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Video Games Weekly: No Man’s Sky

No Man’s Sky has gained a lot of media attention in the gaming community over the past few weeks.  It was one of the most anticipated games of 2016 for the PC and PS4, but has flopped almost as hard as the hype after its release.  The number of users simultaneously playing No Man’s Sky on the PC dropped 90% last week, which is way more dramatic than what it sounds. Still, many gamers are disappointed with No Man’s Sky, so much so that the game has brought around the discussion of the ethics of game returns.  So, what happened?

YouTube Trailer:

Platform:  PC and PS4 (I played through on my PS4)

Rated:  T

Single or Multiplayer: Single

Background:  No Man’s Sky is a ginormous space exploration gameUnlike other space adventure games, or really any game before it, No Man’s Sky has algorithm-generated 18 quintillion planets in the game. I’m not making this up; it would take players five billion years to visit each planet for one second.  Each planet is unique with various animal species, alien races, plants, minerals (like Carbon and Iron), artifacts, atmospheric levels, and terrain.  This was the top selling point to No Man’s Sky, but it functions like a double-edged sword. On one hand, holy crap this game is huge and still manages to have beautiful graphics even though it is all generated by math. On the other hand, the game gets boring after a few hours because it’s like there are the same floating balls in space with different pretty colors and there isn’t much to do.

Image: http://cdn.gamerant.com/wp-content/uploads/No-Mans-Sky-E3-2014-Trailer.jpg.optimal.jpg

Storyline: Your character, called “traveller”, wakes up to a spaceship wreck.  I’m not sure if your character is a human, alien, or what…who we are is one of the great mysteries in the game.  Your first mission to is to harvest all of the materials needed to keep yourself alive and to rebuild your spaceship.  Along the way, you learn about Atlas, which is this mysterious diamond-shaped thingie floating in the sky.  Supposedly, Atlas is a central computer system where all data is stored (get it? Like how Atlas holds the sky on his shoulders?).  Everything the traveller learns, from alien languages to the names of species, comes from Atlas structures.  That’s…pretty much it.  The game is an exploration game, so the plot is minimal.  If anything, it feels non-existent, and I struggle to say if that is even considered the “plot”.

Image: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/ALoQ2UFdRug/maxresdefault.jpg

Controls:  The controls are simple to navigate around planets and it feels like a first-person shooter. The one thing that is annoying is the lack of a formal tutorial, so you’re left to your own devices to figure out how to create items in your inventory, recharge items, and equip new items.  Sure, there are tiny pop-ups in the bottom right-hand corner that give you tips and instructions, but they’re really easy to overlook.

Image: https://cnet2.cbsistatic.com/img/zhOlVW8eCSkIQGSRx3LbRNmmHu4=/2016/08/15/44526efc-3af7-4e81-b076-67d82a3c428e/no-mans-sky-tips-and-tricks-4.jpg

Gameplay:  The first time I played No Man’s Sky, I spawned on a horrible starter planet. The planet was desolate, had really high toxicity levels in the atmosphere, and no artifacts that I could find.  I was so frustrated because I had to spend equal amounts of time harvesting minerals to prevent my exosuit from deteriorating and collecting materials for my spaceship.  I also kept dying from stupid drones, which is extremely aggravating in this game because you spawn at your broken down spaceship and have to go all the way back to where you originally died in order to recover all of your inventory items.  At first I didn’t mind dying because the game’s loading screens were quotes from famous science fiction novels, and of course I thought, “OHHH LIBRARIANS WOULD LOVE THIS!” but it got old after like, five deaths.

After a few hours of attempting to rebuild my spaceship, I raged-quit and started a new game.  The second starter planet was much, much better. I found new aliens, found plenty of artifacts, and it only took me a half an hour to rebuild my ship!

Image: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/Lgjvv19Rsbk/hqdefault.jpg

Okay, but is it fun?: The short answer was it is not fun for me personally because the game made me feel ridiculous lonely.  For one thing, players have to learn alien languages in order to converse with other NPC-aliens.  This is a cumbersome task because players unlock a handful of words at a time, and often have to make decisions based off body expressions from the other alien.  Players can’t even interact with the animal creatures on the planet…they tend to run away or attack you when they see you!  Together, these experiences isolate players from other living beings, which can get depressing.

The game is “multiplayer” because technically human players are zooming around the same 18 trillion planets; but the likeliness of you finding another human player is very very low.  Even if you manage to land on the same planet as another person, you can’t see them.  Sure, you can talk to other humans online while playing the game, but it’s not the same experience as interacting with each other in the game.

Image: http://65.media.tumblr.com/a4aed1555a1edddbc4d449abb4071536/tumblr_nr7jipFngR1uabvlio1_1280.jpg

I often thought to myself while playing, “this is what the Mars Rover Curiosity feels like every day” and then I was ultra sad thinking about how it sings “Happy Birthday” to itself all alone up there in space.  But, is this loneliness experience a bad thing?  I suppose not, because this game successfully manifests the idea that every human on Earth is just a teeny-tiny speck in this endless universe.  It’s the same as the mix of humbling, scary, and existential feelings I had when on standing on top of a mountain in New Mexico while on vacation.  It’s pretty remarkable to experience that same mix of feelings while sitting in my living room.  So, kudos to No Man’s Sky for that.

Now, is the game fun? I would argue for a few hours, yes, but the unfortunate thing about No Man’s Sky is that weighty loneliness is felt playing the entire time.  There isn’t a whole lot to do in No Man’s Sky other than harvest materials, roam planets, and contemplate big philosophical questions like “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?”.

Audience: This game is for a niche type of gamers, and I am simply not part of that group.  While No Man’s Sky did nothing for me but trigger an existential crisis, other players who love to grind the hell out games will flourish in No Man’s Sky.  What I mean is there are certain types of gamers who love completing repetitive tasks in games, which is called grinding.  The thing that brings these types of gamers joy is the experience of exploring new planets, species, etc. over and over and over again. The planet combinations are endless, and there are definitely gamers out there who are going to do their best to discover and explore all 18 bajillionwhatever planets even if the math proves it is IMPOSSIBLE to do so.

Verdict: After a few days, I grew tired of No Man’s Sky. The game is too repetitive and overwhelming for my taste.  All you do is find a new planet, land on it, explore, gather materials, maybe learn a few alien words if you’re lucky, rinse and repeat.  This game is great for gamers out there who love to grind in video games, but I think those gamers are the type who will go out and purchase the game for themselves.

I recommend this title as an additional purchase for circulating library collections.  Your average gamer will tire of it quickly, and those who will love this game will most likely purchase their own copy.

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian

Pricing: $60 on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/No-Mans-Sky-PlayStation-4/dp/B00ZQB28XK/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1472863067&sr=1-1&keywords=no+man%27s+sky

Video Games Weekly: Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori and the Blind Forest is not necessarily a new game, but the Xbox One Definitive Edition of the game was just released this past June.  The game has won multiple awards since its initial release in 2014, and is such a good game that you can buy special editions of Xbox consoles with a bonus copy of this game.

YouTube Trailer:

Platform:  PC, Xbox One, and Xbox 360

Rated:  E

Single or Multiplayer: Single

Background:  Ori and the Blind Forest was created by Moon Studios, an indie game developer.  If you haven’t noticed a theme with Video Games Weekly, I tend to write about well done indie games that are available on mainstream consoles, because sometimes they can get overlooked.

Ori and the Blind Forest is marketed as a “Metroidvania” in an atmospheric world.  “Metroidvania” is a subgenre in the gaming community which refers back to the old Metroid and Castlevania video games. These games take place in a large universe that has a series of sections or portals that can be unlocked later in the game.  I don’t think the subgenre is limited to platform jumpers per se, but they are usually 2D scrolling games.

Storyline: HAVE TISSUES ON STANDBY WHEN YOU START THE GAME. The beginning to Ori and the Blind Forest is just like the Pixar movie Up where the storyline rips your heart out and crushes it to pieces in the opening montage of the game.  You have been warned.

Players control Ori, a glowing spirit entity who is the “light and eyes” of the Forest’s Spirit Tree.  Ori was lost to the Forest Spirit Tree when he fell during a storm, and he was adopted by a creature named Naru.  The world, however, turns to chaos and death when the Forest Spirit Tree is attacked.  It is now Ori’s quest to restore the light back to the Forest Spirit Tree.  Ori has to venture to three different areas of the forest: Waters, Wind, and Warmth, which can be unlocked at different stages in the game.  I know it doesn’t sound like the game is very large since you only have to unlock three areas, but each area is huge!  To get a sense as to how large the game is, here’s a sample map:

Controls:  I played Ori and the Blind Forest on Xbox One. The controls are standard for a platform jumper.  Ori can climb walls, jump, attack, etc. The more enemies you kill, the more abilities you can unlock to do even cooler moves like propel yourself into the air using fireballs.

Gameplay:  Ori is given a set number of specialized moves and “soul links”, and one of those special moves is saving the game.  This is complicated because players are always struggling to make a decision between: “Should I save my soul links up so I can beat future enemies?” or “Should I save the game now but have even less special moves?”.  There have been many times where I wanted to cry because I progressed relatively far into the game without saving, tragically perished, then had to do it all over again.

Image: http://static1.gamespot.com/uploads/original/416/4161502/2826046-2015030815050316.jpg

I also want to point out that the game’s art design is astonishingly gorgeous.  According to Moon Studios’ website, the creators wanted every frame to look like a painting even though it is a 2D game.  It’s hard to convey just how beautiful the art design is when looking at static pictures online, because the art pops out even more when you are moving Ori around on the platform. Also, the “Wind” area of the game is a nod to Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

Image: http://www.develop-online.net/cimages/d18e4c80e58db75b9d193714798692b3.jpg

Finally, what I love about Ori and the Blind Forest is how it is one of the few platform jumpers that gives characters depth.  Think about it, do we know anything about Super Mario other than he has to save Princess Peach?  In comparison, Ori and the Blind Forest is a coming-of-age-story where Ori has to figure out his role in the universe and how to save Naru.

Image: http://3images.cgames.de/images/idgwpgsgp/bdb/2619780/617x.jpg

Audience: Anyone can enjoy Ori and the Blind Forest. It’s a difficult, fun platform jumper with a heavy and peaceful tone.  The only sad part is the game is created by Microsoft, so those who own a PS4 or Wii system will have to either play it on the computer or buy an Xbox.

Verdict: Highly recommend this purchase for library circulation collections.

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian


Pricing $20  on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Ori-Blind-Forest-Definitive-Xbox-One/dp/B01EJNUMQ0/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1472326506&sr=1-1&keywords=ori+and+the+blind+forest

Video Games Weekly: Terraria WiiU

Last September, I reviewed Terraria for the PS4.  I found the controls didn’t translate well to the PS4 from the PC, and suggested circulating collections may not want to buy a copy.  Well, this month Terraria came out on the Wii U, and I wanted to give it another chance because the controls would be different.

YouTube Trailer:

Platform:  Wii U

Rated: T

Single or Multiplayer: Multiplayer

Background:  Terraria is a survival side-scrolling game with a sandbox feel. You begin Terraria by creating a 16-bit character (male or female), and you can personalize everything from their hair to skin color.

After you are done creating a character, you can choose the size of the world you want to explore as well as your difficulty. “Softcore” mode means when your character dies, you only lose half of the money in your inventory, do not lose any of your items, and you will respawn at your home base.“Mediumcore”  mode means your character will lose all of the money and items in your inventory, but you will respawn at your home base. “Hardcore” mode is the most difficult mode, because when your character dies, you cannot respawn. Your character becomes a ghost, and will be deleted when you exit the game. I am a wimp and only play on “Softcore” mode, because I like NOT losing everything in a cave.

You can also select the size of the world, and what biomes you want. There are many different biomes and layers to the world, which means there are different enemies, resources, and bonus items.

After you are done selecting a world and difficulty, you are dropped into a forest biome with only a copper pickaxe, copper axe, and copper shortsword. You also have a computer character known as an NPC, who helps you figure out the controls and crafting items.

There isn’t a goal in the game per se, other than survive and kill boss enemies. Players begin with these three tools as a way to start collecting resources from the world. As you collect resources, players can create items ranging from bricks, furniture, swords, shields, armor, potions, etc. The idea is the more resources you gather, the easier it is to make better stuff.

Controls: Terraria’s controls on the Wii U GamePad feel a lot more natural compared to the other consoles.  This is because the GamePad has a touch screen which allows you to select items quickly.  You can easily fight enemies smoothly, or craft items without jumbling around with the controls.  Sadly, the Wii U can only have one GamePad hooked up at a time so that means if you want to play multiplayer, one player gets to play with the GamePad while the other is stuck with a clunky Pro-Controller or Wiimote.

One way to combat this is have the player with the GamePad be the “scout”, meaning they go out into the world to explore caves and find items.  The other player with the Pro-Controller or Wiimote can stay at home base, building up their fortress and crafting items.

Alternatively, you have both players scout the world, but you make the player with the GamePad act as a “warrior”, meaning if any enemies spawn that person fights them while the other player carries the items and mines for materials.

Verdict:  Terraria on the Wii U is hands down the best console adaption of this PC original.  The GamePad allows players to make quick selections, and players who use the GamePad will feel immersed in this Minecraft-like game.  While the setback is you can only use one GamePad at a time, multiplayer groups can figure out how to enjoy to game by sticking together or assigning different roles. Either way, Terraria requires teamwork and communication for success.  I highly recommend this for both circulation collections and Teen Game Night programs.

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian


$50 on Amazon


Video Games Weekly: Video Games 101: Coming this Fall! What you need to know about the newest consoles


This year is a big year for video games.  Pokemon Go is sweeping the nation, and there is new hardware being released for the Big 3 consoles: Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo within the next 12 months.  Many libraries are still circulating older console games for Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii, and justifiably so since many patrons have yet to make the jump.  So, what does all this new hardware mean for libraries?

Nintendo Miniature NES

Release Date: November 11, 2016

Price: $59.99

What’s New:  This cute little system is preloaded with 30 classic NES games. This is AWESOME for gamers who want a throwback experience, or show  teens how difficult video games used to be back in the day.  It’ll come with its own NES-like controller, but it can also hook up to your Wii/Wii U remotes.

Games:  Games will come preloaded on the system, so you don’t have to worry about purchasing extra games for a circulating collection.

Should librarians buy it for programs?: Absolutely. This is going to be a gem for library gaming programs, that is, if you don’t already have a Raspberry Pi.  You can justify spending $60 because it will be used program after program, and will also have crossover appeal for all ages.  Adults, especially Millennials, will play for the sake of nostalgia.  Teens will like it because it’s new content, and these games are really hard. Heck, even kids will want to attempt to beat The Legend of Zelda even though there is no hope for them!

PlayStation VR

Release Date: October 13, 2016

Price: Launch bundle is priced at $499

What’s New: The PlayStation VR is strictly used for virtual reality games. You’re not paying for a whole new console, instead you’re paying just for the headset.  You also already have to have the PS4 and PS4 Camera, which is sold separately.

Virtual reality games are pretty controversial in the gaming community. Some predict VR is the “future of gaming”, but VR has many obstacles to overcome before it becomes a staple in the gaming world.  That being said, I’m really excited for VR gaming because it is a whole new way to get immersed in a fictional universe (as long as you don’t get motion sickness).

Games:  There will be new games released solely for PlayStation VR.  They already have Star Wars Battlefront ready to go, as well as 50 other titles.  However, I do not believe libraries should start buying these games for circulating collections quite yet.  It’s hard to say whether or not the PlayStation VR will be a success, and even then the people who will be purchasing the headset can probably afford to buy the games for themselves.  Keep your ear to the ground for any of your patrons expressing interest.

Should librarians buy it for programs?: If librarians are looking to purchase a VR headset, it is not the worst but it’s not the best either. However, it is one of the cheaper VR headsets in the market that is also of decent quality.  I would recommend checking out this list of VR headsets and corresponding reviews to learn more about VR before purchasing it. Personally, if my library had infinite money I would buy the HTC Vive, but that’s just me.

Xbox One S

Image: http://www.legitreviews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/xbox-one-s-2-display.jpg

Release Date: August 2nd, 2016

Price: Ranging from $299-$399 (depends on the size of the hard drive)

What’s New: A lot more storage (you can get up to 2TB when you pre-order), a slimmer design, displays in 4K Ultra HD (basically, really fancy pants graphics) and a better wireless controller.  Xbox gamers need all that extra space because when you want to play a game, the entire game gets downloaded to the game system.  I know plenty of gamers who have purchased an external hard drive just to save their Xbox games!

Games: Xbox One games will be compatible for the Xbox One S. You will not have to order separate games for this console.

Should librarians buy it for programs?: I’m going to say no.  Xbox One S’s main feature is the storage and the 4K Ultra HD experience, but how many libraries have a 4K Ultra HD TV?  I’m guessing not that many.  If you need extra storage, you can always purchase an external hard drive rather than buying a whole new system.

Xbox One is on sale though!: In lieu of the Xbox One S getting released soon, Xbox One console bundles are priced at around $275.  If you want to upgrade your library program consoles, now is a good time to do it since many companies are trying to empty their stock!

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian

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Video Games Weekly: Pokemon Go and Teen Programming (TPiB)

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Pokemon Go, the newest app that inspires gamers to GO OUTSIDE! Many libraries have already utilized Pokemon Go as social media content, book display inspiration, and promotional material.  Instead of focusing on what Pokemon Go is and how to play, this article is going to focus on doing Pokemon Go themed programs for teens.


Short Version of Pokemon Go: Players download the app to their phones, and run around outside trying to catch Pokemon. The app uses Google Maps to trace where players are in the real world, and players can “catch” Pokemon that appear on their screens through augmented reality.  It looks like this on their screens:


Resources to learn more about Pokemon Go:

App Review: Pokemon Go, the very basics, safety issues, and Pokemon Go and libraries

Pokemon Go, Explained

Pokemon Go is Catching Us All – In Unexpected Ways

Everything You Wanted to Know About Pokemon Go But Were Too Afraid to Ask

Pokémon GO: What Do Librarians Need To Know?

What librarians have to say about Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go: What do Librarians Need to Know?

Everything Librarians Need to Know about Pokemon Go!

Is Your Library a Pokestop in Pokemon Go? 

Teen Programming Ideas

Sort your program attendees into teams: Pokemon Go has three teams that players can join: Mystic, Valor, and Instinct.  Each faction honors Pokemon strengths differently, kind of like Hogwarts Houses or factions in Divergent.  You can sort your teens in a variety of ways!  Have them take a Buzzfeed quiz, make team badges with a button maker, or 3D print badges and have them choose randomly.  (P.S. I’m Team Valor. Represent.)

Pokemon Safari: See how many Pokemon the teams can catch around/outside of the library in twenty minutes.  Require them to take a photo of the Pokemon that way you can count how many they have caught, and you can always ask to reuse the images for you library’s social media pages.

Pokemon Pictionary Battles: You’ll need two sketch pads or marker boards, markers, a timer, and clues for this activity. The clues are going to be Pokemon!  You can use the Pokemon Database to find the weird sounding Pokemon to make the competition more fun/difficult.

Have two teams pick a person who is going to draw (the third team will play the winning team  in the next round).  Set the clock for two minutes. When you say ‘Go!’, the players begin drawing the Pokemon for their team to guess. The first team to guess first wins!

I have found that not all participants are Pokemon experts.  If they don’t know what the Pokemon looks like, you can keep two copies of Pokemon Handbooks on the side and have them use a portion of their time to look it up (literacy skills FTW).

Pokeball Target Practice: You can paint a ping pong ball to look like a Pokeball, and have them practice throwing them at Pokemon/targets. You can also have them paint their own Pokeballs! See here for an example.


One Truth and One Lie: Have you heard all of the outrageous news stories about Pokemon Go?  There are so many out there that are unbelievable!  Print out headlines on a piece of paper, and pair them with your own fake headlines. Have teens guess which one is real, and which one is fake.  You can also print out the real articles and have a teen read them out loud for the group.  Some examples are on http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/11/tech/pokemon-go-crazy-events/index.html 

Pokemon Theme Song Lip Sync Battle: Do your teens know all of the words to the Pokemon theme song? Have them lip sync a few lines in a lip sync battle! You could also have them do the Pokemon song that names all of the Pokemon in order.

Pokemon Cubees: There are plenty of Pokemon paper crafts online, including cubees. You can find plenty of printable examples here.

Best Named Pokemon Contest: Poke Trainers can rename Pokemon in Pokemon Go. Have teens show off their naming/comedy skills. It can be funny, overly descriptive, or ridiculous!

Make Your Own Pokemon Exquisite Corpse Style: Fold an 11×17 piece of paper into thirds. Put teens into groups of 3. One teen draws a head, one teen draws a body, and the last teen draws the feet. You can have teens create a name for their Pokemon character. Want to take it to the next level? Scan the completed Pokemon in and use your technology to make Pokemon style cards for their characters, including giving them points and special powers. There are some Pokemon card makers and tutorials available online here and here.

STEM Learning Electricity Demonstration: Okay so this one requires some explanation.  There are different types of Pokemon such as water, fire, electricity, and plant. Pikachu is an electric Pokemon, so you can easily implement an electricity-themed STEM program. Here is one of my favorites.

STEM Learning Water Demonstration: You can freeze Pokemon figurines in ice cubes and have teens try to figure out which solution will melt the quickest.  Here are the instructions.

STEM Plant Pokemon: Plant Pokemon, you can have teens makes seed bombs like this: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-a-Seed-Bomb/

Programming Ideas from Other Librarians (Facebook Groups)

Teen Services Underground
Teen Librarians

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian

Video Games Weekly: Journey Collector’s Edition

This review is going to be a little bit of a throwback because the original version of Journey  came out in 2012, but I hope you find it useful!  I’ve been waiting for our library’s vendor to stock the collector’s edition of Journey for PS4 (I don’t own a PS3), but I finally gave up and ordered a copy from Amazon.  I was not disappointed in the slightest.  

YouTube Trailer

Platform:  PS3 and PS4

Rated: E10+

Single or Multiplayer: Single

Background:   Like I said before, Journey was released by the indie company ThatGameCompany in 2012 in the PS3 PlayStation store.  It became a cult classic and a huge success.  Journey won a ton of awards for many different categories like music score, Game of the Year, etc., but I get the feeling it flew under Library Land’s radar because it was initially released only on the online store, not on a disc.

Image: http://noble-press.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/journey-game-of_the_year_noble_press_2012.jpg

The collector’s edition has two bonus indie games created by the same company: flOw and Flower. I played through all three games, but the main focus of this review will be Journey.

flOw: flOw actually was a game created by a grad student named Jenova Chen for their Master’s thesis.  The thesis is a real thing you can read online and try to understand if you wish!  Basically, the idea behind flOw was to create a game that both non-gamers and gamers can enjoy because they have complete control over the pacing of the game, rather than forcing players to go through levels they cannot handle.

You start the game as a cute little globby thingie (or “microorganism”, but I like my term better) with a U-shaped mouth.  It looks like this:

Image:  http://arttattler.com/Images/NorthAmerica/Washington%20DC/American%20Museum/Video%20Games/flOw_1.jpg

You swim around by tilting the PS4 controller to the left and right.  Your goal is to eat smaller things that float around.  When you eat something smaller, your globby thingie evolves into something bigger.  You can progress to more difficult stages and attack other globby thingies along the way.

Image:  https://i.ytimg.com/vi/JNDp2TBD9wg/maxresdefault.jpg

The controls are pretty hard to grasp because you can’t re-calibrate the controls once you start the game.  Once you get the hang of it, the game can get pretty fun. For those of you who are gamers, it feels like a long version of the first stage in Spore.  I would recommend playing flOw online rather than on the PS4, though.  The controls are too awkward with a PS4 controller, and it’s much much easier to play using a mouse like it was originally intended.

Flower: In a nutshell, Flower is a pretty chill game.  Players control the wind, and you blow a flower petal around a field.  When the flower petal hits another flower, more petals join in and soon you can blow around a TON of flower petals Pocahontas style. These flower petals can do crazy things like make a dead field come to life with vibrant colors!

Image: https://cdn3.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/OZEaGaMUomyo_MASLsoDaHguaC4=/85×0:1014×619/1280×854/cdn0.vox-cdn.com/assets/3736619/flower.jpg

That’s…pretty much it. There are six levels which take about 20 minutes each to beat.   It’s a cute, happy little game.  It makes you want to frolic in field of flowers and stop pollution, especially in urban environments.  I will say the controls on the PS4 are much better compared to flOw, so you can give this game to non-gamers and little kids.

Journey:  Finally, we’re going to talk about my favorite of the three games in this collector’s edition!  Like the other two games, players are thrown into the game without any background story and a simple tutorial.

You play as a cloaked figure who appears in the middle of a vast desert.  Up ahead is this giant mountain, and even though the game doesn’t tell you WHY you want to go to it, you naturally want to make your way through the desert towards this mountain.  As you start walking around, you will be granted a magic scarf. It looks like this:

Image: http://mashthosebuttons.com/gallery/journey-screenshots-03132012/journey-game-screenshot-16-b.jpg

As you can see, the scarf has glowing symbols on it. Basically, those symbols represent how many times your character can jump/fly, and the symbols will stop glowing once you have used that power.  Players have to get creative when exploring obstacles because of this limitation, which makes the game fun and interesting.  The only other thing players can do is hit the O button, which makes the character “sing” a note (it’s not quite singing, but it’s the best way I can describe it…).  This “singing” is your only way of communicating with other players in the game AND it affects the world you are exploring.  There are absolutely no words used in this game; players cannot even talk to each other on a microphone when playing together.  It makes the game feel incredibly intimate even though you are playing with a complete stranger and you can’t use any words.  Players have to help one another complete the journey up the mountain; one way the game ensures this is if players remain physically close to one another, their scarves will charge up.

Image:  http://www.gameinformer.com/cfs-filesystemfile.ashx/__key/CommunityServer-Components-ImageFileViewer/CommunityServer-Components-UserFiles-00-00-88-76-31-Attached+Files/4024.journey2chirp.jpg_2D00_500x500.jpg

The game is set up to be nonlinear.  The first time I played through the game, I went straight for the mountain and it took me about an hour to beat the game..  The second, third, and so on, I took more time to explore the desert and other levels because I actually knew what I was doing.  Overall, it’ll take players about 2-3 hours to beat, but you’ll want to replay it over and over again.  Journey made me so emotional that I actually started to tear up!  I mean, look at that sunset…

Image: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hr-6Cm8XFKk

The educational benefits of Journey: Okay, here’s the best part about Journey. I think this game is one of the top video games that can be used in classrooms, school libraries, or public libraries.  The reason why is because Journey at its core is a playable version of The Hero’s Journey.  You know, the idea that every story is the same old story?  Watch this YouTube video explanation, because I couldn’t have said it better myself.

YouTube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWKKRbw-e4U

Teachers and librarians could use Journey to teach The Hero’s Journey to middle and high school students. The game isn’t that long, only an hour if you speed right through it, which students probably will be able to do as they play through for the first time. I know, I know, there are some problems with this idea in terms of access.  One obstacle is how not all classes are an hour long, and you need access to a TV, PS4, and the game, but I feel like there’s a lot of potential here!  In fact, I’m going to try it out as a program in the Fall/Winter, where I’ll have teens identify all twelve stages on a worksheet as one volunteer plays through the game.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Verdict:  Journey has all the right elements to make it a staple in the gaming industry: breath taking graphics, an excellent soundtrack, an intimate feeling when playing with other players, and a strong emotional response.  I highly recommend this title for circulating library collections, as well as teachers/librarians trying to use it for programs!

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian


$50 on Amazon


Video Games Weekly: E3

e3logoIf you ever wonder where you can get tons of information about upcoming video games, E3 is one of the best places to check!  E3 stands for “Electronic Entertainment Expo”.  It is a large annual conference held in LA that brings video game professionals from all kinds of gaming into one place.  This year, E3 is June 14th-June 16th.

Here are some of the things you can expect to see at E3:

Game Trailers and Previews: Have you noticed how some of the YouTube videos have “E3 Trailer” in the title? That’s because many companies reveal their latest games at E3!  These video games are usually coming out in the following fall or winter.  It’s beneficial for librarians to watch E3 trailers because it’ll help gauge what video games will be popular in the coming months.  It’ll also give you a sense as to what the game is about before it’s released, which can help with gamer’s advisory.  Click here to see Gamestop’s 2016 list of E3 trailers.

Press Conferences: E3 hosts press conferences for the largest mainstream gaming companies like Xbox, Sony, and Nintendo.  These press conferences will have in-depth coverage of that company’s newest games, announcements, and trailer teasers. You can stream these press conferences for free!

New Consoles Will Be Revealed: I know, it’s a doozy. Most libraries are still supplying games for both older consoles and the newest ones, and now there might be ANOTHER new one?!  Well, according to GameStop, Xbox will reveal a new version of Xbox One.  On the other side of the playing field, PS4 is also slated to reveal a new version of the PS4.  Finally, Nintendo may be coming out with a new Wii U.  The other exciting part is there are rumors going around that virtual reality (VR) consoles will get some attention.  I’ll probably write about VR gaming at a later date, but for now it’s a good idea for librarians to have VR on their radar.

These are just some of the reasons why you should check out E3!  It’s a conference that I would love to attend someday, but I’ll be at ALA Orlando instead. The good news is all of the big announcements, press conferences, etc. are available to view for free online, and many gamer news outlets will be covering E3.  Don’t forget to mark your calendars!

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian

Video Games Weekly: Star Fox Guard

Star Fox Guard is a little confusing, but I’m going to do my best to explain.  Our library got a disc copy of Star Fox Guard when we ordered Star Fox Zero (which I reviewed last week) because we pre-ordered it.  So, if you ordered a copy of Star Fox Zero before April 2016, you might have a disc copy of Star Fox Guard lying around. If you did not, the game is only available as a digital download on the Wii U eShop.

YouTube Trailer:

Platform:  Wii U

Rated: E10+

Single or Multiplayer: Single

Background: Star Fox Guard is not a prequel, sequel, nor in any relation to Star Fox Zero other than the fact that it has Slippy (the toad character).  In fact, the game is completely different from Star Fox Guard.  Star Fox Guard is a combination of action and tower defense. “Tower defense” means exactly that; you have a tower somewhere on a map, and you have to defend it using weapons.  These weapons usually take up a slot alongside the enemy’s path, and do something to kill enemies as they walk by.  These weapons are usually on autopilot, meaning if an enemy appears in their range the weapon will automatically shoot at it.  Typically, players have to defeat enemies to get more currency, which can then be used to buy more weapons, upgrade weapons, or use special items.  One of my favorite tower defense games that you can play on any web browser is Bloons.

Storyline:  Slippy has an uncle named Grippy Toad who owns a mining company.  Grippy Toad hires you to protect mining towers from evil robots who try to shut it down and steal precious metals. Your job is to use security cameras that are spread out all over the map to shoot down enemies.  Enemy robots will continue to get better and better an infiltrating your security camera system, and players will have to use special cameras/airstrikes to shoot down large waves of robots.  Simple right? Not so much.  Take a look at the map below, which is what players see on the Wii U GamePad

Image: http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/media/37698/1/17.jpg

Controls:  This is vastly different compared to pure tower defense games because the player can only control ONE camera at a time instead of having all of the weapons set to automatic. This is where the “action” combination comes in.  On the TV screen, players have a view of all cameras.

Image: http://nintendoenthusiast.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/project-guard.0.0.jpg

See the monitor in the middle? That is the camera that the player in controlling.  Players have to aim the camera and shoot down robots.  If players want to change cameras, they have to click on the camera number on the Wii U GamePad map.  Enemies will appear on the map as yellow dots once they enter the map, but NOT WHEN THEY SPAWN OUTSIDE OF THE MAP. *head explodes* This adds to the complexity of the game, but I found it incredibly annoying rather than fun.

In my opinion, the controls are a pain in the butt.  Unlike Star Fox Zero, players have to move the camera/gun using the joystick. It would be one thing if the GamePad could be physically moved around in real life in order to look around/shoot like in Star Fox Zero, but they chose to make it oldschool.  It’s really hard to enjoy Star Fox Guard’s controls after playing through Star Fox Zero, and I just wasn’t that impressed.

Audience: This game didn’t work well for me because I was playing by myself. There’s just too much going on between the screens, and I wasn’t having any fun playing it.  I will admit though, I am biased.  I love tower defense games, and I think it’s a poor choice to label this game  as only a tower defense game. It’s more like 75% action, 25% tower defense.

Now, I can imagine this game would be fun if you have multiple people in the room. IGN wrote a positive review for this game, and they mentioned it is a fun game when there are many people in the room yelling out camera numbers.  So, I would say this is more of a single-player party game for all ages.

Verdict: If you already have the game because you preordered Star Fox Zero, it’s not going to go to waste on your shelf. If you did not, don’t bother trying to hunt down a physical copy.

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves (with the help of her copilot, Andres)
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian


$50 on Amazon


Video Games Weekly: StarFox Zero


Star Fox Zero was initially supposed to come out last year in 2015, but it was pushed back until April 2016.  Since it was delayed for so long, Nintendo fans have been impatiently waiting for the newest installment to the Star Fox series.  For this review, I asked my partner, Andres, to play the game in multiplayer mode with me because I don’t have much experience playing Star Fox games, and he has played the original N64 version.

YouTube Trailer:

Platform:  Wii U

Rated: E10+

Single or Multiplayer: Both

Background: The first Star Fox video game was released on NES in 1993.  The protagonist’s name is Fox McCloud, who is an anthropomorphic fox. Fox McCloud is the commander for a fleet of spaceships fighting against the enemy Emperor Andross.  His fleet has other anthropomorphic pilots like a rabbit (Peppy), frog (Slippy), and bird (Falco).  Each game takes place in space, specifically the Lylat System.  The series is very much like Star Wars in the sense that it takes place in space and there is an evil Emperor that we must defeat for the good of the people.  Each game is a scrolling space shooter game, meaning players control a spaceship on a 3D plane while shooting down enemies.

Storyline: Like former Star Fox games, the story opens with Fox McCloud introducing himself and his mission.  He explains that his father, James McCloud, passed away five years ago while on a mission to investigate strange activities on a planet.  Turns out James McCloud was betrayed by one of his crewman (who was working for Emperor Andross), and no one had heard from him since.  Five years later, there’s an intergalactic war in the Lylat System, and Star Fox has set out to overcome the evils slowly taking over the galaxy.  The main storyline takes about five hours to complete, but the game teases players to keep playing by having options with question marks that can only be unlocked after accomplishing certain tasks, like beating the game, or beating levels that use a specific ship.

Image: http://cdn.gamerant.com/wp-content/uploads/andross-star-fox-adventures-700×389.jpg

Controls:  The controls are difficult to grasp, especially for someone whose familiarity of Star Fox precedes Y2K.  Players use the GamePad to move the spaceship around the 3D plane, which is displayed on the TV.  On the GamePad itself, the screen only displays the cockpit.  This is to help players shoot more precisely, and players can physically move the GamePad around to change their view.  So, players are basically multitasking in order to play the game, and it’s difficult to get used to.  It was funny to watch Andres try to  move around because he was using the analog stick to move a ship already controlled by the rotational changes of the gamepad. This led to him being very, very, very bad at killing anything and running into buildings and dying very quickly. After ranting about the good ol’ days when you just had one joystick to control, he realized how much easier it is to kill enemies when you could see them in your cockpit. Two minutes later, he thought it was the most brilliant and fun way to use the GamePad.

Image: http://static1.gamespot.com/uploads/original/1406/14063904/2887205-wiiu_starfoxzero_scrn01.jpg

Multiplayer Mode: Multiplayer mode is not what we expected.  I assumed that Player 2 would take control over one of the other characters in the fleet while Andres assumed we would be fighting each other like in the original Star Fox N64 version, but we were both wrong. Instead, Andres used a Wii U Pro Controller to fly the spaceship around on the TV while I used the GamePad to shoot down enemies.  Basically, we controlled one spaceship but split the work.  The one pain in the butt was every time we started a new level, we had to tell the game that we were playing in multiplayer mode.  Sometimes the game would continue without the first menu, so we would have to watch a cutscene, quit the level, tell it to start the level in multiplayer mode, then watch the cutscene again.  Despite this setback, we had a lot of fun!

Image: http://nintendoeverything.com/wp-content/uploads/star-fox-zero-co-op.jpg

What is Old: I think the most disappointing thing about Star Fox Zero is they reused the some plot points content from the N64 version.  The game was not marketed as a sequel or a prequel, but they really should have said it was pretty much a reboot.  They basically took the same main plot point and added their own little twist with it to make it seem different, and it came off as very lazy. For instance, Star Fox Zero had Peppy shot down and crash landed into an arid planet for the team to save while in Star Fox 64, it was Slippy that was hit by a boss and crash landed into the planet for the team to save. In another example, they took the same exact boss in Corneria that you find after the waterfall in Star Fox 64 and made that the boss right before you fly to Venom in Star Fox Zero. A lot of the art/graphics are also reused, maybe to give the game a retro feel, but it wasn’t appealing to me.  For example, the way they move their mouths is exactly from N64, as well as a lot of the dialog is taken straight from Star Fox N64 verbatim.

Also, the ending boss battle is exactly the same only with some minor changes!  It is pretty much a rehash of Star Fox 64. Fox McCloud hearing his father navigate him to Andross (which they changed to occur before the final boss fight this time), battling a giant Andross head and floating hands, although they added a bit of a twist that involves looking at your GamePad. But in the end, it makes me wonder what the writers were paid to write since everything is practically the same.

Image: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/VUCIkGb-v7Q/maxresdefault.jpg

What is New: They added new types of vehicles that Star Fox’s spaceship can change into.  There is a walker-type vehicle that is good for navigating the terrarian; a heavy duty tank; and a quadrocopter.  I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get to play more as the quadrocopter because when you are playing in multiplayer mode, the player with the GamePad gets to be play as a cute robot that is dropped from the quadrocopter to hack systems.

Image: http://1u88jj3r4db2x4txp44yqfj1.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Star-Fox-Zero-E3-2015-09.jpeg

The other thing that is new is the levels take place on different planets with different terrarians. They also updated the graphics to accommodate 60 FPS (frames per second), which makes the game feel fast-paced and realistic.

Audience: All ages.  This is a fun game to play in multiplayer mode because you are working together rather than against one another.  Players need to communicate well in order to kill off enemies, and it requires the kind of focus that brings people together in high-fives and rambunctious celebration after trying to blow up an enemy for 10 minutes.

Verdict: Primary purchase for circulating collections and a solid edition for Teen Game Night programs.

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves (with the help of her copilot, Andres)
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian


$60 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Star-Fox-Zero-Guard-Nintendo-Wii/dp/B00ZRZTT3W/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1462419010&sr=1-1&keywords=starfox+zero

Video Games Weekly: MLB The Show 16

May the 4th Be With You!  If you’re feeling festive on Star Wars Day, you can read my Star Wars Battlefront article here.

This week I played MLB The Show 16.  I’m not a fan of baseball, but I promised myself  I would remain as unbiased as possible for this review.  In real life, I think baseball is pretty boring (please don’t hate me), but I’ve enjoyed playing a variety of baseball video games in the past.

YouTube Trailer:

Platform:  PS4

Rated: E

Single or Multiplayer: Both (local and online multiplayer)

Background: MLB: The Show is a video games series that started out on PlayStation 2 in 2006.  Every year they come out with a new MLB game.  Each game has the same three announcers who narrate what is happening during the game, which gives it a realistic flair.  You can create your own MLB player to compete first in the minors, then rise to the top of the majors as you increase your skill level.  In MLB The Show: 16 there are a variety of game modes to choose from: “Road to Show” (you play as one player and build a career), “Diamond Dynasty” (make a fantasy team), and “Franchise Mode” (you’re the manager of a team).

Controls: When you pop in the disc, the tutorial automatically begins by throwing you into to learn the controls.  The controls are relatively easy to grasp, that is, if you know baseball terms (which I don’t…).  After a few minutes and a little bit of Googling, I was confident enough in my pitching and catching skills.  One thing that is distracting is the game prompts you to learn controls on the screen while announcers are simultaneously talking about game strategies and features.  I ended up ignoring the announcers altogether so I could focus on learning the basics, and I’m unsure if I missed any key information.

Image: http://cdn3-www.playstationlifestyle.net/assets/uploads/gallery/mlb-the-show-16-review/mlb-the-show-16-review-12.png

Create a Player: Okay, I’m going to get ranty for a minute, but it’s annoying that you can’t make a female player in MLB: The Show.  I get that it is supposed to be “realistic” as in [most of the time] only men play in MLB, but part of the reason why gamers play video games is because they like the fantastical escapism.  Is it really so crazy to add a female option?  No, it’s not, because EA Sports did it after a teenage girl wrote them a letter complaining about their NHL game.  Get it together, Sony, it’s 2016 after all and girls can like baseball just as much as boys. End rant.

Anyways, you can customize more than just your player’s look.  You can customize your player’s running style, batting style, home run walk, etc.  Some people spend hours trying to make their player look just like them, and some are like me who try to make a hot celebrity.  Once you’re done customizing your player’s physical features and movement animations, you can start out with drills while getting scouted in “The Road to Show”.

Image: https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5346/17431127805_e52536dcb4_b.jpg

The game feels slow, kind of like baseball…: Okay here is where I admit I’m totally biased.  The game feels slow to me just like the real game. So, on the bright side, it’s very realistic!  On the negative side, I would get bored quickly after the bottom of the 5th inning.  Now, you COULD cheat and let the game “fast forward” to the end of the game, but the game only uses statistics to determine the winner and doesn’t factor in your gaming skills.

Multiplayer is the way to go: Hands down the best part about MLB The Show: 16 is that fact that “Franchise Mode” can have up to four players play locally (in the same room).  If you’re a librarian looking for a nice tie-in to this year’s Summer Reading theme “Get in the Game – Read!” then this game is for you.  You can have up to four teens play together, and I think it would be fun even if the teens aren’t big fans of baseball.

Art Style: The graphics in this game are phenomenal.  When I first booted it up, I couldn’t tell if the game was playing a live video from a real life game or if it was just the graphics (spoiler: it was the graphics).  MLB The Show: 16 worked extremely hard on updating their graphics and changing their light engine, and it really paid off.

Image: http://cdn3.sportsgamersonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/SnapShot13.jpg

Audience: This game is for die-hard baseball fans.  I’m speaking as a non-baseball fan, and I didn’t find the game to be as engaging as similar Nintendo Wii baseball games.  This is probably because I prefer to play a baseball game that gets you moving around, swinging like a crazy lady rather than focusing on statistics, batting averages, etc.

Verdict: Secondary purchase for circulating collections, unless you have hardcore baseball fans requesting it.  Take a look at your circulation stats for MLB: The Show 15 to see if it’s worth waiting to purchase at a lower price.  As for Teen Game Night, this one is a hit or miss; ask your teens if they’re interested.

Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!

By: Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian


$60 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/MLB-Show-16-PlayStation-4/dp/B018WJZKBY/ref=sr_1_2?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1461974000&sr=1-2&keywords=mlb+16+the+show