Endling: Extinction Is Forever - title

Hey! I finally actually downloaded and played one of the PSN free monthly games for a change! Endling: Extinction Is Forever has been on my Steam wishlist for a while, but I passed on buying it during this summer sale because I instead spent most of my summer sale money on vintage Star Trek games as research for an upcoming video essay. Well, I got lucky because a week or 2 later, Endling showed up, for free, on the PSN!

Endling: Extinction Is Forever may look like a cutesy little indie game featuring a cute little fox taking care of her cute little fox babies in a beautiful, lush, vibrantly-animated forest. But as the game's title should hopefully suggest, this game is not nearly as cute and pastoral as the thumbnail suggests. Endling is actually quite a bleak and depressing game that addresses ecological collapse, species extinction, corporate greed, the cruelty of humans when they're desperate, and other similar themes.

It has sparks of optimism. There are opportunities to show compassion and to cooperate with other animals and humans. But they are fleeting, and often punctuate tragedy anyway.

There are brief flickers of compassion and optimism, but Endling is an overall bleak game.

So yes, if you download this game, you will get cute, cartoon foxes frolicking in vibrantly-colored woods. And they are adorable and charming. But then again, Bambi and The Land Before Time were also colorfully-animated movies about cute woodland critters, and ... well ...

Motherly instinct

The game begins with the player controlling a fox escaping a raging forest fire. She reaches her den and it is revealed that she is pregnant, and she immediately gives birth to four little fox pups, which the player can customize with different colors to add your own personal touch to the game. But before you can even get around to naming them, a monstrous human hunter reaches into the den, grabs one of the pups, and kidnaps it. You now have 3 little fox pups who are wholly dependent on you, and it is your job to keep them fed and safe.

The gameplay loop consists of leaving the den each night to explore the forest and scavenge or hunt for food to feed your remaining pups, while also, occasionally picking up the trail of the human hunter who kidnapped your fourth pup. Then you must return to your den before the sun comes up, or else the forest will become populated with human hunters and trappers who will relentlessly pursue you and your pups for your meat and skins. And if you fail to find enough food in a given day, one of the cubs will starve to death.

As the game progresses, the humans destroy more and more of the ecosystem.

As you explore, your cubs may also learn various survival skills of their own, which allows them to reach new places, or access food that the mother fox cannot reach. There are some skills that all the pups can learn, but most skills can only be learned by a single pup in a given playthrough, which means that using that pup's skill to access a hard-to-reach place will mean leaving the other cubs behind.

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Déraciné - title

I've been enjoying the PS5 and the PSVR2. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that when all is said and done, the PS5 might end up being my second favorite console after the PS2. Its novel controller has even rekindled a long-lost love of Gran Turismo. The PSVR2 has been a bit more of a mixed bag. The few games that I've played on it have been good. The set itself is an improvement over the previous hardware in almost every way. It has 1 wire to connect to the console instead of the million cables required to get the original PSVR to connect to the console and TV, and the screen is a lot clearer and more vibrant. The only real downside of the physical hardware is that it is not as comfortable to wear as the original PSVR.

The biggest problem with the PSVR2, however, isn't really a problem with the PSVR2 hardware itself. The problem is the lack of things to play on it. It doesn't really have any killer apps at launch. There's a handful of games that are hardly more than tech demos or glorified expansions for other games. The only full games to be playable in VR at launch were Gran Turismo 7 and Resident Evil: Village, which were already a year or 2 old when the PSVR2 released.

Worst of all, however, is that the PSVR2 does not support any of the original PSVR games for PS4. This is despite the fact that the PS5 was always marketed as being fully backwards compatible with PS4 games. I get that the PSVR2 hardware works under totally different principles compared to the original system (using motion-sensing hardware instead of tracking the headset's position with cameras). But that doesn't mean that Sony couldn't have developed an API to translate the inputs from the PSVR2 into commands that PSVR games could understand. In any case, the net effect is that those of us who bought a PSVR2 are stuck with the hardware's limited library and don't have the luxury of the back-catalog of great PSVR titles. That means no Star Wars: Squadrons, no Resident Evil VII, and no Ace Combat 7, among other PS4 VR games.

The PSVR2 is not backwards-compatible with any of the PS4 VR games.

I actually wasn't aware that the PSVR2 wouldn't support PSVR games when I bought the hardware, and I never owned the original PSVR unit. While I was waiting for the PSVR2 hardware to be delivered, I already bought a fancy new flight stick with the expectation that I would be able to play Star Wars: Squadrons and Ace Combat, and I also bought another PS4 game that I never got around to playing because it was only available for VR. That game was FromSoftware's experimental little VR game, Déraciné. And since the PSVR2 wouldn't play these games on the PS5, I had to ask a friend if I could borrow his original PSVR headset so that I could play them.

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Photosynthesis - title

Blue Orange is a company that has released a series of very successful board games that are geared towards children, and which feature educational themes. My girlfriend and I came across some of their games in a kids' hobby store while on a family road trip last year. The game that stood out the most on the shelf was a new release called Photosynthesis, a game about players competing to grow a small forest. The box art and pictures on the back made the game look very pretty, and its educational theme about the life cycle of plants intrigued us. So we bought a copy and held onto it until our kid's birthday in the fall.

The game is recommended for ages eight and older, and is easy to dismiss as just a "kids' game", especially given its status as "edutainment". However, this game is more complicated than your standard kids' fare. There actually is some strategy involved, and the game runs for about 90-minutes. It's not a random dial-flicker or dice-roller like Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, or other such Milton Bradley / Hasbro / Parker Bros. games that make up a kid's board game shelf. It also has deeper strategy than the children's version of Carcassone (which our kid also has). This game (along with most of Blue Orange's catalog) is definitely geared towards family night, in which people of all ages are playing.

The game board is very pretty once multiple trees of different colors are placed.

A vibrant forest

This game's components certainly are pretty. The trees (and everything else) are simple cardboard cutouts, but they are printed on some thick and sturdy cardstock. Production quality is pretty high for a kid's game, and that high quality is always important when you're playing a game with kids, as it means the game will last longer before falling apart. All the colors are vibrant and attractive, and they all mix together very well when the trees are all clumped together on the board. I'm not particularly keen on the blue evergreens, which look very unnatural and kind of out of place. Maybe Blue Orange could have gone with more of a blue-green color? Or maybe red, as in "redwood"? Ah well, it's not a big deal. Maybe the blue trees are an homage to the company's name. The game looks very pretty, in any case.

The gameplay is pretty simple and elegant. Each turn, sunlight comes from a particular direction on the board, and any trees that are not blocked by an adjacent tree (e.g. the tree is not "in the shadow" of another tree) collects sunlight points for the owning player. Each player then spends their sunlight points to plant new seeds on the board, or to grow existing seeds into small trees, to grow an existing tree from small to medium or medium to large, or to let a large tree die. When a large tree dies, it creates new soil, which is awarded to the owning player as victory points. Trees in spaces further from the edges of the board score more points.

The sun moves across the board each turn, providing sunlight and shade to different trees.

Each round the sun moves around the board, casting different trees in the shadows of other trees. Medium and large trees also collect more sunlight, cast longer shadows, and can collect sunlight if partially-obstructed by smaller trees. So where you put the trees, and how tall you let them grow, will determine whether they will get sunlight, or if they will block other players' trees. You also have trade offs between planting more trees or growing your existing trees. Your own trees can also block your other trees, so you have to keep that in mind when you are placing or growing your trees.

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Spectacular Spider-Man

Pretty much any time I talk about Spider-Man on this blog, I use one of two points of reference. The first is the original comics themselves (the Silver Age comics of the 60's and 70's). The second point of reference is a short-lived children's cartoon from 2008 to 2009 called The Spectacular Spider-Man. Its first season aired on The CW network (part of Warner Bros. network), and the second season aired on Disney XD. The series was developed primarily by Greg Weisman and Victor Cook, and was produced by Sony.

Despite referring back to this series repeatedly, I've never actually written a review of it. Recently, however, I re-watched the series (by introducing it to my 8-year-old daughter and her friends), and thought maybe I should actually write a review of. Put simply, Spectacular Spider-Man is probably the single best adaptation of Spider-Man that has ever been put on a screen. It's not only the best Spidey animated series, but it might even be better than any of the Spider-Man movies, including Sam Raimi's movies and Marvel's recent Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Spectacular Spider-Man is a better adaptation than any of the Spider-Man movies.

High school drama for all audiences

The show is a children's cartoon and its high school setting is definitely targeting younger kids. But it is surprisingly well-planned, well-written, and well-executed for a children's cartoon, and the teenage drama suits Spider-Man exceptionally well. Any Spidey fan, regardless of age, should be able to enjoy this show.

On the surface, the series seems to take a lot of inspiration from the Ultimate Spider-Man line of comics. This was a little bit off-putting for me at first because I don't particularly care for the Ultimate Spider-Man storylines or aesthetics. However, Spectacular won me over by remaining very faithful to the original comics as well. Spectacular manages to take the best elements from every incarnation of Spider-Man, combines them, and modernizes them into a 21st century setting while delightfully capturing the spirit of the original 60's and 70's comics. Plot elements and themes are pulled from the original comics, from the Ultimate comics, and also (being produced by Sony) from the Sam Raimi movies. It even makes a few successful homages to the 1990's Spider-Man: the Animated Series that ran on Fox and had been, up till this point, the gold standard for Spidey on TV (at least, up until the last couple seasons go completely off the rails).

Spectacular takes the best elements from every incarnation of Spider-Man,
while remaining spectacularly faithful to the original 60's and 70's comics.

Spectacular even replicates some scenes straight from the panels of the comics. The infamous "Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot." scene is transferred verbatim. Other scenes such as Spider-Man removing the Venom symbiote in the church tower, and channeling the thoughts of his friends and loved ones to help him lift himself out from under collapsing metal beams are also faithfully replicated.


Spectacular [BOTTOM ROW] replicates panels from the original comics [TOP ROW] almost verbatim.

Other adaptations have also replicated (or paid homage to) specific comic book panels. For instance, The Animated Series of the 90's also had the "Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot!" scene, and the symbiote bell tower scene, and so forth, and many of its episodes are loosely based on issues of the comics. Homecoming had the "trapped under rubble" scene. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movie had the Green Goblin being impaled by his glider. And so forth.

What separates Spectacular from these other adaptations is that Spectacular manages to maintain more of the nuance and texture of those original comic panels.

And it isn't just the faithfullness to the source material that I like. The show is also generally well-written, with some clever (and not-so-clever) uses of things like symbolism and foreshadowing. The characters are all well-written and well-performed. The animation may have exaggerated body proportions, but it's very fluid, expressive, and is full of nuances in facial expressions and body language. There are some parts of the show that have some cheesy dialogue that reminds me that it's a children's show, but overall, the show is immensely watchable by adults and children alike.

There's some quality writing, including foreshadowing, symbolism, and misdirection.

If I haven't made it clear already, this show is fantastic, and I absolutely adore it! The next section will contain minor spoilers, and the sections after that will contain major spoilers! So if you haven't seen the show yet, then I highly recommend that you buy the DVDs and watch it, then come back to finish reading the review. You can maybe get through the next section ("Friends and Lovers") without too much spoilers, but sections after that will be spoiling major story threads, including what I consider to be the single biggest spoiler in the entire series. Suffice it to say: I love what the show does with Gwen Stacy, I love what it does with Mary Jane, I love what it does with Harry Osborne, and I love the depictions of most of the villains! If you haven't watched the show yet, then read on at your own risk!

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What Remains of Edith Finch - title

The Finch family is, as we are told, cursed. It's not a spoiler to say that every member of the family dies a tragic, premature death. The family tree in the sketchbook tells you as much at the start of the game.

We play, ostensibly, as 17-year-old Edith Finch, the last surviving member of the Finch family, but also an expecting mother. Her son will carry on the name and legacy of the family. She returns to her childhood home to learn the stories of all her cursed relatives, as she debates internally with whether to share these stories with her son, or to let the past (and its myriad tragedies) fade away and die.

The Finch family is cursed by tragedy.

The house itself, is a whimsical generational home in which each member of the family is given his or her own unique room. As more members of the family are born, new rooms are added onto the house, including a towering structure on the top that makes the house look almost like a castle. After losing both of her sons, Edith's mother began sealing off everyone's rooms so that Edith (and any future children) would not become aware of how the others died. But, each room has alternate ways in and out, including some secret doorways and tunnels.

Despite the whimsical, fantastical nature of the house, everything feels surprisingly real and lived-in. The house is cluttered with the paraphernalia of the family (since they were apparently also hoarders), and each room has a very distinct personality. Even the shared spaces that do not belong to any one individual still exhibit a sense of personality to them. This is a family that takes great pride in their history and the connectedness that they have towards one another.

The Finch home is a whimsical, generational house.

As she learns about these stories, Edith questions whether the family members should know about the stories of their relatives and the supposed curse? Or does that knowledge make tragedy a self-fulfilling prophecy? Should she share these stories with her unborn son, at the risk that the knowledge may cause him to also fall victim to the curse? Or is he cursed either way, and has a right to know it?...

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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