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!!!

SFVI Incoming?

Posted in Blog, Street Fighter on February 21, 2022 by slateman

It’s no secret that Street Fighter is among my favorite gaming series ever. I’ve been with the franchise since the very beginning, as a pre-teen boy playing the first game in the arcades. Through the rise of SFII, the dearth of arcades in the late ’90s, the dark ages, the rejuvenation and the long, six-year journey of Street Fighter V, I’ve been there through it all. I just love this franchise.

And thus, with the nigh-inevitable announcement of Street Fighter VI – assuming the Capcom Countdown is true – it’s an gross understatement to state I’m excited.

Unlike most, I’m more intrigued by the roster, the systems and the timeline than the gameplay. I’m going to play it. I’m going to be average at it. But that’s ok.

There’s been a lot of speculation about the fighter list and while the reveal is possibly a mere two hours away, I wanted to poder this briefly. Deep down, I would love some deep cuts. SFII’s roster has been done to death and SFIII’s has some quirky, unlikeable faces. But the concept of Geki returning was always intriguing. Fei Long would be a welcome familiar fighter. Gouken or Goutetsu would be cool for lore. As always, I’d love to see some (all?) of Vega’s Dolls to pop up. I rue how underused they were in SFV

Luke is a shoe-in, and many clamor for G, but I’d love to see Lucia, Menat or Akira return. I love how Capcom doesn’t shy away from trying new designs and so I look forward to some of that whenever SFVI finally ships.

Even if the game is announced today, we won’t know the full roster for quite some time. I sincerely hope Capcom does a better job at the roll-out and initial launch than they did with V back in 2016. Single-player modes are a must and a kick-ass netcode will go a long way to appease all crowds. I’m tremendously-excited for what’s the come!

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.

2022 In Music

Posted in Blog, Lists, Music on December 30, 2021 by slateman

Just some upcoming music release dates for personal reference!

07 Jan – Wilderun: Epigone
04 Feb – Korn: Requiem
11 Feb – Amorphis: Halo
11 Mar – Ghost: Impera
25 Feb – Hammerfall: Hammer Of Dawn
25 Feb – Svartsot: Kumbl
25 Mar – Eucharist: I Am The Void
25 Mar – Abbath: Dread Reaver
08 Apr – Hällas: Isle Of Wisdom
08 Apr – Joe Satriani: The Elephants Of Mars
22 Apr – Faun: Pagan
22 Apr – Wardruna: Kvitravn – First Flight Of The White Raven
10 Jun – Anathema: A Vision Of A Dying Embrace
10 Jun – Kreator: Hate Über Alles
24 Jun – Alestorm: Seventh Rum Of A Seventh Rum
22 Jul – Witchery: Nightside
29 Aug – Dimmu Borgir: Northern Forces Over Wacken
05 Aug – Amon Amarth: The Great Heathen Army
05 Aug – Einherjer: Norse And Dangerous (Live…From The Land Of Legends)
12 Aug – Arch Enemy: Deceivers
12 Aug – The Halo Effect: Days Of The Lost
19 Aug – Soilwork: Övergivenheten
02 Sep – Andy Gillion: Arcade Metal
02 Sep – Blind Guardian: The God Machine
02 Sep – Megadeth: The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead!
07 Oct – Lamb Of God: Omens

With help from Metalstorm’s Upcoming Release List.

Castlevania: Aria Of Sorrow Thoughts

Posted in Blog, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Retro Games on October 24, 2021 by slateman

I have to say, Castlevania Advance Collection is one of my favorite games of the year, despite the average age of each of its four games being 20+ years old! I purchased this as soon as it came out and I never regretted it once. Jumping into Aria Of Sorrow on the heels of the first two GBA games was a no-brainer.

As this is considered a top=tier Castlevania, it really should stand out among its predecessors, but it’s not as clear and simple in my opinion. Breaking it down – visuals are in some small way a step back from Harmony Of Dissonance, with more subdued environments and less flashy colors. However, it’s more consistent and in no way a downgrade. I found I preferred the gaudy colors and over-the-top animations of the middle game. The interface is cleaner and the new soul system is far better than HOD. Unfortunately, exploration feels a bit stifled again. That crazy nature of Dissonance is lacking here and I missed it.

The music is good again, thus regaining that which was lost after COTM however, it came at the expense of that visual flourish. But while graphics and effects may have stepped back a bit, there were way more items and diverse options throughout which changed up battle substantially. It was a lot more fun with much cooler gear. This diversity led to much more entertaining loot including some truly OP weapons. The soul system was quite cool but of course, grindy. The rewind system helps w/ that. I specifically used that cheat to get some to pass certain areas.

The lack of a dash button and scant few upgrades made traversal feel a bit more of a chore than HOD which was, admittedly, broken. But the upgrades are good and useful. The one castle is better and it’s not designed in a confusing and annoying way. Warping to whichever room you’d like is a nice perk and backtracking is never quite as cumbersome as it was in the past. The game was, by far, a more streamlined experience.

Ultimately, Aria Of Sorrow is a better game than the prior two. The story, while still rather thin, is more engaging and the quality-of-life fixes were welcome. I’m certain I beat this one back in the day, but I definitely didn’t get the good ending. However, despite being better, that doesn’t mean I like it more. I prefer the visual style of HOD and I know I liked several of the NDS entries far more. Altogether, it was a tremendous experience playing these titles back-to-back-to-back. I’ll likely never revisit some of these but I do sincerely hope a NDS collection follows.



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!

GBA Castlevania Comparisons

Posted in Blog, Castlevania, Games on October 13, 2021 by slateman

I’m enjoying these titles so much. As I moved into Aria Of Sorrow it was fun to see their progression instantly, rather than waiting a year for a new release. It’s making me hope that much more for a NDS collection. Anyhow, save rooms & warp rooms compared.

CotM
HoD
AoS

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.)