iscribblings

Charting life's circuitous path


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Review: My Fitness Coach

Yikes!  It’s felt like forever since I’ve posted.  Working full time as a part-timer is not something I want to do for long.  Luckily one of my co-workers is returning next week and I have the small hope of going back to my previous schedule.   I’ve been filling in for two of my co-workers and it’s been crazy.  I’ve been handling a three person job all by myself AND trying to keep up with my health and the house.

Can I moan a little bit more?  Methinks so.  😉

A few weeks ago, I moaned talked about how my fitness routine was becoming a bit dull.  A little devil took up residence on one shoulder.  One day it was wearing a smug look and a sparkly new headband I’ve been eyeing and telling me things like “your fitness level is so beyond this routine by now”, and the  next it lazed about in slippers while munching cookies with a “one day off won’t kill you”.

Ha! Not only did I need to exercise more than ever (with my cookie and pie consumption going through the roof), but I definitely wasn’t too good for my routines (as the sore muscles reminded me).

Here’s what my weekly workout was looking like in December:

3 days of strength training + aerobics – usually about a 30 min segment of one of Kathy Smith’s upper body weight workouts twice a week and a 45-60 min cardio workout 3 times a week.

1 day of running – usually 3 miles on the treadmill

1 day of bicycling – usually 50 – 60 min on our stationary at 12- 15 mph with varying intensities

1 day of pilates – typically 30 min sessions, sometimes doubled up

1 day off (this was my yoga day, but that got scrapped once work become “full time” on a temp basis)

This was the same schedule I had kept for a while and it’s a good one – I feel strong and healthy.  It gave me balance and variety, but there were times where I questioned my sanity – was this really something I could do long term?  Was even asking that question making me somehow a failure?

I know that by the middle of December, I was really tempted to cave to that persuasive devil and just take it easy. It was Christmas, right?  If I can’t relax during the holidays, then when?

I’ll have to agree with what I’ve heard others say:  When your heart isn’t it, your routine suffers.  I wasn’t giving it my all and that little devil knew it.  It made it even worse to try again the next day because I had the failure from the day before looming up behind me.

Enough was enough.

I got a lot of wonderful fitness related goodies this year and I’m hyped!  I want to review them here this month so that you can see if perhaps they’ll fit into your own routine.

First up for review:  Wii My Fitness Coach

My hubby got me a Wii for Christmas!  Wooo!  My parents got one about a month before to keep their minds active and they are in love with their system.  Hubby picked up on the “me want” vibes I was broadcasting and got me one of my very own.

It’s white and pretty. See:

It’s a used Wii, but it’s like new.  We went out and bought a couple of games right away:  Super Mario Bros, My Fitness Coach and Wii Sports.

(source)

My Fitness Coach is a “game” that has a fitness coach named Maya who guides you through your fitness dreams.

Or, at least, I think that’s what she’s supposed to be doing. Right now, she’s beating me up!

You can input your data – everything from your measurements to your heart rate.  Afterwards, she keeps track of your workout intensities and progress.

After putting in all of my data (taking those measurements were scary!), the game found that I lacked upper body strength and suggested an emphasis on building up that part of my routine.

So, take the other day.  I did an hour of cardio because she recommended it that day.  During the session, she asks you from time to time how that segment went – too hard to too easy.  As you progress, she’ll adapt that portion to suit your level.  And believe me, she definitely does!  I thought it was all a piece of cake the first time through but by the second, I was sweating and almost calling uncle midway.

The cardio section also incorporated upper and lower body exercises so that you’re working those muscles as well.  I like this, but there are times where I just want to do an hour of straight aerobics.  Still, it’s very adaptive to your needs and it even asks you how you’re feeling that day before your session starts.

A silly bit of the game is how additional music and settings are revealed the more your workout.  You start off with 3 different choices for each, and I’ve actually found that I like to swap them depending on my mood that day.

One other aspect is how it asks you about the equipment you own.  I own weights and a heart monitor, so it incorporates that into its assessment and routines.  I still find that I have to use my weights during exercises where it has you do it without, but that’s no problem.

For a game, it’s quite good.  I love the variety of activities, although it can get a bit stuck on a select few sometimes (the sheer amount of pushups it had me do was ridiculous!).  I’m working it into my routine a couple of times a week since it gives me variety in my cardio – I love Kathy Smith’s workouts, but I’ve done them so often this past year that I was welcoming the change.

I’d look for a used copy of this – I got mine at a Half Price for about $8.  It isn’t the magic bullet to fitness success, but it is a great addition to a collection of fitness routines you can easily do at home.


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Review: The Last Express

The Last Express

 

Image from Amazon

Key System Points:

This game is “old” (came out in 1997) so it might have trouble on some systems.  We played this game on a Pentium 4 with XP and it ran just fine (no trouble setting it up and we didn’t even need to go into Windows 95 mode).   Some of the cut scenes were a bit jerky, but I don’t think it was the actual system slowing it down but the way the game was filmed (more on that later).

Beginning Observations:

I’m a big fan of “old” games.  You’ll notice that I place the oft-annoying quotation marks around the term old.  I don’t think retro works as a descriptor for these games since that implies some type of nostalgic kitch factor that really isn’t there.  I could just say old but that terms carries with it a lot of negativity and I want to draw on all of the positives associated with aged computer games – daring yet sensible plot, complicated and relevant dialogue, and interesting scenes.   That describes what I love about computer games prior to the 2000s.  Outside of the rare exceptions, most games nowadays are lazy copycats that bore us to death.

The Last Express looked interesting and it came with high reviews.  Everyone seemed to remember it fondly and those that had played it recently thought it individual and unique.

The box promises:

Richly detailed and historically accurate 3-d environments.

Over 40 hours of game play on 3 cds.

and

A clue in every car. A stranger in every seat. Danger at every destination.

It reminded me a lot of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and while I liked the book, we hated playing the game.  It was dull, restrictive and annoying (you had to repeatedly question the travelers after each incident or clue).  The reviews seemed to suggest that this game was different since it had a mix of gameplay and an intriguing plot.

The game also promised real-time play and it was all done using rotoscope.  In that respect, it looked not only unique but engaging.  Who wouldn’t love to be on a train with “real” people that actually felt like it was going somewhere?

So, we gave it a go.

The blue egg - you can rewind the game to replay conversations you might have missed.

Warning – Spoiler’s Next Stop!

Story:

You play American Robert Cath who happens to take the Orient Express to get to Constantinople right before the outbreak of WWI.  You’re joining a friend of yours, Tyler Whitney, who is actually a helpful revolutionary (freelance), but things turn for the worse when you find out that he’s been murdered.  You take on his identity to find the murderer and you’re soon swept up into the complicated politics of the Russians, Germans, Serbians and the British Government (oh yes, and the Persian eunuch and his obsession with a mechanical singing bird – I couldn’t make out what the point of that bit of storyline was about).

Overall Response:

I had difficulty deciding on how to present this.  On the one hand, the gameplay is unique and therefore it is engaging.  There are a number of timed fight sequences, or timed puzzle sequences where the wrong move meant death. This always makes a game a bit exciting since it requires you to be on your toes moreso than otherwise.

ker-pow! Right in the kisser.

Unfortunately, the fights were also very predictable after a few gos.  They added spice to a potentially dull story, but they became a bit tedious when you spend so much of your time trying to time your ducking with their punching.

The real-time aspect of the game was also positive since it meant that a potentially stifling set (two carriages, a dining car and a lounge car) had variety – you never knew if you were missing a conversation somewhere or if someone was leaving their compartment so that you could search it.

 

That’s higher praise than what you can say for National Express.

At the same time, the real-time aspect was emotionally draining – you felt like you were missing a lot of important dialogue and that you had to be everywhere at once.  The game doesn’t have a strictly linear storyline so you aren’t always sure what you’re supposed to be doing and where.  This is especially true for the first half of the game and it was probably the biggest reason my hubby dropped out of game play mid-way.  You spend a lot of time just randomly milling about and between cars hoping for something to trigger an action.

The characters were diverse – you meet every type of person from a female spy, to a Russian aristocrat, to a British secret service man.  The actual number of “important” characters are small, though.  Most are just there for the ride and others have bit parts when it’s necessary.  You can nose into their lives, but for the most part the plot crucial to game play is very narrow.  You also can’t instigate conversations with characters, but have to wait for the cutscenes to prompt a forced dialogue.

 

"A romantic is someone who spends his life looking for a good way to die." That's what we say to the woman whose father is dying on the train - nice. We're really sympathetic.

The main character is your brash, tough American hero.  He doesn’t have a soft bone in his body, but he’s somehow a lady’s man.  I dislike this type of character so it did make playing the game a bit much when you had extensive dialogues.  Luckily this didn’t happen often, but it’s no wonder that he was so disliked by everyone else. (It began to feel like everyone left the car the minute we walked in.)

There are multiple endings depending on your actions, but it’s easy to go through them systematically with the rewind function.  I’d hunt up a reliable walkthrough just to look over the potentials after gameplay.  Or, if you have the time, play it again. 🙂

Rating: Oh, 3 stars.  It was interesting, but at the same time it was still you being stuck on a train for hours.  They definitely tried their hardest to make the train less claustrophobic (at one point you have a fight on top of the train), but it’s still a bit dull.

The rotoscope technique and the real-time aspect of the game does make this definitely worth a go.  I had fun playing the game (even if I still don’t have a clue what that gold bird was all about…).


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Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened

 

Photo from Amazon

Key Stat Requirements:

The game requires the minimum of nVidia GeForce FX 5200 with a recommended 2.2 GHz Intel P4 and 1 GB RAM.  Trust me when I say that I wouldn’t have wanted to run it on anything less.  We have a 2.6 GHz and the 5200 and it still ran like it was dragging its feet.   Our video card needs an overhaul, but it seemed to handle this game just fine.

Beginning Observations:

My hubby and I like to play PC adventure games together.  Prior to this game, we had already played the previous 2 Sherlock Holmes games (the exceptions being Jack the Ripper and Arsene Lupin).  Neither were worth writing home about.  The first game had a horrible interface (made you nearly sick to play) but an okay storyline and the Silver Earring was okay (too much talking and not enough investigating but we got through it together).  We had read up on reviews for The Awakened and, at the time, the reviews were pretty positive (not to mention this game was the first with an M rating – always a good thing in my book when it comes to Adventure games).

 

Just look at that opening menu! Doesn't it look promising! Creepy...

The plot sounded intriguing:

Inspired by the works of author H.P. Lovecraft, this globe-spanning saga of suspense and horror pits the master sleuth against his most dangerous foe yet – a fanatical cult seemingly devoted to ancient, evil god Cthulhu.  From Baker Street to Bale, Louisiana to Scotland, hunt for hidden clues with the help of faithful companion Dr. Watson, solve fiendish puzzles and thwart the forces of darkness.

I have read a lot of books, but I have no idea what H.P. Lovecraft’s novels are like.  However, seeing as how this game seemed modeled after a potentially strong plot (something sadly missing in a lot of adventure games as of late) it sounded promising.  The images on the packaging also suggested that you’d be playing Holmes in a third person environment (another element that I like).  So, after shelling out $20 at GameStop in 2008, we installed it and awaited the “epic 3D adventure”.

Warning – Spoilers Ahoy!

Overall Response:

I’ll let the fact that it took us about 2 years or more to finish this game speak for itself.

I’ve been on a PC Game Spring Clean spree as of late (having finished Art of Murder FBI Confidential and Frankenstein – both games my hubby baled out on) and wanted to get this game off our system.  I had been sporadically coming back to it over the years since I kept up the optimistic thought that “it just might get better” (I should really have learned by now that things rarely do).  My hubby had given up on it long ago when the sheer boredom of it all got to him.  So, I sat down last night determined to finish this game once and for all.

Overall: this game is DULL.  For an M game, one would expect excitement, a bit of gore, and certainly a sense of menace.  This game delivers empty streets (in London!), flat scenery, horrifically difficult and tragically simple puzzles, and a terrible interface.  There is a bit of gore, but it’s all done for “shock value” and isn’t done well.  You also never feel threatened by what’s happening around you, so any of the grisly scenes are relegated to background scenery.

The plot is okay, if a bit crazy – many years ago a rich and “noble” man gets tossed overboard during a storm and is rescued by some crazed, ritualistic Cthulhu worshipers (you know how these things happen).  He’s converted (or brainwashed, as Holmes suggests) and goes about trying to gather together the necessary items for “calling forth the great god” and destroying the world.  These necessary items are 1) a selection of willing sacrifices (read: drugged) from every country and 2) the right bit of spot to do it all from (which happens to be this convenient Egyptian themed lighthouse in Scotland).  He’s able to persuade others to follow along with his plan until we come along and thwart it.

Characters wondering why you're wasting their time.

BTW, Watson is the striking chap to the left.  He follows you around everywhere but is completely useless as support.  The most he does is say “What do you make of this, Holmes” and leaves you wanting to push him into the swamp in Louisiana.

Game Play

For one, the game is not in third person but in first person.  This means that you play Sherlock and you walk around scenes as Sherlock.  This would be okay if the game didn’t require you to be nearly nose deep into a clue before it triggered the appropriate cursor.  This would be okay if the game didn’t insist on giving Sherlock a rollicking gait that made you ill if you were playing on an empty stomach.  This would also be okay if the game made some sort of distinction between your role as Sherlock and Watson when it swapped (you feel like the same character all throughout).  As it is, the game fails on all counts.

Another thing is that this game continues the “let’s pick your brain with a quiz” routine that they established in the second game.  Every so often, Holmes will drill Watson for an answer and when he does, you’re unable to look at any of your menu items.  For the most part, this is okay since the answers can be fairly obvious.  On the other hand, it keeps you stuck on a screen trying to guess at the right turn of phrase that Holmes will accept (at one point I tried at least 5 different ways of saying the answer before he finally took a response).

There's an example of one of the diabolical puzzles that I didn't waste time doing.

Your menu holds your items (standard setup with combine function), dialogues (not really useful), documents (pretty useful and necessary), reports (not useful), and map (which has jump spots which can be very useful).

You’re also supposed to be able to

Interact with over 60 mysterious characters and hundreds of clues and objects.

I think someone got a bit excited with their counting (or they were so bored that they stopped counting and just went with a good number).  You do interact with characters, but generally on a very limited basis.  They typically just grunt at you (most are “foreign” or “deranged” so they get away with having characters speak gibberish) and the only objects you can interact with are ones important to gameplay.  You spend a lot of your time trying to find that last clue carefully hidden in some remote crevice that you didn’t think to shove your nose into.  The scenes are not immersive in any way.

A Positive:

Yes, there actually is one.  One good thing about this game is that it does stay true to the plot (even though the plot is crazy and flimsy).  You aren’t distracted by useless tangents and the puzzles all work towards the end goal.  Would I have liked a bit more life in this game?  Certainly.  The empty streets, sparse scenes and limited conversations made this game difficult to get up the enthusiasm to finish.

Rating: 1 Star

In the end, the actual game play squeezes any life this plot might have had right out and you’re left with a really slow and tedious game.