“First Man” Review

Like many young boys, when I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. However, at 14 I gave up on the dream when learned that in order to go to space I had to have perfect vision. (I would later have to get a waiver to join the Navy because my right eye was so bad.) My husband got as close as being nominated to the program and might have been flown the shuttle if he had been picked. Needless to say, we both still dream of going to space and idolize the first man to walk on the moon. Alas, this review is not about us or even Mr. Armstrong but the movie made regarding his journey to be one of the most famous people in history.

First Man is based on a book by the same name, the official biography of Neil Armstrong and is reportedly quite faithful as an adaptation. Ryan Gosling plays the quiet, controlled leading man so accurately that the creators had to include more scenes of him being tender so he didn’t come off as a robot. Claire Foy is equally brilliant in her portrayal of Neil’s first wife, Janet Armstrong (née Shearon), trying to stay sane and hold her family together. The chemistry between them and the rest of the cast seems almost natural. The cinematography is truly astounding from start to finish with the extensive use of hand-held cameras, constant shaking in moments of danger, and expansive shots when necessary. Some may consider this jarring, but it made me feel like I was right there with Neil, seeing the world through his eyes.

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The movie begins with some pretty harrowing events that help shape Mr. Armstrong into the man he would become. The first occurs when he is a test pilot flying the X15 rocket plane. After leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, he accidentally bounces off of it when attempting a return (which I didn’t realize was possible). Instead of freaking out like I would, his quick thinking saves him from floating off into space. Not long after that, he loses his daughter to a brain tumor and is forced to deal with it the way Neil did with everything else–by going to work the next day. Either one of these incidents on their own would cripple most people, but Neil exhibits a knack for compartmentalizing his emotions so that he can concentrate on other important matters, such as becoming an astronaut.

It should be noted that much of the film is spent not in space but in conference rooms, houses, and class rooms. It shows us that becoming an astronaut is not as glamorous as it seems from the outside. It shows us that being an astronaut involves extreme risk. There are a number of twists in the movie emotionally and narratively, few of which will be a big surprise to space geeks. However, while people may already know these stories from memory, it is quite different seeing them acted out on screen. It is a reality that many were against the space race because of the tax dollars they felt were being wasted. It is also a fact that a number of individuals died, and continue to die, in an effort to achieve the unachievable for the common good.

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The movie can be separated into four distinct parts: the opening events, Gemini 8, Apollo 1, and Apollo 11. I absolutely agree that all of them were important for telling Neil’s story, but the movie got to be a little long in the tooth by the time the final sequence began. It could have easily trimmed off 20 minutes’ worth of the shaking and been roughly the same movie. In effect, this would have made the remaining lengthy scenes stand out even more. Though the film is long, as a whole it doesn’t feel long, so the aforementioned isn’t much of a detractor, merely an observation.

I want to talk about one more thing that I feel is important to understand. Many have taken to their Twitter machines espousing a boycott of the film because the end doesn’t include raising the American flag. They feel like that means Damien Chazelle and his movie are anti-America. They clearly miss that the point of the movie, and indeed going to the Moon, was not about showing what our country can do but what humanity can do. Showcasing the flag at that pivotal moment would have detracted from that message. Everyone around the world watched in awe as Neil Armstrong did something that no one initially believed was possible.

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While First Man purports to tell the story of how Neil Armstrong got to the Moon, it’s actually a tale of all mankind, how we can accomplish anything when we put our minds to it. There are very few events in modern history that can show the will of the combined human spirit so poignantly. It could be argued that this film was necessary to help inspire the masses out of complacency and not taking risks, the mentality that has taken hold of our species since the space race ended. Neil proved that even seemingly impossible tasks can be achieved if we all band together and refuse to give up.

Score: 4.5/5

Bonus: Here’s a couple shots I found of Ryan Gosling promoting First Man in head-to-toe Gucci, looking dapper as ever.

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“Boy” Review

My love affair with Taika Waititi movies began with Thor: Ragnarok. Yes, I’m a nerd and I’ve seen all the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s no secret that the third Thor outing was as great as it was because of the style that Waititi imparted. The New Zealander’s dry wit was something not many in the US had seen. Craving more of his work, I watched Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows, both of which were hilarious yet simultaneously warm. So on a whim one night, I decided to partake in one of the director’s early works, named simply Boy.

The opening scenes are delightful and introduce us to the titular character, Boy (James Rolleston), and his world. He loves Michael Jackson. He lives with his grandmother, his brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), and several cousins. When his grandmother leaves to go to a funeral, she puts the 11-year-old in charge of the house and kids as he is the oldest. Everything seems fine until his estranged father, Alamein (Waititi), arrives unexpectedly saying he’s there to take care of them. For me, this is when the movie stopped being cute and funny.

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In truth, Boy’s father has only come to dig up a bag of cash he buried in the yard several years prior. He is a deadbeat and complete asshole to all the children, including Boy, which makes his older son think that it’s okay for him to be an asshole, too. Both characters begin to alienate everyone around them while trying to show off how cool they are. The only person who seems to have any sense and can see through it all is the introverted Rocky. I wanted to sympathize for Boy because his situation sucked and he was only trying to make the best out of a bad situation, but how can you root for a character you don’t like? The small glimmer of promise came from Rocky who is so cute with his little drawings and thinking he has superpowers, I wish he would have been the main character.

There are a few messages to glean from this movie about neglecting your kids and being mean to them, how they can then replicate that in their own lives. The acting is great from the young upstarts in particular, and the overall production stands as proof that big budgets aren’t a necessity. However, when a movie leans into a goofy premise within the first 10 minutes, you tend to expect that it is more of a comedy. The fact that it doesn’t follow through on that will leave viewers feeling lost on how to react and wondering if the writer/director just lost steam. One might be willing to forgive Boy for being a genre-bender, but I tend to think it was just poorly written, especially considering this was only Waititi’s second movie. Thus, like all good love affairs, this one has ended.

Score: 2/5

The Key to Owning a Great Wardrobe is Knowing How to Maintain It

So I’ve got you sold on which brands are worth investing in, and you have learned that purchasing quality over quantity is essential to filling up your closet with pieces that will last a lifetime. There’s one more thing you need to know in order to build your wardrobe: how to maintain your clothing. Understanding how to do this will keep your clothes in suitable shape for as long as you own them, abating as much unnecessary wear and tear as possible.

Back in my days of being a bachelor, I had the horrible habit of letting dirty clothes sit in the hamper (or on the floor) for months on end, possibly wearing things multiple times between washes. Whenever I finally got around to doing laundry, everything would get washed and dried on high heat. I would then get frustrated by how often new clothes ended up shrunken or with holes. Like me, most men don’t seem to be taught how to care for their clothing, but I will show you the three main areas often overlooked that are likely destroying those garments you’re spending your hard-earned money on.

How Long to Wear

Dirty Laundry

There is a profound misunderstanding of what the clothes washer is supposed to be doing for us. Though there are occasional stains that need to be removed due to errant food, the washer’s main purpose isn’t to clean the outside of the garment but to remove bacteria from the inside. This bacteria gets onto our clothes from skin contact and tends to accumulate in the groin and armpit areas. Over time, it eats away at the fibers of our clothing and increases the likelihood of holes and tears. (Freeballers: this is why we wear underwear, to protect our clothing!) Below are the general rules for how many times or how long you should be wearing each kind of garment before washing them or having them cleaned.

Underwear, undershirts, and socks: 1 wear

T-shirts and polos: 1 wear

Knitwear and sweatshirts: 1 season (provided you always wear a shirt underneath)

Casual shirts and dress shirts: 2 wears

Chinos, dress pants, and sweatpants: 2 wears

Suits and blazers: 1 season (or 1 year if you don’t wear suits often)

How to Clean

Here’s some unadulterated truth: washers and dryers destroy our clothes. Washers have a habit of pulling pulling apart delicates. And dryer lint? That’s comprised almost entirely of clothing fibers. I haven’t even touched on the fact that socks straight up disappear without a trace. Unfortunately, dry cleaning everything isn’t economically feasible for most people, and it would take forever to hand-wash and line-dry a load of clothes. Therefore, since they are a necessary evil, it is important to minimize the amount of damage these machines do to your clothing.

This is where the label comes in. The bad news here is it is essential you know how to interpret these symbols because many clothes don’t have written instructions. The good news is the symbols are easy to interpret (this is evidence of good design, by the way). General rule of thumb is that you can wash almost anything on the delicate setting and air dry flat. Hand wash if you really don’t want to take the chance. Some materials allow for delicate drying as well. The only exceptions are suits, blazers, and knitwear, which should always be dry cleaned unless the label explicitly says not to.

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Once you have your load ready for the wash, be sure everything is inside out so that most of the clothing fibers and dye that come off are from the inside. Be sure to wash everything on the delicate setting, cold wash. No real need to separate lights and darks because the cold water should keep most dyes from bleeding. If you are worried about a new shirt, try washing it a couple times by itself before throwing it in with everything else. (Full disclosure: I had to replace one of my husband’s white dress shirts after a new blue shirt transferred dye in the wash. Lesson learned.)

After the washer is done, remove all the garments that need air dried. Hang shirts as usual, but hang chinos and dress pants from the cuff to allow for wrinkles to release due to gravity.  T-shirts, polos, sweats, and knitwear should all be dried flat on a drying rack. Anything left in the washer that can be machine dried should be thrown in on the delicate setting, low heat, to minimize shrinkage. Once everything is dry, feel free to iron as needed.

How to Store

It’s the question every man asks himself at one point or another: do I fold or hang? I think most kids are raised folding everything. Then somewhere along the path of maturity, we pick up this idea that adults hang everything. The fact is, whether you should fold or hang depends on what kind of garment it is because some of them will get stretched out on a hanger. On the other hand, some clothes are better hung up because they keep their shape while wrinkles and creases are released from the fabric over time. Here’s a cheat sheet to help you get your closet organized:

Underwear, undershirts, and socks: fold

T-shirts and polos: fold

Knitwear, sweatshirts, and sweatpants: fold

Casual shirts and dress shirts: hang

Chinos and dress pants: hang

Suits and blazers: hang

One more point I should make on this subject is that you might need to make a small investment in decent hangers. Just because you get your clothes back from the cleaner on a wire hanger doesn’t mean you should leave it there. Wire hangers will dig into the cloth and destroy garments over time.

Worst: Wire hangers

NO WIRE HANGERS EVER!!

Okay: Plastic tube hangers

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Better: Clear plastic hangers

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Best: Wooden hangers

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Suits and blazers: Coat hangers

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You don’t have to go all out and purchase all wooden hangers, but the plastic tube variety are a step in the right direction. The best quality for the price are in the clear plastic hangers. Of course, as with everything else, suit jackets and blazers are the exception. In order to best keep their shape, they should be on a wide hanger that supports the shoulders, be it plastic or wooden. Many stores will include a proper hanger with the purchase of a suit or blazer, but if they don’t, be prepared to buy one.

Denim

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You may notice that jeans are never specified throughout the rest of this post. The care for denim jeans is quite debated amongst denim enthusiasts. Some people wash them after a wear or two while some only wash them once a year, freezing them to kill bacteria between hand-washes. Some people hang them while others insist that they should be folded or rolled. And none of this even takes into account raw denim, washed denim, or selvage. If you are looking for expert advice on denim, you should google other blogs, but personally, I think my method–rotating through about 6 or 7 pairs, machine washing and hang drying once a season, and folding for storage–would work for most people.

Final Thoughts

It took me a long time to learn all this and implement it myself. There are still other areas such as footwear and suits where care is even more subjective than denim, so if you’re interested in them, Google is your friend. This post should largely cover most men’s wardrobe care needs. Believe me, if you are buying better quality, more expensive clothing, you owe it to yourself to keep it in the best condition for as long as possible and this guide will help you do that.

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Vandal Hearts Review (PSX)

There’s no denying that RPGs flourished on the original Playstation. Contributing to this was the hardware’s mass-market appeal and Squaresoft, the developer that was once considered the king of the genre, being in its prime. In this period, several other companies tried their hand at creating new RPG IPs, some more successful than others. Sony published Arc the Lad and Wild Arms, Game Arts ported their hit Lunar series, and Konami made Suikoden and Vandal Hearts. Surprisingly, this last one managed to stay off my radar until well into the PS3 era, but I was anxious to try out a game that produced a sequel and a prequel (both of which I will also be reviewing).

The game begins with a sizable narration about what has transpired in this world leading up to the events of the game. In brief, thousands of years ago, Toroah the Messiah helped usher in an age of peace and established the Holy Ashah Empire that was then overthrown by Arris the Sage 15 years ago. Arris then disappeared without a trace as the Republic of Ishtaria replaced the former empire. Over time, the politicians of the republic have become just like the ones they overthrew, brutally destroying any resistance against them. This is when Ash Lambert and his buddies, the main characters of the game, get involved as they sense a conspiracy.

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It should be noted that there is A LOT that happens in this game, despite its short runtime. The story is deceptively complex and most of the characters are pretty well-developed, each with their own motivations. I find it interesting that while the developers adopted the typical political scenarios that most tactical RPGs use–class inequality, religious authority, conspiring to attain otherworldly absolute power–they mix in some science fiction machinations such as time travel and even real-world concepts like self esteem and betrayal. So while some specific events may feel similar to those from other games, as a whole, this one has a way of blending them together to create a story all its own.

Some people might want to compare this game to Final Fantasy Tactics, but that comparison is somewhat disingenuous to me as Vandal Hearts came out first. In fact, the gameplay more closely resembles that of a Fire Emblem or Shining series game. Each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses and job progression follows predetermined routes. As a unit gains levels, they will have the ability to grow into stronger jobs. There isn’t a ton of variety, but what is there provides a small amount of choice in how to develop your squad. Small changes in the beginning of the game may force you to rethink your strategy in battle further down the line.

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Vandal Hearts isn’t without its own set of faults. Though I found the audio to be serviceable for the most part, the narrator is extremely muffled, so you will need to turn your TV up a few notches during the segments between chapters. Also, the song that plays in the overworld irritated me to no end for musicality reasons: they added what seems to be an extra eighth note in three measures of the song which throws off the rhythm. On the gameplay side, the process for buying and equipping items can be cumbersome, and the menus overall could have been tightened up. Finally, battles could be a little irritating when there are a lot of enemies as the game will show you each one of them every turn, even if they don’t move.

Most of these are small gripes and don’t do much to detract from a quick but fun game. Though it took me a bit to get into the story because of how dense it is, once I did, I totally dug it. The script wasn’t very tight, but the personality of each character still comes through assuredly. There’s even one guy who appears to be inspired by Cid from Final Fantasy IV (oddly, he is the least developed character). I’m glad I finally played Vandal Hearts. If you like TRPGs and still have the hardware to play a physical Playstation game, I recommend you give it a try.

Score: 3.5/5

Brave Fencer Musashi Review (PSX)

My husband tells me nostalgia can be a powerful thing, but I believe that we should all evaluate artwork based on its own merits, not viewed through rose-colored glasses. With that in mind, I decided to begin my journey through the last four physical Playstation games I have left with one I’d started many years ago but never quite finished–Brave Fencer Musashi. Back when Square-Enix was just Squaresoft, I played my way through the action-RPG but stopped just short of beating the final boss, which I seemed to do quite often at that age. I remember really liking the game overall, completing each mission, fighting the challenging but not impossible bosses, finding and freeing all the missing castle dwellers. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why I never finished it, so I made out to rectify that mistake.

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The game starts out simple enough with Allucaneet Castle being attacked by the Thirstquencher Empire and Princess Fillet being led down a staircase to summon a hero, whom we come to find out is the legendary hero Musashi. Overall, the story is simple. Go solve this problem. Go get that item. Go kill the boss. Thankfully gameplay was varied enough to liven things up, but it should be noted the hero is not likable and is a jerk to everyone. I’m all for having a hero who, over the course of his adventures, learns how not to be an asshole, but Musashi is entirely focused on himself and saving people just seems to be the way he thinks he can get home. Later in the game, his rival Kojiro makes an entrance and fights him for no discernible reason. By the end, the plot twists aren’t necessarily unexpected, merely uncared for because they involve characters you never really had much interaction with, let alone an emotional connection.

Through the course of the game’s opening events, Musashi ends up with two swords: Fusion, which absorbs and assimilates abilities from enemies, and Lumina, which gains five elemental abilities as you play. These swords are how you attack your enemies and their capabilities seem like they would be fun play around with, but you really don’t need to use those capabilities often, mainly just in boss fights and unlocking doors, and when you do, the effects are typically short-lived. Even more irritating is that you have to pause the game to change Lumina’s element, which shows the developers really didn’t intend to integrate those abilities into gameplay in a major way.

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Unfortunately, I feel like this game should have just stayed in my memory because it did not age well. The graphics are fine enough for the time, so I can forgive that. The voice acting is relatively decent as well. In fact, the music is just as catchy and energetic as I remember. On the other hand, the story is so boring and didn’t make much sense. The thing I didn’t remember was how difficult this game was to play. I’m not talking “fun” difficult like Dark Souls, where you die, you learn something about beating the baddie, you come back a second time and kill him. I’m talking “unfair” difficult, where there is a delay in jumping off bouncing lily pads, so you die just trying to get across the damn river. I wish I could blame this on the PS3’s emulation, but other games seem to be perfectly responsive to controls.

It wasn’t until I got to precisely where I was when I stopped playing the first time 18 years ago that I remembered why I gave up. The final dungeon never tells you that it is the point of no return and it is so difficult to get through that even if you go in full of restorative items, you will likely use them all up by the time you get to the final boss. This happened to me back then and I didn’t feel like starting the game all over again because I’d already saved over my previous saves. I knew going in this time, but still didn’t feel like devoting more hours to ensuring I made it to the end with the ability to beat the final bosses. I just said “screw it” and watched the ending on YouTube. My time is better spent elsewhere.

I wish I could recommend this game because I used to have such fond memories of it. It is thankfully short, but because it is super frustrating to play and the story is basically rubbish, I would advise against dusting off your Playstation in order to play Brave Fencer Musashi, even if the music will get stuck in your head for weeks. It’s no surprise the game hasn’t been remastered for later consoles.

Score: 2/5

Dragon Quest XI First Impressions and Moving Forward

I gave into temptation. I’ve seen the glowing reviews for this game from other sites. I also read somewhere that how well this game sells will decide whether Square-Enix will localize future titles. I’m also fairly confident we are in the beginnings of an old-school JRPG renaissance after the overwhelming support of games such as Octopath Traveler. So I gave into temptation and bought Dragon Quest XI at full price, which is not something I do often.

After I bought it, I remembered I still have 500-some games that I wanted to play first, but I really wanted just a little taste of the game I will eventually have time to play. “Just a little taste,” I kept telling myself. Thankfully, the game was set up quite well for this with the first dungeon being something of a tutorial. I haven’t played the demo, but I imagine this would make for a good one. If I were to describe what I’ve seen of the game in one word, it would be “gorgeous.”

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The graphics seem to be similar in style to Dragon Quest VIII, black line borders around characters and cel shading, but with 3-dimensional backgrounds and a more expansive palette. As a result, the game comes off as a realistic-looking, colorful anime. Peering into the distance on the mountain I was climbing revealed other interesting-looking monuments I will no doubt be visiting in the future. For now, I can only gaze out in wonder.

The story seems to start off simple, like any Dragon Quest game. The traditional storylines of the games have been a hallmark of series since its inception, and this one involves a coming of age youth making his way through his village’s ritual trial only to discover his lineage as a displaced heir to the throne. Though this is a cliche opening, the developers have thrown such personality into the characters and gameplay, the plot really takes second fiddle.

There are so many things to find through exploration that I forgot where I was supposed to be going a few times. Luckily, getting myself back on the right path was relatively simple. As fighting battles are a substantial portion of the game, I’m delighted to report that they function just as well as they always have. The developers decided to allow the player to get an overhead view of the action and to run around the battlefield. Come to find out, this doesn’t serve a tactical purpose. It is only an aesthetic change and can be switched to the more traditional front-facing view.

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Alas, I quit the game right before leaving the first village, but I had fun with what little I played. Recently I realized that with all the games I’m trying to get through, I haven’t been taking a systematic approach to playing them which is really necessary in order to get through them more efficiently. As such, I decided I would start playing them chronologically by system, leading me all the way back to the original Playstation. Games on older systems tend to be shorter, so it should be easier to pump them out. Nostalgia trip, here I come!

Podcasts Will Expand Your Mind

Soon after my husband and I moved to our new condo in Kingman Park three years ago, I found that I was a little tired of listening to the same music on my phone that I’ve been listening to for a decade. I also realized there were a lot of things I didn’t know about the world around me. Ever since I stopped driving, I found I was lacking the satisfaction of knowing what was going on in current events while simultaneously learning new, random things. I didn’t really know much about the podcast medium except that there was a dedicated app for listening to them on my phone, but I felt that the right ones might help fill the void in my life that NPR once did. On a whim one day, I decided to grab my earbuds on my way out the door and give it a try.

I underestimated how much of an effect it would have on my life by simply listening to podcasts on a daily basis. Not only have I been exposed to topics and stories that I had never even heard about before, I’ve also been led to examine issues that I thought I already understood from different angles. Even more, I get to keep up on the latest with all the topics I’m interested in. I believe it is up to us as humans to learn as much as possible and to always be improving ourselves. If you have a 30-minute commute, there are worse things you can do with your spare time than choosing a podcast that might interest you and tuning in for an episode.

Here are the podcasts I feel are the best in class, separated by type:

Current Events

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If you just want something short and sweet that will inform you on the most newsworthy events of the morning, you can’t go wrong with Up First, produced by the good folks at NPR. Each episode is only around 15 minutes, but within that time, the reporters give all the pertinent details of the major stories so that you can keep current without devoting much time.

the daily

The Daily is produced by The New York Times and focuses on just one big story. Context is key to understanding and to that end, they dive deep into one issue each episode to report on all the details. They usually lean heavy on the political topics, whatever the big story is for that day, and help listeners figure out why the story should matter to them.

today explained

Very similar in premise to the previous entry on this list, Today, Explained also spends the length of an episode diving deep into one subject. The difference here is that, while sometimes they cover the big stories coming out of Washington, they tend to focus on issues that aren’t purely political or that take place in other areas.

 

Serials

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Serial is one of the OGs on this list, one of the several podcasts that helped exemplify what the medium could be. Each season takes a case (or in season 3, multiple cases) and examines the details, dissecting people’s motivations and showing the listener that even in the most open-and-shut cases there can be room for doubt. It can be easy for people looking in from the outside to forget that there are actual humans involved and this podcast helps remind us of that.

s town

I have mixed feelings about S-Town. While I don’t know if I could personally work on a podcast like this and be able to sleep at night, I think there are many topics embedded in this self-contained story that starts with a man who reaches out to complain about a rumored crime that was committed and never investigated. In the end, not only does it pose questions about human nature but it also honors a misunderstood individual.

 

crimetown

I almost didn’t include Crimetown as it was difficult for me to follow at times. But honestly, I think that’s my own problem because I had the same problem with The Wire, to which the podcast has been compared favorably. Each season examines the culture of crime in a particular city with the first season’s focus having been Providence, RI, the Patriarca crime family, and former Mayor Buddy Cianci. Season 2 started October 1 and will revolve around Detroit.

 

Anthologies

99 percent invisible

Most people don’t understand how design affects them because good design is largely invisible. This is the impetus behind 99% Invisible, what I can only describe as one of the most perfect podcasts for everyone, no matter your walk of life. They manage to encapsulate one self-contained, detailed story about some random little-known object, event, or person that ends up being so interesting, you will be transfixed until the credits roll.

this american life

It is easy to look at a group of people and overlook them as just a statistic. It’s also easy to read a news story about an individual and rush to judgement about them, seeing them as a hero or a villain. In order to understand the full scope, we have to listen to these people and hear the story from their point of view. This American Life seeks to do that by interviewing real Americans and reporting on their lives.

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Isn’t it funny how TED Talks have become common-place in our culture? They help expose people to interesting topics in technology, entertainment, and design (yes that’s what TED stands for). But I, along with most people, am much too busy to listen to multiple long-form conferences, interesting as they may be. The TED Radio Hour helps by taking one big idea and stringing together 3 different experts who each have a different take on it, interspersed with excepts from their Talk.

 

radiolab

Radiolab is the other OG of the podcast medium on this list as it has been around in some shape or form since the mid-00s. The podcast form has been its most popular for about a decade. Because they’ve been around so long, it can be tough to describe exactly what their niche is, but it could be loosely defined as a show about scientific and philosophical investigation.

 

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I’ve only recently subscribed to Hidden Brain, but because the material is so interesting, it has quickly become one of my favorites. You could describe this as a podcast about how the human mind is designed to work. It helps reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices, and direct our relationships.

 

Platform

Overcast

My final piece of advice here is to download a new app for listening to podcasts. The default app included with iOS used to be adequate enough to get the job done, but Apple then tried to fix what wasn’t broken, making it practically unusable. Overcast has been my go-to podcast app since then. It lets you create custom playlists that automatically populate when new episodes are released. While the downside is you have to open the app in order to start downloads, it makes up for that by allowing increased control over the speed. And believe me, once you start listening to a lot of podcasts, you will want to bump it up to at least 1.5x speed.

Okami HD Review (PS4)

Any gamer who has been around for a while is probably aware of this game if they haven’t played through it already, either in it’s original incarnation on the PS2 or its slightly graphically enhanced version on the Wii. This time around the block, Okami has been remastered for high definition and looks even more amazing now than it ever did. Truth be told, I owned the first version but never seemed to get around to beating it. In a way, I’m kind of glad that I didn’t because I likely wouldn’t have felt the draw to play and experience this one, and I would’ve sorely missed out.

Okami was originally developed by the now-defunct Clover Studios and published by Capcom. It was created in an attempt to have a Zelda-like experience for the PS2 at a time when the console seemed to be lacking in the adventure-ARPG arena. Initially in its development it was intended to be a more realistic-looking game, but as that put a strain on the system, the developers decided to switch to cel-shading. This combined with thick, black lines and a certain shudder in the graphics gave the game a particular artistic look inspired by traditional Japanese calligraphy. There’s even a filter you can use in the settings to make the screen look more like parchment.

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The game begins with a story taking place 100 years ago about the wolf god Shiranui helping the warrior Nagi to destroy the demon Orochi. Amaterasu is then brought into existence as the god’s reincarnation to once again fight the demon, and Issun is the plucky miniature artist that accompanies him. The plot of the game is complex, if a little convoluted, and takes you to many varied locations, all of which are teeming with artistic inspiration, and introduces you to many characters with their own personalities. 13 of those characters are other gods like Ammy who each give a brush technique to the wolf which cause events in and out of battle, such as making bombs and creating a vine that catapults you into the air. These Celestial Brush techniques become a major part of the game.

Just like the game Okami is modeled after, gameplay largely adheres to the formula of fighting your way through dungeons, beating the bosses, and completing small quests in-between as a way to get a leg up (sometimes literally) on the bad guys. However, while the typical Zelda formula involves killing lots of enemies and solving puzzles on your way to the bottom of each dungeon, Okami changes the script and makes many dungeons almost exclusively puzzle-based, utilizing the Celestial Brush techniques to access areas that would otherwise be closed off. Combining this with the sheer amount of things there are to accomplish and discover, I found the formula to be one of its most redeeming qualities, ensuring that gameplay is never boring.

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Unfortunately, the game is not without a few issues, one of them attached to the game-defining Celestial Brush. For the most part I found the game to be pretty forgiving when it came to using techniques, but it could become especially frustrating when the game expected me to use them in limited time events. It became almost impossible to do what the game wanted me to, be it to jump across banners that were made into platforms by the wind I created or attaching vines from a fast-moving log to anchors on the sides of a river. Luckily these issues were few, but there were also a few points when I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to progress the story and the prompts weren’t giving me much information.

The other major problem is the reason it took almost a month for me to finish this game: there is no instant transport function and there is A LOT of running back and forth between areas. I clocked in at around 70 hours total, though if one wanted to just play through the story, it could probably be accomplished in 40. I easily could’ve shaved 25 hours off that if there was either an ability to teleport or if there was a fast-forward function (many ports of old games have this capability now because we just don’t have the patience we once did). There are two methods of fast transportation in the game, but both of them are quite slow. As such, you will still spend much of your time in the overworld going from place to place.

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Okami HD has a lot going for it: fun gameplay, challenging battles, complex plot, endearing characters, beautiful graphics and music. It’s no wonder Capcom has held on to this gem in order to re-release it to the masses for an easy payday. Though there are some issues that should have been ironed out, none of them detracted from one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time. Even though some might complain that it is simply Zelda in a wolf skin, they would be missing all the artistry and culture this game exhumes. As such, Okami should be regarded as a classic that every gamer should play through at least once.

Score: 4.5/5