Our First Real Look At Yooka-Laylee

Our First Real Look At Yooka-Laylee

Our First Real Look At Yooka-Laylee

Jonathan Jagmin

Throughout the mid-to-late 90’s, one of the strongest developers in the videogames industry was undoubtedly Rare, responsible for such hits as Donkey Kong Country, Goldeneye and Banjo-Kazooie.  However, since the company’s split from Nintendo in 2002, it would be easy to say Rare has struggled to regain the magic of their glory days.  This is due, in large part, to the exodus of a lot of the company’s classic-era talent over the last decade and a half.  Many have moved onto other companies and other projects, leaving Rare to focus on Kinect and Avatar-centric games for the XBox platform.

Thankfully for the Rare faithful, much of the company’s talent has gathered once again under the name Playtonic, and they have stepped up to the task of breathing life back into the games that they popularized so many years ago.  Playtonic’s first offering to the public is the cleverly named Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to the popular Banjo-Kazooie franchise.  While sparse details were given previously, primarily for the purpose of launching a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, all of it was conceptual at that point.  Now, a year after the game’s initial announcement, we finally have a full trailer to whet our appetites.

It becomes evident very quickly that the game is dripping with Banjo-Kazooie charm.  The titular duo is animated well, and designed with a simple but instantly classic look.  Some interesting supporting characters are shown off as well, including what appears to be a grumpy storm cloud guy, and what can only be the hilariously named Trowzer, a snake wearing pants and a hat.  A fair number of team-up moves are shown, including one where Yooka curls into a ball while Laylee rides frantically on top like a circus performer.  Not only that, but transformations are apparently back in the mix, as the trailer shows Yooka and Laylee morphing into a strange plant-like creature.

The level variety seems pretty solid, with standard jungle/temple and arctic worlds to run around in, and they all look massive as well as super detailed.  The visuals are crisp and exploding with bright primary colors with some nice effects on display as well, like Yooka’s fire breath.  I can’t express how excited I am at the notion of mine-cart segments as well, harkening back to Rare’s Donkey Kong Country days.  Also, stick around to the end of the trailer, for a fun little bit of self-deprecating humor from the developer.

As it stands, Yooka-Laylee appears to be shaping into a charismatic and loving homage to late 90’s adventure platformers.  I’d wager anyone who spent dozens of hours as a child collecting jiggies, bananas or stars will find themselves overcome with nostalgia in Playtonic’s freshman outing.  The game is slated for release in Q1 of 2017, for the Wii U, XBox One, PS4 and Steam platforms.  Personally, next year can’t come quickly enough for me!

Pirate’s Cove Review

Pirate’s Cove Review

Pirate's Cove Review

High seas adventure right at the kitchen table!

Jonathan Jagmin
Pros
  • Simple to learn, with a fair amount of depth to explore
  • Randomized design makes each session a fresh experience
  • Well-crafted and very aesthetically pleasing
Cons
  • Standard rules for Legendary Pirates impact the randomness of the game
  • Treasure Pieces are overly simplistic compared to the rest of the game pieces
  • Plays best with five people, which can be hard to arrange

There’s a piece in all of us, a subtle wellspring of emotion that desires adventure.  Craving treasure, clashing swords, and booming cannons.  A part of each and every one of us that desires the rolling waves and salt spray of the open sea.  We all want to be pirates, regardless of our conscious ability to admit this.  We’ve all made one scallywag or another walk the plank in our incessant daydreaming.  If you were to sail the mighty oceans, what sort of trouble would you be up to?  What kinds of conquests could you call your own?  What stockpiles of glistening gold and gemstones hoarded away in your secret cave?  What level of infamy would you aspire to?  Why not answer these questions, and many more, by playing Pirate’s Cove, the board game by Days of Wonder?

In Pirate’s Cove, three to five players vie for fame and fortune amidst the islands and waters of the Caribbean.  Each player is the captain of their own ship, which can be upgraded throughout the game by expanding hull storage, adding more sails, or increasing the number of cannons and crewmen on board.  Six islands dot the landscape, offering varying amounts of Fame, Treasure, Gold and special items to obtain.  The primary objective in the game is to be the pirate with the highest amount of Fame collected by the end of twelve rounds, each round representing a month’s worth of time in-game.  Each “month” alters the rewards to be gained by visiting each individual island, making each session an individual experience.

Each turn, players decide privately which island they will visit this month, basing their decision off of their own needs and what each island happens to be offering.  When all players have locked in their decisions, they all reveal simultaneously and make their moves.  If two or more players arrive at the same island, they must either engage battle and determine a victor, or all but one must choose to flee.  The last remaining ship at the island reaps the bounty, any who are defeated or retreat are left empty-handed for the turn.  Resolution of all islands results in the upkeep phase of the turn, where gold can be spent on ship upgrades, items and so forth.  Then the island cards are flipped to signify moving into the next month of the game, and thus the obtainable bounty being offered at each.

Fame is the ultimate goal, but obtaining it oftentimes must come at the expense of other pursuits, and vice versa.  One player may strategize to obtain as much gold as possible, to make their ship overwhelmingly powerful, guaranteeing victories at every island they visit.  Another player may forego ship upgrades, choosing instead to speed to high-fame locations and rely on luck in avoiding enemy encounters.  Treasure can be buried at Treasure Island in exchange for mass amounts of fame, but requires the dangerous task of being hauled through enemy-infested waters, endangering the payoff every turn a player delays off-loading their stockpile.  There are numerous strategies and approaches to the game, offering a unique experience each time it is played.

For a simple and easy-to-learn game, Pirate’s Cove also offers a surprising amount of depth.  A special set of rules can be enforced involving the Legendary Pirate, a black ship that sails the islands looking to start trouble.  These enemy ships take the form of famous or mythical figures such as Blackbeard and the Queen Anne’s Revenge, or Davy Jones and the Flying Dutchman.  If encountered, the Legendary Pirate attacks all players on sight.  They can be very difficult to defeat, but rich in rewards.  The standard rules for the Legendary Pirate state that he sails to each location in a clockwise manner, but my time with the game revealed a more exciting outcome in randomizing his appearances via die rolls.

As a fan of the Golden Age of Piracy, I’ve always enjoyed the aesthetics of Pirate’s Cove.  The board is colorful, illustrating a bird’s eye view of the six islands, each unique in their design.  Green palm trees and light sand complement the roaring volcano of the titular Pirate’s Cove, the leering skull outcropping of Treasure Island, and the white stone fortress of Cannon Island.  The player pieces are colored plastic, solid and sculpted.  They are well-made, but not overly ornamental.  The various other game components such as item cards, player navigation wheels and ship status cards are all colorful and well-illustrated.  Overall, the game is a joy to look at and play with.

Rating: Everyone

Of the few real weaknesses present in the game, the first I’d list would be the aforementioned standard rules for the Legendary Pirate.  It really is just better to roll a die and randomize his movement, rather than follow the standard clockwise-movement rule.  I’d also mention that the game is really best played with a full crew of five, and it becomes less engaging the fewer people you have onboard.  Getting this many people together can be a bit of a challenge, however.  Lastly, one little annoying complaint I have is the plainness of the Treasure pieces.  Considering the high production value of all other game components, it’s always bothered me that these little treasure chests are merely tiny brown wooden blocks without any detail or sculpting.

Board games can often be a dodgy undertaking.  Fifty to one-hundred dollar price tags, complex rule sets, pieces that can go missing, design flaws.  There are a fair number of pitfalls to be found in the board game hobby by nature.  I can attest that sinking some of your hard-earned cash into Pirate’s Cove will grant you many nights of riveting adventure.  It’s easy enough for kids to learn, complex enough for adults to enjoy, and a lot of fun for all parties involved.  Take the plunge into the briny depths already!  I give Pirate’s Cove a 9/10.

First Look At The Assassin’s Creed Movie Trailer

First Look At The Assassin’s Creed Movie Trailer

First Look At The Assassin's Creed Movie Trailer

Jonathan Jagmin

On May 11th, Ubisoft premiered the first trailer for its upcoming Assassin’s Creed film adaptation, simply titled “Assassin’s Creed.”  At two minutes, the trailer gives us a healthy look at what we can expect from the forthcoming film.  High production values highlighting a solid degree of acrobatics and parkour action are the centerpiece of the trailer.  The film also presents a rich and detailed historical setting, although it does look more sparsely populated than I would expect from an Assassin’s Creed project.

Admittedly, there are some gripes to be had.  The first and most obvious issue is the wooden, stilted line delivery.  Marion Cotillard, appearing to play an Abstergo scientist in the film, is the prime culprit here, affecting a staccato pace to her speech and a truly disingenuous English accent.  The film’s concept of the “Animus” is also weirdly off-base from the design made so recognizable in the games.  Instead of a sleek, futuristic bed-like device we get a giant hydraulic arm and harness that looks like a scrapped design from The Matrix.  And I can’t be the only one who flashed back to Monty Python upon hearing Cotillard welcoming the protagonist to “the Spanish Inquisition.”

For the moment, I can’t help but take the footage I’ve seen and muster little more than a “meh” in regard to it.  What the trailer gets right doesn’t make enough of an impact, and what it gets wrong is like nails on chalkboard.  Currently, you can file me under “unimpressed.”

Michael Rooker at Salt Lake Comic Con

Michael Rooker at Salt Lake Comic Con

Michael Rooker at Salt Lake Comic Con

jonathan Jagmin

The annual Salt Lake Comic Con has announced its first round of guests, among them seasoned film veteran Michael Rooker.  Rooker is best known for recent roles such as Yondu Udonta in Guardians of the Galaxy and Merle Dixon in The Walking Dead.  However, this author is particularly fond of his performances as Grant Grant in Slither, and Sherman McMasters in Tombstone, the greatest western ever filmed.  Check out the music video for “All Wrapped Up” by the band American Head Charge for a particularly unsettling cameo.

The 2016 Salt Lake Comic Con will take place from September 1st through September 3rd.  Reserve your tickets now!

Winter Is Coming

Winter Is Coming

Winter Is Coming

Jonathan Jagmin

Like most of the modern civilized world, I find myself drawn to the TV every Sunday to willfully receive the hour-long session of abuse and dream-squashing colloquially referred to as Game of Thrones.  I’ve been an avid reader of the books for the last several years, and have watched with glee as various climactic moments have played out to the gentle and unknowing TV-only fanbase.  I watched many a reaction video to the Red Wedding, the Mountain and the Viper, and other key moments of grotesquerie found within the series.  With the end of season five, the TV-only crowd joined me in my years-long misery of wondering about Jon Snow’s fate.  Seeing as he’s indisputably the best character the show has to offer, his future has been a constant source of conversation for many years, spurring debates about his lineage and purpose within the greater narrative.

With the start of season six, the promise of answers glimmered in the eyes of the fanbase.  We were eager to finally learn if Jon would be the first of the noble Stark men to cheat death, hungry to know the truth behind his parentage, to learn if he was the legendary hero that Westeros needs so badly.  The vast majority of the viewing public waited with anticipation, knowing in their hearts that this would be the moment the good guys finally won one.  However, my reaction upon watching the first episode of season six was radically different from most, and it has completely altered my hopes for the future of the series.

To put it plainly, the opening of the season’s first episode “The Red Woman” kinda twisted something inside me, turned it the other direction.  Having those old wounds reopened, seeing Jon’s lifeless corpse, left to freeze under a sign reading “traitor” put a lot of things into perspective for me about the world that this series inhabits.  The simple fact is, the “good guys” consist of an extremely small population of human beings.  By and large, the vast, vast majority of the inhabitants of this world are depraved, selfish, violent, murderous, greedy and heartless.  When I think of the idea of Jon Snow becoming some sort of Luke Skywalker, wielding a brilliant sword and saving this society of ungrateful, disgusting brutes, it makes me gag a little inside.  I don’t want Jon to be Luke Skywalker.  I want him to be Darth Vader, and here’s how I want it all to play out.

As season six progresses, I want the truth behind the Others/White Walkers to be laid bare.  I want it revealed that they are not like vampires or orcs or demons.  They are not vicious monsters, preying upon mankind; they are the planet’s defense system against the devastation that mankind is capable of bringing to fruition.  The Wall was not constructed by man, as a way of protecting humankind from the terrors of the far north.  The Wall is a barrier to keep man from venturing outside their tiny, warm corner of the world.  The Wall was built by the Walkers to keep the rest of the world pristine, untouched by man’s need for industry and conquest.  The Wall is part of the natural cage that they keep us herded within.  When all of the facts regarding the Walkers are revealed, it should be made clear that they exist to thin the herd of humanity when their decadence threatens to spill beyond the borders of their enclosure.  The phrase “winter is coming” will take on a new significance.  This is not a winter that mankind will largely survive.  Man will be sent back to the stone age, back to the beginning, to start over, as has happened so many times before.

Meanwhile, we rapidly start to see a change in Jon Snow’s overall demeanor.  He is becoming more and more detached from the societal constructs of mankind.  He is becoming less interested in protecting the herd, especially when that herd consists primarily of hyenas.  At the end of season six, Jon travels north to challenge the Night’s King, the current leader of the White Walkers.  We witness a truly awesome duel between the two, from which Jon emerges the victor.  Instead of acting as mankind’s savior, however, he instead chooses to take command of the enemy ranks and becomes the new master of the Walkers.  The season closes with Jon and his undead army destroying the Wall and marching into Westeros proper to bring an end to mankind’s current era.

During season six, we also see a continual subtle change in the community’s opinion of Danaerys, struggling to maintain rule at the other end of the world.  The cornerstone moment in her character shift occurs when Jorah and Daario arrive to rescue her, and some twist of fate places Jorah in mortal danger.  Danaerys is given the opportunity to save her former confidant, and instead chooses to allow him to die, out of pettiness and spite.  From that point, she continues to sour the viewers’ opinion of her, committing one selfish or short-sighted act after another.  But, this transformation is never too heavy-handed.  She never turns into her brother Viserys, never earns the full ire of the fanbase.  But she definitely becomes harder to root for.  By the end of this season, she has already rebuilt her army and fleet, and is poised for conquest.

Season seven begins with Danaerys’ long-awaited invasion of Westeros.  She has obtained full control of her dragons and the Iron Throne is won after a series of grueling conflicts. She unifies the Seven Kingdoms under the Targaryen banner, and just in time too, because Jon’s dead army has become a very real and imminent threat.  The series reaches its climax when Danaerys’ unified military and Jon’s horde meet in the Riverlands for the epic final battle.  An entire episode is committed to this conflict, and at its peak we see Dany riding atop her black monster Drogon meeting face to face with Jon.  The two square off in an impressive fight between man and dragon, when Dany manages to corner Jon and bathe him in dragon fire.  It appears that mankind has slain its nemesis, until Jon rises from the flames, unscathed.  You see, he’s the product of both Stark and Targaryen bloodlines.  He is Lord Commander of the White Walkers, and the Blood of the Dragon.  He is the Song of Ice and Fire.  In an instant, Jon beheads Drogon, as his undead minions swarm the other two dragons and tear them to pieces.  Dany lies on the ground at Jon’s feet, defenseless, defeated but defiant.  She angrily begins to repeat her familiar collection of epithets, “I am Danaerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the Unburnt-“ at which point her head is unceremoniously lopped from her body by Jon’s sword.  In an instant, the entire audience realizes it’s over.  Humanity has lost.  The undead horde sweeps across the battlefield and man counts down the seconds to extinction.

In the series’ final minutes, the known world is revealed to have been largely frozen over, with the exception of a small collection of islands in the southern seas.  Jon has hand-picked roughly one hundred men, women and children to act as the foundation for the next age of mankind.  The survivors include the few remaining fan favorite characters such as the living Stark children, Tyrion Lannister, Davos Seaworth and so forth.  The series concludes with a long, silent sequence in which Jon walks through the frozen remains of King’s Landing, and sits upon the Iron Throne in solitude.

Now granted, this is almost certainly not how most people would want Game of Thrones to end.  I would guess that most want to see Jon, Dany and Tyrion teaming up against the White Walkers to save the world.  I wager it’s very likely that this popular scenario is exactly how things will play out.  I personally think my dream scenario is a better fit for the overall mood and atmosphere for the series as a whole, and it would be nice to see a major series such as this end on a truly dreary note.  Whatever manner in which Game of Thrones comes to a close, things are guaranteed to get a lot uglier before they get better.  Winter is coming, after all.

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