Alto’s Odyssey

I like games that look and feel good. Crisp, artistic graphics? Intuitive controls? Either one of those would sell me on a new app, but when they’re combined, they blow other options out of the water. Alto’s Odyssey does a great job of integrating gorgeous scenery and easy controls into a genuinely fun and uncomplicated time-killer.

Alto’s Odyssey is basically a running game with snowboarding. Tapping makes your character jump, and holding down makes them do a backflip. This simple mechanic is tested by the terrain and features of the game. Alto and his friends can grind on vines and ruins, boost off of waterfalls, and slide on the sides of canyons in the desert environment of the game. Combining tricks can get you an extra boost, but if you misjudge a landing, you will lose it all. There are mischievous lemurs to avoid that will knock you off your board. And if you forget which character you’re playing, the individual strengths, weaknesses, and abilities of the six characters can trip you up. It’s not hard to remember what to do, but gameplay is just tricky enough to make achievements rewarding without making them frustrating.

This game was based on an earlier and simpler app with the same mechanics called Alto’s Adventure. That game was set in the snowy Andes, and although it had largely the same characters and moves, it lacked the new terrain and biomes that have made Alto’s Odyssey so fun for me. Odyssey sends the snowboarders from Adventure into the desert. Their snowboarding moves translate well to sliding on the sand (Sandboarding? Is that a thing?). The best part of the new game is the biomes. You can only find vines and ruins in the Temples biome. Floating hot air balloons (great for bouncing on to make combos!) appear more often in the Dunes, and canyon walls show up in, uh, the Canyons. Biomes gradually shift over a single run. The variety makes every run fun.

Characters and power-ups are perfectly balanced – just helpful enough to make them interesting and useful, but not so pricey or overpowered that they ruin the experience. Speaking of pricey, it is possible to buy in-game currency, but you earn it rapidly enough through normal gameplay that it’s not really necessary! It’s kind of refreshing.

And it’s pretty! The scenery is gorgeous and as the weather changes and the day slides into night, the shifting colors make the game feel entirely new. It can be a bit hard to see in sandstorms, though. The lighting is calm, chill, stress-free, and beautiful.

If you’re looking for a low-stress running game, this one’s probably one of the best out there – and my new favorite. 4.5 out of 5, because Nothing is Ever Perfect. 🙂

Alto’s Odyssey – iTunes, Google Play

Alto’s Adventure – iTunes, Google Play

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night swimming

bright full moon in a dark, slightly cloudy sky

wet tinted goggles give the moon a fractured halo

of faint chaotic cobwebs spinning white and gold

the water is full of dancing flashing shadows

faint songs drift over from the carnival next door

the soft smooth darkness blurs the leaves

that whisper through the windlessness

you drip on the deck in the empty air

in a clammy towel, water slips down your spine

around the porch light doomed moths spiral

their quiet wings flash across your eyes

and fireflies surprise you in the night.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

poster from movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Review by TJ Lawrence

This movie has plot holes you could fly an X-Wing through, contagious stupidity on the part of some characters, two substantially weaker side plots, and about thirty minutes of unnecessary run time. However, it is also graced with gorgeous cinematography, well-thought-out character development, good acting, and a strong, engaging central plot. The verdict: The Last Jedi doesn’t measure up to expectations in many areas, but makes up for its weaknesses with impressive strengths. It’s flawed but fun and certainly worth at least one watch. 7/10

My personal likes and dislikes about the movie are below.

(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~) *SPOILERS BEGIN HERE!* (~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)

What I liked:

Character development: Poe’s earlier characterization as a reckless pilot influences his decisions throughout the movie, skewing them toward good immediate results with no real thought for the tactical disadvantages of those results. He learns better through Leia’s chastisement for his early-movie sacrifice of the entire bombing fleet and the events that follow. Finn tried to run away from the battle. I was ridiculously disappointed in him until I realized that a) this fits with his characterization from The Force Awakens and b) he redeems himself later. I still think this decision made it a lot harder to sympathize with or root for him as a character, so the results were mixed. Kylo Ren’s internal tug-of-war and his eventual choice of sides fit in perfectly with his character. And don’t even get me started on Luke Skywalker and his heroic sacrifice—I will cry right here on this keyboard, I swear.

Rey, Luke, and Kylo: This plot was the best part of the entire film. The character clashes between Rey and Luke, Rey and Kylo’s Force connection, Rey’s seeming tilt toward the dark side, and Kylo’s absolutely awesome assassination of Snoke/fake turn towards the light…I could go on about this forever. It was amazing. If this plot had been the entire movie, I wouldn’t have complained at all.

Cinematography/Why is everything so pretty: The battle scene on Crait was so beautiful it made me want to go there, except that I didn’t really want to be in the middle of a battle anywhere. I loved the animation of all the animal life except that weird pink cow-thing. The CGI shields around the Resistance cruiser were impressive and laid to rest my consistent quibble—”why can’t I ever see the shields?” Admiral Holdo’s last flight scared me.

What I didn’t like:

Plot holes: If Admiral Holdo had just told Poe what the plan was, the entire last half of the movie could have been avoided. Come on, lady! I expected a little more maturity and rationality from a hero of the Resistance.

Plot-induced stupidity: See plot holes.

(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~) *SPOILERS END HERE!* (~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)(~)

A Winter Walk

image of froze lake in winter

the lake calls out in the back of my eyes

brutally blue, cupped in hills of gold

fenced with thin pines, fragile in the cold

my legs ached, my ears numbed, and my nose ran

on the water, whitecaps formed and died

I trotted back along the dam

 

the lake calls out in the back of my mind

the foam looked glorious on the cobalt water

my cheeks burned red, the wind cut through my bones

the sunlight broke like fire around the hills

a few tough birds flew, calling harsh and low

I turned around and we all headed home.

 

By TJ Lawrence

Monument Valley 2

MonumentValley2

Monument Valley 2 is a surreal, beautifully interactive work of art, a moving story, and a wonderful experience. Don’t get this if you’re into hardcore puzzles or vast realms of content. Do get this if you’d like a low-stress game that lets you marvel at beautiful vistas of pixels or if you enjoyed the first game.

Monument Valley 2, from ustwo games, has been out for a few months, but I’ve been looking forward to it ever since I played (and reviewed) the first version. That game was interactive, mysterious, immersive, and magical.

I am happy to tell you that Monument Valley 2 is just as good. “Just as good,” though, has some modifiers — an obvious downside of the original Monument Valley was the lack of content. It’s about an hour or two to play through it the first time. Monument Valley 2 has about the same amount of content. Knowing this, I consciously rationed my play to spread the game out over four days. This second game’s gameplay has a distinct lack of challenge to it. The puzzles seem to be there for show. I only remember feeling challenged at three points in the entire game.

Now for the good stuff.

The characters are Ro, her unnamed child, and several ghosts. Ro and her child explore Monument Valley, working together and separately to solve puzzles and discover themselves.

The art is just as wonderful as ever. Beautiful new mechanics, an emphasis on plant life and water, and a consistent theme throughout levels even improve on the original. I don’t really have anything to say about the art that I haven’t said before — magical, minimalistic, surreal, etc., etc. I could not stop playing the game on the first few occasions I started it up — the old familiar “just one more level,” for slightly different reasons. The game was so beautiful I only wanted to see more.

The music is even better than the original game’s. In this game, sounds create an immersive effect that pulls you into the story. At the beginning of the game, text even states that “this game is best played with sound.”

The story is quite a lot more immersive. Simple motions, sounds, and memories included in the game imply a level of emotional depth and attachment that wasn’t so obvious in the first game. This second story is far more open-ended, but it is much, much more relatable. I’m not saying that the first game’s story was bad. It wasn’t. But this one informs the level order, the level design, the characters’ journeys, and your sense of Monument Valley’s history. When compared to this story, the first story seemed like it was written in as an afterthought.

The gameplay mechanics are still easy to understand and use. There’s a pretty cool new ability to draw the sacred geometry that Ro and the child create. It has me incessantly striving to make my geometry even prettier.

I rate this a 4/5, because there is still not enough content. This irritates me deeply. All I really want is more Monument Valley, but even when they released this new game, I didn’t get what seemed like my money’s worth. Four more levels at least, please, and I’ll throw all my money at ustwo games.

history of the entire world, i guess (Video Review)

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This is a crazily informative, wildly hilarious Youtube video by bill wurtz.

In the video, the history of everything, yes, everything, is explained using funny images and graphics. It’s surprisingly accurate on most things. bill wurtz goes through the Big Bang, the theory of evolution, and the development of animals on Earth, then jumps over to humans. He explains how human societies changed to countries and then began fighting with each other, making alliances, inventing cool stuff, etc. It’s all told in a crazy, hilarious, and easy-to-understand manner.

Pros:

The jingles! (AKA: super-funny singsong soundbites)

Accurate history (Whoa, I did not know a quarter of that stuff)

It’s only 19 minutes, 25 seconds long! (How did he fit all of world history into that time? Nobody knows.)

Graphics (Not sophisticated, precisely, but very brightly colored. It’s like a party for your eyes.)

Cons:

WAY too much profanity (Argh, my delicate ears! I really don’t appreciate unnecessary swearing, and that was definitely unnecessary. There’s a cleaned version on Youtube too, and after the first minute and a half of the original, I fled to that one.)

Score: 4/5, for the swears. Too many swears, bill wurtz. I could not deal. If there was no profanity at all, this would be a 5 1/2 out of 5.

Links:

(original) (cleaned) < I recommend cleaned

(his other video History of Japan) (censored History of Japan) < these are about 9 minutes

Classic Music Review – Eye in the Sky

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Eye in the Sky, a song by The Alan Parsons Project, is a relatively simple-sounding piece of music. But when you think about it a little bit more, the poetic, polished lyrics and the otherworldly feeling of the music create something that’s not just a fresh take on a breakup song. The pieces of the song fit together like puzzle pieces to create a beautiful, balanced whole. Eye in the Sky was made with love, talent, and hard work, and that comes through plainly in the music.

Pros:

The lyrics could be a poem on their own (a song is really just a poem set to music, anyway). The words flow into each other neatly and rhythmically. This is a perfect song to daydream to – it doesn’t have a heart-pounding beat or screaming vocals, but it still .

The music catches your attention from the first second of the song. It has a melancholy, slightly ominous tone and is supported by a strong and interesting drumbeat. Electric guitar accents some of the later verses and changes the song enough to keep it just as interesting throughout as it was when it began. The tune is original and cleverly transitions between different sections of the song. There are some subtle but noticeable shifts in the tune that segue smoothly

The vocals are not trying to stand out. That’s a good thing – if they were, the entire track would be focused around vocals, vocals, vocals. As it is, Eye in the Sky emphasizes all the parts of a good song – interesting lyrics, catchy and original music, and polished vocals. The singing is simple and beautiful.

Cons:

Nowadays, everyone’s used to intense, ‘obvious’ music. When you’re used to that kind of music, it might be harder to appreciate the quiet, many-layered mystery of this track. I’ve never really had a problem with it, though.

Just take a few minutes out of your day to listen to Eye in the Sky. Why miss hearing some good, underplayed classic music?