Saturday, April 19, 2014

Brothers; The Anything Box; No Spoilers

I'm catching up on some review work before the world warms up and it's too unbearable to sit in a messy bedroom and be on the computer when I can be outside, and what better than a rainy, cold, icky weekend than to do that?

Video Game Review: Brothers...

A tale of two joysticks...erm... sons.  It's almost impossible to find reviews online that don't spoil everything, and I will try not to.  You know how I've been trying to find video games that provide the same emotional experience as books or movies do.  I think there's a considerable medium available for artists who want to tell a story that is interactive and stimulating on multiple levels.  And there are many prime examples of this, Psychonauts comes to mind, Final Fantasy III (VI), Papo Y Yo.  With the critical success of the latter, and Journey, many independent video game makers are using the media as a canvas to create moving works of art.  The balance comes in making a game both enjoyable in technical and interactive aspects (in other words, what makes it a "game"), as well as blending in art, emotion, storylines, and theme.

The problem is that I think some video game designers have started making video games that are Emotional for Emotions sake.  As I said in my last blog, we've become a society that expects a constant pull of action or emotion, or we become bored with all of it. Take movies from times past, until today.  The subdued horror that is Hitchcock's Psycho uses camera angles, music, to create a bathtub scene that is shocking without being grotesque.  Today's audiences need much more graphic displays of violence.  I doubt that the Saw series would have even been possible in the 1950s or 60s, mainly because it would never have been thought of as something people want to see.  Now, there's no problem with visually torturing people on screen.  Death has never been so graphic, nor so banal, as it is today.

The same goes for video games.  Death in most first person shooters is as boring as Pong set on "Easy." We simply have no emotional connection to the characters, and even if we do, we know that they will reappear at the last save point.  The first actual death that created an emotional loss would have to be Aerith's death in Final Fantasy VII, one that provided an emotional shock much like the death of Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie in 1986 (nowadays, it happens every movie... it's expected, routine, even)

The makers of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons have created a game where death is immutable, where no magical twist of plot line is supposed to make it all better.  In the beginning (and this is not a spoiler), you watch as the younger brother tries to pull his mother into a boat, but is unable to, and she drowns.  The scene, and the following one, at the grave site, is sad, setting an emotional roller coaster for the whole game.  The two brothers must set out on a journey from the confines of a comfortable human village out into a fairy tale world where danger, puzzles, and acts of brutality and compassion take place around every corner.  They go to find medicine for their now ailing father.

The unique part of this game is that it's only for one player.  One controller (or the keyboard), two brothers.  It would be akin to playing the piano, where the fingers must do two different things independent of each other.  There were times that I had to connect a joystick up (in which each brother is controlled by the analog sticks) and then also use the keyboard.  To make things worse, the joystick is calibrated wrong, so "up" was actually "left," and so forth.  The puzzles in the game are simple, but difficult (because of the controlling) at the same time.  All the while, you are becoming more intimately knowledgeable of each brother.  They can interact with most all characters and objects in the game, scoring achievements in Steam or the PS3 along the way.

The sore spot for me is, of course, the ending. I didn't like it.  What I thought should have happened was this: (and this isn't a spoiler, because you find yourself wondering how it will end way before it actually does.  This is just a way it doesn't end.) I thought the the brothers would come back with the medicine only to find it too late, that their father had died, but with all the adventures the two brothers had had, the older brother was mature enough to build a family with just those two.  It would provide an ending that would be a sound moral exclamation point at the end.  But it doesn't end that way.

The best trailer I've found is on Steam.  Download the Steam program (you should do that anyhow, if you have a fast enough computer), and download the trailer from Steam.  The ones on Youtube are too short, and most reviews are filled with Spoilers).

Book Review: The Anything Box by Zenna Henderson

I'm positive that Zenna Henderson and Ray Bradbury were the same person... that's how good their short stories are, and how lyrical each one writes.  Of course, I know they're not, that's just silly.  I love finding a book in your stacks and reading it for the first time, even after you've had it for years on end, and your father before that.  My dad never liked short stories (as I've said before,) and so reading this collection was something different from what I normally do.  Zenna Henderson writes about "The People," in most of her works. They are aliens that have become stranded here on Earth and are trying to find their way back home.  The theme continues in this set of short stories, most of which are told from a teacher's point of view (that being the occupation of the writer).  The children the narrator's meet are strange, often with unusual abilities that seem to be quite normal to the kids themselves.  They feel like episodes of The Twilight Zone, each in brevity and theme, and I enjoyed most of the stories in this book.  Orson Scott Card attributes Henderson as being an inspiration growing up, and indeed, those who enjoy OSC's work will find themselves at home in the pages of this book.

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