Archive for the Best / Worst Category

THREE New Cubing Records: May 2022!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Cubing, Cubing Records on June 24, 2022 by slateman


The end of the school year, covid, surgeries and home renovations delayed this post, but it’s an exciting one, if I might say so myself. Moving backwards, in late April a student in my Spanish 2 class (one with a PB of around 17 seconds) brought in her Gan 3×3. Over the past 11 years of cubing, I’ve regularly updated my main – maybe once every other year or so, but my record has stood since barely dropping a half a second from it in May of 2018. This new puzzle was unlike any other I’d tried before. The magnets were snappy, turns felt super responsive and it glided like butter. I was on a mission.

Upon purchasing a Gan 356M, their middle-of-the-line budget model, I realized it was just way too loose. I should’ve opted for the model with extra GES nuts to help with tension, but I already felt badly spending $30 on another 3×3!!! When I got the cube finally tensioned how I wanted it, I couldn’t believe just how wonderfully it turned. This is the best puzzle I’ve ever owned. To put things in perspective, I had accomplished three sub-30 second times in my prior decade of cubing. I accomplished the feat six times in a week with my Gan 356. My first, an astonishing 28.6 seconds shaved almost half a second off my time. I was elated. I saw it coming. My record broken – for the fourth time in a row in the month of May!

However, that wasn’t all. Two days later, I utterly shattered my record, trimming two full seconds off! The solve was magical. Three of the four cross whites already done so I could start planning my corners ahead, something I NEVER can do. Three middle layers were super fast and I could see ahead as I placed those pieces swiftly. On the top layer, I had an L and then had to swap two corners. This left me with a fully-solved yellow face. A quick three-cycle solved the puzzle in the fastest time EVER! 26.46 seconds! While I was at it, I broke all my average records: Averages of 3/5/12/50/100 all were decimated, with my average-of-3 being sub-30!

Unfortunately, future solves revealed that without a very lucky skip, I will never match or best that time. If I can’t get the second layer done by 15-17 seconds, it’s not even worth finishing. Once you hit that stage, a lot of the fun is sucked out of speedsolving. I’ve dabbled in F2L, but without memorizing all new algorithms, I don’t see it ever happening. With my 4×4 and 5×5 records at incredible times and with good cubes alongside of them, I genuinely wonder if my days of timing myself are over.

But then I wondered if I could give the Megaminx another swing. Upon getting a new puzzle for Christmas (which itself resulted in breaking a decade-old record), I figured why not try again? Solve #1 was close to the 7:21 record from January and solve #2 was…just remarkable! 6:00.77! I trimmed my record by 80 seconds!!! I got a lucky last layer and just missed a sub-6 by three-quarters of a second!

I’m happy these old bones still have some speed in them. Three records in one month – not bad for a 46-year-old!!!

The New Playstation Plus: Perspective From A Loyal Customer

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games on May 17, 2022 by slateman

I’m a dedicated Sony faithful who has owned every Playstation platform in the past 25+ years: five consoles and two handhelds and even some duplicates. While I’ve owned almost every other console in the last three decades as well, Microsoft’s recent offerings haven’t joined my collection. Despite this, there’s simply no disputing the quality and value of the Redmond-based company’s Game Pass. One day, whenever the Series X graces my collection, I look forward to subscribing and diving into its vast archives.

However, this generation, like the last, I opted for Sony over Microsoft – with no regrets, mind you – and so the upgraded Playstation Plus is something I’ve had my eyes on for quite some time. Much of the dialogue of the new Playstation Plus has been around its comparison to Game Pass. I’d like to discuss its value *without* comparing – by simply contrasting it to the current PS+ subscription.

For the past decade, I’ve paid $60/yr (used to be $50, no?) for the standard “free” games, online play, etc. I fully plan on continuing that trend, with my subscription extending already into 2023. Some shitty months (or sequences of months) aside, I love the service and I’m happy with my subscription.

So, while the new base-level PS+ is identical to the existing service, the real question is whether the upgraded models are worth the added bucks: $40 for Extra or $60 for Premium. Since I’m already paying my $60 – and do so on an annual basis – that’s the real question. Is the added $40/$60 worth it??? I’m not talking about monthly prices – it’s all or nothing, baby.

Now that Sony has started rolling out a quick list of titles, it’s time to look at what that value truly is.

The second tier, Extra, offers ~400 PS4/PS5 games for $40. Since I never got around to playing Returnal or Miles Morales, the subscription is likely worth it right off the bat. As a pretty dedicated gamer, I’ve played most of the games I’ve wanted to play this past decade. Virtually every offering shown in the abbreviated list is already on my have played list. But for a pair of games and the promise of others? I’d say it’s likely worth $40, though the full game list will really be the deciding factor. In lulls of new titles, diving back into an older one here or there is probably worth the $3.33/month. I think it’s worth at least the first year of subscription. Then again, I am a Sony fanboy after all. :D

The top tier, titled Premium, presents an additional ~350 legacy games for another 20 bones. That’s not bad at all – IF you really will download/play PS1/PS2/PSP games and stream PS3 games. i own all those platforms and can emulate the entire lot of them. However, I much prefer playing on console than on PC. With ~350 games on 4 platforms, there is sure to be something I’d be glad to revisit. The sneak-peek list of titles so far was underwhelming. On the flipside, that there are save states and rewind features may very well make these games worthwhile in the end. Add to the fact that prior purchases from the PSP/PS3 days will be honored, and it could be worth it.

The ‘end-of-the-day’ view of this really lies in that $40/$20 split. Worst case? I continue with the $60/yr sub that I have had for a decade. I’m happy with this sub and I rarely pay a full $60, to be honest. No – it’s not a Game Pass killer. That’s OK. No, it’s not for everyone – and that’s OK! However, while the initial lists of 60 PS4/PS5 games isn’t too convincing, I’d say one or two games would be enough for the $40 upgrade. Let us not forget that there are more than 300 games not already announced. As for the Premium tier, a $20 bill nets me 350 titles: 28 announced on legacy platforms and another 30 on the PS3. To be honest, I really don’t know if anything on here will truly tickle my fancy, but I’m also a sucker for this shit and I’ll likely drop twenty more just to revel in some nostalgia.

Were it a decade ago, in 2012, I may not have opted in. But at the tender age of 46, I’m the prime candidate for such a service and for a few bones, I think I just may opt in – at least for the first year!!!

Five Hundredth Post

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Personal on May 16, 2022 by slateman

It was just over 10 years ago, 3,733 days ago precisely, when I started this blog. At that point, I had been running web sites for more than a decade and a half. But I’d pondered doing a personal blog for quite some time and I can’t say I really know what made me pull the trigger. My early posts were all about Skyrim, DoDonPachi, cubing and some quality posts about gaming. I averaged about a post a week for a decade, far heavier at the outset than in recent times, but I thought I should celebrate i some small way.

In 2012, I was about halfway through my stint living in Maine. I had only just started cubing (my 35th birthday in February 2011). I hadn’t ever played DDP:DFK. I lived in a small house with four kids and several dogs. My life was, in countless ways, immeasurably-different from how it is now.

Since then I’ve moved around the world, published books, learned new languages, traveled and so much more. While posts are far less frequent, this remains my go-to for personal posts, timelines, reviews and the like. I don’t care if no one reads this. One day, all of these personal websites will fade with only an archiver to back them up – but no one with the knowledge or desire to even seek them out.

Elden Ring: Platinum And Done

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games with tags on May 6, 2022 by slateman

120 hours in and I beat the game, got the platinum and bid adieu to Elden Ring.

In looking back, I started this game on 25 February and have completed my journey on the 16th of April. Over those 51 days, I pumped 120 hours into this masterpiece. It’s imperfect. It’s got some visual issues. It’s still a phenomenal game and one of the best in recent memory.

As I look back over the best games of recent years: Deathloop, Tsushima, God Of War, Resident Evil VII…does this game transcend the awesomeness set by such titles? Such is the question.

In the simplest terms, Elden Ring will stick with me for quite some time. Its world was mesmerizing, its gameplay satisfying and its sense of adventure remarkable. For almost two straight months, I had zero interest in booting up anything but this game. I thought about it before bed, during my drive home and I longed to jump back in at every corner. I was obsessed and I loved every minute of it. As with any great game, you put off actually beating it so you can clean up things. i put off the end for at least a week.

This game addressed almost all of From Software games’ shortcomings and made things more accessible. Can’t beat this boss? Run. Stuck and overwhelmed? Escape and warp somewhere else. Underpowered? Grind & level up. Don’t want to lose runes? Use an item not to. About everything that made prior titles inaccessible is now streamlined and more user-friendly. While the lore itself was virtually impossible to comprehend, this didn’t hinder my experience one bit. Instead, the entire gameplay experience and loop was just thoroughly ejoyable. Even after scores of hours, I wanted to adventure to new corners, look up new weapons on a wiki, explore anything and everything the game had to offer.

That sense of wonder and excitement is what makes it rival the greats of the last decade. While God Of War was a new and unique experience, I can say with confidence this was one of the most-incredible titles in recent memory. Even now, weeks after completing Elden Ring, it still lingers in my memory and I would have it no other way. The prospect of diving back in for NG+ still lingers in my brain. If only the PS5 would let me download save games.

I’m going to post a crap-ton of pictures because this is my website and I don’t care. I loved this fucking game.

Upcoming Shows 2022

Posted in Best / Worst, Lists, Music on March 30, 2022 by slateman

I can’t believe it, but I have an upcoming shows list for 2022! How remarkable! OK, so it’s only four shows, but – who cares!!!

30 Apr – Testament / Exodus / Death Angel – Sayreville, NJ
12 May – Amorphis – Baltimore, MD
24 Sep – Elton John – Washington, DC
14 Oct – Wardruna – Washington, DC

Elden Ring: A 30-Hour, Not-Nearly-Finished Review

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games on March 7, 2022 by slateman

Elden Ring came out last Friday and by Monday, I’d plunked down 16 hours. By the next Friday: 30. By the end of this weekend: 36.

I’ve traipsed all over The Lands Between. I’ve scoured dungeons, ascended castles and toppled giants. This really is big Souls, but that’s fine by me because it offers numerous quality-of-life improvements which make it a far more playable and, dare I say, easier experience. Find a boss who one-hits you? Run away. Overwhelmed by too many enemies? Mount your horse. Need to upgrade? Grind and do so! Desire to revisit other areas? Fast travel in seconds anywhere and at any time.

I’m loving the exploration and the adventure. I’m enjoying the Souls formula with these new changes. I’m compelled to return to seek out one more upgrade and item – to gaze over a cliff’s edge for a hidden ledge – to mark upon my map locations for future days.

Elden Ring Get! A New Adventure!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games with tags on February 26, 2022 by slateman

I don’t know quite what to expect from this new From Software title. I shied away from Dark Souls due to its difficulty and only, many years later, proclaimed Bloodborne to be the best game ever. Though I jumped into Dark Souls Remaster and Dark Souls 3, I never completed either – for whatever reason. While living in Sweden, I was so excited to dive into their follow-up, Sekiro but never quite loved it. In fact, I never beat it. At the end, I opted for the bad ending, due to the difficulty, and I never even accomplished that. Ultimately, I didn’t worry too much, as the game never clicked with me.

The PS5’s launch gave us Demon’s Souls and…surprise! I never beat that either! Despite Bloodborne being fucking fantastic, I couldn’t ever complete any of From Software’s other entries.

And so here we are with Elden Ring – which at the time of this writing sits at the 12th highest-rated game of all time on Metacritic – and I’m on a new adventure. Odds are against me completing this. However, in its opening hours – which tally four in my initial sitting – it’s tremendously-compelling. I eschewed the follow-up to my Best New IP Of 2017 (Horizon) for this. I will 100% play this in the future. Anyhow, as the new game starts to truly open up – I thought I’d share a compelling image from the opening hours. This is going to be quite the adventure!!!

New 6×6 & Megaminx Records!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Cubing, Cubing Records on January 3, 2022 by slateman

I started cubing almost 11 years ago and in my early days, I was more focused on speed than I am now. However, while my collection is now more focused on diversity and uniqueness – I still like to dabble into speedsolving from time to time. With a new, Christmas boost to the collection – I’ve upgraded my 6×6 and Megaminx – the former, a terrible V-Cube and the latter broken in shipping. Due to these substatial updates, new efforts were made to break decade-old records and in each case, the personal bests fell swiftly.

My 6×6 record, residing at over 15 minutes, was shorn to 11:11: an improvement by over four minutes. The Megaminx took a pair of tries before it too tumbled. I only did this puzzle for speed a few times, and I don’t endeavor to break this record – a half-minute improvement – any time soon.

A pair of records brought into the current decade, now leaving but the 2×2 and Pyraminx as sole representatives of the 2010s. Oh, and the 3×3 but that’s OK. My full cubing records can be found here.

Castlevania: The Adventure – Rebirth Thoughts

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Retro Games on October 20, 2021 by slateman

I tinkered with this back in the day but never played it through, despite its rather kick-ass soundtrack. I’m on a Castlevania tear as of late, clearly thanks to the Advance Collection’s surprise announcement & quick release. Having taken down two of the collection’s three GBA games (I realize Dracula XX is on there as well, but I just beat that three years ago), I wanted to get a look at this title and I quite enjoyed it!

Unfortunately, this game is not available officially anywhere and I don’t see Konami digging that deep in the archives to issue this one at any time, so now is as good as ever to dive in. This game is a bit harder than some later entries, a throwback to the Classicvania formula replete with old-school sound effects. Visuals are pretty cool, blending 2D style with some 3D effects. The stages are all familiar-looking and while they don’t aim to diverge from traditions, they’re fun and colorful. From graveyards to the clock tower to the standard steps to Dracula, the game never exceeds its budget concept and that’s just fine with me. Much like the other two Rebirth titles (Contra & Gradius), they know exactly what they ought to be and there’s a reason Konami issued these on the Wii and not one of the other more-powerful platforms.

Fire, water, stained glass backgrounds very cool, but enemy diversity suffers, with numerous palette-swapped enemies feeling redundant. Overall, the visual style is a half progression from HOD – I think I actually prefer Aria’s predecessor.

The game’s five stages cover the gamut of Castlevania tropes and Simon controls rather well, given the throwback nature of the title. Whip enhancements were a nice perk and different-colored candles revealed which kind of bonus was added before even hitting them. There were plenty of quirky sections including a gear mechanism towards the end, however, the best mechanic added to this Rebirth game was the branching path concept. Despite being rather thorough in games, the numerous locked doors and alternate pathways truly lend themselves toward additional playthroughs with some choices skipping mid-bosses entirely.

And the bosses were indeed cool. Many familiar faces returned, now often featuring different move sets. Early level battles are quite easy, but later ones required the usual Castlevania accuracy. None were truly thrilling to behold, however, Death was impressive and Dracula’s final form was a rigorous challenge.

The end result was a pretty straightforward game with plenty of replay value. The soundtrack is killer, as they often are, and despite the thin storyline, I truly enoyed my romp through the rebirth of this Game Boy game. While it’s new enough to avoid the retro tag, I’m counting it as it’s more unaccessible than most other retro entries in this franchise!

Castlevania: Harmony Of Dissonance Thoughts

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Retro Games on October 11, 2021 by slateman

Immediately after polishing off Circle Of The Moon, I progressed to Harmony Of Dissonance, the GBA’s second installment. Changes are immediately evident: larger sprites, much more colorful visuals, upgraded graphics, new enemies and a more adept protagonist. While the story is ultimately a rehash of CotM, there’s a lot to like here, particularly in comparison to its predecessor. Unfortunately, large chunks of this game have tremendous downsides which make the inferior Circle Of The Moon a comparable title.

As I progressed into the second castle, I made a realization: I almost certainly never beat this game. Stumbling across an old save – it appears the 60% mark was about my limit. If memory serves me right, I revisited it later and felt the same pang of frustration. The game is deliberately obtuse, an old tactic employed to artificially lengthen the game’s duration. Several areas are off-limits, but the map “opens” them up, thereby marking them and making a revisit quite challenging. The rewind feature is spectacular to erase some of those mistakes, but oftentimes a key opens just a very specific door or two with no word of where that might be. The overly-spacious two-castle system compounds this issue as warping is initially slower and more arduous than in the past and there’s an awful lot of running around just to revisit a dead-end you knew about in the past. In fact, things are so spacious that the main goal is to dash through vast swathes of the castle searching for the next extension – unfortunately almost always stumbling upon another wall or impassable segment.

20 years later and with the aid of decades of guides, this task is much simpler, but no less absurd. The enemies themselves are quite diverse, building off of CotM with 3D effects and the like, but despite the size of the bosses and their impressive animations (both attack and death), most felt rather uninspired and far easier to beat. The initial GBA game was a rigorous challenge; this game is not. Once again, you resort to zipping through portions of the castles, here designated as A and B, and even getting hit is rarely a concern. Fortunately, controlling Juste is far more forgiving than Nathan Graves and his animations are substantially more impressive. Those wonderful bosses, added animations and effects come at a hefty cost: the game’s sound. It suffers and contains scant few memorable tunes, a series staple. In fact, the title sounds like an archaic NES game, but even that is too kind, as the songs here don’t contain the standard hook. The shopkeeper’s tune sounds downright ancient and represents one of the weakest set of tunes in any Castlevania ever.

My gripes continue, but Harmony Of Dissonance is generally fun once things get moving. There are a ton of items to collect, different armors and the like, though none are incredibly exciting, and there’s nothing comparable to CotM’s DSS system, unfortunately. Collecting furntire isn’t quite my style. Visually it sings with a huge assortment of backgrounds & colorful enemies: overall it’s a lot of fun to look at. Scouring screenshots is a lot more rewarding than the first GBA game.

As I approach 200%, it’s so interesting to discover (re-remember?) that I never finished this. The era of its arrival was a tumultuous one for me – however, I’m almost certain I completed every subsequent 2D Castlevania on the GBA & NDS. Until I can verify by getting my old-school GBA from Maine, I remain uncertain if I actually beat Dracula in Circle Of The Moon as well! Wouldn’t be surprised if I hadn’t!

As a stepping stone to Aria Of Sorrow, the game really is impressive despite its numerous flaws. I’m tremendously happy I got to revisit this with the assistance of guides, save states and the rewind feature. I am stoked to finish it and to move on to its successor!

Late Update: I’ve now beaten the game and witnessed all three of the title’s endings. My final map count is at 99.7% for each castle, maxing out at 194.4%. I appear to be missing the same number of rooms in each. The two versions of Maxim were uniquely-different fights and the Dracula Wraith final boss was a pretty cool, horrible amalgamation of his body parts (a callback to Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – much like the Simon Wraith callback to the original Castlevania.)