Reflecting on Roger Ebert

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Roger Ebert getting ready to play Sega Genesis with his cohort, Gene Siskel. While a worthwhile critic, Ebert wasn’t afraid to have fun.

-Greg Livingston

If it’s a great movie, it lets you understand a little bit more what it’s like to be a different gender, a different race, a different age, a different economic class. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us. And that to me is the most noble thing that good movies can do — and it’s a reason to encourage them and to support them and to go to them.

-Roger Ebert

Roger Joseph Ebert pioneered. However, it wasn’t through his creations. He was partially responsible for the satirical script for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and he helped to advance the idea of film director as the artistic anchor of a movie. Those are accomplishments, but they miss the big picture; they play into why he won the Pulitzer in 1975 and why he landed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Rather, Ebert pioneered in the art of communication. In his review of Synecdoche, he considered the substance of human life, while in his review of Speed 2, he cheered for over-the-top silliness and action-packed fun. Ebert was at once intelligent and relatable. His ability to engage anyone led him to success with a nationally broadcast television program, and his hunger for thoughtful content kept him relevant for decades.

In addition, his written reviews are powerful even in their short length. His respect for the artistry of each film comes across in his reviews. Somewhere between his thoughts on the acting and notes on the cinematography, Ebert makes known the impact the film had on him. He’s open about how good the movie is, that’s in his star rating system. The more important bits seep through the cracks in his writing, giving the flavor—the visceral content—of the film. Ebert treated the review as an art form itelf, something all critics strive for.

Ebert brought thoughtful content to a wide audience, something few can pull off.

Games have the power to communicate in ways unlike any other medium. In part, it’s a blessing. For decades, we’ve understood content regardless of language barriers; the beauty of Super Mario Bros. cannot be restrained by mere speech. In part, though, it’s a curse. Games are much more ethereal experiences, and oftentimes don’t have centuries-old tradition behind them—how can we possibly relay such an experience to others? In our endeavors as game players, we would do well to bear in mind the work of Roger Ebert, who refined his craft not for the sake of feeding academia or raking in dough, but instead, just to share with people.

…He also spoke on the difficulties of communication.

I recently published a book about movies I hated, and people have been asking me which reviews are harder to write — those about great movies, or those about terrible ones. The answer is neither. The most unreviewable movies are those belonging to the spoof genre — movies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun and all the countless spin-offs and retreads of the same basic idea… the bottom line in reviewing a movie like this is, does it work? Is it funny? Yes, it is. Not funny with the shocking impact of Airplane! which had the advantage of breaking new ground. But also not a tired wheeze like some of the lesser and later Leslie Nielsen films. To get your money’s worth, you need to be familiar with the various teenage horror franchises, and if you are, Scary Movie delivers the goods.

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-Greg Livingston

I’ve got a Lego City Undercover review on the way. Here’s a video to distract you in the meantime!

  • Fox:Can anyone recommend a game with a good sense of speed
  • Fox:I'm getting real fed up with Wasteland
  • WarioFan63:F-Zero
  • golem:f-zero x
  • WarioFan63:F-Zero GX
  • golem:f-zero ax
  • WarioFan63:F-Zero Climax
  • golem:f-zero goes to summer camp
  • WarioFan63:F-Zero and the Curious Village
  • golem:i figured out class inheritance in c++
  • WarioFan:Is that worthy of an award
  • golem:that's probably something you learn during week 2 of c++ 101
  • golem:hey 101 is like lol
  • WarioFan:breakthrough
  • WarioFan:alert science
  • WarioFan:all science
  • WarioFan:Headlines
  • WarioFan:"why didnt we see it before"
  • WarioFan:"it was so obvious"
  • golem:academia mutters a collective "ohhhhhh"
  • WarioFan:youve just shattered the college industry
  • golem:it's summer
  • golem:no one will notice until august
  • golem:"what classes did i sign up for again"
  • golem:"that's right, chemistry lol"
Puddle chat
  • golem:pegi rates puddle 3+
  • golem:esrb rates puddle t
  • WarioFan63:what did Puddle do to get a T
  • golem:it has a guy peeing?
  • WarioFan63:oh
  • golem:also there's the infamous scene where the puddle of water screams fuck for three minutes and twenty seconds
Paper Mario Sticker Star Review

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Developer: Intelligent Systems

Publisher: Nintendo

Console: Nintendo 3DS

Players: 1

Rating:

  • E (ESRB)
  • A (CERO)
  • 3+ (PEGI)
  • G (OFLC)

Release Date:

  • November 11, 2012 (US)
  • December 6, 2012 (Japan)
  • December 7, 2012 (Europe)
  • December 8, 2012 (Australia)

Genre: Turn-based RPG

-Greg Livingston

Paper Mario: Sticker Star boots up with a quaint but lively tune. The melody itself is just pleasant, but its lead trumpet is played with such feeling that it drew me in. I’m a guy that goes for more energetic music, so I was surprised when the title theme had enough pep and pizazz to catch my ear while keeping most of the quaintness that the music from the original Paper Mario had.

That’s Paper Mario: Sticker Star in a nutshell. The entire soundtrack is full of engaging, jazzy tunes, both old and new. And, like its soundtrack, the entire game takes the Paper Mario formula and twists it in a compelling way.

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Not to mention the graphics have a new sense of life to them, too. Every area boasts charming cardboard dioramas that are an impressive refinement of previous Paper Mario aesthetics.

In Sticker Star, you’ll find the linear areas, just like other Paper Mario titles; exploration through the cardboard-and-construction-paper environments is limited. On odd occasions, you’ll need to find hidden items and such, but the courses are more often than not point A to point B affairs.

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There’s a world map? What is this, Super Mario World?

However, unlike previous Paper Marios, Sticker Star breaks these areas into stages placed on a world map. While stages get longer over the course of the game, each individual one centers around a certain idea or puzzle.

The world map doesn’t come without a price, since the story takes a decent hit. It never checks in with Bowser, so you only have the vaguest sense of his villainous scheme. You’ll bump into folks along the way and read amusing dialogue, but this story doesn’t have as much presence as previous Paper Mario tales.

In addition, the world map allows for some uneven puzzle design, since each puzzle is in its own discrete area. Paper Mario puzzles are typically insultingly simple, tasking the player with going to a certain area and using the appropriate item. That’s mostly the case in Sticker Star. On rare occasions, though, you will come across true stumpers. Often, the more difficult puzzles have nothing to do with items, instead relying on your ability to read subtleties in the environment.

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Most of the easier puzzles involve placing a sticker somewhere in the environment, like this bridge you’ll need to place in the bridge-shaped void.

There aren’t any mid-grade puzzles, so you’ll go from drop-dead easy to put-down-the-game-for-a-day hard at the drop of a hat, and the disparity feels awkward. Granted, I do want to stress that difficult puzzles are very few and far between.

However, the world map does simplify the minimal exploration that’s present, making backtracking a simple matter of choosing a stage from the map and hitting A. This is especially helpful when you need to return to a certain stage to find a secret exit bound for an alternate stage. If you ever need to do any backtracking, it won’t be a hassle.

While you’re in stages, you’ll of course stumble into combat and square off with Bowser’s cartoony underlings. This is where Sticker Star truly makes its claim, for better or for worse. Your moveset consists of collectible stickers; in order to perform a Jump attack, you’ll need a Jump sticker, and in order to perform a Hammer attack, you’ll need a Hammer sticker. Use a sticker, and it’s gone.

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Fire Flower stickers are uncommon, but hardly rare. They’re great for clearing out big groups of weaker baddies.

The impact this has on combat is enormous, and I can’t discuss it all here. I’ll keep to the important points.

The game offers plenty of “safe” stickers. In the first Paper Mario, you could always rely on Jump and Hammer to do decent damage, and in Sticker Star, you’ll never experience a scarcity of Jump or Hammer stickers. In fact, at some points, my sticker album was overflowing, and I had to prioritize which stickers I wanted to pick up.

See, you can buy stickers at a store, but you’ll also find tons of them in the wild. Each stage has a smattering of stickers you can peel right off the scenery and use in combat.

This gives combat a chaotic element without coming off as cheap. If you rely on finding stickers in stages instead of at a store, you can’t plan exactly what will be in your album. This stage might have more Hurlhammer stickers, or this one might have more Shiny Jump stickers.

As a result, you’ll often have to decide which sticker would be best to use in combat. If you find it easier to use Jump stickers, but the current stage has given you plenty of Hammer stickers, you might go ahead and use the Hammer stickers in easier fights so you can save your remaining Jumps for the harder ones. You’re never required to scrimp and save stickers—you’ll have plenty of something, even if you don’t know what that something is—but making the most of what you have is always satisfying.

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The Line Jump sticker is one of my favorites, allowing you to bounce on a number of different enemies within the same turn.

The best part of all, though, is that sticker combat lowers the barrier to entry on interesting combat. Stickers replace the badge system, which was clunky and hard to get into; with badges, you need to manage your Badge Points and your Flower Points, look for badges, and economize Star Pieces. It was something I found easy to ignore, which is a shame, because the badges can be compelling in their own right if you put the time into them.

In Sticker Star, once you find a sticker, that’s it. You can use it whenever you want, simple as that. Plus, even with more advanced stickers, I had enough on hand that I could experiment and find my favorite use for each. There’s only a couple of stickers that the game keeps in short supply; the vast majority of stickers are readily available, even if certain stickers may be more common than others.

This is especially important because Sticker Star keeps the standard Paper Mario timed combat system. If you press A right before landing a hit, you’ll deal extra damage. Getting the timing down can take some practice.

At the end of the day, if you want to stick to standard Paper Mario combat, Sticker Star has your back, since Jump and Hammer stickers are readily available and consistently cheap to purchase. However, if you want to venture into special attacks that hit multiple foes, inflict status effects, or something else, the game will offer you plenty of special stickers to try. On the other hand, if you pine for the straightforward puzzles or endearing storytelling of the elder Paper Mario titles, Sticker Star might not do it for you.

Pros:

  • Engaging and accessible combat system. You can play it safe or mess around with advanced maneuvers, and transitioning from one to the other is as easy as deciding to pick up different types of stickers along your way.
  • Jazzy and spirited soundtrack.
  • Graphics are quaint and pull off the cardboard diorama aesthetic with style.
  • The dialogue has a sense of charm to it.

Cons:

  • Puzzle difficulty is uneven.
  • The story gets neglected.
  • Certain action sequences (outside of combat) can feel a little odd to control.

Final Verdict: 7.5/10

Sticker Star has some clever ideas. I was glad to see such a radical take on combat, and it paid off, even if the game is a little uneven otherwise.

Price at Review: $39.99

This is one of the easier JRPGs out there, but it really zeroes in on combat and action. You won’t find a massive game here, but instead, something that’s tight and well-paced.

Crimson Shroud Review

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Developer: Nex Entertainment, Level-5

Publisher: Level-5

Console: 3DS eShop

Players: 1

Rating:

  • T (ESRB)
  • 7+ (PEGI)
  • B (CERO)

Release Date:

  • December 13, 2012 (US)
  • December 13, 2012 (Europe)
  • November 28, 2012 (Japan)

Genre: Turn-based RPG

-Greg Livingston

I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons or any tabletop RPG. I can barely sit through a session of Monopoly, so I can’t imagine slogging through a DND campaign spanning weeks or even months.

I’ve heard, though, that the key to a good game of DND is a good dungeon master. The dungeon master (DM) is tasked with telling an engaging story for the game. With any luck, this person brings your little figurines to life so they can play parts in a grand narrative. Crimson Shroud has a dungeon master with the same goal in mind, and it brings that same slow feeling to a typical RPG experience. What makes Crimson Shroud interesting is its unique sense of pacing.

The central story of Crimson Shroud began with the death of my guide into enemy territory. Instead of showing his death, though, Crimson Shroud just showed me a motionless figurine representing the game’s protagonist, Giauque. As he stood stationary, this text appeared onscreen, discussing my dead guide:

The man, the one in that spreading pool of blood, isn’t moving. You wonder at his wounds but realize that leaving your cover would make you a target for more arrows.

And there are always more arrows.

This was Crimson Shroud’s DM filling in blanks left by Giauque’s lifeless figurine. In order to imitate a tabletop RPG, Crimson Shroud never moved any of its characters; instead, it let them stand still on grimy castle boards. Like a DM, it uses narration to convey action.

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The above quote is a pretty good sample of the writing style here; it tries a little too hard to be cool and stylish, but it’s still polished and engaging. At worst, it’s campy, and I’d never call it boring. Considering that the game has narration where most RPGs would have a character up and perform the action, I was grateful that the text was as interesting as it was. Still, it was hard not to skip through it to get to some combat. I dig a good menu-based RPG scrap, and when an RPG is in my hands, I generally rush to the nearest fight as quickly as possible.

Soon enough, the DM finished its intro and plopped my party into battle with two goblins. Battle was more or less standard fare; my party consisted of a well-rounded fighter, a ranger with slightly worse stats, and a mage. Each one could use a standard attack or a variety of magic moves, and each magic move would drain magic points (MP). Unless you’ve never played an RPG before, it’s all stuff you’ve seen.

During this initial fight, Crimson Shroud took care to teach me about magic combos. Most magic has an element, and if you can cast enough magic spells without reusing an element—along with a few other nuances—you’ll earn collectible dice.

These dice can add potency or accuracy to your moves, but if you want to make a worthwhile dent in either area, you’ll need to use several dice at once. Since you can only keep several at a time, I found that they played a minor role in combat. On the plus side, the dice mechanics meant that no enemy was impervious to magic. If my sleep spell had a 0% chance of working on a boss, I could add a die to accuracy for a shot at getting it through. I’m a fan of this, since all too often are RPG bosses just plain invincible to status effects.

But moreso than the run-of-the-mill battle options and rarely useful dice mechanics, combat was defined by its pace. In the opening fight, I faced two plain ol’ goblins, and each one took several turns to fell. Even the most lowly grunt will put up a fight in Crimson Shroud.

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When I finally slew them both, I got to explore the castle they had guarded. Rather than guiding avatars around each square inch of the area, though, Crimson Shroud had me pick a room and instantly navigate to it. Instead of facing random encounters, I was prompted to battle when I entered certain rooms. So, if navigation wasn’t going to give me any cooldown time between fights, I needed something else.

The DM was happy to fill that role. Text is easy to skip in Crimson Shroud, and you rarely need to read it in order to know what to do next. Under normal circumstances, I’d be more than happy to skim the story. After a lengthy battle sequence, though, I was glad to rest with a few pages of text. Story bits can range from a few lines musing over disgusting zombie goblins to smile-worthy tales of how you escaped the bad guys that one time you met your magical girl companion.

And I stayed engaged in the story because it didn’t bog me down in details. Characters might have serious discussions or recall a long backstory, but I never read about the minutia of a room or anything like that. Crimson Shroud does follow some fantasy tropes in its storytelling, but its narrative focus is pleasantly narrow.

Which left me ready to dig into even longer fights. Over the time, I realized that sustainability was the key to survival. If battles were going to take forever, I needed to find a way to make my party live longer than forever.

In one particular fight, I faced a giant skeleton, a skeleton archer, and a skeleton mage. I could dodge the giant’s attacks by raising my party’s agility, but the archer and mage would still wreck them. The thing is, both the archer and the mage would respawn upon death—if I tried to clear them out, they’d wear me down before I could get to the giant.

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Since the mage was more or less immune to my magic, I opted to put the archer to sleep. With one sleeping archer and one giant that couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, I could focus all my energies on killing mages. After the fourth mage, they stopped coming. From there, I took out the archers one by one, then finally moved onto the giant.

Battles often revolved around finding some kind of holding pattern like the one above. With each fight, you’re in it for the long haul, so I’d find a way to create a state where my party members could survive indefinitely. In this case, I prevented my party from getting overwhelmed by rendering the archers and giant ineffective.

The battle mechanics work well in service of this idea. MP will regenerate during battle, meaning you can use magic indefinitely. On the other hand, because skirmishes last so long, you don’t want to figure consumable items into your battle plans. If you do, you’ll quickly run out, so they’re there for emergency use only. There are also no experience levels here, meaning you can’t grind out levels to cheese a certain segment.

These mechanics are hardly groundbreaking, but here, they’re used to create a unique sense of pacing.

At the start of Crimson Shroud’s first chapter, my party arrived at a castle. An hour and a half later, after only a handful of battles, a few pauses for dialogue, and traipsing through a few rooms, I came to the end of the first chapter. Rather than move on to a new setting, my party ventured into the castle’s basement. I had only scratched the surface of this one setting, and Crimson Shroud wasn’t going to let me leave until I had seen all its dark depths. This game takes its time with what it does, whether by storytelling or by battle, creating a hearty experience.

Pros:

  • Engaging writing
  • Each fight is long and challenging, requiring experimentation and new strategies
  • Great soundtrack from Hitoshi Sakimoto

Cons:

  • Fantasy fans may desire more from the narration
  • Combat mechanics are standard fare
  • If you need an RPG where you mow down enemies, don’t come here

Verdict: 5.0

Crimson Shroud repurposes familiar elements in an interesting way. It’s high quality, no doubt, but it doesn’t have much of anything new to say.

Value Verdict: Purchased new in 2012 for $7.99.

This took me 7 and a half hours to complete (that’s in-game time), and there’s a new game plus mode to explore. If you can derive enjoyment from vanilla turn-based RPG bouts, you won’t need to worry about getting your money’s worth here.

Liberation Maiden Review

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Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture, Level-5

Publisher: Level-5

Console: Nintendo 3DS

Players: 1

Rating:

  • T (ESRB)
  • 12+ (PEGI)

Release Date:

  • October 25, 2012 (US)
  • October 4, 2012 (Europe)

Genre: Free-range space shooter

-Greg Livingston

Give it a few hundred years, but eventually, Japan will take after Metal Wolf Chaos and put its president at the helm of a giant flying mechanical suit of armor. Of course, by then, Japan will be New Japan, and presidents will probably be elected based on the shapeliness of their posteriors.

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You can’t really see Miss President’s butt from this angle, but you can see her giant flying death machine.

But back to the flying suit of armor. As Miss President herself Shoko Ozura, Liberation Maiden has you pilot the Liberator high above New Japan. After I entered the first mission, the president’s adviser gave me directions to something he called a Conduit Spike. The circle pad let me steer my Liberator in any direction I wanted, and the map was free-roaming—no auto-scrolling here. On the other hand, the map was mostly dominated by water, so I didn’t have much else to do aside from following directions and finding out what this Spike was all about. 

It was a giant nail in the ground with sizable glowy bits to pummel. It was also surrounded by plenty of nasty things like ground-to-air turrets just itching to blow Miss President to smithereens.

But I wasn’t without firepower myself. Using the touch screen, I could highlight enemies and launch missiles at them. The Liberator comes with a nice stock of missiles, and it was gratifying to watch a spray of projectiles cover the screen in explosions.

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Those green hexagons show locations that are marked for your missiles. The explosions are, well, the explosions.

So, my first job was to destroy this Conduit Spike and whatever got in my way. Mayhem ensued, due to the army of enemies surrounding the Spike itself. I was more than happy to bob and weave between lasers and pot shots, taking out swaths of opposing forces with each volley of my missiles. Thankfully, the Liberator has a strafe function installed, which allowed me to focus on the Spike without getting too caught up in the riffraff surrounding it. The music itself was nothing memorable, and the enemy forces were of the generic mech anime sort, but the gameplay was too fast for me to care.

My enemies always lobbed shots directly at my mech, and they never organized themselves. It was utter chaos, which happens to be pretty easy to handle, especially when your mech can move about the map wherever you please. In short, I never had a reason to employ strategy; I dodged solely by the seat of my pants.

Initially, I took this as a tutorial, expecting the gameplay to develop. With each passing stage, enemies grew more plentiful and their attacks became more ruthless, but dodging enemy fire still came down to making sure my mech wasn’t in the same place it was two seconds ago.

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Code of Princess Review

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Developer: Agatsuma Entertainment

Publisher:

  • Atlus Co. (US)
  • Agatsuma Entertainment (Japan)

Console: Nintendo 3DS

Players: 1-4 online and offline

Rating:

  • T (ESRB)
  • B (CERO)

Release Date:

  • October 9, 2012 (US)
  • April 19, 2012 (Japan)

Genre: 2D fighter, Action RPG, brawler

-Greg Livingston

When I started up Code of Princess’ tutorial, I was greeted by Solange, a sword-wielding scantily-clad princess. In a paragraph or two, the game summed up its core concepts. Using a control scheme typical of 2D fighters, you have a wide variety of moves at your disposal to take on enemies. Solange herself demonstrated a few short combos: stuff that was easy to remember and ripe for experimentation. I’m a fish out of water in any fighting game that doesn’t have smashing or male siblings, but even I found it easy to get the hang of the three-hit combos Solange suggested.

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Not since Hany in the Road has there been so much lane-switching action in a video game.

You can also leap between the foreground, mid-ground, and background in order to escape enemies or get around them. Thing is, they can do it, too. This allows Code of Princess to throw a ton of baddies onscreen without clogging things up, and it lends a sense of dynamism to the combat.

Not long after starting the quest, I ran into Solange’s first companion, Ali the thief. Her dagger swipes had a shorter range than Solange’s sword swings, but Ali was also a great deal faster; she was difficult to use, but with practice, her moves left enemies little time to recover.

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Ali’s launcher move alone is like a three million-hit combo. I counted.

Enemy AI gave me a hand in my practice. Your foes possess little to no intelligence, instead relying on sheer power and numbers to kill you. Oftentimes, this made them willing punching bags: mindless drones I could rough up in the process of honing my skills. If you want to breeze through, you can largely make it through Code of Princess by mashing the weak attack button. However, I found it much more gratifying to explore each character’s moveset and work out combo strategies. Your enemies won’t really care one way or the other. Granted, they do take on a number of fantastic forms, such as living trees and giant skeletons.

Practicing combos sounds daunting to a newbie, but it’s just a matter of trying out each move individually. With time, you’ll gain an eye for the right time to use each move one by one.

And it helps that Code of Princess limits itself to accessible button inputs. This was honestly my biggest fear going into the game, since I don’t feel entirely comfortable with the 3DS’ control pad. Thankfully, the most complex special move is down + forward + attack. You can even display a movelist on the bottom screen, making for easy reference.

When I ran into the zombie necromancer Zozo, I began to see the variety in Code of Princess’ cast. Her combos are awkward to land and not very effective. On the other hand, her ranged spells cut down huge swaths of enemies. One of her special moves releases a giant laser beam which deals massive damage to everything in its path and sets its victims on fire. If an enemy touches another while on fire, the second enemy will recoil and catch on fire, as well; this can lead to giant chains of burnt bad guys. Careful, though, as you yourself are vulnerable to the fiery touch.

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