Category Archives: Reviews

Couch Co-op Adventures: Two Wins and a Flop

While there are plenty of video games I enjoy playing alone, couch co-op is my favorite way to play. My husband and I have spent much of our relationship playing video games together, so we’re always on the hunt for something new.

This year, we found three that sit on both ends of the spectrum.

Yoshi’s Wooly World
It looked like it had great potential. Nintendo tends to have good co-op games in general, but this game had two major flaws.

  1. It was really hard.
    Platforming isn’t my forte, but some of the platformers we’ve played over the years are forgiving or have ways of allowing that slightly inept second player to make it through the hard parts with some help. This one was the epitome of unforgiving. I spent most of the time dead.
  2. Players could push each other around.
    Literally. Other games allow you to occupy the same space or walk past each other without consequence. This one didn’t allow that at all, which meant I spent half of my time pushing my husband into pits and enemies. I’ll let you guess how well that went over.

It wasn’t long before I gave up and he continued alone.

Gears of War 4
Yes, it’s violent and over-the-top, but the couch co-op is great. Overall, the split screen works well, and the fact that the other player (and the computer player posse) can save you if you go down is helpful too.

Another bonus is the ability to change the difficulty setting individually. This does, however, have some unintentional consequences. One night, I spent several levels feeling like a total failure in the game. Everything seemed to kill me. It was only as we wrapped up for the night that I realized I had been playing on hardcore. All things considered, I didn’t do that bad.

Kirby’s Return to Dreamland
This one is fantastic. Originally created for the Wii and impossible to find, it’s recently made an appearance in the e-store which means we can finally play it. Since it was a Christmas present, we’ve only played the first world so far, but it’s just as fun as the other Kirby games have been.

While there are challenges, none of the Kirby games are excessively hard. That means I spend more time having fun and less time feeling frustrated and inept. There are puzzles to solve, power-ups to try, and bosses to beat.

Not only can you pass the other player, but you can also jump on top of them, like a piggy back ride. This comes in handy since you can attack together too. Or it can just be done for fun.

You can also share health when you pick it up. If I pick up some health (in the ironic form of a donut, for instance), I can share some of it with him. Though, most of the time, it goes the other way around. After all, I like to play as Meta Knight and plunge straight into danger… which doesn’t always end well.

 

So though couch co-op doesn’t seem to be as popular as it used to be, there are still plenty of great games out there taking advantage of it. Here’s hoping there will be more out there in 2017.

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Rogue One (Or, Redacted Title That Would Include Spoilers)

Over the weekend, I got to see Rogue One. There are so many things that I can say about it, so I’m going to do my best not to ramble. (That’s part of the reason that I waited a few days to actually write this post. We’ll see if it helps.)

I had some major reservations about decisions made in Episode VII, so I did start off with some concern. But now that I’ve seen it, those concerns are gone. Yes, there are some minor continuity issues… I can’t imagine how hard those are to deal with when inserting a story into an established and beloved timeline. Overall, I’d rank this as one of my favorite Star Wars movies.

There’s one interesting thing that I want to point out, but it’s a total spoiler. Don’t read on unless you’ve already seen the movie. (Or don’t care about spoilers.)

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14 Day Writing Challenge: Day 12 (or, The Review)

Today’s prompt: Write a book or movie review.

I’m currently in the middle of two books. I’m reading The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson by myself and Myst: The Book of Ti’Ana by David Wingrove, Rand Miller, and Robyn Miller aloud to my husband. And before writing that sentence, I didn’t realize that I have a kind of theme to my current booklist.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had a great deal of exposure to Brandon Sanderson’s works. My sister-in-law’s fiancé spent a year trying to get me to read one and resorted to buying me one for Christmas. I’ve been hooked since. It’s different than the fantasy I write, but I’ve learned a great deal from it nonetheless. And I enjoy it as a reader, which is perhaps even more important.

The Myst books are a new experience. When we visited a huge used bookstore last year, my husband found it on the shelf. As a teenager, he used to play the Myst video games and never realized there were books. He used to tell me about the stories in the games and told me that I would enjoy them… aside from the puzzles. He would keep a notebook handy to write everything down, and even then he would have to look things up. At the time, I would have been too easily frustrated for that.

It is the first time that I’ve had a full glimpse into the world of the games. Some of the things are familiar to my husband. Other things, not so much. Reading about the D’ni, who live underground and spend so much effort trying to find out if there’s anything above the surface, has been an exciting glimpse into a different sort of world that’s been well-built.

So far, the story has followed two characters: Aitrus — a D’ni who wants to find out what’s above the surface — and Ana — a girl from above ground who surveys the desert with her father. At some point, they’re bound to end up meeting each other, but I’m not sure how that all will work out yet. The story moves a bit slowly — the way that older books do — but it’s not too slow of a pace for us.

The only qualm I have with the book is some of the punctuation and occasionally the repetition of words. (Do you have to keep saying the word “rock”? You’ve said it repeatedly in just one paragraph!) It looks like it didn’t receive the scrutiny of a good editor before it was printed and bound. Sometimes I stop and make a comment about it because I just can’t resist. My husband just smiles, though. He knows that years as an English teacher and a lifetime as a writer has trained my eye to catch those things, even if I’m not responsible for the words on the page. After a sigh, I keep reading and he’s happy to keep listening.

Overall, though, I’ve enjoyed the book and am looking forward to what happens to the characters, especially Ana. Last night, she entered a tunnel and I have a feeling that her meeting Aitrus and the D’ni is just a matter of time.

I suppose that wasn’t much of a formal review, but there are some opinions on two different books. Well, mostly one. But still, I say this counts.

Have you ever read anything by Brandon Sanderson or had exposure to the Myst series? What books are you currently reading?


Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage Symphony

This year is Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary. While Star Trek has always been a part of my life (I distinctly remember my mom watching The Next Generation when I was a kid, as well as her favorite of the movies, The Wrath of Khan), it’s never been as much a part as it is now.

My husband is a serious Trekkie. His affinity for Star Trek is like mine for all things Tolkien: he comes by it honestly because he’s a second generation fan. Because of the constant stream of information and thanks to watching all of the shows (yes, even the Animated Series) at least once through, I’ve slowly gone from enjoying it to maybe being a Trekkie myself.

Needless to say, then, that when we found out that there was a symphony coming through to celebrate Star Trek‘s anniversary, we had to round up all of our geeky friends and family and go.

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If you like Star Trek even a little and enjoy music, this is definitely the event for you.

It’s spending the earlier part of the year east of the Mississippi and in Canada, then hopping to the West Coast, and finishing in the western interior.

Want to learn more? Check out the site here.

Live long and prosper, my friends.


The Wait Is Over (Star Wars Spoilers Ahead)

I’ve seen it. Twice.

But we’re still in opening week, which means that plenty of people haven’t see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so I still have to choose my words carefully. So all I can safely say spoiler-free is that I enjoyed it. And that’s the last spoiler-free thing you’ll read in this post, so if you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading.

Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
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The Silmarillion Recap: Quenta Silmarillion (Part XII) (And The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies Movie Trailer!)

Before we begin, the teaser trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies is officially available! Yes, I’ve watched it more times than I should admit to. Yes, I know what’s going to happen, but I won’t spoil it for you. What I can say is that, if it’s anything like the book, it has the potential to be a great final movie for the trilogy. (Though don’t ask me what’s up with a downed Gandalf getting a kiss on the forehead from Galadriel. My guess is it’s part of the very important subplot with the Necromancer. But I won’t say anything else.)

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

With Fëanor gone, his sons have sworn to take vengeance on Morgoth, but their first attack hasn’t ended well. The good news: Fingolfin has arrived on the scene and just in time to watch the first sunrise.

Part I (Chapter 1)
Part II (Chapters 2-3)
Part III (Chapters 3-4)
Part IV (Chapters 5-6)
Part V (Chapter 7)
Part VI (Chapter 8)
Part VII (Chapter 9)
Part VIII (Chapter 10)
Part IX (Chapter 11)
Part X (Chapter 12)
Part XI (Chapter 13)

Quenta Silmarillion: Chapter 13 continued

After being abandoned by Fëanor, Fingolfin (Fëanor’s half-brother) didn’t give up on reaching Middle-earth. He, Galadriel, Finrod, and the rest of his posse crossed some of the most inhospitable parts of Arda (the earth) and arrived just after Maedhros (Fëanor’s son) was captured by Morgoth.

This moment also happens to be the first time that the Sun makes its appearance. Morgoth and his servants can’t stand the light, so they hide in the deepest, darkest tunnels of his fortress, Angband. For this reason, no one opposes Fingolfin and his company as they march straight up to Angband and blow the trumpets. But unlike his half-brother, Fingolfin is cautious. After measuring up the enemy, he withdraws to a safe distance where his people can rest and regain their strength after their arduous journey. As they search for a spot, though, Fingolfin comes across Fëanor’s sons and their group. Since the abandonment is still fresh, Fingolfin and his people choose a spot away from Fëanor’s sons and their followers, who are too ashamed and/or bitter to invite them to join them.

Even from his hiding place, Morgoth can clearly see how divided the Noldor (the group of Elves Fëanor and Fingolfin belong to) are and what easy prey they are. With an evil laugh, he unleashes thick, poisonous smog to keep the Noldor at bay and allow his servants to move around more easily.

While most of the Noldor have no interest in resolving their grudge and don’t realize their impending doom, Fingon (Fingolfin’s son) decides that enough is enough. He has heard that Maedhros has been captured, and he remembers what close friends they were before this whole mess started. So he decides to gather his gear and set out alone to save Maedhros.

Fingon isn’t prepared for what he finds hidden behind the mountains. Destruction, sorrow, pain. How will he ever find Maedhros? So he does the last thing that any of us would think of. He begins to sing an old song from Valinor. Incredibly, a voice answers him. Maedhros’s.

Fingon follows the voice and finds Maedhros bound to the top of a precipice. The excitement of finding him soon fades into despair, though, because there’s no way to get Maedhros down. In fact, Maedhros is so hopeless and desperate that he even asks Fingon to shoot him so that he won’t have to continue to live under Morgoth’s torture.

Not knowing what else to do, Fingon draws an arrow and whispers a simple prayer: “O King to whom all birds are dear, speed now this feathered shaft, and recall some pity for the Noldor in their need!” (Tolkien 125-126)

And while he had hoped that this prayer would result in a clean shot, it instead is answered by the arrival of the Eagles. Yes, the Eagles dive in to save the day for the first time in Arda (though certainly not the last). The King of the Eagles (Thorondor) picks Fingon up and takes him to Maedhros. But Maedhros still has a problem: the ring binding his wrist to the precipice can’t be destroyed. When he asks Fingon to kill him again, Fingon comes up with a better plan. He cuts off Maedhros’s hand, and the Eagles fly them to safety.

This mends the relationship between Fingolfin and Fëanor’s people. The Noldor are reunited, and Maedhros returns the crown to Fingolfin (who should be king after Fëanor anyways).

But while things are great amongst the Noldor again, Thingol isn’t so thrilled.

Thingol (who stayed behind in Middle-earth because he met Melian) has been the only ruler (besides Morgoth) in this part Middle-earth, and it seems a bit odd for the Noldor to return without any clear reason. At first, Fëanor’s sons are offended, but Maedhros calms them. (Finally, a calm head among Fëanor’s sons!) Well, all of them except for Caranthir, but he won’t do anything about it until later.

With some time, an alliance of sorts does emerge between the Noldor and Thingol, and they continue to fight against Morgoth. The next few pages are filled with their exploits (including a run-in with a young dragon buddy of Morgoth), but suffice to say that each side tests the other and then prepares for the next encounter. It’s only a precursor for the battles to come.

Next week is all about secrets. One of Fingolfin’s sons builds a secret city, and the secret the Noldor have concealed from Thingol and his people is revealed.


Star Trek Into Darkness (Or the Assimiliation of a Fairy Tale-Lover)

For as long as I can remember, fairy tales have been the centerpiece of my imagination. Sure, I’ve always enjoyed science fiction — in fact, one of my favorite books is still H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds and my first novel was born out of a late night with Star Wars and I watched The Next Generation and Wrath of Khan with my mom — but princesses and castles and happily ever after had always been more of my thing.

Then, I married a Trekkie. You’d never catch him wearing Vulcan ears or hanging out in costume at a convention, but he is to Star Trek what I am to the works of Tolkien. He can give the name and plot summary of any Original Series episode before the theme song starts. He has a technical manual for the Enterprise. He owns and enjoyed the Animated Series. (If you haven’t see it, don’t even think about it. It’s painful!)

Fortunately for him, I was never opposed to Star Trek. (Good thing, too, because it would have been a deal breaker.) But I was never a fan.

That is, until he made me one.

It started slowly. We watched The Next Generation together because I hadn’t seen them all. And while some of them were downright painful, some of them were pretty good. Then we went to Deep Space Nine. Then Voyager. And somewhere in the middle of the Delta quadrant, I realized that he had converted me.

Since then, out of revenge, I’ve read him The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring and now we’re part way through The Two Towers, but that doesn’t change the fact that maybe I’m kind of a Trekkie too now…

… which means that I can speak a bit more intelligently about the latest movie than I could have five years ago. So, here’s a take on it that’s as spoiler-free as I can get.

Star Trek Into Darkness

While J.J. Abrams’ version of Star Trek has had mixed reviews from Trekkies, it’s been a favorite in our house. After all, what better way to add a new twist to the franchise than using a favorite technique — the alternate universe — to give new life to its roots?

And, while the first movie distances itself from the Original Series, this one pulls itself closer, reimagining what would happen if an old villain (who will remain unnamed) resurfaced under a new set of circumstances. Iconic lines are quoted, memorable scenes relived in reverse, and we’re left with a fresh (and more action-packed) take on a villain I didn’t think that they could pull off.

The story doesn’t go into great detail plot-wise. While that might leave those with less Star Trek knowledge wanting more, it lets the rest of the audience put the pieces together, imagine the details without being told directly what happened. And that’s something that I enjoyed because it’s a touch of the mystique that a book or an Alfred Hitchcock film have. Instead of being spoon-fed, I’m allowed to let my imagination fill in the missing details and to experience the events in the same way that Kirk, Spock, or Bones would as the story’s being told in brief to them.

It does, however, do what Star Trek has always done: deal with current issues and make social commentary. You can easily tell that it’s written in the post 9-11 world in which the question of using drone strikes against American citizens is still under debate. And that’s one of the things that keeps Star Trek a little on the edge, whether it’s an interracial kiss or what to do with a baby cloned without its biological parents’ knowledge.

The only complaint mentioned here: it’s still lacking much of the trademark technobabble. They don’t tell you if they’re going warp 5 or wrap 9. But that’s okay with me. I’m sure it’ll start making its way back in eventually. And besides, The Next Generation had more than enough to make up for it.

Needless to say, if you haven’t seen it yet, you should. If you like Star Trek, it’s a rousing return to an iconic situation. And if you don’t, then maybe it’ll be enough to start pushing you towards becoming a Trekkie too.