Sunday, April 22, 2018

Review: Dino Hunt 2

You can play this game here, but I do not recommend it at all. I don’t even know why I played it honestly.

There’s not much to talk about graphics wise, there’s two generic outdoor maps. One with grass and one with snow. The game randomly alternates between the two.

Your gun has infinite range and infinite ammo. Aiming is ridiculously easy, if you see a dinosaur in the distance, just move your cursor over it until your reticle zooms in, then click the left mouse button.

There are four upgrades available, but only three of them are useful. The camouflage upgrade is a joke. I’ve upgraded it twice, and it just doesn’t work. You are best off just upgrading your speed, gun damage, and your rate of fire instead.

The game only has four dinosaurs to hunt; Velociraptor, Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Diplodocus. The models look fine for a free game, but there’s one problem. The dinosaurs aren’t animated. They just float around the map like ghosts. When they die they just fall headfirst and clip into the ground.

The AI is a joke, I’m not even sure if I should call it AI. If a dinosaur is near you, or near a dinosaur that got shot, it will head straight for you, no matter what. This becomes a massive problem in the later levels and makes the game extremely boring in the early levels. They only make noise when they kill you, not when moving. I’ve been jump-scared by dinosaurs in this game several times.

The first few levels are fine, boring, but beatable. By level 8 or so, the game turns into an unfair mess. Despite the maps being a decent size, the game always spawns you close to your targets. The dinosaurs are also clustered together, and will gang up you, no matter what type of dinosaur they are.

When you spawn, you have about five seconds to shoot the five or so dinosaurs charging towards you. As you can’t hear them, you have no idea where they are coming from. If they are coming from multiple directions, you are pretty much dead. If you upgraded enough, you might be able to run around and dodge a few, but even that doesn’t work sometimes.

The Velociraptors and Tyrannosaurs move so fast that you won’t even know what hit you, and while the Velociraptors become 1-hit kills if you upgrade gun damage, the Tyrannosaurs still take multiple hits to kill no matter how high you upgrade.

Let me give you an example. You spawn, and there are five raptors, a Stegosaurus, and three Tyrannosaurs near you. All of them rush towards you in different directions. The Tyrannosaurs are the biggest threat, but if you try to kill one, the other dinosaurs will get you. If you try shooting the raptors, the Tyrannosaurs or the Stegosaurus will get you. You can’t shoot the Stegosaurus because of the carnivores that are about to kill you. If you try to back away, you’ll back into one of the dinosaurs.

It’s a Morton’s Fork, everything you do ends in miserable failure. Most of the levels are luck based, you just have to hope you only spawn near a few dinosaurs, or that they all come in one direction. Upgrading only helps you so much.

Also, do the dinosaurs have some sort of treaty? Why do the herbivores care if I shoot a Velociraptor? Why do the dinosaurs all ignore each other and go straight for me? It’s nonsensical.

I’ve made it to level 37, and I’m giving up there. I’m just getting mobbed within seconds of spawning. I honestly should have given up twenty levels earlier, but I’m stubborn. I’d call this game so bad it’s good, but I can’t because of how unplayable the later levels are.

This is one of the worst games I’ve ever played.

1 out of 10

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Mystery Cartoon

Sorry about the lack of posts. I’ve been doing two things recently:

1. Playing Lego Marvel Superheroes 2, which you can expect a review for shortly.

2. Trying to track down a cartoon I watched when I was a kid. This cartoon has seemingly vanished into thin air, and I can’t find it anywhere. It’s like the show has ceased to exist. I’ve posted this in a few other places, but I figured I post this here, in hopes that someone reading this knows what which show I’m talking about:

“The show aired on TVO during the Early 2000s. I saw two episodes, and possibly the opening of a third. I don't think they were very long, and about halfway through, the host of TVO kids would interrupt the show to guess who the culprit was.

The characters were all anthropomorphic animals. The main character was probably a dog who was either a police or a private detective. He had a sidekick, who don't remember anything about, not even what animal he was. He and his sidekick might have been the only recurring characters. I'm going to give a summary of what I remember from each episode, but I could be wrong on some of the details. I'm not even sure that the third episode was of the same show.

Episode 1: I remember the opening of the episode the most as it terrified me. The episode started from the point of view of an inventor walking down a path in a park to his lab (I think), when he hears someone say something from behind him. He turns around to see a fist flying towards his face. He gets knocked out, and the plans for one of his inventions is stolen.

The detective and his sidekick arrived on the scene and talked to the inventor. They also took a look around the crime scene. They talked to the inventor about possible suspects, and he named three, all of them different animals. I don't think the detective ever talked to the suspects, nor did the suspects ever appear. One of the suspects was named "Captain Kangaroo". After this, the TVO kids host interrupts. He says that the culprit isn't Captain Kangaroo and references the old Captain Kangaroo show. After this, the show continued. It was revealed that the culprit was "Captain Kangaroo", as there was a series of tracks leading over a gate or a fence that revealed that the culprit was hopping.

Episode 2: The entire episode took place in a small apartment building. It started with a Porcupine couple arriving at their apartment after their vacation, only to discover that their apartment had been ransacked and that stuff had been stolen from the apartment. The detective and his sidekick arrived, and they talked to the porcupines. Then they talked to the porcupines' neighbors. Eventually they figured out the culprit was a skunk because all the other neighbors were hibernating when the crime happened.

Episode 3: It started with someone admiring a diamond at a museum. The museum's lights suddenly went off, and when they went back on, the diamond was gone. I believe I watched until the detective and his sidekick arrived, but I stopped watching soon after.

I have a list of shows its not: -Sherlock Hound -Dog Tracer -Dog City -Paw Patrol -The Mysteries of Alfred Hedgehog -T.U.F.F Puppy

I seriously have no idea what happened to the cartoon. I even emailed TVO, they couldn't help me either. To me it seems impossible that there's a TVO Kids show that only I watched.”

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Review: Danger For Hire (Files #52)

I read part of this book a couple of years ago, but never finished it due to finding it dull. I decided to give the book a second chance, and I still don’t like it very much. 

In this book, Nancy investigates a series of warehouse robberies. All the warehouses were using the same security system, installed by Hayward Security Systems. This is causing the owner of Haywood Security, Tom Hayward, to lose money, and he asks Nancy to investigate the crimes.

Nancy Drew’s characterization is a bit off in this book. She’s shown multiple times getting scared or nervous and ends up trembling at one point. At one point she briefly gets scared by a guy in a Halloween mask. This was the first Files book I read in a while, but I don’t recall Nancy acting like this in other books. She was always more confident then this. It’s not as much of a problem as it is in the current Diaries series, but it’s still noticeable.

Nancy has a new assistant in this book, Cindy Larson, a high school student who’s a fan of hers. Nancy Drew invites Cindy to help her on the case after Cindy follows her to a crime scene. Along the way, Cindy learns that detective work isn’t all excitement, and that it’s also more dangerous then she thought. Cindy is the best part of the book, and it’s a shame she didn’t appear in any other books.

At the start of the book, she asks Nancy about the events of “The Suspect Next Door”, and the end of the book contains a preview of a River Heights book, so maybe she made an appearance in that series?

Part of the reason why I found the book so dull the first time I read it is that amount of filler in this book. A lot of the book is Nancy Drew reading newspaper articles and surveilling the warehouse district where the robberies happened. At the start of the book, Nancy tells Cindy that detective work can be quite boring. It seems that was a warning to the reader. 

Brenda Carlton is one of my favorite Files characters, unfortunately, she is pretty much wasted in this book. Despite claiming that she’ll solve the case before Nancy does, she vanishes for most of the second half of the book, only to end up as the villain’s hostage. She does have a decent role in the first half, but it felt like she could have been left out of the book altogether.

Despite the villains seemingly being professional thieves, they aren't very dangerous, and there's not much action in the book. There's an explanation for this, but it's not a very good one. 

Near the end, we discover that the gang of professional thieves was really just Nancy’s employer and a henchman. I really don’t like Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew books where their employer turns out to be the bad guy. This sort of twist almost always leads to an anti-climax, and this book is no exception. Instead of Nancy Drew facing off against a gang, she faces off against one person at the end.

Not to mention that the ending involves Brenda Carlton somehow sneaking past a whole ton of police officers. Did she teleport in? Also, I’m not sure why she decided to congratulate Nancy on solving the case right as Nancy is confronting the villain. 

4 out of 10

Monday, March 26, 2018

Review: “The Madman of Black Bear Mountain” (Adventures #12)

Note: I found this review sitting on my computer, I had written it last year. I'm still keeping true to my reading list, and I'm currently reading "Danger For Hire". 

I’ve heard a lot of bad things about the “Hardy Boys Adventures” series, so I decided to give one of the books a try to see if the series is really that bad. I was surprised to find that “The Madman of Black Bear Mountain” was actually a good book, at least for the first half.

Frank and Joe’s characterizations appear to be pretty much the same as their characterizations in the Undercover Brothers books. Like the UBs, the books are in the first person, the chapters alternating between Frank and Joe’s perspectives. I’ll get to this in a bit.

The first half of the book revolves around the Green Environment Conservation Club (GECCO for short) taking a field trip to Black Bear Mountain to meet Dr. Kroopnik, a famous biologist. Frank and Joe of members of the club of course, but anyone expecting to see Chet Morton or any of the other chums are in for a disappointment. The rest of the club members are new characters.

It takes a few chapters for the Hardys to actually reach Black Bear Mountain, and the only plot relevant thing that happens during those chapters is a conversation that Frank overhears. The book is very cartoonish, with a lot of jokes and occasional slapstick humor. The plot wouldn’t look out of place in a Scooby Doo episode, and Frank and Joe even get chased around by someone in a costume.

I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing. I laughed at the jokes, although the slapstick was a bit too much. The characters are quite cartoonish as well, especially Jim. Jim is the teacher in charge of the club, and the slapstick and most of the jokes revolve around him. The titular “Madman” is also pretty menacing, at least until their identity is revealed.

Once Jim goes missing from his tent, the book actually becomes pretty suspenseful as Frank and Joe try to get to a nearby ranger station while avoiding an axe-wielding maniac. Had the entire book been like this, the rating for this book would be higher.

The mystery is kind of weak, but seeing Frank and Joe using their survival skills makes up for it.  Even when Jim reappears, the book keeps its suspenseful tone as Frank and Joe make a surprising discovery in a backpack that Jim was carrying.

Unfortunately, the second half of the book is nowhere as good as the first half. A surprising plot twist occurs (although Frank should have figured it out from the start), and we get a super long chase scene involving rafts, horses, and helicopters.

 It drags on for way too long, and the fact that the chapters constantly alternate between Frank and Joe means that often we get told the exact same information twice. Cliffhangers that should take a chapter to resolve take two or three chapters instead. The scene where Joe hangs off a broken bridge becomes hilarious because of how long it takes to rescue him.  He must have had super strength to hang on for as long as he did.

The pacing problem could have been solved had the ghostwriter stuck to Joe’s POV during the chase.  Joe’s chapters during the second half are a lot more entertaining due to the presence of a character who I can’t identify because their presence is a major spoiler. Said character is the best character in the book, and I hope they make another appearance in the series.

There’s been complaints about how a lot of the Adventures books are too short, but in this case, it seemed like 144 pages was just too much for the ghostwriter to handle. The book is wrapped up rather anticlimactically, the villain is caught due to luck, and their accomplice doesn’t even put up a fight. Consider how long the chase scene lasts, this is rather annoying.

There’s also some inappropriate language as a character says “OMG” in one of the last chapters. As the Adventures series is clearly intended for a younger audience than the previous Hardy Boys series, I have to deduct a point for it.

Despite all my criticisms of it, I liked “The Madman of Black Bear Mountain”. It may be cartoonish and have pacing issues, but it’s an enjoyable read. If it wasn’t for the second half, the book’s rating would be higher. I’d recommend at least borrowing this one from your local library.

6 out of 10

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Review: "Open Season" (Casefiles #59)

So, I’ve spent the last three weeks reading through the 3rd Casefiles Collector’s Edition. Which is why the last two books I reviewed were “Beyond the Law” and “Spiked!”. I wasn’t too excited to read the last book in the collector’s edition, “Open Season”, because it’s by Rick Oliver.

Every single Casefile by Rick Oliver that I’ve read has been either mediocre or terrible. The only book by him that I really liked was “Murder By Magic”, and he wrote that one with someone else.

“Open Season” is one of Rick Oliver’s better books. Unfortunately, that’s not saying much. The book has some major problems, problems that made reading this book take me longer then I thought. (Hence the posting delay) 

In this book, Frank and Joe go on a skiing trip and end up investigating the shooting of a conservationist. Or be more precise, Frank ends up investigating the shooting of a conservationist while Joe tags along.

Frank does most of the detective work in this book, while Joe is pretty much his Watson, someone who’s basically there for Frank to explain everything to. Frank pretty solves the entire case on his own, with Joe finding a clue maybe once or twice.

It’s not unusual for a Hardy Boys book to focus on one Hardy over the other, the problem is that while Frank Hardy solves the case pretty much single-handedly, Joe Hardy spends most of the book acting like a dumb jock. 

He rushes into situations without thinking, and can't seem to figure anything out without Frank's help. At one point, Frank admits to question a suspect, only for Joe to act like a hothead and get them kicked off the suspect’s property. 

Frank and Joe spend most of the first five chapters of the book clashing with the county Sheriff. I’m surprised they didn’t try mentioning to him that they were Fenton Hardy’s sons, as that worked last book. Their constant arguments with the sheriff got rather boring. At one point Frank calls the Sheriff out for eavesdropping on a conversation, which to me seemed extremely hypocritical. 

There are some good things about the book. There were quite a few memorable quotes from Frank and Joe. There was some good action scenes, even if a few of them felt drawn out. Frank and Joe's run in with the mountain lion hunters could have probably have been a bit shorter. The action scenes were pretty the only scenes in the book where Joe got to do anything useful. 

The mystery was rather interesting. I wasn’t able to instantly guess the culprit behind the shooting, and the clues made sense. The trap that Frank and Joe set to catch the villain was rather clever, and it was a nice change from the last two books where Frank and Joe got ambushed and had a Q and A session with the villain at gunpoint.

I originally planned to give this book a higher rating, but I decided against it because Joe Hardy's characterization in this book annoyed me so much. I have no issue with books that focus on one brother over the other, my issue is that this book turned Joe into an idiot so that Frank could solve everything. 

4 out of 10

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Review: "Smithsonian Institution: Dinosaur Museum"

So, today I'm going to be reviewing something different. An old obscure educational game from the 90's that was an important part of my childhood. That game is "Smithsonian Institution: Dinosaur Museum" by Perspective Visuals, Inc.

I first got this game in the Topics Entertainment collection, "A World of Dinosaurs", which contained four other games as well. I used to play it all the time, but when my computer broke and got tossed, the game was still in the CD drive. It wasn't until almost 10 years later that I got the game again.

So, how does the game hold up today? Do I like it now as I did when I was younger?  Well, it's an enjoyable game, but it has some major flaws.

Since this game is so obscure that there's barely any information about it online, this review will  be longer then normal, and contain more images.

I should quickly point out that because the game was released in 1997, some of the information is out of date, so keep that in mind if you play it. However, besides some featherless dinosaurs, there's not too much inaccuracies.

When you start the game, you are greeted with three rooms, the Library, the Conservatory, and the Game Room. Let's start with the Library.

The Library is the main section of the game. Here there's info on 24 Dinosaurs, mainly the well known ones. The dinosaurs are split up by time periods, although most of them are from the Cretaceous period. At the library, you have a few different options. Most of them lead to photos, some in 3D.

The images used in the game are quite good, and there's several I haven't seen anywhere else. The dioramas are probably the best, as you get a reconstruction of what the dinosaurs may have  looked like when they were alive. There's photos from a ton of museums as well.

The two parts you'll be spending the most time in are the Museum and "(Insert time period here) Life". You click on a dinosaur name, and you are sent to an exhibit featuring that dinosaur. 

The leads to the first problem with the game. Let's play a game of spot the difference. These are the exhibits for Camarasaurus and Tyrannosaurus:

There's only three differences. The dinosaur model in the middle of the room, the Earth outside the window, and the name below the dinosaur model. Other then that, both exhibits are identical. While admittedly it's not a big issue, it's kind of lazy. 

Everything that is a hot spot is in color, while everything else, including the dinosaur model is in grey-scale. Clicking on a hot spot gives you information on the dinosaur in question.

Unfortunately, most of that info comes in massive walls of text. It's hard to read, and I don't understand why they couldn't have used paragraphs.

There's some interesting information there, but in my opinion, it's presented rather badly. The grey-scale makes the exhibit look rather creepy as well.

Clicking on the earth brings you to the "(Insert time period here) Life" part. This is where the grey-scale becomes a massive problem. It looks like an unfinished coloring book. Some of you may have noticed that is "Utahraptor" from "Dinosaur Comics" to the right of the picture. 

Ryan North, the author of "Dinosaur Comics" got the dinosaurs in the comic from clip-art software, evidently, so did this game.

Clicking on the hot spots here doesn't give you  walls of text, as the text boxes are normally only one or two paragraphs long.

The design of the "Life" sections, despite my hatred of the grey-scale, are much better then the bland museum. There's some reused backgrounds and dinosaurs, but for the most part, each dinosaur's area looks different. You can tell they put more effort into this part.

Moving on to the Conservatory, there's really not much to talk about. Most of the sections here are the same as the "Life" sections. Instead of focusing on one dinosaur, they focus on a specific dinosaur-related topic, like Dinosaur myths and extinction theories. Unfortunately, there's plenty of text walls.

The highlight of the Conservatory is the "Dinosaurs in the Movies" section. Here, you get to view a bunch of soundless clips from old dinosaur movies. The collection includes the only remaining footage from the cancelled movie "Creation".

Most of the clips are of dinosaurs fighting humans, or other dinosaurs. There's actually a clip of someone being impaled by a dinosaur, which is surprising in a kids game.

The only problem I have here is that I sometimes need to click on the reels several times to get the clips to start.

Finally, we have the Games Room, my favorite part of the game. Here you can play a trivia game, with three levels of difficulty. You can play by yourself or with another player. 

In the beginner level, you just have to answer questions. Answering these questions correctly uncovers a picture of a dinosaur. Once you've uncovered the picture, you win. I rarely play beginner because it's too easy for me.

In the intermediate level, you not only have to get the answers right, you have to guess which dinosaur is being uncovered. This is the difficulty I'd recommend, as it's the most fun. "T-rex" from "Dinosaur Comics" appears as the yes option.

The advanced level is way too hard. Unless you are very good at remembering names, dates, and numbers, you won't beat it. There's some really obscure stuff there. It's way too hard for a kids game.

Your reward for beating the trivia game is admittance to the "Hall of Fame", where you can see full-screen versions of the pictures used in the game. It's a pretty neat reward. You have a limited amount of clicks before it kicks you out of the hall. I don't know exactly how much clicks or if the amount varies with difficulty, but in the intermediate level, it's a pretty fair amount.

One more thing I'd like to bring up is the soundtrack, as it freaked me out when I first played it. Now, it's more of an annoyance. Whenever you enter a new section, a audio file lasting about six seconds plays. These mainly consist of jungle noises and bird calls. However, one of these is the sound of what I can only guess is an asteroid hitting the earth. It's loud and if you weren't expecting it, it's a jump scare.

"Dinosaur Museum" has quite a bit to offer, but compared to other dinosaur games, it's bare-bones. 
"I Can Be a Dinosaur Finder" came out the same year (1997), "Eyewitness Dinosaur Hunter" came out the previous year, and "Microsoft Dinosaurs" would come out only two years later. All of these games have a lot more content then "Dinosaur Museum".

"Dinosaur Museum" is so obscure, the aforementioned  "A World of Dinosaurs" collection is currently the only way to get it. That's not a bad thing, as the set also includes "3-D Dinosaur Adventure" and "I Can Be a Dinosaur Hunter", two very good games.

Despite the grey-scale, the short audio, and the walls of text, I enjoyed playing this. Part of this may be nostalgia, however. If you can get a hold of "A World of Dinosaurs", give this game a try, just don't expect too much.

5.5 out of 10

Note: According to this document, Perspective Visuals were planning on making more games in this series. It never happened, and this was the only game they ever released. You can see an archived version of their website here.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Review: "Spiked!" (Casefiles #58)

This book took a bit longer to finish then I had planned, so that's there was no post Thursday. I had actually taken a break midway through the second chapter, and said break took longer then I had planned.

I'm not really that into to sports, and I don't know much about Volleyball. So, when the ten page first chapter consisted of a recap of a volleyball game, and Frank and Joe talking about how awesome 2 vs 2 volleyball is, I wasn't very interested in the book.

The first chapter does end with quite a disturbing death scene, as one of the players dies in the middle of a game. It's something that probably would freaked me out as a kid. Of course, the death turns out to be murder, and the way the killer does it is quite clever.

Joe has a one-book girlfriend named Chris, who is basically there so that Joe can have a feud with a volleyball player named George Ritt Jr. George Ritt Jr. is probably one of the most entertaining parts of the book. He's so cartoonish it's hilarious.

For most of the book, he's basically Bluto from Popeye. His father is just as cartoonish, and two spent most of the time yelling at people and starting fights.  However, it does strain suspension of disbelief that George Ritt Jr. is not kicked out of  the volleyball tournament for unsportsmanlike behavior.

The culprits of "Spiked!" were quite obvious, as they spent a lot of time twirling their mustaches and doing evil things in front of Frank and Joe. There was a surprise or two near the end, but for the most part I was able to guess the who and why of the mystery pretty early on.

Despite this, the action was rather good. The villains were quite dangerous, and Frank and Joe had a lot of close calls in this book. The volleyball aspect of the book takes the backstage for the second half of the book. While there are some sabotage attempts during games, most of the action happens away from the court.

Frank and Joe also have some good banter in the this book, and I found myself laughing quite a lot. This plus the cartoonish behavior of some of the suspects makes the book rather fun, although things do get more serious near the end. 

There's one cringe-worthy scene where one of the suspects falsely believes that Frank and Joe are detectives for INS, and attacks Frank with a knife to try to scare him. INS would later become ICE, which you've probably heard about. This scene dates the book by quite a bit, and had this book come out today, would have likely been seen as problematic.

"Spiked!" is an average but fun book, with the mystery element being a bit lacking. If you prefer books where it's a challenge to guess the culprit before Frank and Joe do, this isn't the book for you. If you are just looking for a fun Hardy Boys book, give this one a read.

6 out of 10

Review: Dino Hunt 2

You can play this game here , but I do not recommend it at all. I don’t even know why I played it honestly. There’s not much to talk ...