Remember the classic build-a-trap fun of Mouse Trap? Well, now there's a new edition for younger children under an Elefun and Friends label, and Jonas absolutely loves it! Check out his "review" HERE or below!
Wow. L.K. Evans's Keepers of Arden is an amazing debut novel that stole me away into its world from the very beginning and refused to let me leave. The world of Arden is one well worth visiting, and Evans has populated it with interesting characters, many whom break free of the traditional swords and sorcery fantasy tropes.
The majority of the story revolves around Wilhelm and his brother, Salvarias, a mage whose conception early in the story bears the touch of an evil, malicious force. Salvarias, already reviled by many for being a mage, bears the horrible burden of feeling this evil force within him, and Wilhelm's pure nature and unconditional love for him could possibly be the only thing that can save him from being consumed by it. On top of that, an ancient evil is once again vying to gain power over Arden and has its eyes set on Salvarias to help achieve its goals.
Much of Keepers follows Wilhelm and Salvarias through their youth, showcasing their growth into adulthood. In my opinion, this is expertly done, and serves to make these characters so much more endearing. Following Salvarias's journey to adulthood is a heart-wrenching experience, and watching the misery of his youth compared to Wilhelm's more pleasant upbringing makes it even more so. Constantly you want Wilhelm to discover the truth about what Salvarias is forced to go through and to make everything better. The fact that I found myself caring so deeply about Salvarias and his brother, while hating those responsible for Salvarias's troubled youth is testament to L.K. Evan's amazing ability to craft interesting and believable characters.
There are villains, monsters, and heroes in spades throughout Keepers, and Evan's strong imagination shines through each of them. The story has plenty of twists and turns, answering many questions that arise, while leaving many for future volumes. The reader should be aware that this is very much an adult fantasy, and there is some very dark moments throughout.
There were only a couple of issues I had with Keepers of Arden. One was the pacing for the latter portion. I do understand that the beginning spans nearly two decades, but once the brothers are adults, I felt the transition into something of a "this happened, then this happened, and then this happened" was a bit abrupt. Also, I was a little let down by the climax of the book. Being the first book of a series, I didn't expect much closure, but I just didn't feel the protagonists had much at stake. Yes, there was a city faced with a potential massacre, but there wasn't really a sense of the true consequences for the characters or the story if the good guys, so to speak, lost to the bad guys.
Those are really small gripes, however, in that I was captivated throughout. There are rarely any slow sections, and even those few were kept interesting with Evan's brilliant characters. Truthfully, this is one of the best fantasy books I've had the pleasure of reading this year, and I can't wait to see what Evans has in store for Wilhelm, Salvarias, and the world of Arden in the next volume.
Easily 5/5 stars. If you're a fan of fantasy, please check this one out.
This past Saturday I ran in the Sunset Run 5K here in Salisbury, NC, with my son, Jonas, running in the 1/2 mile fun run. Jonas got an awesome medal, and I placed 2nd in my age division! Here's a short video of Jonas finishing his fun run and some boring clips from my 5K run.
I've already made a list of my top ten favorite video games, but you must know that I am too big of a video game nerd to stop at something so broad. Oh no, there'll be a top 10 for many of the systems, and possibly even video game genres. Sorry, getting ahead of my dorky self. For now, here's my top ten NES(Nintendo Entertainment System) games.
10. Mike Tyson's Punch Out
With a uniquely awesome cast of characters, bare-bones yet extremely difficult and precise gameplay, and Mario as a referee, this was one of the greatest NES games for many people at the time of its release. There's the original version with Mr. Dream instead of Mike Tyson, but this version takes the win for the precious few who were able to claim they beat Tyson. Note: I was, and still am, not one of those. I'm actually a big fan of the Wii sequel/remake-ish as well.
9. Super Mario Bros 2
After the undeniably classic Super Mario Bros., this sequel really came out of left field. That's mainly because it wasn't even developed as a Mario game at all. It was instead a game called Doki Doki Panic, released only in Japan. Some say the decision to turn it into a Mario game for the US is that the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2 was deemed too difficult for US gamers, while others say it's because Nintendo was unsure if US gamers would purchase a game that did little to innovate on its predecessor. Whatever the reason, we ended up with one of the greatest NES games of all time, even if it's the furthest removed from the typical Mario formula of any numbered entry in the series.
8. Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest
Look no further than HERE to see that some people absolutely hate this game. It's true that in the US version, you're given little to no direction, vague clues from villagers offer essentially nothing, and there is a glaring lack of iconic boss fights like the first game. Still, I love the deviation from the first Castlevania's setup, the RPG elements of travelling to towns, leveling up, and saving money to buy items in a side-scrolling platformer making this a trailblazer of its time. While the lack of direction for players made this seem nothing more than a ploy to get players to call hint lines(remember when these existed??), it makes this game memorable, for the fact that it brought gamers together to share tips and tricks if nothing else.
7. Mega Man 5
I don't know what it is about Mega Man 5 that makes it my favorite NES entry, and most would claim 2 or 3 should hold the top spot. It may be the innovation in the levels such as the gravity switching in Gravity Man's stage, or the jet-ski portion of Wave Man's stage. It may be the memorable 8-bit music. All that really matters, though, is that it's fun as hell to play.
6. Gargoyle's Quest 2
I stayed over at a friend's one night and he just happened to have this late entry into the NES library. Once he went to bed, I started playing it and was instantly hooked. The mix of RPG and side-scrolling, amazing graphics and music, and the atmospheric nature of the game all draw you in until the end. It took me a while to discover that the first entry was on GameBoy. I was quick to pick up the amazing sequel, Demon's Crest, on SNES, though.
5. Ninja Gaiden
Brutally, frustratingly, pull-your-hair-out difficult, but good enough to actually make you enjoy the suffering. This game not only controls perfectly, has diverse levels, and a challenge bordering sadistic, but it was basically the first cinematic game on the NES. The intro scene, telling the tale of Ryu Hayabusa's father's supposed death and Ryu's journey to America to avenge him, begins an exciting tale full of plot twists told with anime style cutscenes. This was definitely a first for the era and made a fun game funner by drawing you through its narrative one painful level at a time.
One of the few games from the NES days that was actually better than the arcade version is was ported from(in my opinion, anyway). This game is full of run-and-gun action, memorable levels and bosses, and a difficulty to give the aforementioned Ninja Gaiden a run for its money. Well, without the 30 life code, at least. Yeah, the infamous Konami code - Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, B, A Start. Its NES sequel, Super Contra, improved upon an already amazing formula in several ways, but between nostalgia and a slightly more memorable soundtrack, level design, and boos fights, this one will always be my favorite of the 2 NES games(I'm ignoring the horrible Contra Force game).
3. Ninja Gaiden 2
For the 1990 follow-up to Ninja Gaiden, Tecmo dialed back the difficulty a bit, offering the ability to collect two clones/shadows to help you fight your enemies and allowing the player to actually climb walls without having to resort to the annoying and awkward wobbling of the left/right buttons while jumping mechanics of wall climbing in the first game. While this makes the game more accessible, it still offers a meaty challenge that will have you going through plenty of lives, but happily coming back for more. The story is more complex and full of B-movie type cheesiness. The bosses are more fun, and most take a little more thinking to defeat. Also, unlike the first game, the levels offer more variety in terms of gameplay. In one level, you have snow blowing you in different directions, making timing key when jumping. One level is shrouded in darkness, lit only by occasional flashes of lightning to help you choose your path. Again the control is spot on, and deaths are, for the most part, the player's fault, much more so than the first game. This was one of the few NES games I owned as a kid, and I will always remember the sense of accomplishment when picking it up as a teenager after giving up on it years before, and finally beating it. I only wish the quality of this game continued on to the third NES installment of the franchise.
2. The Legend of Zelda
Hands down, this is one of the most classic adventure games of all time, as well as one of the most pivotal. Aside from something of a strategy guide that came with the US version, the Legend of Zelda set you out with no direction, giving you an open cave on the first screen for you to enter and retrieve your sword from the old man with the oft-quoted advice, "It's dangerous to go alone! Take this." Inspired by its creator(Shigeru Miyamoto, or S. Miyahonm as he is mistakingly called in the game's end credits)'s love of exploration as a child, Zelda encourages players to experience the feeling of not knowing what you will find from screen to screen or dungeon to dungeon. With special items found from level to level being required to find new levels or defeat specific bosses, the game does require some linear gameplay, but for the most part is an open-world experience. Only with the new 3DS's A Link Between Worlds have players again been given the opportunity to tackle the game as they see fit.
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
Absolute, old-school platforming perfection. Tons of levels, great music, great control, great graphics, brutal difficulty(if you take on the entire map without using warp whistles), and an overall fun factor make this my favorite NES game of all time. Several Mario staples, such as the Koopa Kids and multiple power ups were introduced in this game. Speaking of the power-ups, you can't deny the awesomeness of the Super Leaf, Tanooki, Hammer, and Frog suits, as well as the never-properly-replicated boot! It is a massive game to take on if you don't find and use the secret warp whistles(unless you are playing on an emulator or on Nintendo's Virtual Console), but players who forge through all the levels will find much to enjoy throughout. I could say a lot more about the game, such as how the movie, The Wizard, was basically a feature-length commercial for it, but I think I'll go play it instead.