Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

The idea of pulling together a crew of specially gifted champions and having them face off against seemingly insurmountable odds is no new concept. Nowadays Hollywood has an action flick of that sort at the Cineplex pretty much every weekend. But moviemakers will have to really stoke the creative boiler if they hope to build up the same kind of nutty steam power asgamemaker Intelligent System’s latest take on the idea.Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. creates an alternate steampunk reality that plays out as if on the pages of a kid’s comic book. With bright colors, “bam-whoosh” sound effects that you hear and see printed out, and graphic novel style galore, the game introduces us to a post-Civil War world populated by characters plucked from the pages of literary classics. It’s a heroic cast that includes such recognizable names as Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer; the steel-driving John Henry; and even Dorothy, Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.

You may have heard about President Lincoln being shot at the Ford Theatre in real life, but here that was all staged for a greater purpose. Mr. Lincoln secrets himself away from the political scene so he can gather this game’s notables and put together an elite fighting force known as “Unit S.T.E.A.M.,” which is short for Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace. That’s right, there are strange hordes of uglies attacking our beautiful blue marble, creatures that appear to be plucked from the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.

In the Heat of the Steam
So how does this mishmash of quirkiness all fit together? Well, snugly within the confines of a turn-based strategy game aimed at saving all humanity. With each new chapter, players handpick a team of four characters and plop them down on a grid-based, wide-open map. Each mapped challenge asks you to reach a given goal line, rescue stranded citizens or best a phalanx of specifically structured alien beasties.

Each classic character comes packing his or her own unique weapons. Some are more typical game-battle implements like Henry Fleming’s steam rifle and Tiger Lily’s medi-pak launcher. But others are more interesting contraptions. Tom Sawyer’s punch gun, for instance, makes bad guys see stars by shooting out an oversized boxing glove attached to a long scissor-arm device. And Lion’s main weapon actually launches him in a tumbling rush toward a distant square and its possible occupant. Even the chin-bearded pres himself gets into the action from time to time by crawling into an gigantic steam-powered battle suit (stove-pipe hat included, of course). Choosing the right group of heroes with the right weapons and tumbling-leaping-bashing strengths, then, becomes strategically paramount. (And quite fun to boot.)

You might have guessed by now that everything in this strangely mechanized world runs on steam. So the portable boiler-wearing characters can only move as many squares or perform as many actions as their steam supply allows. And then with “Overwatch,” players can choose to save some steam at the end of their turn, preserving the ability to launch a preemptive volley if an alien comes close enough during its move.

No Need to Get Steamed
The impact of said smacking and shooting involves seeing such things as exploding penguin bombs and grenades, along with laser beams, blades and bullets. The aliens disappear with a splat of purple goop in some cutscenes, but generally humans and aliens alike simply grow weaker with repeated star-burst hits until they fall over and check out of the battle (to be revived at the next juncture).

The worst of the rest of it? There’s a certain “black magic” that’s mentioned as being at play with those Lovecraftian tentacled monsters, as well as some of the weaponry. One mission is to grab an alien book of “forbidden knowledge” called a Necronomicon. Some of the women display cartoonishly exaggerated cleavage. And we hear the outburst bluster of Tom Sawyer’s “flaming heckfire” and Abe Lincoln’s “damnnation!”

As the final comic book pages are turned and the last heroic sacrifices are made, though, good old Honest Abe lets young gamers know that making choices based on “what helps the most people” ain’t such a bad way to go. And that’s in a game that rewards strategy over gunplay … and letting off some hot steam over killing in cold blood.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse


The pink ‘n’ bouncy hero known as Kirby is back. But this time he’s facing new challenges … and he’ll need the help of a new partner.

In his last game, Kirby: Triple Deluxe (for the 3DS), the cute little ball hero from Dream Land lived up to his name and used plenty of sucking power to swallow up baddies and gain their special abilities. For this contest, though, he’s left his vacuuming skills in the broom closet. Instead, he’s out to make the most of the Wii U’s touchscreen and stylus to solve his platforming puzzles.

Color Me Colorless
So what’s happening in Dream Land now? Well, it seems a mysterious hole has opened up in the sky above Kirby’s colorful, Claymation-like world, and it soon starts draining the tints and hues from everything. Then Elline, a paintbrush fairy from the land of Seventopia, comes popping through the hole too. We learn from her that the magician-like Claycia is using evil magic to drain the universe’s color. And only Kirby and Elline can restore the rainbow-and-sunshine balance of things, by besting that pigment pilfering perpetrator.

After setting up that storyline, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse tosses gamers into 28 bite-sized stages of platform-jumping acrobatics as Kirby and his crew traverse and defend a series of visually charming lands.

A Stylus Way of Doing Things
Players don’t control the ol’ Kirbster through button punches or analog stick wiggles as you might expect. Instead they use Elline’s paintbrush—in the form of the Wii U’s stylus—to guide our hero with rainbow ropes or tracks drawn on the game controller’s screen. So as Kirby rolls happily along, your sketched rainbow path will help him climb over obstacles or make his way to higher platforms and tougher foes.

That requires quite a lot of strategy. There’s only so much paint available at any point, for instance. The colorful liquid recharges after a few seconds of non-use, but if Elline’s brush goes dry while Kirby is hung out over a mountain cavern or surrounded by spikey baddies, well, he’ll bounce off the screen with an “ouch” and it’ll be back to the last checkpoint. In other levels, you’ll need to tap a rope-climbing Kirby at just the right moment to get him spinning fast enough to bop or smash through obstacles in his path.

Elline has yet another skill up her brush-bristle sleeves that comes in handy. When she and Kirby run across a canvas and easel, she can paint a picture and transform Kirby from a rolling pink orb into a tank, a rocket or a submarine. As a tank, Kirby can shoot in any direction and bop scores of approaching enemies when players tap those foes. And those other forms offer similarly useful new abilities. Finally, when Kirby collects enough golden stars in his journeys, he can also power up to Hulk-like, smash-through-everything strength for a few seconds.

Finding Your Rainbow Groove
OK. You’ve already figured out that this game romps ‘n’ rollicks and smashes ‘n’ bashes whimsically through an obviously magical, fantastical world. And though it’s a relatively straightforward platformer, Rainbow Curse definitely demands getting into a certain rhythm. Painting with short stylus strokes, and being aware of your abilities and surrounding threats is a necessity—especially in some particularly tricky puzzles and when facing some surprisingly lethal bosses.

Mastering Rainbow Curse, then, might prove a challenge for the youngest players. It’s not that the obstacles are impossible, mind you. But the onslaught of traps and enemies—and the fact that the stylus demands that you stay glued to the small Wii U controller screen—can get frustrating. And that could very easily mean that Mom or Dad will have to tag in for little bouncing-hero support from time to time.

(Not a bad thing to do with any game, by the way.)

Resident Evil: Revelations 2

Saturday, April 4, 2015
Horror/Suspense, Action/Adventure, Combat, Shooter
Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC
March 18, 2015
Bob Hoose with Kevin Simpson
Resident Evil: Revelations 2
Dark, decaying passageways. Limited resources and defenses. Terrorizing monsters hidden just out of view. These are the typical building blocks of a survival horror game. And it’s the kind of jump/scare stuff that’s been a part of the Resident Evil series of games for almost 20 years now.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 follows on the heels of the first Resident Evil: Revelations and takes place somewhere between the action of Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6. But it doesn’t really matter if you’re current on this undead canon or not. All you need to know is that in this digital world there’s a sinister force that desires to create slavering zombie-like Bio Organic Weapons out of living, breathing people so as to take control of … well, everything.

Only Three Good Gals … and a Guy
Of course, if there are terrorist baddies out and about, there must be some good guys to fight against them. In this case it comes down to Resident Evil stalwart Claire Redfield and a trio of others who step up and into the fray.

Claire, a proud gun-toting member of anti-bioterrorism group TerraSave, is mysteriously abducted and plopped down inside what appears to be some kind of island-bound, twisted mental asylum. The walls of this horror hospital are dripping with gore and rot, while chain-suspended torture devices swing and spin, and zombies lurch through the shadows looking for a fleshy meal.

It seems that Claire and other human captives have been adorned with special fear-sensing bracelets that will inject them with the deadly Bio Organic virus if they become too frightened. So not only does Claire have to fight off repulsive creatures, she has to battle her own emotions so as not to become a monster herself. Eventually she teams up with a foulmouthed teen named Moira Burton, and together they strive to fight their way through the hellish obstacles.

There’s another thread to this fraying tale, though. Six months after Claire and Moira face off with deadly entities in that putrid pit, another Resident Evil regular, Barry Burton, shows up looking for his missing daughter. With the help of a strange young girl named Natalia, Barry tries to uncover clues to Moira’s whereabouts, while kicking a lot of monster backside in his own singular fashion.

What that all boils down to, then, is an episodic unspooling (the game was originally released in piecemeal fashion) of scenes that jump forward and backward by six months as gamers inhabit these two different pairs of heroes. The shooting and shadow-creeping action can be played through in co-op mode or with a single player manning the controller. But in either case, you’re asked to take constant advantage of each character’s special set of skills.

As they traverse crumbling, trap-laden factories or puzzle-packed sewage plants, for instance, it becomes clear that Claire is quite good at handling a shotgun while Moira sticks to spotting hidden supplies with her flashlight and putting a crowbar into play. Barry shows his gifting when it comes to sneaking up on a monster and jamming a huge blade into its spine. And the sweet and innocent Natalia can slip in through small gaps and spot gruesome ghoulies lying in wait around the next bend.

A Lot More Butchery and Bloodlust
Depending on the game choices you make, there’s a little father-daughter reconciliation that gets thrown into the mix. But this is a pretty typical Resident Evil assemblage. Which means you can expect gallons of gurgling goop.

Nasty creatures are regularly slaughtered and dismembered with handguns, shotguns, knives, Molotov cocktails, bricks, bottles and fists. Targeted noggins turn to mush and are splattered with grisly and graphic HD clarity.

The dialogue packed with nasty profanity is no picnic either. F- and s-words, along with a full cavalcade of other harsh vulgarities are everywhere. And a lot of those coarse crudities are spouted by a teen girl—comments regularly used as “humorous” tension breakers delivered between intensely unpleasant battles.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 actually goes even beyond all that visual and verbal mess, however, when it comes to the character of Natalia. As the game progresses we come to feel quite protective of this seemingly innocent child. Then, depending on choices made, we are not only forced to watch her be battered and pummeled, but we see what amounts to evil incarnate eventually possess her.

Super Smash Bros.

By Bob Hoose

Super Smash Bros.

OK, so you want a rock-’em, sock-’em combat game but would rather avoid ripping out digital spleens and splashing the scenery with a crimson tide? Well, the gamemakers at Nintendo have dreamed up an option. And, hey, it even comes packing Pac-Man!

Super Smash Bros. is one of those quirky Nintendo variants where tons of distinctly dissimilar characters from, oh, some 30-plus years of games are all dumped into a single roster. In fact, if you’ve ever played and loved any Nintendo game in your life, you’ll likely find something about it referenced here.

There are 49 different male and female characters ready to jump and bop around, in fact. There are the expected ones, you know, like Mario, Bowser and Princess Peach. But also more obscure avatars like Pikmin’s Olimar, Captain Falcon, the Duck Hunt dog, and even a workout gear-clad Wii Fit trainer. Each character has his or her or its own set of strikes, kicks, flips and blocks, and even some special game-related tricky moves tucked up a sleeve or down an elbow-length opera glove. The Duck Hunt dog, for instance, flaunts clay pigeons and explosive barrels.

To be honest, there are so many moves and tucked-away possibilities with this parade of battlers that figuring everything out is probably the biggest challenge gamers face. So when the inexperienced first jump in, it’s pretty much a case of mashing various buttons until something happens. (Up to eight players can choose characters and face off using everything from the Wii U GamePad to Wii Remotes to the classic GameCube pad to even a Nintendo 3DS as a controller.)

Fortunately, if they stick with it, even befuddled younger players can find a number of different game modes to help them master what needs mastering. Event mode, for instance, offers a series of colorful and fun solo or co-op challenges. Here are a couple: Mario is sent in to duke it out with a couple of archenemy heavyweights, Sonic the Hedgehog takes on a gang of speedy foes, and Captain Falcon must keep a troop of parachutists from touching down. They’re all relatively easy missions that teach dodge, speed attack and aerial skills.

Of course, once you get down to the chaotic bim-bam-boom core of things, this is a pretty serious fighting game … without ever having to see Donkey Kong filleted into piles of gorilla meat. Kirby cuties and Pokémon paladins do battle it out for king-of-the-hill bragging rights, but things always stay cartoony clean.

Lightning bolts and balls of fire-breath fly around. Swords are swung and combatants whirl, pounce and zap. And through it all, no one is physically hurt. A damage meter simply fills up until one battler is bested and falls from the screen … then springs back for the next round. The most severe penalty? In some modes, earned bonuses or equipment are abandoned with a loss.

Cute, creative and colorful or not, of course, you’re still fighting here. So parents should consider that fact as it relates to how much time kids spend doing it. And that’s a task that’ll be harder than the grown-ups think. Because the most difficult thing about Super Smash Bros. is figuring out how to walk away on a school night from just one more round!

Far Cry 4


Game Reviews

Wednesday, January 21, 2015
MPAA Rating


Shooter, Action/Adventure
Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC
November 18, 2014
Bob Hoose
Far Cry 4

Far Cry 4

Far Cry 4 takes place in a fictional Himalayan country called Kyrat—a land of mythical spirituality, maslach pushers and Molotov cocktails. As a young American named Ajay Ghale, you arrive in this exotic-looking mountainous and thickly wooded land with an urn of ashes in hand. Ajay’s mother’s dying wish was that her son would return to their homeland to scatter her ashes at a special shrine.

Of course, things aren’t going to be as simple as all that. No sooner does Ajay arrive in the country than his bus is riddled with gunfire and he’s snatched up by scene-chewing potentate Pagan Min, a guy with a taste for dire dramatics and a habit of butchering anyone who doesn’t please him. But before the flouncing madman can make his desires or his relationship to Ajay fully known, a freedom-fighter group called the Golden Path creates a diversion and sets Ajay free once more—drawing him into its fold and labeling him the “son of the great Mohan.”

Who are all these people and what do they want from Ajay? Well, that’s what he—and you—must determine while fulfilling scores of quests in this vast open sandbox. Ajay ambles up over mountain highs and down through valley lows, arming himself with machetes, bows and arrows and a variety of high-caliber weaponry, slaughtering scores of local sharp-clawed beasts and hundreds of equally savage humans on his way to the truth.

How Do I Kill Thee? Let Me Count the Ways
There is, without question, quite a bit of compelling adventure and even a dash of heroics mixed into the storyline as you traverse this beautifully rendered and well-defined video game land. But it’s quickly apparent that Far Cry 4 isn’t trying to give gamers a new cultural perspective or lead them on a path of freedom for the oppressed. No, this is a bloody shooter that merely uses its exotic locale and Far Eastern spirituality as a colorful backdrop for more and more massively maniacal mayhem.

A series of insurgent assassination objectives are given to you as you improvise and strategize the best way to accomplish each task. Do you stealthily slash throats, silently painting the walls around you? Or should you use a block of C4 to blow an elephant to smithereens and start a panic? Or what about jumping up on that elephant’s back (before you blow it up!) and mowing down guards with backbone-snapping trunk swings?

The choices are many, but generally deadly.

We see screaming characters tortured, animals and men obliterated with high explosives and dead bodies stacked like cordwood. Ajay can also skin nearly every animal he kills and use their bloody hides as lures or as raw material from which to craft new items (from a nifty holster to a big booty-bearing backpack).

Other Junk on the Journey
Another challenge finds Ajay stripped of clothes, which affords a brief glimpse of his naked genitals. In this condition he’s sent in to battle an arena full of heavily armed men and vicious beasts. We encounter some female nudity, too, as digitally well-defined topless women hold Ajay prisoner; they’re wearing little more than brief skirts and a few splashes of body paint. Discussions of prostitution, sadism and masochism pop up from time to time.

Ajay encounters a pair of British hop heads named Reggie and Yogi who are constantly offering him a toke or two from whatever blend of weed they’re currently puffing, along with a needle full of their latest pharmaceutical concoction—opiate blasts that regularly cause Ajay to keel over into unconsciousness. On one such drugged-out trip, he yomps his way through the mystical land of Shangri-La, a colorful place of pooled gore, deadly killers and a magical tiger.

Then, in the midst of the many references to Far Eastern religions there’s one character who claims to be a Christian—a reformed warlord killer who regularly quotes Scripture and states that his past sins are “covered by the blood of the Lamb.” Yet none of the religious perspectives seem to curb the game’s rampant foul language (including frequent uses of f- and s-words) or nudge the characters off whatever illegal, unethical or murderous path they’re currently on.

Sunset Overdrive

Wednesday, January 21, 2015
MPAA Rating


Shooter, Combat, Action/Adventure, Horror/Suspense
Xbox One
Microsoft Game Studios
October 28, 2014
Bob Hoose
Sunset Overdrive

Sunset Overdrive

What would you do if all your friends were turned into slavering, gnarly mutants? If you answered, “Well, most of them already are,” then I can’t help you here. But if you said, “I’d run for the hills while fighting for my life with every makeshift weapon I could lay my hands on,” well, then you’re ready to read this review of Sunset Overdrive.

Trying Not to OD on the Delirious Details
The game’s apocalyptic tale takes place in the near future when a greedy corporation called FizzCo releases its newest big-buzz energy drink, OverCharge Delirium XT, at an exclusive event in Sunset City. The only problem is that the drinkmakers skipped a few product testing steps and health regulations in an attempt to get their latest moneymaker to market expeditiously. And the result is that anybody who slugs back a can of the stuff instantly turns into a mindless monstrosity covered in twisted muscular flesh and large toxic blisters.

Because that’s exactly what always happens in these kinds of situations.

Thousands of OverCharge Drinkers, known as OD, soon swarm the city. The whole place is then deviously quarantined and walled off by the mega-powerful FizzCo in an effort to keep their big “oops” out of the public eye. So it’s up to your unnamed male or female avatar to work with the few remaining good-humans, fight off militant bad-human “scabs,” destroy the various OD, and finally find a way to exit this devastated open sandbox of a city.

Comedy, Color and Quirky Carnage
A torrent of self-aware giggle-gags and rat-a-tat one-liners are on the front lines of this skirmish—some quirky and clean, others crass and crude. But don’t think any of them are sly. This game has all the subtlety of an atomic explosion in a crayon factory. Sunset Overdrive is loud, fast, and it bursts with color at every turn—from guns that spit out a barrage of fireworks-like blasts to multihued graffitied city streets to mutant foes that explode in a gush of neon goop.

The majority of the play is focused on keeping you in constant, adrenaline-laced movement. Earning rewards for always speeding forward with abandon and never letting your digital soles linger or loaf prompts you to bounce off the bushes and café umbrellas, air vents and car roofs. You grind along fence tops and power lines, doing triple flips with the grace of a gymnastic pro. All the while, peculiar quests demand that you splash the scenery with an abundance of monster goo, robot lubricant and human gore through use of an arsenal of outlandish weapons.

Beyond the straightforward handguns and shotguns there are handheld launchers that shoot out a rapid-fire blaze of ricocheting vinyl records, for example. Other gadgets lay down freeze bombs, or spread fire bursts or corrosive acid sprinkles. If you need a little extra oomph, there’s a rifle that chucks a cascade of teddy bears … stuffed with explosives.

Filtered … But Not Fizz-Funk Free
This M-rated rager does have filters that can be applied, taking away some of the messy spew during kills and blasting out bleeps at the same time as the foul language—that normally includes a steady stream of f- and s-words along with uses of “b–ch,” “h—,” “b–tard,” “d–n” and “a–.” Using those filters can turn the game into something closer to a frantic T-rated blaster. But they don’t clean up Sunset City entirely.

Even with the blocks and barriers in place, there are still numerous sexual winks in the visuals and dialogue, including discussions of porn. Young characters still talk about—and in some cases praise—casual alcohol consumption and narcotics use. A guy shows up with no arms or legs … because he had to eat them to survive.

You can run around nearly naked, clothed just in the briefest of underwear. And in one case, whether you play as a guy or a gal, you’re forced to strip down and be covered with blood-sucking leeches. Speaking of blood, if the gamemakers had allowed us to filter out all of the trigger pulling, death dealing and “colorful” dismemberment, well, it would’ve been sunset time for them. There simply wouldn’t be any game left to play.

Destiny Game Review


Wednesday, November 12, 2014
MPAA Rating


Shooter, Combat, Action/Adventure
Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
September 9, 2014
Bob Hoose


When the creators of the gigantically popular Halo franchise and the publisher of the equally mega-sized Call of Duty series get together, you can reasonably expect that something big might come of their efforts.

It’s that logic that’s made this space shooter Destiny one of the most highly anticipated games of the year. In fact, in spite of some rather mixed reviews, it shot out of the gate with an enormous first week—selling a whopping 2.4 million copies while also upping the sales numbers for both of the latest-gen PlayStation and Xbox consoles by something close to 250%.

Shaping the Story and Art of War
The game’s storyline takes place some 700 years in the future, after mankind has discovered that a gigantic, benevolent sphere of light dubbed the Traveler has happened into our solar system. This alien visitor ushers in a new era of prosperity as it helps humans colonize other planets and make huge technological strides forward. So is it all picnics and parades in this land of tomorrow? Well, is this Candy Land we’re playing here? No, the other cosmic shoe quickly drops when the Traveler is followed by a Darkness that wants nothing more than to lay waste to all the good that’s been gained.

Players must create a Guardian to represent them—which can be either male or female, and one of three races: human, awoken (blue-skinned space dwellers) or exo (living robots). And then they pick from one of three classes: a heavily armored Titan; a more agile, knife-slashing Hunter; or a magic bolt-flinging warlock, each with special attack or defend skills and an assortment of weaponry. Then it’s off to team up with a little robot sidekick called a Ghost and begin defending the Traveler and saving the last of the human race from oblivion.

On the attack for the Darkness team are a number of different breeds of malignant monsters that have dug in on various planets and moons around the solar system and are setting up plans for one last major human-pounding offensive. There are, for instance, huge multi-limbed insectoid ambushers called the Fallen, swarming underground screamers called the Hive, and half-robot-half-organic killers called the Vex that can teleport out of nowhere with death in their glowing eyes.

All of these elements play out in a unique style that gamemaker Bungie calls “shared-world” gaming. What that means is Destiny incorporates some massively multiplayer online gaming elements without being a full MMO. For instance, rather than you being able to see and interact with all other players online, on-the-fly matchmaking allows you to see (and team up with if you choose) only a few players with whom you are “matched.” It’s an interesting team tool that you can use to get help in tough spots.

Is It Really Your Gaming Destiny?
Destiny is a T-rated first-person shooter, which means the death-dealing never gets as bloody and gory as, say, the aforementioned Call of Duty, or even Halo. You blaze away in story mode at malevolent beasties who go down with a flash of light and then dissolve away.

But you do still blaze away! Constantly. Your one and only game plan here? Kill literally every moving creature you face. Guardians level up their skills, gaining ever more destructive super blasts, along with increasingly powerful weaponry that includes assault rifles, machine guns, laser rays, rocket launchers and grenades. That equals a whole lotta fluid-but-intense trigger-pulling that lasts till long after your fingers go numb, with scores and scores and scores of wounded foes constantly crying out in pain before they tumble and disintegrate.

When those monster baddies come screaming and raging out of the dark by the dozens, things can get pretty creepy, too. And the mere presence of the good-guy warlock class raises a few spiritual questions. Then, if you play in a competitive mode called Crucible, which is essentially a tower-defense deathmatch, you have to also shoot at online human opponents, not just insectoid or robot baddies.