Flowing Lights Xbox One review: go with the flow

Sometimes all you need to make a shooter work is a neat gimmick. Something that stands out from the norm. I like to think that Tempest is innovative in the field because of its neat “hanging outside and shooting inward” concept, something unheard of in the early 80s. For that matter, Defender also stood out because of its challenging rhetoric and unique gameplay set-up, with so many buttons.

But Flowing Lights, a new indie shooter available for consoles and PC, innovates in its own neat way. That’s not to say it’s an instant classic like the aforementioned games, as it’s more of an acquired taste. However, it takes the concept of shooters and turns it on its head, making it more about solving puzzles than simply blasting from start to finish. And in its own neat little way, it works.

In the game, you’ll work your way through a number of stages, shooting at enemies. But this isn’t a simple “blast and move on” thing. Instead, the stages are intricately designed, with gunfire consistently being shot, or coming at you in streams. You’ll have to weave your way past this, using the terrain to your advantage. But, sometimes, you just need to hit the enemy before you progress.

Where Flowing Lights wins points is with its design. See, you can just shoot enemies, but with hills and contours on each stage, you’ll need to be strategic about it. You’ll need to curve your gunfire in the right way to hit them, while avoiding being hit yourself. For good measure, you have a secondary charge shot, which you can adjust utilizing the analog stick. It fires off one shot at a time, but goes further than your traditional gunfire. So it pays off, provided you can get your shot off at the proper angle.

In turn, you can create combos, which will help build up a high score. There are also power-ups that can give you a temporary boost as well. Combining these – and racking up the points – can help you achieve greatness on the leaderboards. It’s a cool process that works very well, for those that get into the game.

And that’s probably where Flowing Lights comes up short – it’s such an original idea for shooters that not everyone will get into it. This isn’t Deathsmiles here. Flowing Lights is built around the concept of taking your time and figuring out viable solutions for each stage. And, yes, sometimes you will get stuck, as it’s really thought provoking. But its execution is well done, for the most part, and those that stick with its rhythm will find a lot to like.

That leads us to the presentation. Flowing Lights does have innovation in its stage design. But the general aesthetic – neon-lit hills and minimally designed enemies – may not appeal to all. It definitely has a Tron-like approach to it that I enjoyed, but it’s pretty narrow when it comes to its design scope overall. Still, some of you may enjoy it as I did. The music’s awesome too, with some fun little synth scores that play over the course of the game. You’ll be right at home if you’re a fan of the genre.

How much you get into Flowing Lights really depends on what you’re looking for in a shooter. If you seek deep strategy, problem solving and a smart way to build up scores, this is the game for you. But if you’re out to save the universe, R-Type Final 2 may be more your speed. If you do choose this, however, you’re likely to enjoy your stay – well, until you get stuck, anyway. Then you’ll rack your brain, go “DUH!” when you find the solution, and move on. Not bad for a small little indie favorite for a mere ten bucks.

RATING: 8/10

Stitchy in Tooki Trouble Nintendo Switch review: as the (scare)crow flies

It’s great to see up and coming developers attempt to cut their teeth on a classic platforming formula, even if the finished product isn’t quite as well put together as the games that preceded it. That’s the case with Stitchy in Tooki Trouble, a game from Polygoat that’s got its heart in the right place, but doesn’t quite live up to the legend of what inspired it – in this case, Donkey Kong Country.

The game puts you in control of Stitchy, a scarecrow brought to life by magic. Why, you ask? Well, some bothersome animal natives called the Tooki have gone and snatched up all his corn, putting the farm he was built to protect at risk. With the help of this magic, he’ll pounce on the enemies, collect the corn and then go back to his resting spot. Why he’s been summoned to rescue an island-like paradise is beyond us, but, hey, scarecrow’s gotta work.

Polygoat has all the gameplay elements in place for Stitchy, right down to the double jump and the foot pounce. This allows him to reach out-of-place areas to discover idols, in which there are three hidden on each level. The more you collect, the more bonus levels you can unlock over the course of the game. And they’re fairly easy to find, though sometimes it doesn’t hurt to explore in hidden floorboards a little.

The gameplay works well for a game of this nature, as it’s fairly easy to use foot stomps and double jumps to get where you need to go. Enemies go down rather easily as well; and the bosses put up quite a fight. There’s even a classic mine cart level or two, in case you’re feeling nostalgic for that sort of thing.

Where Stitchy comes up short – literally – is with its challenge. In fact, there’s barely any challenge at all. We cleaned up everything that the game had to offer within a matter of hours. Even a 90’s produced game like Donkey Kong Country offers more content in comparison. However, that makes it an excellent title for the younger set, as well as nostalgic platforming fans not seeking out a challenge. For that matter, there are time goals on each stage, and the faster you beat each one, the more stars you earn – and that means bonus levels. Not a bad incentive considering the content at hand.

Stitchy doesn’t look like a bad game at all. The visuals are well done for a platformer, with a 2.5-D approach and some neat designs, including lava and island-themed stages. The enemies, however, aren’t that original, with the exception of the cool-looking bosses. The music is alright, with a mixture of adventure and tropical themes that will remind you of good ol’ DKC. The sound effects, however, are minimal. Polygoat could’ve, at the very least, given Stitchy some kind of personality.

Though Polygoat’s Stitchy in Tooki Trouble’s journey is over far too soon, it’s a suitable platformer that’s sure to please the target audience of kids and fans of the genre. It lacks in some of its design, particularly with enemies, but makes up for it with pretty good gameplay and lots of stars and idols to collect. You could spend time with better platformers on the system, but Stitchy definitely isn’t a waste of it. This adventure holds together well enough to please youngens.

RATING: 7/10

The Mitchells vs. the Machines movie review: the robo-apocalypse can entertain

The pandemic has forced a number of movie studios to take their projects to streaming services to reach an audience. Disney has its premieres on the Disney+ service; Coming 2 America made an impact on Amazon Prime; now we have a truly underrated animated movie from Sony’s studio on Netflix for all to enjoy. But don’t let the streaming format fool you – The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a big-screen delight for all ages to enjoy.

Directed by Mike Rianda and produced by the Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Mitchells takes the robot apocalypse theme and has a field day with it, thanks to an unlikely villain who’s a laugh riot – and the surprise heroes who do much more than chuckle.

Those heroes are the Mitchells, a goofball family led by not-so-super dad Rick (Danny McBride). His daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is looking to take her YouTube filmmaking career to the next level with college, but her father Rick opts to take her there via a road trip across the country, with her mother Linda (Maya Rudolph) and her younger brother Aaron (Rianda, superb in the role) along for the ride.

But it’s just when they start their road trip that the robots start acting up. And it’s all thanks to a cell phone-like device called PAL, voiced by Hot Fuzz’s own Olivia Colman. She’s fed up with being a hand-me-down in the face of a new PAL device, which tech whiz Mark Bowman (Eric Andre, fresh from his Adult Swim show) has introduced. So what’s a forgotten device to do? Lead the robots against the humans and try to eradicate them, of course.

So much is working for The Mitchells vs. the Machines that it’s not even funny – though it is hilarious. First off, the writing is superb, and there’s a number of Easter eggs. So many, in fact, you’ll have to watch the movie two to three times to catch them all – and you still might miss something. It’s also got some wonderful action sequences for a family film (how many times can you say that?), including a run-in with an enlarged Furby that’s a sight to behold. You might just find it to be the best movie sequence with a Furby ever. (I believe it’s the only one…?)

On top of that, the animation style is insanely good. Along with top-notch animation and other neat little effects, the movie also benefits from sweet hand-drawn designs stemming from Katie’s brain, so you get a look at just how she perceives everything. It’s original and really well done, and gives the movie a little more shine.

Not to mention the music. It’s loaded with upbeat, delightful pop tunes, but also features a killer score by DEVO co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh. And he’s very well up for the job – so much, in fact, that he probably should see what films he can work on next. If it’s possible, Lord and Miller might want to consider him for the Spiderverse sequel. Just saying.

Finally, The Mitchells vs. the Machines wins with its voice cast. Abbi Jacobson is great fun as Katie. The rest of the family is fun as well, and it’s great to hear Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett joining the fun as a pair of unconvertable robots. There’s also Blake Griffin, Chrissy Tiegen, and Conan O’Brien if you listen closely enough.

And Michael had something special to say about Danny McBride as well, since this isn’t his usual territory. “performances in the movie for me was Danny McBride as Rick Mitchell. While I deeply appreciate McBride’s acting style and on-screen antics, Rick Mitchell seemed like an odd casting choice from him from his typical roles. Examples would be like Your Highness, Pineapple Express, and This is the End just to name a few. Those are only a few examples of his prior roles but give you a good feel for his acting style but he made Rick Mitchell his own and did an amazing job bringing thia character to life. Not just by playing a fatherly figure but the depth of how far he went into character. You’ll see it or you’ve seen it, when you watch. I don’t want to spoil some of his best lines in the movie but you’ll know them when you hear them.

But, to me, the real star of the show is Colman. She’s a laugh riot as the fed-up PAL, making all sorts of great points about technology while still somehow being incredibly ruthless. This is easily one of her best performances.

Oh. And Michael also wanted to add: “Least not we forget the trusty, loyal animal pet/sidekick, Munchie the pug. They DID NOT disappoint! We can’t go into to much detail without giving away some of the best parts of the movie but the shenanigans entailed just add to the viewing pleasure and overall hilarity.” I definitely agree.

Even if you’re not up for traditional family fare, not to worry. The Mitchells vs. the Machines is anything but. It’s filled with hilarious moments, as well as heartfelt stuff that helps you feel the connection with family. Not to mention it has thrilling animation, excellent music and truly amazing style that other few films can match. You may be thrown off by the fact it’s on a “streaming channel,” but don’t be. These Mitchells provide big summer entertainment, and you shouldn’t miss it. Now put down that phone.

RATING: 9/10

Star Wars Episode I Racer Nintendo Switch review – credit will do fine

While Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace hasn’t quite stood the test of time like many executives were hoping, it still holds a place in the hearts of fans of the series. And it also led to the creation of a number of licensed video games, with some faring better than others.

Among those titles was Star Wars Episode I: Racer, which released for the Nintendo 64 and Sega Dreamcast and struck a chord with fans that wanted to relive the exciting race sequence from the film. It’s a well-done racing experience and continues to be fun to this very day. But what can gamers do if they don’t have classic hardware to play it on?

Well, that’s simple, thanks to Aspyr. The game is available now on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch for a reasonable price ($15 at last glance!), and packs all the racing action of the original. Only a few minor tweaks have been made in its transition to new systems, but it continues to be a timeless thrill ride for those looking for something to play in these special Star Wars days. Hey, it beats working with Jar Jar Binks in a Jiffy Lube, tell you what.

In Episode I: Racer, you’ll choose from a fine variant of alien racers as you attempt to conquer each race, using your wits and speed boosters to keep ahead of them. There’s no Mario Kart style power-ups, just the skillful need for speed. And that’s fine by us, since this isn’t really Super Bombad Racing. This is a more serious racer, and one that pays off in dividends.

The gameplay is fantastic still, with capable handling of your hovering vehicle across turns and straightaways. For good measure, the neat system where you can earn speed boosts and repair damaged engines on the fly is awesome, simple to use and master over a course of a few runs. It’s really convenient, provided you don’t crash your vehicle going over 400 MPH. Oh, yeah, you’re going Mach speed here.

The game has little going for it in terms of options, with mainly a general story mode (introducing some of the planets and the competition), as well as a two-player split-screen mode. There’s no sign of online multiplayer, sadly, but here, the racing is the thing. And with the price and the quality of the title, that’s not a bad thing.

Speaking of quality, Episode I: Racer really delivers on this front when it comes to presentation. While the visuals are about the same as before, with just the right amount of classic game grain, it does feature a nice speed boost, running at a beautiful 60 frames per second. That’s on all platforms, so no one’s going to miss out if they’re playing on a PS5 or anything. The vehicles look great, and the track design is elegant yet tricky enough to keep you coming back for more. And all this is accompanied by John Williams’ excellent music score, which still holds up after all these years.

While Star Wars Episode I: Racer has its quirks when it comes to lack of features, it more than makes up for it with classic racing fun. The presentation is the best it’s ever been; the gameplay still holds up; and the two-player races are still highly enjoyable. So if you’re down for turning racing opponents into Bantha Fodder, you shouldn’t hesitate to hit the throttle.

RATING: 8.5/10

R-Type Final 2 review: a By-do gone era returns

There was a point in time that hardcore shooters were making a dent in the mainstream gaming market. Alas, many thought that time has passed in the face of the AAA stream that we’re seeing nowadays, but, surprise, you can’t keep a good “shmup” down thanks to entries like Rolling Gunner and Crimzon Clover.

Now, following the success of Tozai Games’ amazing R-Type Dimensions, we’re seeing the return of Irem’s legendary series with R-Type Final 2, based on a Kickstarter success launched by the team at Granzella. It’s a hefty gamble, considering that the original Final for PlayStation 2 made everything so, um, finalized. (Yep, another gaming franchise that proves the word “final” isn’t exactly final.) But it’s mostly paid off, with a frantic, exciting shooter that offers some fun old-school thrills, even if it’s not entirely the best-looking game out there. Hey, any chance we get to blast the Bydo Empire to smithereens, we’ll happily take it.

The game once again has you facing off against dangerous alien enemies using whatever power-ups you can get your hands on. These include lock-on missiles and firing techniques that range from coordinated circle lasers to bouncing beams that make it relatively easy to blast enemies around corners. You can power-up however you choose, and the game even lets you customize your loadout, as well as select from unlocked ship models. Some vary in terms of what firepower they deliver, but the general goal is the same. Still, neat idea.

What’s important here, however, is the general nature of R-Type – and I’m happy to report that’s still very much intact. Final 2 is a lot of fun to play, and quite challenging if you turn up the difficulty. However, if you’re a newbie, you can also find quite a bit of mileage from the “practice” and “kids” difficulty settings, though you’ll still have your work cut out for you when it comes to dodging dangerous plasma beams and incoming fire.

What makes R-Type stand out is the utilization of your capsule, which helps you maintain your strong firepower, or can also be jettisoned loose to fire in out-of-reach places. It reattaches and disattaches with ease, and also shields you from smaller bullets – something that’s a saving grace if you try to keep your run going. You’ll embrace its techniques as you continue onward, and become that much of a better R-Type player.

Visually, R-Type Final 2 mimics the original PlayStation 2 game to an extent. There are 3D backgrounds and some well drawn enemies, but the design is hardly what you’d call revolutionary. In fact, on the Nintendo Switch, it’s about on the same level as R-Type Deltawhen it comes to graininess. On the PlayStation 4, however, it’s much smoother, with a 60 frames per second framerate. Both versions look good, though, and depending how you want to play – at home or on the go – they make for a strong addition to your “shmup” library.

For good measure, the music is good. Not amazing like the original R-Type soundtrack, mind you, but still well composed with some great synths playing throughout each battle. It matches the tone of what R-Type is all about for the most part, so little to complain about there.

How much mileage you get out of Final 2 truly depends on your fandom of the series. There are a lot of ships to unlock here; and the game is a meaty challenge if you go all the way up on the difficulty scale. Otherwise, just keep in mind that it’s a shmup, and you’ll likely get through the meat of its content after a few runs. That may make the $40 price tag a bit hard for some to justify.

But I digress. R-Type is back and that is what really matters. The team at Granzella have done a great job capturing the nature of what makes the series click with Final 2, as it’s a blast to play and keeps most of its fundamentals intact. And it may not look the best at times, but it’s still a decent example of how to make a “shmup” appear in these modern times. It’s a game that delivers on its Kickstarter hype, especially for those that have been dying to see the series make a return.

Now then…about that Gradius revival…

RATING: 8/10

Raya and the Last Dragon film review: hardly a typical princess tale

Over the years, Disney’s gotten used to the idea that, even though it’s created quite a catalog of them, not every female character it introduces in its animation fold needs to be a princess. Some women are capable of holding their own, like the title character in the impressive Moana.

Raya seeks the help of the legendary dragon, Sisu. Seeing what’s become of Kumandra, Sisu commits to helping Raya fulfill her mission in reuniting the lands. Featuring Kelly Marie Tran as the voice of Raya and Awkwafina as the voice of Sisu, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Raya and the Last Dragon” will be in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on March 5, 2021. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Now we have yet another shining example of a woman that can accomplish great things, alongside an unlikely companion that makes quite the company for her. Raya and the Last Dragon is a spellbinding piece of Disney work, and what it lacks in theatrical audience, it more than makes up for with genuine charm that, hopefully, will last for years to come as people experience the film. It’s getting a home video release next month, so hopefully that will be just the start.

The heroine in question, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran at her finest), is in search of mysterious stones that could help turn the tide against a dangerous force that has wiped out a good portion of her people, Thanos-style. With the help of her loyal oversized armadillo Tuk Tuk (once again “voiced” by Alan Tudyk, with what little he says – the characterization is more than enough tho), she goes seeking the pieces of restore a mighty dragon named Sisu (Awkwafina), who might just be able to bring everyone back.
The camaraderie between Raya and Sisu is not only infectious, but keeps the film moving along nicely. Some might think that Awkwafina is a bit too smart-alecky, but she’s a terrific fit for Sisu, and watching her “evolve” over the course of the film is something special. Not to mention that Raya learns a thing or two as well.

Other characters join the fray, including a young kid named Boun who tries to use his suaveness with his food dishes, a one-eyed warrior (Benedict Wong) who’s a little softer than he lets on, and a baby that’s in for con games alongside a group of helpful critters. They all join the search to find the pieces of the stone before the ruthless Namaari (Gemma Chan) gets her hands on them first, at the command of her military-esque mother.

There’s a fascinating story with Raya, and it’s really well written, even though the pacing can be a slight bit off in the last half hour. All the same, it’s still excellent, with enough good laughs (particularly from Awkwafina) to keep a giddy smile on your face.

Not to mention the animation is gorgeous. Considering that most of this film’s production took place in COVID-19 territory, with everyone working at home, it looks outstanding. The 4K Blu-Ray release should really be something here, if you’ve got the right equipment to take advantage of it.

Raya and her nemesis, Namaari, face off amid the snowy mountains of Spine. Featuring Kelly Marie Tran as the voice of Raya and Gemma Chan as the voice of Namaari, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Raya and the Last Dragon” will be in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on March 5, 2021. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

But what I was really surprised by was how well the film took its martial arts combat themes. Watching Namaari and Raya go at it in combat is something else, and even Sisu has something to lend here and there as well, though she generally has peaceful means that she tries to use to her and Raya’s benefit.

The voice acting is excellent for the most part, and even the smallest things – again, Tudyk – really do wonders here. The combat audibles alone are staggering, especially with a good stereo system.

Raya and the Last Dragon may not be the perfect Disney film – pacing is questionable in some spots – but overall, it’s a wondrous affair that’s amongst the best the studio’s had to offer. And with COVID and its weight, that’s really saying something. It’s got an ideal voice cast, excellent visual tone, and the kind of adventurous theme that truly says, “Hey, this isn’t your typical princess tale.” And we’re definitely here for it.

RATING: 9/10

Raya and the Last Dragon is available on-demand and through premium access on Disney+. It reportedly has a home video release date of May 18th.

Battle Axe Xbox One review: Worth the Grind

You’d be surprised what kind of retro-inspired experience you can put together with the right people. In this case, pixel artist Henk Nieborg, who’s been working on a number of games since the 90s, including various Shantae games.

Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, he’s been able to team up with Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae on a 16-bit inspired project called Battle Axe, which arrived on some consoles last week and will debut on Nintendo Switch later this week. And it’s good stuff for those of you who like this sort of thing, despite some noticeable quirks – namely the price.

Published by Numskull Games, the top-down adventure has you choosing between three different characters – a Viking warrior with a helpful little cannon, a dark elf with a pair of twin blades, and an elderly wizard with a penchant for spells. Each character has up-close strikes, as well as distance shots that are ideal for blasting an enemy from afar – though it’s somewhat limited based on a charge meter, shown in your character stats. Once you have them, you can also activate super spells to clear the screen, and digest food to get back some of your lost health.

The game’s general Arcade Mode has you battling through different enemies and rescuing oddly named citizens before coming face-to-face with a boss that requires a bit of strategy, including a large crab creature, an oversized dragon and more. Once you figure out a proper pattern, just like the old-school games, you can beat them and continue on your merry little way.

What’s excellent about Battle Axe is that it’s a fairly easy game to grasp, though there’s a good challenge level that will have you conserving as much energy as you can. After all, once you’re out of lives, it’s game over, just like in some arcade games. Fortunately, there’s only a handful of stages here, so getting to the end should be just a matter of timing your attacks and fighting through to the end.

Battle Axe fully supports local co-op as well, which is outstanding. You can team up with a friend and clean house in a fun two-player session. Online’s not in the cards, sadly, but it’s a great game to play with friends. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea to have more characters tho. But at least the gameplay is responsive and tight, and the difficulty is right there on the old-school level.

Where Battle Axe truly wins is with its presentation. The 16-bit style graphics are excellent throughout, and the animations are razor sharp, right down to the large bosses. The game also runs smoothly, especially on the Xbox One, where it feels right at home. Not to mention that Matsumae’s soundtrack, though on a loop, is superb and really allows the stretching of composer talent. Well done.

That said, Battle Axe has some hitches. It only has two modes – Arcade and Infinite – and while they’re a lot of fun, they can get old over time. Infinite does have some great exploring to do for players that are up for it, but a New Game + would’ve been an ideal addition, particularly with some new stages.

For that matter, the game’s price is a bit too high for its own good. Battle Axe would’ve been a novel investment for around $15 or $20. At $30, some might balk at jumping into this adventure, though it’s still worth its weight in gold. It just depends how much you appreciate some old-school flavor from Henk’s camp.

If you’re on board, though, Battle Axe doesn’t disappoint. It’s got retro appeal throughout, even with its lack of modes and stages; and the visuals and music really pop to life. And it’s a joy to play in local co-op, if you’ve got a friend that has an axe to grind with you. If you can handle the deep price point, Battle Axe is a worthy weapon.

RATING: 8/10

Sturmfront: The Mutant War Ubel Edition review – that old feeling

There are a lot of developers out there being inspired by the classic games of old. And that’s a good thing, considering a majority of AAA developers seem to be ignoring said classics in favor of new AAA-level games. Not that that’s a bad thing, as that creates a balance with these indie folks that caters to a specific audience, while reminding us of the days gone by.

The latest example of this is Andrade Games’ Sturmfront: The Mutant War, a top-down twin-stick shooter where it’s you against the alien world. The game has its quirks, particularly the annoying lack of any kind of co-op (novel for a game like this – just look at Contra), but it’s a thrill ride that’s available for a decent price. Not to mention it’s got the kind of soundtrack that’s got some Doom Eternal-level inspiration behind it.

In the game, you portray Siegfried von Hammerstein, a cyborg that has a current mission in life – lay waste to alien invaders. And considering a big invasion is well underway, he’s hungry to clean house.

Hammerstein will be able to switch between two weapons – a rifle of choice, ideal for laying waste to smaller mutants; and a flamethrower. While it has limited fuel, it’s perfect for destroying alien spawning points (basically large aliens with spewing mouths) before they can do any further damage.

The game’s controls are simple, but effective. Left stick controls movement, right stick controls where you aim, and the right shoulder button is used to shoot. If you prefer, you can also use the face buttons on the right hand side for shooting, for those that prefer to go a little old school.

There’s definitely some Smash TV/Total Carnage-inspired lunacy here, and it’s ideal for fans that love that sort of design. The gameplay doesn’t let up, and there’s something cool about being able to effectively take down enemies while they try to kill you. It would’ve been nice to have a “dodge” feature, like in other games, but it’s not too bad. The only downside is that most of the story is forgettable, as you get bits and pieces of it from survivors as you go along. Albeit it takes a backseat to the action, so whatever.

Though the levels are short, they’re jammed with enemies, and that brings the game’s colorful design into play. It looks wonderful, inspired by the arcade and Amiga classics of old, and doesn’t let up with its world-ending aesthetic. It’s also great to see the weapons at play here, including a spread laser that could easily match up with Contra’s classic gun on a good day. There are also some good boss fights on display here, which will force you to work to survive. Fortunately, you can tone down the difficulty a little bit if it becomes too much.

What really stands out is the soundtrack. The heavy metal-inspired tunes are excellent and blare throughout, making you feel like you should continue laying waste to alien scum. The sound effects are minimal, but work where needed here.

Again, where Sturmfront lets down is the fact it’s just a single player affair. If the developers at Andrade had just added a few more players to the mix – or at least a two-player co-op option at a higher difficulty – it could’ve mixed things up tremendously.

As it stands, though, Sturmfront isn’t too shabby. What it lacks in overall length and features, it more than makes up for with old-school carnage, a ripping soundtrack and delightfully chaotic visuals. You’ll want to dig in and enjoy it in spurts, just to ease that stress away with one of the most metal cyborgs out there. Hopefully we’ll see a sequel with more loaded content down the road. Hammerstein can’t do it all himself, y’know.

RATING: 7.5/10

(Sturmfront is available now for PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC!)

Mortal Kombat movie review: Finally, fatality!

When the 1995 version of Mortal Kombat hit theaters, we embraced its level of camp, while also appreciating Paul W.S. Anderson’s approach to the material. Yes, surprisingly enough, you can balance the two – even though the PG-13 rating left a few folks disappointed.

But then came Mortal Kombat: Annihilation two years later and…well, that was even more disappointing. And since then, fans have had to turn to the games for their bloody enjoyment, though Mortal Kombat: Legacy did pretty well on the small screen for a while there.

Finally, though, we have Simon McQuoid’s take on Mortal Kombat, which is more in synch with the tone of the games. That means bloodshed, and lots of it, and characters that are ready to fight for the fate of the world. It may be missing the laughs – and fighter development – of the original camp-fest, but it more than makes up for it when it comes to action.

Rather than focus solely on a hero from the game series, we instead get a newcomer – an MMA fighter named Cole Young (Lewis Tan). He’s making ends meet for his family by fighting, and, sadly, losing. However one day, Sub-Zero (a very game Joe Taslim of The Raid fame) comes knocking, and Cole suddenly learns he’s part of a much bigger picture.

This picture includes a hodgepodge of Earth’s mightiest champions, who find themselves going against the deadly Shang Tsung (Chin Han), who has plans for this planet after he takes one more victory in the Mortal Kombat tournament. And…you can pretty much guess the rest.

While some may voice disappointment along the lines of “Who the hell is Cole Young?”, he actually ties into a deeper story surrounding Sub-Zero and his adversary, Scorpion. The beginning of the film introduces him as Hanzo Hasashi (the impressive Hiroyuki Sanada), who has a score to settle when the icy ninja pays his family a visit. It takes a while to get to that point, but the payoff is most certainly worth it when he bellows, “GET OVER HERE!”

In fact, what makes Mortal Kombat click so well this time around is just how loyal it is to its fans. The fights are bloodily satisfying, and even some of the visual effects deliver, particularly with the all-CG Goro, who makes his ’95 counterpart look like a Halloween costume by comparison. There are other interesting moments as well, including one with Kano (Josh Lawson – yes, from Anchorman 2) that practically steals the show.

Where the movie is lacking is with deep character development. We see it in hints here and there, but they’re basically thrown together for the most part in the film’s short but sweet run time. Fortunately, the fighting and effects more than make up for it; and the finale delivers in spades, setting the stage for sequels to come.

McQuoid, making his debut with Kombat, directs with a swift hand. Here and there the camera can be a little jittery at times, however it’s never enough to annoy like, well, Annihilation did. The fights are a lot of fun to watch, with each character true to their game counterparts.

On top of that, Benjamin Wallfisch’s music score is excellent. He not only captures the atmosphere of Mortal Kombat tunes to nearly sheer perfection, but also throws in slight references to George Clinton’s original ’95 banger of a theme.

The acting ensemble is spotty in places. Some performances are forgettable, but then you have Max Huang and Ludi Lin delivering as the combo of Kung Lao and Liu Kang, lighting up the screen. No, literally. Liu practically throws a fireball when he arrives. Although, really, it comes down to Lawson having a field day as Kano, as well as Sanada being amazing as Hanzo/Scorpion. Taslim’s ice cold, too. Again, literally.

It won’t win best game movie of all time honors (I’m still trying to figure how it measures compared to the original film), but Mortal Kombat is quite a bit of fan service. The fights are entertaining once they pick up speed; the music is outstanding; and a good deal of the performances do quite well with the material. Plus there’s also a good set-up here for sequels, which I would most certainly be down for.

It’s hardly a flawless victory, but Mortal Kombat happily dominates your time – and that’s more than what could be said for whatever the hell Annihilation was.

RATING: 8/10

(Mortal Kombat is in theaters now, and is available on-demand on HBOMax as well for the next month.)

Narita Boy PlayStation 4 review: more than a game, boy

Team 17 didn’t exactly need to establish itself as a king of 2D platforming games, as it had previously struck gold with its lovely Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. But now it’s gone the extra mile, establishing a Metroidvania-style adventure that’s sure to strike a chord with both fans of the genre and those who live for retro-fueled visuals and tunes.

Narita Boy stemmed from a Kickstarter project created by Studio Koba, with Team 17 picking up the publishing rights. And it’s a hell of an addition to its roster, a game that, despite some minor setbacks, delivers some butt-kicking goodness that puts it near the top of the Metroidvania heap. In fact, it’s worth buying for the music alone, a collection of synth tunes that will have you wondering what kind of magic is behind the keyboards. Seriously.

The game is Tron-esque, in a way, with a teenage boy trapped in a virtual world, forced to attempt to track down The Creator in the hopes of possibly escaping. Along the way, he learns about this person’s essence, and how it ties in with his humble beginnings in Narita – in Japan. That explains the title, for those of you wondering what a Narita is.

There’s a little Star Wars in there as well, as the boy is armed with a Techno Sword. With it, he can fend off attackers and use special techniques to carve them up, including swift uppercuts and combo strikes. These are especially useful against bosses, who definitely pack a punch – something Metroidvania fans should be used to by now. But fortunately, you have some cool defensive techniques, including a slide that’s really handy for avoiding incoming strikes.

The gameplay works remarkably well for Narita Boy, though it’s definitely on the hard side. Still, after exploring a few areas, you should become used to what’s on hand, as well as what you can unlock over the course of the game.

All that really stands in the way is Narita’s need for backtracking. It can get a little old at times, especially as you run across the same area multiple times. But the game as a whole is still very well designed, and a lot of fun to play.

Where its treasure really lies, however, is within its presentation. I’ve already told you about the majesty of the soundtrack, which is really something else when it comes to nailing down its synth core. It sounds great, like something out of a classic 80s sci-fi film of sorts, with a few tunes that match the mood the Creator has set here.

And the visuals are lovely too, with 8-bit style visuals with a CRT TV-esque approach that really emulates the classics of old. We’re talking Out of This World sort of vibes, but obviously with something that’s far smoother. The effect is outrageously cool, especially when it comes to boss battles. They’re just so well done, you’ll be in awe after they wipe you out the first time around.

There are more than enough Metroidvania games to recommend at the moment, but Narita Boy deserves a nod. It doesn’t quite have all the momentum it needs to beat the legends, but it deserves a spot on the list of best games in the genre for sure. The presentation alone is wow-worthy; and the gameplay continues to impress as you go along. Narita-ville definitely feels like a great place to visit.

RATING: 8/10