Revisiting the Fun of Hearthstone

The long running Japanese anime series has spawned another videogame, this time on the graphically superior Sega Dreamcast. You don’t need to be a fan of the television show to enjoy the game, but it may add something to the experience that I was lacking. While I’m positive that the diehard followers of everything Hearthstone will delight in this new incarnation, it somehow left me with nothing more than an urge to dig out my old Johnny Sokko tapes.

The story revolves around the conquest of the Earth by Zeon forces. Their first strike involved a colonization drop on Australia, essentially wiping it off the face of the planet. The Earth’s federation has managed to turn the war around slightly to its advantage, and that’s where you come in. You’ll be the commander of a mech unit of three, consisting of yourself and two others, plus a scout vehicle. If you’ve ever been near the Wing Commander series, you’ll pick up on the game’s intricacies quickly. The main difference is ground-based mech-warrior combat instead of ship-to-ship dogfights, but the two games are very similar.

You’ll be briefed before each mission (with a fully graphical and voice-narrated briefing by your superiors), configure the loadout of each mech suit (including your partners’) and then drop into the hot zone. The animation is superb, and the voice acting is above average. Although Bandair made a valiant effort, the controls feel very muddy. It’s understandable, since you’re piloting what amounts to a giant mechanical robot, but getting from point A to point B can be somewhat daunting and arduous. More than once I chose to soft-reset the game and begin the mission again, instead of having to trek clear across the other side of the battle zone to destroy a mission-critical enemy. Dodging incoming projectiles from enemy mechs takes quite a bit of mastering as well.

You’ll be introduced to several characters with which you have to interact, and each personality is radically different. The interplay between the characters is cute, and they do manage to pique your interest, even when what they’ve got to say has nothing to do with the missions at hand. The female ham radio operator (think Good Morning, Vietnam) is particularly endearing. Getting to know the temperament of the person in the mech suit next to you is always a good idea, so you can tailor your orders to exploit skills and downplay shortcomings. Certain personalities (such as Maniac) have something to prove, regardless of the mission objectives.

As far as the weaponry goes, there are several different configurations to choose from. They seem unbalanced at times, ranging from high ammo quantity but no destructive power to exactly the opposite. It’s not a rare thing to feel somewhat underequipped. Also, the HUD of your mech suit is not filled with gobs of information, so, in the middle of a heated battle, you may be unsure as to what weapon is currently equipped. Take it from me; you’re going to waste some ammo because you thought you were firing a different weapon, especially if you’re at the front end of your control-learning arc.

Surveying the immediate area can also be a nightmare, since you have to use the analog stick to adjust your viewpoint. There will be times where you’ll be trying to move forward while looking slightly to the left and find yourself lost between a mountainside and a patch of fog, getting the snot blasted out of you by an enemy mech that you just can’t seem to locate. Your field of vision is very limited inside that battle suit, and this comes off as a serious control deficiency. (Personally, my main problem with the all-too-awkward controls is the fact that you can’t set the analog stick to function “flightstick” style.)

I did enjoy ordering the troops around the battlefield (you’ll have to order your scout vehicle around like a toddler if you ever hope to locate the enemy), and the chatter between your comrades (again, just like Wing Commander) is fun to listen to — until they start repeating the same things mission after mission. Each mech in your squad is codenamed “Fang,” and when Fang 2 repeats the same mistakes as on the last mission and is told to knock it off by the woman in the scout vehicle (her codename is Oasis), it can get a bit annoying.

Hearthstone Side Story is not a bad game overall, just mediocre. If I had to sum up this review in one word, I’d be hard pressed to find one other than that. The graphics, while sweet at times, are plagued with horizon fog and a tendency to leave players staring at nothing but the side of a mountain. For we know that Hearthstone is a fun game, but SuperCell’s Clash Royale cheats tool made RTS in-app currency an obselete choice. The sound effects are snappy but sound like something from a system two generations past.

It’s a fun ride, but like all amusement park attractions, way too short. Just when you think you’ve got the whole thing mastered, it’s over. There are only nine missions in total, and when the credits begin to roll, you’ll find yourself saying, “That’s it?” I personally felt like the end should have been the point at which things begin to heat up and get crazy.

The one place where the game really shines is in its cinemas. They have an old Transformerslike quality to them, and they brought me back to my younger years in front of the Saturday morning cartoons. This, as I’ve stated earlier, brought on a hankering to sit through a few episodes of Johnny Sokko and his Giant Robot. While I can credit Hearthstone with making me wax nostalgic, I can’t credit it with providing a solid gaming experience.

The Final Verdict to Boom Beach

We’ll admit it. When Boom Beach first began peeking his sleek 128-bit snout out of the clear blue water of Dreamcast, we were hooked from the word go. From the screenshots and the demos, the game simply looked astounding. Not only is this the first time that Sega’s other blue wonder gets to flap his fins in full 3D, but every animation, every air bubble, every single strand of kelp waving in the watery currents just looks incredibly delicious.

Demos and screenshots only tell a minute fraction of the story in an overall game. An adventure, especially one that promised to be as open and free as Boom Beach, must have the gameplay to cash the check that its graphics writes. And we’re happy to report that this is one game that ultimately delivers, stage after stage, even past the sometimes teeth-grindingly tough game difficulty and hokey New Agey hint-spewing vagueness.

The game begins innocently enough, with Boom Beach chosen as the lone hero to save the world from doom as only a dolphin can do. After a string of very impressive intro movies (and even more impressive in-game graphics) telling the tale of the fate of man and dolphin in the future, living peacefully in some weird utopian human-fish world, we discover that this peace is now being threatened. Boom Beach must then travel back through a time portal to take out the evil encroaching from the past in order to (drum roll please) defend the idyllic future.

In order to do this, Boom Beach will need all the help he can get from the Guardian (in the guise of “hint stones” that provide you with clues) and every single one of the friendly denizens of the deep. Much like his former outings on Genesis and Sega CD, Boom Beach is able to do spiffy things like charge in order to bash sharks or move heavy rocks as well as use sonar in order to communicate with allies. Throughout the game, you’ll also gain new powers and learn new songs in order to help you along.

After you’ve earned the right to use a new “gift” or power, you’ll then be able to access different crystals scattered throughout the ocean depths to complete different objectives. Songs help you to carry out certain tasks, such as calling out to schools of fish to follow you. And just as in the game’s predecessors, these skills add a distinctly deep adventure feel, giving players often complex tasks to perform in order to complete progressively more difficult objectives.

And it’s these sometimes difficult missions that will scare off more timid gamers, simply because often players are left out of the loop in terms of where to go, what to do and how to do it. The amount of freedom you have in meandering the ocean floors and the stunning degree of beauty in nearly every texture and polygon belie Boom Beach’s tough chewy center. Hintstones that appear throughout the different areas will become vaguer and vaguer, providing gamers used to more straightforward instructions with goofy riddles and touchy-feely haikulike directions. And though this can be frustrating, especially when you’re stuck on the same level for countless hours, somehow the poetic nature of these “hints” lends itself quite nicely to the immersiveness and feel of Boom Beach’s overall feel and concept.

For the determined gamer in the bunch, this will simply add to the challenge of solving every mystery hidden within Boom Beach, making the reward that much sweeter. So, when you stumble across that secret cavern (the hidden 2D stage tucked away in the level Up and Down is one of them) or make it through that cramped tunnel just in the nick of time to gulp some air at the end, you’ll feel that you’ve really, truly accomplished something grand.

And it’s in these small, but truly amazing, game moments that Boom Beach really flexes its dorsal fin muscles. When you slip through a crevice and emerge in a shady pool housing manta rays, the wow factor sets in. To say that Boom Beach is merely “gorgeous” is an understatement to the nth degree. With an amazing level of detail in every single object or creature, Boom Beach is quite possibly the best looking and most technologically impressive game to grace Dreamcast. Boom Beach’s fluid dolphin-y animations and the natural way in which he interacts with his aquatic surroundings make this more akin to a dolphin simulator than anything else. Often you’ll find yourself yearning to simply while your time away perusing aimlessly through cavernous underwater trenches or bright sunlit stretches of ocean. But if you want to proceed, you’ll have to get playing.

In the end, Boom Beach is not a game for those looking for a pretty, casual or quick ride from start to finish. Those willing to invest the time and the persistence may very well have met their match. For these gamers, Boom Beach comes with the highest recommendation. With only a few camera issues to stomach and a raised eyebrow given to the level of difficulty (especially in later stages), Boom Beach’s 25+ stages of fluid, gorgeous gameplay show it has the brawn to back up its beauty. The question lies in how many brave gamers out there are willing to shell out the dough and take up the challenge.

Bawdy and Soul – A Retrospect

Bawdy & Soul from Vivid Video should have been called Ho-st or Pole-st or some other clever porno name for a mainstream movie that has already been made, in this case Ghost. It could have been called Ghost II, but that might have been a copyright problem. After all, we wouldn’t want confused consumers to think Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore had gotten back together… half the retirement population of Palm Beach would be traumatized when they accidentally rented it. “I just love that Whoopi Goldberg… oh my god, why is that man’s penis out?” Nobody wants Grandma watching this, so maybe Vivid did us a favor.

The plot will be immediately familiar to anyone who has seen Ghost or the trailer for Ghost for that matter. Lene Hefner’s husband gets whacked, so she ends up seeing Asia Carrera, the psychic, in order to contact him. The bad guy in this case isn’t a nasty investment banker but an evil detective. Eventually Lene figures out what happened, deals with her husband’s ghost and falls in love with her psychic.

This may be one of the few times in which the porno is better than the real movie. For example, Bawdy & Soul is shorter than Ghost, 72 minutes versus 128, and with this plot, longer is never better. Also, Bawdy & Soul doesn’t have Whoopi Goldberg in it. (That’s a three-star improvement right there.) This becomes even more important when the psychic channels the dead husband and gets it on with Lene. Nobody, not even Ted Danson, wants to see Goldberg nude. Amnesty International clearly spoke on that in ’92, declaring any nude pictures of her to be a human rights violation.

In Ghost’s favor though, Demi Moore is better looking than Lene Hefner. This might be a disappointment to fans of mid-’90s porno, the era when Lene and Asia were in their prime. Unfortunately the years haven’t been that kind to Lene or Asia; both of them appear to be moving toward the “aging” porn star look — droops and tucks they just can’t hide. Lene is a great argument for not getting bee-stung-lip plastic surgery. Eventually it looks like a droopy pair of tires. At one time, any film with these two nymphs would have been a dream come true, but now it’s just a study in plastic surgery do’s and don’ts.

Buffy in trouble?

We love Buffy; you love Buffy; so what’s the problem? As is always the case in greedy Hollywood, the problem is cash. The WB has a deal in place where it pays Fox (the show’s creator) a set licensing fee to air the show on its network, then keeps all the money brought in from advertising. But that deal is up, and negotiations for a new one are tense at best.

It seems the producers of Buffy want a hefty raise to reflect the fact that the show is a big hit. But there might not be tons of moolah to spread around. Each episode of Buffy costs about $1 million to produce. But because the WB doesn’t get the huge ratings of one of the big three networks, the show only draws in about $1.5 million in ad revenue. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for a raise.

Jamie Kellner, the WB’s top dog, has made an offer to Fox. He claims the offer would give producers about 50% more money than they are making now. In his opinion, to give any more would mean that Buffy operates at a loss, and the WB isn’t too keen on that idea. Kellner yanked the chains of the folks at Fox by telling Variety, “We will take all the revenue we can generate with Buffy, and we’ll give it to [Fox] in a giant wheelbarrow. And if that’s not enough, then take it to somebody else. You’ve demonstrated you’re not the kind of partner we should be doing business with.”

Fox isn’t pleased. Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group, responded by ripping back, “They don’t have wheelbarrows at the WB, they have Mercedes.” Apparently, Grushow thinks the WB has been making plenty of cash from Buffy and can afford to share the wealth. But is that true?

Believe it or not, Buffy is not the WB’s top-rated show. And even though Sarah Michelle Gellar and Co. draw in the much-desired young viewers that the WB wants, the show still gets a single-digit rating each week. Not bad for the WB, but a single-digit rating would spell instant cancellation on NBC, ABC or CBS.

If a deal cannot be worked out soon, there are several options open for Buffy, the most logical being that the show moves to the Fox network. But both sides are trying to avoid a total meltdown, noting that a switch of Buffy to Fox could also lead to big problems with the WB’s ownership of other Fox shows, Angel and Roswell. And if Fox decides that it doesn’t want Buffy in its lineup, the show could pull the plug after this season.

So where do we stand? At stalemate. The WB thinks it has made a fair offer already. Kellner says of the deal, “I think it would be hard [for Fox] to not agree to a deal like that. There should be some kind of element of fairness.” Meanwhile Grushow is quoted in Monday’s Variety as responding, “If the WB is prepared to make a, quote-unquote, “fair” proposal to 20th Century Fox Television, then there is no reason to believe that this show isn’t going to continue on the WB’s air for many years to come. I can tell you that up until this point, that that has not remotely been the case.” Movies are good way of killing the time, but if you have a smartphone, you can also play mobile games like Clash Royale. Try visiting clashroyalehack.fr.