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Reviews by Phil Villarreal. Phil is an author, blogger and Twitterer.


Animal Crossing: New Leaf
(3DS, $35, Everyone)

Nintendo’s city simulator – think FarmVille or CityVille without the obnoxious notifications – either hooks or shuns you from the outset, leaving you either entranced with every nuance or scratching your head at the sheer stupidity of what you’re expected to do. Get past the cutesy trappings and you’ll find a robust, strategy-intensive monster of a game.

As the new mayor of a town of your own creation, you partake in zen-like activities – winning the favor of residents by completing gruntwork, passing manipulative laws, earning money to pay off a loan to a landlord and arranging the look of your homestead as you see fit. Slight online connectivity lets you meet up with friends for minigames on an in-game island. More relaxing than challenging, New Leaf seems a little antiquated but will charm anyone who’s liked past Animal Crossing games. If they’ve never been your thing, the new entry – which, despite the title, is really just the same old leaf – won’t change your mind.

(360, $10, Teen)

The aim, launch and topple mechanic of Angry Birds gets a sloppy, awkward kiss from the tower defense genre in this medieval-themed slaughterfest, which tasks you to maul enemies’ castles. You fling projectiles at structures, then round up currency to spend on creating armies and special weapons to send off to destroy your enemies.

Early levels are fun and engaging, but the difficulty ramps up quickly, forcing you to slog through an annoying trial-and-error routine to generate the right formula for victory. Prepare to scream at the computer, swearing it’s cheating you out of sure wins, and brace your controller for a few frustrated slams on the floor. Even when you know what you’re doing, you can still suffer from questionable aiming and timing systems that seem geared to throw you off. If you stay dedicated enough to learn the intricate patterns and most effective combinations, you should be able to manage. But it’s tough to wholeheartedly recommend what is mostly an exercise in frustration.

Remember Me
(360, PS3, $60, Mature)

Sure, killing pretend things is great and all, but it’s refreshing to get an occasional break from maiming and slaughtering for some puzzling. A methodically paced thinkpiece that minimizes violence in favor of detective work and puzzles that involve screwing with the memories of others, Remember Me is hard to forget. Playing like a somewhat flawed masterpiece, it sets you in the role of an amnesiac agent who alters peoples’ memories as she tries to bring down a megalomaniacal corporation that has suckered society into a mind-sharing social network.

Yes you have to smack some enemies around at times, but the combat is just an incidental aside to puzzle-solving. You tap into your victims and alter objects and occurrences in order to Inception-them into the sort of thinking you need to advance your purposes. The plot has some holes, and the voice acting is less than convincing. But the game does a good job at making you feel like a genius for only being moderately smart, which works for me.


Breaking Bad: Season 5
($30 Blu-ray, $25 DVD)

You either love this show, watched every episode and made a daisy chain to count down the days until the July 15 final season premiere, or you have never seen it and are sick of everyone not shutting up about it. I highly recommend plunging into the New Mexico meth scene through the eyes of Bryan Cranston’s teacher-turned druglord. The levels of ruthless evil he reaches are remarkable, and the writing and acting somehow keeps its torrid pace throughout. The studio cooked up an addictive slate of extras, including deleted scenes, outtakes, stunt rehearsal footage and interviews with the writers.

Escape From Planet Earth
($20 Blu-ray, $15 DVD)

Earthlings are largely the unfeeling bad guys in this harmless yet relentlessly dull family flick about space aliens who plan a prison break of interstellar travelers who have been locked up by human scientists. Expect a bunch of forced pop culture references, preening sight gags and a plot that goes in circles until it peters out. Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ricky Gervais, Jane Lynch, Craig Robinson and George Lopez make up the better-than-the-movie deserves voice cast. The 3D/2D Blu-ray set comes with the DVD and digital versions as well as filmmaker commentary, making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

Identity Thief
($20 Blu-ray, $17 DVD)

Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy team up for a mismatched buddy comedy which mainly involves the two hams cancelling out one another’s considerable talents. Bateman plays a struggling executive who tracks down McCarthy’s character, a scam artist who has maxed out his credit cards. As he tries to bring her in to accept blame for all that ails him, he forms a dull, unfunny bond with her over the script’s failed potential. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy set has a gag reel, alternate scenes and some making-of silliness.

Mad Max Trilogy
($35 Blu-ray)

History hasn’t been kind to Mel Gibson’s post-apocalyptic Aussie trilogy, which has to coast on nostalgia and superfans’ insistence on overlooking wretched acting and eyebrow-scrunching special effects. HD does the series few favors, making Gibson’s stunts seem more charmingly inept than daring or awesome. Still, the movies – released in 1979, 1982 and 1985 – provide plenty to appreciate from a historical perspective. It’s also refreshing to see a pre-wrinkled, pre-racial epithet-spewing Mel in his element, with his whole, twisted career in front of him. The first two movies, Mad Max and The Road Warrior, include commentary tracks, but Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome gets a disturbingly barebones treatment.

Warm Bodies
($20 Blu-ray, $15 DVD)

I’ve sat through some disturbing zombie flicks in my day, but nothing came close to making me as uneasy as this giant ball of odd. It’s a teen romance between an undead corpse (Nicholas Hoult) and a girl (Teresa Palmer) who is trying to survive the zombpocalypse and mourn her boyfriend, whose brains her new zombie boyfriend has chomped. The absurdist, straight-faced romance, which is blessed with earnest performances, is sometimes as daring as Harold and Maude and nearly tricked me into loving it before chickening out with a weak, pandering ending. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes a commentary with the leads and the director, deleted scenes and a horde of making-of featurettes.

Screeners were provided by the publishers for review.

COED Writer
Watches movies and games for work, then watches more movies and plays more games on his downtime. A movie and video game critic since 2001, Phil is the author of Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, Stormin' Mormon and Zeta Male. Twitter: @philvillarreal