Friday, November 28, 2014

ibb & obb (video game)

ibb & obb, Sparpweed, Puzzle Platformer, Indie, Co-op, May 26, 2014.

Synopsis: ibb & obb is a two player cooperative game set in a puzzle filled world where gravity goes both up and down. You can only succeed by working closely together. Find a friend for some true local co-op couch fun or match up online.

My thoughts: Are you looking for another fun puzzle game? As a fan of the genre myself, I can say I look often. This game stood out for it's art style, co-op, and simplicity.

When it comes to puzzle platformers, ibb & obb uses a recently popular mind-bending alteration on physics. Many of its peer platformers have also used dual or mirrored characters, but not quite in this same way. In those, you the player are able to control both. Here, each character must fend for himself, but also cooperate to succeed. It has taken cues from the co-op element of Portal, but is still self-contained.

While I typically don't enjoy platformers in the genre, this was an exception. Simplicity is key, and the developers executed it very well. It doesn't remain the same throughout, and there is clear progression in the art, but it's always minimal, clean, and fresh. The smooth dream-like artistry behind it, including the music, is excellent and I applaud it.

There is hardly any story, which is fine with this game, and what exists is only shown visually, and you are up to interpret it. It's not as integral, but makes for a neat dynamic if you think about it. I think this part could be developed further. While it's clean, and I like that, it's not overly progressed. It appears, and then goes nowhere. Because of this, it doesn't stick with you long after you play. It's good and lovely mental and cooperative exercise, but not much more.

The puzzle difficulty is variable, and you can choose to pursue more challenging ones that don't hinder you from the main drive. Co-op makes this a lot of fun, as you decipher these physics traps together. It's a good communication and team-building exercise also. It certainly delivers on mental puzzlers, and if you enjoy them, I recommend it to you.

My rating: 85/100

Official Site

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dear Esther (video game)

Dear Esther, The Chinese Room, Exploration, First-Person, Narrative, February 14, 2012.

Synopsis: Forget the normal rules of play; if nothing seems real here, it’s because it may just be all a delusion. What is the significance of the aerial -- What happened on the motorway -- is the island real or imagined -- who is Esther and why has she chosen to summon you here? The answers are out there, on the lost beach, the windswept cliffs and buried in the darkness of the tunnels beneath the island… Or then again, they may just not be, after all…

My thoughts: In recent years, there has been a notable rift in video game styles. Some excel, some flop, and some are financially successful despite their quality. This rift nearly always has to do with "story," which is integral to game success. Story is necessary to establish timeless association, connection with a game. This is why games with good story release well-received and remain well-received.

Now, story must be visually presented in a video game. Retro games prove that absolute best resolution isn't necessary for good story. At the same time, however, poor visual presentation will cloud and possibly ruin the story. They must be in tandem. Now to my point. Dear Esther provides both visuals and story in extremely fine beauty, and sets you free to explore it. Set against moody oceanic weather, open to explore the island, and surrounded by Jessica Curry's haunting, exquisite soundtrack, this is an experience you'll never forget. Storytelling comes in a whole new fashion here, and I absolutely loved it.

If you don't enjoy first-person exploration games, or narrative-driven games, this might not be your cup of tea, but I would suggest watching the trailer, and if you like what you see, please play. If not, the soundtrack is available separately, and is definitely worth listening to in full.

My only criticism of this game would be that it seems too short. I was finished in about 2 hours, and for some it would take just over an hour. There is new narrative to find by replaying, and I will definitely do it again soon, but I wanted to stay immersed in that world much longer.

There is no adult content of any sort, that I have run across or heard mention of, or violence. The only reason I'd suggest it for 16+ years is that anyone younger would have a difficult time understanding the story. I highly recommend this game.

My rating: 94/100

Official Site
Buy Dear Esther
Listen to the Dear Esther soundtrack

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Boxers & Saints (graphic novels)

Boxers & Saints, Gene Luen Yang, First Second, Graphic Novel, 512 pages, September 10, 2013.

Synopsis: In two volumes, Boxers & Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao, inspired by visions of the Chinese gods, joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful.
But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity.

My thoughts: It is rare to find a story set in historical account in the fashion that Luen Yang presents. He drives to the heart of the Boxer Rebellion, the people. Specifically Little Bao, from his youth to where the rebellion begins. He explains what could incite such a group to take up arms, in the mere visual story. The visual art seems to be simple, but conveys a lot more than you would first suspect.

Clean lines, vibrant colors, and striking expressions may lead you to think that these novels were created for younger readers. And while they do appeal visually, the topic is a very serious one. Gene Luen Yang does not let the dramatic presentation get in the way. On the contrary, he uses it to drive the story. Chinese story is rooted in this presentation, including the puppet shows Little Bao loved as a child. The bright colors and exaggerated expressions pay homage to Chinese dramatic history. He uses this style to represent both sides, which I find interesting.

In the second volume, Luen Yang presents the other side of the rebellion: the victims. This is a valuable addition, balancing out the story as a whole. Neither side is completely virtuous in this story, and as such both sides had to be presented. In the second title, the similar visual style signifies something important. While Vibiana, the opposite protagonist, was a Christian, she was just as much Chinese. It did not remove her heritage, her association with her people, her country. This visual style, representing Chinese tradition, still applied to her. It was still her history.

In conclusion, Boxers & Saints presents a valuable window into a historical event many Americans are not well aware of, and what it means to exert influence rather than simply communicate. I recommend it to anyone interested in dramatic story, Christian ministry, or historical China.

My rating: 5 stars

Buy Boxers & Saints

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Mother, Come Home (graphic novel)

Mother, Come Home, Paul Hornschemeier, Fantagraphics, Graphic Novel, 128 pages, May 5, 2009.

Synopsis: Mother, Come Home quietly studies the inner lives of recently widowed David and his 7-year-old son, Thomas; both are unable to deal with their grief directly. Thomas, protected by a lion’s mask that his mother gave him, constructs an identity for himself as “the groundskeeper”: ritual and routine, already important to children that age, become paramount to him. He struggles desperately to keep up appearances while his father, a professor of symbolic logic, becomes lost in abstractions. Father and son begin to retreat into their fantasies, but only one emerges.

My thoughts: If you have any interest in reading the graphic medium, this story is an essential one. Please be aware it is a dark subject, but this is what people have to experience at times. It is the story of a son and father who have lost their mother/wife. It is not a daring fight against evil, or the neighborhood kids whiling away summer days. The characters have been deeply changed, and are fighting to regain any parts of themselves they can still find.

While I am still learning more about the graphic novel medium, Mother, Come Home stood out among those I've read. The art style lands far closer to Will Eisner's command of the page, and draws you into the surreal, then stark world you accompany Thomas in. Hornschemeier uses an ornate, tragic palette, and attention to Thomas' focus. Through these the reader understands just how Thomas feels.

Death is a tragic event. It changes everyone it touches. Now, Thomas must survive. I highly recommend this story, because there are others who must survive.

My rating: 5 stars

Buy Mother, Come Home