Categories
Reviews Video Games

Lost Dimension: Video Game AND Logic Puzzle In One

In the near future, the world is in ruin with just days left before total destruction at the hands of a suitably over the top villain who calls himself “The End.” An elite secret service group is put together to stop him, but only a handful survive the initial assault and make it into his tower. They all have special powers, but The End has a nasty surprise in store: there are traitors among them.

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At its core Lost Dimensions is a action/strategy rpg, and an extremely good one. There is a central hub where the characters plan between levels. Here you manage/buy equipment, get to know the other characters, learn new skills, etc. The nested menus are a little overwhelming, but nothing crazy and it doesn’t take too long to get used to them. Most importantly they’re functional and fairly clear despite being numerous. The skill system is pretty robust and does a nice job of keeping characters varied while making them all relatively useful. The first couple of characters you talk to during each interlude receive a camaraderie boost, leading to improved influence over them and personal discussions that flesh out their backstories.  The hub also has a key role that opens a bit into the game – gathering intel to identify traitors. I’ll discuss this in detail later.

The gameplay isn’t quite the dungeon crawler (well, tower climber in this case) that I might have expected, but absolutely no complaints. And it does have a bit of that feel during individual levels. The levels are self-contained mini-mazes with enemies that generally need to be wiped out. You generally field six characters, and can move them in any order each turn. Each moves freely within a circular indicated range, and then can attack, use skills/items, or even forfeit their turn to allow an ally to move again. There are other nice nuances, and the battles proceed quickly and are quite fun. I don’t think I’ve seen an action oriented implementation of squad combat like this that’s deep yet keeps things brisk. I enjoyed it immensely.

The story is fine. Nothing terribly deep and a bit cliched, but it moves things along and there’s a nice mystery that builds about the villain’s connection to our protagonist, Sho. The game’s key innovation also hamstrings proper story development a little. Let me explain – at the end of each layer of the tower The End makes you sacrifice a suspected traitor from among your group. This is done via in game vote, and there are numerous things you can do during a layer to get your teammates to target someone specific.

The cool thing is other than the first one on your first playthrough, the identity of each traitor is COMPLETELY RANDOM. There’s no way of knowing in advance whether it’s going to be your least favorite ally or the character you use for point on every mission. This can obviously have a huge effect on gameplay, depending on your choices. To help ferret out the traitor the player uses Sho’s special ability of clairvoyance to identify how many traitors are in a given combat group and then has to puzzle out who’s a prime suspect for further investigation (via a minigame with limited trials). I ADORE logical puzzles, and this is one of the most innovative and well integrated game mechanics I’ve seen in ages.

Of course there are always trade offs. Since the traitors can be anyone and they are preemptively killed, the reasons for them plotting to turn on you aren’t fully explained. This is the detriment to story I mentioned above. I felt the background details you could find out about each teammate by becoming friends made up for this, but it is a little frustrating to see your favorite character turn on you without more than vague hints as to why. Still I felt this was a fantastic element to build the game around, and overall was implemented very well. Erased allies also leave ability enhancing devices, making sure their key powers don’t disappear with them. You aren’t even forced to eliminate the traitors if you don’t want to, although that will have repercussions later in the game…

There is significant info dump at the end, a consequence of keeping the story mysterious. It makes sense though, and is a fitting reveal / endcap for the journey. The true end requires more than one playthrough, and there were a couple of obvious questions left ope n for that. But if I stopped after once through the game it would still be satisfying enough an end.

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Lost Dimension won’t be for everyone, but overall I loved it. At a point where it’s hard to come up with time to sit down and play rpgs, I can see myself revisiting this to get to know other allies, see how things turn out with different traitors, etc. It tried something quite different and despite not being perfect, the gamble paid off.

Categories
Food Restaurants Reviews

Foods of NY: Heart of the Village Tour Review

A good friend of mine from high school recently visited and gave me an excuse to do touristy things. 🙂 One of which was The Heart of the Village tour from Foods of NY Tours. It’s a 3 hour walking tour combining a cultural perspective on the area with tastings from some great restaurants along the way.

A few notes before I recount/review the tour in detail.

  1. We had 6 tastings. The website lists 7 for this tour. It does say subject to change, and the one we “missed” was tea, so nothing substantial, but the small discrepancy is worth mentioning.
  2. Our tour guide was Barri, who’s been doing this for years at it shows. Extremely knowledgable and friendly, she was a fantastic guide. A little obsessed with Bob Dylan though – he became a disproportionate amount of our cultural tidbits. 😉
  3. For anyone looking for the short version – this was awesome. Have no hesitations at all about doing a Foods of NY tour.

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We started out gathering at Monte’s Trattoria. It provided a nice place for people to sit as they arrived, but we actually didn’t eat there yet. Since Monte’s would be a sit down stop and one of the more substantial of our tastings, it was scheduled for third. Nice bit of planning.

The group was 16 people and seemed like the right amount. Any more would have been a bit much but as was the group could gather around the guide to hear everything and it was a nice shared experience. The first tasting was a couple spots down from Monte’s at Meltkraft, an artisan grilled cheese shops. We tried their Valley Thunder, which contained aged cheddar and brisket. It was phenomenal, likely my favorite of the day. You could taste the quality of the cheese, as the aged cheddar was so strong it had the impact of a bleu cheese or the like.

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We walked around a bit, with Barri pointing out some cool place where movies were filmed, etc as well as restaurants we wouldn’t be stopping at but were still worth checking out, then made our way to our second quick stop, Masala Times. The samples here were the Unda Bhurji roll and mango lassi. The rolls were made fresh while we waited (not long) and had egg and veggies with Indian spice. The spice was just enough to taste, giving it a mild flavor. I liked this and understand why we had something light and mild, but I’m much more interested in going back and having one of the meat dishes. The mango lassi was excellent, with a flavor that was subtle but still distinct. Mango flavor is usually to strong for me in drinks like this. Here it was perfect.

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We proceeded along, seeing more interesting landmarks with great context shared by our guide. We ended up mading our way back to Monte’s for a sit down tasting, a nice break after walking about. We were there for about 20 minutes, and had some fettuccine bolognese. Wine and other beverages were available for purchase, at whole dollar prices with tax and gratuity already included. This allowed everything to go smoothly and quickly without us feeling rushed. Both wine and pasta were good. The bolognese was light and flavorful, such that despite generally not eating tomatoes or tomato sauce I tried and enjoyed it.

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Next up was Artichoke Pizza, a well known pizzeria named after its signature slice. Said slice was determined to be too heavy for a sampling tour, so we were served a margherita pizza. Too much tomato here for me (and I had had my one exception per few years minutes earlier), so I skipped. Looked fantastic though and everyone else loved it.

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After getting loaded up with food at the last couple of tastings we spent a decent amount of time walking around Washington Square Park. Barri had numerous intriguing stories and facts to share about the park (and on the way there). It was fun to here both about the significance of certain structures and buildings as well as the various places famous musicians, etc frequented.

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Just as we were getting a bit tired out from walking around in the heat, it was time for our second sit down tasting. Cuba Ristorante served us two different types of empanadas, chicken and spinach, as well as sweet plantains. Everything was excellent and was my second favorite stop of the tour. Mojitos were available for purchase, and like at Monte’s it was an all inclusive price.

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We walked around a bit more with Barri frequently stopping us to point out/share interesting tidbits about the area, then concluded the tour at Francois Payard Bakery, where we had a classic style salted caramel macaron. Macarons have become a favorite dessert of mine, and I can say that it was extremely good here.

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So there you have it. The tour was excellent, perfectly balancing the information, sightseeing, and tastings. Our guide really knew her stuff and made the tour relaxed and fun. The restaurant choices were great both for quality and diversity. I’m very pleased with how this went and would totally be up for trying one of their other tours sometime.

Categories
Japan Mystery Boxes

Japan Crate September 2015

I’ve been extremely pleased with my Japan Crate subscription thus far. Let’s see what September has to offer.

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Another month, another box stuffed with unique and varied snacks from Japan. It also includes a mini-manga that explains what each item is and has instructions for the DIY kit and various additional context, pictures and promotion. The bonus item for the Premium Crate this month isn’t food, but a gashapon keychain of Gudetama, a lazy egg. A cute little inclusion.

Now let’s look at the 11 edibles.

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The Excellent

This month’s Premium Crate’s drink is Lychee Ramune, the first item I’ve gotten in Japan Crate that I’ve actually had before. It’s a great soda with a light flavor. Kawarinbo, another Premium exclusive, is a fantastic lollypop which is half apple and half grape, gives way to a sugary lychee center, and shares its final surprise when the sucker is finished as the stick itself is a wrapped stick of cola flavored gum. It tied for my favorite this month with Wata de coco Grape Gummy, lightly flavored square grape gummies made from coconut water.

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I’m discovering savory Japanese snacks have a fondness for corn flavor, and like the others I’ve had this month’s Sweet Corn Pretz were quite good and tasted exactly like they were supposed to.  Meiji Fran is the most decadent and rich version of chocolate pocky I’ve ever had. One stick is practically a dessert by itself, but good luck stopping there.

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The Decent

Konpeito is described as a traditional Japanese candy from the 16th century. It’s pieces of what’s generally called rock candy over here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in such small, relatively uniform pieces. The description of Calbee Potato Chips Seaweed and Salt claim “salt and seaweed flakes give thiese chips an unusual crunch not found in most ‘American’ chips,” but hyperbole these were essentially a bag of plain Lay’s. Good quality, but also the first item whose contents I felt I could have gotten down the street at my local supermarket. Glug Glug Want Chocolate is a taiyaki cookie with a airy chocolate filling.

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I’ve seen a LOT of weird food, toys, novelties, etc from Japan, but I have to admit this month’s DIY kit EASILY takes the cake. Moko Moko Toilet 3 (there were 2 others first?!) is kit where you make foaming candy from included mix in a plastic toy toilet that comes in four different variations based on different countries. Seriously. I got the American one, which is blue and has stickers to decorate the toilet that include the American flag, a hamburger, etc. The other countries used are China, Japan and France. It included three mixes to make – strawberry, cola and lychee flavors. The mix and some water goes into the tank, then the candy foams up in the bowl. The candy/foam/drink was fine, but the absurdity and amusement is the draw here.

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The Meh

Lemon Squash is quite interesting, as it’s a soft plastic bottle of a mild lemonade packaged like a snack. I found it bland, but it certainly will have its appeal among others. Fullgurt Candy are hard candies in blueberry and mango yogurt flavors. While the idea has merit and I enjoy both hard candies and yogurt separately, I didn’t care for the flavors here at all.

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Conclusion

A couple of things I didn’t enjoy, numerous that I did, and more weirdness than I thought possible. The Premium Crate exclusives continue to easily be worth the $5 upgrade, and three crates in and I’m still extremely happy with the contents of my monthly snack box. The variety nearly makes this worthwhile alone, and the quality is a wonderful bonus.

Categories
Comics Reviews

“I know how to get enrolled in school. I brought a raccoon.”

Nothing ever happens in Berke County, but with the exception of his best (and only) friend moving away D.J. Lim is ok with that. He’s totally average in a family of overachievers, but he’s good at being a friend. And the boy with no memory who just fell from the sky in a pair of silver underwear is going to need one…

Hilo, The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is a roller coaster of amusement from start to finish, with some important and touching theme woven in for good measure. Winick’s taken the same type of core concepts that made his Barry Ween series excellent, stripped away all the swearing and off-color humor, and ended up with a children’s book that I can recommend without reservation. It’s not super deep, but it does have layers, lessons, realistic feeling characters and a very odd little boy holding it all together.

Hilo is just plain fun. Can’t wait for book 2.

Categories
Mystery Boxes Reviews

Welcome Block Review

With the announced theme for September’s upcoming Nerd Block being Star Wars I decided this was a good time to try it out. Currently any new customers or any current subscribers who add a different block receive a free “Welcome Block” (one per customer). The Welcome Block is a smaller version of their mystery boxes and contains a variety of items from past blocks as a sampling of the kind of things they offer. They quote its worth at $20. Let’s see what came in mine:

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Five items in here, which seems pretty good for a welcome gift to me. The big thing I got was a vinyl Doctor Who figure of the Tenth Doctor. Never got into that fandom, but it looks nice and I have plenty of friends who are. Guardians of the Galaxy on the other hand is one of my current obsessions, so the Groot magnet was an awesome find. I don’t have a device that will get use out of the mini joystick for touchscreens, but it’s existence amuses me.

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From what I understand Cliccors have been included a few times in past blocks, but this is my first time receiving them. It’s a cute little toy that’s fun to play around with. I have however gotten a mystery pack of nommies in a past Arcade Block. As before, cute for what they are. My nephew and niece will be pleased I have a few more for their collection.

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Conclusion

Not bad at all, particularly for free. A nice bit of extra incentive for anyone on thinking about trying out one of the Nerd Block line of mystery boxes.

Categories
Wrestling

The Future is Now

One of the best things about following independent wrestling (besides all the awesome talent and matches) is watching people develop and discovering tomorrow’s stars today. Here’s a look at three wrestlers who haven’t quite fully “broken out” yet, but are tearing it up, are definitely ready for the next step in their careers and will soon.

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Timothy Thatcher:

It feels odd to list Evolve’s current champion and a ten year vet as an “up and comer,” but despite his status and experience I still don’t feel Timothy Thatcher’s as well known as he should be. He’s the most compelling in-ring performer I’ve seen in a long time. EVERYTHING is measured, executed carefully, and believable. He knows how to draw the crowd in to hold for hold wrestling, and the secret is that he’s always fighting. Each hold, strike, suplex, etc is clearly an attempt to get closer to winning the match. It’s a subtle but incredibly important thing that a lot of the Evolve roster understands and does well, but Thatcher’s perfected it. This ability has allow him and compatriots like Gulak and Biff Busick popularize a strong grappling based style that gives Evolve even more depth and variety to its cards.

It’s kind of hard for me to believe he’s only been in Evolve for a little over a year given what a year it was. Thatcher made an immediate impression against rival Drew Gulak and very quickly became I guy I ordered shows to see. He’s had a ridiculous number of matches that I thought were the best of their particular show, including phenomenal battles against Tommy End and Chris Hero earlier in 2015, and a title defense against Zach Sabre Jr. that was just unreal. Evolve has a great champion in Thatcher, and I can’t wait to see how much more he can accomplish.

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Dalton Castle:

“It’s about time someone came and made this world colorful!”

“The Party Peacock” own his character like no one else I’ve ever seen, making an absurdly over-the-top gimmick amusing and likable instead of annoying. It was an absolute treat seeing him live at an ROH tv taping this past June. He’s on from the moment he steps out of the curtain to the moment he goes back, including little things like giving the occasional male fan a back of the hand caress across the side of the face (like he does with his boys during interviews) instead of high fives. I unexpectedly earned that particular greeting myself by calling out “you’ll get them next time Dalton” as he walked back from an unsuccessful effort in a six-man match.

I also saw his expansive cape get momentarily caught in the stairs behind him on his way to the ring. Dalton noticed it tugging on him and spun around with an emphatic “what happened?!” Presented with no immediately apparent answer (as his boy had already released it) he gave a big sigh and looked puzzled with that half vacant stare of his. When greeted with a call of “don’t worry, it’s already fixed” from a fan he exclaimed “that’s right!” and went right back into strutting mode. It’s a ridiculously small thing, but to me the ten second exchange nicely highlights his complete commitment to staying in character every single moment.

I haven’t seen as much of his ringwork yet as I’d like, but what I’ve seen has been great. He knows how to incorporate his eccentric character and antics into matches without ruining them by going too overboard or missing the point of it being an athletic contest. Dalton Castle’s a strong wrestler with phenomenal charisma and I predict big things for his future.

Side note: Castle’s tweets are easily the highlight of my twitter feed. They’re generally in character and hilarious. My favorite so far was “Me in a hot dog eating contest at Coney Island… I don’t fully understand the rules” with a picture of him performing a German suplex.

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Nicole Savoy: 

I’ve seen Nicole Savoy at two Shimmer weekends now, and at both I and other Shimmer regulars came away talking about have impressive Savoy was and how much we wanted to see her come back. She has a natural presence that makes you take notice right away, which gives her an air beyond the relatively few years she’s been in the sport. But more than that, Savoy has amazing instincts and mannerisms. She’s friendly and appreciative outside of the ring, but when she’s “on” and in the ring she’s a complete, consummate heel. A friend of mine told her “you make me want to punch you in the face, and I mean that in the best possible way” (and of course she was thrilled, because it means she’s doing her job properly). She innately knows just how to act, move, and carry herself for maximum effect.

Beyond all of that, Savoy is also excellent in the ring. She’s more than held her own both against Shimmer mainstays like Evie, Heidi, Yim and Lufisto, and in opportunities to step into the ring with international superstars Misaki Ohata and Yumi Ohka. She gets better and better every time I see her. Nicole Savoy has all the tools so to speak, and right now it really looks like the sky’s the limit for her going forward.

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Hope everyone enjoyed my look at three of the best on the indies, and definitely check them all out if you get a chance. There are plenty of excellent wrestlers in the ranks right now, and I’ll be back to feature more soon.

Categories
Mystery Boxes Reviews

Arcade Block August 2015

August 2015’s Arcade Block has arrived, as always in its awesome retro NES style box. Let’s see what we got this month.

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The “Product of the Month” this time around is a Mortal Kombat X plush, either of Scorpion or Sub-Zero. I got Sub-Zero and he looks great. The fact that his hood pulls back off his head amuses me greatly for some reason. As seems to be the norm there was a CD included, this one a soudtrack of the “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” game. It has a good “rock” feel while sounding like something out of a NES game (in a good way). The three CDs I’ve gotten in various Arcade Blocks have contrasted nicely in style.  The Fallout themed mini baseball pennant for the “Boston Vault Dwellers” is cute.

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The terrycloth wristband is also a cute little addition, although I admit I don’t understand the significance of the double quotation marks one I got. The t-shirt for this month is a great design for “Counter Strike” which looks like it was pulled right off a NES game box. Rounding out this month’s block is another issue of RETRO Magazine. RETRO’s a solid read, and I don’t mind the apparent trend of including a new issue every 2-3 months.

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Conclusion

While nothing blew me away this month, everything was decent and as much as I feel like a broken record here the thing that still impresses me the most is the variety of item types over the four boxes I’ve gotten. Still very happy with my subscription.