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December 2018

Spyro: Reignited Trilogy Review

Happy last day of 2018! I’ve talked about Spyro before, and have played a little bit through the remaster. Today we say goodbye to 2018 with a new video game review of an old favorite ;D

For those who aren’t familiar with the original games, Spyro is a platforming game, in which you travel to different worlds gathering collectibles and solving puzzles. Spyro the Dragon was originally released for the Playstation in 1998 and was an instant hit, inspiring 3 direct sequels, a reboot series called The Legend of Spyro, and the Skylanders franchise (both of which, in my humble opinion, bear no further mention here). I grew up playing the first four games, which inspired my love of fantasy, atmospheric environments, and the color purple. Toys for Bob acquired the rights and remastered the original (or OG, as I’ll call it from here on out) trilogy in this compilation, released in October.

The good: Toys for Bob obviously put a lot of love and creative energy into the Reignited trilogy. Gameplay in Reignited is a carbon copy of the original games; if you’ve played the OG trilogy, you’ll be able to jump right into Reignited, and vice versa. But the look is completely different, in the best possible way. Each environment is scaled up to 11, with so many new details to pick out. The original PS1 environments were brightly colored and atmospheric, but also a blank slate for the player to project their own imagination onto. It’s like Toys for Bob reached back in time, into fan’s minds, to pluck out the tiny little details we added as children, to add them to Reignited. I said in my original Reignited post (linked above) that my mind knew the environments were different, but my heart didn’t know it, because it’s exactly as I pictured it in my imagination as a child. That sentiment only holds more and more true the more I play.

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A screenshot comparing the Stone Hill level in the OG (left) and Reignited (right) Spyro the Dragon.

They also redesigned the characters. I’m forever grateful they kept Spyro close to his original, adorable design, while adding more expression and pizzazz. OG Spyro is cute as heck, but I think Reignited Spyro might be my favorite design. The dragons you rescue in the first game are all redesigned as well, with outfits matching the world you find them in. The Artisan dragons, for example, wear paint-splattered aprons, hold scrolls and quills, or bear trays of freshly baked bread. In later games, Elora, Hunter, Ripto, and everyone else sport new and improved designs. My (other) favorite redesign is Sheila the Kangaroo from Year of the Dragon! I love her hair and her little safari outfit! She’s so cute!!!

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Sheila the Kangaroo from OG (left) and Reignited (right) Spyro: Year of the Dragon.

 

One thing that was almost universally acclaimed about Spyro the Dragon in particular was the music. Stewart Copeland, formerly of The Police, composed the original soundtrack. They did rerecord the music for the Reignited trilogy, but you have the option in the menu to switch between the Reignited music and the OG music! I have been trying to give every Reignited track a fair shot, but more often than not I end up switching to the OG soundtrack, especially during my favorite levels. For newcomers to Spyro, the Reignited music is very close to the original music, and is serviceable. However, having had the OG music on my iPod since forever, I immediately pick up on the subtle differences in the Reignited soundtrack, and I personally find it distracting. The option to switch between soundtracks is HUGE for me. I wish this option was in other remastered games for the same reason (notably, the many, many Kingdom Hearts remasters)!

The not-so-good: Loading times between levels seem much longer here than in the original games. I’m reminded brutally of the fourth Spyro game, Enter the Dragonfly, which was notorious for its long loading times. You could go into the portal to a new level, walk away from the TV, hit the bathroom, get a snack, finish some math homework, and it would still be loading by the time you got back to the TV. They also took the little “gem bloom” animation off the loading screens, where all the gems you collected would move from the top of the screen to the bottom and count in real time, which was disappointing to me. They do still count – but without the gem animation, it isn’t as fun to see your gem count go up =(

It seems also really dumb – and this isn’t a nitpick about this series, but games now in general – to spend money on the disk, only to have to download the game directly to your console. There’s also usually an update immediately after, which… why? The game is finished, isn’t it? It should be. These downloads and updates take up time and bandwidth. The initial download from this game took about 10 minutes, which is not a big deal. However, the UPDATE took 45 minutes, and that was even with the ethernet cord plugged directly into my PS4.

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This is the screen I stared at… for almost an hour…

Now, this might just be me. But when I get a new game, I just want to pop the disk in and immediately start playing. Not to mention, it feels to me that I’m getting an unfinished product if it needs to update on launch day. It was not this way with even last gen consoles. With my PS3, I had the option to download my game to the console for faster loading, but it was optional, not mandatory like with my PS4. Having never done it, I feel like games start up and run smoother on my 6-or-7-year-old PS3 vs. my 4-year-old PS4, because not all of my PS3 storage is hogged by entire games as well as save data. I finally had to buy external storage for my PS4 to accommodate this game.

Comparing the game industry from the late ’90s and early 2000’s to today might be a bit unfair, but I genuinely miss spending my hard-earned money on a game and getting a finished product, as opposed to blocking out an extra 10-15 minutes (if not longer) for unnecessary downloads and updates before I even start playing. I expect a finished product when I spend my money on something, not a download disk.

(I should note that Reignited and SoulCalibur VI are the first new games I’ve bought for myself in almost 2 years, during which time I’ve been replaying old favorites when I’ve had time, so all this isn’t exactly new to me. I just haven’t had to deal with it in a long time!)

My biggest nitpick… Clancy Brown (you may recognize him as Lex Luthor from many DC animated shows and movies, or as Byron Hadley from The Shawshank Redemption) voiced half the dragons in OG Spyro the Dragon, but he is glaringly absent here in Reignited. This is an outrage! A travesty!! I want the option to switch between OG and Reignited voice actors as well!!! ;D

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LOOKIT HIM HE’S SOOOO CUUUUUTE ❤

Overall, the Reignited trilogy is at once a loving homage to and a great update from the OG series. The core elements are still there: identical gameplay, lovable and adorable characters, and an atmospheric fantasy world. Reignited takes the charm and details up a couple of levels, making it delightful for old fans to discover what’s different, and new fans to discover the joy of Spyro, just as we imagined it all those years ago.

Kathleen

Toys for Bob. Spyro: Reignited Trilogy. 2018.

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2018 Goals: Update!

At the end of 2017 I wrote a post detailing what my goals would be for the upcoming 2018 year, and said “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” So, did I meet my goals? I have listed what the goals were, with my results in bold afterwards:

1) Search out new career opportunities. I recently graduated with a Masters Degree in Library Science (MLIS) and I spent 2.5 years working towards furthering my education so that I could be an asset to any public library. I need to voice my ambition and work diligently towards obtaining a leadership position. I am still at my position as Teen Librarian at my small rural library. I like my job, the community that the library serves and my hours that are family friendly, but I want managerial opportunities, and quite frankly, more money. I really can’t say too much more about this as my library patrons, co-workers and future employers might look at this blog, but I am ready to grow.

2) Write more! Now that my endless homework is done, I will have more time to devote to it. In conjunction with that goal, I welcome writing guest posts. I already have a The Last Jedi piece in the works for Jeffrey at The Imperial Talker, an environmental piece for Michael’s American Resistance at My Comic Relief and YA book reviews for the 2018 Tournament of Books through the Young Adult Services Forum group I belong to planned. This I did! I wrote about  my disappointment with Luke Skywalker’s arc in The Last Jedi on The Imperial Talker, I debated between graphic novel Motor Crush and sci-fi book Landscape with Invisible Hand for the YASF (Young Adult Services Forum) Tournament of Books, I wrote the Ultimate List of Graphic Novels for Perspective of a Writer, and I wrote a review of graphic novel My Favorite Thing Is Monsters on Reads and Reels. Kathleen and I co-wrote a hilarious four part series, The Great Chris Debate, with Michael from My Comic Relief and Kalie from Just Dread-Full about who was the best cinematic Chris (Chris Pine of course!), with a final rebuttal from The Green Onion Blog and Rob from My Side of the Laundry Room. Finally, a YA book I reviewed  was published in the magazine School Library Journal, with a possibility of more. I enjoy writing and hope to do even more next year! 

3) Hike more! To be honest I’m not one to hit the gym. But I really like hiking and will happily spend hours walking in the woods. It’s great exercise and wonderful for my soul. Not so good- but not horrible. My husband and I hike more than the typical couple, but we fell short of hiking as much as we wanted to and should have. However, my husband and I had a weekend getaway to Starved Rock State Park in the spring to hike and during our family trip this summer to Washington DC, we included a side-trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, in which our family hiked to some beautiful waterfalls (picture seven in grid below). I aim to improve on this again in 2019! 

4) Take more nature photographs for my Instagram account nancyandnature. I am planning to purchase myself a better camera soon, and hope that I can spend more time outdoors (see above goal) capturing good shots. I had nine pictures selected to be featured on photography sites Only in Illinois, Midwest Snaps and Illinois Shots in 2017 and I aim to have more selected this year.  Due to not hiking as much as I had hoped and a malaise that I developed on taking photos in the second half of the year, this goal was not reached. Although I did have a few pictures featured on Illinois Instagram sites (the first in this grid, plus the fifth) and a family travel blog highlighted a picture I had taken of an Indiana state park. I did end up buying myself a nice Canon camera, and hope to use it more often, although some of my best photos have come from my android phone! 

5) Organize my drawers, closets and basement in my home. I bet my co-workers would appreciate me working on my desk too. But I’m creative, and have lots of art projects and the corresponding supplies in mid-completion. Luckily I have a steady stream of teen volunteers at the library to assist me and the other librarians with various projects. Let’s not speak of my  drawers, closets and basement in my home…

All in all, I missed quite a few of my goals. But 2019 is around the corner and I will continue to grow, learn and strive. Here’s to hoping that everyone’s upcoming year is their best yet!

-Nancy

Not really…but I laughed so hard when I saw this on FB!

Grand Theft Horse

Nancy and I both hope you all are having a wonderful holiday so far! For my post this week, here’s a review of a graphic novel that starts on Christmas Eve… that makes it a Christmas story, right? =P

Gail Ruffu is a wanted woman. Her crime: Grand Theft… Horse? Believe it or not, it’s true! She was the first woman since 1850 to be charged with such a crime. However, she had very good reason. In order to protect Urgent Envoy from the brutality of horse racing, and an apathetic co-owner, Gail stole him from the racing stables on Christmas Eve 2004 and spirited him away to a boarding stable. She told no one where he was, though the co-owner, a former friend of hers and a lawyer to boot, cracked down with a lawsuit, hired a private investigator, and resorted to blackmail to try and get Urgent Envoy back. Gail stood her ground even as she lost all her money, her training license, and her way of life. She lost it all in order to do the right thing – but will it pay off in the end? Can she win the case that’s gone all the way up to California’s Supreme Court?

… Wow. Just wow. This is a tale so big it seems unreal, but it really did happen! The author, G. Neri, is Gail’s cousin, and upon hearing the story from Gail herself, he thought, “That would make a great book!” (Introduction page). There’s more than just the story of Urgent Envoy’s case here: Gail’s childhood and early adulthood are touched on as well, to explain how she grew to love horses and ended up in the racing circuit. The writing is succinct, tense, and conversational, as if Gail herself were telling us the story.

The artwork is tense, too. Corban Wilkin’s linework is blocky, angular, and even so, curiously expressive. He managed to not only convey horses accurately, but give them expression and personality without making them caricature-like. I finished a painting of horses in the fall that took me TWO YEARS – so believe me when I say, what Wilkin did was no easy feat. In fact, I’m jealous. I’m ready to scrap my whole painting X,D

This graphic novel is part Western, part legal drama, and part animal lover’s tribute. Above all, it’s an underdog story. Gail went up against impossible odds for the sake of a horse’s well-being. You’ll be rooting for her the whole way through.

– Kathleen

Neri, G., and Corban Wilkin. Grand Theft Horse. 2018.

I Hate Fairyland: Volumes Three & Four

I Hate Fairyland is fluffin’ over, with the third and fourth books bringing this series to a fantabulous conclusion! I applaud writer and illustrator Skottie Young for keeping this series to four volumes, for as I said after my review of volume two, “I am leery of falling into a candy-induced coma if I read too much of this series.”

Young has quite a distinctive illustrative style and is already well known for his past work such as Rocket Raccoon and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Plus, his chubby baby superheroes are a fan favorite for variant art in the Marvel books. As such, he is the only artist I can imagine pulling off this storyline. Colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu gives the residents of Fairyland a candy-colored motif that is a perfect juxtaposition for green-haired Gertrude’s nightmare.

Volume Three: Good Girl

Volume three opens with a fun shout-out to comic cons as Gertrude actually looks forward to the annual Dungeon Festexpocon. There she acquires a super-fan who admires the destruction that she has wrought over the community. But as usual, that pairing doesn’t last and Gertrude moves onto the next disaster. We also get a lengthy origin story to her guide, Larry the Fly, but I wasn’t quite clear if it was a memory or a dream.

Our favorite psychopath decides to try something she hasn’t before in her quest to leave Fairytown- she is a good girl. Could this be the key to going home? However, after the swath of horror she has inflicted upon the Fairyland citizens for over 30 years, the creatures do not believe her and former foes come back to kill her. A trip to Hell seems apropos at the end.

On a funny note, when I went to pull these two books from the graphic novel collection at the library I work at, I couldn’t find them, although the computer said they were checked in. A new shelver of ours had put these two volumes in the kid’s graphic novel section, due to the look of this volume in particular.  I hope no youngster was traumatized by accidentally flipping through the very mature content!

Volume Four: Sadly Never After

Hell is filled with Gertrude’s former enemies who wish to make her suffer. As Gertrude is still longing for home,  the Devil plays with her insecurities and sends her to an alternate reality of her parent’s home. But he soon deducts that the real agony for Gertrude is to send her back to Fairyland. Back in Fairlyland, we meet Queen Cloudia who was vanquished in the first volume and who has now become Dark Cloudia. Bitter, she wants to destroy her former kingdom so some of the council leaders appeal to Gertrude to defeat her. They tell her that Cloudia’s defeat will earn Gertrude a way home.

While Gertrude’s way home is not straightforward and easy, the short epilogue with a grown up Gertrude back home is bittersweet, as it’s not exactly what she had been wishing for…

I loved the little jokes that you could find in the background panels, with dark humor and satire interwoven into it. The art remained fresh throughout and even knowing what kind of story this was, some of the violence and mayhem continued to surprise me. I will miss this foul mouthed sociopath, as Skottie Young created an unforgettable character in Gertrude.

-Nancy

Make sure you check out Volume One: Madly Ever After  &  Volume Two: Fluff My Life

Best Reads of 2018

It’s that time of year again! Here we’ve compiled our list of the ten best books we’ve read in 2018, and their consequent reviews, in no particular order. Enjoy!

Continue reading “Best Reads of 2018”

Lost Soul, Be at Peace

From the author of Honor Girl comes another graphic memoir – this time, about Maggie’s time in the eleventh grade, after the events of Honor Girl.

Maggie’s an only child now that her brother moved away for college. She lives in a huge house with a dad who’s absorbed in his work and a mom who’s busy with everyone but her daughter. Teetering on the brink of failing eleventh grade and dyeing her hair purple can’t make them notice her. The only one Maggie can rely on is her cat, Thomasina. Tommi for short. Except when Tommi disappears inside their own house, that support disappears as well. Maggie searches top to bottom and finds nothing but a door to nowhere and a ghost of a boy named Tommy – but no sign of her grey cat. Tommy is searching too – but he’s not sure what for. Together, Maggie and Tommy search for her cat, his past, and the meaning of growing up.

It’s been a long time since I read Honor Girl, and I think the art style has changed a bit. I remember Honor Girl looking slightly fuzzy, unfinished almost, to convey the uncertainty of young love and teenage girlhood. Lost Soul, Be at Peace‘s characters are a bit more manga-like than I remember, but overall is a bit more polished. That’s funny when you take into consideration the supernatural elements – but at the same time, it doesn’t feel supernatural. It feels, in fact, quite natural for Maggie to be talking to a ghost! This is more about coming to terms with your history and realizing that you’re not a child anymore. It’s a quiet but powerful sentiment, one we all come to at some point. I look forward to more from Maggie Thrash, who manages to convey such complex emotions so succinctly and elegantly.

– Kathleen

Thrash, Maggie. Lost Soul, Be at Peace. 2018.

Black Road: The Holy North

Black Road continues Brian Wood’s take on emo Vikings. Set in Norway in AD 1000, Magnus The Black is a warrior who discovers a secret among the new Christian priests who are laying waste to the Norskk culture and landscape. This isn’t an extension of Northlanders, instead this series is set up to be a mystery thriller and not as historically accurate.

Magnus is a bear of a man, who respects his pagan upbringing, yet realizes that Christianity is taking over the region and wants to help his people through the transition. However, this makes his unpopular with both sides, as neither fully trust him. A former soldier, he is grieving the loss of his beloved wife and wants reassurances from the Catholic priests that they will be reunited in Heaven together. He takes on a job of escorting a Cardinal from the Vatican up the “Black Road” to a new compound up North. The job goes sideways, and he joins up with Julia, the Cardinal’s adopted daughter and the local blacksmith, Kitta, to finish the journey northward. There they find a rogue priest, Bishop Oakenfort, who wishes to shift the power of the Vatican from Rome to Norway and for him to be in charge. Chaos ensues.

I’d also like to know Wood’s true view on Christianity and about his faith journey, as many of his works portray the Church in a very negative light. While historically accurate in many respects, his bleak and dark views only show the negative side of this era’s conversions, and is not a balanced viewpoint. But I obviously find it fascinating, as I keep on reading his graphic novels.

The artwork was solid, by Garry Brown who did the artwork for Wood’s The Massive series.  His style is rather blocky, which doesn’t always translate for faces, yet his backgrounds are detailed and the Scandinavian landscapes are well drawn.  Dave McCraig does the coloring, as he did for the entire Northlanders series, and effectively guides you through the changing chronology with color changes to signal Magnus’s flashbacks. I read the compilation of the series, which included V1-The Holy North & V2-A Pagan Death.  At the end of the book it included a mock up of the first issue, after which Wood changed direction and re-wrote parts of it, which was interesting to see the evolution of the story.

This Norse saga will appeal to all Northlanders fans, although like I said earlier, it is not a continuation of that series. Magnus The Black is a layered individual with conflicting desires, and this story has the potential to say something fresh about faith and conversion, so while I doubt the series will continue, I’d read more if it does.

-Nancy

Wood, Brain & Garry Brown. Black Road: The Holy North. 2018.

Top 5 Wednesday: Books to Give Realists as Gifts

I’m back with a T5W post, after a very long break from it!  Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes. This week the topic is creating a recommendations guide for a certain type of person. I am a practical lass, and a bit of a pessimist truth be told, so I am choosing books a realist would like.  For the last year and a half, ever since I discovered Briggs Land, I have been having a reading affair with Brian Wood who takes real and edgy to the extreme.

Continue reading “Top 5 Wednesday: Books to Give Realists as Gifts”

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide

Graciela Iturbide is a famous photographer who was born in Mexico City in 1942. But, she didn’t start out wanting to be one. She wanted to be a writer when she was a girl. However, Graciela was from a wealthy and conservative family, and young girls simply didn’t have careers in the arts. When they grew up, they married, had children, and kept house. Graciela did do that for a time – until her daughter passed away. Then, she turned to the camera and what had before been only a hobby became her life’s work. She travels her home country of Mexico, and abroad to India and the United States, capturing portraits, landscapes, and birds. She looks for symbols, true reality, and death behind her lens. Her work has gone on to receive worldwide recognition and awards… and she’s not done yet.

This is quite an interesting graphic novel. It’s a memoir, a retrospective, a catalog of photographs, and an artist’s biography. Like Iturbide’s photographs, the art is all in black and white. The reason she only photographs black and white is, that’s how she feels reality is captured. Her photographs are a study in value and symbolism. There are a few within the book, and they are marvelous. The artist recreates some in his illustrations, and they are delightfully true to the source material. They are rendered with strong black lines but with gentle washes of grey to give tone.

Iturbide’s work strives toward understanding. Understanding her Mexican culture, the role of women and femininity, the juxtaposition of rural vs. modern life, and much more. Her work is held at many prestigious museums, including the Getty, who published this graphic novel. I hope it is the first of many portraits of modern artists and their work!

– Kathleen

Quintero, Isabel, and Zeke Peña. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide. 2018.

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