Book review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Let me sum this book up in one word: moronic. At this point, I think my continual efforts to read YA dystopias are like some kind of latent masochistic streak because the vast majority I’ve trudged through are painfully stupid. But The Maze Runner breaks all new levels of dystopian stupid. I stuck with it, but I can’t really say there was much point to doing so.

Setting aside all my other problems, the biggest problem I had with the book was the baby talk cuss words. Klunk, shuck, slint-head and so on. Every single time someone spoke in this ridiculous way, it pulled me out of the story. It doesn’t help that much later on, characters begin using proper faux cuss words like crap and freakin’, or the phrase “hurts like a mother.” Which makes me ask, if they could use those words in the first place, why in the fuck were they inventing words like klunk? (Which is explained as being a bad word because “that’s the sound poo makes when it hits the water.”)

I don’t even get why the baby talk was needed when the characters are mostly teens. It might be argued that the book’s intended audience is supposed to be the 12-13 boy’s market, but if that’s the case, there’s a lot of pseudo cuss words that could have been used, like crap, darn, dang, heck, and so on. So yes, this one thing bothers me even more than the gaping plot holes in the story. It’s even more grating because of the other words used later, and because the book gets so fucking gory in the final chapters. It’s a massive tonal shift that had me asking “dafuq?” every few pages.

But let’s talk about some of the bigger problems. First of all, there’s Thomas, who upon arrival to the glade just knows he’s meant to be a maze runner. He’s not interested in helping do any other jobs, and when given any actual work, he quickly collapses from fatigue. Yet during a rescue out in the maze, he suddenly gains super strength and the ability to haul someone bigger than him up the side of a wall and tie them up using vines. Then after this herculean effort, he’s still got plenty of energy to fight a monster and run the maze with another boy. No, y’all, I just don’t buy it. Once he’s a maze runner, he has amazing powers of recuperation that come out of nowhere. No, man. I Don’t. Fucking. Believe. It. Continue reading

Thoughts on PS4 Link thus far…

This is going to be a pretty short post for once because there’s not much to say, but one of the things I was looking forward to with the purchase of my PS4 was the ability to stream games to my PS Vita using PS4 Link. In advertisements, people were able to log onto a wifi hotspot and play their PS4 games “anywhere.” Of course reviews told me that this was not the case, but many gave me hope that I would be able to at least play games from my couch in my room.

This is not the case. First of all I should mention that our router is behind my couch. We’re talking maybe a foot and a half of distance between the wifi router and the device, maybe three feet depending on if I’m sitting upright or reclined. The PS4 is on a wired connection, so there shouldn’t be much lag in theory. In practice, things went badly.

My initial test took place in the living room while I was entering the security code to link the two devices, so that’s maybe ten feet away from the router. But no matter where I tried to link the Vita and PS4, I couldn’t get a stable connection to last more than a few seconds. And I use the term stable real loosely here. From the living room, it wasn’t even possible to use the system menus without lag making the screen unreadable with lots of grey blocks. Maybe fifteen seconds after I connected, the router dropped the signal. I went to my room next and sat up to get as close to the router without putting it in my lap, and then I was at least able to load a game and walk a few steps before it lagged out again. I waited a few seconds for the screen to lose the jagged blocks, took two more steps, and then waited again. And then the connection was dropped.

Perhaps a future update will address these problems and make the app usable, but for now, my wild pipe dreams of playing PS4 games on the couch have been horribly crushed. I am now full of woe. Or something. Possibly poop. And woe.

Anyway, it’s a good thing this was only a minor reason for getting the PS4, as I like a few of the games exclusive to the system. But really, I wish Sony hadn’t hyped this feature because it simply does not work as advertised.

Game review: The Last of Us Remastered for PS4

So…got my PS4 earlier than I’d planned. I’d said to hubby that my only worry about buying it in January was that the bundle with The Last of Us Remastered might sell out while I was waiting, and he said he’d front me the funds until my checks came in. So I picked it up on Saturday and got into the game after waiting an hour on updates and downloads. (Not all of that was system updates. I was also downloading all the cross-buy games that I’d purchased on my PS Vita.)

Before I get into my review, I should say that I’ve already seen The Last of Us played on PS3. Back when Naughty Dog was saying there would be no PS4 edition, I decided that since I was never getting a PS3, I might as well watch the game on a YouTube video. The version I saw was HD resolution, and it was just a hair over 6 hours long, skipping some of the artifacts and letters to just get the main story out of the way. I really liked the story and the great facial animation that helped create very subtle emotions in just the shape of the eyes, a slight furrowing of the brow, or little up or downward turns of the corners of the mouth. In fact, Naughty Dog’s facial animation has set the bar so high for me that it’s ruined games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim precisely because the characters have the same bland expression regardless of what their voice acting is saying.

But so anyway, I’ve seen the game played, and the story was spoiled in advance for me. What I was really doing with this game was playing it to see if it was fun or a painful slog. And because I’m an utter wuss, I cranked that difficulty setting down to easy for my first time playing through. Which is not to say it was easy, or that I didn’t die about a billion times. Sometimes I didn’t die, but I’d fucked up so badly that I’d restart the encounter to try being less of a dumb ass. Continue reading

Book review: The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Years ago, hubby tried to get me to read this book, but he’s not really all that good at pitching books, and within a few minutes, I was turned off and went to read other stuff. The we saw The Night Watch and Day Watch movies, and I decided to give the first book a chance. I noticed right away how very radically the movies changed the story, and I was curious to find out why. Put very simply, the movies changed to have an understandable conflict between light and dark. Because what’s going on in the book is the struggle of the agents of light against their malignant tumor of a boss. The creatures of the dark rarely show up at all, and they’re never more than bit characters. Time and again, it’s the boss of the light side, Gesar, who’s revealed as the real bastard.

The Night Watch is not one book. It is actually three shorter books taking place very close to each other. They bear some very slight resemblance to the movies in that there are still characters with the same names and certain plot points that still come up. But otherwise, they’re completely different animals. It’s like comparing dogs to wolves, in my opinion.

At the center of these stories is Anton, a magician who is just being put into field operations after several years working as a network administrator and systems programmer for the light side. He’s inept, flawed, and somewhat easy to relate to even when he’s making mistakes. Unfortunately, Anton works for Boris, AKA Gesar, who is not in any way a good guy.

It’s sometimes stated that the dark side use their powers for their ego, and the light uses theirs out of love. Only Gesar seems willing to do all kinds of greedy, petty things if it suits his agenda, and while he doesn’t come out looking too bad in the first book, at the end of the second and third, he’s a total bastard, and the leader of the dark side, Zabulon, doesn’t have anything to do with Gesar’s plots. Continue reading

Game review: Shovel Knight Steam edition

I got Shovel Knight two days ago, and I’ve played it about 18 hours before beating it. I was initially binging it because I just wanted to get the damn thing over with. However, going into the homestretch, my feelings…well let’s say they softened slightly. Very slightly.

Last month, I had to choose between Shovel Knight and Rogue Legacy, and I ended up getting Rogue Legacy first. But I figured I might as well try this, since I like older NES games, and I wanted to give it a shot. Before I get into the review, I want to say that I have beaten the game, and I’ve got 51% of the achievements unlocked, including a level with all checkpoints destroyed, and a level with no damage taken. So if you don’t like my review, please don’t tell me I haven’t given it a fair chance. I gave it lots of chances. I’ll likely even give it more chances in the future. But if you don’t like my opinion, by all means, start up your own review blog and post your own reviews. Lord knows the indie gaming scene could use a few hundred more of us helping them out. (And yes, even a bad review is a form of promotion they need. So I make no apologies for talking about what I didn’t like. I’m still getting the word out, yo.)

With that out of the way, how would I sum the game up? Motherfucker. Why? Because that’s what I said playing through several levels over and over. I’m willing to concede that part of my problem with the game is that I was playing on an Xbox for PC controller, and with the D-pad being as awful as it it, I was forced to use the analog stick to control the directions. Any time I had to press up and attack to activate a secondary weapon, it was a 50% chance I’d either not activate it or activate it facing the wrong direction. It must also be said that once I went into options and changed the firing of the secondary weapon to the right shoulder button, that at least alleviated a small part of my problems with the controls.

Shovel Knight is a tribute to the NES era, and there’s many references to classic games. The map world is like Super Mario Bros. 3. The game play itself is a fusion of Megan Man, Castlevania, and Duck Tales. There’s people in the side scrolling towns that remind me of Zelda II and Castlevania II.

But one thing this game does right is that it doesn’t just ham up the tributes. It’s doing its own thing, and at times this makes it an interesting, if frequently aggravating experience. The story goes that Shovel Knight and his partner Shield Knight were the best adventurers eva, until they found a cursed amulet that did something to Shield Knight. Heartbroken, Shovel Knight wandered off for a few years until he noticed the land was being taken over by an Enchantress and her army of Knights, collectively called The Order of No Quarter. Continue reading

Time for another update…

Yeah, I’ve been away from the blog for a while. What’s happened is, I got called to do some editing work for the glass web site and the glass magazine. That’s still ongoing, and every time I think I’m reaching my last days with the web site, the bosses tack on another week. Not that I’m complaining, since it means I’m going to have a couple of great paychecks in the next two months. The longer they keep me on, the better that second paycheck will be. It’s unlikely that I’ll be needed much longer past next week, but if they somehow keep me on through the end of October, that will give me three paychecks. Either way, my PS4 is totally paid for now. So yeah, like I said, I’m not complaining.

Speaking of the PS4, expect my initial reviews to be mostly old games you’ve already played. I’ve got to catch up before I can look at new stuff. But hey, maybe some of you still haven’t played these games. My starting list is looking like The Last of Us Remastered, Infamous: Second Son, Journey HD, Transistor, and Resogun. Then once I’ve got caught up on those, I’ll move on to Dragon Age: Inquisition. That will take up a big chunk of my life, at which point I may stop talking to y’all, or to anyone else unless they bring food. Kidding! Oh, and lest I forget, I’m going to give Diablo III another chance because so many reviewers have said the patched up version on next-gen consoles is closer to that classic Diablo II feel, and I could do with some of that.

Getting back to the main topic, the extra editing work was initially hard for me to adjust to, so as a result, my writing time suffered for it. I’ve finally started making progress on the current WIP, which is looking like it’s going to be around 175K before revisions. And revisions will likely push it up to near 200K. It’s not like I didn’t think about cutting it short or compressing some parts. But the muse and the cast both seem pretty determined to turn this into a door stopper. But hey, Alan Moore is releasing a book with a million words. By comparison, 200K is a short read, right?

Of course, this is only book one in a series, and the muse is also pushing me to write the whole thing together so I can keep everything straight. With her attention span, I’m not real sure how that’s going to pan out. Continue reading

Game review: SteamWorld Dig for PS Vita

I got SteamWorld Dig four days ago, and after putting 26 hours into it, I finished the final boss fight feeling fairly satisfied. It’s a simple game, nothing too taxing, and with a decent story told as much through the backgrounds as it is through the short dialogue with the other characters. You play as Rusty, a steam-powered robot whose uncle Joe writes to him and asks him to come take over Joe’s claim on the local mine. When Rusty arrives, Joe has passed on, and Rusty takes over mining. In the course of the game, he soon discovers that Joe was uncovering some strange technology from the past, and this leads Rusty deeper and deeper into a mystery about who first started these mines.

The game is a bit of Metroid mixed with Super Lode Runner. Rusty starts off with just a pickaxe, and he can dig in four directions. Rusty can wall jump, so you don’t have to worry too much about getting stuck until farther down in the second level. You do, however, have to worry about falling damage, but Rusty can slide down the walls to slow down his drops. An early item available in the item shop is a stackable ladder, but I never really needed it anywhere.

I started off playing a bit haphazardly, and about three hours in I decided to start over and approach the levels with a more layered approach to making my mine tunnels so I could get as many minerals as possible and level up more effectively. Mined materials can be traded to Dorothy in town for money, and for their you can buy items in another shop. Earning more money also levels you up, and new levels unlock new shops and new equipment to buy. Along the way, orbs can be found and broken open providing another form of currency for higher level items.

One of the items you can upgrade is the light Rusty emits, and this helps you spend longer underground. Keep in mind, nothing bad happens if you run out of fuel for the light. You just can’t see walls to know what you can dig without hitting it first. It’s still possible to see to make your way back to the various exits, so it’s not too taxing or stressing. At various depths, you’ll find teleporters to take you to the surface, but if these feel too far apart for your liking, you can also buy other teleporters with the aforementioned orbs to set up waypoints back to town in between. Continue reading

Game review: Rogue Legacy for PS Vita

I wanted to like Rogue Legacy, but I haven’t had much fun with it. At first, I thought that maybe I needed to invest a bit of time into upgrades and it would become fun, kind of like with Prototype, where extra powers make roaming the city a joy. But even after two days straight of buying upgrades and unlocking all the other character classes, I’m still not having fun.

I imagine a meeting at the studio behind this game, and one of the programmers said something like, “You know what the best part of those old NES RPGs was? The endless hours of forced grinding before you could work up the skills to take on the boss.” I wonder why no one said, “Uh, dude, grinding is a chore that most people hate.” But no, apparently a lot of people think grinding is awesome, and so here’s a whole game devoted to grinding one generation of heroes and heroines to death so the next generation will have the money to pay for more stuff. Each time you enter the castle, whatever funds you don’t spend get taken away, so hey, might as well shop between the looting and pillaging, right?

It’s a shame that none of this feels fun to me because the game has a lot of good points that should please me. The controls are simple. There’s a ton of enemy types to keep things from getting stale. (at least initially, that is. I’ll come back to this.) The music is good, and the graphics are crisp and bright.

But combat is a chore no matter what class I play, and no matter what level I reach. Part of it has to do with the number of enemies who shoot through walls and begin attacking long before I ever see them. Part of it is in the wimpy nature of every sword, even after upgrading the damage. There’s no sense of progression in that it takes roughly the same number of swings to kill bad guys no matter what sword I use or how much I upgrade my stats. And the thing is, the cost of upgrades becomes ridiculously expensive pretty quickly. So I might have several runs where I can’t afford to upgrade anything after dying and have to give up my money to Charon, the castle guard, before restarting a new level. I later upgraded one stat so he only took half my gold, but it’s still frustrating and it cost me a shit ton of gold just to upgrade five levels and max that stat out. Continue reading

Book Review: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Right, let’s get this out of the way first: I’m not a big zombie fan. I don’t hate them, and one of my favorite monster movies is the original Night of the Living Dead. But I don’t really get too worked up about most zombies either, and they’re not nearly as interesting to me as sentient monsters like vampires, werewolves, fae, jinn, and your mother. (Zing!)

Looking at the blurb of The Girl With All the Gifts at the bookstore, I’d passed this title over three months back. But then Maggie Siefvater, uber-author extraordinaire, got on Twitter to gush about how good the book was, and I thought “Well maybe I’ll give it a chance.” So I got the Kindle edition and started the first chapter, and within 10 chapters, I didn’t want to read anything else until I finished it. When I did finish it, my first words afterward were “Well, shit.” Not in a bad way, but more like a “I shoulda seen that coming” kind of way.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a zombie book that offers a scientific reason for the zombies emerging, that being the mutation of a cordyceps fungus that jumps to the human race. It’s suggested that this mutation may have been helped by a lab somewhere, but it’s never explicitly said that it’s the work of a terrorist attack. Instead of starting with the outbreak, the book jumps some thirty years after the world ends. It does go with another cliché by beginning in an outpost of civilization, and so of course you know eventually something will happen to force a group of humans out into the wild. And you know that at some point, the shit will hit the fan and one by one those humans are going to get picked off by the zombies. It wouldn’t be a zombie book otherwise. Continue reading

Book review: Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff

I read The Replacement back in 2011, and I liked it for a number of things it did differently from most of the YA dark fantasy I’d been reading at the time. The biggest thing that impressed me was how the town where the story took place was very much aware of the supernatural creatures living among them, and they chose not to talk about it for some very unsavory but (in my opinion) realistic reasons. So when I read the blurb for Fiendish, I said, “Oooh, it’s another town like in The Replacement.”

Well…no, not quite. There’s still that same premise that the town is in the loop, but instead of fae manipulating the locals to buy their silence, this is a town where the locals are afraid of magic users, who they call “crooked people.” When the story starts, Clementine DeVore is a child who is put in a basement and sealed away during a riot, and she is not found until she’s…sixteen, I think. (I’m not entirely clear on that point.) She’s found by another crooked person, Eric Fisher, and he takes her to the wrecked house of her aunt and cousin, Myloria and Shiny Blackwood. And throughout the rest of the story, Clementine slowly uncovers what a crappy place she lives in.

There’s a lot to like in this story, and the first is obviously the way everyone knows what’s going on. I get so tired of the “what are these monsters?” trope, especially with something that’s so obviously a part of our modern culture like vampires or zombies. Here, people know what witches and warlocks are, and they’ve done a halfway decent attempt to wipe out as many crooked people as they could to avert a cyclical magic disaster called the reckoning. Continue reading