Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins Of The Moon

Fragile Dreams is a pretty decent adventure title, but let me tell you something, mister, when I first started playing it, I almost instantly hated it. Its opening monologue about the protagonist’s guardian croaking had me groaning and dragging my hand down my face. The first thought I had was, "Is this going to be some sappy, anime’d-up version of that new Robert Pattinson stinker, Remember Me?" It definitely seemed that way with its cheese ball poetry and pauses between every few words to add unnecessary emotional pull to it.

However, after actually playing the game, it turns out it's actually pretty good. It’s not great mind you, as it has a LOT of factors keeping it in mediocre territory. But it’s good to the extent that it’s actually playable and even fun at parts, and that’s saying a lot for a third-party Wii game these days.

The story goes a little something like this: After an unnamed apocalyptic event occurs, you’re left all alone in a world shrouded by darkness. Now, in this darkness, there are ghosts and wild animals roaming all about, and your task is simply to keep on moving, as there’s no telling what kind of thing might happen to you next. That sounds pretty cool, right? Well, it almost is except for one damning factor—your main character is a total wuss.

That’s right, I said it, a wuss. You take on the role of Seto, who’s about as girlishly anime as a boy character can possibly be in a video game (yes, girlier than a Final Fantasy hero). He's got long hair and oversized eyes and is hardly the kind of character you'd want to be your avatar in a post-apocalyptic. However, you're stuck with him the whole game.

You’re not alone though, as you also get a portable carry-on device called a Personal Frame (Or just PF for short) pretty early on in the game. This device is sort of like a talking robot buddy that you carry on your back with you. But instead of it being snippy and lightening up the mood a little bit, a la, GLaDOS from Portal, it’s all detached and boring, leading for a pretty lackluster sidekick. It was depressing to be saddled with not one, but two, lame characters for the bulk of the game.

The combat is just plain terrible beyond belief. Remember 3D adventure games before The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time? No? Well good, because they sucked ass. But for some reason, Fragile Dreams harkens back to that time by not adding a lock-on feature for the combat, so instead, you just swing your weapon around like an idiot, making contact occasionally, but never being completely sure that you’re going to hit anything until you see the number of damage points appear over their heads. Why?

What makes matters worse is that some of the creatures in this game are actually pretty cool, so a cleaner and smoother combat system would have actually done wonders for the game. Now, I’m not saying that the creatures in this game are abominations with boils all over their bodies or a bag over their head, waving a chainsaw around like a maniac, but they’re all still pretty cool as they fit the subtle atmosphere and dark mood of the game. One such creature, for instance, are the jellyfish-like ghosts that can only be seen when you put your flashlight beam on them, making for some pretty scary moments when you see their red eyes glowing in the dark.

The way you use your Wii-Mote is pretty cool, too. As mentioned earlier, you’re given a flashlight as most of the game is shrouded in darkness (Almost TOO much darkness, at parts, even), and your WIi-mote is what you use to light up the areas in front of you. Sure, a flashlight has been done before in the past in video games before, so that’s nothing new, but never have I really felt my hand actually tremble before in a game as I did with this game as I actually felt like I was HOLDING the flashlight in my hand and seeing the twinkling eyes of some giant dog looking right at me in the distance in real life. Spooky.

Also, the sound adds another element of fright to the game as you’ll usually hear a buzzing noise when something is near you at times. In fact, you can even hear whispering or the laughter of children when they’re nearby and can’t be seen. One creepy segment of the game has you playing a game of Hide and Seek with a ghost and the only way you can find her is by following her childish laughter across the room by the sound coming from your Wii-mote.

So overall, Fragile Dreams has a lot going for it—the atmosphere, the cool Wii-mote flashlight, the sound effects—but enough going against it—the shoddy combat, the lame characters, the somewhat mawkish storyline—to keep it pretty middle of the road for me. Give it a rent though if what I wrote above sounds interesting to you.

Players: 1
Platform(s): Wii
Developer: Namco, tri Crescendo
Publisher: XSeed Games
ESRB: Teen

Sunday, March 28, 2010

She's 'Nutts' about teaching career

Barbara Nutt initially didn't want to be a teacher when she graduated from college back in the late 1960s, but after more than 35 years of classroom experience, she couldn't picture herself living any other life.

"I'm so lucky to have taught where I taught, you know, I really did just enjoy it," says the retired West Morris Mendham High School business teacher. "It was the perfect career for me."

Nutt was rewarded for her teaching and service to the community by being inducted this month into the Mendham Hall of Fame, a program run by Mendham TV which is designed to recognize residents who have contributed to the community for many years.

She retired in 2006 and believes it was her last seven years at the school that really prompted her induction.

"My last seven years, I was in charge of the Service Club, and we just did so many things," Nutt recalls.

Some of those activities included bringing students to the Eric Johnson House to prepare dinner for AIDS patients, getting the students to donate blood once a year, and collecting money for 9/11 victims.

"We had over 400 members, and in seven years, we made more than $40,000 for charity," Nutt says.

Nutt took on many other sponsorships in her teaching career, and each one made an impression on more than a few young people's lives.

"I advised cheerleading for 14 years, and I once was the advisor of the yearbook," Nutt says. "Once, I coached JV basketball. I didn't know what I was doing, but they needed a body. I also had a booster club for five years."

She was an advisor for the Future Business Leaders of America for 15 years and, for some time, chairwoman of the business department, but she had to stop working on so many things when she had children of her own, both of whom she taught.

She was nominated for the Mendham Hall of Fame by one of her students, Evan Thomas. Nutt calls him "Buzzy." He worked with Nutt when he was an adult by organizing two charity comedy shows at the high school, starring local comedian Jim Breuer.

"We reconnected (over that event," " Nutt says and adds that Buzzy is an organizer at the Brookside Community Club, which hosts the annual Mendham Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "And his kids went to the school, so I think he was aware of all the things that the Service Club did. So I think that's the impetus (for my nomination)."

In her years of teaching, she saw many students who were the children of her previous students.

"There's so many kids who live around here," Nutt says. "I was 21 when I started, and some of them were 18. And I'll go to the store, and there's just so many people that I know. I have lots of kids of kids who have hung around."

Nutt says she's proud to have served Mendham for so many years: "Mendham High School was a wonderful place to teach," she says. "The kids were wonderful, the parents were so supportive, the administration, everybody. I loved it. I really did. It was just such a wonderful career for me."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Review: Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

Okay, show of hands for anyone who’s ever wanted to but never had the time to play the oft-remade, Sega CD classic, Lunar: The Silver Star. Well, here’s your umpteenth opportunity if you weren’t able to catch it on the original Playstation or the Game Boy Advance because it’s out yet again in the form of Lunar: Silver Star Harmony on the PSP. I must say, I’m both disappointed and highly impressed at the same time.

Anybody who’s been a fan of RPG’s in the past twenty years or so will tell you that they’ve at least HEARD of the Lunar saga before, and I’m no exception. But what I wound up finding when I popped in the disk is a pretty standard JRPG that really is as old-school as you can possibly get. You take on the role of Alex Noa who idolizes a former Dragonmaster (Yes, that’s right, I said Dragonmaster) named Dyne. I don’t mean to bore you, but the aforementioned Alex goes on an adventure involving dragons and evil forces and it’s very much in the same vein of any JRPG you can remember reading about in countless video game magazines when you were a kid and obsessed with Final Fantasy. And speaking of Final Fantasy, this game definitely feels very much like the older games in that series, minus the steam-punk flying airships and crazy hair. It contains the standard hero who was destined to be something bigger than just a small town bumpkin, and if that’s what you’re looking for in this day and age in an RPG—an old-school quest with warriors and dragons—then you can’t get any better than Lunar, as it definitely harkens back to that era.

But I’m probably not the best person to tell you about this game because like I said before, I’m NOT one of the obsessive types who played the original back when it first came out on the Sega CD, so I can’t nitpick about every little detail about this remake. Instead, I’m looking at the game as a newcomer, and I must say, even though the story is forgettable as all get-out, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is still a pretty damn good RPG. The characters, while generic, are actually pretty interesting once you allow the cliché story to take a hold of you (especially Kyle). You begin to accept them as you would a Cid or a Sabin, which is quite impressive given how old the game is (titles like Arc the Lad or Wild Arms don’t hold up nearly as well).

Also impressive are the graphics on this baby. Now, I’m told by various parties who have played the original that the graphics on this version are either “a nice upgrade” or “entirely unnecessary,” but I personally found them to be quite appealing for a PSP title. However, I must admit that load times are certainly a problem with this title, as screens usually takes a few seconds to load from area to area. Now, being that I grew up playing RPGs mostly on the Playstation (I stopped on the SNES after Chrono Trigger), I’m used to load times in my RPGs. But this game seems to go a little overboard with it as I found myself sitting impatiently many a time. Seriously, it became so frequent after awhile that I began playing games on my iPhone while I waited for the screen to change.

Still, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is a pretty good game as a whole. The battle system is old school but fun, the story is old school but tolerable, and the quest is old school but satisfying. This is a pretty good game but not the masterpiece I’ve always heard it was from raving fanboys and the like. I guess I just had to have been there, huh?

Players: 1 Player
Platform(s): PSP
Developer: Game Arts
Publisher: XSeed Games
ESRB: Teen
Rating: Three and a half stars out of five

Sunday, March 21, 2010

100 Words or Fewer Writing Contest

My first place story:

It can also be read below along with the critique I got along with it.


The crowd gets blurry in Simon’s eyes.

“Don’t slow down!” a woman cries.

“Yeah, show Japan what we’re made of,” a gravelly voice proclaims.

Tears stream down Simon’s fat face as he stares at the half-eaten hot dog in his hand, his plate stacked to the brim with more.

Simon looks over at his competitor—rake thin and dunking his hot dogs in water—and he grimaces, stuffing the remainder of the dog in his mouth.

One more bite and I’ll die, he thinks, his left arm going numb.

All the while, the audience screams, “Chew! Chew! Chew!”

#1 Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”meets contemporary more-is-better culture. I love how the sentences – which are all about eating and stuffing and feeling full – lie on the page in thin lines surrounded by white space. E.B.

Sandwiches are tops at The Sub Pub in Chester

The name Sub Pub may lead you to believe that foamy brews are served alongside
salami sandwiches. But don't be fooled.

"No, there's no alcohol,'' says owner Karen Wolfe, who has worked as an employee at the shop in Chester since 1975, which was two years before her parents purchased it. "We have root beer and birch beer. If that floats your boat, no problem,'' she says with a laugh.

"The name was there for so long that we didn't want to change it,'' Wolfe says. "People had associated the business with the name, so we just kept it and continued to run with it.''

But drinks aren't the issue here: The subs here are so good they can stand on their own.

Wolfe learned the ropes from a skilled professional, an "older gentleman who worked for the previous owner who was an actual French chef.''

"I learned how you went about presenting food -- the presentation of what was going on (in the sandwich) to the customer -- and how to get the most with the ingredients you were working with. I learned a lot from him -- an awful lot.''

Prior to starting work at the Sub Pub, she had never had any interest in working in the food industry. Now, though, she feels it is a natural fit.

"You know, it's one of those things where you wake up one day and you realize that you have a niche or an aptitude that you never realized you had,'' Wolfe explains, sitting at a table by a window. "You kind of grow into it. You're just kind of, "What am I going to do with my life?' and after 10 years of doing this, you realize that this IS your life.''

And that life includes providing her patrons with quality sandwiches, such as the Long Valley, which is roast beef, turkey, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and Russian dressing, and the Chester, which has corned beef, turkey, roast beef, boiled ham, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and Russian dressing.

Also on the bill are salad platters, hot dishes such as vegetable lasagna and even sandwiches without any bread at all.

"We have 40 different kinds of sandwiches, so it's hard to say which is the most
popular,'' Wolfe says.

She has had her fair share of business competition over the years.

"There is a Subway around the corner. And there have been other sub, quote unquote, places. You know, years ago there was a Blimpie's in town. And there have been been other delis and stuff that have come and gone,'' she says.

But Wolfe doesn't let the economy or pressure from competition get her down. For one key reason: "We just stick to what we do, and don't pay any attention to what everybody else is doing,'' Wolfe says. "Because this is what we've been doing for so long, this is what we're known for, and this is what people have come to expect, so we just stuck to our guns and just really didn't let the competition bother us.''

And as she says this, she has to go ring up another happy customer who stepped into the store.

Celebs and regulars alike come to local bagel shop and deli for great food

Many people who’ve had them will tell you that New York City bagels are somehow different than New Jersey’s. And while many of those same people probably can’t tell you how they’re different, Chester Bagel and Deli owner, Henry Delgado, has a theory.

“Our breads are very important,” Delgado says as to why his shop only uses breads shipped from New York City, “Even though we have some great bakeries here in New Jersey, I feel there’s nothing like that New York bread.”

Born and raised in Staten Island, you’d probably expect him to root for the home team. But customers ardently agree, too, which is why the lines can sometimes get so long here.

“Customers come in here regularly on the weekends and you’ll have lines, especially in summertime, that go to the door, and [sometimes, even] out the door,” Delgado says.
Those who might see a line here and think that they’ll be waiting in for at least a half an hour though, need not worry, as the bread isn’t the only thing that Delgado brought over here from New York City.

“When you go into New York, everything is very high paced,” Delgado says, “So one of the things that I wanted to bring here is not only the New York style bagel, but I wanted to bring in the New York City mentality as far as how to do service [as well].”

“If it takes you more than ten minutes [to get a bagel here] then we’re doing something wrong,” Delgado adds, “Maybe we’re short staffed or we had a problem with the grill, but other than that, we should get you inside the door to out of it with a full line in ten minutes. So, [that means] we gotta hustle.”

While the hustling aspect of the business is a nice perk, it wouldn’t be worth anything if the food itself wasn’t very good. Luckily though, it is, and it’s even attracted some nearby celebrities such as Jim Breuer and Joe Piscopo.
Both of them are actually such frequent customers, that they even have sandwiches named after them, with the Jim Breuer being grilled whole chicken breast, lettuce, tomato and mayo on a toasted everything bagel, and the Joe Piscopo being oven gold turkey breast, Swiss cheese and honey mustard on a sesame bagel, respectively.

“Jim’s a very good man,” Delgado says of the comedian, “he comes in here with his kids, and it’s funny because he won’t order a Jim Breuer.”

The bagels here are also made differently than they are in many other bagel places.

“A lot of bagel shops nowadays use different tricks to keep their bagels soft and feeling fresh throughout the course of the day,” Delgado says, “Most bagel shops use sugar in their bagels, [but we don’t].”
What’s Delgado’s secret then?

“The difference with us is that our recipe is completely different, and as such, you have to actually bake throughout the course of the day which is more expensive [than only baking once in the morning] because you have to keep the oven going,” Delgado says, “It makes for, I believe, a much better product.”

And Delgado should know a thing or two about what makes “a much better product” as he’s been working towards entrepreneurship ever since he could get his hands on working papers.

“I’ve been involved in other restaurant ventures in the past, and that’s my thing,” Delgado says, who’s also involved in the mortgage business, “I like to work at other places and build it up to a point, and then eventually, I sell them.”

Delgado looks to work at the Chester Bagel and Deli for quite some time though with his staff and crew, which he’s grown very attached to over the three years that he’s owned the place.

“Everybody lends a hand here,” Delgado says with a smile, “It’s a real family atmosphere.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

He's active at school, in community

Chester resident Zia Zaidi, a 17-year-old West Morris Mendham High School senior, aims to help the community both in and out of school, by being active in clubs and by volunteering as an emergency medical technician.

At school, he is president of the Future Business Leaders of America Club, or FBLA, and is captain of his fencing team.

"As far as drive goes for doing all these things, I kind of didn't want to get cornered, like feeling like if I was just fencing, then I would just be defined as an athlete," Zaidi says. "Or if I was just the FBLA president, I didn't want to just be cornered into the knowledgeable stereotype."

Zaidi also is involved in a Project Adventure school club, in which he and other seniors help incoming freshmen get a feel for high school.

"I like meeting the new people who come to these clubs and teams," he said. "They have a general passion for the things they do, and I like to work with them."

His EMT duties are performed with the Chester First Aid Squad, working toward his goal of some day being in the health are field. To become certified as an EMT, he completed a 120-hour course and passed a state test included practicals and a written exam.

Zaidi says that he enjoys working as an EMT and being called to duty whenever he's needed. He already has found another benefit of using his training while off-duty.

"I was at a John Hopkins summer program, and on campus, I saw a man keeling over by a telephone pole," Zaidi says. "I asked him what was wrong, and he couldn't really respond. I found a bracelet on his wrist and figured he was a diabetic. . . . I figured that he was hypoglycemic and that he hadn't eaten in a couple days," Zaidi continued, "so I asked him when was the last time that he had eaten, and he managed to struggle out, 'a couple days ago,' just as I thought."

A hospital was nearby, and Zaidi told a friend who accompanied him to get a wheelchair.

"While he was running to get that, I checked the vitals of the man, his respiration rate, his blood pressure, pupil responsiveness and whether he could raise both his arms equilaterally, just to make sure he hadn't fallen or had any trauma to him."

At times like that, Zaidi finds that he likes helping others just for the sake of helping them, and it makes him eager to make helping others his career one day.

"Anything in the health care field, I'll take," Zaidi says about future career goals. "Like, it's not even really about being a doctor, but using my EMT experience to make me a more approachable person in health care."

Salerno's is Italian, and much more

Salerno's Restaurant & Pizzeria in Long Valley has all of your standard favorites, such as lasagna and baked ziti. You'd expect that from any typical Italian restaurant. But Salerno's has so much more.

"We make steaks once in a while," co-owner and chef Noe Escobar says. "Sometimes, we make Mexican chili. A lot of customers ask for tortilla chips, and that's my favorite because I'm from Mexico."

Steaks and Mexican chili specials might sound like odd choices at an Italian restaurant, but Escobar has experience in a whole range of recipes; he's dabbled in pretty much every ethnic food style, except one: Asian.

"Well, I started with American food first. I've also done Greek food, Italian food, and Mexican food, so I've cooked almost everything," Escobar says, his eyes looking upwards, trying to recall where he's worked over the years. Then, with a pause, he added: "Except Chinese food."

But it wouldn't be too surprising if a meal with a Chinese influence popped up on the specials menu at some point. Escobar has learned a great deal in the 30 years he's been in the food business.

"I try to do my own recipes," Escobar says.

There's no further proof of this than the garlic knots served here, which he calls, "famous" — and for good reason.

Garlic knots are typically the same pretty much anywhere you go, but there's just something about Escobar's knots that makes them different: The garlic doesn't really touch your taste buds until you've already savored the crispiness of the bread, leaving the best part for last.

"Whatever we make here, we make it fresh," Escobar says proudly, "That's why you can taste that it's different. All my dough — we make it in the morning. I come in at 7 to make it. It's part of my life."

Also famous around Salerno's is the potato-and-carrot soup, which Escobar enjoys making for both its taste and it health values.

"We started making it two years ago, and people love it," Escobar says, "People order it a lot. Carrots and potatoes are the best. It's good for your eyes and your skin, and it gives you a lot of energy."

If that weren't a good enough advertisement, he adds: "You can ask the police; they love it."

He's of course talking about Salerno's catering service. People can either come in to the restaurant, where there are enough seats to fit a small party and a few more, or, they can just call Escobar and tell him what they want.

"We do a lot of catering; every day we do a couple," Escobar says, "I cater to the police, the post office, church, a lot of well-known places right here."

And he's happy to do it. There are more than enough items on the menu to please just about everybody. From appetizers, such as chicken fingers and calamari, to gourmet pizzas to veal and chicken items, the menu is affordable enough to satisfy both appetites and wallets.

To combat the bad economy, he's added to-go family packages that feed four. Some of those packages include baked ziti, which comes with a house salad and garlic bread, all for $23.95. Another is the plain pizza with spaghetti or penne, which comes with a house salad and garlic knots, all for only $16.99.

Escobar makes deals like this to attract more business, but he also does it because he's grown quite fond of the people who come into his restaurant and do business with him.

"This is a nice area, very nice customers," Escobar says, "It's the best town to live and do business in."

Oscar Rant: Don't Nominate 10 For Best Picture If Only Five Can Win

The only film I want to see win Best Picture come Oscar night is District 9 because I genuinely felt that no other film was better (The suspense, the explosions, the latent message! What a spectacle!) If you ask my dad, though, he’ll likely say, “Pfft, District 9? What a joke! The Blind Side was the best film I saw all year. People were actually crying when I went to go see it. CRYING!”

My girlfriend on the other hand would likely say that we’re both wrong and that Up is clearly the best film of the year. Ask some of my Coen Bros. loving friends and they’ll shun all three of those choices and pick A Serious Man. And honestly, I have no idea who even saw An Education, but I’m sure that it has its ardent supporters, as well.

But you know what all five of those films have in common? All five of them have no shot in hell at winning Best Picture because the other five nominated films— The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Up in the Air, Inglourious Basterds and Precious (probably in that order in regards to chances of them winning the big prize)-- have already got that slot locked down. So really, what’s the point of having five extra nominations on the ballot if they honestly have no chance of anything besides technical prizes, if even that? (Avatar seems to have that slot locked, too, I would imagine).

Now, I know what many people will say—having five more nominations means that films like District 9 or Up, which typically would never get nominated for best picture, will finally get a chance to be recognized. But honestly, let’s say that this happened last year and a great film like The Dark Knight got nominated alongside with the tepid The Reader. Do you really think it still had any chance of actually being considered when it came to the behemoth that was Slumdog Millionaire? A lot of people will tell you that being nominated is the real prize, but really, it seems like one big tease to all those who honestly DO believe that a movie like Up, which received the highest reviews from critics of all the Oscar contenders, was the best film of the year. And for what? To boost viewership. What a joke!

Let’s be real, people. When populist films like Titanic are nominated for Best Picture, it lures more viewers to watch just to see if the collective mind of Joe Schmo at home and the Academy finally align to pick a film. And believe you me, if the Academy knew how beloved Avatar would be when they made this announcement to have ten movies instead of five, then they probably would have held off at least another year. A majority of viewers at home have already picked which film they want to win, and it’s Avatar, as what other film has captured the nation (hell, the world!) the way it has? Not District 9, sadly. And not A Serious Man.

So, why are they even nominated? Everybody, even fans of the films, know that they’re not going to win, so really it’s like a giant “sucks to be you!” to all those who actually like some of the other five films, and that’s just WRONG to tease people like that. Here I’m going to be, waving my D-9 banner come March 7th and know in my heart of hearts that the real race is between Avatar and The Hurt Locker, neither of which I would really say was the best picture of the year.

I mean really, why does it even have to be ten films? Why couldn’t it have been seven films, or even better, six films? Then, in case there IS another Dark Knight, it wouldn’t have to mean (insert whichever dick and fart comedy made $100 million that year) would have to also be considered. It could mean that that one extra special film can sneak in and have a shot.

Ten is too much, and that brings me back to my original point: a film shouldn’t be nominated for Best Picture if it really isn’t going to be considered at all. In the end, both fans of the film in question and fans of prestige films in general lose out, since no party is really satisfied when you mix fringe films with the standards. Hopefully, this fails horribly. But we all know it won’t.