believe me, it’ll hit you even worse.

Everything placed into the box was meticulously constructed, and it shows. Even the miniature plastic figures to be placed on the board resemble marble pieces. However, it is the artwork here that really shines. The board itself is beautiful. Each part of it was made specifically to relate to the lands portrayed in the novels. Also, each and every character card has a unique feel to it. They not only did an incredible job of relating the character’s looks to how they are described in the books, but also made their text abilities wildly similar to their purpose in the main story.

cards

If you are worried about being spoiled by cards here because the board game is supposed to go up to A Storm of Swords, don’t worry. There are characters in the house sets that have died way before A Storm of Swords and still make it into the game; thusly it would be impossible to guess who lives and who dies simply by the game itself. (Now if you have friends that don’t know when to stop speaking, that could be a different deal all together).

The Dance with Dragons expansion on the other hand will contain spoilers, and the spoilers don’t just stop with the cards themselves. The expansion takes the game to a new level wherein it forces the players into a whole new setup, with each household starting in a new geographical region on the map. Everything here is taken straight from the book, so if you don’t want to know, let’s just say, where the Baratheons end up after the events of A Storm of Swords, then don’t play this expansion. (Not to mention that some character’s switch house decks, and some characters are completely taken out because of their deaths in previous books).

Only play the Dance with Dragons expansion if you’ve read up to the current book, or don’t mind being spoiled. The up side to this expansion is that it does shave off a significant amount of time, as there are only 6 rounds instead of 10. One other great thing about this expansion is that it does initiate combat fairly early on. Where the original game may take 2 to 3 rounds for players to begin fighting, combat will start in the first round with the expansion, which is a welcomed addition to the game.

board

If you can get past the hours needed to be spent to learn the rules, and past the endless arguments that are sure to happen, and the enormously long runtime, and the needing to have read most of the books, then this is the game for you. I know that from all that you’ve read, this may seem like a waste of time, but if you are looking for a real board game challenge, and want to feel what true victory in Westoros is, then get ready to immerse yourself into this amazing world.

A Game of Thrones, the Board Game Score: 5/5
Dance with Dragons Expansion Score: 4.5/5
Joe Monfoletto

Falling Skies: Episode 10, “Brazil”

Falling Skies: Episode 10, “Brazil”

When Falling Skies season 3 first aired I had high hopes, that is to say the least. Yet from the beginning it seemed as though this show had run its path into the ground. It’s a painfully sad experience to watch a show that you once loved turn into a cheesy “play by the books” alien show. With the “who is the Espheni spy?” plot line back, and the alien baby; the audience had no clue which way the show was really going, not to mention no intention to see it play out.

Falling Skies

And somehow, through all of their beginning to mid-season draught, they were able to pull something amazing out. Starting around episode 5 or 6, Falling Skies realized its true potential and got back on track. There is no difference here with the finale. With Remi Aubuchon and Greg Beeman as writer and director, respectively, we get nothing short of what we would expect in a finale episode.
One thing that must be noted here is how well the cast really seemed to mesh together. During the beginning of the season it felt like we were watching actors competing for more screen time; in the finale, it felt more like characters that needed to band together. Sinning accommodations here are deserved to all actors. Each and every one of them seemed to play off of the others, and rightfully so. Even Seychelle Gabriel, (Lourdas), who normally seems out of place put on a great performance.

As always, Falling Skies strives within the speeches delivered by the characters; notably Noah Wyle, (Tom Mason), and Will Patton, (Captain Weaver), truly lock it down. “The Volm just done what the fish-heads never could… brought us to our knees”; a powerful line delivered to us by Colin Cunningham, (Pope). “We adamantly oppose those who would oppress or deny us our freedoms”, Noah Wyle.

Pope

Right from the start audience is thrown into a high energy situation with an intensity that seemed to have been missing since the beginning of this season. I was a bit thrown back seeing how easily they threw us into the conflict; but ultimately, it was appreciated. Jumping straight into main plot events was probably a good idea considering how much time was wasted prior to this episode. Cochise and the Volm forces wanting to take things into their own hands was as to be expected. With a season 4 on the veranda, one could only expect that things have to go wrong so that the second mas could go on fighting.

Volm

As much as I loved this episode, and really am looking forward to seeing where it leads, the one thing that I’ve honestly had enough of is Hal and Margaret’s relationship. Too many times do they break apart and come back together. I thought that they had put an end to that once Hal removed his eye bug, but apparently the writers of this show aren’t done here. With the glaringly obvious conversation between them about where they see themselves ending up after the war, it seems that the star crossed lovers might no longer be together come next season. What with Lourdas practically telling Hal that she loves him, one could almost guarantee that Maragaret might soon be in Pope’s arms; just as Pope had predicted all along. Hal and Margaret’s ‘will they or won’t they’ routine is getting old to say the least.

The climax point in the episode, for me at least, is when Tom Mason finally gives Karen the gift that he’s been waiting to give her, not to mention that he does it Scarface style, which could make any shootout seem immensely cooler, for lack of better terms. The Final shot of the episode was not what should be expected from a Falling Skies finale. Going from Tom Mason being abducted in season 1 and a new alien force landing in season 2; a simple ‘happy ending’ didn’t really fit here. (Not to mention that Anne Glass and child Alexis returning was to be seen). Lastly the team at Falling Skies really pulled themselves together here to give us a great finale, and set us up for what could easily be the best season yet. With the Volm fighting the Espheni, and the Espheni wanting to fight the humans, and the humans preparing for a possible fight against both, we can be sure to expect much more action in the upcoming year.

Score: 4/5
Joe Monfoletto