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


Game review: Moonlighter (Epic Store version)

First, yes, I know it’s been a long time since my last review, and you would not believe the technological hell I’ve been through in the last few months. It was like Murphy’s Law decided to ride all my electronic devices at the same time. I’ve finally started to get everything replaced and working mostly properly, so now I hope to get back to some nice reviews and shtuff for y’all.

Up first is Moonlighter, which was free on the Epic Store. Let’s just get this out of the way: yes, the Epic Store sucks. It will someday stop sucking, just like Steam and GOG did, but for now, all I really use it for is downloading games that I was iffy on until they were free. Moonlighter certainly fit into that category, and as it was free, almost akin to a review copy, I will be as nice as I possibly can be while at the same time still being honest.

So, Moonlighter tells the story of a shop owner, Will Moonlighter, who by day sells stuff taken from a mystical dungeon, and by night plunders his merchandise from said dungeon. At first, only one dungeon is available, but by reaching the third floor boss and defeating it, a key is found to unlock the next. There are four real dungeons in total, and a fifth door that is unlocked with all four keys to reach the end-game boss.

There’s a lot to like initially in the game. The graphics are fantastic, evoking any number of old school top-down dungeon crawlers. Enemy animations are lovely and smooth, as are the moves of Will. There’s a good variety of weapons, though I admit once I found the big ass sword and bow, I didn’t really look much at the others. I tried them, yes, and found them adequate. But they weren’t a big ass sword and a bow. That’s my jam, y’all.

The music too is very good, the kind you can set the controller down and just listen to appreciate it. The controls are…mostly good, though I sometimes found the dodge roll/jump to be a bit finicky in crossing gaps. Aside from that, it was good enough to get me to the end with a minimum number of shouts like “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”

Then there’s the shop keeping side of the game, which is interesting at first. As you lay out items on your shop table and price them, customers come in and appraise them. You have to watch their reactions in the form of a thought bubble forming over their heads. After a few seconds of thought, the cloud will either show some kind of happy face, meaning your prices are good, or a sad face, meaning you overpriced your stuff. One of the smiling faces indicates that the customer thinks the item is super cheap, while another indicates it’s the perfect price. So the goal is learning what that “Goldilocks price” is to get maximum profits out of each item.

The design of the dungeons are something like a mix between Enter the Gungeon and old Zelda games. The layout of the dungeons change with each run, but the boss is always the same, and your equipment can stay the same unless you want to try something new. One nice touch is that Will finds a pendant very early on that allows him to teleport out of the dungeon in exchange for some gold. So say for instance that you’re on the second floor with a full bag of loot but with low health and no healing potions, you can bug out without risking your haul.

After opening the second dungeon, the enemies get a lot tougher. Will’s weapons and armor can be upgraded by using materials found in the dungeons and turning them over to a blacksmith, who has to be unlocked by paying him to come to town and set up shop. It’s here where I started to sour on the game. After bribing new merchants to come into town, I found all their prices to be astronomically insane. The costs are so high that I needed almost two days of grinding to afford upgrades to all my equipment for every upgrade cycle. For the first three dungeons, I ended up just saying screw it and going to the final boss fight with under-leveled gear. Then with the loot from the next dungeon offering better profits, I did the upgrades.

But the fourth dungeon, the Tech Dungeon, had enemies launching electrical attacks that drained my health so fast I couldn’t make it to the third floor without depleting my stocks of healing potions. (Which have their own insane price structure, so you don’t want to be chugging them like Kool-Aid.) I ended up having to grind in the lower dungeons for four days to get all the upgrades, at which point the newer insulated armor was able to take a lot of the sting out of the enemy attacks.

Before I get to the end game boss, I want to talk about the bosses in the four dungeons. The main bosses on the third floors are cool, but once you beat them, their area is filled with an assortment of regular enemies. The two mid-bosses on each floors are the same, and that’s what makes the grind get stale very quickly. The first time you fight a golem, it’s cool. Then you get to the second floor, and it’s the same boss, except now he can teleport. It’s not any harder, so even on the first run, there’s a bit of disappointment before getting to the Golem King, who is VERY different, challenging, visually appealing, and most importantly, fun. But once he’s gone, you won’t see him again until new game plus.

Likewise, the angry tree, flaming…dice(?), and Plasma Globe of Dhoooom all come in two flavors, and those flavors are the same as the first golems. There’s a need for variety to make the grind more compelling and for me, these bosses aren’t doing it for me. They’re too easily beaten, and the rewards they drop are the same junk I can take off most common enemies.

I got into this pattern of trudging grudgingly through the grinds so I could reach those third floor bosses, and without exception, they were great fun. Were they worth 48 freakin’ hours of grinding to reach them? Well…no, not really. I think if the folks making this had cut out the grind and just made a shorter game, I’d look at it more fondly. Or alternately, if they wanted to stick with the random loot grind model, they should have developed more bosses and made the boss encounters random like Enter the Gungeon or The Binding of Isaac. But fighting the same two bosses and doing a “horde mode” over and over to earn cash for upgrades is so tedious that it pulls down everything I found appealing about this game.

Then there’s the final door, which calls itself a dungeon, but is really just a long hallway that leads to the last boss. And that last boss is underwhelming because I beat him just by standing in one spot right next to him while spamming the charged attack. I looked at his health bar plummeting and said out loud, “This is too easy. He’s got to have a second form.” He does, and it’s just as underwhelming for the same reason. I didn’t have to dodge or learn a pattern of attacks like I did with the four previous bosses. I just stood in a spot where he did little damage to Will and spammed the charged attack.

Once the reason for the dungeons’ existence is revealed, I was just left asking “Wow, really?” And I don’t mean that in a good way. It’s like the game’s structure was fully fleshed out before anyone thought to write an actual story, and the big finale is…it’s like expecting a big fireworks show, only to get a sparkler, and the sparkler fizzles out shortly after being lit.

I also need to get back to the shop keeping portion of the game to talk about another problem. Eventually, lots of items become unpopular, meaning what used to be the prefect price is now too high. This happens right when you need funds the most for equipment upgrades and potions. So you’re now making less money and needing to make even more loot runs for diminishing rewards. At a certain point, I just gave up on selling stuff, using an item found in the dungeon to junk everything for money rather than waste time trying to hawk it to the locals.

I should mention that there is another way to make money late in the game, someone labeled a banker who is more like a venture capitalist. To use him, you have to wait until he’s ready to take your money. Sometimes he says “Come see me in one day,” so you go back to the shop, sleep twice, and then go back to the town center to give him your money. But other times, he says “Come see me in six days.” Yeah, because rich people would totally be like “I’m uninterested in taking a million gold pieces off of you today. Come see me next week.” Immersion totally broken.

Jokes aside, after taking your funds, you have to wait another six days to take back your money with the highest percentage of interest earned. If you miss that last day, you get…nothing. Bubkes. Again, because that’s totally how investments work. Granted, I never lost my money, but each time I got warned that if I didn’t take my funds out I’d lose everything, I rolled my eyes so hard I caught glimpses of my brain, and my brain was shuddering at how dumb this investment service is.

I often talk about how long I played a game as a benchmark of whether I consider it worth the money I spent, but in this case, no money changed digital hands. Additionally, while I might have spent 60 hours playing this, I’d say only four or five of them were truly fun. That’s why I feel like Moonlighter would have greatly benefited from being a more traditional retro game. Let me go in to play those six fun hours of dungeon crawling and battling bosses and then let me get out and do something else. But making me fight the same four bosses over and over for no good reason ruins the experience, and this could have been easily one of my favorite games without the mind numbing grind. That’s a shame because it really does check all the quality boxes in most respects.

In the end, I have to give Moonlighter 3 stars. It’s not a terrible game, but the grind built in to pad the length takes what could have been a 5 star winner and turns it into a slog with little rewards and a disappointing finale. I’d only recommend for people who think grinding is the best part of video games. For everyone else, you can find better ways to waste your time.