The Good and Bad of A Link Between World’s Rental System

by Matthew Thompson

Last year’s new 3DS Zelda title, A Link Between Worlds, was the best entry in the series in years. It had all the hallmarks of a great Zelda game, but it was breaks from recent trends in the series that helped make it stand out to me. Nintendo got away from the handholding that has plagued Link’s latest adventures. This along with the ability to generally play the game’s dungeons in any order you chose meant I was finally given the freedom to explore Hyrule the way I (and many other fans) wanted to. This sense of freedom was no doubt facilitated by the game’s item rental system. But along with some of the positives of this new feature came some pitfalls. It is these drawbacks that make me think that the future of the series is better off ditching the renting of items. And it can do so without losing the positive qualities that it helped usher into, or perhaps bring back to, the franchise.

For those unaware, A Link Between Worlds eschewed its typical item discovery system where you’d find them in dungeons and use them throughout in favor of a new experimental formula. You were given access to a store early in your adventure where you could rent and eventually buy any item you wanted. This made it so you could choose which areas of the overworld and which dungeons to tackle first.  And with a little rupee saving you could easily have all the items early on giving yourself access to anywhere on the map long before you usually would. Admittedly this is a bit of an oversimplification on my part. Some items still had to be found via traditional methods. And some items were available to rent earlier than others, but it made for a game that allowed players to approach things on their own terms which was a big change from recent series’ conventions.

Ravio's item/weapon shop.

Ravio’s item/weapon shop.

It came with some drawbacks though. The joy of discovering items is lost a bit here as are the “Aha!” moments of getting a new item and realizing it will help you get past that one obstacle in the overworld you saw earlier. With a less linear approach came a more flat difficulty level across dungeons. Some items became less useful since you could acquire the superior item beforehand. It also took a step back in terms of varied item usage in dungeons. The rental system seemed to make Nintendo afraid to require any more than one item per dungeon (with the exception of the final one). It didn’t have to. They could have gated each with a couple items instead of one. But I am guessing since dying means you’d lose items, they didn’t want to make people have to buy multiple ones over again (even if this was something series’ vets never had to worry about). As a result the dungeons became more singularly focused on one item than even Twilight Princess which was much maligned for this very reason. For all the things Skyward Sword did wrong, it did a great job of mixing up the way you used items which made puzzles and dungeons less predictable. A Link Between Worlds was definitely a step in the wrong direction in this regard.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t change the way it worked in A Link Between Worlds. But I would ditch the rental system going forward. The good thing is we wouldn’t have to lose the freedom it allowed in the process. I think the first step is making items discoverable in the lead up to dungeons. Temples often have linear sections leading into them. You could put the item here. This would still allow for dungeons to be tackled in a non-linear order, but give back the sense of discovery that was lost in the last game.

The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds 2

Link’s ability to merge into walls made for such creative dungeon designs that the one-item aspect was less of an issue than it could have been.

That won’t solve the issue of difficulty and one-item dungeons though. So I’d make different tiers of dungeons. ALBW already did this sort of. The first three had to be tackled before you could get to Lorule’s collection of temples. I’d do something similar here. Make a group of three that can be tackled in any order. The items are discovered for keeps in their surroundings. Then these items can be used in the next tier of dungeons which will each have an item of their own discovered in a similar fashion. This could be another group of three or four tackled in any order. Followed by a final group where all the items from previous dungeons could be used. The tiers would also allow for the difficulty to be ratcheted up, while still giving some of the freedom A Link Between Worlds granted.

This is just one idea on how to handle things going forward. I’m not sure if it is the right way to do things, but I think it would sort of give players the best of both worlds, giving them the advantages that came with ALBW’s new system while cutting back on some of its drawbacks. We’ll have to see how they handle things when the inevitable Wii U Zelda title appears.

What were your thoughts on the rental system used in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds? Would you like to see it return? What tweaks would you make? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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TV Show Power Rankings: March 30, 2014

by Matthew Thompson

I’m back with another set of TV Power Rankings where I check in with what I believe are the five best shows going at the moment. These are very much a “what have you done for me lately” kind of thing, so they put the emphasis on the past month or so while still looking at the season as a whole. A bad week or short hiatus is enough to drop you a few spots while one spectacular episode can give you a boost. With that said here are my latest rankings (Note: The number in parentheses is their rank in the previous rankings. If they were not ranked, I put NR for Not Ranked. If you’d like to see my previous TV Power Rankings they are compiled here. I’ve also added a “Dropped Out” feature at the bottom to explain why some shows from last time didn’t stay in) Continue reading

Best of 7th Gen: #23-Rock Band 2

by Matthew Thompson

Rock Band 2 isn’t my favorite multiplayer game of the seventh generation, but it is my favorite party experience of that gen. To me a good party game is something that I can easily get a lot of people involved in. Rock Band makes it simple to rotate people in and out. It is something my non-gaming friends can play. It can be fun for those just watching. It’s got that karaoke vibe where you feel a little stupid doing it, but everyone has fun with it anyway. The track list had something for everyone and I know me and my band expanded our library a lot through DLC adding everything from Billy Joel to some metal band I’d never heard that my friend just had to have. And there is just something about forming your own virtual rock band with friends that really makes this a step ahead of the guitar-only games that came before it. Throw in a pretty sweet character creator and you had a real winner with this game.

Rock Band 2

Despite my love of Rock Band 2 (and the series as a whole), it isn’t one I have a ton to say about like most other entries on this list. That doesn’t mean it is any less deserving of finding itself on here though. It’s a unique gaming experience and excels as both a music/rhythm game and party experience.

A few more things:

  • This might as well be for the whole series. I mainly picked 2 since it was the first one we jumped into as a band and 3 had a ton of freezing problems for us for some reason which sullied that experience a bit. I even enjoyed Lego Rock Band though it wasn’t as good as 2 or 3
  • Our band names included: The Pat Mullihan Experience, Goldblamm!!!, and Demon Baby among others. Like all good band names they represent inside jokes for me and my bandmates.
  • I was our band’s go-to drummer. I made a chick with a side ponytail named Fuschia for my character.
  • If a band member didn’t make it for our weekly jam session, there was a good chance they came back to their character looking like a complete ass the following week.
  • Hint for #22: I have already talked about it once on The Triple Option, but I’ll dive in deeper this time around.
  • Bonus! I whipped up a quick mix of some of our band’s favorite tracks to play at the bottom of this blog. I know no one will listen to this, but it gives you an idea of the kind of stuff we would play. I blame all the terrible tracks on my friends’ bad taste.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena Review

by Matthew Thompson

(This blog contains spoilers for Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. You’ve been warned!)

Spartacus Gods of the Arena Banner

Gods of the Arena acts as a prequel to Blood and Sand, but is fully intended to be watched after the first season even bookending the short six-episode run with snippets of Season 1’s final moments. After the crazy finish to Blood and Sand, I was more excited to see the continuation of those events, but Gods of the Arena delves into the backstories of many of the series main characters while delivering some more enjoyable arena action.

Like with a lot of prequels, you ultimately know where many of the storylines end up. But it is still fun to see all the pieces fall into place. We see how Crixus ended up a gladiator and how Oenomaus became the ludus’ doctore along with smaller things like how Ashur hurt his leg and began to feel the way he did about Crixus in the future. And a lot of time is spent on Batiatus and how he schemed his way into a better position. He’s such a fun character to watch that it is hard to complain about seeing a bit more of him since Season 1 could have been the end of it. His relationship with his father is played for good drama and I found myself appreciating and shaking my fist at the duplicity with which Lucretia planted the seeds for the elder Batiatus’ demise.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena; Episode 1

Of course, the best thing about Gods of the Arena  is the introduction of Gannicus who became probably my favorite character in the series by the time it finishes out. It wasn’t something I suspected either. His cocky demeanor in the arena and lazy attitude outside of it didn’t appeal to me at first. I’m usually a fan of the more classic hero-type. But there is something about his personality that just won me over. The booming laugh and his general jovial demeanor makes for a character who is just easy to like. And it doesn’t hurt that he is every bit the badass Spartacus is. His tale is also one I did not know the end of which helped up the stakes a bit. I kind of figured he might die by season’s end which is why he wasn’t present in Season 1, so the ending  in which he wins his freedom managed to catch me off guard. It’s another example where knowing so little of the actual history helped because it gave the season an element of surprise that it was lacking at times due to its prequel nature.

What worked less well for me was the orgy (or whatever you want to call it) storyline that focused on Lucretia trying to gain favor with prominent Romans. Of course, this is another example of my personal preferences coming into play, but the way some of the slave characters are treated just came off a bit too rough for me at times, particularly Diona. Cossutius is just kind of the worst too. They totally nailed his casting I suppose because he has the most punchable of faces. Despite this plotline being one of the low-points of the series for me, I do think the friction it ended up creating between Gannicus and Oenomaus ultimately pays dividends, but that is something I will talk more about in my Vengeance post.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena; Episode 1

One thing I appreciate even more about this season in hindsight were the arena battles. I talked in my Blood and Sand review about how those were a big reason why I grew to love the series. And it is something the show has to move away from in its final two seasons, so a few more of these were definitely a good thing. The smaller venues also gave them a  more intimate feel compared to the ones being fought in the huge arena in other seasons. I even loved the one that is hosted in the streets of Capua right amongst the people. This one doubles as a way to show just how much of a badass Gannicus is as he takes another man on while blindfolded. Was it completely absurd? Yeah, kind of. But also cool as hell so I give it a pass.

Gods of Arena may not have been what I wanted coming out of Blood and Sand since I was dying to see what Spartacus and company got up to after their breakout. But I understand the circumstances that brought this abbreviated prequel season about and it ends up being a success in its own right by shedding light on the histories of some characters we came to care about in the first season, giving us more of the bloody arena bouts we loved to cheer for, and even adding characters and storylines that would ultimately pay off big time as the series continued proper. And for those reasons I enjoyed my time with Gods of Arena even if I’d put it at the bottom of my Spartacus season rankings.

I will be back sometime soon with my thoughts on Spartacus: Vengeance which brought about big changes for the series. Feel free to share your thoughts on Gods of the Arena in the comments as I’d love to hear them. Thanks for reading!

Veronica Mars Movie Review

by Matthew Thompson

(I wrote this review as spoiler-free as possible for people who haven’t seen the movie and are curious how it turned out. I also put some more spoilery impressions into the bullets to mention a few things I wanted to talk about in more detail.)

Veronica Mars Movie 4

The Veronica Mars movie represents something unique to me. The past couple years have brought news of a handful of revivals for television series thought gone for good. Despite my love of the medium, these announcements brought about a wide range of reactions from me. Arrested Development was a show I was happy to see more of, but was never a favorite of mine. 24 will return soon, but it is a show I never got into so not one I can get excited about. And the recent announcement of a Heroes reboot garnered the opposite of an excited reaction from me despite having watched the series to its original conclusion. Veronica Mars is different though. Ranking among my all-time favorite TV shows, it represented a possible revival I could be passionate about. I even helped donate to the Kickstarter. Based on early donations it probably didn’t need my help, but it felt cool to be involved in bringing something back however small my individual contribution may have been in the grand scheme of things. So of course, I was excited as hell to finally be able to watch the movie this weekend and am very satisfied with the final product after a couple viewings.

After briefly recapping the TV series, the movie checks in with an older Veronica Mars, living in New York, dating Stosh “Piz” Piznarski, and interviewing for her first lawyer job after having left her days of private investigating behind her years earlier. It isn’t long before something calls her back to her roots. It’s none other than former flame Logan Echolls who is in trouble with the law (surprise!) and asks Veronica for help. And so she heads back to Neptune where she runs into all kinds of old friends and enemies and gets lured back into solving yet another case just like the old days.

The case in question is the murder of Logan’s singer girlfriend Bonnie DeVille aka Carrie Bishop, a former classmate of Veronica and Logan’s back at Neptune High (though now played in her brief appearances in the movie by a different actress). Series creator Rob Thomas has done an admirable job of working in the type of classic investigation that V found herself dealing with back in the old days. He doesn’t have a full season of TV to drop little hints and let the sassy sleuth unravel the mystery while keeping the audience wondering, but we get a similarly fun case with all the trademarks of those longer form whodunits, just in a more compact form. The whole thing ends up involving old characters and new, tying in staples of the series like the Balboa County Sheriff’s department and class issues that always embroiled the seaside California town. And it ends with an enjoyably villainous culprit facing off with Miss Mars in one final exciting action sequence.

Veronica Mars Movie 1

While the murder mystery acts as the central plot, this was clearly a movie made for the fans that helped make it happen. It is just loaded with references and guest appearances that will make big VM fans smile. Other than Veronica, Keith and Logan, I think Dick Cassablancas was my favorite part. He had me laughing during every one of his appearances whether he was teasing Veronica and Logan’s relationship that neither can seem to quit or whipping out a flask from his beltbuckle. Even little jokes like the one referencing the failed Season 4 pitch or that other Rob Thomas got a giggle out of me. Some of the fan service littered throughout the movie worked better than others. I can think of one notable guest appearance by an old cast member that I felt was a little shoehorned in. But none of them detract from the whole and I can’t blame them for going a little overboard trying to please fans given how the movie came to be.

And of course there is the love triangle. This seemed to be a large part of the marketing pre-release with all the silly Team Logan and Team Piz stuff. I won’t get into how it plays out here (I will in the bullets below), but I think both Logan and Piz come off as better potential suiters for Veronica. Piz is still the nice guy, but a little less spineless and certainly a bit cooler when compared to his Season 3 incarnation. And while Logan definitely remains the riskier option, he has changed quite a bit since we last saw him as well. A generally nicer guy, but not without the edge (or the baggage) that helped make him attractive to Veronica in the first place. In the end I think this aspect was handled well.

And the love triangle plays into a greater theme driving the film forward. One that finds Veronica trying to fight off the urge to return to her old life over what might be a brighter future. And the way things wrap up really worked for me. The ending isn’t the happiest one you will find, but that kind of ending would never fit the world of Veronica Mars. It’s bittersweet, but leaves things on a more appropriate note than the Season 3 finale. And yet it leaves things open for future stories in whatever form they might come.

Spoilery Bullets!

Veronica Mars Movie 2

  • The Love Triangle: Was there ever any doubt how this would go? Again, I thought Piz came off a bit better here (I really didn’t like him in the show), but a slightly reformed Logan cancels out any help that would have given Piz in this already lopsided battle. I just think Veronica and Logan make sense. They are both a little damaged and they just work together.
  • The Returning Appearances: Wallace is just awesome and him being able to steal someone’s permanent records because he is working at the school is just perfect. I loved the little appearances by Vinnie Van Lowe, Principal Clemmons and Corny to name a few.
  • The Shoehorning: Celeste Kane seemed like the one that felt a little forced in there for the heck of it. I get why it sort of works in there for what they did with Weevil, but that whole plot wasn’t really the best part of the film anyway.
  • Keith and Veronica’s father-daughter relationship continues to just be the best.
  • This movie would have felt incomplete without Logan punching someone and the reunion brouhaha was so fun. Loved all the people jumping into it. And the movie just couldn’t resist dumping on Piz some more later when Dick showed the pic of him.
  • I liked that the reunion was a relatively small part of the movie. I went in trying to know as little about the film as possible and I thought it’d be bigger deal. I think what we got was much better.
  • So glad they made it so Dick didn’t know what actually happened with the crime on the boat.
  • I laughed at the Dax Shepard appearance more than I should have. The James Franco bit was a little good (his description of the Tolkien thing he thought he was getting and wanting to pretend he was his assistant) and a little bad (the skinny jeans bit fell flat for me).

The Veronica Mars movie will probably be a solid watch for people unfamiliar with the series. But for fans it is something special. It ticks all the boxes this kind of project needed to. The writing is on point: snappy, witty and aged up to feel more appropriate to the older characters. There’s mystery and drama, suspense and action. Everything a Veronica Mars movie needed. And I hope the success of this film brings about some future stories in this world one way or another. Because it is going to be tough for me to stop at just one more hit of Veronica and company.

Mario Kart 7 Impressions

by Matthew Thompson

It took me a while to get around to Mario Kart 7. As much as I love the series, it is so much about local multiplayer with friends for me (something this version isn’t conducive to) that I just kept pushing it off. I have finally taken the opportunity to put the game through its paces and found it to be another solid if unspectacular entry in the series.

They have really nailed the controls for the first time on a handheld in my opinion. This was in large part due to what a huge improvement the 3DS circle pad is over the DS d-pad for steering. It also helps that Mario Kart 7 released in a post MKWii world where the boost mechanics have been changed for the better, no longer requiring the back and forth motion of the steering mechanic that was so annoying and allowed for the plague that was snaking.

Weapons don’t seem to affect the races in as big a way as recent entries which is another plus. It’s the expected mix of standard shells and banana peels to go along with more unique items like squid ink. Weapons can be held out behind you for defensive purposes and well if you’ve played Mario Kart you kind of know what to expect. While I would prefer they get rid of the dreaded Blue Shell altogether, I thought it made a little more sense here since it goes along the ground giving it a chance to hit other racers besides just the one in first place. Which means it might actually help the person who threw it instead of just those close on the leader’s heels. Also worth noting is that the Blue Shell only cost me one race in my time playing Mario Kart 7. It seems like a stupid thing to mention, but it might mean they have tuned the game to not give this item out late in races as often which is another step in the right direction (or maybe I just got lucky!).

Mario Kart 7 2

Mario Kart 7 adds a couple of truly new features to the series to mix things up a bit. The first is the ability to fly off certain jumps with the aid of a new hang glider. This is especially cool when it leads to alternate routes through different tracks and sneaky shortcuts which makes for some of the game’s better course designs. You can also go underwater during certain segments, but I’m kind of indifferent towards this aspect. But I suppose as another way to add more routes in some cases it doesn’t hurt.

The other big addition is the ability to customize your kart. It is not a particularly deep component. You can choose between various bodies, wheels and gliders which slightly tweak the different attributes of the vehicle. It is hard to complain about as it will let people get closer to their ideal racing attributes as well as giving something else to unlock as you play. It just isn’t really a game-changer in any way.

My biggest gripe with the game is the set of new original courses. Just like most Mario Kart games, MK7 has four cups of four new tracks each, but I feel like they just don’t stack up with most games in the series, particularly the recent editions (Double Dash, DS and Wii). My favorite tracks are probably a new version of Bowser’s Castle with all the fiery obstacles you’d expect from that classic area, Maka Wuhu which is the best execution of the new sprint type track that eschews the typical three lap setup in favor of just dividing one long loop into three segments, and Music Park which exhibits some of the creativity that exudes from the best Mario Kart tracks. But overall I found it lacking in the kind of standout tracks that I have come to expect from the series.

Mario Kart 7 3

They did do a fantastic job picking the 16 classic courses. The Wii and DS selections are particularly great including excellent levels like Maple Treeway, Koopa Cape, Airship Fortress and Waluigi Pinball. I also appreciated them finishing the final classic cup with a Rainbow Road variation. This challenging SNES track isn’t one of my favorite iterations of “The Road,” but it is nice to have another version of it in the game.

Battle mode is pretty standard stuff for Mario Kart vets. There is a good amount of options among the two modes, Balloon Hunt and Coin Runners. New tracks seem good enough, but the omission of Block Fort in the classic selections is disappointing. It really should be a requirement to include in every future Mario Kart game.

My internet has decided I will not be playing the game online and with no friends locally who own a 3DS, I didn’t get to test out the most important aspect of any Mario Kart: the multiplayer. So these became impressions instead of a full review.

My experience with the solo modes finds Mario Kart 7 to be a great controlling portable MK with a few new tweaks to keep things fresh, but one that let me down a bit in the new track department. And I think that puts it behind the three most recent entries to the series that came before this one. It’s definitely still an enjoyable game in its own right though.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand Review

by Matthew Thompson (all images courtesy of the Spartacus website found here)

(So that my non-Spartacus-watching readers can see a little of why I became hooked on the show, I have written this first season review with no spoilers except in the bullets. The bullet points are intended to give people who have seen the show an idea of my favorite moments and the like from the season.)

Spartacus Blood and Sand 3

The Olympics made for a barren TV landscape in February. So I found myself digging through OnDemand for something else to check out in the meantime. I think partly influenced by my recent obsession with the God of War video games, I ended up giving the Starz series Spartacus a try. While it clashes a bit with my sensibilities at times, I found myself hooked on the show and very glad I gave it a try.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand follows the journey of a Thracian man. When a deal struck for him and his Thracian brethren to aid the Roman army turns sour, he and his wife are taken as slaves and separated with him sent off to the arena. Despite facing what looked like certain death, he manages to survive and his life as a gladiator and the titular Spartacus begins.

While this tale may be familiar to some due to the 1960 film or just the history it was based on, I went in knowing only the broadest strokes of the story so the series retained a lot of the suspense of a purely fictional TV show as I was unaware of many of the characters’ fates and of course there was always the different directions the show’s creators could veer off from history itself. Adding an extra fun layer to whole thing was going back and reading up on the real Spartacus and seeing what was based on actual history which is something I will comment more specifically on as I talk about certain events from the show.

Spartacus Blood and Sand 2

The biggest selling point early on is undoubtably the action. The fight scenes are glorious particularly the one on one battles that occur in the arena. Great choreography and stunning bouts of violence left my mouth agape while the stylized look added a certain flare to the proceedings. Sometimes the way heads fly after being lopped off looks a little silly, but it is a minor blemish on what are otherwise some top-notch fight sequences which are worth the price of admission alone. Even just seeing the different fighting styles as the series goes on from sword and shield to trident and net is fascinating in its own right.

The show as a whole takes a little bit to get going. The first few episodes are really rough around the edges, but by about halfway through the first season things really start to come together in most all aspects. I was particularly impressed with the pacing. Things that were happening halfway through the season could have easily been finale material. Looking back knowing the history, it does make a bit more sense. The sort of phases each of the three main seasons respresents really works, but they still could have easily decided to draw out any of these arcs to multiple seasons. So I appreciated the momentum they created in the show’s plotting.

One thing that helped hook me into the show as it continued was the duplicitous plans that were being hatched, especially by the non-gladiator characters in the show. Batiatus runs the ludus, a training school, that the gladiators call home and he is quite the schemer. He’s played by John Hannah and is one of those memorable villains that you love to hate. His wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) and another character, Ilythia, do some crazy things as well. It not only helps to build a group to root against, but makes them seem like capable antagonists that while physically inferior to Spartacus have the brains to give him a different kind of rival than the ones he meets in battle on the sands of the arena.

Spartacus Blood and Sand 4

Another interesting aspect of the show is the dialog. It has a prose-like quality to it that makes me feel like no ever could have talked like this though a little reading told me it was maybe supposed to be how Latin might sound in modern-day English. What makes it more interesting is how they worked some hilarious vulgarities into the speech. So along with flowery talk of sunsets, you’ll hear the term “Jupiter’s cock” about 300 times throughout the series and learn that it is a part of Spartacus’ charm.

With that being said, this is clearly a show for adults. The language and violence are enough to make it so, but there is plenty of nudity and sexual content too. I personally found myself rolling my eyes because of it at times. The show couldn’t resist just cutting to shots of women in the arena audience pulling their breasts out or having a couple of people engaging is various forms of intercourse in the background of others’ conversations and sometimes it just felt a little over the top. While it sometimes came off a bit silly to me, it could certainly be seen as a plus for others.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand starts out a little rough, but by the end of the first season I was absolutely hooked on this drama. It proved to be more than just “Blood and Breasts.” The show provides ample amounts of both, but it surprises with clever writing and characters you will grow to love for more than their figures and fighting prowess. I am so happy I gave this show a shot after dismissing it for years now.

Spoilery Bullets!

Spartacus Blood and Sand 1

  • The Pacing: I mentioned earlier about the fast pacing. I was surprised to see Spartacus’ wife killed halfway through the season and equally surprised to see Batiatus bite it at season’s end. Same with how fast Spartacus became champion. In hindsight, it makes more sense, but still another show may have dragged those out especially when crafting such a great villain in Batiatus.
  • The Scheming: I was specifically thinking of two plans when I commented about this earlier in the article. One being how Batiatus orchestrated the death of the magistrate and the other being Ilythia’s part in Varro’s death. And of course, Ashur plays a huge part in the former and he turns into quite the villain himself.
  • Best Character: This is a tough one, but I will go with Spartacus. Andy Whitfield did such an excellent job with his character and I liked how his passion for his wife lent a softer side to his personality and a great driving force for his actions throughout Blood and Sand.
  • Best Fight: So many good battles in the first season, but I will go with Spartacus and Crixus’ fight against Theokoles. Watching the two rivals work together, at times at least, to try and best the hulking beast is pretty awesome and helps show off some of the fantastic choreography. And Theokoles is such an intimidating presence as well. Makes it even better when he finally gets taken down.
  • Most Shocking Moment: There were a few moments I could just not believe they even showed on TV. The one that for better or worse stands out in my head is when one gladiator gets his… member removed and they showed the… stump spurting blood from his body. One of many brutal moments from the show.
  • Best Episode: The finale “Kill Them All” is one of those truly memorable hours of television. It might be the series best episode (a couple from later seasons give it a run for its money though). Watching Spartacus lead his rebellion against those who held him and his brothers captive was unforgettable.
  • Best Moment: When Crixus taps his shield finally signifying he will help and Spartacus flings himself off it to attempt an assassination of Batiatus on the balcony. Wow! Just so cool.

I will continue my look at the series over the next couple of weeks with three more blogs, one for each of the other seasons. These will be a little shorter and for those who have already watched. Just merely talking about their setups kind of spoils earlier parts of the show, so this is kind of the end of the road for non-watchers. I’d love to hear any other Spartacus fans’ thoughts on Blood and Sand in the comments. What were your favorite moments and characters? As always thank you for reading!

The New Shows of January and February: Comedies

by Matthew Thompson

With March upon us, I thought it was a good time to look back on the new shows that have premiered in 2014 so far. In this post, I will be talking about the comedies I have had a chance to check out, giving you a little about their respective premises as well as letting you know if they are worth your time Continue reading

Killzone: Mercenary Campaign Impressions

by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of the KZ: Mercenary page found here)

Killzone Mercenary 3

Ever since the Vita was first announced, I have dreamt of seeing certain genres done justice on a portable platform for the first time. For one, the Vita’s dual analog setup looked like it might finally deliver the FPS I coveted on the go. It seemed  my best hopes came in the form of the Killzone project that was shown briefly during the reveal of Sony’s next generation portable system. It had a quality developer behind it, a suitable amount of time in the cooker, and was an original experience designed for the Vita rather than just a port. On the other hand, Killzone is more of a multiplayer series and since I was looking for something good to sink my teeth into solo, it might not give me what I want. But I had to give it a try to see for myself.

The shooting itself feels really great in Killzone: Mercenary which despite some of its other shortcomings is a constant in the series. I still love the M82 rifle… maybe a little too much as I rarely swapped it out for another firearm. There were times where I equipped a sniper rifle of some sort to take on certain encounters for strategic reasons, but other standard rifles were no substitute for the M82 in my opinion. In my other slot, I ended up settling on a shotgun that lit enemies on fire which is always a plus and gave me something for up-close messy confrontations to go alongside my versatile go-to assault rifle with the occasional rocket launcher mixed in when the situation warranted it.

Killzone Mercenary 1

Guerrilla Cambridge has done a good job matching the feel of the controls on consoles, but they couldn’t quite pull it off perfectly. As good as the hardware of the Vita is, it lacks a couple of shoulder buttons and clickable sticks when compared to a standard controller. Putting crouch on the same button as sprint led to some slight annoyances when trying to duck behind cover and no dedicated grenade button meant they are a little trickier to work into frantic firefights. And I could have done without the swipe-based melee attacks.

The level design is thankfully more reminiscent of the earlier entries in the franchise than the PS4’s Shadow Fall. The more linear structure means the focus can stay on shooting and avoid the pitfalls that dogged SF‘s campaign when it tried it’s hand at non-combat scenarios. I also enjoyed the various abilities granted by your Vanguard particularly a drone that would fly by my side and zap enemies which would help thin numbers when I felt a bit overwhelmed by a large swarm of opposing soldiers.

There is a story here, but I doubt anyone will care much about it. I did like that as a mercenary for hire you ended up fighting for both sides of the conflict which meant taking on Helghast and ISA soldiers at different times throughout the game. And I appreciated the little history recap that set things up before the game sent you on your first mission.

Killzone Mercenary 2

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the graphics. While Killzone: Mercenary isn’t as beautiful as Tearaway or some other standout Vita titles, I think as far technical proficiency it has to be tops on the system. It is hard to not be impressed by this aspect of the game even if the color palette and art leave something to be desired.

And I can’t finish talking about Killzone: Mercenary without mentioning how I found the length of the campaign to be totally unacceptable, finishing it in under four hours. I know campaigns particularly in this genre and maybe more often in portable games have gotten shorter and shorter over the years, but I have never come to accept it. I suppose the game wants to you to replay missions for money and under different parameters. It is supposed to fit into the merc theme I think. But it seems a little cheap to try to add extra replay value this way. If I enjoyed the core content more, I’d probably be more lenient on this aspect because then I’d probably play it through a few times just because I liked it so much. But that just isn’t the case here.

Again I realize this is a series about multiplayer first and I’m sure there is great fun to be had in Mercenary‘s MP modes if my samplings of other Killzone games’ competitive components are anything to go off of. I guess I was just hoping some game would deliver that great FPS campaign I want so badly on a portable and I was hoping, maybe against reason, that this could sate my appetite in that regard. But with its short story mode and solid gameplay, the campaign itself is just an above average one at best. It does reiterate what I already believed to be true after playing even the lesser title Resistance: Burning Skies, the Vita could give me what I want in a portable FPS. It’s certainly capable, but it just hasn’t done it yet. And I’m not sure when it will.