Joseph Hallenbeck

Literary Criticism

July 07, 2017

The Desert List

Filed under: Literary Criticism
“One cannot read a book: one can only reread it” – Nabokov I woke this morning thinking about re-reading The Lord of the Rings. The last stab at the thick volume I made while at Oxford in 2008. A childhood friend reads the entire thing on an annual basis. Which brings me around to another question. If I examine the entirety of my library and was given the choice of only a select few books to read and re-read for eternity which volumes would that entail? It is said that the quality of a litrary work is measured in our...
January 12, 2017

2016 Cultural Review

Filed under: Literary Criticism part of Annual Reviews
A quick run down of all the films, shows, books and games watched, read and played over the last year. Film & Shows This was the year of film. Starting in the FEMA trailer in Clifton, the big screen TV that came with the new house. We had every excuse to watch movies. We are running low on Hitchcock and Price films at this point. There are so many of them (over 30 in total!) that I can’t give time for each. Instead, I’ll just break each down to a letter grade. Not mentioned, but started Steven Universe, FMA: Brotherhood,...
February 16, 2016

2016 Reading List

Filed under: Literary Criticism part of Annual Reviews
To match up with the list of books and films read or watched in 2015 is a list of books that I hope to get to this year. There are a lot of re-reads in here. I am finding that as I get older I am much more inclined to step back and re-read a good book then I am to always be searching for the next great thing. I’ve also grown a lot more choosy on what it is I do start up reading. There just isn’t enough time in a year to rush though a paperback a week...
September 14, 2013

New Wind-Up Post: Fez

Filed under: Literary Criticism
I have a new post over on the Wind-Up Culture Blog concerning the the extraordinary polish of Fez. Right now, I’m at 82% of Fez completed and the game continues to blow my mind away with the complexity of this indie title.
September 14, 2013

On the Extraordinary Polish of Fez

Filed under: Literary Criticism
I am struggling to find the words that adequately describe the simple joy that is Fez. I think the word that I most often find in my reflection is complete. That is, I think Fez is a more polished and “whole” game than many a modern Triple-A title. Concerning Publishing Unfinished Games It has become too common to see games placed on shelves before they are truly finished. I could point the finger at any number of triple A titles (mostly in the MMORPG and FPS genres) wherein the release of the game is done before production has really honestly...
May 02, 2012

Portal 2: A Rave Review

Filed under: Literary Criticism
Okay, Portal 2! What could be said about Portal 2 that wouldn’t already be known by anyone who stumbles upon this blog? Portal 2 is amazing? That’s a given since this is a product of Valve we are talking about here. Valve just does a very good job on it’s games and Portal 2 is no different. This is a product that has been polished until not one little error remained. Every line of dialog is a pleasant suprise, every puzzle an innovative joy and I am only sad that it is so short. For those who may have been...
I came upon the film Sunshine by way of the exemplar Moon. The latter being perhaps one of the best instances of hard science fiction that we have seen in theatres since 2001 A Space Odyssey. Sunshine, while a very good film, cannot live up to Moon simply because of some very basic plotting issues. Nevertheless, it is a very interesting science fiction flick. Sunshine works on the premise that in fifty-some years the sun’s light has begun to dim plunging the earth into an eternal winter. In order to revive the fires of the sun, Icarus was sent to...
April 18, 2012

Okamiden - Final Impressions

Filed under: Literary Criticism
Today I finished an adventure that I had started out on just a mere 24 hours or five months earlier: Okamiden. My initial apprehension towards Okamiden rapidly faded as I began to get into the game and realize that in it’s complexity it was far more than just a scaled down rehash of the seminal PS2 Okami. From combat, to brush strokes, to atmosphere and plotting the game has nearly everything that it’s big brother has.   Gameplay My initial impression dwelt heavily on Okami’s scaled down gameplay at it’s lack of features. I now have to eat these words....
It was my luck that The Secret World of Arrietty came to Sioux Falls. This is my first Ghibli film that I could see in its proper setting: the big screen and I must say that it was a spectacular treat for the eyes, replete with stunning backgrounds and gracefully animated characters who play out yet another fantastical story. While Arrietty will probably not be my most favorite Studio Ghibli film, it does possess the wit, charm and magic that I expect from the creators of Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke. It’s only real lack is in it’s...
February 10, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty

Filed under: Literary Criticism
I saw the trailer to The Secret World of Arrietty when I went out to watch The Muppets back in November. Now mind you, I was out on Thanksgiving break visiting my folks in the frigid north of Escanaba, Michigan. The Northern Midwest is not know for its taste in eclectic films – theaters up there typically run the top selling Hollywood flicks of the week and little more. So you can imagine my delight to see a Studio Ghibli film being advertised in such a mainstream venue! It seems that this is a new move for Disney, which according to The Ghibli Blog, will be...
On a lark, I went out to WestMall7 and choose to watch whatever film happened to be airing. Now, WestMall7 is Sioux Fall’s second-run theater. Its good for its cheap popcorn and cheaper tickets. Although, much of the popcorn seems to end up on the floor in this place and  The seat cushions, I believe, are from the 1980s – the springs long worn out. I have been avoiding WestMall7 for the last couple of months on account of there being no good films out. The Christmas flicks have yet to hit the screen and the flicks that aired between...
I recently attended a showing of The Iron Lady at the bequest of my girlfriend. I was initially reluctant to see such a production – not because of some distaste for a biopic of Margaret Thatcher, but because I feared that it would just be a simple film riding on the coattails of last year’s The King’s Speech. The King’s Speech won four Oscars last year and for a very good reason. It is an eloquently produced work illustrating the changing political climate of Britain as it transitioned from the Victorian into modern times. Yet, here we are one year...
I wrote a short review about Watchmen back when the film came out in theaters and while I have read the book, I wish to address the film in particular. I will be revealing a lot of the plot devices in this one, so if you haven’t had the chance to read or watch the film, I say skip this and come back once you have. Watchmen is to Super Hero films what Neitzche is to Nihilism. It would seem at first that Watchmen is just a grittier version of the Super Hero genre. Filled with anti-heroes, sex, violence and the dynamics...
I recently procured a copy of Apollo’s Song which, like many of Tezuka’s works, is printed in a thick 500+ page single volume. The first English run was in 2007, and currently is out-of-print according to Amazon. Nevertheless, Vertical has a good reputation for keeping its library in print and has republished the text in a two-volume series. Apollo follows the lives of Shogo, a young boy whose admitted to a psychiatric hospital for his atrocious abuse of animals. Due to an abusive upbringing by a prostitute, Shogo is unable to love and finds the pairing of even animal mates repulsive. During his first treatment of shock...
Last month I composed a short essay detailing what I consider the “Exploration” game or “Zen Garden” game. When  I composed that essay, I had a few titles in mind that I considered the seminal titles of this genre. 1. Ico Ico came out for the Playstation2 in 2001 and it, and along with Shadow of the Colssus has recently been re-released with a graphics upgrade for the Playstation3. Ico is ultimately an adventure-puzzle game with a light mixture of combat elements. The game is played from the perspective of Ico, a horned boy who is imprisoned in a gargantuan tower....
I started to dig through the noitaminA block of Anime from the last few quarters to see if anything got a good review on ANN. I find that anything from noitaminA and gets a large volume of tens has a tendency to live up to my expectations. What I stumbled upon was Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai or We Still Don’t Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day. I am perplexed by the length of this title. I find Japanese titles often end up being oddly long before domestic translators get...
After several months of video game reviews, let’s take a look at something entirely different, a text that is a rather appropriate capstone to the events of 2011: Albert Camus’s The Rebel. In The Rebel, Camus examines the history of the revolutions in Europe – starting with the French Revolution in the late 18th century which deposes the Divine Right of Kings, forever altering the role of religion in the state and ultimately the faith of the cultural revolutions of the dandy’s rebellion against Victorian society, the Marxist/Russian revolutions of the 19th century and the culmination of these revolutions with the...
Last week’s reflections on Okamiden upon the game’s qualities resurfaced an old musing regarding games. I am very particular about the games that engross me through thirty or sixty hours. Most games, by some aspect of their design, fail to illicit such a strong emotional response. What are the qualities of these games? What aspect of the design of say Super Mario 64 illicits such a strong response whereas Rachet & Clank brings out little to no response. The feeling of playing Okamiden is different from playing Call of Duty. I am an avid World at War player and can...
November 23, 2011

Top Picks for X-Mas 2011

Filed under: Literary Criticism
I suppose it’s not really news that the 2011 Christmas season for game releases is somewhat excellent this year around. Studios always seem to hold out on their big-budget titles until around this time of the year, so let’s examine my top five picks for this year: 4. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim I played Elder Scrolls Oblivion back when it first came out. The graphics Skyrim’s predecessor blew me away and I spend countless hours wandering about the countryside in search of herbs. Unfortunately, collecting herbs and perfecting non-combat skills in Oblivion just got you killed as your opponents would...
A quick post to point out that there is a new article,  examining my early impressions of Okamiden, over at The Wind-Up Culture Blog. I actually have new material lined up for the next few weeks on the blog, and I plan on making it a point to update the site at least once a week with new material throughout the winter. Drifting in the Sea is still on hiatus. I am not sure if I want to continue the current plotline, or devote what little time I have into working my comic adaptation of the Saga of the Volsungs, and complete the series...
November 16, 2011

Okamiden - First Impressions

Filed under: Literary Criticism
I am six hours into Okamiden right now or roughly a quarter of the way through the game. Considering Okami is one of my favorite games for the PS2, Okamiden as a sequel has some very big shoes to fill. My initial impression of the game was just how similar Okamiden is to it’s big brother. It replicates many of the game environments from its predecessor, the brush-manipulating game-play techniques, and graphical styles. Yet, it does this in a very paired down system and it can be difficult to judge Okamiden harshly because it’s landscapes are more restrictive, combat less...
Most of my favorite web comics are ones that I discover near the end of their runs. Michael Poe’s Exploitation Now!, Josh Phillip’s Avalon, or It’s Walky – I stumbled upon these near the end of their runs where I could sit down and spend several days reading through the archives. This last month, I embarked upon reading through the archives of two of my favorite web cartoonists: Michael Poe and Fred Gallagher. The experience of reading through an archive is vastly different from following along as the comic is created. Often in the daily wait between new pages months...
Continuing the sword-collecting series, I take a look at Muramasa for the Nintendo Wii. Before I begin, let me get it out of the way. I am a big fan of Vanillaware’s previous title, Odin Sphere, and the overall design philosophy of revisiting the game design challenges of two-dimensional design. It was a sad day when developers jumped ship for three-dimensional graphics, and I find it nice that there are still a few developers out there who, like me, would rather see the processing power of our new consoles put to envisioning the advances of the older two-dimensional genres. In...
Following Super Mario Galaxy and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, I began Katanagatari and Muramasa – a show about collecting swords and a game about collecting swords! Similar plots match similar settings, as both series are set in the early Genroku period shortly after the shogun unite the warring kingdoms of Japan. This week, I’ll take a look at Katanagatari. In Katanagatari the protagonists, Togame the “Strategian” convinces Shichika, a swordsman (more like a marital artist) to help her collect twelve deviant blades of Shikizaki – whose power is fabled to grant dominion over the world if collected together. Together they travel...
I follow roughly thirty webcomics on a daily basis. I say roughly because this number tends to change a lot. I cull the collection about once a year to remove comics on hiatus and comics that I grew bored with. Yet, this is counterbalanced by binging on new webcomics. Once and a while, I’ll just start clicking on ads for new comics, dig through the links on my favorite comics and discover (or re-discover) new series to read. There are a few criteria that I look for in a new comic to follow: An archive! I want to know that...
I started watching Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 just a few days before the quake hit Japan last month. For those who don’t know, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 depicts the aftermath of an 8.0 magnitude earthquake centered on Tokyo. The creators of the show set out to deliberately create an accurate account of what such an event would be like that is, no over-the-top anime hijinks, no racy sexuality, no big-time explosions, none of the more fantastical elements we expect from anime. I must admit, I am not a fan of realism, and with it’s strong emphasis on realism, Tokyo Magnitude suffers the...
March 28, 2011

Super Mario Galaxy, A Review

Filed under: Literary Criticism
Having done Zelda and now Mario, I think I might end up with a long run of Nintendo-game-related articles. Super Mario Galaxy was one of the launch titles for the Nintendo Wii back in 2006 when the system was still nigh impossible to find on store shelves. Wait a few years and it becomes surprisingly easy to find, however, not cheaper. Unlike Sony, who tends to drop their best-selling title prices soon after launch, Nintendo keeps prices high and even today a copy of Mario Galaxy runs for $40.54 on Amazon, a mere $6.37 cheaper than it’s recently released sequel....
March 15, 2011

Zelda: Spirit Tracks Review

Filed under: Literary Criticism
As I grow older, I increasingly become one of those gamers who spends a great deal of time reading about the hobby rather than doing it. In-between becoming a curmudgeon who complains about how they just don’t make games like they used to, I find a few games that still capture my attention. Zelda: Spirit Tracks would be one such game. I would love to speak fondly of how Spirit Tracks embodies the wide open spaces of Ocarina, or how the interlocking and complex dungeons rivaled the masterful level design of Link’s Awakening. Unfortunately, I cannot. The curmudgeon must come...