Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Game Review: Alundra (PS One)

Alundra is a PS One Classic beloved by gamers because of its insane puzzles. While its gameplay mimics The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past -- a peerless SNES game -- a major difference is Alundra’s ability to jump, which is often critical to progressing through dungeons and accessing treasure chests on the main map. The game also boasts an amazing soundtrack. As for the story, it’s your standard hero-of-prophecy must battle hidden-dark-forces. The meh-ness of the plot is easily overshadowed by the challenge of the puzzles that players must solve.

Let’s talk about each of the elements that make Alundra shine:

Puzzles: 10/10 
In the world of Alundra, there are two types of dungeons: actual physical locations (e.g. a coal mine, a reptile lair), or inside someone’s nightmare. Both types require going through locked doors to move forward, which means Alundra must find keys, or push buttons, in locations that can sometimes be described as how-the-heck-do-I-reach-that???. While this is easy enough when players first start, the dungeons become bigger and more elaborate, and there’s plenty of backtracking to do.

Jumping is an especially frustrating and yet fun aspect of puzzle-solving. There are many instances when you conclude that you must make a seemingly impossible jump, so you bring Alundra to the verrrry edge, cross your fingers, and leap! And when you get to the other side, your heart goes, “DID YOU SEE THAT? I AM A CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS!” (Now that I think about it, Alundra is so fun because it combines Zelda with Mario. Excuse me while I write a game script mixing Pokemon and Duck Hunt, somehow.)

Even though weak jumping skills make this game painful, you will eventually become a boss jumper because, as they say, “Every failure is an opportunity to improve,” and boy did I fail a lot. For me, the payoff was pride in my gaming skills. #yassss (←I do not know what this means but it seems apropos)

Soundtrack: 10/10 
Every track is perfection. I especially adored “The Shrine of the Lake,” the incredible piece for the final dungeon that evokes the ruined majesty of the place. And it was important for this piece to rock, because players will be at that dungeon for at least 30 minutes, meaning the track will have looped over a dozen times by the time the door to the final boss opens.

If you are ever on the YouTube, check out the full soundtrack uploaded by a fellow named Fresh Paprika.

Story: 8/10
While the overall plot is predictable, Alundra gets high points for its unflinching murder of NPCs. See, a character portrait on an NPC means s/he is important – and suddenly, boom! Dead. My expectations, they were subverted! Well done!

Gameplay: 7/10
Above average for so effectively adding in jumping to Alundra's range of abilities, and for the Gilded Falcon collectibles. But there are items and weapons that barely do anything. I mean, I used the bow twice, and never used the Wind Book. Plus, it ripped off A Link to the Past so much that I expected to have to chase chickens. And [spoiler alert] I didn't! WHERE IS MY CHICKEN CHASING MISSION.

Also, oddly, the PS Vita port of the game uses the back of the device as a shortcut to the menu, which made for awkward interruptions during crucial jumps whenever I gripped the Vita wrong and swiped at the danger zone.

Still, I had a blast!


True story: I had a copy of Alundra for the PS One back in the day, but gave up on the game because I couldn’t get past a particular puzzle. So when I saw it on the Sony Network store, I was all, “This time I’ll win! Because now there are walkthroughs! Mwahahahaaaa~”

When I eventually got to that beautiful screen proclaiming “The End” (and the only way to leave that screen is to reset!), my heart swelled with pride. Thank you, Daniel J. Garcia, aka PhamtonPain for your detailed guide!

TL;DR: A great throwback from the pre-3D gaming era. Recommended! 

This post brought to you by stroopwafels, which I just heard is sold at Whole Foods! Expedition to confirm intel scheduled this weekend!

Movie Review: Star Wars: the Force Awakens (2015)

The newest installment of the Star Wars movie series has magnificent music, thrilling action, a mysterious protagonist, and an unimpressive main villain. Its overall enjoyability helped to balance out the bad karma caused by the prequels. We watched it in IMAX, which is probably the best way to enjoy the fantastic score.

Star Wars: the Force Awakens follows the adventures of BB8, a heroic droid who possesses a map to Luke Skywalker, who went off grid between Revenge of the Sith and this movie. BB8, stranded on a desert wasteland, stoically endures all manner of hardships until he meets the scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), who then becomes the main protagonist because BB8 is tired, y'all. Rey is joined by Finn (John Boyega), a former Stormtrooper. Together, they try to escape the First Order -- the current, somehow bigger version of the Empire -- and bring the map to the Resistance -- the tinier version of the Rebel Alliance.

While Fragrant Husband -- a Star Wars geek of cosmic proportions -- grumbled about how "rushed" the movie was, at least the pacing was brisk, with plenty of butt-kicking, sneaking around, and all-out dogfighting to keep the tension high. Having the original cast play strong supporting roles was also gratifying. And the music was always there in the background, practically narrating the whole movie and offering suggestions re: emotions to accompany specific scenes (e.g. "Now she is walking down a dark corridor...*dun dun dun*...feel her trepidation!"). TELL ME MY FEELINGS, SOUNDTRACK, TAKE ME TO A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY.  

The two leads, Rey and Finn, have great chemistry, and Boyega in particular sells Finn's desperation and, later, his determination to save his friend. Meanwhile, Ridley portrays a young woman with deep reserves of strength and patience. Although her sudden proficiency with the Force, especially with zero training, is a bit of a leap, but maybe she's really good at copying others (i.e. Kylo Ren)?

AND SPEAKING OF KYLO REN. Dude was lame. He started out as a menacing masked figure with anger issues, like Anakin Skywalker at his most petulant. However, unlike Hayden Christensen's Darth Pouter, Adam Driver's ex-Jedi disciple doesn't have the "But he's so pretty!" fallback. Instead, oddly, he looks like a young Severus Snape, and acts like it, too. (Because of the hair, my sister initially thought the actor was Josh Groban, which would have been an interesting casting choice.) He and the eldest Weasley brother gave each other a lot of side eye during this film, further adding to the Harry Potter vibe. 

Obviously, this is a ploy by Disney to make me watch the movie again so I can dissect the nuances of Driver's performance. Curse you, you entertaining money-making juggernaut! 


Mostly I like The Force Awakens because it recalls the wide-eyed, high adventure feel of A New Hope. There's a far larger and infinitely more complex universe out there, with a ton of interesting minor players, but viewers care about the main characters because, let's face it, LIGHTSABERS. The Force Awakens needs more exciting lightsaber action, and this is where I hope the next episode will shine. 

I'm counting on you, JJ Abrams. You're my only hope. 

TL;DR: A fun space action-adventure, worthy of its origins. 

This post brought to you by Narita Airport's Sakura Lounge!

Friday, January 1, 2016

My First Airplane Ride: an Account by Fragrant Junior

The day began as it always did, with myself singing sweetly to my parents in the other room that the sun was to rise momentarily, and now is the moment to come release me from my crib so that we may enjoy it together. Mother came in (hurrah!), and gave me my pre-breakfast energy drink (double hurrah!!)

Author's note : "Double hurrah" -- get it? Because I have two, er, milkshake dispensers?!?!?! (Author's addendum: I explain for the sake of dum-dums like myself who would never have gotten it.)

After a wholesome meal of waffle and banana, I suffered myself to be changed into a fresh diaper and a set of clothes. I was then allowed to run about and play with all my new gifts from my adoring worshippers. But then I realized that I should earn my keep, especially as we were to embark on a long journey, so I called the airline:

Me: I would like to confirm our flight. Reservation code is [REDACTED]. 

Person: Yes, two seats on the bulkhead and a bassinet, that's confirmed. 

Me: A bassinet? That can't be right. What are the height and weight limits on that?

Person: The maximum weight is 10.5 kilos, sir. The bassinet is 77 cm in length. 

Me: Well, I -- I mean, the baby -- happens to be over both of those measurements, so cancel the bassinet, please. 

Person: Understood. 


Having done my duty, I played the part of the perfect pre-boarding passenger, waving at all the new fans I inevitably attracted. It was quite tiring to be on all the time, so I occasionally took time to re-center myself. 

When the time came for boarding and takeoff, I again pulled off a flawless performance: friendly, not too loud, and only slightly filthy from all the chocolate I'd been given. 

Author's warning: Do not make the same mistake I did. No sweets to the little one before takeoff!


Father seems extremely upset about not having the bassinet. He keeps telling Mother that he bought these seats specifically so we could have a bassinet. 



Good news: the flight attendants asked the passenger across the aisle to scoot over one so we could have a whole other non-occupied seat for our family of three! She (the passenger) keeps waving to me. She is very nice. I am waving back. 


I listened to some light music after lunch, in preparation for my nap:

But I couldn't stop my mind from wrestling with so many questions. Why wasn't I allowed to run down all the aisles? Why did Father forbid me from having more chocolate? How will world leaders enforce the resolutions of the Paris climate talks?

I eventually drifted off into sweet oblivion, cradled in the loving arms of Mother. 


Play, play, play:




(repeat for three hours)


Fine, flight attendant, I'll have some milk in a plastic cup. Awww, you drew a face on the lid! That's going the extra mile right there. To thank you, I will have a short nap on Father's shoulder. 



(repeat for three hours)


We are at another airport! This one has nice floors, perfect for eating my snacks:

Ooo, we're getting on another airplane! I can't wait to...can't...can't...


(For four glorious hours! On a five-hour flight!)


We're here! We're here!


Ahhh, thank you. Slightly better. 


And that, dear readers, is the long version of my very first airplane ride(s). The bulleted version is:

12:30 Takeoff. Playtime. 
15:30 Nap. 
16:30 Playtime. 
18:30 Crying time. 
21:30 Uneasy sleep. 
22:30 Crying time. 
02:00 Landing. 

TL;DR: We all survived a 15-month-old's first airplane ride. 
This post brought to you by mommy and daddy time in Boracay!