Video Game Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara (Arcade)

I really dug the hell out of the Dungeons & Dragons arcade game, Tower of Doom. That one felt like it was greatly inspired by the awesome Golden Axe series, except they really expanded on what those games did and created something with more diverse enemies, great looking levels and multiple paths to reach the end.

This game, Shadow Over Mystara, is a direct sequel to Tower of Doom and with that, was created in the same style on what I would assume was the same engine. It reuses elements of the previous game but also expands further, making this one hell of a fun experience to play.

Additionally, there are so many character choices you can play as in this game. Even just experimenting with them all as you progress is a lot of fun. Each character has its own set of pros and cons like a regular table top Dungeons & Dragons campaign should.

Furthermore, the game is chock full of so many baddies of various types. The boss battles are also a lot of fun and simply progressing through this game gives you a good sense of accomplishment.

This is just a really great game and while it does take a good amount of time to beat for an arcade beat’em up, the time flies by pretty swiftly.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as the Golden Axe games and Altered Beast.

Video Game Review: Golden Axe II (Sega Genesis)

As I kid, I seemed to like Golden Axe II slightly better than the Sega Genesis port of the original game. However, as an adult, I see this as just more of the same with the only difference being a few new sprites for new enemies and new levels. Other than that, the graphics and the gameplay didn’t improve and this was very obviously just made using the original games assets with some tweaks.

That doesn’t mean that this is bad or a waste of time. The original game is pretty great for what it is and this is just more of that. It’s really just an extension of that already solid game, which is probably why it sold really well and there weren’t too many complaints from players.

I thought that the game was still a lot of fun and I actually found it a bit easier than its predecessor. But then again, I’ve been blowing through all the Golden Axe games, lately, and maybe my skills are just coming back to me after all these years.

In the end, if you’re a fan of the series and specifically the original game’s Genesis version, there really isn’t a reason why you shouldn’t enjoy this one too.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Golden Axe games, as well as the Gauntlet series and other sword and sorcery video games of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.

Video Game Review: Conan: Exiles – Isle of Siptah (PlayStation 4)

Conan: Exiles – Isle of Siptah is probably the DLC that I have anticipated more than any other in the history of my gaming life.

That being said, this came with extreme disappointment as the game on PlayStation 4 appears to be broken.

Sure, the game starts and you can run around doing your thing in this neat, deadly world. However, graphics keep switching back and forth from high res to low res and then NPCs and enemies either have a delay in loading or don’t load at all.

Furthermore, the game gets really f’n choppy to the point of absolute madness.

Every time I try to conquer a dungeon, before I get to the end, enemies just stop spawning and I get stuck, unable to progress and beat the dungeon.

I attempted to fix these issues, as I thought that maybe my files were f’d up due to building so much shit in the regular game. So I deleted all of my save files and even deleted the game files and DLC files. I then redownloaded and reinstalled everything and the problems were still there.

So I stopped playing this after a few days and didn’t even start on a new fortress build because what’s the point?

If they fix these issues, I’ll gladly give this a go again and update this review.

All that being said, the new map looks amazing. I just wish I could play the damn game without massive issues.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other open world survival RPG-type games.

Book Review: ‘Bran Mak Morn: The Last King’ by Robert E. Howard

Bran Mak Morn is a Robert E. Howard character whose stories I’ve wanted to read since I first heard about him. He exists in the same universe as Conan and Kull but he’s different from the Cimmerian and Atlantean dudes that are really similar. Bran Mak Morn is actually a badass Pict that forged his own badass destiny while crushing enemies and monsters in his way.

The Picts of Robert E. Howard’s mythos aren’t the same Picts that existed on Earth in the time of our recorded history. However, Howard stories typically take place in pre-history, so you may want to connect the two.

Bran Mak Morn, like Conan and Kull, exists in a prehistoric age. His time doesn’t overlap with either of the other heroes but his people and their history are tied to both Conan and Kull.

Bran has a harder edge to him than Conan or Kull and I kind of like his temperament and personality. It’s that personality that really carries these stories.

Overall, though, I didn’t like the tales as much as the ones of Conan, Kull or Solomon Kane. However, I’ve known some of those stories for a long time and maybe nostalgia gives them a bit of an artificial boost.

I certainly don’t want to take anything away from this collection of Howard stories, as his writing is still top notch with this character and his place in the shared mythos.

If you’ve already read a lot of Howard’s other work but haven’t delved into Bran Mak Morn, this is definitely worth a look.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Video Game Review: Golden Axe (Sega Genesis)

Since I played some of the Golden Axe arcade games, I wanted to also go back and revisit the versions that were released on the Sega Genesis.

This, being the first, was a port of the original arcade game.

So it plays pretty similarly and has the same general level design. However, you can see where they had to simplify the graphics in parts, as you can’t run an arcade level game on a 16-bit home console and expect it to run as smoothly or at all.

It’s not a big issue, honestly. If I hadn’t just played the arcade version first, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

I feel like the gameplay, the mechanics, controls and smoothness were pretty consistent with the arcade version. Also, this version is longer and isn’t as quick of an experience as the arcade game, which I blew through rather quickly.

One of the reasons why this was longer and may be even superior to the slightly better looking arcade version, is that it added in a new level. There is also a fun duel mode added to the game, which basically allows you to use these characters in the same way you would in a standard fighting game.

All in all, this is probably one of the best arcade-to-console ports ever made. Its additions outweigh its losses. I only wish I could get infinite continues like I was playing the arcade version with infinite tokens.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Golden Axe games, as well as the Gauntlet series and other sword and sorcery video games of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.

Book Review: ‘The Witcher: Time of Contempt’ by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Time of Contempt is the second book in the five-part main novel series of The Witcher. It’s my fourth book, as I read the two prequel short stories first, as was recommended.

This one starts off a bit slow but even the slower parts are good, as this series does a stupendous job of character development. And with that, we see Ciri mature a little bit and also experience the threat of the Wild Hunt for the first time.

The book also reveals more about Ciri and her destiny and how everyone is tied to her.

Beyond the first act, the book shifts into overdrive. We reconnect with some familiar faces but there are plots and twists and then, major conflict and action.

The core trio gets split up in the mayhem but this sets Ciri off on the path she is destined to follow.

I honestly don’t want to spoil too much about the plot but I hope these stories are something that the Netflix show can eventually get to, as long as they do it justice. I worry that they won’t but then, I’ll always have these books, which are the superior versions of The Witcher mythos.

I dig this series a lot and honestly, I’m halfway through the eight books now and I still find them hard to put down. I feel like this is a novel series I will return to multiple times in the future, as I have with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Witcher books, comics and television shows.

Video Game Review: Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder (Arcade)

I couldn’t get my arcade version of Golden Axe II to play on my RetroPie, so I jumped to this one, which was next in the chronology of Golden Axe arcade releases. I will go back and play Golden Axe II (and III), when I finish up the arcade releases and then start working through the Sega Genesis ones.

As much as the first Golden Axe is my favorite due to nostalgia and how it effected me, as a kid, this one is a pretty cool, expanded version of what they did with the original game.

In this installment, there are more character options. I tend to just stick to the standard barbarian character but the pitchfork guy was an interesting addition, as was the centaur lady, who replaced the Valkyrie character from previous games.

Also, this game has multiple paths to the end. In this, you get to choose which roads you want to take at a few different points. There are also extra rooms to explore in some areas.

The gameplay is essentially the same. However, there are more things you can ride from creatures to powerful, mobile weapons.

This is also a longer game than the original, which I thought ended rather quickly.

Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder is probably the most refined game of the series up to its release. It also has the most options and allows you to have more choices between characters and and where to go.

All in all, this is a solid edition to the series that didn’t just give you more of the same with a few new levels and baddies.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Golden Axe games, as well as the Gauntlet series and other sword and sorcery video games of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.

Film Review: Krull (1983)

Also known as: Planet Krull, Dragons of Krull, Dungeons and Dragons, Krull: Invaders of the Black Fortress, The Dungeons of Krull (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 29th, 1983
Directed by: Peter Yates
Written by: Stanford Sherman
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Francesca Annis, Trevor Martin (voice), David Battley, Bernard Bresslaw, Alun Armstrong, Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane

Barclays Mercantile Industrial Finance, Columbia Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“We all risk our lives on this journey. My risk is no greater than yours.” – Ynyr

While I saw Krull a few times as a kid, as it was on either HBO, Showtime or Cinemax, I haven’t seen it since then and most of it was wiped from my memory, other than its visual aesthetic and the sequence with flaming horses that run at super speeds across the wilderness.

It’s a pretty cool film, though. I actually dug it quite a bit and while some special effects look pretty dated, it’s really top notch shit for the time. I was actually impressed by a lot of it and the general aesthetic and vibe of the movie was truly magical in that unique ’80s fantasy flick sort of way.

I also enjoyed the lead, Ken Marshall, quite a lot and wished he had gone on to be a bigger star than he was. He had charisma and conveyed a real sense of adventure that really should’ve seen him get more roles like this. Hell, even a sequel or two to this would’ve been cool.

The film also has several other talented actors, such as Freddie Jones. But what’s really neat is that it features two guys I wouldn’t have known when seeing this as a kid, as they were still pretty unknown and that’s Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane.

The movie also feels like a sort of hybrid between Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian, as it features science fiction elements mixed with sword and sorcery. It’s a nice mix that works well and I’ve always like movies that sort of cross genres this way.

There’s a lot of fun stuff in this from the villain, the villain’s teleporting fortress, the spider-lady, the cyclops ally and a lot of the creatures and big action sequences. There’s so much awesomeness in this movie that it’s easy to see why I loved it so much as a kid. Plus, the hero has a really f’n cool weapon.

The acting is on the level one should expect, as it’s not great but it’s good enough and the actors hammed it up in the right way while also being convincing as badasses fighting all sorts of threats in a sword and sorcery realm.

Krull is a cool picture if you’re into these sort of things. It seems to have been somewhat forgotten over the years but it is one of the better sci-fi and fantasy movies of its time.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery or fantasy adventure films of the ’80s.

Video Game Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom (Arcade)

I had no idea that there were Dungeons & Dragons arcade games until I came across them on my RetroPie. It looks like there are two that I have on there. I started with this one because it looks like it came out first.

This is probably something I missed because it came out around the time that the massive arcade near my house closed down. I also moved to a much smaller town right after that and having a vast array of arcade games at my disposal became a thing of the past.

Anyway, this reminds me a lot of the Golden Axe series of games. However, it gives you more character types to choose from and it has multiple paths you can take to reach the end of the game.

I thought that the graphics and sound were solid, as were the game’s controls and general mechanics.

Man, this was a lot of fun and it also featured a ton of neat, unique bosses that were fun to fight.

In fact, nothing in this game was really frustrating except for the length, as I felt like I was playing this for hours. There’s no way I would’ve had the money or time to beat this in the arcade, back in the day.

Overall, this was a really fun and badass gaming experience. This is certainly something I will come back to over the many years I have left on Earth.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the Golden Axe games, as well as Altered Beast.

Video Game Review: Golden Axe (Arcade)

Golden Axe and its sequels were games that just brought me to a really happy place when I was around early middle school age.

These are simple, side scrolling, beat’em games but they aren’t like the Double Dragon, Streets of Rage or Final Fight series. These are sword and sorcery! And you get to pick between a barbarian warrior, a Valkyrie or an axe-wielding dwarf.

You get to smash foes with weapons, ride on fire-breathing dragons and use awesome magic spells to crush your enemies!

Also, the graphics were stellar for their time and the music and sound effects were badass!

Playing it now, it’s still a lot of fun but it’s slower than I remembered and it’s actually pretty short, as it beat it much quicker than I thought I would. Maybe there’s a difference in the length of the game between the Sega Genesis port and the arcade version. I played the Genesis version much more, as I owned it. Maybe I’ll revisit it at a later date to compare.

Still, this was a lot of fun and it’s a game that’s held up well, even if it’s some archaic 16-bit “smash your enemies” adventure.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Golden Axe games, as well as the Gauntlet series and other sword and sorcery video games of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.