Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Game Recommendations

I didn't play games quite as much in 2018 as I did in 2017, and I certainly didn't finish as many, but I did play a few that I liked enough to recommend.

For context, I'm mostly a fan of adventure/puzzle games that allow you time to think things through. I also enjoy visual novels, which are sort of "choose your own adventure" stories with visual elements, and the occasional RPG. I played all of these games on my computer, with a mouse and/or keyboard - I don't currently own a controller.

In no particular order:


In this game, you are basically a Roomba. The only other character with whom you regularly interact is the house AI, Sabrina, who repeatedly tells you that your humans are very busy, but you'll get to see them soon. Maybe tomorrow. Or the day after that. It soon becomes evident that something very bad has happened in this house. Was Sabrina responsible? Can you really trust her?

There are puzzles to solve, but they're all extremely simple and usually involve taking a thorough look at your environment and clicking buttons until the proper things light up. This game is less intended for puzzle aficionados and more for those who'd like an interactive character-focused story. Past a certain point it's pretty predictable, and, as a fan of non-evil AIs, aspects of the ending irked me, but I found it to be a gut-wrenching story nonetheless.

Rusty Lake Paradise

Weird puzzles and more Rusty Lake lore. I still think Rusty Lake: Roots is the best game in this series, but this was still enjoyable. If you'd like to get a feel for what these games are like, I'd suggest trying some of the free Cube Escape games on your smartphone - my favorite is Cube Escape: Birthday, although you can start from almost any point in the series. Just be warned that these games are weird and occasionally gross and/or gruesome.

The developer also released a Cube Escape game on Steam, Cube Escape: Paradox. I played and enjoyed the entire free portion but am currently stuck on a part in the for-purchase portion.

428 Shibuya Scramble (visual novel)

Note: I haven't completed this yet. I've played for 11 hours and have gotten several "Bad" endings, but I haven't made it through all the chapters/in-game hours yet.

This is a relatively old Japanese visual novel, so the controls occasionally leave something to be desired. However, the storytelling and characters absolutely make up for it. It starts off as a basic story about a kidnapped girl, and from there spins off into something that follows multiple POVs. I've found that the best way to progress is to follow one particular POV until you hit some kind of wall, either a "Keep Out" sign (indicating that another character's story must progress to a particular point before you can switch back to this character) or a Bad Ending (where you are given a hint as to what you need to do to make things right).

There's no way to skip "read" text, which is going to be a pain once I get all the way through the story and start hunting for missed endings, but I love this visual novel anyway. It's quirky, a bit cheesy, often funny, and just generally enjoyable to read. The visuals are mostly still photographs, but they're occasionally combined with camera movements in ways that can trick your brain into thinking you're watching a video.

Hidden Folks

Do you like Where's Waldo? This is like a black-and-white computer game equivalent. Each screen is jam-packed with tiny details, and, if you pay attention, you can gradually follow certain characters' adventures from one location to the next. I really enjoyed this, even though it was occasionally hard on the eyes, even with the different visual settings and the ability to zoom in on small areas of the screen.

Gray Matter

Jane Jensen, the woman who created the Gabriel Knight games, also designed this. It's an adventure game that mostly scratched my old school point-and-click adventure game itch. There's nothing in the game that will kill you, and gameplay involves collecting and using items, talking to people, searching your environment, and solving occasional mostly well-integrated puzzles. There's also a magic trick mechanic, although that's not as interesting as I thought it would be - you look through a children's book of magic tricks and use it to have the heroine perform actions in the required order.

The visuals and character movements were occasionally a bit clunky, and I disliked some of the things that the heroine had to do, but I enjoyed this nonetheless.

The Blackwell series

This is a point-and-click adventure game series in which you play as a woman (mostly Rosa, but one game has you playing as Rosa's aunt Lauren) who has suddenly found herself bound to a ghostly detective.

I played The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, Blackwell Convergence, and Blackwell Deception. In order to best follow along with the story, I recommend playing the games in order, but I will admit that the puzzles in the first game in particular have some annoying moments. My favorite games in the series, so far, are Blackwell Convergence and Blackwell Deception. You can definitely see the developer improving in every area: gameplay, storytelling, and character development. I'm looking forward to playing the final game in the series, as well as the developer's newer games.


If given a choice between Stardew Valley and Cattails, choose Stardew Valley. But if you've played Stardew Valley and want to try something else, maybe give this game a shot.

You play as a cat that was adopted by a little girl and then cruelly abandoned in the wilderness by the girl's mother (that woman sucks, and the opening animation was an unexpected gut-punch). In order to survive, you must hunt for food and forage for various herbs. At the start of the game, you must join a particular colony, which affects which characters you regularly interact with and the sorts of resources you can easily access. If you encounter cats from another colony, they will fight you, unless you're visiting their colony or you're at a festival. You can befriend and eventually marry and have kittens with cats from any colony, not just your own.

I've only played this for 9 or 10 hours and feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what this world has to offer. That said, I do feel like the characters and character interaction could use more depth. Still, it's fun to explore, catch vast amounts of prey, and make forays into enemy territory for goods you can't get closer to home.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

Another one I haven't played enough (9 hours) to be entirely sure about recommending, although I really liked what I've seen so far. This reminded me how much I used to love playing RPGs. The characters and city are fun, and its turn-based combat is much less stressful for me than the real-time combat present in so many games I'd like to play but that would probably wreck my nerves. My only complaint is that it seems to be designed to actively discourage grinding - yes, I know lots of people hate grinding, but there are times I find the repetitiveness of it to be soothing.

Friday, December 28, 2018

REVIEW: Game Slaves (book) by Gard Skinner

Game Slaves is YA science fiction.


My copy of this is an ARC that I picked up at a conference four years ago. Yes, it took me this long to finally read it. Because it's an ARC, I won't be quoting from it.

Phoenix and his team spend their work days fighting battle after battle. Each time they die, they're regenerated. That's because they aren't people - they're the NPC enemies that human gamers try to defeat. The only difference between one day and the next is what game they're in. When Dakota, a new member, is added to Phoenix's team, things gradually start to fall apart.

Dakota won't stop asking questions. She has what she thinks are memories of a life prior to being in the game. Doesn't that mean she, and all of them, are really human? Doesn't that mean there's a life she could get back to? Phoenix tries to ignore her and concentrate on being the biggest, baddest opponent gamers have ever fought against, but then things start happening that even he can't explain away.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

REVIEW: Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (manga, vols. 6-9) by Izumi Tsubaki, translated by Leighann Harvey

This is another one of my "vacation reads" posts, so be warned that there are spoilers in the sections for individual volumes.

I was hesitant about getting back into this series, since I'd had trouble getting into it during my last vacation. Thankfully, it seems like 4-panel comic burnout really was to blame, because I very much enjoyed the series this time around, at least up until volume 9. I think burn-out was again to blame for that, since I didn't notice any kind of significant difference between volume 9 and volume 6.

I do wonder if Tsubaki has any kind of resolution planned for this series, but even if it's one of those works that's designed to go on forever (ignoring the fact that the characters need to graduate at some point), I don't see it getting old for me for a while yet.

Review: The Tea Dragon Society (graphic novel) by Katie O'Neill

This was one of my vacation reads. The Tea Dragon Society is a fantasy one-shot graphic novel. I had wanted to read it for some time because everything I'd seen from it looked cute.


Greta is the daughter of a female blacksmith and has grown up learning her mother's craft. One day, she saves a Jasmine tea dragon. The dragon's caretaker, Hesekiel, offers to teach her about caring for tea dragons. Each dragon has its quirks, but, when properly cared for, they produce magnificent tea that carries the memories of their current caretaker. Greta's visits to Hesekiel also allow her to get to know Erik, Hesekiel's long-time friend and partner, and Minette, a shy girl who is approximately the same age as Greta and who is closely bonded to a Chamomile dragon.

REVIEW: A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns (nonfiction graphic novel) by Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns is a 60-page guide, in comic form, to using singular they/them pronouns, including how to handle it if you mess up, a script for introducing yourself with your pronouns and asking others for theirs, ideas for trying to move away from gendered language in your workplace, and more. Archie Bongiovanni identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, while Tristan Jimerson identifies as male and uses he/him pronouns, so the work includes a couple different perspectives.

I had seen a bunch of mentions of this online and picked it up thinking that it would primarily be an introduction to they/them pronouns geared towards employers and employees. It can function that way, and from that perspective, I particularly liked the last few pages (quick and easy pronoun reference chart, scripts for asking about someone's pronouns and what to say when you mess up someone's pronouns, quick and easy ideas for using gender neutral language). They sum things up nicely and could serve as handouts in trainings.

REVIEW: Game Night (live action movie)

Game Night is a black comedy/action movie. It's another one I had considered seeing in my local movie theater and ended up picking up from a bargain bin instead.


Max and Annie are two ultra-competitive game enthusiasts who met during a trivia night. Max's marriage proposal was worked into one of their game nights, and, from what I can tell, literally the only thing they do for fun is have game nights. Game night is their life.

Now they'd like to have children, but there's one problem: Max's sperm aren't very active, and the couple's fertility doctor thinks it might be due to Max feeling emasculated by his brother, who is handsomer, more successful, and always wins. When Max's brother holds his own game night, Max and Annie decide that if they are to succeed in their quest to have children, they must win. The game seems like a fun one: a mystery role-playing game in which one of the players, Max's brother, is kidnapped and must be rescued by the others. What Max, Annie, and the others don't realize is that things have gone wrong, the game isn't what it seems, and the danger is real.

REVIEW: Love 020 (live action TV series)

Love 020 is a Chinese romantic drama based on a book (which sadly does not appear to be available in English, although I admit I haven't gone hunting for fan translations).


I started watching this while I was on vacation, got sucked in, and ended up watching it when I should have been plowing through manga. I'll blame this show for my relatively low vacation reading total.

The series stars Bei Weiwei and Xiao Nai. Bei Weiwei is a Computer Science major who is known as the "department belle." She's also considered the second most beautiful female student at her university, with the first being a young woman named Yiran who probably cheated. However, Weiwei could care less about both those things. She just wants to study, get good grades, find herself a nice internship, and play her favorite MMORPG, "A Chinese Ghost Story."

Weiwei also doesn't really care when her in-game husband, whose screen name is Zhenshui Wuxiang, dumps her for someone else. But what she doesn't realize is that she was noticed, in real life, by one of the game's top players and the hottest guy at her university, Xiao Nai, whose screen name is Yixiao Naihe. When Naihe asks her (screen name Lu Weiwei) to marry him in the game, she agrees, figuring that the pairing will be practical and beneficial to them both. Soon, however, she finds herself falling for Naihe and wondering about the player behind the avatar.

REVIEW: Annihilation (live action movie)

Hey, I'm still here and still writing reviews! I'm just extremely slow about it anymore.

Here's a review for something I watched after getting back from my vacation. Annihilation is a science fiction movie based on the book of the same title by Jeff Vandermeer.


Lena is a former U.S. Army soldier who has long since quit that life and is now a biology professor. She met her husband while they were in the military, and he's still active duty. At the start of the movie, Lena is in some kind of quarantine and is being questioned. Flashbacks show that, 12 months after her husband left on a secret mission and was presumably killed in action, he suddenly reappears outside their bedroom. He seems strange and confused, and soon after his reappearance he begins to experience massive organ failure.

Lena then learns that her husband's mission involved entering something the people who study it call "the Shimmer," an area of land that was thankfully mostly uninhabited before it was blocked off and taken over by an odd, shimmery wall. Unfortunately, the wall is steadily expanding, and not one member of any of the past exploratory missions has made it back...except for Lena's husband.

Lena gets herself accepted to the next exploratory mission, one of the few composed entirely of women and entirely of scientists rather than military. Since she can't do anything for her husband outside the Shimmer, Lena believes she owes it to him to find out what he saw and what caused it all.