Review: Tale of ALLTYNEX Trilogy

As I type this, I’m downloading the Final Fantasy XIV 4.0 patch and awaiting the release of that game’s new expansion. It’s during downtime like this that I tend to dig through my library and pull out something that can be played start-to-finish in a reasonable amount of time. In keeping with my current theme of games from the late-90’s era, I came across a trilogy of arcade-style schmups (shoot-em-ups) called The Tale of ALLTYNEX. This trilogy consists of three games: ALLTYNEX Second, RefleX and KAMUI. I’ve had these titles sitting in my Steam library for some time, but I’ve never paid them much attention. If I remember right, I got them as part of an indie Japanese game bundle several years ago. Last weekend, I found myself with a desire to step away from all the deep and complicated RPGS that tend to consume the majority of my game playing, and jump into some old school, bullet-hell arcade action. So I installed these games and went in completely blind.

Unless you’re really into the Japanese indie scene, you’ve probably never heard of these games. So, let’s take a moment to bring ourselves up to speed. This trilogy contains a set of games created by Japanese developer Siter Skain. This collection was actually made possible via a project on Kickstarter. It contains the following titles:

ALLTYNEX Second – This game is a semi-modern remake of the Japanese 1996 arcade classic ALLTYNEX.

RefleX – A 2008 remake, this time of an indie freeware game called Reflection from 1997.

KAMUI – A 1999 Japanese PC game, based on classic shoot-em-up arcade titles.

Originally, each of these games were separate entities with each successive game being largely inspired by the one that came before it. Now, they have been compiled and somewhat re-imagined as a loose trilogy. Oddly enough, due to the various remakes, the newest games are actually the oldest chronologically.

As mentioned above, the first game lore-wise in the trilogy is ALLTNYEX Second.  Essentially, you play as the pilot of a “superfighter” starship.  In this title, mankind’s  orbital defensive supercomputer, ALLTYNEX suddenly goes rogue and uses its control over all of all of Earth’s military hardware to wage war on humanity. As a result, the human race is forced to flee the planet and regroup on the far reaches of the solar system. In a last-ditch effort to reclaim the planet, a team of  “superfighters” are dispatched to destroy ALLTYNEX.

This game is very well done. It feels just like one of those old quarter-pumper arcade machines, and thanks to moderns graphics, it makes the genre look better than ever.  It embodies the classic Starfighter schmup gameplay: swarms of enemies, rapid fire, bullets everywhere.  The player can choose between their regular blasters or a special shield that both protects your starship as well as damages enemies.  The gameplay is intense and not particularly easy – but few bullet hells are. The nearly unlimited continues make the game accessible for even a casual player. From start to finish the game can be completed in under an hour by an experienced player.

Next up is RefleX. This game is very similar to the others. It’s an overheard bullet hell/schmup. But unlike the other entries, you don’t have multiple lives. If your ship is destroyed, it’s game over. Luckily, the starship here is protected by a reflective shield. Enemy bolts will bounce off the shield and back towards the sender. This provides a whole new level of strategy to the game.

RefleX actually has quite an in-depth backstory, but to find all the juicy details you will have to dig through the manual. (The Steam version does have a PDF manual).  Essentially, you are a member of a resistance group that is rallying against an overbearing government. What’s unclear, at least to me, is how this ties in with the first game… has humanity retaken Earth and now bad guys are running the show? Despite several similarities, it just isn’t made very clear.

Finally, we have the third game in the trilogy, KAMUI. Despite being the last game in the series, this title is the one that shows it’s age the most. Which, considering the other two are remakes, I guess that’s to be expected.

This is the game that actually manages to tie the other two titles together. It features story elements from both ALLTYNEX and RefleX and presents a final battle between the resistance and a new militarized version of the ALLTYNEX AI.

Despite being the most dated of the three, I think KAMUI is my favorite of the trilogy simply because it reminds me the most of those old arcade-style shoot-em-ups that consumed so many hours of my youth. Which, is odd in itself considering KAMUI was a PC title.

Difficulty: Hard–  Most schmups and bullet hell games are infamous for their high degree of difficulty. These games are no different. Unless you’re one of those machine-like professional gamers or some kind of savant, you’re going to die a lot. Luckily, the games are pretty forgiving in that you are granted nearly unlimited continue credits. So, in reality, as long as you are persistent you can manage to complete the games regardless of overall skill. This still doesn’t change the fact that the game itself is difficult in it’s own right.

Story: As a whole, the storyline shared between these games is surprisingly rich. This is true despite it being largely absent from the games themselves. Schmups are not typically known for being rich is lore and storyline, so for this type of game any real attempt to provide one is welcome

Originality: Back in the 90’s games like these were a dime a dozen. These days, they have become a bit a niche category. Despite being based on a tested and tired model, the games in the ALLTYNEX Trilogy manage to stand out in their own little ways. For example, the ricochet shield from RefleX is a pretty unique feature. Little things like these keep the games feeling semi-fresh in a pool of stagnant copy-cat titles.

Soundtrack: One of the high points of all three of these games are the fantastic soundtracks. All these of titles come complete with a groovy, high-energy techno-like score. The music is catchy and appropriate. It does a fantastic job of keeping your blood pumping for the split-second twitch action that games like these require.

Fun: I can imagine that many people would find games like these to be frustrating and overly difficult. But that is something that fans of bullet hell games have come to expect and love. So you’re either going to enjoy this type of game or you’re not. For people like me, I don’t really consider myself to be a fan of these types of games, per se. But I do enjoy them for the nostalgia factor. And, I can appreciate them for what they are.

Graphics:  Being a trilogy of games from different eras, the graphics are a mixed bag.  Kamui and RefleX, are both still stuck in the 16-bit era. While ALLTYNEX Second has a much more modern, polished look. 

Playcontrol:  Even though these games support keyboard controls, take my advice and plug in either an Xbox or Playstation game pad. Games like these were made for controllers. Personally, I found a trusty old Xbox 360 controller to be perfect to all three games, with no real issues.

Downloadable Content:  None

Mature Content: Sci-Fi violence.

Value:  Each of these games is available separately on Steam for $8, or together in a bundle for $20. If you’re a fan of this genre, the $20 pricetag may be well worth it. But, these games are on sale frequently so a bargain shopper can usually snag them on a deal.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Even though I don’t really consider myself a fan of the shoot-em-up genre, I found a lot of enjoyment in these three games. It was really a nice break our of the norm for me. Everything from the fast-paced action, to the visuals, to the soundtrack really scratched an itch I had been having for some retro arcade action. My biggest complaint about the collection is that the original versions of ALLTYNEX and RefleX were not included.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Review: Planescape Torment (Enhanced Edition)

If you’re a frequent reader to this site, you know I’m a Dungeons & Dragons fan. I love the Forgotten Realms, the world of Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Ravenloft, etc. But one campaign setting that has always held a special place in my heart is Planescape. Ever since I first cracked open the original Manual of the Planes all those years ago, the Outer Planes have captivated my imagination. In Dungeons & Dragons, the “Outer Planes” are best described as different dimensions. The Seven Heavens, The Nine Hells, The Abyss, Ysgard, etc – all of these mysterious places, both good and evil, make up what is known as the Outer Planes. While nearly infinite in their own way, they all share an astral connection. And right in the center of it is the wondrous city of Sigil. It is the crossroads of all other dimensions, a place to total neutrality. It is ruled by a mysterious being known as the Lady of Pain. She is a silent enforcer of order. So powerful is The Lady of Pain, that even gods cannot trespass on her territory.  It is here in the city of Sigil, that the classic RPG known as Planescape Torment takes place.

This was a title that I had not originally planned to include in my backlog of playthroughs. But with the surprise release of the Enhanced Edition, I added it my list. Planescape is a game that I enjoyed many years ago during its original release. But it never really caught on in the mainstream. Over the years, the game has built a bit of a cult following. I’m pleased that Beamdog studios has finally decided to give this title the same treatment that they gave Baldur’s Gate and other Infinity Engine games.

If you’ve played any of the other D&D Enhanced Editions, or even if you’ve read my reviews of Baldur’s Gate or Baldur’s Gate II, you already have a pretty good idea what to expect. Planescape Torment (Enhanced Edition) is simply a remaster of the original classic. It’s been updated for modern computers and includes a few quality of life improvements. But unlike Baldur’s Gate EE, there is no additional content or revisions to the game.

As mentioned above, Planescape Torment takes place in the city of Sigil, in Outlands of the Outer Planes. In this game, you play a strange, immortal character known as The Nameless One. The game begins as The Nameless One wakes up in a mortuary, unable to remember his name or anything about himself. It is there that he meets Morte, a disembodied floating skull. It doesn’t take long for him to figure out that he is immortal. Having recently died, his body was brought to the mortuary. Covered with scars and tattoos, Morte informs The Nameless One that written on his back is a cryptic message that contains clues to his identity. It is here that his quest begins to uncover the details of his past and the reason for his strange immortality. During the game, players will explore the city of Sigil, it’s mythology, and even venture into some of the outer planes in attempt to unravel this mystery.

Like Baldur’s Gate, this game uses the Infinity Engine, so if you’re familiar with other Infinity games, it won’t take you long to get acclimated to this title. It’s largely a point and click title. Also, like BG and BG2, this game is based off of AD&D 2nd edition rules. What makes this game different, aside from the planar setting, is that is it very much focused on the events surrounding the lead character. Yes, Planescape Torment uses D&D rules at it’s core, but it doesn’t really give you that full and open Dungeons & Dragons experience like Baldur’s Gate. Also, at least from my experience, I found Baldur’s Gate to be a little more heavy on combat, whereas the adventure in Planescape tends to revolve a bit on puzzle solving and diplomacy.

Throughout the game, you will team up with other characters. The relationship you decide to forge with your party members is a very important part of the story. Each character has their own strengths, weaknesses, and skills. As you progress through the story, The Nameless One will have multiple opportunities to change his character class. So it’s easy to adapt yourself to help compliment those in your party.

As you may have guessed, the storyline is a main focus in Planescape Torment. You will be able to explore the city of Sigil freely and interact with it’s residents. There’s quests and tasks around every corner. Engaging the NPCS and listening to their stories is crucial to your success.

Like many RPG games of it’s time, Planescape Torment is a mixture of both open world and “on rails”. Players are locked into certain areas in the beginning, but as you progress through the game you are able to revisit nearly every location. However, the choices you make on your adventure do have consequences. If you’re rude to the wrong person, or worse yet, if you kill an important NPC, it can severely impede your progress.

All in all, Planescape Torment is a classic title. I highly recommend it to nearly any RPG fan. As dated as it is, it actually manages to hold up very well. The Enhanced Edition has proven to be one of the best selling PC games of 2017, and for good reason.

Difficulty: Variable–  Planescape Torment features an Easy, Default and Hard difficultly settings. Having tested all three, I find them to be accurate and appropriate. Planescape, like Baldur’s Gate is an older game. Younger players may have a hard time understanding the pause/start combat strategy that is really required to master the game. But once you figure out the ins and outs, this title starts to click.

Story: Lore and storyline are everything here. If you’re big on story, this is the game for you. Nearly every character you encounter will have a tale to tell. The same is true for almost every location in the game as well. Of all the old D&D CRPGs, Planescape Torment delivers what is arguably the most compelling storyline of them all.

Originality: At the time of it’s original release in 1999, the Planescape setting was a well established brand, but still somewhat of an oddity in D&D. But in my opinion, it is the key to the game’s success. While many players had seen and experienced fantasy RPGS, and by this time, even post-apocalyptic RPGS, there had never been one that explored the multiverse. Having the Enhanced Edition available to allow new players to experience this intricate world, is certainly a good thing. Despite it age, Planescape is still a breath of fresh air.

Soundtrack: Most of the music found in Planescape is ambient and mood setting. There are a few occasions where players are treated to actual tunes, and these are all very well done. As is the majority of the voice acting. For the most part, the story of the game is delivered via text. But there are a few scant portions that are voiced and all of them are well done.

Fun: If you’re a fan of CRPGS and/or Dungeons & Dragons, you’re going to have a blast with this game. However, many players many simply not have the patience for the old-school style found here. The Enhanced Edition does make this title a bit more approachable.

Graphics: At the time this game was released, the Infinity Engine was starting to get a bit long in the tooth. Today, even though a lot of work was put into modernizing the Enhanced Edition, it still looks quite dated. But most of the re-rendered textures are a considerable improvement over the original. The in-game cutscenes and character art remain unchanged from their original versions.

Playcontrol:  I’m not sure why, but Planescape Torment controls way better than other “enhanced” Infinity Engine games. The AI is responsive and accurate, unlike BG and BG2, the controls in this title just work. I did not experience any of the strange and weird issues that I encountered with Beamdog’s other D&D games.

Downloadable Content:  No – At the time of this writing, no DLC has been announced for Planescape Torment. Aside from potentially supporting the fan-favorite “Unfinished Business” mod, it’s unlikely we will see any.

Mature Content: Fantasy Violence, Mature Themes

Value:  This game currently sells for $20. Considering the amount of content packed and the overall quality of the game, it is well worth this.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Planescape Torment is a forgotten classic that, like it’s main character has been resurrected thanks to Beamdog Studios. It’s a must-have for any serious CRPG fan. It’s everything that great about D&D, in a setting that even more fantastic.

Available on: PC (Steam and GOG)

Nerd Fuel: Starbucks – Vanilla Caffe’ Latte

It’s been over a month since I’ve had a coffee review. But, this time I’m back with something a little different.  One of the big features of the Keurig 2.0 machines was the official support of different “artisan” pods. Technically speaking, the machine is supposed to handles brews of various strength and even alternate beverages like hot chocolate and tea. Since the release of K2.0 machines, I’ve noticed an increase in a number of vendors that sell these fancy “cappuccino style” drinks. These usually include, along with the usual K-cup, a flavor/froth packet and sometimes even a drizzle of some sort.  These have always seemed a bit gimmicky to me, but I decided to take the plunge and give one a try.

For my first foray into the world of coffee packets, I picked up a box of Starbuck’s Vanilla Caffe’ Latte. Now, I’ve tried Starbucks coffee in the Keurig machine before and so far the verdict is still out. I really enjoyed their Holiday Blonde Roast, so I decided to give this box a chance and see what the fuss is all about.

The way this works, you open and empty a packet of flavoring/froth powder into your empty mug, then dispense the K-Cup pod normally. Once it’s full, you stir. This is supposed to produce a foam, like one would expect from a desert-type cappuccino. Sadly, there is little to no foam. So, I suspect this packet contains mostly sugar and other flavoring.

The coffee itself is very mild. It has a hint of that classic “gas station grade” cappuccino taste, with a pleasant vanilla underpinning. It’s nothing remarkable, but to be honest, it’s not at all bad. This would make a nice dessert coffee, but it doesn’t really scratch that caffeine itch many drinks will want first thing in the morning.  In my opinion, this seems more like something for the kids than something a really coffee fiend would enjoy.

These specialty drinks tend to be a dollar or more per box than the standard K-cup pods. With that being said, I’m not really sure these are worth it. The gimmick doesn’t pan out.

Score: 2 out of 4

Would Purchase again?: Doubtful. Not a band drink per se,  but not worth the premium price. You can get the same flavor from a can of instant cappuccino (stir-in) for a fraction of the cost.

My Experiences as an “MMO Girl” (Part 2)

My nearly six-month experiment came to a close earlier this month when I officially retired “Chichi” and restored Kijimuna to his former glory.  For those of you that may have missed the original article; back in January I wrote a piece about my attempt to see what gaming is like through the eyes of a female. Having spoken with several girls I know in Final Fantasy XIV, I decided to quietly moonlight as a female character for six months to see just how different, if at all, I would be treated.

If you read my original article, you’ll learn that aside from people being just generally nicer, my initial experience was not all that different. Back in January, I wrote that I had not encountered any harassment or sexisim, etc. So, now, six months later has that changed? Well, the answer is both yes and no.

In the months since my original article, I finally consented to joining a free company (guild). I decided to pick one of the largest on the server. From my personal experiences, larger MMO guilds tend to be busy and impersonal. People come and go all the time. I didn’t want to become close to anyone or have to lie about my identity, so a large guild would allow me to simply be another face in the crowd. This worked well for quite some time. Then, one day I volunteered to join some members on a trial (big monster battle). This event marked the first time since I started playing a female character that I was “hit on”…

As I stood there, healing my companions, a member of our party made a semi off-color comment about how well Chichi was able to “handle her staff” and would I like to see if I could “handle his”. This was quickly dealt with as Chichi informed him that if he presented his staff to her, she would snap it in half and sheathe the two pieces in a very uncomfortable place. This person later apologized to me in private for his behavior.

A few weeks later, another person seemed to become infatuated with Chichi. He followed me around and volunteered to help me with whatever I was doing. At one point, he even offered to pay for a private house so Chichi could have her own dwelling. For those who do not played FFXIV, let me tell you this is a VERY generous offer. Housing is scant and expensive on nearly every server in the game. I politely declined the offer.

As my time playing as Chichi drew to a close, I found myself realizing that I was going to miss her. Chichi had come to grow on me. The character was simply adorable. I entertained the thought of just continuing to play her, but I also missed playing as Kijimuna, a character I created almost 7 yeas ago. So that I wouldn’t have to completely say goodbye, I came to a compromise. I hired a new in-game “retainer” or virtual companion and named/modeled it after Chichi. So now, even though Chichi is no more – a part of her still exists in the world of Eorzea.

So, after six months of playing a female character incognito, what are my thoughts?

Well, overall – even though I never actually presented myself as a female, acted flirty or feminine, the majority of players did seem to treat me nicer that they did when I would play a male. As I originally observed, many players were more patient and helpful. Aside from one sexual remark by a single individual, I was never objectified or harassed.  Perhaps this was because I never did come out and claim to be a woman. I really can’t say. But based on this experiment, albeit unscientific as it was, I was relieved to see that players perceived to be female are not the subject of sexual harassment day in and day out.  I’m not claiming that women gamers tend to to cry wolf about such topics, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be quite as bad as one might think by simply hanging out on twitter for five minutes.

When dealing with other players in any multiplayer environment, it’s always wise to remember the wisdom of Rufus from Bill and Ted’s Excellent adventure… regardless of who you are or who you are dealing with, “Be excellent to each other”.

Dungeons & Dragons: Father and Son

One subject that I don’t discuss as frequently as I like is Dungeons & Dragons. I try to stay up to date regarding the latest supplemental material and core books, etc. But It’s been several years since I actually made a post about the current state of the game.

If you look back on this site, you’ll see my very first entry regarding Dungeons & Dragons is when I discussed the upcoming release of what is now known as Fifth Edition. Dungeons & Dragons has has a tumultuous history. But I think it is safe to say that D&D 5E has ended up being a smashing success. In my opinion, Wizards of the Coast (D&D’s parent company), has finally hit on the right formula. No longer are the bookstore shelves packed will useless, poor quality supplements. Instead, every single release is filled with quality, well tested material. Any “up in the air” play-options are instead posted online in a series of articles called “Unearthed Arcana”. Players are encouraged to download these game options for free and try them out. This allows 5E players to customize the style of the game they are playing, without weighing down the core rules with countless, redundant options.

Recently, my 13-year old son expressed a serious interest in the game. So, I began a search to find a new group of players that are family-friendly. I’m happy to say, I found what I was looking for! For the last month or so, my son and I have been spending our Saturday Nights at a local game shop playing D&D.  It was a bit of a proud moment when I gifted him with his very own copy of the Player’s Handbook… I still remember my father buying mine for me. So far, he has really enjoyed the game. Plus, getting out and meeting new people has also help foster some valuable social skills.

When I started playing again a few years back, I found myself participating in some official, sanctioned games. These days, I no longer concern myself with that. Currently, our DM is running the “Out of the Abyss” adventure, which is an actual official D&D story, but we’re not actually participating the “Adventurer’s League”.  It’s a much more relaxed and laid back atmosphere.

I plan to begin posting a little more regularly about my D&D adventures. I’ll also be covering some of the books that I previously decided against reviewing on the site. Aside from the PHB, DMG and MM, there’s really only been two other “source books” released – the rest have all been hardback adventures. So I had originally planned not to really spend my time on those. But, to keep things chugging along, I have changed my mind about that.  So, sometime within the next month I’ll start discussing some of these. Stay tuned!

Record Shop: Nirvana – Nevermind

Welcome to the first official RetroSensei’s “Record Shop” post. In case you’ve missed my previous post and you’re wondering what all this is about, you can read a bit about this new project:  HERE.

As I mentioned in that previous article, I’ve always been a fan of music. For most of my childhood I enjoyed pop and and top-40 hits. I started buying and collecting music starting around age 12 or 13.  Around that time, I was a fan of artists like MC Hammer, Madonna, Technotronic, Boyz II Men, etc. I largely ignored rock music at this time in my life. To me, it all sounded the same. Hair Bands were still in fairly heavy rotation and they really just seemed to be a dime a dozen. By the time I was 14, I had just returned back to the United States after living in Japan for 3 years. I once again found myself with access to American cable television – that meant Mtv. I remember vividly tuning to Mtv upon my return and seeing the video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  I had never really heard anything like that song before. The verses were hypnotic and mellow, but they were followed by a ripping, screaming chorus. I found the song enjoyable, but at the time I didn’t pay it much attention. My excitement and focus was still currently on the brand new “Dangerous” album by Michael Jackson as well as an upcoming record by SNAP! (yes, the “I got the power” people)…

Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was released in the fall of 1991. It is actually their sophomore album. But it is the record that introduced them to the world.

It wasn’t until the video for “Lithium” hit the airwaves that I really started paying attention to Nirvana. This song followed the same formula as “Teen Spirit” – slow verses, with a rocking chorus. But to me, I found the song much more appealing. The next song by Nirvana that caught my attention was “Come As You Are”.  This was really interesting music. It wasn’t like the other rock and roll that was in heavy rotation at the time. I found myself tuning my radio to the local rock station in hopes of catching one of these songs on the air.

Eventually, I grew tired of waiting on the radio and I spent my allowance on the Nevermind CD. This record changed my entire perception on just what music was all about.

Up until now, I experienced music somewhat passively. I enjoyed it, and occasionally found it insightful and moving. But I was never really inspired by it. Now, I’m not going to claim that the majority of the songs on “Nevermind” are profound. To be honest, most of Kurt Cobain’s lyrics are trash, in my opinion. But there’s certainly a raw energy and passion behind the music as a whole. Songs like “Breed”, just fill you with energy and make you want to “rock out”. Listening to some of these tunes made me was to pick up a guitar and scream my head off, just like Kurt Cobain was doing.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened. This record made me want to learn how to play the guitar. For Christmas that year, I asked my parents for one. Upon receiving it, I went to my local music shop and signed up for lessons. After a couple of months learning the basics, my guitar teacher asked me to bring in a song and he would show me how to play it. Naturally, I turned to “Nevermind” and I picked a tune that sounds pretty easy to play. That song was “Polly”. It was the first song I ever learned to play to completion.  Being able to play a real song from start to finish is major milestone for a new musician. That was the moment I knew that I could play this instrument. Being a guitar player changed my life. Up until that point, I had always been an awkward nerdy sort of kid. I was the little guy that was picked on and teased. I didn’t like sports, instead I was interested in things like Dungeons & Dragons, comic books, and video games. Learning to play the guitar gave my a skill that grew into self-confidence. Not to mention, it was a pretty cool skill to have. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you can pick up a guitar and rock out – that’s cool. Within a few years, I had completely changed my social situation. I went from the “always nerdy dork” to the “slightly nerdy rocker”. My social life improved. My romantic life improved. All thanks to music.

If Nirvana’s “Nevermind” didn’t exist, I may very well have never picked up that guitar.

So that’s what this album means to me. There’s a good chance that many of you reading this are intimately familiar with this record already. It was one of the biggest selling albums of the 90’s. But, if not, let’s take a look at the record track by track. If you have a music stream subscription or if you own the record and just want to take a trip down memory lane, put it on and let’s listen together.

  1. Smells Like Teen Spirit – This was Nirvana’s first single of the album and arguably their most popular song.  The song starts with a catchy clean-guitar chord riff, which rapidly switches to screaming distortion. Just as you start to get into it, it fades into a slow, mellow groove for the verse. As the chorus launches, we’re back to that ripping, tearing riff that opened the song. This is the formula that made Nirvana famous. They revisit this “verse-chorus-verse” pattern many times over their career.  This song is a classic. It single-handedly changed rock music forever.
  2. In Bloom – This is a moderate tempo tune that once again follows what I call the “Nirvana Formula”.  It was another hit single and it’s a catchy example of classic Nirvana
  3. Come As You Are – This is another favorite. The hook catches you from the very beginning and carries you through the rest of the tune. The guitars here make heavy use of the “Chorus” effect, this is an effect that gives a shimmering “wavy” underwater sound to the tune. This is a very radio-friendly jam.
  4. Breed – This is a rip-roaring powerchord rock fest. This might be the one song from the record that really made me want to pick up a guitar and let it rip. It’s the perfect melding of metal, punk, rock, and even pop. Fantastic tune.
  5. Lithium – Another “Nirvana Formula” tune. Detuned guitar, mumbled lyrics, with a ripping chorus. Another hit single.
  6. Polly –  Here, mid-way through the record we get our first break. Unlike everything else on the album thus far, we have a mellow acoustic tune. The song is played on a dead-pan, flat sounding guitar. As terrible as that might sound in print, it worked well in the song itself.  This is a fan favorite.
  7. Territorial Pissings – This is an odd one. The song starts off with the wacky screeching of Nirvana’s bassist, reciting the lyrics to the old hippie classic “Get Together” – this is followed by a slamming verse-chorus-verse progression. Starts off weird, ends up being a real headbanger.
  8. Drain You – Of all the songs on “Nevermind” this one is the closet to a pop song as you’re going to find. It’s catchy, upbeat, but riddled with strange lyrics. It seems like Cobain was flipping through a medical journal and just writing nonsense. But, it works and it’s a great song.
  9. Lounge Act – Here we come to what many consider to be the first “throwaway” track on the album. It’s a catchy tune, and not a bad one, but it’s not as memorable as nearly anything else on the record. That being said, this is not a bad song at all. So, it’s really a testament to just how good this record is.
  10. Stay Away – Again we have another not-so-memorable tune. But still, it’s headbanging, rocking toe-tapper. If the “filler tracks” on the record are this good, that’s how to you know you have a real winner.
  11. On a Plain – As the album starts to wind to a close, we get one last catchy power-chord jam. This is an often overlooked gem on the record, at least in my opinion.
  12. Something In The Way – This is the albums’s final official track.  It brings the record to a mellow, slow-paced close. We’re once again treated to that flat, detuned acoustic guitar. This time, accompanied by a string section of all things. It’s a melodic, groovy song. A truly fantastic way to end what is a spectacular album.
  13. Endless, Nameless (Hidden Track) – Ahhh. It just wouldn’t the 90s without a hidden track would it?  This song is not included on all copies of the album, but the majority of them will have it. This song is usually tacked on to the end of track 12 after several minutes of silence.  “Endless, Nameless” is the official title of the song, and it’s a complete chaotic noise fest. Roaring guitars, screaming, wailing, sheer anarchy. I used to be absolutely enthralled by this tune. It was like… “Here’s this great record. I hope you enjoyed it. So, we’re going to end it by just screaming in your face and breaking things.”  Wow.

It’s likely that most readers to this site are probably familiar with Nirvana in some capacity. But if you’ve never really sat down and gave them a listen, Nevermind is a great starting point. 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, but in the case of Nevermind, the original CD is what you want.

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.

I hope you enjoyed my take on this album. It’s one that has meant a lot to me over the years. Maybe it carries, or can carry some special meaning for you as well.

Welcome to the Record Shop!

The above image is something that many young people today are unfamiliar with. The joy of stepping into a well stocked record store, filled with both new and rare tapes, CDs and albums is one of the fondest experiences of my youth. Sure, there are still great record shops to be found. But these days, most teens and even adults like myself tend to consume music digitally. I recently made a post on this site indicating that I plan to start sharing my love for music. In true RetroSensei style, I’m going to be going back and talking about music that meant a lot to me personally over the years. It’s my hope that I might help spark an interest in an artist or even an album to those of you reading, and thus, help you discover a new world of music.

This is going to be a project of sorts. One that will continue for the foreseeable future. A few times a month, I’ll be discussing a particular album – how I encountered it, what I think of it, and what it meant to me. If you’d like to participate, I’d recommend that you subscribe to one of the many music streaming services out there. Most of the records I’ll be discussing should be available to listen on nearly any of these services. However, there may be a few “deep cuts” that I discuss from time to time that might not be so easy to come across online. I’m posting links at the bottom of this post to some of the more popular music services out there.

The first real post will be coming within a week. However, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss a little bit about my musical upbringing.  I’ve been a music lover for as long as I can remember. When I just little child, one of the first gifts I remember receiving was an old Fisher Price record player. My mother would let me listen to her old 45s. I remember listening to singles by Neil Diamond, Elton John, The Doors, etc.  Years later, I discovered my father’s LP collection which included gems such as Grease and Saturday Night Fever. He had a massive collection of Beach Boys, Olivia Newton John, and Righteous Brothers.  The first record I remember wanting for myself was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. I wore that record out.  Oddly enough, the second album that actually remember personally owning was Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry”.  (I really liked “We’re Not Gonna Take It)

For most of my early grade school years, if I wasn’t listening to my parent’s old record collection, I turned to the radio. The 80’s was great time for pop music. I can recall vividly hearing hits like “Caribbean Queen”, “Rhythm of the Night”, and “I Just Died in Your Arms” on the radio.  The 80’s were also the age of Mtv. Videos were everywhere; Van Halen, Madonna, – all of it. It was a good time to be alive.

As I got a bit older (I’d say around the ages of 11-14), pop music and early hip-hop held my interest. I didn’t really care for a lot of the hair metal that was big at the time, but stuff like Madonna, MC Hammer, and Paula Abdul could always been found in my CD Player. In those days, I was living overseas on an Air Force base in Japan. When I returned home to the US, I found that the music scene had changed drastically. I came back to an era where rap music had started to become “gangsta”. Naughty By Nature and 2 Live Crew were dominating the space where C+C Music Factory and Vanilla Ice used to be.  Then, one day I turned on Mtv and heard a song that changed my life forever: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana.  For the first time in long time, a rock song had captured my attention.  I recall tuning in to the local rock station in hopes of hearing it. This resulted in me being exposed to other great music; Pearl Jam, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Stone Temple Pilots.

The alternative rock/grunge scene of the early 90’s pulled me in, and in many ways – never let go.

I hope you guys will enjoy my retro record reviews. If you want to listen along with with me as I post, any of the fine music streaming services below should be a good place to start.

             

 

Spring Cleaning 2017

So, I feel it’s time for a little update.

My game playthroughs are still on track. I actually plan to have the N64/PS1 era finished with the end of this year. Next up in my queue are Planescape Torment for the PC,  Resident Evil 3 and Final Fantasy Tactics for PS1, and Majora’s Mask for N64.  These are my current “Must Plays”. Once these are out of the way, I’ll be taking a look over my library to see if there are any other iconic games from the era before moving on.  Next up will be a handful of portable games (ie: The Zelda Oracle titles, 2nd Generation Pokemon, etc). When this blog first went live, I talked about the history of video games as experienced through my eyes. I discussed coin-op games like Centipede and Asteroids. This carried over to the Atari 2600, then the NES. I’ve covered a lot of ground in the years that I’ve been writing here. At this point, we’ve reached the half-way mark to catching up to the present day of gaming. Once this occurs, I’ll be playing and reviewing games as they are released, with the occasional retro-review thrown in.

Since the inception of this blog, I’ve slowly expanded the content from being just about video games to other forms of Nerdery.  Sometimes I write about comic books, Dungeons and Dragons, and of course Star Wars. Last year saw the introduction of my “Nerd Fuel” coffee reviews. During my New Year’s update, I also teased that I’d be expanding the subject matter even further. RetroSensei has always been a site about things that interest me. Nerd Culture, Video Games, etc. So, in keeping with that tradition, this year will see the introduction of a few other of my passions: Film and Music.

Film has always been a centerpiece of nerd culture. From B-Movies to blockbuster Super Hero flicks, nerds have taken over the world. In the coming weeks, I’m going to start discussing and reviewing some of my favorite nerd-friendly films. Sci Fi, Fantasy, Horror, etc. If you’re reading this site, you likely share my interests in a number of these subjects. So perhaps you’ll enjoy seeing my perspective, or better yet, maybe you’ll be introduced to a movie or show that you never knew about.

The same applies to my love for music. I don’t write about this often, but during my teenage and early adult years, I played in a punk rock band. My love for music knows no bounds. I enjoy everything from jazz to folk, r&b to metal. You name it. – But, rock music in particular is a passion of mine. It’s a passion that many nerds over the years have shared. If you conjure a mental image in your mind of nerdy grognards from the 80’s huddled over a table, rolling dice in a D&D game – what are they wearing? Most people will answer “rock t-shirts”. Grateful Dead, Metallica, Jimi Hendrix, the list goes on and on.  Starting soon, I’m going to begin sharing my passion for rock music. I’m going to be diving into my archive and discussing albums that have inspired and touched me over the years. Again, I hope some of you enjoy revisiting these with me, or better yet, if you’re a young reader – perhaps I can introduce you to a new world that you’ll love as much as I do.

So, there’s a lot of good stuff coming soon. I also have a few other plans for the site that I’m not ready to reveal yet. So stay tuned.

Nerd Fuel: The Original Donut Shop – Vanilla Cream Puff

My last Nerd Fuel post saw the unseating of a champion. My long favorite coffee, “Donut Shop” was tossed from it’s top spot and replaced by Community Coffee’s Cafe’ Special.  Despite no longer being my personal favorite, Donut Shop is still an outstanding coffee. To date, I’ve discussed both the Original Flavor as well as their “Dark” variety. But there’s more Donut Shop out there to enjoy, so for this week’s purchase, I decided to go with one of their flavored offerings: Vanilla Cream Puff. Because, who doesn’t like vanilla?

To start, let me say that this coffee smelled absolutely delightful as it was brewing. It filled the kitchen with a delicious, creamy aroma. This carries over very well to the mug. But, as I feared, the flavor is very artificial. It can be improved with a little rich creamer,  but like many flavored coffees – it tastes fake and overdone. That being said, of all the “fake tasting” coffees out there, this is one of the more drinkable that I’ve come across. It’s not unpleasant, and in some ways it is actually enjoyable. But, the biggest gripe here is that the natural flavor of the coffee is drowned out by the over-sweet manufactured flavoring.

This is a good example of a coffee that works better over ice than in a mug. To me, most flavored coffees actually fall into this category, but there have been a few notable exceptions.  In a nutshell, this does not make a good everyday cup of joe. But, it’s not bad as a dessert coffee or if you’re making a shake/iced coffee. This is one for the kids.

Score: 2 out of 4

Would Purchase again?: Unlikely. While it’s not the worst flavored coffee I’ve come across, there are other options out there that do it much better.

Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End

February 2017 saw the release of the final novel in the Star Wars Aftermath trilogy; Empire’s End. This is the series that bridges the gap (somewhat) between Episode VI and Episode VII. Over course of the these three books, we’ve been introduced to new characters as well as been able to peek in on a few of our favorite personas from original trilogy.

In retrospect, I was a bit cold on the original Aftermath. I didn’t care much for many of the new characters introduced, and I didn’t like the way the story seemed to jump all over the place. With the release of “Life Debt”, I began to feel a little more at home in Wendig’s post-ROTJ era, but still had my reservations. Now, I’m happy to say that I’ve actually come to enjoy several of the new characters he’s introduced. To me, Empire’s End is easily the best of the three novels in the series.

Those curious about the secret identity of Supreme Leader Snoke in Episode VII, will still be disappointed. Despite what many readers suspected to be a major tease regarding that character’s origins – nothing about the character is actually revealed. What we DO get in this story is a lot of background info on the planet of Jakku, as well as the Emperor’s plans post-mortum. It seems like Lucasfilm will be unlikely to give us any major revelations outside of the actual films,  but we’re certainly getting plenty of hints and breadcrumbs.  But YES – in this novel, you will finally see the fall of the Imperial Remnant and the reigns of power being handed to the New Republic. This alone, makes this novel worthy of your attention.

I’ve been an open critic of Chuck Wendig’s writing style in the past, and I’m happy to say that he seems to have really toned it down in this novel. This books reads much more like a started fantasy novel in terms of verbiage and standardized punctuation. To me, this one actually feels like it was written by a professional author and not some amateur who’s looking to make his name by being different and daring.

If you’re a serious fan of Star Wars and you love to consume every morsel of new information out there. This book is a need-to-have.

Story: The bulk of this book follows the characters that we’ve come to know from the other Aftermath novels, as well as longtime fan favorites. This story, when combined with the other three books, puts a nice end-cap on the events that occurred in Return of the Jedi, and helps set the stage for what we eventually see in The Force Awakens. However, even thoug ha lot of answers can be found here, fans are still left asking plenty of questions.

Recommended:  FOR HARDCORE FANS.