Netflix nosedive: Mystic Pop-Up Bar

Hoo boy, this show, y’all. It’s not at all what I thought it would be. I watched it because there’s no new Midnight Diner, and Mystic Pop-Up Bar looked to be offering the same balance of food porn and plot based on the trailers. But instead it’s the kind of show that twists and contorts at the oddest moments. One scene, it’s saying, “Oh, I’m just a silly slapstick comedy! Look at these exaggerated movements and facial expressions! Hear those cartoony sound effects? So wacky!”

But then an instant later, the show punches a hole in your chest, rips out you heart and goes, “Are these heart strings? You mind if I pluck out a few sad chords?” It then proceeds to play the saddest song possible, and it’s brutal. There was one episode where I was sobbing with two fistfuls of tissues to catch my tears, and I thought maybe I was just being too sensitive. But I glanced at my hubby, and he was ugly crying too. And he don’t cry for nothin’ y’all. So consider yourself warned. If you come for the laughs, be prepared to cry as well.

With that warning out of the way, Mystic Pop-Up Bar is about an traveling bar owner, Weol Joo, who has been sentenced by the devil to help 100,000 people settle their grudges or face soul oblivion. She does this by entering their dreams and sussing out the best strategy for healing their spiritual wounds. Weol is actually pretty close to reaching her goal, but she’s also begun dragging her heels on solving her last few cases. So the powers that be give her a deadline: finish those last few cases, NOW.

Weol encounters a young man, Han Kang Bae, who has a unique ability: people spill their darkest secrets to him with a single touch. Han considers this power a curse, and Weol promises to help him get rid of his abilities if he helps her find the last few clients to erase her debt to the devil. Continue reading


Netflix Nosedive: The Umbrella Academy Season 2

Right, let’s just get this out of the way and drop a cut: if you haven’t seen season 1 of The Umbrella Academy, don’t read this review unless you’re fine with spoilers. If you hate spoilers, at least go watch the first season and know all the joy it entails to watch a thing spoiler-free. As for the second, I’ll try to be as vague as possible, but there will still be mild spoilers. Right, with the warnings out of the way, cue the cut now… Continue reading


Game review: 20XX for Steam

20XX was added to my Want To Play list right after I saw the first trailers for it. Basically it can be summed up as “Mega Man, but roguelite.” I’d just completed Mega Man X on my Vita for the first time, and I was ready for something else to fill that platforming action void.

But then a lot of other games caught my attention, and it wasn’t until a random YouTube hiccup brought the game back to my attention that I tried it out. Now I’m deeply conflicted about how to review this. In short doses, it’s great, scratching that old school itch with just the right level of challenge and action. But it doesn’t take long to notice there’s not enough variety of environments or bosses to keep this from getting stale quickly.

In classic Mega Man style, the story casts you as Nina the good robot versus a squadron of evil robots and their minions. You defeat robot bosses and can choose to take their powers. But as an added twist, you might opt to get some extra currency instead, or you might select an extra augmentation to help beef up your robot’s health, energy, or their basic attacks. Continue reading


Dead Cells Revisited

These days, no game is a static object, with updates and patches optimizing or fixing different features, or overhauling the gameplay in radical ways. Because of this, a review written at the launch of a game might not apply a year down the road. Old complaints or praise might need to be readdressed as a result of tweaks or changes.

This is most certainly the case with Dead Cells, a game I initially reviewed positively, but which has lost a lot of enjoyment with each new update since it has come out of early access. What started out as a fun platformer suitable for all levels of gamer has now catered itself almost exclusively to the hardcore fans while abandoning everyone else.

During early access, it was clear that certain weapons and skills were just preferable. For instance, the Sinew Slicer and Double Arrow Trap both had short cooldowns and a steady rate of fire, making them damned handy in every boss fight. Grenades, on the other hand, had crap damage and a ridiculously long cooldown rate. To counter this kind of dependence, the game makers nerfed the useful traps and put a limit of only one trap of any kind. Sounds good in theory, except the grenades are still garbage and have a stupidly long cooldown, so they still aren’t an option. Continue reading


Game review: Slay the Spire for Steam

In theory, Slay the Spire should be a perfect game for me. It’s a rogue-like card game climbing three randomly generated towers to battle monsters and bosses with one of four unique protagonists. In practice, however, my enjoyment of the game quickly evaporated because it crosses off every checkbox of bad indie rogue-like design: dully repetitive opening levels, a lack of enemy diversity, a stingy in-game economy combined with overpriced shops, and a slew of items meant specifically to fuck you over, and over, and over again.

Let’s start with the initial positives. You start playing as The Ironclad, a typical video game warrior carrying a giant orcish longsword, armed with a deck of the most basic stuff. You can lay out a Defend card to block five damage for one energy (out of three, though later cards and items may grant you addition energy units per turn), Strike for one, or use a Bash card that consumes two energy and applies a Vulnerable status on the enemy, making the next attack cause more damage. At first, sorting out a strategy amounts to deciding how much damage you want to dish out versus how much health you want to lose. So you could deal more damage by not blocking at all, or cast two Defend cards and only take one or two lost health points while dealing 6 damage. But either way, you will be losing some health in every fight.

Beating each monster offers a reward of three cards to choose from, which—again, in theory—should help move you toward a better strategy than just tanking hits to trade blows. Some rooms have a merchant offering other cards for sell, as well as relics that grant buffs or debuffs for the duration of the run, and potions that usually grant an effect only for the current turn. (Some might give you a card that will last throughout the current fight, but will vanish before your next fight.) Beating the boss of the tower offers up a choice of three boss relics, most of which offer a benefit combined with a negative caveat. Continue reading


Where the hell have you been, 2020 edition

Obviously I don’t have to explain what’s been going on for most of this year. There’s a lockdown in effect, and with the hubbers working from home, our slow ass internet connection won’t allow me to be online at the same time he’s working. But I was actually off the net for a couple months before that and the reasons may shock you. Or not.

In February, I went out to the plot of land set aside by our landlord for a garden and started digging up weed roots. This took me the better part of four months. For one thing, with the land not being used in years, the top layer of soil was close to 80% roots. I’m not exaggerating, either. On a daily basis, I loaded a wheelbarrow with roots and carted them away, always thinking, “Surely, I’m getting close to the end.” And every day, I dug a bit more and found more damned roots.

There were days when I ignored aches and pains because I thought, “Oh, one more meter won’t hurt.” Then that night, I’d get full body shakes and end up stuck in bed for anywhere between two and six days. I thought because I had MS, this was a job a healthy person could easily do in a week. But then my neighbor, inspired by my work, started in on her own garden, and after turning over one row in a two day flurry, she too ended up confined to bed for two days. She’s a teacher and a soccer coach who still plays with her friends, and this wrecked her. So it shouldn’t be a shock that it took me so long to clear three rows measuring one meter by five. Continue reading


Game review: Swords of Ditto for Steam

I’ve put this review off for some time, playing Swords of Ditto several times and waiting for a moment when it might finally click for me and become fun. Sadly, that never happened, and I mean sadly in that I wanted to like this game. It’s a riff on Zelda with cartoony graphics and a cute soundtrack, a randomly generated game world where your weapons are “toys.” (Some really don’t qualify as toys, like vinyl records, but whatever.) Beating the game begins to unlock more characters to play through the story with, each of which has some special stat or starting toy. On paper, it sounds like a good time.

In practice, it’s just not fun. It starts with a tutorial section involving the death of your character, the eponymous Sword of Ditto. A hundred years pass and a new Sword is awakened and told how to fight against Mormo, the evil witch who is bound to the land by a curse. This is fine the first time you play, but even on a second run, it becomes annoying. It doesn’t help that even if you unlock other characters, the first run is always the same.

Combat is similarly tedious until you can manage to retrieve one or both of the toys of legend present on the island. Since few enemies are stunned by your sword’s swing, combat is essentially swing, move back, step in to swing and move back. Higher difficulty levels don’t change enemy behavior, they just nerf the sword’s damage, drawing out every fight to unbearable slowness. Continue reading


I’d like to talk about Fortnite Season 2

Starting off with some full disclosure, I did not play any of Fortnite during the first season, and not because I’m antisocial or dreading playing multiplayer games with small children using open mikes. No, I didn’t play because I was afraid my crap internet connection would ruin the game for other players. Still, I kept up on the stories about the many map changing developments, and from a distance, it all seemed so intriguing to me. A shooting game with an elaborate story playing out within the game world, always changing like some great living chimeric island? Yes, this is most intriguing.

With the literal end of the first world, I decided I’d go ahead and download Fortnite and see what all the other gamers already knew about this new social giant. If the lag was horrid, I’d be able to let it go easily enough because, hey, it’s free. If it was as good as everyone said it was, maybe I might be able to stick around and enjoy this in-world storytelling firsthand.

I’ve now played about thirty hours, and I want to talk about it. I wouldn’t call this a review, and I don’t think you can really review something like this, a product that’s always evolving from one month to the next. All I can do is talk about the modes I’ve tried, and offer impressions on this short vertical slice. Continue reading


Game review: Code Vein for PC (Steam)

Two years ago, a teaser trailer dropped for a game from Bandai Namco with a bloody theme that caused lots of folks to guess it was Bloodborne II, but which turned out to be Code Vein, a work-in-progress described by both the director and producer as “anime Dark Souls.” At the time, I had just finished the Souls trilogy and Bloodborne, so that elevator pitch worked for me. It also helped that the director was responsible for the God Eater series, and so it all sounded like a great idea to me.

In delivery, it’s just as good as I expected, although I would describe it more as “anime Bloodborne” for several reasons, some good, and some bad. The simplest way to explain is that Bloodborne is a game outside of the Souls series, and yet shares some ties to the undead world while using a new blood-based theme and a story about werewolves. In the same vein, pun intended, Code Vein also has a link to the God Eater series while using a new blood-based theme and a story about vampires.

Before I get to the gushing praise, let me warn you, this is a very anime game, meaning there’s a lot of fan-service cheesecake to the design of characters. If you find huge jiggly boobs or clothing that defies the laws of physics to expose as much flesh as possible offensive, this is DEFINITELY not the game for you. And, I respect your desire to avoid that. Personally, I was more in the “taking the piss” camp while playing this, every time shouting something like “Woohoo, boobies!” whenever a cut scene somehow landed on a jiggly pair of impossible gravity defying mammaries. Continue reading


Netflix Nosedive: Maniac

I have to confess that doing these Netflix reviews are a lot harder than I anticipated, particularly for any series with more than one season. How do I talk about anything in season two of The Good Place without spoiling the big reveal at the end of the first season? I can’t talk about season two or three of Stranger Things, nor can I even talk about season one because most of the things I want to gush and rant about are also too spoilery. Don’t even get me started on Dark. (Seriously, don’t, unless you want me to spoil every episode for you. I love that show, so, so much.)

But at least with Maniac, I can feel secure offering a spoiler-free review. It’s a limited series, so there’s no pesky second season to deal with, and the way the show was made, I can talk about their “formula” without actually spoiling the episodes themselves. It’s win-win for you and me.

Based on the trailers, I expected Maniac to be grim sci-fi about a drug lab harming patients by tinkering with their brains. But it’s not very long into the series before it becomes clear there’s going to be a lot of humor of both the dry and wacky varieties. There’s also occasionally some creepy humor too, the sort where I laughed, and then felt bad for laughing. Oh, but the part about scientists tinkering with their patients’ brains is accurate. Continue reading