Reviews Archive


SXSW 2013 Recap

sxsw 2013 logo

South By Southwest is by far the most overwhelming festival/conference out there. But it involves everything I love – tech, games, music, and film over the course of nine crazy days in Austin. Since I went for the Platinum Badge this year, I tried to do everything. Literally.

I quickly realized that wasn’t possible, but I sure gave it my darndest. For posterity’s sake, I tried to jot down every film, panel, and music set that I saw (or caught a part of) over the week. Add on all the parties and meet-ups with friends both new and old and it adds up to an exhausting, but amazing week.

A few notable highlights/awards:

Best Movie – Short Term 12

I don’t have the words to describe this incredible, emotional film, but Film Critc Hulk does.

Funniest Movie – Don Jon’s Addiction

Most Thrilling Movie – The East

Best New Song That I Have Been Playing On Repeat Constantly Since SXSWBastille – Pompeii

Top Three New Bands – Bastille, The 1975, CHVRCHES

I swear I’m not biased towards UK bands, it just turned out this way.

Most Emotional Song Performance – Stevie Nicks/Dave Grohl – Landslide

I have to admit getting a bit teary-eyed and having chills the entire time. Stevie Nicks has an amazing voice.

Coolest Song Performance – Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence

Singing along in unison with a packed crowd to Depeche Mode’s arguably most iconic song in a venue that has less than 900 capacity was pretty damn cool.

Best Panel – Jeffrey Tambor’s Acting Workshop

Despite never acting (or having ambitions to act), I laughed and learned more with Jeffrey Tambor about life and career than anywhere else during the week.

Best Food – Rachael Ray’s Feedback Party @ Stubbs

The menu was not only delicious, it was free!

Here’s the master list of events I participated in:


  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Drinking Buddies – Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, Joe Swanberg
  • Downloaded – Alex Winter, Shawn Fanning, Sean Parker
  • Short Term 12 – Destin Daniel Cretton, Brie Larson, entire cast
  • Don Jon’s Addiction – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brie Larson, Tony Danza
  • euphonia – Danny Madden
  • Some Girl(s)
  • Linsanity – Jeremy Lin’s Agent
  • The East – Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgard, Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij


  • Andrew WK @ Viceland
  • Talib Kweli @ Samsung Galaxy Soundstage
  • Shakey Graves @ The Parish
  • Atlas Genius @ The Main
  • Tegan & Sara @ The Main
  • Lord Huron @ Clive Bar
  • Family of the Year @ ACL Moody Theatre
  • Lord Huron @ ACL Moody Theatre
  • Bastille @ Club de Ville
  • The Chevin @ Buffalo Billiards
  • Ash @ Buffalo Billiards
  • Bastille @ Cedar Street
  • CHVRCHES @ Hype Hotel
  • Pusha T @ MTV Woodies
  • Trinidad James @ MTV Woodies
  • Joey Bada$$ @ MTV Woodies
  • HAIM @ MTV Woodies
  • Meat Puppets @ Stubbs
  • Sound City Players @ Stubbs – Foo Fighters, Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Springfield, Brad Wilk (Rage Against The Machine), Krist Novoselic, Chris Goss, Corey Taylor (Slipknot), Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age), Lee Ving (Fear)
  • Local Natives @ Mohawk
  • Divine Fits @ Radio Day Stage Austin Convention Center
  • Alt-J @ Mohawk
  • Feathers @ Brazos Hall
  • The Neighbourhood @ Brazos Hall
  • Depeche Mode @ Brazos Hall
  • Fitz and the Tantrums @ Lustre Perl
  • Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls @ Blackheart
  • Eagles of Death Metal @ Stubbs
  • The 1975 @ Stubbs
  • Frightened Rabbit @ Stubbs
  • Blue Sky Riders @ Stubbs
  • Kenny Loggins @ Stubbs
  • Talib Kweli @ Lustre Perl
  • Chuck Ragan @ Cedar Street
  • Matt Pryor (Get Up Kids) @ Cedar Street
  • Twin Falls (Chris Carrabba) @ Cedar Street
  • Frank Turner @ Cedar Street


  • Machinima & Rooster Teeth Present “Blood, Sweat, and Online Videos: How to Achieve the Digital Dream”
  • Virtual Reality: The Holy Grail of Gaming – Cliff Bleszinski (Gears of War), Paul Bettner (Words With Friends), Chris Roberts (Wing Commander), Nate Mitchell (Oculus Rift), Palmer Luckey (Oculus Rift)
  • A Conversation With Danny Boyle – Danny Boyle, Rick Smith (Underworld)
  • Much Ado About Much Ado – Joss Whedon, Amy Acker, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion
  • Innovation & Leadership in the Agile Age – Scott Cook (Intuit)
  • Jeffrey Tambor’s Acting Workshop
  • The Signal & the Noise – Nate Silver
  • The New Serendipity? – Joichi Ito (MIT Media Lab), Kevin Rose (Digg, Google Ventures), John Perry Barlow, Colin Raney (IDEO)
  • The Future of Google Search in a Mobile World – Guy Kawasaki, Amit Singhal
  • A Conversation With Steve Case
  • Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) Keynote
  • You Are Not A Lottery Ticket – Peter Thiel
  • Deadmau5 & Richie Hawtin – Talk. Techno. Technology
  • The Anatomy of Amanda Fucking Palmer: An Inside Look
  • SXSW Keynote – Dave Grohl
  • Music Curation in 2013 – Ryan Scheiber (Pitchfork), Steve Blatter (Sirius XM)
  • SXSW Interview: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

9 movies, 17 panels, and 37 shows in 9 days? I think I can do better next year.


Nintendo’s Pre-E3 2012 Wii-U Controller Announcement

Apparently Nintendo decided to post a little primer on their upcoming Wii-U controller on the eve of E3.

My thoughts (in a running diary format):

  • Looks like the tablet controller may be more comfortable than it looks. It’ll have to be if they assume you’re going to play “hardcore” games on it.
  • Real sticks instead of thumbpads are good.
  • Having the Wii-U controller act as your TV remote is cute, but I’m guessing most people have a smorgasbord of home entertainment equipment that need to be controlled at the same time as the TV. It doesn’t look like the Wii-U will be replacing that Harmony remote just yet.
  • NFC Reader/Writer – Most smartphones (including iPhone) don’t have NFC chips embedded yet. Color me skeptical on this being used in a non-novelty way anytime in the near future.
  • The asynchronous dual-screen display could open some interesting possibilities in game design. Think DS, but on a larger scale.
  • I like how they’re making existing Wii peripherals compatible with the new system. However,with the sheer amount of controller possibilities, how in the world is a developer to know what inputs to design their games for?
  • Wii U Pro Controller – Finally Nintendo decides to stop ignoring the fact ergonomics matter and clones the Xbox 360controller (definitely the most comfortable console controller ever made). It even looks like it has anon-crappy directional pad as well. But what’s up with the right stick being all the way up there? It looks like it’s going to be uncomfortable to hit the face buttons while using the stick at the same time.
  • Ok, cheesy video dramatizations aside, Nintendo is clearly out of its mind with its “WaraWara” initiative. While the Demon’s Souls-esque message board game tips functionality is a neat novelty that probably went over well in the brainstorming session, I can’t think of many things I’d want less than an impromptu video chat with a random internet troll to ask for clarification on his “tip.” In case Nintendo’s forgotten, the web exists! I can look up walkthroughs and tips on my own without the fear of some idiot spoiling the rest of my game for me. Something tells me Nintendo’s in for a rude awakening when they find out the horrors of moderating message boards.
  • Let me get this straight, one of the main criticisms of Nintendo products so far is a clumsy UIthat is lugubrious to navigate through, and their solution is to make the home screen of the system be a digital manifestation of noise?
  • The reason why we don’t use handwritten notes as much anymore is because people have awful handwriting.
  • I don’t get the continuing obsession that Nintendo has with Miis. Hasn’t anyone learned anything from the trainwreck of uselessness that was PlayStation Home yet? Please just make it easy to find, play with, and interact with my friends when I want. Everything else is, to use their term, Wara Wara. Create something unique, sure, but keep the end user in mind, please.
  • I dunno, Mr. Iwata, the Wii-U doesn’t really seem like a solution to multiple problems as muchas it’s a solution that will cause multiple problems.

I have no desire to see the Wii-U fail, but the best thing I’ve seen so far (other than an Xbox 360 controller clone) is the promise that developers can use two screens in fun and innovative ways. Unless Nintendo shows some really mindblowing applications of this on Tuesday, that’s all the Wii-U will be, a promise.

Watch the whole thing here:

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Review: The Walking Dead Game Episode One: A New Day

Think you had enough The Walking Dead after that mess of a season two ended on AMC? As much as you might be, try to carve out a couple hours to at least try the first episode of Telltale’s new five-part “adventure” game on PC/Mac, PS3, and Xbox 360. I wrote a full review for Comics Alliance that you can peruse at your leisure if you feel so inclined, but suffice to say, I dug the characters in this game way more than the A-holes on the AMC series. I mean seriously, could those people be any less likable? (If you’ve seen Season Two, I know you’re with me)

Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly if you aren’t a fan of the TV series), the new characters introduced in “A New Day” are more likable than their television brethren. Lee’s a complicated guy with a past shrouded in mystery. He’s not necessarily the natural “leader” that Rick is and that allows for a more interesting dynamic when you encounter characters in the game. Clementine, the little girl you meet early on in the game, is everything that Carl isn’t on the show. She’s vulnerable and innocent, yet strong and resourceful when called upon to be. Playing through the game, I actually began to care for her and wanted to go out of my way to protect her. That’s something that I can’t say the same for any character on the show.

The game as a whole isn’t too bad, either. It’s more of an “interactive story” than a traditional Sierra adventure game, but that’s OK, because I was always terrible at those and usually needed help with them anyway. At $5 ($4 if you get a season pass on the PS3), it’s not a bad price for a couple hours of good episodic writing. Telltale is ambitiously setting up the choices you make in this game to really differentiate the story that you get from each play through. Kinda like Mass Effect with less shooting, if you will. Let’s just hope the ending doesn’t piss off as many people as that game did.

Read my full review on Comics Alliance.


Review: Fez

Fez is probably the Indie game equivalent to Chinese Democracy. Five years in development, it’s won Independent Games Festival awards in both 2012 and in 2008. Yeah, that statement made me do a double take too. I’ll admit to not following the game’s development saga too closely over the years, except for noticing that Phil Fish, the game’s creator, is apparently a huge cock. But knowing that some of the best creative minds are giant douches, I didn’t hold it against him when buying and playing the game.

Like many recent platformers, there’s essentially two games in Fez: the “easy” one which leads you to a minimum number of cubes to see the game’s ending and the “hard” one, which tasks you to collect all of the game’s hidden cubes in order to see the “true” ending.The game is essentially a 2D platformer with the “twist” of being able to rotate the environment in four directions, kinda like rotating a cube around.  The basic gameplay is pleasant enough, but isn’t terribly mindblowing, especially if you’ve played Echochrome before. I imagine those who haven’t seen the MC Escher-like trick of 3D to 2D perception platforming would get a kick out of playing Fez for the first time.

For those not going for the “hard” anti-cubes, the game quickly degenerates into a simple “collect the shiny thing” set of tasks. That’s not necessarily a negative thing, especially for those who love nostalgic 8-bit gaming, but it does leave Fez as simply an ok to “good” game played in that way. The fact that the game is riddled with technical issues like slowdown, choppy graphic transitions, and outright game crashes to dashboard doesn’t help matters much. However, due to the way the game is presented at times, it does give apologists the explanation that these technical bugs are “working as intended” as an artistic statement.

The “hard” game in Fez is a doozy and it’s where I imagine most of the rave reviews and “mindblowing experience” reactions to the game are coming from. It’s essentially a hardcore cryptography/linguistics challenge with some neat fourth-wall breaking moments. For example, you’ll have to break out your smartphone’s QR code reader in order to get a button sequence to get one of the anti-cubes. Or, you’ll have to look at Fez’s achievement list for a clue towards getting another. From reading the GAF, it appears that obtaining many of these anti-cubes requires you to successfully decrypt things like a hieroglyphics alphabet along or a Tetris block orientation code. In full disclosure, I had zero interest in whipping out my Moleskine and doing a Robert Langdon impersonation so as soon as I had the required number of “obvious” cubes to watch the game’s ending, I did.

All of these puzzles are fairly obtuse, and there is no handholding or guiding by the game. It’s probably the most frustrating part of this game because there’s barely any context for solving most of the puzzles. One of the best qualities of Braid I thought, was the elegance in which you are introduced to each puzzle. Jonathan Blow nailed the difficulty curve and environment presentation to give you all the tools that you needed to solve the game’s puzzles by simply using the techniques that you’ve practiced throughout the game. Fez, by contrast, requires you to have the mentality to be able to perceive and decode the subtle “clues” in random game locations. If you didn’t make a Rosetta Stone for the symbols (or didn’t want to do that work), well tough noogies, you’re locked out of fully completing this game.

If you’re the type of person who loves ARGs and assembling pieces of a Rosetta Stone while you explore environments, then you should stop reading right now and go give Fez all your money. If you’re like me, and prefer to watch Tom Hanks solve the Da Vinci Code rather than do the work yourself, then you’re probably going to be less impressed with Fez. It’s not a bad game, but it’s certainly not the Indie masterpiece that 5 years of hype may have let you believe.

(Also, the “normal” ending to this game is predictably very abstract with a pretentious tone. If you’re expecting any insightful, life-changing revelations from playing through Fez, you’d get more answers from the Mass Effect 3 ending than this game.)


Review: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

Last fall, Microsoft and 343 Studios released a “remastered” version of the original Halo with online coop play, achievements, a smattering of Kinect-enabled voice commands, and a complete graphical overhaul. It’s somewhat of a transition title for the franchise as the baton of Halo development has been passed from Bungie to 343 Studios starting with the upcoming Halo 4. As a longtime Halo fan, I hope that this “Anniversary” edition of Halo isn’t any indicator of what the future of the franchise will be like because it’s an absolute turd bomb.

Why? Because the online co-op is completely broken. Here are three reasons why:

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Review: Judge Dredd Vs. Zombies (iOS)


What could be a more fun iPhone game than shooting the crap out of zombies as a badass postapocalyptic British lawgiver? Turns out, there’s quite a bit of alternatives. I had the opportunity to review Judge Dredd Vs. Zombies for Comics Alliance late last year and while the core gameplay was competently fun, it was sucked dry by the hollow presentation and shameless difficulty due to a freemium model-friendly unlock system.

If you’re looking for an epic Judge Dredd gaming experience based on the comics, let’s stop right there. This is not the game for you. While the word “zombies” in the title could imply a tie in to Garth Ennis’ epic “Judgment Day” zombie storyline, Judge Dredd vs. Zombies involves nothing of the sort. The closest you get to a story is a single briefing screen telling you that Zombies have infested Mega City-One and that Judge Dredd is the “Solution.” In fact, other than scattered badges and the occasional logo in each level, the only sights you’re going to see are Judge Dredd, zombies, and generic looking building interiors. To be fair to the developer, though, it’s what was promised in the title and by golly that’s exactly what’s offered.

Read my full review on Comics Alliance here


The 2011 Spike Video Game Awards Retro Liveblog

Another year, another Spike Video Game Awards show to suffer watch through. It’s got to be having some sort of success, or else they wouldn’t be putting it on every year, right? That, or the sponsorship money they’re getting from the games publishers and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is enough to keep the show afloat.

Overall, the show was roughly the same as it was last year, maybe slightly better. Jason Scherier had a finely crafted open letter about the Spike VGAs that eloquently states why actual game enthusiasts have been so frustrated with the production each and every year. Honestly, there’s some elements the show nails, like the augmented reality elements and the actual awards themselves. Spike is wise to leave the nominations and selections of the awards themselves to people who know about the games themselves. That’s why the show hasn’t devolved into complete dreck – because the core of what they’re trying to accomplish is actually solid. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the occasional potty-humor bit and I’m sure others do too. But we also know when that line is crossed into cringe-worthy unfunny. I don’t know, maybe Spike should hire Louis CK as a consultant? That guy gets how to incorporate crude humor in a way that is funny without insulting its audience.

Anyway, as long as the show stays awkward, I’ll have fun with these running diaries. Again, this year’s awards were on a Saturday night, so what follows is a retro-liveblog off my DVR.

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Review: Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3

Full disclosure: I’m a huge comic book and video game geek and have loved the Marvel vs. Capcom series ever since I was a kid. I’d buy each and every release, even if they only add new characters and come up less than a year after the last one. It’s a really fun fight experience and I find the ridiculous speed and combos a nice change of pace from the more methodical Street Fighter or Tekken series.

That being said, I really wish Capcom would include a nice tutorial mode or something to make it easier for newcomers to get into the game. It’s a blast to play and there’s definitely a larger audience for this stuff now that Marvel’s successfully launched so many high profile films.

You can find my full review of the game on ComicsAlliance. I’d feel honored if you read the whole thing, but I’ll admit it’s a bit detailed for you impatient types out there.

If you’re one of those people, here are some tl;dr points:

If you skipped out on the original Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and love the characters and/or just love a good brawling game, then picking up Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a no-brainer. It’s strictly superior to the previous version in virtually every way. Even if you’re not normally a fighting game person, you may want to at least rent the game once just to experience your beloved characters brought to full interactive life (LifeTip for overworked readers: I’ve found that setting the game to an easy difficulty and breezing through arcade mode is a wonderful stress reliever).

As for those who own the first version, whether or not you’ll find the right value in UMvC3 depends on how often you play with others — either online or on the couch together. This is a game meant to be played competitively. Things will get very tiresome on your own once you’re done experimenting with the new characters. Feel free to skip UMvC3 if you got the idea the first go-around and have no desire to see the new characters. It doesn’t bring a whole lot new to the table.

Read the full review: ‘Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3’ review on ComicsAlliance.


Review: Scribblenauts Remix (iOS)

I never thought there would come a day when I would prefer playing a particular game title on my phone rather than a “real” portable game console from Sony or Nintendo.

Well, that day is here.

Developer 5th Cell’s port of its “indie” Nintendo DS hit, Scribblenauts Remix is an absolute joy to play on the iPhone and iPad and is one of the few iOS releases that had me hooked enough to want to complete the game in one day.

(To be fair, I also never thought that there would come a day where there would actually be a good licensed superhero video game. What can I say? We live in magical times.)

For those who are unfamiliar with the franchise, Scribblenauts is a puzzle/platforming game based on one core mechanic — your imagination. You see, you can bring in almost any object or living thing into the game world by simply typing it into Max’s notebook. It’s a very “wow”-inducing mechanic when you experience it for the first time because we’re so used to being limited to the constraints of what game designers have set for us.

The goal in each level is for Max to obtain a Starite by following the hints on screen. The first level’s Starite is dangling on a tree that is just out of reach. There’s many ways to solve the puzzle, depending on your level of creativity. Some might opt for the straightforward solution of creating a ladder for Max to climb. Me? My first inclination was to give Max a large chainsaw to cut down the tree, letting the Starite fall down to me, because I’m a f’in boss. You could also give Max a jetpack and have him float up there to reach it as well. Or maybe you could make a giant yellow beaver to gnaw down the tree.  I’m sure you get the idea by now.

The game has a portly database of over 20,000 words so chances are that the game will have a better chance of stumping you rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include proper nouns or places (for obvious reasons) or vulgar terms. Believe me, I was disappointed that I could not make a flaming pile of poop, but hey, what’s that really going to help you do?

All of the levels are fairly straightforward, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The danger with a game that provides so much freedom is in overwhelming the player with too many choices and possibilities. At no point in Scribblenauts Remix did I feel “lost.” The difficulty curve was nice and easy – almost too easy, in fact. Some of the more interesting levels have several “phases” involved, and I expected the levels to get more and more epic the further I progressed. Sadly, many levels remained very superficial in their goals. Fortunately, for those who want a more free form sandbox to play in, there’s a “Playground Mode” where you can just create objects and things and have them interact with each other.

One of the most exciting features about the game is that it supports iCloud for game saves. For people who own both an iPad and an iPhone, this feature is a godsend. I tend to play mobile games on my phone when I’m not home, but if I’m just lounging around, I’d rather use that larger screen real estate. Previously, you were essentially locked into choosing either the iPhone or iPad version to play, even if the game was a universal build. Sure, you could switch over, but you’d lose all of your gameplay progress to do so. And who would want to do that, other than shortsighted marketing folks who only look at features as checklist fodder?

There’s 50 levels included within the $4.99 universal iPhone/iPad release of Scribblenauts Remix. 40 of which are culled from the previous two Scribblenauts releases on the Nintendo DS. The remaining 10 are “exclusive” to the iOS version of the game. In full disclosure, I never finished the original game on the Nintendo DS because, quite honestly, I was annoyed by the controls in having to tap each word individually with my stylus on the onscreen keyboard. However, on iOS, inputting words is a joy because it’s a natural function of the device – just like writing a text message. A control pad isn’t necessary for this game since there’s no precision platforming to be done. Add it all up and you have a title that feels much more at home on a touch screen than on a portable game console.

Since I didn’t play the previous titles, I can’t say whether the “right” levels were picked or if the 10 new levels are worth the admission price for those who have already played the game on the DS. At $4.99, though, no one’s going to laugh at you for paying 50 cents a “new” level, especially since it’s quite apparent that 5th Cell will be adding additional level packs to the game as time goes on. For anyone who hasn’t played the DS games though, oh ho-ho are you going to have fun. Unless you don’t like words. In which case, I’ll direct you to this app instead.

The highest praise I can give to Scribblenauts Remix is that I was so enamored with the game that I wanted to not only complete the levels, but also obtain all the achievements as well. Think about it – how many games do you have on your phone? And how many do you actually want to finish, let alone get all the achievements on?

Scribblenauts Remix is available now as a universal iPhone/iPad build on the iTunes App Store.


Sony NGP (PSP2) Announcement Reaction, (Or How I Got A Nerd Boner Last Night)

Originally published on Lalawag

Last night during their Playstation Meeting 2011 event in Tokyo, Sony announced their next portable gaming device, the PSP2 “Next Generation Portable” (NGP).

This baby’s got almost every gaming and technological innovation from the past 5 years, including dual touchpads, dual analog sticks, dual cameras, six-axis motion sensing, a high resolution OLED display, 3G and WiFi connectivity, and heck why not throw in that built in GPS. There’s a laundry list of features so we’re going to windmill slam that spec sheet right in front of you here:

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