Review: Justice Monsters Five

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The countdown to the Final Fantasy XV release moves forward. We are now just under two weeks away from the release of this much awaited title. In the meantime, we’re going to celebrate by reviewing another tie-in to this much anticipated game; Justice Monsters Five.

So what is Justice Monsters Five exactly? Well, the answer is simple. “Justice Monsters Five” is a pinball game that exists within the universe of Final Fantasy XV. It is hinted in the promotional materials for XV, that it is played by some of the heroes in that game. So, expanding on the hype that is Final Fantasy XV, Square Enix decided to release a playable version of the pinball game to the public.

The premise behind Justice Monsters Five is simple, essentially, you are presented with a number of pinball-like challenges. Inside the table exist bumpers, obstuctions and… monsters! To complete the table, you launch balls (represented by various collectible GOOD monsters) at the BAD monsters on the table. Striking a bad monster with a good monster-ball will result in damage. Once all of the bad monsters on the table are defeated, you proceed to the next stage. Eventually, each level will end with a final “boss table”. Upon defeating the boss, you have cleared the course. At the end of each course, your performance is tallied. Depending on your final score, you may earn various rewards. This includes gold, materials for enhancing your monsters, and Gold Eggs.

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Gold Eggs are redeemed for “Monster Spins”. Spins are how you obtain new monsters for your ranks. Each spins will net you a new monster ranging from common to super-rare. As mentioned earlier, Gold Eggs can be won in-game, but they can also be purchased for real money.

Once you have a full roster of monsters, you can continue to train and improve them, making them stronger. Learning how to enchance your monsters is the key to the game. As you progress through the game, either by doing the “Quest” tables or even the limited “Event” tables, you’ll be able to choose a difficulty level. Some of these harder levels are really only possible with a strong, enhanced monster.

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Justice Monsters Five is a quirky little game. It’s very different from many others, but also shows signs typical of other mobile titles. After playing for a while, you’ll find yourself stuck behind time walls and nudged to spend real money in order to progress faster. There are daily login rewards, and all the typical schemes one finds in this type of eco-system. But also, Justice Monsters Five seems to have a way of feeling quite casual when compared to other mobile games. Personally, I find it a great way to kill 10-15 minutes on any given day. Plus, it’s refreshing to see a title that doesn’t take itself very seriously.  I’m curious to see just how much of this game we actually will get to see within Final Fantasy XV itself. Time will well.

It’s important to point out, this game feels largely unoptimized. The game seems to hang and lag for no reason at all, even on top-of-the-line flagship phones. Despite being fun, Justice Monsters seems to be quite unpolished at times.

Worthy of note: even though this game has been out for a month of so now, players starting out are still subject to a special “pre-registration bonus”. This includes a number of free Golden Eggs. So, if you’re procrastinating, you’d better hurry. It’s unclear how long this will last.

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Difficulty: Medium –  Overall, many of the standard quest levels in the game are quite easy. One of the hardest parts about the title is learning exactly how to control the ball. At first, I found myself overthinking things. I was trying to flick the ball or point it in a certain direction. None of that is neccesary. Once you get a feel from how to control the ball, many of the basic challange require little effort. However, as you progress, some of the Very Hard and “Wizard” tables can be pretty brutal. But generally speaking, it’s a fairly middle of the road game in terms of challenge.

Story: Despite being a “game-within-a-game”, Justice Monsters Five actually has a very basic storyline. It’s presented to you during the tutorial and serves as a very basic backdrop. But to be fair, this is not a very story driven game.

Originality: When this game was announced, I was honestly expecting a traditional “ball and flipper” type of pinball experience. But instead, SE has done a really nice job of presenting us with a a very original, pinball-like experience. The game was not what I was expecting at all, and I was pleasently surprised.

Soundtrack: The music in this game is loud, heroic, and fast-paced. At times it come off as a little busy and hyper-sounding. But it works well. It’s best described as a mix between techno, metal and chaos.

Fun: I personally enjoy this game a lot more than I probably should. I don’t play it every day, but when I’m bored or looking to kill some time, it seems to be a pretty good way to unwind.

Graphics: The tables and background graphics are very well done. The monsters have a silly cartoonish vibe to them. But all in all, this is a beautifully rendered mobile game.

Playcontrol: The controls for the game take a little getting used to. Be sure to reach the instructions and play the tutorial. Once you have a grasp on how the controls actually work, there’s no real issues here.

Downloadable Content: YES– In-game currency can be purchased with real money. The game receives regular free updates and features special limited time events. – Buyer beware! In the few short months since SE introduced this title they’ve switched backup routines for the game data three times. Players who were not diligent in renewing their data backups can easily find all their progress and real money purchases lost when restoring their device or changing phones.

Mature Content: None

Value:  The game itself is available for free. Optional purchases can vary in price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – A silly, fast-paced, pinball game with a Final Fantasy theme. Not to mention one that integrates into a larger universe. Its like a mini-game for your phone. I enjoy it way more than I probably should. – However, performance and flaky account issues can make this hard to recommend.

Available on: Apple App Store and Google Play

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s TaleXV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

Remembering: Star Wars Uprising

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I meant to get around to reviewing this game sooner, but it’s just one of those things that slipped through the cracks. Now it doesn’t even matter. In two days from date I’m writing this, Star Wars Uprising is being shut down and will no longer be available to play. So, with that in mind, I won’t be doing a standard review. Instead, I’m going to discuss a little bit about this game and why it was important.

Star Wars Uprising was a mobile phone game. It is significant because it is the first Star Wars game that is officially part of the new canon. Star Wars Uprising took place immediately after the events of Return of the Jedi. It focuses on a small sector of space that is still under Imperial control.  Rather than admit defeat, the Imperial Governor there tries to hide the fact that The Empire has fallen by cutting off his system from all outside communication.

In this game, you created a character with the goal to climbing your way up the ranks of the criminal underworld and eventually learning the truth behind the state of the galaxy. From there, you can choose your path and experience untold adventure.

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When this game was announced last fall, I had high hopes.  The promotional materials for the game really made it shine. But, once I got my hands on it, it didn’t take long to see that the title was suffering from some serious issues. Namely… it was boring as hell. On top of that, it suffered from a bad case of ‘pay to win’.

At first, all seems well. You create a character, watch a few really cool cinematics, then hit the tutorial. So far so good. Once the tutorial is over, you find yourself in a seedy cantina going to work for a petty crook by the name of “Happy” Dapp. The point of the game is work missions, earns credits, improve your character and advance the storyline.  Sadly, none of this is very fun at all. I can’t put my finger on it exactly… but unlike many mobile games, I just did not feel compelled to log in an play.

Uprising followed a familiar mobile game model. There are daily login bonuses, special events, and event a surprising strong social aspect to the game. But, it just didn’t have the magic to keep me interested. Apparently, I was not the only one who felt this way – as the official reasons for shuttering the game was “lack of interest”. One big problem I encountered was that after the first handful of missions, the difficulty curve really spiked with little rhyme or reason. This instantly provides the temptation to spend real dollars on in-game credits/items. Many mobile games are guilty of this type of thing. But most do a fairly decent job to smoothing out the difficulty and putting players behind a slightly inconvenient time wall. But this title, despite it’s claims to the contrary really slapped you hard in the face.

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It’s sad too. Because for everything that this game got wrong, there was so much that it got right. Visually, the game was beautiful. The story line had some seriously great potential. In fact, I’m pretty bummed that the setting behind the game may end up being lost to antiquity. I can only hope that perhaps Marvel or LucasBooks will decide to salvage what they can from this game and bundle it all up into a novel or comic one day. It would be a shame to have the plot line behind the first new canonical game flushed down the toilet due to mismanagement from a third-party game developer.

All in all, I’m sure there were some people who really enjoyed this game. The framework was certainly there, but the contents were shallow and largely uninteresting to even the most rabid Star Wars fans. Let’s hope this is not a sign of things to come.

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Tech: My Tech Picks (Late 2016)

It’s been close to a year since my  original “Tech Picks” post in January. And a lot has changed for me when it comes to technology use. So, if you’re curious to see where I stand now on various ecosystems and my personal preferences on technology, this might interest you.

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – As expected from a PC gamer, I’m still using Windows as my platform of choice. Although, I have to express my frustration with Microsoft. Windows is a solid and stable option, but they’ve really made some bone-headed moves over the last year that leaves me questioning the road ahead. I’ve been both a PC and a Mac owner, and I can tell you without hesitation, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform is upgrade-ability and the level of customization that a PC provides.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1607) – Since my last Tech Picks post, Windows 10 has received a refresh. The most current version is now “Windows 10 Anniversary edition”. Overall, this update is pretty solid. But it is not without it’s faults. While I have not been directly affected, this update broke a large number of USB devices for many users. Most notably web cams, Kindle, and other multimedia hardware. At the time of this writing, this issue has been not been resolved. Also a number of cumulative updates have caused havoc for many users. It seems like MS’s quality control has left a lot to be desired.

Hardware: Since my last post I’ve left most everything the same with the exception of a hard drive upgrade. In attempt to resolve some bottleneck issues, I updated my main drive to a hybrid SSD/Mechanical hard disk. I have been very impressed with the results. Everything else has stayed the same.

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Seagate 2TB Hybrid SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 1Tb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Mobile: Android  – Motorola NEXUS 6 (Android Nougat 7.0) – Yes. I finally jumped ship on the Windows Mobile platform. The writing had been on the wall for some time and I rode it out for as long as I could. But once I saw developers actually leaving, not just “not developing”, I knew the end was near. It seems I was right, as now even Microsoft has all but abandoned their mobile platform. So, I was forced with making a decision between Apple and Google. Now, I’ve owned iPhones before and I think they are great. I have no problems whatsoever with the iOS platform. But, As I’ve mentioned on this site before, I’m very much an “ecosystem” type of guy. I prefer to use like-services. And, being a former Microsoft/Windows user, I decided it would be best to go Android. More specifically, a NEXUS device. NEXUS phones are basic stock-Android devices. They feature the Android OS in it’s purest form, plus, they are very easy to unlock and modify. Originally, my plan was to wipe the factory OS and install CyanogenMOD (a custom ROM). This would allow me to have all the benefits of an Android phone, but I could center it around Cortana and the other Microsoft apps that I enjoy. However, I found myself surprisingly impressed with the stock Android experience. Google’s services really shocked me with how well they all work together when centered on a single device. I will elaborate more on this in other areas of this post, but the way things are going now, I’ve very much become a Google convert. In fact, I’m looking forward to the new Pixel phones that were recently announced.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface No change here. My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Despite now using an Android phone, I see no offerings in the tablet area that tempt me to make a switch to Android. For my purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – No change here.  The Kindle Paperwhite is an elegant and universal option that serves my needs perfectly. Yes, there are newer Kindle options available. But the Paperwhite remains my go to device.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Google – My switch to Android complicated this a bit. Previously, I was using Cortana exclusively on both my PC and my Phone. The service synced flawlessly and I actually found using a virtual assistant useful. Today, I am using “Ok Google” on my phone when I feel the need to dictate things by voice. But since there’s no Google Assistant on PC, that’s as far as it goes. Yes, I can install Cortana on my Android, but the experience is not nearly as seamless as it was on a Windows Phone device. Cortana is still active on my PC, but with all honesty – she’s not doing much.

Web Browser: Chrome– Despite a slew of improvements made to Edge in the Win 10 Anniversary Update, the browser still pales in comparison to nearly any other. I have set aside Firefox for Chrome, as I’m using Chrome on my phone, As a result, things like bookmarks and prior search results all integrate between my devices. I find this extremely convenient. Plus, Chrome is very well supported and polished.

Search: Google – More Google migration here. As a result of my Android defection, I also find myself using Google again for searches instead of Bing. I still feel like Bing is fine engine and in some ways, superior to Google in terms of design and aesthetics. But when it comes to raw functionality, both search engines seem to be on par with each other. Having Google search integrated so tightly with my phone certainly influenced my switch.

Email and Calendar: Google/Gmail – Another victim resulting from migrating away from Windows Phone. Gmail and Google Calendar integrate so wonderfully with the Google Now launcher that comes with the NEXUS, that they have managed to sway me away from Outlook. For the record, I still hail Microsoft’s spam controls over Google’s overall, but I keep a tight lid on my email address and as a result, do not general have a spam problem.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Nothing beats it. As far a desktop application suite, Microsoft office is the best.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive and Google Drive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. OneDrive works great with Android and other platforms as well. These days, I use OneDrive mainly for PC Back ups, and I use Google Drive for photos and general storage. But, both are within arm’s reach at any time.

PC Gaming Services: Steam No change. For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam.

Music Management:  MusicBee – No change here either. I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. MusicBee is my music manager for the desktop. It integrates with my phone and makes it easy to transfer files to Google Play Music on my device.  Side note: I have recently found myself subscribing to Google Play Music as well. At $10 a month, with the perk of YouTube Red (ad free YouTube), it’s been quite an enjoyable experience. I still keep and maintain a local MP3 collection, but I enjoy the vast stream-able library that Google Play Music offers.

Wearables: Fitbit Charge HR–  I have moved away from the Microsoft Band and joined my wife as a Fitbit user. I was excited with the look and concept that the band promised, but over time I found it to be lackluster and not very practical. The Band itself was large and bulky and seemed more trouble that it was worth. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. Just last week Microsoft announced they were killing off the device.  My job offers an annual discount for Fitbit purchases, so I sold my Band 2 and took advantage. I’m still not a very heavy user of wearable tech, but aside from losing a few nifty features such as text reply and application support, the Fitbit is serving me well for the time being. I do expect in the future to explore some other wearable options, but for now, I’m content.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.

Review: Final Fantasy Brave Exvius

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Stepping away from my regular reviews for a moment, I want to share my thoughts on Square Enix’s latest Mobile title: Final Fantasy Brave Exvius.

I typically don’t pay much attention to mobile games. Based on my experience, mobile titles usually end up being one of two things; poorly designed, pointless wastes of time or flashy, but disappointing cash hogs.  I have not yet reviewed, but did spend a great deal of time with SE’s previous mobile FF outing: Final Fantasy Record Keeper and found it to be a bit of both. So, I didn’t exactly have high hopes with Brave Exvius when it was announced. But, after spending nearly a month with this title, I’m happy to admit that my expectations were wrong.

Final Fantasy Brave Exvius is like no other Mobile game I have ever played. The level of immersion and attention to detail both shocked me and renewed my hope for the platform. Now, I’m not slamming smart-phone gaming. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a number of mobile games over the years. Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds are great at what they do. They are the perfect match for a casual touch-screen experience. The problem usually comes when a developer tries to introduce a time-honored classic IP into the mobile environment. For example, Castlevania Puzzle is a prime example of a mobile shoehorn. So what makes Brave Exvius different? Well, a number of things.

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First, this game has a storyline that would make any Final Fantasy title proud. The story revolves around Rain, the young prince of Grandshelt Kingdom and his companion and knight, Lasswell. The two of them are traveling by airship on the way home when they encounter a strange woman trapped inside of a crystal. She communicates with Rain telepathically and they follow her instructions until they come upon the Earth Shrine; a location that is currently under attack by the forces of the mysterious Veritas. Despite their best efforts, the shrine is destroyed, but our heroes are undeterred. Rain decides to make a name for himself by tracking down this mysterious attacker and putting an end to his nefarious schemes.

So already, based on the above, we have a storyline that sounds like a real game, and not a simple little mobile title. But there’s even more. The game itself features quests, items, and character advancement just like a standard RPG. So does that mean the game isn’t filled with micro-transactions that nickle and dime the player to death? Well, not exactly. There are certainly micro-transactions, but for the first time in quite a while I didn’t feel like I had to spend money to get the most out of the game.

You see, Brave Exvius works like this, you have your two main characters, but you can recruit “visions” to fill the three remaining party slots (This name is explained in the storyline of the game). Visions are essentially additional characters. A large number of these are familiar faces from other Final Fantasy games.  Some Visions are better than others. When it comes to obtaining new Visions, you spend in-game currency on a draw. You never know what the results of your draw will be. It might be a common Vision that you have already received multiple times prior, or it might be an extremely rare character that’s only available for a limited time. Regardless, you can sell or use your duplicates to enhance existing characters already in your roster. So there’s your typical mobile “grab-bag” catch. And yes. in game currency can be purchased for real money. As can items that enhance your characters. So, admittedly, it is entirely possible to spend a load of real money to boost your characters, but so far doing so has no competitive advantage against other players. That being said, I’ve not spent a dime on this title and I’ve still enjoyed it immensely. (Although, I admit that I did receive a number of bonus items and currency from being an early adopter of the game).

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So, as I mentioned above, characters can be enhanced using special items. Once a character has reached maximum level (either through standard gameplay experience or by artificial enhancement), you can then use special materials to “Awaken” that character. This resets their level back to 1, but they retain their skills and become even stronger in the long run.  The items needed are obtainable through normal gameplay as you progress through the story, but to be honest some of them are pretty uncommon. So what is the best way to obtain them? By participating in something call “The Vortex”. The Vortex is essentially a portal to special event-levels, some of which are only available for a limited time. Each of these levels have a special theme. For example, the Cactuar Dunes features Visions that are ideal not for using in your party, but instead to be consumed as enhancements for other characters. Likewise, the Gil Snapper’s Cave features Visions that are best sold for in-game currency. These areas are typically available during the weekend or special events. Like many mobile titles, access to these levels are often locked out at first. Unsealing them costs in-game currency.

So as you can see, the temptation to spend real money is always there at every turn. But again, it’s not a necessity to fully enjoy the game.

In the month that this game has been out, there’s already been one content update that expands the game story past it’s initial launch. I look forward to seeing more of these in the future.

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Difficulty: Variable –  Players who are interested in experiencing the storyline content of the game will have no real issue at first, but later battles in the game story do tend to be tough from time to time. Taking the time to actually learn and understand the game’s mechanics go a long way when it comes to success. Most of the really tough content comes in the form of Vortex Levels (I’m thinking about the Demons Unleashed level specifically).

Story: As noted above, the storyline for this game is very solid and much more than I expected from a mobile title. Excellent stuff here. I can’t stress this enough.

Originality: I guess it does need to be mentioned that this game is actually somewhat of a Final Fantasy skin over an existing mobile game called Brave Frontier. So, storyline and other FF specific things aside, if you like this game and the core concept behind it, you really owe your thanks to Brave Frontier. That is the game is really broke ground with the original concept.

Soundtrack: In a word: Amazing. The score to this game is breathtaking. It’s the first soundtrack to a mobile title that I’ve ever considered purchasing. It’s simply too good to explain. You’ll notice this right away when starting the game. SE spared no expense here, it’s just as good if not better than some of the more recent games in the proper Final Fantasy series.

Fun: I have been enjoying this game daily since I added it to my mobile device. I don’t sit for hours and grind away at it, though. I imagine if you took that approach it might get old pretty quick. I’m pretty casual with mobile games anyways. For this title, I usually put it on in the morning, collect my daily rewards, run a couple of easy daily quests, vortex dungeons, etc. Then, I come back later in the day and play through some of the storyline levels. By following this formula, I have something new to look forward to nearly every day with this title and the game stays fresh and entertaining.

Graphics: Very well done. The artwork in the game is reminiscent of 16-bit era FF games. I find this appropriate for a mobile platform. From time to time, SE throws in a jaw dropping cutscene as well that’s beautifully rendered. All of this makes Brave Exvius is a gorgeous game.

Playcontrol: Touchscreen based controls that are overall accurate. But combat occasionally requires you to flick at menus in certain direction, my flicks are sometimes misread, resulting in unintended actions. But other than that, no real issues.

Downloadable Content: YES– In-game currency can be purchased with real money, as can materials and other items that can be found in game.

Mature Content: Fantasy Violence

Value:  The game itself is available for free. Optional purchases can range from as little as $.99 to nearly $100 USD.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – For a free game it doesn’t get any better than this, assuming you like RPGs. The game features quality music and storyline in a typical Final Fantasy setting. There’s no third-party advertising in the game.  And as I mentioned, I don’t feel like this is a Pay to Win type game. Overall, the game is fun, but not without it’s flaws. Micro-transactions are always a drag, even when you know that the game’s revenue source is structured around it. It’s not perfect, but regardless, Brave Exvius gets high marks from me.

Available on: Apple App Store and Google Play

Other Reviews In This Series:

IIIIIIIVVVI VIIVIIIIXXX2XIXII XIIIXIII 2XIII Lightning Returns XIV – XV 

IV: After YearsVII: Dirge of CerberusVII: Crisis CoreVII: Advent Children (Movie)XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s Tale – XV: Brotherhood (Anime)XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia – Dissidia 012

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Dimensions – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight 

 

Tech: My Tech Picks (Early 2016)

Since my recent posts about tech and operating systems, I thought it might be fun to elaborate on my personal tech choices. So, for those who might be curious, as of January 2016, this is what I use:

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – Even though I have nothing but great things to say about Apple hardware. I find their prices to be a bit hard to swallow. Yes, I’ve purchased and owned Apple hardware. But considering the cash you have to shell out vs the limit upgradability, I’ve decided to stick with custom built PCs for the foreseeable future.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1511) – At the time of this writing, Windows 10 is the latest offering from Microsoft. Despite what you may read in certain online media, Windows 10 is not filled with NSA/Microsoft spyware. The OS does not record your actions or phone home to some secret location far in the mountains of Washington state. Yes, there is telemetry and data dumps for crash reports, but all of these things can be easily disabled during and after installation. Other settings such as predicative text and search archival are also optionally enabled for use with the Cortana virtual assistant. Don’t like it, turn it off. — As far as stability and modern options, this is the version of Windows to use.

Hardware: My PC is a custom built Frankenstein of both cutting edge and legacy tech. I prefer and use Intel processors, with Nvidia graphics cards. The biggest thing holding me back are my old school mechanical hard disks. I am hoping to upgrade to a solid state or hybrid drive in the near future. My current rig is as follows:

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Hitachi 1TB  SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 500gb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Mobile: Windows Phone – Nokia Lumia Icon (929) with Windows 10 (1511) – This has been my phone for quite a while. In my opinion, despite being an older phone, it features some of the best hardware available today. This phone boasts a 2.2 GHZ quad-core CPU with a 20 megapixel back camera, and a 1.2 front camera. It features 32gbs of storage and wireless charging. It’s not a “phablet” (which I like) it’s display is 5″. Being a Verizon device, this runs on 4g LTE.  – As I said, the hardware is great but the phone suffers from the poor software support that Windows Mobile devices receive. The OS runs well, but at this time Windows 10 is still buggy on this device. (The Factory image for the Lumia Icon is still Windows 8.1 – which runs flawlessly), but regardless which OS you use, the app gap is real.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Maybe occasionally a little bit of Netflix. For these purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect. The dimensions of this tablet vs a standard iPad are better suited for comic reading. Plus the old Surface is much cheaper.  Would I like a Surface Pro 3? Sure… but for now, this suits my needs fine.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – I like to read. I always have. I love the touch and even the smell of books. So for a long time I resisted the “eBook revolution”. I knew I didn’t want to read a novel on a glaring white LCD. So once I decided to take the plunge into eBooks, I knew that the eInk Kindles would be the best option for me. Amazon features the biggest digital library out there. Nook and other competitors can’t compete. This Christmas, my wife got me a new backlit Paperwhite to replace my old 4th gen Kindle. I bought a nice leather case for it. Now it even feels like a book in my hand. I love my Paperwhite. I can read in the dark without having to stare at an eyeburning screen. The soft light of the Paperwhite is perfect for me.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Cortana – I never thought I’d find myself actually using this type of technology. But once I got the hang of it, it really simplified things for me. I’ve tried and used all three of the big options, Siri, Ok Google, and Cortana and for me, Cortana is the winner with Siri at a close second. Of course, these technologies are all software driven so that could change at any time. But to date, I’ve found Cortana to be the easiest to use and “she” provides me with the most relevant search results. Be it web search or local directions, 9 out of 10 times, she delivers right what I’m looking for.

Web Browser: Firefox – Ever since the release of Internet Explorer 4, I’ve been a fan of Microsoft browsers (until recent years). In fact, if there was an Internet Explorer 12, I’d probably be using it now. But sadly, Microsoft has left IE out to die while they developed their new Edge browser. The only problem is… Edge sucks. At least right now it does. Sure it is fast and renders pages beautifully, but it’s not-feature complete. I can’t tweak it the way I want to. I can’t block ads without editing the hosts file on my PC. And with IE unable to keep up with modern web standards I find myself using Firefox. Firefox offers me everything I need to tweak and customize my web experience the way I like it. The only problem is over the years, Firefox has become somewhat sluggish and bloated. It’s not near as snappy as it used to be. Hopefully, Edge will receive the love and attention it deserves in the future and I can make a switch. I really like the Cortana integration in Edge, but it’s simply not usable for me currently.

Search: Bing – Yes, I’m one of the weirdos who actually uses Bing. Initially, I only used it for images searches. I found a while back that for whatever reason, Bing image search tended to bring me more relevant results than Google. Then when MS rolled out their Bing Rewards to try to snag more users, I entertained the idea for a few weeks and used it while racking up reward points. By time it was over, I was surprised to find it to be just a good as Google. Plus, the layout and design on the page was much more appealing to me than Google. It just sort of ended up being my go-to search provider. Plus, every month of so I can cash in my points for a giftcard, or Xbox Live points, which is nice.

Email and Calendar: Outlook – I’ve been a Hotmail user since back when people still knew why it was called “Hotmail” (HTML — duh), back before Microsoft acquired the company. Sure, I’ve used regular POP mailboxes, and even Apple and Google’s mail products, but I’ve always come back home to Hotmail, Passport, Live, Outlook…. whatever Microsoft is calling it these days. Their spam technologies and privacy policy are some of the best in the business. Plus, it integrates wonderfully into Windows and most other platforms actually.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Sure, there’s plenty of competitors these days. iWork, Google Docs, Libra/Open Office – but none of them have the ease of use and compatibility that MS Office does. To me, it’s a must have.  – These days, the easiest way to get Office is through the Office 365 program. This is a monthly subscription service that grants personal users a license to install office on up to five computers. Always up to date, latest version.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. It works with my phone. As a result of using both Windows Phone and Office, I have a ton of free storage. But the pricing for additional storage is more than reasonable and competitive with others such as Google and iCloud.

PC Gaming Services: Steam For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam. In my opinion, Steam has won the day and they are slowly expanding their reach from the office to the living room.

Music Management:  MusicBee – I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. For years I used iTunes, but over time, I became very dissatisfied with it. As much as I’d like to use Microsoft’s new music app Groove (it integrates with my phone), it’s just too feature incomplete for me to consider at this time. Luckily, a few years ago I found a wonderful desktop app called MusicBee. I can’t recommend this software enough. It has the look and feel of iTunes, without all the bloat. Plus, it’s lightning fast! Edit your mp3 tags right from the software and search for album art from a number of sources. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Wearables: Microsoft Band 2 –  I’m not really big on wearable tech, but after seeing my wife really enjoying her Fitbit, I decided to take the plunge. After a lot of research I found that the Microsoft Band really seemed to get me the biggest bang for my buck. It features all of the fitness sensors that one might need: Heartrate monitor, pedometer, GPS, barometer, UV sensor. It’s water resistant and also works as a smart-watch. It syncs with my phone so I can read and respond to texts right from the band. I’m still new with this stuff, so I’m learning. But I may actually make a post about this device soon.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.