Review: The Legend of Zelda – Majora’s Mask

It’s been a long time coming, but my review of Majora’s Mask is finally here! I last reviewed a Zelda game back in February of this year, when I played through Ocarina of Time. This review also marks an important turning point in my history, as this is my very first playthrough of Majora’s Mask. That’s right, I’ve actually never played this title before! Which is a shame as this game ranks right up there with Ocarina of Time in terms of being a classic N64 title.

Just like with Ocarina of Time, gamers who want to experience this title today essentially have two options. They can either play the original version on the Wii U Virtual Console or they can opt for the slightly modernized 3DS version. For the sake of this playthrough, I spent a little time with both versions and again, I found the new Majora’s Mask 3D to make the most sense. I feel safe in declaring this to be the current Definitive Version of Majora’s Mask. Aside from improved graphics, and some minor button assignments/playcontrol tweaks, the games are virtually identical. The biggest changes between the two versions are a number of revamps to boss fights and some minor changes to item locations, etc. But in most cases, I found these changes to actually be a true improvement on the original game.

Also, I once again find the 3DS version to offer vastly improved playcontrol over the N64 version.  I’ve always had issue with camera control on most Nintendo 64 games, and while Majora’s Mask doesn’t suffer from these problems as bad as Ocarina of Time, the camera controls on the N64 version still feel janky and choppy to me. This is not an issue on the 3DS version.

(Original N64 version – emulated)

Majora’s Mask is a very strange entry in the Zelda franchise. Technically, it’s a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, but it’s much darker that any other entry in the series. Plus, it seemingly takes place in a whole other world; Termina. Yet, this new world is populated with characters that will be familiar to players of the previous games. These inconsistencies have led to several fan theories over the years. Some of which suggest that the events in this game are a dream or perhaps even take place in the afterworld after Link has suffered some untimely demise. However, new games in the franchise have cleared up a lot of the obscurity regarding Termina in recent years. But that’s a story for another day.

The game starts shortly after the events of Ocarina of Time. Link is on a quest to find his missing fairy friend Navi, when he encounters a strange mask-wearing entity in a dark forest. This person, known as Skull Kid, attacks Link and curses him, turning him into a creature known as a Deku Scrub. Link chases the Skull Kid through a cave and into the strange world of Termina. Here, Link runs into an old “friend”, the Happy Mask Salesman. He explains that Skull Kid has stolen a powerful mask that gives him unusual and dangerous powers. The Skull Kid is using this power to bring the moon down from the sky. If he succeeds, the moon with crash to the world killing everyone. All of this will happen within three days. Link must embark on a quest to wake up four powerful giants. The giants together will be able to prevent the moon from making landfall. Only then, will Link be able to confront and defeat the Skull Kid.  Of course, it will likely take much longer than three days to accomplish everything that needs to be done. So, the Happy Mask Salesman teaches Link the ability to manipulate the flow of time.

In a number of ways, Majora’s Mask is very similar to it’s predecessor. The game controls are nearly identical, and the overall style of play is largely unchanged. The biggest change in Majora’s Mask, and what sets it apart of every other game in the franchise is the “three-day” mechanic. As you play the game, time passes in Termina. The game is split over three different days. If the clock runs out on the third day, the moon crashes to the world and the game is over. Link can save himself by playing a special song on his Ocarina and warping back in time to the morning of the first day. However, doing so will cause him to lose some items he’s collected and will reset some in-game events.  Normally, I’m not a fan of these “race against the clock” mechanics. But it’s actually very well done in this game. Plus, as you play you’ll eventually learn new abilities that allow you to both slow and speed-up the clock to your advantage. So, in the end it’s not really a big hindrance.

(3DS version)

As the title suggests, a big part of the game revolves around collecting and using different masks. When Link dons a mask, he gains special abilities or sometimes even transforms into a different person/creature. These mask are key to unlocking new areas and progressing through the game.  The mask system and the “three day mechanic” are the two things that set this title apart from other entries in the Zelda series. Aside from these two mechanics, the gameplay will be very familiar to fans. The core game involves exploring areas, entering dungeons, solving puzzles and defeating bosses. It’s the classic Zelda formula with a new twist. These changes actually manage to make Majora’s Mask a very fresh and unique addition to the series.

When I first started playing this title, I felt a bit overwhelmed. It was certainly Zelda, but it felt tainted… The whole vibe of the game seemed off at first. I can imagine that some players might feel a bit turned off when picking up this game for the first time. The overall mood of the game does not match what most players would expect from a Zelda title. It’s hard to explain, but it’s there… However, after a few hours in, things do start to come together and make a bit more sense.

All in all, Majora’s Mask is another fantastic entry in the Legend of Zelda series. In some ways, I feel like it ended up being a bit of playground for the game developers. A place where they could try new ideas or concepts. It feels very experimental to me. But, that’s actually a good thing. It takes the winning formula that is Legend of Zelda and pumps just enough “funky mess” into it to keep fans from feeling bored.

Difficulty: Medium –  As typical with Zelda games, Majora’s Mask has a one-size-fits-all difficulty level. The game starts off relatively easy and progresses in difficulty as it goes. Most of the challenge in the game comes in the form of various boss fights or solving dungeon puzzles. For a first time player, several of these encounters can be very frustrating at first. But as typical with most games of this type, each battle has certain mechanics. Once learned, these battles become much easier. The new time mechanic adds a little extra layer of difficulty and frustration to this title, but again there are ways to soften the blow that the clock can bring. Players willing to take the time to explore and complete the optional side quests will also have a much easier time.

Story: The storyline here is a big departure from anything seen in the Zelda series thus far. But if you’re willing to really follow the breadcrumbs of lore found in the game, it’s actually quite an in-depth and interesting story. The Skull Kid and his world of Termina are very psychological. There’s a lot of subtle things going on. This game features a storyline that rewards you as richly as you are willing to invest yourself into it.

Originality: This title features the gated/progression style that players familiar with the series are already accustomed to. It also piggybacks off the the 3D elements introduced in Ocarina of Time. What sets this game apart from other titles is the certainly the mood and time limitation mechanics. These two simple things really make Majora’s Mask seem fresh and new, despite building off the foundation laid by Ocarina of Time.

Soundtrack: As is typical with a Zelda title, the music in this game is very well done. There’s familiar themes and melodies found in Majora’s Mask, but also a number of new tunes. The overall score has a more somber and mysterious tone than other games in the series. As one would expect, the game soundtrack is very well done, but in my opinion, it’s far from the best in the series.

Fun: Once you’re able to get your head around the mechanics of the game, Majora’s Mask is an excellent title. Even as a veteran player, it took me a bit of time to grasp and understand what exactly was going on. At first, I was not all that impressed. But as time went on, I found myself stopping and sitting in awe at just how fantastic the game actually was.

Graphics: At the time of its original release, the 3D graphics were state of the art. Majora’s Mask actually required the N64 Expansion Pack so the graphical textures are somewhat improved from that of Ocarina of Time. However, like many games from that era, the 3D graphics found here have not aged well. Playing the original game on the Wii or Wii U virtual console does give it a bit of a visual boost than playing it on the original hardware. For most players, I do recommend the 3Ds version. The graphics on this new version are not only sharper and less jaggy, but many of the textures have also been improved.  – I should also note that when playing 3DS games, I typically don’t play with the 3-D turned on. But like with Ocarina of Time 3D, the 3-D effects in this game were so stunning that I actually spent the majority of my time playing in full 3-D mode. (I played this on the New 3DS which features improved 3-D effects, so your mileage may vary)

Playcontrol: The original N64 version still seems to have some annoying playcontrol issues for me. Playing the original game on the Wii or Wii U Virtual Console nearly requires a Classic Controller, in my opinion. But even then, the game feels very “off”. The controls for the 3DS version are overall well thought-out and intuitive.  Having played this title on every available system, I have to declare that the 3DS offers the best playcontrol of the lot.

Downloadable Content:  N/A

Mature Content: Cartoon violence, dark imagery

Value:  This title is available on the Wii U virtual console for $10. The 3DS version still sells for a premium price of $40. But, even at full price, the game is worth it for fans of the series.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This game is nearly as perfect as it’s predecessor… but not quite. The best aspect of the game is also, oddly enough, it’s worst. The time-gated content and the funky vibe the game offers may actually put-off some players. Especially at first. I suppose my biggest caveat to this game is that it’s not a good Zelda title for first time players. But fans of the series should never pass up a chance to experience this title. It’s a valuable entry in the franchise. The game itself is right on par with Ocarina of Time as far as craftsmanship. It’s just… odd.

Available on: Wii and Wii U virtual console,  Nintendo 3DS

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

LoZ –  LoZ II – Link to the Past – Link’s Awakening – Ocarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages – Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – Breath of the Wild

Check Up: No Man’s Sky (1.3 Atlas Rises Update)

It’s been a while since I did a check in on No Man’s Sky. My last post for this game was made back in January for the “Foundation Update”. Since that time there have been a few incremental patches made to the game but all of these pale in comparison to the newest updated: Atlas Rises.

This is the patch that everyone was waiting for. With the introduction of 1.3, No Man’s Sky now has a proper storyline, side quests, and even limited player interaction! Gameplay elements added by previous patches are all integrated into the game’s new narrative, so simply playing through the storyline will ensure players can experience things like bases and exocrafts. No longer do players have to simply stumble upon abandoned structures to claim a base. This resolves a major pain point that players have been screaming about since the game’s inception.

Second on the list of big complaints by fans is; multiplayer. Even after it was promised by the game developers – the game has thus far, failed to deliver. Now, even with the Atlas Rises patch, we don’t have true multiplayer capability. But finally, players will be able to detect when they within the vicinity of each other and even engage in VOIP chat with another traveler. The developers have hinted that they will continue to expand multiplayer functionality in future updates.  – We’ll see.

For me, this patch addresses a lot of what was wrong with the initial game. While there was a certain charm to the mystery that was No Man’s Sky, having an actual storyline that sheds some light on things is more welcome than not. My biggest complaint seems to be with performance issues after the update.  I’m playing on a PS4 Pro, I do have the latest 1.31 patch yet I often suffer from temporary lock ups, stuttering and even occasional crashes.  Also, after experimenting with the new “Terrain Editor” weapon, I ended up falling through the world and getting stuck in some invisible water and dying on more than one occasion. Other’s have also complained about the performance, so I hope to see this addressed in the near future. This is the only game on my PS4 that suffers like this.

All in all, the Atlas Rises patch is a very welcome and much needed fix for No Man’s Sky. I hope to continue to see these types of enhancements in the future.

Nerd Fuel: Green Mountain Coffee – Sunrise Summer Blend

Summer 2017 is finally winding to a close. In a just over a week it will be October and that means it’s time to fuel up on caffeine and stay up late playing horror games! But before we take the first official step into fall and all of the pumpkin spice variations we are sure to discover, let’s take a look at an actual Summer seasonal. A month or so ago, I saw an interesting seasonal coffee that caught my eye… Green Mountain’s “Summer Sunrise Blend”.  Most of the summer coffees that you’ll find are usually some variation of coconut so I was very curious to try a non-flavored variety.

First off, this coffee is labeled as a medium roast. This is true, but it’s certainly a very light medium roast. It’s not dark at all. It is actually very bright with a sort of citrus-sweet earthiness to it. It’s certainly a morning coffee. One that smells stronger during the brew than during tasting, which for hot summer days is actually quite OK.

I found this coffee to be very enjoyable. It’s a very nice blend with a mild, but complex flavor. It is perfect for warm summer mornings. Green Mountain certainly nailed it with this seasonal brew. I like seeing unflavored seasonal blends, and this is a prime example of how to do it. However, like most seasonal selections, this coffee will only be available for a limited time and summer is over… so if you want a box you’d better go hunt one down while you still can.

Score: 3 out of 4

Would Purchase again?: Yes.  Light-Medium roast with a unique flavor. Perfect blend of citrus and earth. Great for summer mornings.

Record Shop: Pearl Jam – Ten

This took a little longer to crank out than I anticipated. But, I’m finally back with my second RetroSensei’s Record Shop post. This time, I’m going to write a bit about another album that heavily influenced me in my early years of songwriting: Pearl Jam’s debut album – Ten.

As I mentioned in the last Record Shop post, Nirvana’s Nevermind was a major influence on me. That record helped inspire me to pick up a guitar and learn to play. However, it was Pearl Jam’s debut album that actually taught me my first lessons in the art of songwriting. These two records, while both released around the same time, were worlds apart in terms of style and composition. Nirvana’s Nevermind  was raw and full of in-your-face energy, Pearl Jam’s Ten was very polished and controlled. Sure, a number of the songs on this record pack a punch. There are some real mosh-worthy tunes on Ten. But the whole album has production value that’s altogether different. It’s much more… professional.

The music throughout the entire album is very well written and polished to a shine. The mix is perfect. When combined with Eddie Vedder’s unique vocal style, the whole package is just divine.

Like many, the album first came to my attention when the single “Even Flow” hit the air waves. This was followed by the smash hit “Jeremy”. A video that played on Mtv  with heavy rotation. When I purchased my first cassette copy of the album, I was pleased that nearly every song on the record held the same magic as the single releases.  In fact, people who enjoy exploring B-sides and other deep cuts will pleased to learn that almost every outtake and B-side from the record are just as good, if not better than some of the album tracks – but that’s another post for different time. For now, let’s take a look at the album track-by-track.

  1. Once – The album starts with fade in. A mellow, ambient trance-like rhythm that drones on for about 40 seconds before launching into a frenzied, rocking guitar riff. The intro is quickly replaced by the growling voice of Eddie Vedder. Themes of self-control, and a descent into madness are the focus of the tune. A fantastic start to record.
  2. Even Flow – The second track is just a strong as the first. Even Flow was the second single from the record and today remains in regular rotation on rock radio.
  3. Alive – This track is actually the very first single from the album and again, is another of Pearl Jam’s most recognized songs. The subject matter of this tune is a fascinating bit of rock and roll mythology.
  4. Why Go – This track is a favorite of mine. It’s another hard rock tune. Palm-muting, whammy bars – all classic hair metal staples – taken and completely transformed into a new type of rock music for the 90’s. Eddie’s classic angst-driven lyrics reign supreme on this track.
  5. Black – Finally, the first come-down on the record. This track became the band’s first unofficial single. It never received it’s own release but became a radio favorite nonetheless. It’s a power ballad and a long-time fan favorite.
  6. Jeremy – Here we have the third single from the album. Jeremy is a song that was played to death both on TV and radio, but it deserved it. It’s a fantastic song. The storytelling in the lyrics were fueled even more by a stellar music video that still haunts the minds of many to this day.
  7. Oceans – This is one of stranger songs on Ten. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the record. It’s a solid track, but despite actually being an international single, it pales in comparison to some of the other stronger songs on the album. That’s not to discount it… This track has a very mysterious and memorable quality to it.
  8. Porch – From the “strange and mellow” we go back to the “machine-driven” rock formula. This song, while solid is probably the one most people consider to be the first throwaway track on the album. That being said, its still a great song, so in many ways it’s a testament to how great this album really is.
  9. Garden – Here we have the second track on the album that many consider to be largely forgettable. However, to me, Garden is a personal favorite. Everything from the lyrics to the ambient instrumental – it all weaves into a perfectly magical track.
  10. Deep – In my opinion, this is probably the weakest track on the record. It’s not bad, but it’s not particularly good either. Definitely a filler track.
  11. Release – The album ends on a mellow note. This track is soft and heartfelt. It’s really an amazing contrast to the rest of the record and it’s also a personal favorite of mine. The end of the track fades into several moments of silence followed by the tribal drone that opened the initial song. Putting a perfect capstone on the album as a whole.

 

Pearl Jam is one of those bands that really defined 90’s Alternative. And Ten is a classic example of why.

When listening to albums, I always suggest enjoying them on a nice Hi-Fi stereo system, or on a portable device with a good pair of headphones. When listening to classic records like this, I prefer the original release to many of the “remastered” editions. Often times, remasters are overly loud and actually contain a lower level of quality than the original album. There are exceptions to this, in fact, there’s even a special “redux” version of Ten that is completely remixed and remastered and it’s worth a listen. But, to me the original release is the definitive version of the album.

When listening to a record, always listen from start to finish. Unlike pop albums, many good rock records are sequenced in a certain order. Some songs tend to be more enjoyable when following the song preceding them. Put the record on while you’re driving, or doing house work. Let it play in the background. Listen it to a few times. Some records need to grow on you. Don’t skip around. Even if a particular song doesn’t grab you right away, let it play through. Your opinion may change.

DLC Review: Final Fantasy XV – Assassin’s Festival

July brought a new update to Final Fantasy XV and trailing just behind the update was a surprise bit of free downloadable content: The Assassin’s Festival! The festival is actually a special cross-over event with the Assassin’s Creed game franchise. It contains a full playable chapter complete with unlockable items that carry over to the main game.

Players who completed the previous Moogle/Chocobo festival were rewarded with a special “Dream Egg” item. Upon launching the Assassin’s Festival DLC, this item will hatch – unlocking a permanent costume for Noctis in the main game.  In case you missed the carnival event, SE has reactivated it for a limited time, to allow for the full “Holiday Pack” experience. So, this means you can partake in the carnival, get your egg, and then proceed right into the Assassin’s Festival event.  But be warned, this event is only active for a limited time. It ends on January 31st, 2018.

For me, this event seemed to come out of nowhere. It was released during my July-August hiatus from gaming, so perhaps I simply missed the announcement. Plus, it seems a bit odd to cross-over two completely unrelated game franchises like this, but – it actually works well! The DLC takes concepts from the Assassin’s Creed franchise and blends them perfectly into the main storyline of Final Fantasy XV. The gist of the event is simple;  in the world of FFXV, Assassin’s Creed is an extremely popular video game… But one that’s apparently rooted in “real life” mythology. So, every year they celebrate the Assassin’s Festival. Noctis and his crew arrive in town just in time for the festivities and must conceal themselves in costumes to sneak through town and thwart an imperial plot.  It sounds a bit strange, but to be honest it’s actually very well done. The scenarios and new gameplay mechanics are fun and for the pricetag of FREE, who can complain?

Aside from completing the quests included in the DLC, participating in the side content will provide you with medals that can be spent to purchase unlockables for the main game. (camera filters, frames, car decals, etc). So, there’s quite a bit replayability here.

Aside from the festival itself, the July Update also includes a number of other free downloadable costumes as well as some new features for the main game. This includes new quests, trophies and even a “chapter select” option from the main menu. All in all, this update/DLC pack is filled with goodies – all at no charge.  I suppose I’ll have to spent a few hours checking out some of the additions to the main game and seeing if I can manage to round out my trophy collection.

Overall Impression:  Free DLC is always good.  The amount of content included here is impressive. Even if shoehorning an advertisement for another game into Final Fantasy seems a bit awkward – the presentation is well done.

Value: Freebie! Aside from 800 MB of space you have nothing to lose!

Main Game:  Final Fantasy XV Review

Review: Thief II – The Metal Age

Again, I want to apologize for the long hiatus between game reviews, but I’m back now and continuing my “turn of the century” playthroughs. Today I give you my long-awaited review of Thief II: The Metal Age. I discussed the original Thief more than three years ago, in anticipation of the Square-Enix reboot. But it took me this long to catch up and play through the second entry in the original franchise. But finally, here we are.

For those unfamiliar with the original game, Thief took the concept of first-person PC games and turned it on it’s head. Instead of being a fast-paced shooter, this game required you to sneak around in the shadows and actually try to avoid killing enemies unless absolutely necessary. It was a smashing success and it was only a matter of time until it spawned a sequel. Thief II took everything that was great about the original game and cranked it up a notch. In fact, this sequel is a great example of developers actually listening to their customers. The folks behind the game took the feedback they received from the first title, and added more of what fans liked the most, and removed some of the concepts that seemed to garner the most complaints. The end result, is a game true to the original but largely superior.

This game takes place one year after the events of the original title. Garrett continues to make his living as a skilled catpurse, relying on no one other than himself. Since the events of the original game, a new faction has emerged in the city. One that believes in a future ruled by technology and machines.  As a result, the nature-worshiping Pagans have been driven out of town and into hiding.  None of this matters too much to Garrett, as he has other things to worry about. You see, there’s a new sheriff in town, literally – and he’s got his eye on putting an end to Garrett’s way of life. However, as one might expect, it’s not so easy to remain neutral. Before long, Garrett finds himself wrapped up in the middle of this conflict between the Mechanists and the Pagans. To save himself, he’s going to have to choose sides.

One thing to know before you decide to jump in to the world of Thief II; this is an older game and one designed for a different age of computing. However, just like the original – there’s a number of tweaks and unofficial patches available that will allow the game to run on modern hardware. I recommend something called “TafferPatcher”. This is a fan-made all-in-one patch that will both optimize the game for modern hardware, but retain the original look and feel of the title. Despite being unofficial, it’s widely respected and very much safe to install.

As I mentioned above, if you enjoyed the original game, Thief II is certainly worth your time. Every single thing that is great about the first title is expanded on here and there’s lots of it. To me, both the size of the levels and the number of mission objectives have increased and become much more engaging. There’s nothing better than sneaking around in the shadows right under the noses of the night watchmen and looting a place clean. The feel of the original game remains intact, but this time with a more engaging storyline.

From a technical standpoint, Thief II feels very much like it’s predecessor. I don’t really see a big difference in the bulk of the game engine. The environments look very similar to those founds in Thief. But, the character textures are greatly improved.  The enemy AI is also quite a bit better – in this game guards will notice more things that seem out-of-place. For example open doors or damaged environmental objects. So, tech-wise, Thief II does show signs of progression over the original.

To me, the Thief series represents a high point in PC gaming. It was a time where the industry was largely engaged in copy-cat behavior. But the Thief series took a bold step to stand apart from all the clones. It was a risk that paid off big. To me, Thief II represents the very best of the series. It’s a game that I recommend to retro PC gamers looking for a unique experience.

Difficulty: Variable–  Thief II offers several levels of difficulty. Increasing the difficulty level not only gives the player more objectives to accomplish during the game’s missions, but also going for Hard or Expert restricts you from being allowed to kill enemies. The game is certainly more rewarding on one of these two settings. But I recommend Normal for most players going on their first run.

Story: Thief II continues the lore and storyline established in the original game, and it’s quite well done. The game story develops a number of ways. First, there are cutscenes between levels. But, tidbits can also be picked up by eavesdropping on various NPC conversations or reading notes and journals that you encounter as you sneak your way through the areas of the game. Players who take their time and explore every nook and cranny will be rewarded with additional storyline elements.

Originality: The trail was certainly blazed with the original Thief. But the concepts laid out by it’s predecessor are highly refined and presented to players in this sequel.  Despite being a sequel, Thief II still manages to avoid feeling like a cheap retread of the original game.

Soundtrack: There not a lot here in terms of game music. But, that’s ok. This game is ALL about atmosphere. You have to listen for footsteps and other audible clues as you play. These sound effects are very well done. This is one of those games that still takes advantage of older surround sound technology – and it does it very well. Ambient noises aside, the voice acting in the game is also superb.

Fun: This kind of game may not appeal to all players. It requires patience and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. This will likely be a turn-off to some, but for those that enjoy stealth games, this one will provide hours of entertainment.

Graphics:  The first two entries in the Thief series are an odd mix of both really good 3D graphics and funky, blocky textures. However, Thief II does improve on the look and feel of NPC characters significantly. This entry also includes improved skybox and lighting effects. Regardless, it still looks very dated when compared to modern games. But it was quite top of the line for it’s time. 

Playcontrol:  No real issues here. The game runs on the standard WSAD keyboard layout for first-person PC games, with some modifications for the game’s unique features. Occasionally, climbing and jumping around on platforms can feel a bit awkward and cumbersome. But, it’s merely a minor annoyance at times.

Downloadable Content:  N/A. 

Mature Content: Mild language.

Value:  Thief II can be found on Steam for around $7.00. For that price, the game is well worth every penny. The amount of content in this game and the quality of this title overall makes it an absolute steal for that price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Thief II, despite it’s age, still holds up as one of the definitive stealth-based first-person games of all time. Fans of the genre that have not yet experienced it, should not hesitate for a moment. This is one game worthy of your attentions. For players who are not sure if this type of game would appeal to them, the price tag alone makes it worth the gamble. You’ll never spend a better $7 on a PC title.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Original Trilogy:

Thief: The Dark Project  –  Thief 2: The Metal Age  – Thief: Deadly Shadows

Reboot:

Thief

Nerd Fuel: Green Mountain Coffee – Golden French Toast

My first post since my month-long hiatus and…. it’s about coffee. For those of you that enjoy my gaming content more, I apologize. But for those who actually enjoy the coffee reviews (and I do here from some of you), here we go!

For this post, I’m going to be talking about a coffee that I’ve spent the last six months or so scouring stores for. I first caught wind of this flavor while browsing the Keurig site, but no one ever seemed to have it in stock. I’m talking about the elusive “Golden French Toast” flavored coffee.  This is one of Green Mountain’s seasonal selections – which season, I’m not really sure… because it seems to be out of circulation.  But as soon as I learned of a “french toast” flavored K-cup, I knew I had to have it. After many months of searching, a reseller finally listed a box on Amazon.

Once it arrived, I eagerly popped a cup into my brewer. I was immediately delighted with the strong aroma of maple syrup and roasted beans. It was a delightful mix. Once the brew was complete, I took my first sip.  This is a light roasted coffee, with a very heavy artificial flavoring. But, thankfully it’s a good flavor. It doesn’t taste “fake”. The coffee itself is somewhat weak. The first thing in the taste profile that stands out is the maple. But the coffee also has a smooth butter and cinnamon finish. The taste balance is very well done.

I admit that despite being excited to try this coffee, I didn’t have very high expectations. Thankfully, I was proven wrong. The Golden French Toast was actually quite enjoyable.

I feel that this coffee is best suited for early mornings, or as an after-dinner desert coffee. The flavoring is strong is could easily clash with a meal. But all in all, I was quite impressed. I hope to see this returned to shelves before too long.

Score: 3 out of 4

Would Purchase again?: Yes.  Smooth and silky. Light, enjoyable roast, but with a strong maple flavoring. Great for early mornings.

Brief Update

I would like to apologize for the lack of updates in the last month. In a nutshell, I’ve been away dealing with some real life issues. Some things came up that required my full attention. For the last 30 days or so I’ve been focused solely on dealing with these issues that I’ve not spent a moment thinking about games or other subjects that I frequently cover on this site.  Things are slowly starting to normalize, and I expect that within a month’s time I should be posting regularly again. I appreciate some of the kind words I’ve received and your support.

Anime: Castlevania – Season 1

Despite being a fairly mainstream nerd, I actually have a very unusual opinion on anime. As a general rule, I don’t enjoy it. In fact, several years go I made a post about my struggles with anime on this very blog: The Anime Conundrum. To date, the only real anime show that I’ve actually found enjoyable has been Sword Art Online. But, when I heard that Netflix was going to be debuting a show based on the classic video game series Castlevania, I knew that I was going to have to set aside my reservation and give it a watch.

I am a lifelong Castlevania fan. In fact, I have reviewed every single canonical game in the series on this site.  So to say I was pumped to be able to watch a Castlevania story unfold on the television is an understatement. But, I was skeptical. Movies and shows based on video games typically end up being very poor in quality. If you don’t believe me, just watch a few episodes of Super Mario Brother’s Super Show or even the Double Dragon motion picture…. YUCK.   –  Thankfully, this cycle has been broken with Castlevania.

This “series” consists of four 30-minute episodes. So, I really feel like this was one film that was actually refitted into a four-part series. I’ve heard several people comment that this is actually a bit of a test run, and if Castlevania proves to be successful, a longer full length series will follow. If that is true, I fully expect we’ll be hearing news of a second season before long.

The storyline is actually a retelling of events from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and Symphony of the Night.  The show begins by telling the backstory of “Symphony”, it explores Dracula’s relationship with his wife and her ultimate fate. It then skips forward to events from Castlevania III and covers what is essentially the first half of that game. I was impressed by the level of detail included in the telling of the story. It is very apparent that the people who put together this anime have a deep knowledge and appreciation for the lore behind the Castlevania story. They absolutely nailed it.  I don’t want to spoil the show for anyone who has not yet watched it, but there are many details included from the game that I wouldn’t expect to see on the screen. And their inclusion does not feel forced or cheesy in any way.

My only gripe with the show is that it is for mature audiences only. The language and subject matter are very extreme. I have no problem with this on it’s surface, but Castlevania is a franchise beloved by people of all ages. Kids are going to want to watch this series and I’ll be honest and tell you that they should not. You have been warned. This show is NOT KID FRIENDLY.

All in all, this show holds the honor of being only the second anime that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching. I think I’m going to make a point of finally following up on some suggestions that have been given to me over the years and reviewing them on the site. So, if you’re curious about my opinions or even if you have a suggestion or two, please feel free to drop me a note of leave a comment.

Final thoughts: A surprisingly accurate portrayal of what is a classic video game story. The artwork is vivid and awe-inspiring. The voice acting is simply superb. I was hooked from the first scene. My biggest complaints are that the series is very short and much of the mature language seems unnecessary.

Score:  A

Check Up: Diablo III – Rise of the Necromancer (Patch 2.6.0)

It’s been a little over six months since I last checked in on the status of Diablo III. At the time, the game was just getting into it’s ninth “season” and the Diablo Anniversary event was in full swing. Now, Diablo fans have something new to celebrate. Just in time for Season 11, Blizzard has a released a new batch of paid DLC for Diablo III called Rise of the Necromancer. I call it DLC because the content does come at a cost and it’s contents are a bit more extraordinary than what you’d find in a mere patch, but also less than what you’d expect from a full expansion.

Essentially, for the cost of $15.00, you gain access to the new Necromancer character class, and all of the fluff that comes with it, but there are no new levels or main storyline content. The purchase does include a few cosmetic items as well. (A portrait frame and a pet).

Personally, I feel like this is a fair asking price from Blizzard. Asking $15.00 from players who are already well invested in the game is reasonable. But if you’re new to Diablo III or considering buying it in the future, it may be best to wait and see if there is going to be an “all-in-one” collection. But, if you’re impatient the existing Battlechest collection only costs $20. That includes the base game and expansion. So even if you purchased that and Rise of the Necromancer, you’re only out $35 total, which if we’re being honest, is a more than acceptable price for a full game of this quality.

Just like any other class in Diablo III, the Necromancer comes complete with it’s own skill tree, item drops and audio dialogue. So, this class is in no way a cheap tack-on. In fact, I found the Necromancer to be a the perfect fit into the Diablo III universe. I daresay that it might be my favorite class in the game! It has arrived just in time for the upcoming season. So, seizing this opportunity, once Season 11 starts, and friend and I plan to play through the game again as Necromancers. So, if you have similar plans (and I’m sure many do), feel free to look for me.

My final thoughts on this release are as follows: considering the  success that this DLC release has brought Blizzard, I can only wonder if they plan future releases using this model. Diablo III is now several years old, but it remains popular and profitable. Perhaps future add-ons to the game will come in the form of piecemeal DLC like this. Aside from character classes, maybe we’ll see new storyline areas or other paid content in the future? Blizzard has been very hush hush on such matters in regards to Diablo III, but we know from other games like Overwatch or even World of Warcraft that they tend to embrace paid content. We’ll have to see.