Infamous: First Light Review

by Matthew Thompson (Images from the PS Blog’s First Light Flickr set found here)

I’ve yet to be blown away by an Infamous game and as I mentioned back in my review of Second Son, this series has always remained a step away from the top-tier of gaming franchises for me. But it is a very consistent series and I always have fun with Sucker Punch’s superhero simulator. That remains true with the latest game, First Light, a standalone downloadable entry focusing on one of Second Son’s supporting players Continue reading

Summer TV Show Power Rankings

by Matthew Thompson

The summer is coming to an end soon. With the Fall TV Season just around the corner, I figured it’d be a good time to bring back my TV Show Power Rankings. This set will take a look at the top five shows of the summer. I am limiting this list to things that aired at least half its current season’s episodes in June, July and August or premiered during those months. Well here they are!  (Note: If you’d like to see my previous TV Power Rankings, they are compiled here. And be warned: These do contain some mild spoilers for the shows in question) Continue reading

LEGO 7311 Red Planet Cruiser (Life on Mars) Review and Mod

by Matthew Thompson

LEGO Red Planet Cruiser 1

The Red Planet Cruiser is a smaller set from 2001’s Life on Mars theme. It contains 73 pieces and retailed for an MSRP of $6.99. I rather like the color scheme. Green being my favorite color, I am kind of a sucker for any LEGO set that utilizes it well. Not only do you have the bright green, but also what is referred to as “Sand Green” which is the pale green you see featured in this set. On top of that I grew up loving green and orange together, so from a color palette standpoint this set hits me just right.

LEGO Red Planet Cruiser 2

As you can see it comes with some slightly poseable arms as well as some wings equipped with thrusters. Its oddest feature is certainly its leg. Not legs, but leg. It has a few joints to it which means you can bend it different ways. Tuck it up under to make it more of a flyer, but as is, its main way of travel seems to be hopping about which the boxart supports with its streaks arcing behind the vehicle indicating as much. I have always kind of dug that about this set. That idea plus the color scheme always made me think of it as a frog of sorts, even if its form doesn’t mesh with that at all. While that single leg gives it some unique character, I feel it hurts playability a bit. In a theme that typically has a lot of versatility, I wouldn’t have minded a quick way to switch between a single leg and two. Just for more options.

100_0854

It also comes with one Martian minifigure named Altair. As I mentioned in my review of the Excavation Searcher, these aren’t your typical minifigures, so they don’t sit normally. Altair tucks pretty nicely into the Cruiser’s seat though. His orange hair also goes well with the accents on the vehicle.

This is a nice little set. I imagine my affinity for the color scheme means it appeals to me more than most. It lacks the typical versatility of the Life on Mars theme. Like many of the other smaller sets, it isn’t modular so it can’t break up and hook into other sets. The build isn’t anything to write home about either, but I still find I just dig the look of this set.

I did decide to try and do a small modification and see how it turned out. So now I will walk you through it.

LEGO Red Planet Cruiser Mod 1

So as you can see here, I decided to just turn the cruiser into a bipedal vehicle. I left everything up top the same except where the legs start and their general build. I used some other pieces from various Life on Mars sets including a duplicate of this set I have to give myself some more options on building the legs. At the bottom, I used the sand green wing pieces for the base of the feet. From there I just tried to find a way to build up those feet in a symmetrical way that kept with the feel of the set. I was hoping to work in some of the brighter green. I had them where the sand green slopes are. And I planned to put sand green slopes where the grey ones are now, but couldn’t find two of the same width as the grey. Then I also added some orange pieces for some contrast.

LEGO Red Planet Cruiser Mod 2

This rear view of the Cruiser gives you a look at how I tweaked the legs. I took the plates off the back of the original leg and then pushed them apart a little where they attach to the body. I’m not sure it was the right call. I easily could have left them together. Then it could have kept the same general shape, but had the ability to move its legs independently. I ended up just liking the look of them apart to give this mod a different feel than the original set. I really like the appearance of the green plate and orange vents that run up the back of the legs too. They are really sharp I think.

LEGO Red Planet Cruiser Mod 3

And here you can see the real advantage of the bipedal design. You have a lot more movement options and can make it walk so to speak or just pose it in ways you could not before. They can still fold up just as in the original build to go for a more aerodynamic look good for zooming and swooshing around, but now you have more options on the ground.

As much as I like how this mod came out, I feel part of the charm of the set is the single leg and its hopping style of movement. Life on Mars isn’t exactly lacking in bipedal mechs either. So you sort of trade off that originality for something with more poseability and movement options. Depending on what you like, this simple mod might be a good option. Personally I really love the way this one looks sitting on my desk with the legs staggered like in the final picture in this blog.

That will do it for my look at the Red Planet Cruiser. Hope you enjoyed my review, quick mod and pictures. Thanks for reading!

Five Things You Might Have Missed in The Last of Us

by Matthew Thompson

I’ve been replaying The Last of Us yet again on the PS4. It remains one of my favorite games of all-time and if you haven’t played it yet, I’d highly recommend giving it a go. It really has something for every type of gamer. Now this blog is for those that have had a chance to play it. Of course, I have a smart group of readers and you guys probably caught everything I’m about to mention. But this blog is partly because I might point something neat out that some of you overlooked and just as much because I want to talk about a few little things that make this game extra special. With all that said, here are five things you might have missed when you played through The Last of Us that make the game even better (click on any of the pictures to get a better look at full-resolution!) Continue reading

Best of 7th Gen: #20-LittleBigPlanet

by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of the LittleBigPlanet page found here)

(I am counting down my 25 favorite games of the last console generation. I explain a little about how I put the list together in this introduction. And you can see a collection of all my articles on the Best of 7th Gen compiled here.)

LittleBigPlanet 2

When LittleBigPlanet came to the PS3, it was a breath of fresh air. A lot of developers were going in a more mature direction to chase an older market for the new system. But then Sony partnered with a little known developer named Media Molecule and they delivered something completely different.

LittleBigPlanet’s charm begins with its unique aesthetic. It was hard to not have a smile on your face as you ran around slapping your friends and sticking your tongue out with LBP’s knit hero Sackboy. Its world, made from felt and cardboard and various other craft-type items, helped give the game a look that was all its own back when it launched in 2008. Seeing the clever ways the developers created different items, looks and levels was fascinating. And that aspect fed directly into LBP’s best feature: it’s creation tools.

The game brought user-generated content to consoles in a big way giving players a huge toolset to create levels of their own. It was easy enough for anyone to try their hand at the development side of their beloved hobby, but it was watching the most talented creators that really showed off how great a feature this was. Some of that just came in the way of sharp level design. Other times it was in the way the tools were manipulated to give levels wild artstyles. I still remembering seeing the silhouette style people made so that your Sackperson appeared as a dark outline on a bright background. And then there was the way users practically broke the tools to create genres outside of the typical sidescroller that the game was designed as. I still marvel at what users were able to create in LittleBigPlanet. There is some really insane stuff out there and it is still coming all the time.

LittleBigPlanet 3

LBP was more than just a set of creation tools though. I feel it really kicked off a new craze of cooperative platformers with its 4-player mode. It had that great balance of working together and being able to mess with your friends that made even lesser moments fun. I also thought this was a solid platformer. A lot has been made of the physics and jumping controls. And those complaints are completely valid, but I feel the creative level designs and grab mechanic made up for those issues enough to create something I had a lot of fun with.

With LittleBigPlanet, Media Molecule created an innovative series with all the imagination and charm that has become a trademark of theirs as a developer. It also helped start a wave of new co-op platformers and games with user-generated content, so not only was LBP a lot of fun, but it had a big impact on the video game landscape as well.

LittleBigPlanet 1

A few more things:

  • I picked the original over the second game mostly because I put way more time into it. Other than the original being more innovative and having a better story mode, LBP2 is a better game. I loved the new competitive minigames, power-ups and creation tools just to name a few of the sequel’s many improvements. I could have went either way with this series, but ultimately went with the first because of a more personal connection. It might as well be a series entry though.
  • I did create a level. It wasn’t that great, but I was proud of it. A very challenging platforming level with a treasure hunter vibe that used the grip mechanic in a variety of ways. The issues I had putting it together made me appreciate people’s much more challenging creations that much more.
  • This was one of the very first games I played online. I still remember playing my level with three friends and realizing it was in no way designed for multiplayer. It did make for a hilarious time though and it was always a good time to play with friends online or off.
  • I never shell out for costumes in games, but this game got me. I particularly loved any themed after video game characters. LBP2’s Jak costume was amazing. I think I ended up using the Nariko one the most. The way her long red hair flew around as she jumped was so cool. Customizing Sackboy (or girl) was another reason this game was such a joy.
  • These games had a great soundtrack. And I discovered Passion Pit from a trailer for the second game who I still love and have since seen in concert!
  • Sorry for the big gap in entries for this feature! I got caught up in E3 in June and then took some time off from the blog in July. I hope to start really digging further into my Top 25 soon though.
  • Clue for #19: It is the highest ranked first-person shooter on this list. There are other shooters to come and other first-person games, but no true FPS games after this next one. Which probably says something about where my tastes lie that such a popular genre won’t technically crack the top 18.

The Blade Itself Review

by Matthew Thompson

The Blade Itself 1

My journey into the fantasy genre continues with Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy. It took me a bit to get used to the writing style in Abercrombie’s first novel The Blade Itself and I never came around to all aspects of it, but it was definitely an enjoyable read.

The Blade Itself focuses on three major point of view characters. Logen Ninefingers is by far my favorite. He is a barbarian from the untamed North. A warrior with a dark past known across the region for his killing prowess. It may seem like a fantasy stereotype and at times Logen’s actions and manner of talking back that up, but by getting in this character’s head we see he is more than meets the eye and it is fun to see some of the other characters come to this realization. While this adds an extra layer of intrigue to the character, his ability to fight is a big part of the appeal of his chapters too. One of the review quotes on the back cover of The Blade Itself said it was worth a read for the fight scenes alone and I can’t say I disagree. Logen isn’t the only one involved in memorable brawls, but he certainly is in many of the book’s best.

Another of the primary characters is an arrogant nobleman named Jezal dan Luthar, a Captain in the King’s army. He isn’t very likable. He looks down at those below his status, cares about superficial things and has an all-around shit attitude. But his chapters really managed to grow on me as the book went on. I think a large part of it was his involvement in the capitol city’s prestigious fencing contest. With some of the other things going on in The Blade Itself’s world, a fencing contest seems kind of trivial. And it is, but the build up to this event and the effects it has on Luthar make for compelling reading despite that. I’m also curious how his character will grow throughout the course of the series. He seems like a prime candidate for a hero’s turn, but it is tough to tell if that is Abercrombie’s intentions during this first book or not.

The final of the three main characters is Sand dan Glokta. He was once much like Luthar until time in enemy hands leaves him a cripple. After enduring torture, he ended up becoming a torturer himself as part of the Inquisition. It is certainly an interesting idea for a character, but his sections didn’t do a lot for me and were definitely my least favorite chapters to see pop up. For one, I didn’t love the writing style employed here. Glokta is constantly droning on about the pain he is in and while I do sympathise with him to an extent, it gets a little tiring. The dark sense of humor present in these chapters was hit or miss to me as well and I just didn’t find his plotlines quite as interesting as the others.

Some art from the series comic adaptation.

Some art from the series comic adaptation.

While these three characters make up the bulk of the novel’s POV’s, there are a few others like a former slave, Ferro Maljinn, who finds herself out in the desert looking for revenge while trying to survive and some of Logen’s former compatriots in the North. Legendary wizard Bayaz also factors into all the proceedings in a large way. He is a character whose motivations are tough to get a grasp on, but that is part of what makes him a fun character to see in action.

One of the best parts of the novel is seeing how these disparate storylines dovetail together. Of particular note are a few chapters that flip between some of its point of view characters experiencing the same event, like the aforementioned fencing competition and my personal favorite, the book’s penultimate chapter which features a thrilling fight and chase through the city. This is far from something unique to this book, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining seeing Abercrombie deftly employ the technique.

I haven’t really touched much on the overall plot of the novel because it is a little tough to describe. There is a war looming, but it is best to just dive in and see where these various characters end up. While I wrote this after completing The Blade Itself, I decided to hold off on posting it until I finished the entire trilogy. This first book definitely feels like part of a larger whole and I wanted to make sure it panned out before I came and recommended it. I think ultimately it does, but you definitely need your expectations in check. This is not a good triumphs over evil kind of fantasy. It is much less black and white and gets pretty dark. It seemed like Abercrombie was really trying to go against expectations in the genre. It definitely makes for some interesting reading, but it isn’t for everyone. I liked the overall ride, but even I had some reservations with some of the choices he made along the way. And for whatever it is worth, I’d also say I didn’t enjoy it as much as my other recent reads in the genre, A Song of Ice and Fire or The Black Company.

But if something darker doesn’t turn you off, there is a lot to like in The Blade Itself and the First Law Trilogy as a whole. For those that have read the series, I will be back with a blog talking the next two books where I dive into spoiler territory to talk about the good, the bad and the very surprising things I ran into as I worked my way through Joe Abercrombie’s first series.

Five Things that Caught My Eye From Gamescom 2014 So Far

by Matthew Thompson

After catching up on some of the news from Gamescom and watching the Sony Press Conference online yesterday, I figured I’d chime in with a few quick things that caught my eye during the show so far Continue reading

LEGO 7316 Excavation Searcher (Life on Mars) Review

by Matthew Thompson

Excavation Searcher Full Set

The Excavation Searcher is part of the Life on Mars theme and was released back in 2001. It includes 471 pieces and was sold for an MSRP of $50 back when it came out. Along with three Martian minifigures it features a large scorpion-like vehicle and a small base all of which can be seen above.

Excavation Searcher Minifigures

These are the three minifigures. From left to right that is Pollux, Canopus and Vega. As you can see, Life on Mars‘ Martians aren’t your typical minifigs. I rather like the unique head shape and there are some neat prints on them including all kinds of masks, hair, spots and eyes. One from another set even has freckles! I don’t care for the bodies as much as the typical minifigure builds though. They are kind of lacking that classic LEGO charm because of it and doing things like sitting them down is a little more difficult. This is usually handled by attaching their hands to some sort of bar and just bending them into place. They aren’t quite as poseable either. While I prefer the way themes like Galaxy Squad and Atlantis handled their alien and fantasy creature minifigures, these are still a unique addition to my collection which I can appreciate. I imagine their slimmer body size might have made it easier to create the pod transport system featured in fellow Life on Mars set Aero Tube Hangar.

Excavation Searcher Scorpion

The real meat of this set comes in the form of the titular Excavation Searcher. This large vehicle features claw and laser arms in the front (one might possibly be a scanning device I suppose) and a tail that acts as a crane in the back giving it a scorpion-like design. There are quite a few neat features packed into the Searcher. If you look underneath the middle section you can see something hanging below.

Excavation Searcher Speeder

It is this little speeder-type ship. Unfortunately the printing is a little messed up on the hood piece, but it is a nice small ship and I like how it hooks into undercarriage of the larger vehicle.

Excavation Searcher Crane

Here is a closer look at the crane which has a lot of mobility. You can use it to pick up these rocks. In the background you can also see how the bars for the rock storage open up.

Excavation Searcher Mech

Maybe the best part about this set is the versatility. It breaks apart, so both pairs of legs, the body and the front cabin can be separated and put together in different ways. Above you can see a mech variant. It didn’t take any rebuilding, just snapping the sections apart and then putting the cabin onto the front pair of legs. It makes for a solid mech and instantly has some swivel action up top because of a piece that sits on the legs in any form.

There isn’t much to complain about for this part of the set. The legs are a bit repetitive to build I suppose. And more so if you delve into the theme since a couple of other sets, two mechs not that dissimilar to the one shown here, have legs very much like the Searcher’s four. But that is only a tiny complaint.

Excavation Searcher Base

The final portion of the Excavation Searcher set is this base. Nothing too special here. You can drop the rocks in where they will slide/roll down the ramp and into a little bucket. The Searcher can “plug” into the front there. One interesting thing about it is the fact that it fits into Life on Mars‘ largest set, the aforementioned Aero Tube Hanger, at the end of one its pod transport tubes. And that is part of the theme as a whole. Just like I made a mech from the Searcher by swapping some sections around, you can mix and match different modules to create various setups. Admittedly that leads to a lot of color clashing, something that doesn’t really fit my tastes for display, but I imagine it being a lot of fun for younger builders who want to play around with them. The different combos mean new things to play with without rebuilding anything from scratch.

I think the Excavation Searcher is a great set and my favorite based on what I was able to rebuild from my Life on Mars collection. The main draw is definitely the Searcher itself. I love the ability to quickly create different setups and looks due to the modular style of the build. The orange and tan color combo is an odd one. It isn’t particularly vibrant like a lot of space sets, but it works well and in my mind fits into Life on Mars‘ focus on exploration over combat. It strikes me as a good look for a more work-focused vehicle like the Searcher.  Overall I had a blast rebuilding this set.

Be on the lookout for more LEGO posts soon and thanks for reading my first review!

Coming Soon: LEGO Set Reviews

by Matthew Thompson

Knight on Horse

LEGO’s Castle themes have always been my favorite.

Hey everyone. One thing I really hope to do is start featuring some more varied content on this blog. Last month I did my first sports blog, something I hope to do more of when football season rolls around. Now I am hoping to start adding some LEGO reviews to the mix. I have been building LEGO sets since I was very young and while I don’t buy as many sets as I used to, they are still a favorite hobby of mine whether it be building a new set, messing around with an old one, or building creations of my own.

My plan is to review some of the sets I have accumulated over the years along with any more recent ones I might grab here and there. What I’d like to do each month or so, is hone in on a particular theme. So I’d start with a review of what might be the standout set from that theme. Then do a blog with mini-reviews of a few more in that line. And finally I hope to create a design of my own using any pieces from that line of LEGO sets, one that would also feel like it fit into that particular theme.

I should have my first review up tomorrow for the Excavation Searcher and if all goes well, I will have a couple more posts about the Life on Mars theme that includes that set in the coming weeks following the setup I explained above (I mostly picked Life on Mars because I just found my old collection and happened to build a few). For now these will be a work in progress as I figure out the best way to discuss and photograph them. And some of my sets may not be complete which might affect which ones I can feature for the different themes I have. So there might be some growing pains while I get these rolling, but hopefully they will be fun to check out and you guys will enjoy this new facet of the blog. Thanks for reading and be on the lookout for more LEGO posts soon!