Playing: Clock Tower (SNES) (PS)

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Considered by many to be one of the earliest games of the survival horror genre, Clock Tower (Later subtitled The First Fear) is a little known gem in the history of gaming. Originally released in Japan and later into the US, this retro hit is a surprisingly suspenseful and jump-worthy game that will have most on the edge of their seats.

It’s September, 1995 when four orphans are led to a mansion known as the “Clock Tower” due to it being its most prominent feature. Being led by a Ms. Mary, Jennifer, Anne, Laura and Lotte arrive at the foyer of the luxurious mansion and are eager to meet their adoptive father, Simon Barrows. Fear begin to set in as Mary soon disappears and Jennifer finds the other gone, leaving her to wander about the dark hallways of the mysterious Clock Tower.

With horror games like Dead SpaceSlender and Outlast, I was sure that a simple, pixel SNES game wouldn’t even come close to scaring me. I had heard about it before – being credited as one of the inspirations for future instalments of the genre. But even with that in mind, I carelessly decided to play it in the darkness of my room, deciding that it would be one of those games that you could simply breeze by. I was wrong.

I was surprised by how “survival” this point-and-click game was. I had played the original Resident Evil and Silent Hill games and considered that formula to be survival horror. Yet Clock Tower takes it to an unbelievably base level – with no weapons or offensive items, the best Jennifer can do is hold off the dreaded Scissorman for a few seconds before her life depletes, forcing the player to find hiding places to avoid the maniac. Interestingly enough, her health depletes from running, and if you’re being chased by the game’s slasher, you’re prone to tripping onto the floor, something which I found annoying in films but suspenseful in this video game. The controls are, as you would expect, very basic: Jennifer can only run left and right and interact with objects you click on. It is through this that she collects key items and progresses the story. The introduction of a “panic button” is also important, as it allows Jennifer to escape or complete tasks that would otherwise damage her. The game itself incorporates puzzle elements, which is actually quite difficult in some segments. It also features slightly different plot points in different game plays, often changing room or item locations. The most attractive feature of all in my opinion though, are the multiple endings that players can achieve. Those familiar with Corpse Party would enjoy this aspect, yet some ending criteria can be missed or obscured by gameplay alone, making it difficult to achieve all endings.

Clock Tower’s tense atmosphere is close to flawless, providing players with a sense of anxiety and insecurity about what they inspect and what rooms they enter. Most of the mansion is portrayed with dull colours, diverting from this in the few rooms where there are light switches. Certain events, which are shown to players in a cinematic still, are sudden and grotesque, catching players off guard. The music doesn’t help players in this regard – it only manages to heighten the suspense and tension already instilled in players.

As a whole, I was surprised by how well Clock Tower fared as a suspenseful survival horror. Not only did it completely change my initial opinion, but it also genuinely kept me frightened until I finally completed the game. It’s difficult enough to warrant multiple playthroughs, especially with multiple endings, but keep in mind that some interactions can become tiresome after awhile. if you’re looking for a good thrill, are a major retro-junkie or want to experience some real gaming history – turn off the lights and give Clock Tower a run for its money.

Bry Rating: 3.5/5
Recommended? Basic, but a great cult classic.
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Human Entertainment

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World Vision Global Leaders Convention 2014

Hey everyone! It’s been exactly a week since I last posted, and only because I had some things come up. And while, yes, I did slack off a bit throughout that week, I did manage to get a lot of work done in my everyday life. And apart from work, I got the opportunity to attend this gem of a convention.

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On Wednesday, the school had organised a few students to attend the convention and hear about the poverty and hunger that has befallen Rwanda these past years. To say that it was inspiring is an understatement – I learnt of personal struggles, pressing issues and harsh facts that are all very real in our world today. I suppose with so many of us leading the lives we go about living, we often forget about those in other countries that suffer. And boy, was I reminded.

The convention is held yearly across Australia to inspire and empower young people into leading their communities in the fight against global hunger. I, along with another 500 students, listened on and were amazed by the experiences of many people within Rwanda who are fighting to survive with the basic necessities most of us take for granted. We were introduced to a few people, such as the M.Cs Soreti & Hamish, local ambassador Jordan and Rwandan development facilitator Jean-Claude Rumenera, and all of them had a story to share. Stories of genocide, sadness and even heartache. But the emphasis wasn’t put on sadness, but on hope and forgiveness. With the focus on Rwanda, there can be no doubt that the Genocide of 94′ was of interest across the amphitheatre. But like the presenters kept reminding us – “The genocide is not what defines Rwanda as a nation or as a people”.

There was this sense of hope from each speaker on the day. You could tell it from their eyes and the way their voices pressed their message across the room – they genuinely believed hunger can be taken down. When you really think about it, it’s not facts, statistics and numbers that will end hunger, but the determination that people hold for serving justice where it needs to be. This determination was in the presenters on that day – and now I feel compelled to voice my own opinion and act.

“Hunger is not an issue of charity. It is an act of justice.”

#roadtochange

Playing: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (PS3) (PSVITA)

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Unfairly compared to it’s Nintendo counterpart, Sony’s PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a platform fighter that manages to hold its own in the genre, despite Smash Bros.‘s immense popularity. Even so, while it can be considered it’s own game in it’s own right, many aspects of the game were less than stellar, which is a shame considering the positive points it has to offer.

All the playable characters have their own storyline and reasons for joining the tournament being hosted by a mysterious entity. The players soon find themselves in familiar and unfamiliar settings as their worlds are amalgamated into hybrids, creating areas that are lethal if they do not adapt.

I can understand why Nintendo-biased fans would attack PASBR – although they might be similar in their gameplay, idea and genre, this is wholly unjustified. The game provides a new take on the platform fighter, while retaining elements of the genre that are exciting and invite fans to play. This in itself gives it enough credibility to be considered it’s own game and not simply a Smash Bro. rip-off.

The game features 20 (not including DLC) unique characters to enjoy, each with their own skill sets, combos, stats, and finishers. This gives players a large sense of diversity, keeping the game from being too repetitive. To gain points, characters must fill their AP meter in order to gain finisher levels that can kill other characters. All characters have distinct Level 1, 2, and 3 finishers, the lowest of which being the easiest to reach and hardest to use while the latter of which is the hardest to reach, yet easiest to use. The playing field is set in platformer style and are dynamic, often changing at intervals and introducing hazards that can injure or affect a player in some way. Items in the game also range from Playstaion franchises, and can be used to either enhance player performance or damage enemies. It features the standard game modes that you would normally expect from a game like this – Arcade (which is one of the lowlights when compared to the overall game), Challenge, Versus and (most importantly) Online Multiplayer. I must say, while the overall gameplay is good, it would become boring very quickly if it weren’t for it’s Versus and Online Multiplayer mode.

The character models, backgrounds and fighting animations are really well done, and are in my opinion much better than any other platform fighter that has been made. The game is not entirely perfect though – it suffers in it’s poor menu execution (honestly, it seems very amateurish) and the story still-frames in Arcade mode. This is an important note to ANY game: If you include a storyline, do not oversimplify it. It needs to be engaging, and two still-frames just don’t cut it. Moving on, the music fares slightly better in it’s presentation. It can be said that Smash Bros. does this better due to it’s large variety of well known hits, and while PASBR does this to a lesser degree, players are only given a below average score that rely on sudden shifts, sound effects and voice overs to keep players engaged.

Overall, while it’s music and some visual aspects are subpar, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is an absolute delight to play against other people. It’s actually a shame that it didn’t receive more attention, as it costs fans from more DLC characters, but I suppose there may have been some reasons for that. If you enjoy platform fighters, or enjoy the cross-over aspect that is more commonly observed in Nintendo’s Smash Bro. franchise, be sure to check out PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale for a newer and different experience.

Bry Rating: 3/5
Recommended? Don’t bother playing by yourself – go online!
Country of Origin: America
Developer: Superbot Entertainment; SCE Santa Monica Studios; Bluepoint Games (Vita)

Watching: The Help (2011)

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Exploring the racial segregation of the 1960’s, The Help is a film that incorporates a unique blend of humour and heartstrings. Speaking straight to the heart, it is a faithful adaption to the book of the same name by Kathryn Stokett. The powerhouse cast is to thank for it’s degree of success, as is the translation of the narrative from novel into film. With beautiful settings and a performance driven plot, it’s no wonder that this movie has been positively received the world over.

There are only a handful of films that have managed to make me cry and The Help is one of the lucky few. It was as intense as it was heartfelt, and I couldn’t help but adore Viola Davis’s (Prisoners, Doubt) performance as Aibileen. The entire film is well thought out and its story, although a tad predictable and melodramatic, is highly engaging and leaves the viewer asking for more. I’ve watched this with the family a few times since it’s release – and it’s just as powerful every time.

It’s the 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi as racial rights are trotted on by the hegemonic White society. Skeeter (Emma Stone), an ambitious writer working on a mundane cleaning column, becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the treatment of the coloured help by the people around her. Determined to voice out their opinions, she approaches Aibileen (Viola Davis), a maid who has raised White kids throughout her life, with the intent on writing a book on her experiences. As tensions rise between the White and the Black, Skeeter and Aibileen, along with fellow maid Minny (Octavia Spencer) and others, push through their social boundaries to expose what really happens behind closed doors and white picket fences.

The star ensemble of the film are without a doubt the film’s success. Davis is more than capable of pulling of an emotional performance, presenting the audience with a compelling act that is as touching as it is powerful. I would say that it is impossible not to feel for the characters the team gives life to, even if those emotions range from pure hate to heart wrenching pain. Stone’s (Easy A, Amazing Spiderman) act as Skeeter is, although not a strong as Davis’s is still solid and carries its own weight through the film. Although not part of the main story, an honourable mention goes out to Jessica Chastain’s (The Tree of Life, Mama) role as Celia Foote, who – like Davis – provides a surprisingly fleshed out character to the audience without overstepping her boundaries. On another note, the setting of Jackson seems to me to be highly authentic – it simply breathes a 1960’s air. Whether this vibe is used to heighten the tension between societies or to represent the simplicity of these times, Tate Taylor’s understanding of the original work is to thank for the beautifully created scenes. Add in an eloquent musical score, carefully selected costumes and the right shots – and you’ve got yourself a triumphant film that speaks for itself.

As a whole, The Help is a remarkable film that uses the talents of it’s actors to their full extent. Performances are ripe with emotions and sincerity, giving life to this beautiful and humorous fight for truth. While it at time may dip it’s toe into a melodramatic puddle, it never seems to coincide with the cliches that fill films that centre on race and ethnicity. With it’s comedic flair, topic gentility and emotional poise, The Help is a rewarding film experience that any film junkie should not go living without.

Bry Rating: 4.25/5
Recommended? Without a doubt
Country of Origin: America
Language: English

Listening To: The Super Mario Bros. Theme Song

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Two weeks ago, I talked about the classic “A” theme from Tetris. I really enjoyed searching the web for modern and quirky renditions of classic gaming tunes, and so today I bring you all the unforgettable, the classic and the unbelievably catchy song you all know as the Super Mario Bros. theme song. Easily one of the most well known themes in the history of games, Nintendo’s timeless classic is the embodiment of early gaming. I’m sure many still remember playing their hours away on the NES, essentially growing up with the theme.

So with that, let’s go back to when it all began. Released in 1985, the theme was officially known as “Ground Theme” and was played on the over world of the Mushroom Kingdom. Described as a tune with a calypso rhythm, Koji Kondo is the one responsible for creating one of the world’s most addictive hits.

Now for the next one, I know that I said modern remakes of the tune… but I couldn’t pass this up. Played on an instrument known as the “Shou”, it dates as far back as 1100 BC and is an extraordinary (and highly amusing) instrument. Props to the lady for being able to play such an ancient instrument with such skill and humour.

This one is pretty metal and an excellent example of just how awesome science is. Played by tesla coils, this Mario theme is electrifying to say the least. This pretty much made the nerd inside me squeal, so sit back and enjoy the power of science. Also shout out to Nikola Tesla for making this possible.

Nobody ever said that Mario wasn’t classy. I got to hand it to this violinist – he manages to play a few themes and sound effects from the game as someone plays it behind him quite well. He has the sounds down pat, so give it a try, jeeves.

We’ll end this list with a medley of themes from the original game. The ground theme is at the beginning and it soon covers other memorable tunes, my personal favourite being the Underwater theme. These guys do it well: it’s funny, quirky and really skilfully done. Check it out!

And that’s the end! Another five different versions of a classical gaming theme, one that’s sure to be in the memories of any gamer. See if you can find any other versions, and not only with this theme, but with any of the tunes that have a place in your heart. Happy hunting!

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

You are the strongest, the wisest and the most courageous woman I know, and I’m afraid that I don’t deserve you.

I remember the time we went out to see a standing ovation because my older brother was involved in it. I exaggerated how cold I was and complained until you finally gave up and took me home. You cried when we got home, but you forgave me.

I remember the time I came home hours late and had missed 8 calls and a number of texts. I made excuses for my actions and you told me to go to my room as your voice started breaking. You were so angry, but you forgave me.

I remember the time I broke a gift I had given to you only a few months after Christmas. I tried to hide it, blamed it on others and refused to be responsible for it. You picked up the shards and tried to fix it but you couldn’t. You were so upset, but you forgave me.

I remember the time I had lost the pricy gift you had given me for my birthday when we went on holidays. I looked for it everywhere, and when I couldn’t find it I eventually gave up. You were disappointed, but you forgave me.

I have many memories that I feel guilty for and  they always end with you forgiving me. You’ve been there through the heartbreaks and the accomplishments, the highs and the lows, and the memorable and the forgettable. You’ve been with me since day one, and I can’t believe that I can call someone like you my mother. You raised three kids on your own, went out of your way to pave our futures and have guaranteed our happiness at the cost of your own. You taught me that a selfless person is one of the greatest gifts in life, and you’ve been giving me that gift from the moment you called me your son.

I’ll never be able to reach the selflessness you have – but as your son, I will try.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom.

Your terrible, but loving son, Bryan.

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