Monthly Archives: May 2015

Visual art: Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Here’s another fine artist I follow on Facebook (this is a thing with me, stalking artists on Facebook), Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, whose work is intricate, often whimsical, and always fantastic. You can check out her portfolio at

Game review: Toren for PS4

After seeing several gushing reviews for Toren and its artful poetic aspirations, I decided to give it a try on the PS4. It’s only 9.99, so even if it turned out awful, I’m not out much money. It only took a few hours to play through, and for the most part, the game wasn’t bad. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all that good, either.

From the start, I felt hampered by the camera, which at times refused to move with my character even if I’d been back and forth the same way a few times and knew what to expect. I missed an early pathway because when I attempted to duck under a certain arch, I fell through the floor and hit a glitching loop where my character would haul herself up only to fall again. Bear in mind, there was no ledge she was hanging from. She was falling though a solid floor. I restarted the checkpoint and wandered aimlessly for half an hour before sorting out that yes, the spot I’d fallen through was the right way to go, and I wandered out and found a shrine. This led me to restart once I realized I’d seen two other shrines at the beginning and had missed part of the game walking by them. (Even with the restart, I think my total playing time from start to finish was maybe four hours, tops. This will not take up a whole lot of your time.)

Let me set the glitches aside and talk about the game’s premise. Set in a dark fantasy world, the people of this world got hooked on a nameless mage’s idea to build a tower to the heavens in order to summon the moon. Why? Uh…I’m not really clear on that part. Maybe they all got drunk and it just sounded like a good idea at the time. Anywho, it’s sort of a Tower of Babel story, but instead of angering God, these people pissed off the sun. Now under an eternal daytime, the mage’s pet dragon goes nuts and kills everyone. Why? Um…maybe the dragon got a sunburn and the mage ran out of aloe.

The mage opts to send “Moonchild” to face the dragon, and she dies horribly and reincarnates in a pool of blood at the base of the tower. This puts the world in a loop, and the only way to change this fate is to ascend the tower and slay the dragon. Continue reading

Book review: Charm by Cat Hellisen

Charm is a hard book for me to rate or review because I have a problem with the ending. That being the case, how do I talk about the problem without spoiling the whole thing? I guess I should give the basics and then talk about what I liked, and then carefully pick my way around the ending to avoid spoilers.

Charm is about a young woman named Irene, who grew up believing her mother Hestia was crazy, and that her madness eventually led to her committing suicide. Irene wears a charm that belonged to her mother, a ward against the evil eye that behaves in a strange way around certain people. Despite this unusual pendant, Irene doesn’t believe in magic, and she’s more worried that she has inherited her mother’s madness.

Irene has one lifelong friend, Rain, who she loves deeply, but who cannot love her back in the same way because he’s gay. Rain lives with his abusive mother Lily and is locked in a co-dependent cycle with her and Irene. Lily keeps Rain close and uses him to host her own pity party, while Irene enables his heavy drinking while jealously stalking him through his various romantic encounters. Dysfunctional is the order of the day for most of the characters in this story. Continue reading

Music: Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend is on my regular rotation of albums to write by, and if I had to pick a favorite among their three albums, I’d be hard-pressed to choose their first self-titled album or Contra. Their third album, Modern Vampires of the City, is also fantastic, but I haven’t had nearly as many listened to give it a fair chance just yet.

Their music is a fusion of styles, with a lot of their songs having great drum beats and synthesizer melodies, and quite a few have memorable guitar riffs as well. My favorite songs are Mansard Roof, Oxford Comma,Cousins, and Diplomat’s Son. If you visit their web site, you can find links to buy their albums and check out their latest videos.

A tale of two trailers…

Yesterday, my Facebook stream lit up with reactions to the new Jem and the Holograms trailer, and they were all bad. I read through an article about how awful it was and how it was angering fans of the show, and bracing myself for the worst, I took a look at it. And…I want to see the movie. Right off the bat, my first thought is how this is an origin movie for a series that started off without an origin. The series follows this group after their initial success, so they already have an established routine, and even an established rival. But you wouldn’t find any of that in their origin, if they’d had one, would you? Not really, no. So I’m ready to give the movie the benefit of the doubt. I may be wrong, and the film may suck and make me wish I hadn’t wasted my time or money on it. But based on this one short look, yeah, I’m intrigued.

I feel kind of alone on this, though, because the vast majority of coverage on the trailer is 100% “Ugh, really?” This reminds me once again on how often I end up being outside of the in-crowd when it comes to just about everything. This sucks because if I love something, it usually means it’s gonna die due to a lack of interest. Even when something I love has a big enough fan base to sustain it, ANY mention that I like these things instantly invites a flood of criticism and teasing. I must be stupid to like them, because the mainstream zeitgeist has classified them as pure shite.

The same thing has happened with the new Supergirl trailer. I found out about it from the collective groaning on social media, and I watched the trailer and got goosebumps. I want to see this show so, so bad. I can’t wait for a box set, I need it to come to Rai NOW. This is a thing I need in my life, and I haven’t felt that way about any superhero TV show since Smallville.

And yet, go look at io9 and Polygon marching lock-step in their hate for Supergirl, and for Jem. And the thing is, what’s the gist of all their hate? “This is not the way we wanted it to be!” Continue reading

Game review: Spooky’s House of Jump Scares for Steam

First I should give credit to Polygon and Griffin McElroy for bringing this game to my attention. Griffin’s been somewhat responsible for several of my purchases because his videos do what a lot of text articles and photos can’t; explain why these games are fun. (I also like his videos because he cusses almost as much as I do when I’m gaming. This makes me feel like we are kindred spirits.)

Spooky’s House of Jump Scares is on Steam’s Early Access, and it’s not finished yet. Some of you know my dislike of early access and may wonder why I got this anyway. I can explain in two words: it’s free.

The game is in a beta test phase and isn’t charging me money to help test it out. You know, like in the old days, before developers realized they could charge people 50 dollars to be a beta tester and never release an actual game. This, however is a classier model, giving me the game for free in exchange for me looking for bugs. And you know what? Aside from an occasional glitch where the textures to a wall might suddenly reveal the tunnel around the next corner, I didn’t see a whole lot of bugginess. For an early access game, this is pretty stable.

Spooky, the eponymous owner of this haunted house, appears at the start of the game challenging you to make it through 1,000 rooms to reach the end of her ghostly gauntlet. But as of this writing, there isn’t an end or 1,000 rooms. At room 754, the game stopped and told me that I’d reached the end of the available story, and that I could keep playing or stop there. I stopped there, but whenever this comes out with an update and a conclusion, I can see playing it again. I could even see it going into my rotation of games I pick up and play when I want to kill some time. Continue reading

My problems with indie platformers…

This week I bought They Bleed Pixels, and after three chapters, I gave up and walked away in frustration. I didn’t play enough to make a proper review, but the experience did help bring to mind several complaints I’ve had with indie platformers, and I want to talk about them after a few days to calm down. If I had written about this immediately after leaving the game, about 80% of every sentence would have been variations of fuck.

To begin, I love platformers. Back in my youth, Nintendo was full of these side scrolling gems, and I think back on how many of my favorite games were the 2D jump/attack variety. Among some of my favorites were Super Mario Bros. (And 2 and 3), Castlevania (and 3, screw 2), Bionic Commando, and Contra (And Super Contra). Those titles give you some idea of the variety of the formula, with each game having a very different feel and look, and they were glorious. They had a great blend of challenge and fun, and to this day, I can still go back and play some of them over just because I love them so much.

Then at a certain point, all the new consoles coming out created a shift away from the 2D side-view platform in favor of the 3D environment. I’m not knocking this because there are a lot of 3D games that I’ve loved over those consoles as well. But the dearth of the familiar platformer was always something stuck at the back of my mind. I wondered why we lost this particular style of gameplay when the increasing hardware capabilities should have made it possible to have some really pretty games on the 2D plane. Continue reading

Book review: Growl by Ashley Fontainne

Growl started off stumbling for me, then recovered and ran fast and intense right up until the end before it once again stumbles and drops the ball entirely. The events leading up to the conclusion are so good that I was staying up later singing the “one more chapter” song, and I still consider it a good book for the most part. But the parts it mishandles are to my mind the most important for any book, and they take down the whole story by a couple notches.

Growl is about a battle between two ancient entities who have each used two small town families as their avatars for many generations. Sheryl Ilene Newcomb is the next inheritor of this ability, and her story begins by telling you how the book ends, who will die, and who will survive. This kills any sense of dread or fear for the characters. Worse, these first few chapters are chock full of infodumps that could have been handled better if they were part of the story as it happens instead of being shoehorned in at the front.

After the first three chapters, the story shakes off some of these slow infodumps, but not all of them. The story works in spite of them, and as I said, I was reading until I had dry eyes for two nights in a row. Sheryl’s family and life are interesting enough to make those constant digressions forgivable. She’s got a boyfriend already, so there’s no need to clutter the story up “finding the one,” and after a very brief flashback to a tragedy striking the family when Sheryl was nine, the story jumps ahead nine years to get to the real conflict. Sheryl’s discovery of her lineage and duties are fascinating, and I like the monsters even though they stay hidden for most of the book. Continue reading

Music: Ibeyi

Ibeyi album coverIbeyi is a music group made up of French Cuban twin sisters Naomi and Lisa-Kaindle Diaz. Their songs blend English and Yoruba, and the name Ibeyi translates from Yoruba as twins. The songs are made up of percussion beats and piano melodies, and it’s a mellow style that I really love. Ibeyi are on tour right now, and I’m hoping to see them at Unaltrofestival in Milan July 7th, where they’ll be performing with Of Monsters and Men, Christopher Paul Stelling, FYFE, and Dardust.

You can find out more about Ibeyi on their website, which has links to their eponymous first album, a list of upcoming tour dates, and a collection of photos of the artists.

Mini-movie review: Tucker and Dale VS Evil

I saw the trailer for Tucker and Dale VS Evil last year, and I knew I had to get it on DVD eventually. We finally found a copy last week, and I thought it was fantastic. I love how the classic teenagers going out in the woods trope is subverted because the “evil rednecks” are actually just normal guys going on vacation, just like the teenagers are. They look different, so the college teens are all making wild assumptions about what they’re thinking and doing, and the misunderstandings resulting in copious gory violence is brilliant and hilarious.

That said, I have two problems with the film, the first minute of the movie and the last thirty seconds. The first minute gives away the ending and the “twist” and that really sucks. If that first minute of found footage wasn’t there, I would have been pretty surprised by the twist. But as it is, that intro makes the big reveal a huge let down.

The last thirty second scene is just not funny, and it makes both Dale and Allison look pretty shallow and self-centered. After spending most of the movie building on the premise that appearances can be deceiving, and that these two characters from vastly different worlds are both good folks, the finale basically goes, “Nope, they’re both assholes after all! Hyuk, hyuk hyuk!”

Setting those complaints aside, I loved the movie and spent most of the film laughing so hard I was coughing. So I’ll give Tucker and Dale VS Evil 4 stars. I hear a sequel is in the works now, and if that’s true, I’m looking forward to seeing where the next film goes.