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Monday, December 31, 2012

XBLA impressions: Walking Dead episode 1 and Fez

I've been playing a few nights away at two Xbox Live games I picked up.  I've been seeing quite a buzz over the past few posts from my favorite gaming sites about these 2012 releases in various end-of-the-year roundups.  Granted, these aren't exactly new releases but I just want to spread the word to anyone who perhaps was sitting in my boat being aware of these games but not really taking any actions to play them.  I saw Walking Dead was released and didn't exactly move toward the whole point and click adventure aspect and kind of assumed it was based more on the television series rather than the comic series which I love.  I kicked Fez around a bit when the demo dropped a few months back and I just didn't have the time to really give it a fair day in court.  Speaking of comic series that I loved which spawned live action versions I wasn't crazy about, Fez's cover art was drawn by Bryan Lee O'Malley of Scott Pilgrim fame.

GamesRadar gave both of these games number 1 stats for two categories...Fez for best downloadable game and Walking Dead as best game of the year!  Quite remarkable that sleeper hits received such notoriety. 
Something about this game just captured that fresh, brand-new, out of the box feeling you got from Green Hill Zone 1 in Sonic the Hedgehog, Level 1-1 in Mario and the first Dungeon in Legend of Zelda.

After playing Fez a few nights, I really was turned on to the whole feel and aspect of the world.  It is so brightly colored, well designed and interesting to explore.  It really served as a game you could visit and revisit while consistently being rewarded and convinced that you truly were unlocking new corners and dimensions with every passing screen.  There are no enemies to vanquish, no permadeaths, ...just using your wits to play around with the environment to get you from point A to point Z and everywhere in between.  Musically, it is a variety of chiptunes and 8-bit ambiance which sets an ethereal mood as you traverse the NES inspired landscapes while the seagulls chirp and the worms crawl and the frogs hop.   Unlocking the very beginning plays with the very essence of the games that shaped our views of taste in gaming and breaks our expectations and the fourth wall rather quickly as our hero, Gomez is bestowed with the Fez and actually resets the game back to the title screen and we begin anew in the new pseudo-3D world.  You get a great variety of challenging platforming, innovative level design and a real sense of care placed into every building, background and element in the game...Give it some definite consideration.  I couldn't help consistently going back to thinking of Cave Story as I played though.

Onto Telltale Games, The Walking Dead.  Wow, what an absolute surprise.  I let this game go right past me when it was originally released but this week for a New Years promotion, the first episodic chapter of this game was on XLBA for free.  It was too good of a deal to pass up.  I dunno, earlier in the year,  I tried to get into the Sam and Max reboots from this publisher but I just couldn't get back into the LucasArts point and click inspired gaming but after this experience so far I am really gonna have to look into giving those reboot demos a shot.  I gotta admit I loved those games when they originally came out...Sam and Max, Maniac Mansion, Full Throttle, Monkey Island...great, innovative and original writing and gameplay.  This game brought up all of those positive memories and then brought it up to an 11 with intensity, brutality and a lasting feeling that no prior game ever left with me. 

My strategy thus far...keep the people who are good shots alive.

Yep, Clementine saw you do that....

I have only played about 2 hours into a 3 hour game for this first chapter and man was this some heavy gameplay.  Every line of dialogue means so much more to the flow of the story, the interaction of the characters and the bonds you forge between potential friends and foes than you ever would think.  You are cast in the role of protector of the young girl named Clementine who you meet early on in the game and the first time I admitted something harsh to her and that "Clementine will remember you said that" message came up, I instantly was like "Ohhhh shit."  The severity and the Constancy of every move you make really leaves a sense of importance and gravity that no other game with a morality gauge or dialogue tree ever remotely captured.   The art direction follows the look and feel of Tony Moore's style in the comic series and it really unfolds as an incredibly atmospheric  and believable setting.  Gameplay mainly consists of momentary quick time events but you really have to be fast in decisions and quick reflexes before you or party becomes quickly bitten or ripped apart.  All of this is molded behind some of the best written storytelling and expert pacing you'll ever see.  You owe it to yourself to check this great game out.  I can freely say I am hooked and will definitely be checking out the Sam and Max and the Monkey Island demos if they are anything like this game.

Snowed in? Play a Board game!

As the house of Mr R was immobilized due to the 6 plus inches of falling snow all day, I managed to con my wife into watching the Star Wars: revisited edit that my uncle gave me.  Side note: it is absolutely amazing and makes me wonder how no matter how many "special" editions have been released and we never got a lightsaber fight between Obi and Darth that actually looked like a true duel or that the Battle of Yavin actually looked like a battle!!!  I cannot wait until Adawan remakes the ESB and ROTJ edits.  While we watched the revisited edit, we did what most of us do when the snow falls and you hunker down, we broke out the Monopoly Board.

Needless to say, Mrs. R. destroyed me and drove me into insurmountable bankruptcy as she usually does when we play that game.  But I started kicking around the idea to drag out the rest of the the board games to show off some of my old collection.

You gotta love the Rube Goldburg inspired workings of Mouse Trap...Honestly, I don't think I ever actually played this game but my cousins and I built and rebuilt this game to watch the workings spring into action.  The commercial has the same notoriety as the Grape Escape, Fireball Island and Operation.  (Btw, did you know that Lion-O from Thundercats was the voice that sings the Operation theme song???)

Take a look at Clue...the perfect whodunnit game which spawned an equally impressive movie.  If you notice, I'm missing quite a few of the key pieces but it is one of those games you can play round after round and have a blast. 

A must have for any CareBear aficionado!

Then there is a kiddy games I can't even remember playing...there's a Care Bears game I found that looks like a spin the wheel and move your Bear.  Nice artwork, simple enough and I put my Grumpy Bear and Care Bear cousin in the picture to frame the shot.  Chutes and Ladders was another childhood mainstay.  Up and Down, rinse, wash, repeat.  That and Candyland were two games I couldn't play enough as a kid.

This game called Labyrinth was amazing to me in my younger years.  The object was to collect treasures, avoid monsters all while you and your opponents could manipulate the path while you navigated the dungeon...very D&D Jr vibe to it.   Now if only I could get Key to the Kingdom...(too bad it's over 100 on ebay for an incomplete game)

Clearly my parents had a grand time to this before I was a twinkle in God's eye...They also were really into Yahtzee and Trivial Pursuits.

Mug Shots was a game my neighbor gave me to sell on Ebay yet I still have...nice artwork and seems like a very 70's answer to Guess Who.  Let's not forget the 70's answer to well...the 70's, Twister: America's Good Time Game...or was that Scrabble?  Eh, I always remember the "idea" of playing Twister was more fun than the actual execution of the game itself.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Star Wars Snow Day!

 Just having a bit of fun with my Scout Walker and Imperial Snowtrooper...you'd be amazed how extreme an angle you need to not get car, garage or power lines in the shot...All I can say is, "wow, that vintage collection looks pretty damn convincing!"

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lego: the Hobbit / An Unexpected Gathering Review (The Shire / Bag End)

Let's kick off the Christmas haul reviews in a proper way.  The Lord of the Rings always will ring a Christmas note to me because of its traditional proximity in release dates to the 25th of December.  I've seen the movie's on my break from college, teaching and what have you.  (I'm actually gearing up to see "the Hobbit" tomorrow with my 9 month pregnant wifey after our OBGYN appointment...her idea, not mine!  In all honesty, she's a bigger Tolkien fan than I am, I think.)

Speaking of wifey, she certainly did not fail to please for this Christmas.  I received a whole mess of on-line only Star Wars Vintage Collection figures, a few awesome Lego sets and a San Diego Comic Con exclusive set of Battle Beasts Minimates...oooh, speaking of Comic Con, she also got tickets for us to the Wizard World Philly Comic Con!  My first Con! Excellent!  I can't wait to see the Torchwood, Star Trek captains reunited, Bruce Campbell and Chris Hemsworth panels!  Freaking sweet!

Does the set measure up to our beloved Hobbit hole?

So onto the first highlighted item.  It's the sole Lord of the Rings lego set I got this year.  I've had my eyes on this set ever since the pictures were released during the SDCC.  Honestly, when I found Lego snagged LotR as a series (Back to the Future was just added this week too btw!), instantly I knew I had to have a Shire set.   This Bag End depiction in the set "An Unexpected Gathering" is perfect.

In every sense of the word, this set is "charming" to the last detail.

The set screams "detail."  It's absolutely wonderful in every single touch placed throughout its construction.  It mirrors the feel of Bilbo and Frodo's home perfectly giving the outside a nice, rustic look while having the homey comforting aspects of the inside.  I think it works so well because this is one of the only settings we actually get a chance to look at while the pace of the story is still idling and we can really take in the surroundings.

The exterior has a great ranch style fence  around the front with a hinged working gate, plenty of flowers growing around the yard and windows, beautiful port hole windows, a nice front rose window with inlaid glass panelling, a wonderful large round green door paramount to all Hobbit holes, an adjustable bench , a hanging lantern, a produce barrel and a garden with stems sprouting about!

The interior has a nice table with a detailed spread,  lovely fireplace and chimney, shelves with bottles on them, detailed maps of middle Earth, pots, pans, and a writing desk with Bilbo's current "There and Back Again" masterpiece still in progress accompanied with a ink-stand and quill.   Phew!  Quite a bit of nice details!

Look at the fire in the fireplace! Spectacular touch!

Minifigure-wise, this set is packed!  You get a great Bilbo Baggins along with detailed Galdalf (although if you've already been collecting this set, you already most likely have him since he came with the "Galdalf Arrives" set...and you'll get him again with the Goblin King set in this series as well...enough Gandalf already or at least make a White Wizard version for variation) along with four of the dwarfs; Balin, Dwalin, Bofur and Bombur.
They come with some great beards, chest detailing, weapons, digging tools, daggers, and a huge hammer weapon!

Balin, Bofur, Dwalin, Bombur, Bilbo and Gandalf

What's even cooler is that this set can be used across the time frame as you can use this to recreated your favorite Fellowship of the Ring scenes depicting the beginning of the film when Gandfalf arrives and Frodo takes up the quest!


"A wizard arrives precisely when he means to!"

"Please don't turn me into anything...unnatural!"

All in all, this is a must-have for all Lord of the Rings fans, it was a blast to build and I cannot recommend it enough.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Hiss-mas, everyone!

Just a little fun showing Cobra actually catching the arctic Joes off guard!  It snowed last night for the first white Christmas around here in 10 years but it's all cruddy outside however we are slated to get some more this week.  Cold Weather scenes will be in the future on the site of both the Joe and Hoth variety!  Got an amazing spread of great toys this year and will be talking about them in upcoming posts.  late December and January will def have a rise in activity here.  Hope you all had great Christmases and stay safe in the upcoming days!  christos razdajetsa!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

League Assignment: Wish List!

Not so hot off the presses (sorry, the last week of teaching before break is always a mess)  from Cool and Collected to the rest of the almighty League:

The big guy is on his way! What’s on your Christmas wish list this year?

Hoo-Boy, Do I have quite a few items of choice...I've repeatedly mentioned my wife is amazing at finding vintage stuff to pad my collection with, she basically told me I can expect some nice Lego Star Wars stuff and the rest of the original trilogy figures from the last online only wave of the Star Wars Vintage Collection and additionally, my dad said he got me some high quality KOs of G1 transformers off Ioffer.com (I'm not complaining about KO, this is about getting stuff I never could as a kid since I was one year old when these great toys were released and I have no intention of ever reselling these so it's all good...I can only wonder what he got me though)

As for wish-list, here are my top 3 wish-list items.

1. Reissue Fortress Maximus: I couldnt' believe it when I saw this guy (the Japanese version to boot) was making the encore rounds.  He looks amazing and I can't even wait to see the artwork on the box.  Considering some of the headmaster pieces like Cog go on ebay for 100 plus bucks the 350 price tag (shipping included) looks like a smart deal.  I do have a baby coming in January so the likelihood of being able to snag this guy in any practical sense of the word would be nigh impossible...my birthday does come in March so maybe I do have a distant benefactor out there somewhere. :)

2. Yak Face:  I would probably pass out if I every opened a gift with this rare as hell (at least to me) figure inside it.  It's guys like this one, and blue snag, Amanaman, Stormie Luke and double telescoping saber Luke that probably will keep my Vintage Star Wars collection from ever being complete for a long time.  Some day....

3. Lego Star Wars Death Star:  an entirely way too expensive and way too big item. (I honestly have no idea where I'd put this beauty if I ever received and built it)  The spectacle is just too much to pass up.  I loved everything Death Star related since I got to play with my uncle's Kenner Death Star Playset he had in storage as a kid. (missing the dianoga though...bummer)

Here are some other League-sters who pine for items of someday future past or whatever whatevs.

Sexy Geek's House of Swag wants a bit of everything vintage wrapped up with an awesome Michael Keaton Batman, noice!

That Figures wants Captain Action! how fitting!

Goodwill Hunting for Geeks wants some killer playsets, thundercats minimates and a madball cycle...you and me both, brother!

Friday, December 14, 2012

My Top 10 Favorite Non-Christmas Christmas Movies


What's that mean?  Well, any movie where Christmas kinda takes a back seat to the overall crisis, mayhem or plot that supersedes the setting.  Some of these more serious movies work it in all too well making it even more unsettling by having disturbing or distressing events overshadowing the otherwise supposed happy time we all should be feeling rather than cold, eerie and creeped out.
Other movies just work in having a nice Christmas scene in it and just resonate a Christmas'y feeling so I gravitate toward them to boost my Holiday morale.

Take a look. 

"Haaa---vvveee a MmmmmM-eeeerrrrr-eeeee Chrissssszt-mazzzz"

10 - 12 Monkeys:  Believe it or not, this movie takes place during Christmas time.  This time and perspective bending film keeps you guessing on the truth of reality and takes you on a true Gilliam prescribed epic that constantly stops to look at the details all the way to the end.  Between the prospects of pulling out one's own teeth to stop radio transmissions and collecting samples in a pathogen soaked apocalyptic Philadelphia, you do get some nice Holiday decor in the John J Wanamaker building. :)

9 - The Ref: Hard to find on DVD anymore...this home for the holiday's hostage crisis gone to hell take on the Christmas movie is great... Denis Leary at his best and Kevin Spacey is absolutely wonderful in anything he's in.   Great one-liners, great interaction and a must for any Leary fan.

The Good Life

8 - The Good Life: Steve Berra's first (second if you count the low budget 7-teen sips) big cinematic endeavor as a director works well as a Christmas settinged piece around a skinny outcast (Mark Webber) with alopecia in a mid-western football town where that is the absolute only thing that matters. Chris Klein is such an incredible asshole in this movie who literally takes our protagonist's Christmas gift from his hands and smashes it on the pavement. Donal Logue (Grounded for Life...awesome show) is another great character that emulates your classic football town townie. Believe me, I know...central PA is full of them. Zooey Deschanel I pretty much think trademarked the god-awful "manic pixie dream girl" act in this film before she started ordering soup to be delivered in the rain, barefoot while she strums a ukulele and knits a scarf ironically. ugh. Christmas seems all the more colder though and the whole film is worth it for the gift scene (the lottery ticket part is great).

7- Batman Returns:  Christmas on a bad circus-induced halluconegenic trip.  Clowns with machine guns bursting out of presents (with a boing sound out of a cartoon), Fire-Breathing Harlequins burning teddy bears, candy cane missiles strapped to penguins...oh yeah and Batman's there too somewhere.

6 - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:  I know it takes place over the events of a school year but the "Happy Christmas" scene always brings it home to me.  Maybe it was because I saw it on VHS when my roommate left it at my apt right around Christmas when I was sick in bed.  It just resonates Christmas to me especially when all of Harry's classmates are going home for the holiday's while he stays behind.  Sad but heartfelt.

5: Die Hard:  "Now I have a machine gun...ho-ho-ho"  Hell yeah...the anti-Rambo if you will...he certainly is a one-man-army but God this is the annex of the certainly destructible hero where we see every gunshot-glasscut-burn-scrape and wound by the end where Mr McClane can barley walk to the final fight and better yet, uses Christmas gift-wrap to conceal his final takedown pistol.  Bravo!
This is what happens when you get invited to a Christmas Party by mistake.  Plus this was my first exposure to Run-Dmc's take on a carol.  I could watch this movie any day of the week.

4 - Ghostbusters 2: Christmas never gets mentioned and I wonder how much time passes between the Ghostbusters rise to fame and New Years Eve at the end....I guess a month but that means the G-men really bust their asses getting the money to reopen the firehouse, get all their stuff back together and get a healthy customer base within a let's say 3 week period. This is loaded with Santa Hats, Christmas Trees and festive lights...oh yeah and Auld Lang Syne at the end so congrats Ghostubsters 2, you aren't nearly as good as the first (probably will be better than the 3rd) but you get to transcend into the ranks of Holiday Films. Nice one.

3. Mothman Prophecies:  Still gives me chills as my personal scariest movie of all time...not for jumps but for something that gets under your skin and stays ther long after the movie is over.   You will never look at tail-lights, christmas lights or christmas presents the same way again, number 37. 

2. Gremlins:  What was advertised as a sweet, family, Christmas film turns into a hellish nightmare that was one of the two reasons why PG-13 exists to this day!  Everyone is great in this movie, not a character, line of dialogue or special effect is wasted and it is expertly paced.  Has horror, suspense, sci-fi, family, holiday and comedy elements all wrapped into one.  I always as a kid wanted to get out of school quickly when Christmas break was starting...to get home yes but also to get out of that building if any Gremlins were hiding in the science room...where we always got a random boring filmstrip to watch before break just like those kids in the movie did.


1. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang:  I don't entirely dig the whole Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man thing...granted, he is perfect for the role but maybe it is just that he does Tony Stark a bit TOO well for my taste.  However this is RD Jr at his finest with Val Kilmer in one of the funniest roles around while Michelle Monaghan is possibly one of the most likable love-interests who nails emulating the whole package of what so many of guys longed for in high school with that one perfect girl who only could go so far as to tell them about her dates rather than go on one with them.  This movie is sharply written, has a great modern, noir, whodunnit feel and gives every guy that shot of being able to be the grown-up hero to the girl that got away wearing a Santa Hat as a cherry on top.