Game review: Adventures of Mana for PS Vita

I know what you’re thinking. “Where the hell have you been, Zoe?” I’ve been here, actually, and I’ve been busy writing. How busy? I’ve written 100,000 words in two weeks, and averaged about 9,000 to 10,000 words per day. That kind of dedicated work doesn’t leave much time for anything else, but as I’ve gone three seasons without writing anything new, I had to take advantage of this sudden productive streak and hold onto it for as long as I can.

But I did spend a few minutes here and there gaming as a reward for meeting chapter goals, and my game this time around was Adventures of Mana, which was ported over to PS Vita from the iOS/Android version. At this point, that makes it a port of a port of a port, and the game itself is fairly old. So, how does it stand up after the passage of time? Not well at all.

My experience with the Mana series stops with the SNES title Secret of Mana, a game I liked so much that a few years ago I got a ROM and emulator to play it back through. In playing Adventures of Mana, I can see the story attempting to hit some of the same notes, and it doesn’t do a very good job of it.

Right off the bat, the hero (who you can name or go with the default choice) is a slave gladiator who after fighting one exotic beast is told by another slave that the tree of mana is in danger, and that he must seek out the last of the Gemma Knights to learn how to SAVE THE WORLD. Rrrrrrrriiiiiight. Additionally, someone a room over from this trite death scene totally heard this guy’s last gasping whispers and suggests that the hero can escape during his next fight because the gate the fighting animals enter the arena from leads directly outside to the front of the castle. (Which has no guards or traffic to notice an escaping slave.) I don’t care how generous you want to be, this is a level of stupid so powerful it generates its own event horizon. Continue reading


Game review: Downwell for PS4 and PS Vita

Downwell was the game I got while waiting for Mighty No. 9 to finally release in the European PS Store. At this point, Mighty No. 9 has finally “shipped” and I played it for a day and deleted it with no intentions of reviewing it. I’ll only say that the game has about as much to do with Mega Man as a Snape/Potter slashfic has anything to do with Harry Potter. Sure, there are surface details that seem similar, but once you scratch the surface, it’s all squick and nausea below.

But so this is my review for Downwell after a week of playing on both my Vita and my PS4, and while it has some interesting ideas, overall, I ended up deleting it as well.

Downwell is another indie retro title, but while most retro games pay tribute to Nintendo, the graphics in this feel like they’re reaching even farther back to the days of Atari or perhaps Amiga and Commodore. The controls remind me of those old days of imprecise joysticks with a single fire button, there’s only three colors in any palette, and any two objects occupying the same space will result in one dithering or vanishing entirely. The object of the game is summed up in the title. You fall down a well and use your “gunboots” to shoot enemies. Doing so will make them release gems of various sizes. Along the sides of the well are occasional pit stops with a force field around them. Once you hit that field, time stops. Your enemies freeze, and you get a chance to rest and collect extra gems or guns. After passing through the first well barrier at the bottom of level 1-1, another hole in the walls appears with shops holding three items for sale in exchange for the gems you collect. Also, completing each level gives you access to an upgrade item, some of which have very helpful qualities. Continue reading


Extended review: Fallout 4 survival mode (PS4)

Having played on all the difficulty levels besides the easiest, I can safely say I know Fallout 4 inside and out. The previous survival mode wasn’t quite the challenge I’d been hoping for, so when talk of a new harder mode came out, it had my attention. As more details leaked, I only became more intrigued. Ammo and crafting supplies would have weight. Food and beds would be much more important, and there were new challenges in the form of management of fatigue and even diseases. Yes, this all sounded much more challenging.

And for the most part, it is, but not in the ways that I’d hoped. The added challenge of only saving when I can find a place to sleep was certainly interesting, or at times frustrating when I couldn’t find a bed and ran into major trouble. But that was a rare occurrence because it often seemed like I could find beds and sleeping bags every hundred yards or so. They were even scattered out in the open in places that were highly unlikely to say the least. But for a large chunk of the game, there was an added difficulty because my character was tissue paper weak, and could usually be killed with one shot. In this way, even a single stray bullet could send me back a half an hour or more.

Another part of the challenge had to do with carrying enough food and clean water to keep myself in fighting shape, and having all those supplies severely limited what I could pick up. It also limited how long I could travel without restocking, and most of the caps I earned early on in the game had to be spent on food, water, and bullets. I’d say a great deal of my time in the first 18 levels was spent micromanaging my supplies and that kept pulling me out of the game to worry about my inventory more than the enemies I was facing. Continue reading


Game review: Dark Souls III for PS4

Well…so by now, y’all should know why I chose to pick up this game. But if not, here’s the recap: after beating several games on their hardest modes and not feeling challenged, Dark Souls III was supposed to be a huge knock to my ego because it’s just so, so hard. But you know what? It isn’t nearly as hard as I’d been led to believe. I’ll tell you something else. I think it’s a mistake to talk up the difficulty as a selling point. It’s an overrated ideal, and it doesn’t do the game justice. Having played this and mostly loved it, I’m going to buy the PS4 port of Dark Souls II and Bloodborne because I want more of this kind of fantastic gameplay. That will of course come after I’ve played through this game a few more times to see the other classes and endings. It is not without flaws, some of which might be sticking points for more casual players, but I’ll get to those after the gushing and the rambling. (And it will be rambling because I’m writing this at 7 AM after an all-night session to beat the last two bosses.)

I should mention that I’m coming into this series as a relative newcomer. I know the past games from watching speed runs on the Games Done Quick events and from watching Let’s Plays on YouTube. I know some of the lore from commentary offered in both of those venues. But I have never played any of them myself, and once I committed myself to buy this game, I flat out ignored all the previews and streams of the preview copies because I wanted to go into this and be totally surprised by it. In that regard, mission accomplished. Every ambush and trap was totally a shock to me the first time they happened, and some of them helped prove that yes, my butthole pucker function still works well.

Ahem, let’s move on.

Where to begin? Well how about that character creator? I spent a few hours just pondering what class to play. I knew someone somewhere would roll their eyes if I chose a sorcerer or a cleric, so I went with an assassin. I took no extra items, wanting to make this first run really challenging. Then I spent another few hours playing with the face and body of my character, and I was pleased by the variety of the body types and races I could make my character. I didn’t like the default lean-faced lass, so I made her a bit on the ugly side, with a big nose and an overbite. I had a lot of fun just making my character look perfectly imperfect. Continue reading


New release! In the Mouth of the Wolf

I know what you’re thinking. “Geez, Zoe you’ve been awfully quiet since your last review. What the hell have you been up to?” Well I’ve been hard at work. Yep, working so, so hard on…eh, no, I’ve been faffing about playing Dark Souls III, actually. But! BUT! In between sessions of alternately wrecking bosses and getting my ass handed to me by lowly minions, I’ve also been working on the final round of edits for the third Alice the Wolf book, In the Mouth of the Wolf. And here it is:

In the Mouth of the WolfIn the wake of the massacre at Moon Lake Park Alice is reeling from grief, and the deaths of the majority of the weredog council has led to the formation of a new ruling body made up of members who want to actively hunt for the remaining packs and get revenge for their losses. Ignoring Alice’s advice, they send out scouts intent on hunting down the remaining fugitive wolves.

But a more dire threat makes these problems pale in comparison, a disease carried by Alice’s wolf that’s growing stronger with every transformation. The FBI’s attempts at treatment only make matters worse, and if a cure isn’t found soon, the next shift could kill Alice’s wolf, and her along with it.

You can find In the Mouth of the Wolf at Amazon, Kobo, Nook, and my blog bookstore for $4.99 (unless you live outside the US, in which case the price is probably different for you. Probably.) Continue reading


Game review: Enter the Gungeon for PS4

Had I based my review off of the first two to three levels of Enter the Gungeon alone, it probably would have been glowing, with only a few complaints about the controls. To be sure, there is still a lot to praise. But I’ve since burned out on the game without completing it based on one simple problem: it’s incredibly stingy and gives no sense of accomplishment for beating the challenges it throws at me.

I want to get one of my biggest complaints out of the way first. I hate the control scheme because it’s needlessly painful on my hands. I know this could have been avoided had I been allowed to change the button layout, something I know I can do on the Steam version. But fuck me if I want to play on console with my nice big screen TV and comfy couch. Then I’m stuck playing with a control scheme that keeps pulling my thumb off the sticks and back again in a frantic motion that just hurts. This is bullshit. If I can change the buttons on the Steam version, why am I forced to play with a control scheme I don’t like on the console?

Because of how badly the controls hurt my hands, I had to play this in short spurts with lots of rest breaks in between, and I did so because there is a lot to like about this game. To start with, the story is wildly unique. In this mysterious bullet castle is a gun that can kill the past, and adventurers with old regrets come from all over the galaxy for a chance to undo their past mistakes. To do so, they must traverse five floors of bullet hell and assemble a bullet that can shoot through time itself. Sounds awesome, y’all. Continue reading


Book review: The Complex by Brian Keene

I admit, I got The Complex almost right after the ebook came out based on only one short part of the blurb. The book has a trans character in it, and given how extremely rare it is to see this, I had to know, does Brian Keene do such a character justice? For the most part, yes, he does. I’ll get back to that in a bit.

First, I should get the plot out of the way. People go crazy, get naked, and start killing their neighbors. Aaaand we’re done. G’night, y’all!

Heh, but no seriously, that’s the whole plot in a nutshell. There’s no explanation for why everyone goes nuts, which makes sense because the characters experiencing this have no idea what’s going on. Certainly, all of them speculate on what’s happening, but no theory is given weight by the story as it plays out. In a few ways, it reminds me of King’s story Cell, which is a good thing. Cell is one of my favorite horror stories in recent years, so seeing something with a similar theme definitely works for me.

This could very well be a by the numbers story if not for the extremely well done character development. The first part of the book is something of an introduction to the various neighbors living in the apartment complex, and regular readers of Keene will spot several references to his other books. Continue reading


A book update of sorts…

Over the last year and a half, my writing output has diminished greatly as I’ve suffered from more MS-related relapses and fatigue attacks. I’ve had to take a long hiatus from all writing and most editing to give my brain a chance to recover from the stress of last year, and that’s also meant reassessing the projects I have ongoing. I still feel confident that I can complete most, but there is one exception, and I’ve spent a long time debating what to do with the Mystical World Wars series.

When I first got started writing, it was nothing for me to crank out a book a month, and my plans with the series were to create a world where all the various tangents existed in the same time line. I had all of these mystical races crossing over from one book or the other, and the ultimate plan was to bring them all into a huge final conflict. This would have taken me close to fifty novels to do so, and I managed to publish twelve, with another four completed and awaiting final edits.

However, as my ability to write consistently has dwindled, I’ve worried more and more about leaving the few readers buying the books without closure. It’s not fair to them, and I feel like it’s better to remove those books from my vendors and focus on what I know I can finish. This is why, effective immediately, all twelve books have been taken off of the virtual shelves at Amazon, Kobo, Nook, and my Blog bookstore.

I am not giving up on writing or publishing. I’m just changing how I write to ensure that I don’t leave readers hanging. Unless a series is meant to be open-ended with no defined final book, I’ve been writing the whole series before publishing the first book. For instance, all the books in the Alice the Wolf series are done. I’ve even got cover art and a general release schedule for them. I plan to release them one per year so readers won’t be overwhelmed by too many releases all at once.

Beyond Alice’s books, I’ve got a pair of sequels for The Life and Death of a Sex Doll and a new trilogy to complete the Zombie Era series. After that, the future is a bit more hazy. I plan to put out new books in the Sandy Morrison and Tobe White series, and I’m working on two other projects that could work out to a trilogy and another multi-book series.

I want to close this update with an apology to the people who read any of the arcs from the Mystical World Wars. I feel like I’ve let y’all down by not being able to finish things properly. But it’s no longer possible for me to work the way I had been when I started a little over ten years ago, and if I tried, I’d only make myself worse. I suspect that in the process, the books would also suffer a decline in quality, and I’d rather pull the plug and divert my energies into shorter projects to ensure I never leave y’all hanging like this again.


Game review: Salt and Sanctuary for PS4

Salt and Sanctuary needed almost a full day of playing to work for me, as the first area really wasn’t being too kind to my eyes. I was also a little iffy on the story at first because “Oh, look, it’s another rescue the princess quest.” But it’s not, and the princess is actually a huge MacGuffin that leads to a much deeper story, one I really enjoyed all the way to the end.

Initially, though, I was struggling to move past an area very early in the game after the first boss, and I inadvertently ended up spending that first day in a cycle of grinding for XP. Once I got past that sticking point on the second day and into an area that was less visually blurry, my enjoyment of the game went up immensely.

I’m going to cover the game in a lot more detail, but first I want to tell a little story. After my review of Fallout 4, I ended up playing it another three times, each time increasing the difficulty until I was up to Survival mode and still beating the game. On Twitter and Facebook, I commented that if it was possible for me to win on the hardest modes like this, maybe I needed a knock to my ego by getting Dark Souls III when it comes out in April.

So then along comes some reviews for Salt and Sanctuary, all of them sporting the description “2D Dark Souls.” So I figured this would be a good training run before getting into the real deal. Continue reading


Game review: J-Stars Victory VS+ for PS Vita

Way back when I a wee teen, I had a friend who went to Dallas all the time, and he would pick up issues of Weekly Shonen Jump for me. Not the compiled individual comics, but the actual issues imported from Japan. They’re all black and white comics on really cheap paper, and most of the stories are broken up into frustratingly short blocks. But oh how I loved those comics, and I kept buying them for quite a while before I got too sick and too broke to afford them.

J-Stars Victory VS+ is thus a perfect game for me because it’s got so many characters I read during my misspent youth, plus many others that I’ve come to know through later compilations or their anime adaptations. It’s an extremely flimsy premise drawing all of these characters together, but then it’s a fighting game and plot is pretty much secondary to the reason for playing.

Having said that, for as much as I enjoyed the game I also had problems with several parts of it, not the least of which is how the adventure mode draggs on and on before getting to the end of the story.

Before I cover the problematic parts, I want to talk about the things I did like. The combat is good and usually easy to grasp regardless of which character I’m handed to play with, and each character has their own special moves that come from their respective series. The arenas these fights take place in are nice and varied with plenty of color and personality, and buildings and walls explode with satisfying force when I attack an enemy and send them flying. Continue reading