Review of Death Mark

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Screenshots can be deceptive. Based on Death Mark’s promotional images, I expected this horror title from Aksys Games to be a first person dungeon crawler. In actuality it is a visual novel with point and click adventure segments. Over the course of five chapters, which took me around six hours to finish, players take control of an amnesiac whose wrist has been branded with the titular Death Mark. At first glance said marking looks like a cool tattoo. Early on in the story however it is revealed that the Death Mark is a curse placed on the protagonist by a vengeful spirit. Unless he is able to rid himself of it, our hero is fated to die within the next few days. Regrettably for him, erasing the Death Mark will prove to be more painful than enduring a session of laser tattoo removal.

OVERVIEW

Death Mark’s hub world is a mansion that once belonged to a paranormal expert. The player controlled character is based there, as he is searching the estate for clues on how to cure his condition. His investigation hasn’t uncovered much, but on the plus side he does find a cute talking doll that resembles a character right out of Rozen Maiden. At the start of each chapter more victims, who have been cursed, show up at the mansion’s doorstep. They seek help with escaping the fate that has befallen them. Unlike the main character, who has no memory of his past, the visitors have some idea of where they got marked. They take the protagonist to said location, hoping that he can defeat the spectre that roams there. In theory, exorcising the ghost should purge the hex it cast on them.

By using the d-pad players can navigate each area. The levels available to explore include a sewer, an abandoned school and a forest frequented by suicidal folk. Crikey, this game is starting to sound like a Logan Paul simulator! Via the use of the analogue stick players can aim a flashlight, which is used to examine objects and pick up items. The inventory procured is in turn used to solve puzzles. Pretty standard stuff. Open a locked door with a key, use bug spray to kill bees that block your path and um, repair an elevator with condoms. Wow, I don’t recall MacGyver ever doing anything like that. Items are also required to defeat the phantoms you encounter. Every now and then the player is placed in perilous Life or Death situations. These come in the form of timed events, were an action needs to be selected from a multiple choice list of options. Picking the wrong response will result in damage and potential death.

VERDICT

My rating for Death Mark is a four out of five. If you enjoyed Corpse Party: Book of Shadows I imagine you will like Death Mark, as they both have similar gameplay. Don’t expect much in the way of animation, as this is one of those titles that relies on text and still pictures to tell its story. The main campaign has two endings to unlock. How each chapter concludes is determined by the choices made during the end of level boss fight. Overall I liked the cast of characters you partner up with, over the course of the adventure, and the game’s plot. Aside from the main mystery, of who cursed the protagonist, each chapter serves as a stand alone ghost tale. It’s interesting to discover the tragic origins responsible for birthing the creatures you are pitted against.

Anyone who is left wanting more, after the end credits roll, can purchase the two-hour DLC for a bonus chapter. This applies to the Vita version only. For some reason the other console releases come complete with the extra chapter. That may seem harsh, for long suffering Vita fans, but it all evens out, as the edition on Sony’s handheld is the cheapest to buy. In terms of scares Death Mark isn’t too terrifying. The developers try to make things creepy with sound effects and the odd jump scare, but none of it phased me. I only had to change my underwear two times. All that said, I would only recommend Death Mark to gamers who are in their late teens or older. Apart from the occasional gruesome death the game includes a few kinky images. These include a bondage scene involving plant vines, a picture of a naked woman who is covered in serpents and a spirit possession that causes one of your female partners to strip. Maybe that’s what Ray Parker meant when he said (ghost) busting makes me feel good.

Review of She-Ra (Season One)

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For the honour of Grayskull! Time to review another cartoon that I have watched on Netflix. In spite of the unimpressive trailer, which has received much ire online, I recently decided to check out the thirteen episode She-Ra reboot. Although I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the original show, I was curious to see how the series would turn out, due to its connection with Masters of the Universe. Back when I was a kid I dug watching the adventures of She-Ra’s brother He-Man, and I also owned several of the Mattel toys. He-Man was an awesome superhero who protected the fantasy world of Eternia. Just like Superman, I never understood how he managed to preserve his secret identity. When prince Adam transformed into He-Man the only things that would differentiate the two was a tan and fewer clothes.

OVERVIEW

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power follows the exploits of an orphan girl named Adora. The first episode establishes that she is a rookie soldier serving the Evil Horde empire. Adora is a model officer and has recently been promoted to the rank of force commander. Her allegiance to the Horde ends however when she witnesses first hand the atrocities they commit on Etheria’s peaceful populace. Who could have possibly predicted that the Evil Horde is evil? Adora defects to the Princess Alliance, a group made up of mostly female warriors who possess a range of elemental and magical powers. Not to be outdone Adora soon acquires a special ability of her own, courtesy of a magical sword she discovered in the nearby Whispering Woods. By lifting up the blade and yelling out her catchphrase, Adora is able to morph into the titular Valkyrie who is blessed with enhanced strength.

Most of the series follows Adora as she travels across the land with her new pals Glimmer (a teleporting royal) and Bow the archer. The trio are tasked with securing aid from neighbouring kingdoms, in the hopes they can all band together to repel the invading Horde. Instead of Sylvanas, this Horde’s leader is a scary chap named Hordak. He only makes fleeting appearances in season one though. Adora’s chief antagonists are characters from her past. The first of these is the person who raised her – a witch named Shadow Weaver. She-Ra’s other rival is childhood chum Catra, who feels hurt that Adora decided to abandon her in favour of joining the Princesses. Although too proud to admit it, Catra starts the series off wanting to bring Adora back to her side. Later however, when Catra’s achievements begin to gain recognition, the relationship sours. Catra begins to view Adora as someone who has always held her back.

VERDICT

My rating for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is three stars. I went into the series with low expectations, but was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it was. That said, I still prefer the reboots of Thundercats and He-Man over this Netflix production. I would say that those shows were more to my liking, as they had better action and were less goofy. On several occasions She-Ra’s dialogue and gags made me cringe (now I know what He-Man’s cat Cringer felt like). Although the individual storylines of each episode were nothing special, I dug Etheria’s lore. Hopefully next season will delve deeper into the sci-fi origins of She-Ra’s power. Rather than sorcery, it’s hinted that her sword is linked to an ancient race of interstellar travellers. Another thing I am looking forward to, from future episodes, is how the Adora/Catra dynamic develops. Can the pair patch things up or has the cat girl gone past the point of redemption? We will have to wait and see.

One thing that will put off many potential viewers, from giving She-Ra a chance, is the hideous artwork. It’s hard to believe that DreamWorks were behind the creation of this series. They used to produce films that were on Pixar’s level. I would blame the TV sized budget, for the lacklustre visuals, but the studio’s work on Voltron proves they are capable of much better. Another stylistic choice that won’t go down well with old school She-Ra fans are the character redesigns. Virtually all of the cast have had their race or skin colour altered. Depending on where you stand this may be a triumph for diversity or an example of SJWs trying to indoctrinate young kids via children’s programming. Apart from those changes, some characters have had their body sizes tweaked too. Glimmer has gone from being a super model, in the eighties series, to a plus size teen. I blame her powers for that. Maybe if she walked more, instead of teleporting everywhere, she would lose a few pounds.

Review of Aggretsuko

Aggretsuko

Sanrio is a company that specializes in cute merchandise. Even if you haven’t heard of them, I am sure that you at least recognize one of their creations – Hello Kitty. Unlike the South Park character Butters, who enjoys playing Hello Kitty Online, I can’t say that I am a fan of said feline. It’s just too girlie and wholesome for a degenerate such as myself. From the Sanrio stable of characters Aggretsuko is much more to my liking. This ten-episode anime series has the adorable visuals of Hello Kitty, but is more geared towards an adult audience. It follows the misadventures of a twenty-five year old red panda, named Retsuko, who struggles to survive the drudgery of office life. When the stress of it all gets too much, she vents out her frustrations by rocking out to death metal tunes at the local karaoke parlor.

OVERVIEW

Retsuko is a character that I imagine most of my older readers can relate to. Every weekday, in order to pay the bills, she makes the rush hour pilgrimage to work. After escaping the packed subway she has to endure hours of tedium sitting behind a computer screen, number crunching balance sheets. Her boss is a literal sexist pig who does little at the office, other than practice his golf swings and pester Retsuko for cups of tea. I sympathize with her plight, although I can’t say that any of my co-workers ever bug me for a cuppa. When it comes to beverages the only thing I can muster is black coffee from the machine. Anyone foolish enough to ask me for a brew soon learns to never make such a request ever again. Evidently I am terrible at judging the precise amount of milk/sugar dehydrated members of staff want.

Perhaps life would be more pleasant for Retsuko if she had a backbone? Unfortunately for her she is too darn nice. She is the type of person who will visit a clothing store and buy a token pair of socks, rather than suffer the guilt of leaving the establishment empty handed. At work when things get hectic, rather than speak up for herself, she retreats to the restroom. There she counts up to ten, in order to regain her composure. Over the show’s ten instalments Retsuko makes passive attempts to flee the horrors of her company’s accountancy department. She tries to line up another job and also gets her buddies, from yoga class, to report Retsuko’s boss for harassment. When neither plan bears fruit she decides instead to find a man. Getting hitched will presumably unlock the shackles of full-time employment and reward her with a cushier housewife existence.

VERDICT

My rating for Aggretsuko is four stars. If you are on the fence, on whether to give this series a watch, I would suggest that you take the plunge. Aggretsuko isn’t a big time commitment, as its episodes clock out on the fifteen minute mark. The show’s sense of humour was right up my alley, as it is rather dry and sarcastic. I wasn’t expecting that from an anime whose visuals are so colourful. Viewers who work corporate jobs are likely to recognize characters who resemble folks that they know in real life. Examples include Tsunoda the gazelle, who is the stereotypical beauty that kisses up to the boss. There’s also Kabae – a hippo who spreads gossip and bores anyone, who will listen, with stories of her family. My favourite character is Fenneko the fox. She stalks co-workers on social media and has a delightful laugh, which she blurts out whenever her pals find themselves in compromising situations.

Despite loving the gags, art style and supporting cast I was a bit disappointed with Aggretsuko’s protagonist. Her meek personality makes Retsuko an easy person to pity, but I can’t say that I approve of someone who seeks romance just to secure an easy meal ticket. From a male perspective I had to cringe when she turns down nice guy Haida the hyena. He made the cardinal sin of mentioning that it would be nice to work with his hypothetical future missus, rather than become the couple’s sole bread winner. In the later episodes Retsuko instead opts to date an inconsiderate pretty boy who has zero charisma. Aggretsuko’s writers clearly know how the world works, be it office politics or the dating game. No wonder red pandas are an endangered species. When it comes to boyfriends they make terrible life decisions.