Life is…Weird.

NOTE: If you’re planning on playing Life is Strange or otherwise want to avoid spoilers of any kind, I’d recommend coming back to this post after finishing the game. Because, in the words of Poltergiest’s Carol Ann, they’re heeeere. 

Life is Strange is one of those games that, for all its glaring faults, is unforgivably reccommendable. The challenge level of the puzzles undulates more capriciously than its adolescent subjects, and there’s something intrinsically cringe-worthy about its insistence that ‘hella’ is indeed more valuable than virtually every other word ever to exist, but I’d be a disgusting liar to claim that I wasn’t moved by the messages that underlay Max Caulfield’s increasingly fragile world.


Life is Strange Guitar.jpg

Life is Strange’s premise almost had me rolling my eyes and sighing. You play a decidedly more trusting Holden Caulfield. Max Caulfield is an introspective photography student whose journal is chock-full of teenage anxieties about friendships and identities, documented in vernacular like ‘punny’ and ‘bitchin’, whilst twee polaroid selfies represent some of her most cherished shots.  And yet, however extreme her character appears, I connected right away. I found wry familiarity in her multiple anxious interjections, and agonisation over how others must perceive her, and if I was feeling bold, I’d argue that other players likely felt it too.

And whilst the discovery and experimentation around Max’s suddenly birthed power to rewind time is undeniably important, it’s rather, given in such a narrative-driven genre, how it affects her. How the enormity of the power she holds over others’ lives ultimately convinces her that her despotism can only hurt her, and that being uncertain is okay.

It’s a concept that has been raised throughout history in various films, paintings, perhaps most notably literature, and the gaming scene is steadily getting to grips with such themes around identity.

The notion of time-travelling isn’t seldom-visited. Indeed, having the chance to do-over mistakes you made and take back things you never meant can be undeniably alluring. Generally, a lot of time is spent thinking, pondering over what would have happened if we’d taken control, or convincing ourselves that we had no control over any of it. But what if we did? Would things have been better?

Life is Strange Rail.jpg

Life is Strange gets unignorably optimistic in this regard, despite its incredibly low points. I was reminded that while I could take back the things I didn’t mean, I might not want that kind of responsibility. And what sort of person would I be now if I’d never comprehended the concept of a mistake, loss or misadventure? Pretty damn bored, probably.

After all, our transitional hero – Max – attempts to save her hella-raisin’ friend, Chloe Price, the heartbreak of her father’s death. But after rescuing the man from his sentenced fatal car crash, Max soon discovers that there had to be someone else to fill his shoes – and that someone happened to be Chloe. Chloe’s slightly younger, more robust body certainly took the hit, but instead of killing her, the well-meaning Caulfield is confronted with her best friend’s near-total paralysis, with a collapsing respiratory system that ultimately forces her to beg for euthanasia. There’s just no guarantee that things would have been better if you hadn’t made that mistake – even if they had, would you be prepared for the compromise that came with it?

life is strange ehc

Despite all the nastiness of the world, perhaps it’s necessary. As much as you hate that you ignored sweet Janet Tipperworth or wished you’d punched Lofty Dan for making your Maths class hell, but without them we wouldn’t be the person you are, and who you could’ve been isn’t likely to have been any happier. They, for all intents and purposes, keep the world in balance.

By making most of its choices ambiguous enough to convince you that either decision could lead to devastation, Life is Strange frames the young anxieties about one’s future and how it might be. About oneself and who you might be, and going back and fixing it will likely just have one living for one’s problems.

Again, it’s not a new message, but it was something that stood out to me in Life is Strange, and amidst often schlocky teen characterisation and filler quests, it’s a real strong point of the game.


LEGO Dimensions Review – A Brick in the Childhood

(This review first appeared on New Game Network as a review of LEGO Dimensions.)

Genre: Toys-to-Life, Action/Adventure

Developer: Traveller’s Tales

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Systems: PS4, XOne, WiiU, X360, PS3

LEGO is a craze that is as ubiquitous as it is rampant. A near-animate entity that peers from the deepest cavities of arguably every living room sofa in existence, these versatile capsules have overseen a greater yield of joy than Prozac. LEGO Nation is still upon us, and Traveller’s Tale’s latest toys-to-life build feels closer than ever to the culture these Danish-born bricks have become.

lego dimensions cakes

Despite the ‘toys-to-life’ genre having reached widespread recognition, LEGO Dimensions blends the physical and on-screen worlds in a way that is creative and unique. It’s a game that realises the inherent nostalgia of the abundant LEGO brick, shrugs, and decides to throw in a maelstrom of other childhood allegiances while it’s at it.

The adventure happens upon the nefarious Lord Vortech, whose plan to unite the scattered foundations of the various LEGO realms will merge every existing universe into one, under his blockish thumb.

The lovably daft humor that surged through TT’s previous creations makes its renaissance in LEGO Dimensions, cheekily interrupting some of the figurehead moments of beloved media franchises, proffering comical alternate timelines that feel wryly at home with fan culture.

lego dimensions gandalf batman

Did Gandalf actually meet Batman down there with the Balrog? Dimensions canon says yes.


With crossover capers aplenty, LEGO Dimensions jerks you between universes – with little time to feel giddy in between – and when you’re taking on a florid Joker mech amidst the burning ruins of Springfield’s Power Plant, or chasing a rogue Cyberman helmet through Whovian hallways etched with Bad Wolf graffiti and cracks in time, there’s a nostalgic thrill to be had that runs deeper than the toys-to-life aesthetic.

lego dimensions cyber

It’s like being slapped in the face with Marty McFly’s hoverboard whilst Gene Wilder sings the Pokémon theme tune. Oh, and it’s raining popping candy.
LEGO Dimensions is the largest game under TT’s belt, but despite having more on their plate, the smart details that lace the various realms of LEGO Dimensions are fine proof that TT haven’t bitten off more than they can chew. From the constant influx of on-point witticisms, to the decidedly stop-motion-y animations reserved for LEGO Movie characters, there’s a distinctly thoughtful undertone to the game’s visual showmanship, and  it’s truly heartening to see.

But Dimensions’ most notable visual aspect is actually found off-screen. The starter pack offers Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle minifigures whose quality match those of original LEGO playsets, along with a constructible portal that attaches niftily to the toypad. I spent close to two hours meticulously slotting all manner of knick-knacks together, and when the meat of the game finally began, I felt oddly rewarded.

lego dimensions batmen fighting

Despite its ingenuity, however, LEGO Dimensions isn’t without its banalities. As amusing (and undeniably adorable) as the crossover friction is, character dialogue isn’t all that varied in-game. Catchphrases can feel shoehorned in, alternating between a paltry selection of notable remarks. As much as I love Gandalf, one can only hear “You shall not pass” so many times, before the novelty inevitably begins to pale.

The LEGO games have always been easy to pick up – that’s partially the joy of them – and Dimensions is no different, sporting a simple controls and no real fail-state. The fluid control scheme doesn’t always sit well with vehicles in the game, as you’re occasionally required to turn sharply into narrow spaces, but amidst the bombardment of character references and clever design elsewhere, the frustration is thankfully fleeting.

But despite remaining true to franchise formulas, with the addition of toys-to-life properties, TT adds a whole new layer to the hallmark elements they’ve come to be known for. In addition to spawing characters by plonking the corresponding figure down on the toypad, players must shift them between sections to avoid capture by certain enemies.

lego dimensions dino

Fancy taking Gandalf for an enthused joyride? Sure thing. Want Homer Simpson to pilot the Batmobile? Be my guest.

Triggering Batman’s stealth manouevres or Wyldstyle’s master-building can all be done via the toypad, reflecting a give-and-take between physical and on-screen worlds that is rarely as balanced in other toys-to-life titles.

But where the pad really shines is in the game’s puzzle-solving elements. Conundrums feel more inventive in LEGO Dimensions than in previous brickish incarnations, requiring players to consider their physical environments as much as the game world. As a result, puzzles can be a lot more intricate.

By moving figures around on the pad, you’ll be able to warp to unclimbable areas, locate hidden items or summon electric fields, with more options becoming available as the main story progresses. Whilst puzzles aren’t mind-bending by any means, they certainly require a lot more from you than previous LEGO titles, and only validate the toypad more. They make it an accomplice to the play, rather than a mere, ornate conduit.

lego dimensions

‘Toys-to-Life’ is a classification that is quickly becoming synonymous with expense. Skylanders harboured a collection of levels that were ‘out of bounds’ if you didn’t have a specific figure type, and the genre took a lot of flack for extortion.

This is where LEGO Dimensions offers an alternative. For an in-game sum, you can ‘hire a hero’ to aid your endeavours, without having to rush to the nearest toy outlet to barrage an unsuspecting youth with contentions about how you absolutely must acquire Scooby Doo. And with TT’s assurance that the toypad will be compatible with all future content, Lego Dimensions’ steeper entry price may prove favourable over Skylanders’ more transitory portal.

One of the most debateable aspects of  LEGO Dimensions’ multiversal premise is that it makes ample room for additional content, and there’s already a vast array of expansion figures on offer that allow access to galaxies beyond the main storyline. A certain Marty McFly, for example, will unlock the Back to the Future dimension, as well as a smattering of open-world quests, challenges and collectibles.

lego dimensions marty.jpg

Whilst levels are flecked with actions that can only be unlocked by characters excluded from the starter pack, the game’s ‘Hire a Hero’ mechanic proves lighter on the wallet.

At £15-29.99 a piece, however, Dimensions can feel like a steep investment atop the entry price. LEGO has never been cheap, and Dimensions unpleasantly reminds players of this. The amount of content forelaying the game’s Level, Team and Fun Packs is still acceptable, and still sparkling with ingenious design, you just have to be willing to pay for it.

But they’re not at all essential to enjoy the game if you’re the thrifty type. The starter pack still exudes that quaint, LEGO charm.

lego dimensions scooby

Dimensions doesn’t just look like a LEGO game, however, it sounds like one. Reprising some of the most iconic pieces from Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who and Back to the Future – to name a few – LEGO Dimensions’ soundtrack is a true hark-back to the beloved adventures we’ve seen before, only this time adorned with endearingly blockish humour.

It boasts an impressive voice cast too. Gary Oldman is deliciously evil as Vortech, and hearing the likes of Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox translated into jocular brick form instantly brings one closer to the story, and somehow makes the sharp-witted writing even tastier.

lego dimensions capaldi

Peter Capaldi also lends his voice for Dimensions’ Doctor Who realms. A great Scot.

Traveller’s Tales may drawn upon the source material of some of their most successful titles, and the product isn’t completely lacking in repetition, but ultimately produces a concept with a charming ingenuity, and a contagion of childlike creativity. LEGO Dimensions takes full advantage of its toys-to-life status, integrating the toypad into puzzle and combat mechanics with stylish, imaginative flair.

It’s a game that allows you to build (or not build) as you see fit, making it a stellar experience to share with siblings, offspring, or your predigiously chatty young niece, whilst still managing to showcase the liveliness, acuity and downright silliness that makes TT’s championed series so darned great. If you’re a fan of copious crossovers and are prepared for a steeper price of entry, LEGO Dimensions is a joyous, 12 hour romp.

As for me, I’m still wheeling my modded Batmobile across the weathered plains of my desk. It’s remarkably therapeutic.

Overall Score:




Retrokick – Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped

Last time on Retrokick we delved into the game I turned to whenever I felt small. Now, ladies and gentlemen, we plough past the caffeinated synapses of my retentive memory bank to access a game I turned to when I was small. One of my first games, and certainly the title that ignited my – at times I’ll admit – questionable romanticism for third person platformers.

crash warp room 3
Oh yes. Oh yes. Here we are, my friends. Crash Bandicoot. Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped.
Crash Bandicoot is a name that has attained incredible prestige in the platforming world. Arguably the definitive Playstation mascot, the plucky orange goof represents Naughty Dog’s first venture into 3D platforming, and the candy-striped heart of nostalgia for many children of the 32-bit era.

Warped was the third installment in what would soon become – for better or worse – the extensive Crash series. The second Crash had been widely popular, selling over 800,000 copies by April 1998 in Japan alone, and Naughty Dog were given under 11 months to materialise a third.

Given the immense pressure the company were under, it’s a wonder how Naughty Dog managed to deliver a game that didn’t foreshadow the likes of Assassins Creed Unity, let alone a game as satisfying, challenging, intricate and drop-dead wacko as Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped turned out to be.

crash bandicoot 3 medieval

The escapade is set immediately after the events of Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. After Clancy Brown’s incredible antagonist, Neo Cortex has his formidable ‘Cortex Vortex’ destroyed, it becomes thrillingly apparent that an evil far beyond the washed-up scientist’s feindish forces is on the horizon.

Unleashed is Uka Uka, a paranormal tyrant and incidental twin of the mask that granted temporary invincibility in Crash 2, Aku Aku. Although at the time, my infantile tongue merely conceived him as ‘Boogah Boogah’.

crash bandicoot aku aku

A name to which I remain fastidiously faithful.

Perhaps concordant with his gravelly register, Uka’s hella evil. Hella evil, and hell-bent on gathering powerful crystals to exploit and ultimately enslave the Earth. Unfortunately, as crystal-kind is scarce nowadays, Uka Uka wishes to travel through time to nab them from their original positions. With the enlisted help of Dr. Nefarious Tropy, a diabolical time-augmenter with Captain Hook charisma and a Time-Twisting Machine, the dastardly duo whorl through continuum vortexes, on the inexplicable hunt for those precious purple talismans.

crash bandicoot cortex begs

Naturally, as the eponymous Crash Bandicoot, it’s your job to stop them.

It’s a typical goodies-v-baddies setup; one that doesn’t differ heavily from the Crash 2 formula. But the fresh wickedness of Uka, Tropy and other such goons as Dingodile ensured that the world of the Bandicoot didn’t fall flat on campy humour, and character interactions were kept interesting. And it’s always fun to watch Cortex cowering in fear.

The visual choices Naughty Dog made with Crash 3 felt somewhat mute in comparison to Crash 2. The undefined flatness given to characters against the simplistic backdrop of a whirling vortex is especially apparent now, paling in comparison to the delightful angularities of Cortex’s bulbous noggin in the precursor.

crash bandicoot tiny vortex

Crash 3′s character animations look a little flat.

Crash 3′s amorphous character animations gnaw especially at the killer vocal performances given for Dingodile and Tiny Tiger, and the holographic presentation I’d found so characteristic in Cortex Strikes Back was sorely missed here.

Visual quality elsewhere is undeniable. Crash 3 sported colour schemes that felt marginally more dynamic, and oversaw the introduction of entirely new domains. A favourite remains the prehistoric levels, not just for their volcanic design, but its immense sense of character. The levels are riddled with familiar Cortexic minions that hide Apocalypse-Now-style in swamps and bogs in attempt to bag you up. Barriers of steaming magma test your reflexes as hulking cretaceous beasts chase you.

crash bandicoot cortex hologram

Crash 2’s holographic animations suited the style better.


Above all perhaps, was Crash’s  veer into Mario/Yoshi territory, with the addition of a mountable dinosaur friend to aid your prehistoric travails; something that came in particularly handy during time trial segments.

For the most part, Warped played like its predecessor. Crash could jump, use a spin attack, crouch and body-slam. Whilst the latter had always been the exploitable solution to hard-to-reach areas, Crash 3′s doltish bosses offered an alternative. After defeating each boss, powerups were received to super-charge one’s abilities, making level traversal a little more varied than Crash 2, and much more entertaining.

crash bandicoot baby t

Crash’s sister, Coco also took a more active role in Warped, appearing as the controllable character in many of the ‘bear-ride’ sections that’d been available in the previous game, only this time sporting a fiery orange Tiger Cub, called Pura. Whilst her appearance didn’t switch up level progression, it contributed nicely to the storyline, overseeing Warped as a collaborative effort between siblings against the formidable forces of Uka Uka. It certainly beat Coco’s pervasive teenish attitude previously.

Bosses themselves were, again, multi-tiered, and although manouevres didn’t deviate much (if at all) from those adopted in the previous game, the time and attention to detail artists such as Charles Zembillas put into creating Cortex’s hybrid goons definitely shines through. From Tiny’s Tiger’s galumphing leaps and bounds, to N. Gin’s intergalactic mech suit, each boss wears its own idiosyncrasies on its sleeve; leaving you to veritably (and amusingly) exploit it.

crash bandicoot dingodile zembillas

Naughty Dog had originally intended Dingodile to breathe fire, but ultimately changed him to a flame-thrower-wieldy menace after Zembillas suggested it would make him more interesting [Artwork by Charles Zembillas]

Despite this, looking back at Warped with eyes jaded by recent, more complex attack patterns, it’s easy to claim Crash 3‘s bosses feel a little too simple. Whilst the frequency at which Dingodile attack does have its volume turned up with each tier, it’s easy to get the hang of, perhaps leaving a modern newcomer to the series feeling a little unchallenged.


This being said, though – even for design and writing alone – the brutish bodyguards of the Crash series are a whimsical treasure, and are varied enough never to become dull. So even if you’re finding N. Tropy a breeze, he’ll at least entertain you while you kick his time-oriented ass.

The notion of gems and secret warp rooms was, by the time Warped released, a well-recieved one. Indeed, with the third installment, Naughty Dog had significantly upped the ante when it came to hidden goodies, making Crash 3 strikingly more complex than its 1997 predecessor.

crash bandicoot polar

crash bandicoot pura

Not wishing to divide the room or anything here, but Polar or Pura?


It was much more common to access hidden pathways and brave notorious ‘death-paths’ in order to obtain every gem, with each level posing the dangling carrot of relics for beating it within a specified time-frame. Indeed, some time trials were so stringent that they required powerups to beat. With superdashing, superjumping and the occasional fruit bazooka at one’s disposal, time trials have represented one of the highlights of Warped for me, and if ever I needed a remedy for the bosses’ lack of challenge, obtaining each platinum relic provided the bittersweet tonic.

Naughty Dog also created three new engines to support new modes in the game. The motorbike was an acquired taste; taking a little more concentration to avoid swerving hazardously into bottomless pits or into hatefully slowing desert patches. The jet ski segments were also amongst the least enjoyable levels, with clumsy controls that made navigating tight corners difficult.

Rest assured, if you’re not bothered about gems or relics, these stages provide a delightful break from platforming antics, but the liberal control scheme here often meant doubling laboriously back after missing several crates, or spamming the restart function in order to beat the time trial. Consequently, I often found myself grimacing at the sight of another pirate ship.
crash 3 jet ski.jpg

On a lighter (and quite literal) note, Crash 3: Warped maintains its status as one of my favourite video game soundtracks. Amidst a delightful assortment of catchy bass riffs, synthy crescendo and head-bopping percussion, composer Josh Mancell had always known how to rock a didgeridoo, and with the effervescent warblings of the xylophone to top it all off, the tunes of Crash 3 are tough to beat in a 90’s platformer.

In under a year, Naughty Dog had managed to deliver a Crash that lived up to its predecessor, bursting with emphatic character and wacky design, whilst maintaining the intricacies that were so popular amongst older audiences in Cortex Strikes Back. It’s a true feat to behold even now. Perhaps especially now; an era technical slip-ups, incompletion and game-imploding bugs.

crash bandicoot infant cortex and tropy

Through it all, Naughty Dog have remained consistently strong, proceeding to conquer such acclaimed series as Jak and Daxter, Uncharted and The Last of Us. Does Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped still hold up? Unquestionably, and arguably not just because this game was a huge part of my childhood. Overall, it delivered everything that a sequel should have been. Balancing familiarity with a deluge of new features, Warped was a romp that remains a pleasure to venture through in the beshadowed hours of Saturday morning.

And with the recent remasterings of Oddworld: New n’ Tasty, and both Ratchet and Clank and Uncharted 4 set to grip the Dualshock 4 later this year, would it be so naive to anticipate the return of the Bandicoot for his 20th birthday?

crash bandicoot e3.png

Oh very good, Mr. Layden. Very good indeed. Just give me Crash at 60fps with at least one Clancy-Brown-Mr.-Krabs joke. Hold the microtransactions.






The WakuWafu and Starlight Blogger Awards

Well, paint me orange and call me Crash, there’s a snippet of loveliness to start the day.

Indeed, upon prying open the onyx jaws of my pop-up endowed laptop, I found that I’d been nominated for The Wakuwafu and Starlight Blogger Awards.

And given by none other than SilencekilledtheDinosaurs – a tremendous storyteller that never fails to slap a big ol’ grin on my face; not least because of her use of chucklesome sketches to project the crooks and meanders of daily life, whether grounded and contemplative or darkly amusing.

So, without further ado, here are the rules of The Wakuwafu Award:

wakuwafuaward1. Thank the person who has nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  1. 2. Choose any 3 things you would like to say about yourself to your fellow bloggers.
  2. 3. Think up 3 questions you would like to ask the people you nominate.
  3. Give one piece of advice to your fellow bloggers.
  4. 4. Make sure to tell us over here ( that you have been nominated (and/or completed the award) so that we can put your blog up on the wakuwafu page! Make sure to put down your blog in the comments section!

The Starlight Blogger rules are:starlight-blogger-award

  1. Thank the giver and link to their blog in your post.
  2.  Answer the 3 questions given to you.
  3. Please pass the award on to 6 or more other bloggers of your choice and let them know that they have been nominated.
  4.  Include the logo of the award in a post or on your blog. Please never alter the logo and never change the rules.


I won’t lie, I do feel like I’m being interviewed a bit, and it’s got me excitable as an adolescent Springer Spaniel.

Questions asked by SilencekilledtheDinosaurs:

If you could wake up tomorrow anywhere in the world, where would that be?

New Zealand. Never have I been so astounded by a country’s natural beauty. Apart from Antarctica, but I don’t suppose I’d be waking up as such if I was ethereally teleported there during the night.

Although, coming from The Home of the Repressed, Land of Evasive Eye Contact (alias, England), the friendliness I’ve heard to permeate the place might come as a bit of a shock. Delightful, but a shock.

As for what I’d do there, I’d be plodding around like a vivacious hobbit, gawking at all the cinematically familiar pastures of Piopio and Matamata, inexplicably drawing attention to my innate touristyness.

You are granted one wish, but it is a cursed wish and there is a 50% chance that it will go awfully wrong in some way. Do you make the wish, and if so, what do you wish for?

I’m off to University at the end of the year, so I suppose I’d wish for it to be a grand period of self-development.

That way, if it did go awfully wrong in some forebodingly ambiguous way, I’d be comforted with the notion that, to some extent, that’s what University is all about, and others are probably going through it too.

What’s your favourite joke? If you don’t have a favourite joke just tell a good one. Or a terrible one. Sometimes terrible jokes are better than good jokes.

I recently discovered the sort of terribly corny joke that demands immediate expression to a friend. Here goes nothing:

“Knock Knock”

“Who’s there?”

“Your delay”

“Your delay who?”

“Oh, I didn’t know you could yodel”

I both apologise to and thank you.

And The Nominees Are…

Below are some of the blogs I enjoy reading. This choice does not reflect a ‘favourite’ system, but writings that impressed and inspired me this year, that I feel deserve attention.

Space Fuelled Gaming – Reviews and editorials concerning games and the industry; an enthusiastic discussion.

ParticleBit – Informative features on the world of gaming, as well as confident reviews.

A World of Weird – Wittily penned thoughts on films, games and novels that aren’t always well-known. Much horror often ensues, and it’s thoroughly entertaining.

Serialhobbyiste – A new, analytical blog that raises interesting interpretations surrounding game and film elements.

EIGHT BIT – A collection of reviews, news and college thoughts, with an inviting, casual tone. Have a look at these three reasons you should watch Cowboy Bebop .

Updownright – A games blog that continues to demonstrate a dedication shared between three contributors, revolving around informative features, analysis and achievement-hunting tirades.

I Will Now Interrogate You Thrice Over

  1. Which fictional reality would you be happiest living out the rest of your days in?
  2. Which person do you respect most? Can be fictional or real, known personally or not. You also don’t have to necessarily like them.
  3. What made you want to start blogging, and what’ve your experiences been like so far?

And Now…

According to WakuWafu, I am now to give you all some advice. Given my harbouring a PlayStation infatuation that twenty years ago might’ve been deemed ‘unhealthy’ (but can now be understood as ‘passionate’), I thought it only right to approach this as I might approach Bloodborne.

Run in and hack, slash and roll with all you have, because the enemy’s rarely scarier than what your mind’s anticipating. And each always has a weakness, however damn unforgiving.

bloodborne spider

I mean, there must be a few exceptions, but right now I can’t think of any…

A new review will be up within the coming week. Typing away like a clockwork stenographer as we speak.