Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: Professor Layton and the Last Specter (DS) PART TWO

Title: Professor Layton and the Last Specter
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Number of Players: 1
Buy It: Amazon | GameStop | PlayAsia (Japanese) (English)
Other Notes: Soundtrack available on PlayAsia | Read my review of London Life, the mini-RPG bonus game here if you missed it.

If you had asked me what I thought of brain teasers circa 2008, I'd have told you that they were a waste of time. Because they were never something I was ever good at, unlike my father, they were something actively dismissed. Worse, if an assignment called for them for homework in school (and it did, on a few occasions,) I would take an F for the homework grade rather than sit there and suffer through a bunch of puzzles that would infuriate me.

Then Professor Layton walked by, and all that changed. Between the first game's enchanting art style and charming music, I was immediately hooked, puzzles be damned. I was more enchanted by the story, characters, and settings than I was by the puzzles, but they grew on me. Now, at the fourth game in the series, I can say (without sarcasm) that I'm really glad that I took the first step into the puzzle-solving franchise. Professor Layton and the Last Specter takes everything about the series up a notch: story, puzzles, characters, and music, and keeps the entire experience as charming and magical as it was in the first game. But better.

This game (and, yes, the next two,) act as the prequel chapters towards Curious Village and give players an insight to what the gentlemanly Professor Layton was doing before St. Mystere ever became an issue and before Luke started wearing that adorable periwinkle sweater vest he always wears. The game kicks off with a few wonderfully rendered animated scenes and a few easy puzzles to get you going before you start getting kicked in the pants with new, more difficult puzzles. Veterans of the series know what to expect: puzzles ramp up in difficulty the more you play, plot twists come out of nowhere, and hint coins are still hiding in elusive spots. Newcomers to the series won't be disappointed, and the Professor walks through how everything works himself early on so that you don't get confused.

While plot twists and red herrings can still be somewhat frustrating, the story kept me engaged throughout so that I didn't get flustered enough to throw in the towel without seeing things through to the end. Even with the tomfoolery with the plot twists, I can't dock too many points from the game. It's remarkably solid, fun, and still a great way to waste a weekend. If you've been putting off getting the game, stop. Just go get it. If you've been interested in taking the series for a spin and never have, there has never been a better time to join the Professor in solving a mystery.

Bottom Line: Same Professor, but more. More cutscenes, more puzzles, more enchantment. You know, more. And bigger.

Final Score: 9/10

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Professor Layton and the Last Specter (DS) PART ONE - London Life

London Life title screen
Title: Professor Layton's London Life (mini-RPG bonus game)
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E 10+
Number of Players: 1
Buy It: Amazon | GameStop | (English version) (Japanese Version)

I'll say this first: this is a review in two parts. Why? That comes next.

I bought this game the day it came out, and as of right this very second, I have not yet started the main game. That's because of this nifty little bonus RPG that Last Specter came with, called London Life. What is LL? It's one part Animal Crossing, one part Professor Layton, and one part Mother 3 (I think it was called EarthBound in English? Don't quote me on that, though.) And it's one hell of a great time.

You start off by creating a character from the top-down: looks, personality, style, the whole nine yards. Like in Animal Crossing, you start off by getting off a train in a new town and moving into your new apartment. Your furnishings are sparse at first: all you've got is a bed. Over the course of your time in Little London, though, you can buy new things and add to your room, though doing fetch quests for the other Londoners can get you some pretty nifty items that either can't be found anywhere else or are very expensive.

The game operates on two different levels: one is Wealth, the in-game currency. The other is Happiness, which affects almost everything else in the game: what kinds of fish you catch (and how often), what kinds of flowers you find in flower boxes, how much you get paid on jobs, and how well others respond to you. Of course, your happiness goes down if someone in town yells at you, but you can replenish it by making or buying food and eating it. Happiness, in most cases for London Life, is more important than Wealth, but the two are so well intertwined that sometimes it's hard to tell.

London Life player character (center) seen with
Luke Triton (left) and Flora (right)
But by now you're probably wondering where the Mother/EarthBound part comes in, right? It's all in the graphics, baby. Cute sprites looks like they could've been lifted right out of one franchise and plopped onto the other. It's not a bad thing by a long shot, either: London Life really benefits from sprite usage.

The biggest part about this game though is the part that I fear will turn players off of really playing it: it's all mission based. Don't be turned off by the fact that this is all built on fetch quests. I'm not normally a fan of mission-based games - my dislike of them kept me from really enjoying Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days - but I literally couldn't put this down. My inner completionist went balls to the walls with this and had a great time learning all the recipes, completing every single mission, and making my million-Wealth apartment all my own.

While the complete mini-story can be completed in around two hours, I had a lot of fun sinking hours upon hours into completing all the quests and helping out all the familiar faces from other Professor Layton titles.

I have no complaints with this game, at all, except maybe that it's too short. In all honesty, I would have bought this as a stand-alone game. It's that good.

Bottom Line: Mini-RPG that comes with Last Specter. Shockingly fun, lots to do, and extremely customizable.

Final Score: London Life gets a solid, well-deserved 10/10

Special Note: You can buy the game's full soundtrack here. It's beautiful, as I'd expect from a Professor Layton game.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Creative Nonfiction is...?

One of the semester long questions that I'm supposed to be finding an answer to is "So, what is creative nonfiction?" And as easy as it would be to just pop onto Google and look up a definition, that's not what my professor is looking for. She's looking for thoughtful, intelligent responses.

It took every ounce of willpower that I had to refrain from putting quotations around most of that last sentence. Not because it's there, but because the terms "thoughtful" and "intelligent" are relative. Especially - let's be real here - at a community college. Okay, now that I'm done making fun of community colleges and the people who attend them (myself included, guys, so chill out,) I can get through with this.

Creative nonfiction, to me, isn't just writing about things that really happened - anyone can do that, and it's called an expository essay or a textbook. No, creative nonfiction employs writing tools and devices from fiction to make a real event or topic interesting, more vivid, or more relatable. It's the "creative" part that keeps it from being dry and insufferable.

So, what does that mean for readers? Well, for one, a creative nonfiction piece should hold the reader's attention, even if the topic isn't one that the reader would usually stick around and pour attention and time into. (See what I'm doing here? If you're still reading this, it means that I'm succeeding.) A journal, blog, or other record that just tells of "I went here and did this and then I went someplace else" isn't going to be very interesting to another person. It probably won't even be that interesting for the person that wrote it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS)

Title: Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
System: Nintendo 3DS
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Buy It: | GameStop

Go ask a gamer about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I'll bet that they've played it. It's one of the single-most influential games that's ever come out, and quite possibly the most well-known Zelda title to date. There's a reason why this game is successful every time it gets remade. Something like that isn't an accident. That's because this game is a timeless classic, and it will remain that way for quite some time. That said, let's go and talk about its most recent incarnation: Ocarina of Time 3D.

Let's start with graphics. They've been updated for the 3DS outing; pots and jugs decorate what used to be barren shelves in houses and shops on earlier editions. It's a little tougher to see the seams in texturing, the harsh lines making up buildings and trees have been softened; clipping errors are harder to come by. The graphics are pretty, they work well, they're more fully developed and everything feels alive. The update was necessary, and what has been done doesn't at all disappoint. Ocarina's Hyrule feels more fully realized now than it ever has before. The 3D option adds a depth of field that wasn't possible before, making it even more possible to get sucked in to the action.

Gameplay has gotten an overhaul as well. The addition of gyroscopic targeting allows for less slingshot fumbling and more shooting Skulltulas. And the gyroscopic targeting system is quite impressive. It allows a full 360-degree targeting range (provided, of course, you're able to turn that far,) and has completely eliminated the need for joystick-based targeting. Plus, the touch screen now has all your map- and inventory-based needs so you don't have to ever interrupt the action on the top screen. And, with the unlockable addition of Master Quest, the game goes much farther and gets much tougher on subsequent playthroughs.

Of course, through all this glowing praise comes the bad news, right? Well, unless you're like me and get motion sick with those 3D graphics, there's no bad news. At all. Ocarina is as fun, frustrating (water temple, anyone?), and engaging as it was when it first came out. If you haven't played it yet, go out there and grab yourself a copy.

Bottom Line: Play it again. For Hyrule! And, you know, for Master Quest.

Final Score: 9/10

Monday, October 17, 2011

Topic: Writing and Characterization

One of the things I've never had a problem with is creating and developing a character. I've always been pretty good at creating a character and knowing what their motives, fears, goals, hobbies, strengths, and weaknesses were. Like having perfect pitch, it's something that I normally take for granted. So, when I was asked in my short story class a few weeks ago how I create such believable characters - even when they're doing unbelievable things - I had to stop and really think about it. "I just do" or "I'm not sure" aren't acceptable answers, especially when someone is looking to you for help. I've been spending a lot of time recently thinking about my own character development exercises, and I've come up with a really, really loose list of things that I do. Check them out; they're under the break.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's the little things in life, I guess...

My favorite day is the day after laundry day, when I can wear the same pair of socks twice in a row.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Stupid things I do volume one: food

I noticed tonight as I was eating my dessert that I do a lot of stupid things concerning food. Some of them were thing I've noticed before but never really paid attention to: wiping off utensils before using them, cleaning the top of my soda can, only drinking out of one side of the glass... Stupid things like that. But tonight, I noticed a few new things.

Like sniffing my food before I eat it, even if it's something I just made. It could have come directly out of the pan and onto my plate, and I'd still give it a sniff before I ate it. I know what it is; I just made it. Duh. But for some reason, I have to give it that sniff before I pop it into my mouth.

The next thing I noticed today was that I always microwave my Italian ices before I eat them for about twenty seconds. So that they're soft and easier to eat. (Yes, before you ask, I have all of my teeth.) I just prefer the texture of Italian ice when it's been microwaved for a few seconds. It doesn't really melt it, just makes it easier to eat.

The last one I'll go into tonight involves Twizzlers. I use them as straws until they get soggy. Have you ever had strawberry flavored Coke? I want it if it tastes like Coke through my Twizzler straw.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Review: Chocolatier (DS)

Title: Chocolatier
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1

Buy It:

This is more of a job lot review than a real review, but here goes. Last time I went to Five Below, I decided to let the gamer inside me loose, and check out the games. Usually, there's only a handful of lame movie tie-in games for the Gameboy Advance, but this last time was a jackpot: DS games, PS2 games, and even a few Wii games lined the video game bin.

Among the games I found there was an unassuming DS game by the name of "Chocolatier" where you, the player, became a - you guessed it - chocolatier to revive a once-famous brand name to its former glory. By haggling for ingredients and travelling the world to get only the finest goods, you were able to make better chocolates, and as you got better, you were able to make more and more kinds of chocolates. As you progress, you gained the ability to buy new factories  (and therefore make more chocolates at once) and by running errands for people, you'll be able to get new recipes. The premise was simple, yet engaging. And for five bucks, I figured I really had nothing to lose.

Making the chocolates had an interesting game mechanic: plates with notches revolved around a "cannon" in the center of the screen with an ingredient on it. Shoot the correct ingredients onto the plate you wanted to by touching it with the DS stylus. Once the plate was full, it'd vanish and get replaced by a new one until your time ran out. (It was something like 60 seconds per round.) The better you did, the faster the wheel with the plates would spin, and the more chocolates you could pump out. Plus, the better a recipe you were using, the more ingredients you'd need to make the chocolate and the tougher it'd be.

The game was much more addicting than I thought it'd be. The entire campaign only took me about six hours to complete, but it was a fast-paced, fun six hours. And I did it almost straight because I couldn't put it down. Completely worth my five dollars.

Bottom Line: Fun, fast-paced game about reviving a chocolate company to their former glory. Look in the right places, get it for $5 or less. (Trust me, it's worth your $5.)

Final Score: 8/10

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Essay: What is Love?

This is a piece that I'm really, really proud of. It flowed the way I wanted it to, it led itself without ever feeling forced or fake, and it paints a really good picture of me without ever giving concrete details about myself. I'd written it for my ENG 231/Creative Nonfiction class, and both the group I read it to and my professor enjoyed it. It's one of those things that I just had to share. So, below the cut, read one of my favorite Creative Nonfiction pieces thus far: What is Love?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I'm going to be flooding all your crap pretty soon. Sorry. I've been on a writing kick, and I'm proud enough of some of my stuff to put it out in the open. That's really rare for me. I'm trying to keep it down to one post a day. Let's see how fast I burn out, yeah?

Featured on Pulp City!

So, at the beginning of the semester, my short story "That's Suspicious" was published on the Pulp City blog. (Pulp City is HCC's literary magazine.) It was based off of a real event, but it's easier to call it fiction because the finer details are a little fuzzy.

You can read it here!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Creative Nonfiction is Terrifying.

I'm supposed to have two goals for the Creative Nonfiction class that I'm currently enrolled in: the first is to read and pick apart a creative nonfiction essay every week, breaking it down into themes and things I notice about the writing: how it was written, why the author chose to write what they wrote, what the topic says about the writer, what it's supposed to make the reader feel, etc. The second part is to take an element of what that author used - a style, a mood, a theme, you name it - and borrow it for my own piece. Every week, I'm to write a creative nonfiction piece and share it with the class.

I'm finding the process a tad difficult.

It's not tough for me because of how I have to write. Borrowing styles is how fledgling authors experiment and learn and find their own writing voices, the same way that children borrow verbal tics from their heroes and mentors. The part that's difficult is figuring out what to write. 

I'm a bit biased when it comes to my own writing style. I tend to try to look at things from a more lighthearted point of view. I like to make things funny, even when they're not. I like to make people laugh, even if it means that sometimes a joke comes a little short of where I intended it to go. Sometimes, my writing isn't allowed to be funny. I've never really been a good dramatic writer, and I'm sure that part of it has to do with my personality. 

But I also know that part of it lies within my own anxiety of putting too much of myself on the table: too many details about myself, facing and owning up to my insecurities and shortcomings, things like that. It's like the moment a hero realizes that the darkness he's fighting is really just his own reflection; to get rid of the evil, he must get rid of his reflection. Get rid of himself. Sometimes, it's facing that fact that makes writing creative nonfiction difficult, especially when it's about yourself. It makes you dig up things about yourself you're ashamed to admit, wish you could forget. Everyone has skeletons in their closet; writing creative nonfiction makes you dust yours off and display them. Sometimes it's to prove a point, but it can be just as moving and heartfelt when you don't.

So far, I've been able to tell a lot of the humorous stories from my lifetime. The running gag between my friends and I is that my life cannot be real, and is in fact just a scripted TV show that everyone is in on but me - like 1998's The Truman Show. 

I know that I can't keep running away from the more dramatic moments of my life. I know that I'll eventually have to face them head on and write about them, catalog them like I've cataloged the hilarious, surreal, and extraordinary moments in my life. I'm not sure if I'm ready to face the more dramatic, sad, and "real" moments that my life has had to offer, but I'm sure that I'll find a way to make them just as fluid and readable as the ones that have focused on the fun times in my life.