I review video games, novels, comics, and other stuff that catches my attention. I try to keep my reviews short but descriptive. If I really loved it, it earns a heart ♥; things I hate get a bomb 💣.
Reviews (click title to open/close)
FTL: Faster Than Light, a rogue-lite spaceship sim by Subset Games
This is not so much a review as a note that I have spent hundreds of hours in this game and I am still playing it. Few games have been worth what I paid for them as many times over as FTL.
Three Moments of an Explosion, a short story collection by China Miéville
Surprisingly, Miéville is not all that good at writing short stories. There are a few really good ones here (Dreaded Outcome in particular), and some cool ideas with the author's signature stamp of weirdness (the title story & The Condition of New Death), but overall, don't get this unless you're a Miéville aficionado.
A Bride's Story, a historical romance manga by Kaoru Mori
A Bride's Story is a slice-of-life manga about marriage customs in 19th century central Asia. If that sounds interesting to you, go read it! The strong points here are the setting, which the author has clearly meticulously researched, even if she takes an occasional liberty, and the artwork, which is gorgeously detailed. The characters are endearingly quirky without overly stretching suspension of disbelief. The weak point is the plot, which is clearly being made up on the fly.
Y: The Last Man (up to Vol 5) and Saga (Vol 1), some scifi/fantasy comics by Brian K Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Pia Guerra & co
Unlike apparently everyone else who reads comics, I really can't stand Brian K Vaughan's writing. It's entertaining, for sure. But after about the sixteenth cliffhanger you realize that there is no grand overarching plan; there is no coherent world being built; it's just a bunch of wild off-the-cuff ideas thrown into a genre blender and drip-fed to keep you addicted. For a more solidly constructed science-fantasy comic, try Gunnerkrigg Court.
The Female Man, a science fiction novel by Joanna Russ
The Female Man may be the angriest book I've ever read. Russ is a powerful writer; strong recommend if you like feminist scifi, but you're in for a rough ride emotionally. The book's style is deliberately disjointed; chronological order is unclear; the point of view shifts without warning among three different protagonists; at other times narration is third-person omniscient or imitates an interview transcript. Christine Love helps you get into her characters' heads; Russ throws you in, and expects you to put in the effort to understand them, to figure out their particular idioms, their reference points and core beliefs.
Content note: Toward the end there are plot elements that seem from a modern perspective like a cruel parody of transgender identity. I suspect Russ was aiming for a different effect and it's been lost in cultural translation, but there it is.
Analogue: A Hate Story, a visual novel by Christine Love
So I decided to try out visual novels again, and I'm glad I did! This was fascinating stuff. In brief I guess I'd call it an "epistolary scifi mystery visual novel".
The first cool thing about Analogue is its premise: you piece together the story of the tragedy that befell a derelict generation ship by reading the diary entries, letters, & other logs of its deceased inhabitants. You learn about the people who lived on the ship through their own eyes: their culture, their interactions, their love lives. It's a really effective way of doing the scifi worldbuilding schtick!
The second cool thing is the core mechanic: interacting with the ship's AI(s). To get new logs you show logs you're interested in to the AI, which lets them comment on it, and means you see only what the AI shows you. So you're not just seeing the ship through its people's eyes; you're seeing them through the AI's eyes.
There's a sequel, Hate Plus, which is also great so far, with similar mechanics (discovering a culture through reading logs of it) - only this time, in an inversion of control, you choose the logs & the AI(s) read(s) them for the first time with you.
VVVVVV, a puzzle platformer by Terry Cavanagh
A simple idea (a puzzle platformer where instead of jumping, you flip gravity), executed perfectly. Great music, too. I still haven't beaten "Doing things the hard way", yet, but while trying I realized something: prior to this, in video games my approach when I get stuck is just to try, try, try again. I've never deliberately practiced at a video game, as I have at (say) playing an instrument, or programming. It's obvious in retrospect, but for some reason it just never occurred to me that a video games might be the kind of thing you practice.
Lady of the Shard, a space romance webcomic by gigi d.g.
This is a mini-webcomic (short story length). It's hard to describe the plot without spoilers, but it's really short; go read it! It has a particularly cool pixelated art style, and makes effective use of the freedom the web provides from page size or panel constraints. The author also makes the webcomic Cucumber Quest, a really great subversion of standard fantasy save-the-world stories/games.
Ancillary Sword, a science fiction novel by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Justice, to which this is the sequel, is an amazing book and if you like science fiction you should read it. On finishing it, I thought it was strange that it was the first in the series, because it didn't feel like it needed a sequel. I was right: it didn't. This isn't a bad novel, but it's not a great one either. Ann Leckie is a really promising author, though, and I look forward to reading more of her! If you want a taste of her writing, try She Commands Me and I Obey.
This Census Taker, a fantasy novella by China Miéville
This is a strange and sombre novella. If you like Miéville, you might like it. If you haven't read Miéville yet, don't start here: read The City & the City or Perdido Street Station (or one of his other books, the guy is prolific) instead. That said, he sure can convey an atmosphere!
Undertale, an rpg by Toby Fox
This is a good game and you should play it.
It's really hard to talk about Undertale without spoilers, since a significant part of the game is about screwing with your expectations. Which makes me wonder: in ten or twenty years, will the same expectations be around to screw with? Sometimes great works suffer exceedingly from the passage of time, precisely because they effect a change in the environment that they succeeded by contrasting themselves against. Punk, for example. Undertale feels a lot like punk to me.
Knights of the Old Republic, an rpg by BioWare
(initial review) I'm about 40 hours into this and it's one of the best games I've ever played. The gameplay is merely good, but the story and characters are fantastic. Strongest recommendation.
(final review, spoiler-ish) So I finally finished this. It was good! ... but. The last third of the game was pretty boring. The combat, which was never the game's strong point, got repetitive (the Star Forge, in particular); and the story became bland and generic save-the-universe-y.
On that note, have I mentioned how much I dislike Manichean morality plays? I went into KOTOR expecting to be totally turned off by the light-side/dark-side thing; halfway through, I was pleasantly surprised how nuanced the actual moral questions posed were. Nothing revolutionary, but at least not "EVIL POWER-HUNGRY NARCISSIST, OR SELF-SACRIFICING SERVANT OF THE LIGHT?: YOU CHOOSE!". The ending, though, is pretty much that. Could see it coming a mile off, but that doesn't make it better.
Great game, disappointing climax. Still gonna play the next one.
Super Meat Boy, a platformer by Team Meat
This... was too hard for me. Functioning as intended, I suppose.
Ori and the Blind Forest, a metroidvania game by Moon Studios
Okay, this one isn't old, but it's good. It's a fresh take on platforming, and it's beautiful, visually and musically. The plot is a little cliché, but well-executed.
The Swapper, a puzzle game by Facepalm Games
An atmospheric puzzle game with a damn fine story, including shout-outs to philosophers of mind(!) Daniel Dennet and David Chalmers, which is pretty cool. Strong recommend if you like head-scratchers.
Life is Strange, an adventure game by Dontnod Entertainment
This is basically interactive fiction that happens to run on the Unreal engine. It has a fun time-manipulation gimmick, but the puzzles are trivial. It's a good story, though, and I'm happy to see more games pushing at the boundary between narrative and mechanics. (Content note, if you play: suicidal ideation.)
We Know the Devil, a visual novel by Aevee Bee, Mia Schwartz, & co
This is a visual novel. It's interesting, with a unique religious/horror/modern-day setting, but I'm not sure visual novels are my thing. That said, I've really only scratched the surface of the genre. I'm open to recommendations.
Mass Effect, an rpg by BioWare
This was fun, and addictive in the way rpgs are for me, and well-acted. I'm not sure if it was good enough for me to play the rest of the series.
Fez, a puzzle game by Polytron Corporation
I think that's the trippiest thing I've seen since the second half of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A very good game! Probably the most beautiful video game I've played. (I'm not sure beautiful is the right word, but I don't know a better one.) My only complaint is that the main puzzles were a bit easy. I don't enjoy 100%ing, so I'm probably missing all the really hard puzzles.