Sunday, October 25, 2009

Half-Minute Hero is a really fast and frenetic RPG. No, wait, let me start this all over again. Half-Minute Hero is a pretty good real-time strategy game, and, no, no, no. Damn, scratch that intro, too, let me try this just one more time. Half-Minute Hero is an awesome shooter, and aww shucks, the hell with this! Half-Minute Hero is a damn good game, period, and to stick it into any one category wouldn’t do this magnificent title justice. How is this even possible, you ask? Surely, it must fit into SOME category, and it does, I guess, but one that I’ve never even SEEN before in all my years of gaming. And that’s the RPG/RTS/Shooter/Escort Mission/Racing genre, combining four different types of games into one solid package, making it one of the best PSP games to date.

To call this game original is an understatement. There are a total of three different quests, really (With another, Knight and Wizard escort mission, action game tacked on for good measure that you have to earn), where your primary goal for each of them is to beat the level in as short a time period as possible, and no more than 30-seconds total. Seriously, I kid you not. There are actually RPG segments that I completed in under 20 seconds, leveling up with every single random battle that I fought until I got to a point where I could actually defeat some of the many humorous bosses in only one hit. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper RPG without help from other characters, and that’s where the Time Goddess comes in, who replenishes your clock so you can save the world…but for a price, of course (Believe me, a time goddess who charges you so you can save the world isn’t even the quirkiest thing about this game).

But where are my manners? I’ve already launched into one of the many different quests in Half-Minute Hero without even warning you in advance, as I’m already talking about the RPG portion of the game right now. The thing is though, as vastly different as each genre is outside of this game, INSIDE of it, they all somehow snuggly fit together as one total package, making it feel like the RTS portion (More on that in a second) is just as easy to pick up and play as the RPG section, and just as easy to pick up and play as the shooter section. Seriously, Half-Minute Hero is a title for those who can’t stand RPGS or RTS games, as it’s so quick and simple that it goes beyond the plodding parts that so many twitch happy gamers are loathe to play through. On that same token, though, it’s also a game where people who love these respective genres will adore this game, too, as it’s both quirky and hardcore enough that you just can’t help BUT love its silly, outlandish ways. The RPG portion of this game is great all by itself, and it would be worth the price of admission just for that great, albeit short, quest on its own.

But it’s not on its own, as next up is the RTS section, which is actually, in my opinion, the weakest segment of the game as a whole but still great all the same. Unlike the RPG section, where, even in its quick format, you still fall madly in love with it, the RTS section may be a little TOO simple for its own good. You are offered a circle in which you perform spells in and you shoot out creatures with projectiles techniques, brute strength, and magic. As a whole, it’s effective, but even at only thirty seconds, it still seems a bit slow to me. It took awhile for me to get into it, but the further I got, the more fun it got, too. Again, it’s good, but definitely the weakest of the initial three games that you’re offered.

The shooting segment is by far my favorite in the whole package though. In it, you play a princess with a crossbow who has to get all kinds of different herbs, spices, and apples as a panacea for her father, the King. It’s a wild goose chase that is much more fun than it actually should be. And finally, there are the escort missions, which have to be earned. These segments are fun, too, as you fight off baddies during a timer/ But as wild as the other three games are, it actually doesn’t stand out as much as them and it’s a tad bit disappointing in the long run.

So, besides the slightly dull escort missions, and the good but not great, RTS quest, this game is perfect, right? Well, not exactly, as I have one MAJOR quibble with it that sort of sets it back, and really, it’s not really the game’s fault, but actually, more like mine. Well, being such a quick paced game, the one thing that suffers the most in it is the storyline, and that’s a MAJOR point with me for any game—the story. But the Catch-22 here, though, is that the storyline is actually REALLY good, as it’s funny and off-the-wall enough to keep you laughing all the way through. So, what the hell’s the problem then, Rich? Well, the problem is, that being such a quick and fast-paced game, often times, all I wanted to do was jump right into battle and not read the storyline at all. But on the same token, I wanted to read the storyline, too, just to giggle every so often and stay in the know with what my next task was. And thus came my conundrum of, should I just press start and bypass the great dialogue, or should I sit and read it all when I really just want to get to blasting or running into things ? My gaming fingers were so CONFUSED.

But that’s really small potatoes in the great scheme of things with this excellent game (And I haven’t even MENTIONED the great music, or the vintage, taking-it-back, 8-bit graphics that make this game distinctly reminiscent of past games and unique in its own right, too). Half-Minute Hero is SO good that it almost makes me believe in the PSP again as a viable handheld system. Almost, I say. It doesn’t matter if you like RPGs more than RTS games, or shooters more than action titles. Pick this game up if you have a heart on for good dialogue and fun. You won’t be disappointed. This game freaking rocks.

Players:1 player (Ad Hoc)(2-4 Players)
Platform: PSP
Developer: Marvelous Entertainment
Publisher: XSEED Games
Rating: Four and a half stars

A clip from the game:

Road Construction Doesn't Deter Diner's Regulars

Since you live in New Jersey, the likelihood that you've been to a diner is pretty high.

In fact, New Jersey is often referred to as, among other things, the diner capital of the world, having more diners across the state than we probably even know what to do with. But while every diner might appear the same on the surface, regular customers know that each diner is unique for both its history and its food selection, and the Chester Diner is no exception.

"When you look at the pie case, you're going to faint," says manager Nick Mates,who has been working at the diner for three years. "It's like a full bakery."

Along with the elegant cakes and pies, which range from traditional apple, cherry, and lemon meringue to more elaborate strawberry and chocolate cheesecake and chocolate mousse, the Chester Diner also has a deep-fried favorite that quickly is becoming a regular sweet treat in this country: fried ice cream.

Mates says: "Usually, we put in vanilla, but the customer can change it up. Some people don't like vanilla, you know.

"The people love it, they just love it. It's such a big plate, so for two people, it's enough. It's a big, big portion."

But the stellar dessert menu isn't the only thing about which Mates can boast. The diner has traditional Greek-American diner fare, with Greek wraps, paninis, sautees and seafood being very popular items on the menu. The diner also has special theme nights: Tuesday and Wednesday are pasta nights, and Thursday is steak night.

There's one item in particular that Mates cites as being the bestseller at the diner: the Greek salad with the grilled chicken on the lunch menu.

But it's not all clear skies for the diner. Road construction on Route 206 has hindered business a bit.

"The construction outside," Mates says, "has affected the business, especially in the daytime, but in the end, to get something better, you have to suffer. There's going to be three lanes on this side, and three on the other side. It will be pretty much easier for everybody."

The roadwork hasn't kept away the regular customers, some of whom have been coming to this diner every day for decades.

"We have people who come here for 20 to 30 years," Mates says, adding a hello to a cutomer who enters the eatery. "And they still come here 6 a.m. in the morning. They're very lovely people, and we look forward to always having them, and we do our best to keep them. They feel like they are home."

It's a home that has grown. Forty or more years ago, it was no bigger than a trailer, "and then, every year, the diner's founders expanded it to be better and better and better, so that's how it became what it is now," Mates explains.

The great diner is in a great town, he adds: "Chester is, I'm telling you, one of the very, very, very good areas, one of the very safe areas, and the people are so lovely, so you don't even have to worry about it for your kids and schools. And the people are so friendly, and everybody watches over everybody, you know. I'm really thrilled to be working here."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tradition! Important to family, pizza

Local pizza shops, the ones we know and love to the very bone, never just spring up out of thin air. No, they have a history behind them, sometimes, dating back several decades.

And Village Pizza, in the left corner pocket of the Mendham Village Shopping Center, is no different.

"Before we talk about the history of this place," co-owner Guy Poggi says as he sits at one of his booths with his fingers intertwined, "I have to tell you about the history of my father. He pretty much started everything."

Poggi's father, Robert Poggi, was born in Yorkville, N.Y., where he met his wife. They were married in 1951 and have been married for 58 years.

"I've been married for 15 years," Poggi says, referring to his wife, Audrey, who is the other owner of the shop. "So I can imagine 58 years."

In 1961, his father moved from New York to Randolph and worked as a butcher at the ShopRite in Mendham. He had bigger dreams, though; he purchased his own shop, which became the Colonial Pantry in Mendham as we know it today.

"He owned that building," Poggi says, "From there, he purchased Sorrento Pizza, which at the time was half pizzeria, half barber shop."

Currently, Sorrento is still family run — by Poggi's brother.

"It's great because we look at it as friendly competition," Poggi says.

From there, his father expanded his reach in Mendham, eventually purchasing Village Pizza and offering to sell it to his son Guy when he was still in college.

"At the time, I had no intention of buying it because I was working part-time here, but it was a good business opportunity," Poggi says, "So I purchased it from him, and I've had it for 16 years now."

The shop has a friendly vibe to it, with yellow and red walls and plenty of chairs and booths that fill the comfortable eating space. But Poggi wants to do a little more with one wall that's almost bare.

"It's always a work in progress," he says, "We're getting pictures of my father, of my grandfather, my great-grandparents, my mom's parents, and we're going to be covering the walls with them, kind of paying a tribute to them."

The food is the real tribute, though. The menu has been expanded while keeping many of the basic ingredients the same.

"We offer more gourmet pizzas now than say, they did years ago," Poggi says. "We have soups, and we have four pie sizes, an 18-, a 16-, a 14- and a 10-inch pie."

When asked which pie was the bestseller, he says, "Obviously, a 16-inch pizza is going to sell, because that's what most people sell. But being that we have an 18, that's kind of a unique thing. If people want to feed more people, they can get larger slices."

From these larger slices, they can get a wide variety of pizza, such as a tortellini Alfredo, a taco pizza, white pizza, buffalo chicken pizza and a flat variation of pizza that those in the know call a "grandma slice."

"Some people (will look at it) and say, 'Can I have a grandma slice?' " Poggi says, "And some people will come in and look at it and ask, 'What is that?' "

One of his favorite reasons for working at Village Pizza is because he loves the town of Mendham so much.

"Mendham is a great town. It's very affluent, but at the same time, people are very down to earth," he says. "We have a lot of our customers who are repeat customers who have been coming here for years. I don't even know their last names anymore because I know their first names. So it's a very close knit, tight community."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Vahalla Knights: Eldar Saga Review

More so than any other genre, I think action RPGS are decidedly either really, really good, or really, really awful, and I think this all lends itself to the idea of actually stomping through a 30 hour plus adventure and feeling that you’re either satisfied with your quest or that you’ve wasted your time entirely. Well, sad to say as it is, but Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga, a Wii exclusive that’s spawned from a couple of PSP games, is definitely the latter, combining a boring ass story, drab, clumsy graphics, and an outlandishly bad combat system that is so horrible that it feels like I’ve created a time machine and traveled back to 1998 when Nintendo was discussing the combat controls of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time before they actually got it right.

Let’s start off with the storyline though, shall we, as even though most people would probably say that that’s secondary to the magic and the combat controls, I think it’s the most important aspect to any RPG, especially if they’re hoping to keep me interested for copious amounts of hours. Many years ago (Oh, and by the way, even the person telling the story sounds like he’s ready to take a catnap), a meteor shower hit the earth and a whole bunch of monsters came out of it. So now, humans, elves, dwarves, and, yawn, any other stupid looking creature you’ve read about in The Lord of the Rings or picked out as a character in WOW, have formed an alliance and have pushed the creatures over into the world of Eldar, and that’s where you step in as a thief, a fighter, a mage, a bard, or a priest to save the day. I’d be lying if I told you that by this point, I wasn’t already rolling my eyes and groaning, but I was. Groaning hard.

We’ve SEEN this story before. Yeah, maybe not the meteor unearthing long dead monsters part, but the whole Middle Earth creatures wandering around and killing things, yeah. We’ve seen it and we’re tired of it. Add something new and exciting to the mix, folks. Maybe say that the meteor spawned organisms that have made the village susceptible to telekinetic powers that are so powerful that people have gone insane from the new affects inside of them, or I don’t know, something other than elves and warriors and goblins and anything else out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s magical valise.

I mean, the characters aren’t even likeable. You’re able to customize your own hero, making it a dude or a dudette and picking out their job class, which is one feature that I actually like. But your monotone character is just dumbly nodding their head like an idiot in any of the drab and mundane cutscenes that advances any semblance of a storyline that happens to be in this quest. In that sense, you can never connect with your character in any meaningful way, so scratch that off for the interesting characters category.

And don’t even get me started on the combat. Sure, later on in the game (If you even get that far, I had to force myself), the spells add a pretty interesting layer to the combat, but melee attacks are a joke. Often times, you’ll start tapping the attack buttons, miss your target, and be flailing away at the air as your enemy is stabbing you in the back or poisoning you. It’s a feature that by this point in action RPG territory shouldn’t be a problem anymore. Targeting your enemy doesn’t help, either, as you’ll still find yourself missing like a drunkard and getting injured. If anything, this is the most irritating part of the game. Not being able to hit anything. It really boils my potatoes!

And the graphics are puke ugly. I’m well aware that the Wii is like, last-last gen in regards to graphics, but this is ridiculous. Often times, I sat in awe at how I felt like I was playing a Nintendo 64 game with its muddy visuals, blurry pixels, and ugly character models. More so than any game I can remember playing on the Wii, this one is definitely one of the worst looking yet. Granted, graphics aren’t everything, especially in an RPG, but these graphics almost make me feel bad to play the game. I feel like somebody tried and failed miserably to add atmosphere instead of just empty space and barren terrains.

Now, I’ve been hating on this game for quite awhile now, but it’s not ALL bad. As I said before, the job system is pretty cool. While I didn’t play through all of the classes very long, being a mage IS different from being a fighter, so at least they got that right. Also, the co-op mode looked pretty cool. Sadly, I didn’t get to try it (Chalk that up to not just being able to go online to find people but having to input stupid friend codes and the like), so, if you’re looking for an action RPG with a pal and can actually find somebody who can forgive the graphics and horrible combat controls, then give this game one more star, as I hear there’s a whole new quest if you can go about it with a partner. Also, at $40, it’s pretty cheap for a full RPG. Then again though, you’re paying $40 for a pretty crummy game, so just think about that before you purchase it. Overall, Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga is pretty terrible, but if you’re craving one of these on the Wii, then I guess it’ll do for at least a little while.

Check out the clip below. Trust me, it looks much better than it is.

Players: Single player (Online multiplayer)
Platform(s): Nintendo Wii
Developer: Marvelous Inc
Publisher: XSeed Games

Award Winning Pizzeria Helps Out the Community and Has Great Food

Guiseppe “Joe” Ionfrida knows his way around a pizza kitchen, and he should, since he’s been around one for over 20 years.

“We [my father and I] used to run a place in Denville for 17 years,” Joe says, “And I’ve been here [in Chester] for three.”

For only being in Chester for three years though, the restaurant sure has a lot to show for itself, as plaques, thank you letters, and pictures of Joe shaking hands with famous people like Mayor Mike Bloomberg, layer the walls.

“I work with the football, soccer teams,” Joe says, “I do the concession stands. I run events, have Spaghetti meatball nights for Boy scouts, I do a lot of stuff for the church…”

The list goes on and on for what Joe has done for the community, as do the certificates that say thank you for all the sponsorship and support.

“Giving back is what it’s all about,” Joe says.

With all of the walls covered from head to toe with awards and the simple, but accessible layout of the place, with tables that sprinkle the foreground by the entrance and large ovens cooking pizzas in the background, it’s easy to forget that most of the food at GianAngelo’s isn’t even eaten on the premises.

“We’re mostly delivery,” Joe says of his three time, Reader’s Choice for best pizza in Morris County award winning shop, “pizza is 90% of what we sell.”

But that’s not all that GianAngelo’s offers. In fact, it’s almost excessive what GianAngelo’s has in store for you, from pizza, to sandwiches, to…limo service?

“We have Chester Limo, which can take people to the airport, local shops, [or] anywhere they want to go,” Joe says.

Along with the limo service, Joe’s menu is also accessible and affordable, with a large, gourmet pizza like the Con Carciofi Pizza with artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes, or the pizza with eggplant (A favorite here) going for $17.05.

Also on the menu are hot sandwiches like the Veal Cutlet Parmigiana, salads like the Antipasto, and soups like the Pasta Fagioli, all for under eight dollars.

“We pretty much have the same menu that I used to have with my father,” Joe says.

Not only that, though, but Joe also has chips and drinks that even have his name on the bags and bottles, showcasing that he’s ventured into advertising both himself and his operation in the process.

“Now, I gotta give you the bad news,” Joe says after he puts the bottles and bag of “Joe Chips” on the counter, “On December 31st, I’m going to retire.”

Could this be the end of what is quickly becoming an institution in this town?

Not hardly.

“My boys will take care of it,” Joe says in regards to the employees working in the back by the ovens, fixing up pizzas as usual.

Even if he retires though, this area will always have a special place in his heart.

“Chester is a great place to live and work,” Joe says.


WHERE: 324 Route 24, Chester
TELEPHONE: 908-879-0669
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday
CUISINE: Italian
PAYMENT: Cash, credit, check
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers/sides $3.00 to $12.25; soup/salad, $4.75 to $8.95; wraps/sandwiches/Panini, $6-$7.50; pizza rolls, $7 to $7.75; pizza, $7.70 to $13.20; toppings, $1.75 to $1.90; gourmet pizza, $11 to $17.05; entrees, $13.25 to $15.95
CATERING: Yes, limited and on request
ATMOSPHERE: There are small tables to sit at and the walls are filled with awards, articles, and thanks from a variety of local organizations, but GianAngelo’s is really geared towards delivery and take-out
PARKING: There are a few spaces out front and more at the end of the strip
OWNERS: Guiseppe “Joe” Ionfrida