Reviews

Little Alchemy is a little bit of a problem…

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Little Alchemy on mobile, night mode. You start with four basic elements.

It feels odd to get started on a game, at least two years after it was first published. Still, it’s not as though Little Alchemy is ancient enough to feel outdated or irrelevant, and I can gladly report that it’s every bit as enjoyable and engaging in 2017 as it probably was when it was first released. The only downside is knowing that it’s unlikely to receive any more updates. Once you’ve exhausted the 500+ existing alchemical elements and their combinations, that’s it. And given the habitual nature of the game, you might find yourself marathon playing it for hours at a time, and end up running out of game within a day or two.

Little Alchemy is a lightweight and fun alchemy simulator. Beginning with the four classical elements, it allows you to combine two elements to create a third, sometimes with additional byproducts. Simple as that. To my great delight, it can be played out of any browser through either the official site or indie game outfit itch.io, and also has a mobile version. After messing around with the browser game for entirely too long, I downloaded the Android app and lost several hours of potential sleep to it.

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Concerning the Mystic Marriage of the Earth and Sun

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“Concerning the Mystic Marriage of the Earth and Sun to Beget Works of Great Virtue and Power…

The title went on for another half page.”

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Cover of The Mystic Marriage, by Heather Rose Jones.

The Mystic Marriage is a historical fantasy taking place in the fictional European principality of Alpennia, beginning in the year 1821. Both a romance and an adventure, its primary plot revolves around Antuniet Chazillen, last daughter of an Alpennian noble family that has been disgraced and all but destroyed. Antuniet’s life is bleak and devoid of most comforts and securities she’d been raised to. She’d been a scholar and her access to continuing her studies is severely restricted so, like many young women in her position, she makes a strained living by tutoring more wealthy students. The only bright spot in her life, if it could be termed such, is her single-minded quest to redeem her family’s reputation through the art of alchemy and her discovery, mostly by chance, of a singular alchemical text.

 

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Revisiting the Dark Parables Series

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Promotional image for The Swan Princess and the Dire Tree.

I’ve written before about the Dark Parables series of hidden object games. They’re great games and I revisit them pretty regularly, especially since I started them out by buying the standard editions and was quickly converted to the more expensive collector’s editions, which contain an impressive amount of additional content. I still haven’t completed my collection, which means I haven’t played all of the bonus games. Since my PC crashed and burned in March and I’m operating on a new laptop, I decided it was time to get back to the games again. New installments of Dark Parables come out reliably once or twice a year, and there had been two new games released since I’d last checked.

 

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There Are So Many Things to Say About Wonder Woman, I Don’t Know Where to Start

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Wonder Woman got a series of fantastic promotional posters.

On Saturday night, I finally watched the Wonder Woman movie. It’s been highly anticipated in general, both because of Gal Gadot’s short but redeeming performance in last year’s appalling Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but also because of the revolving-door rumors about a WW movie, and its many years in so-called development hell. It took me a long time to become a fan of the character myself, given the nature of creative work on a shared universe like DC Comics’ universe. Writers and artists come and go, each one wanting to leave their mark on the character. With each change in creative teams, you never know what version of your favorite character you’re going to get next. At the end of the day, every fan has their own idea of what Wonder Woman is, or should be.

Fortunately, this is an idea that the movie takes a strong stance on. Wonder Woman is a character full of contradictions. She’s a superhero, a princess, a warrior, a mythological figure and an ambassador for peace, and none of these roles, no matter how conflicting they might seem, can be elided and still remain true to form. An explicitly feminist character from her inception, Wonder Woman was initially conceived as a superheroine who fights evil, “not with fists but with love”. There’s a great deal that might be said about William Moulton Marston and his ideas of gender, and how they gave rise to the Diana we know. Whatever else might be said, though, what persisted is a profile of a heroine combining strengths stereotypically both masculine and feminine.

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Short Fiction on Audio Reviews

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On most work days, I liven up my commute by listening to podcasts. They’re easy to listen to, because I can drift in and out of focus without too much trouble, and put together whatever I miss from context. Listening to audio fiction isn’t so easy. I need to focus on every word, or the thread of the plot is lost, and my enjoyment of the words themselves is lessened. I listen to short fiction on audio only rarely, and then only to very short things, twenty minutes or less. Still, I’ve found some remarkable stories online. These are three of them.

That hilariously short attention span aside, and ignoring for a second that sometimes depression prevents me from focusing on anything interesting, I like listening to short stories on audio on my phone. While waiting for the bus, on my commute, on lunch breaks, on the line at the supermarket… wherever I can squeeze in those twenty minutes of peace.

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Niche – an Eco-Romp to Give Linnaeus Nightmares

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The game’s full title is Niche: a Genetics Survival Game, and thank Darwin fish for that, because “niche game” is the worst Google search term in history.

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Niche opening screen. Image via niche-game.com.

Anyhoo. Niche is an eco-bio-something sim that charges the player with raising a pack of vague mammalian critters, collecting food, breeding, fighting off predators, and exploring their surroundings. The game world’s science is a biological grab-bag of sorts. Differently colored tiles represent different “biomes” with different physical characteristics. Each critter has its own genome, where some traits divide to dominant versus recessive, and others mix interestingly, like fur color. A “mutation menu” lets the player pick specific traits to introduce into their newly-bred nichelings, rolling the dice and letting the odds determine the outcome. “Immunity genes” exist to discourage consanguinity. Later in the game’s life cycle, “alpha/beta” status for critters was also introduced.

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Lumberjanes Vol. 1

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Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy. Image via Goodreads.

My fall’s reading has been not nearly so prolific as the summer or spring had been. Since Icon wrapped up in October, I still haven’t finished the small pile of graphic novels sitting on my shelf, gazing at me, forlorn. NaNoWriMo happened and I was focused on trying to break barriers in my own writing and, frankly, November had been a rough month for everyone.

It’s a good thing I started out with Lumberjanes, then. This comics series, bound up in four-issue trade paperbacks, hovers somewhere between young adult and middle grade. Though nominally a fantasy adventure book, it’s a little more unrestrained in its fantastical exploration than I’m used to seeing in YA. The art style is vibrant and compelling, but the human figures are stylized enough that the age of the protagonists stays ambiguous. The summer camp environment and the bright and cheery atmosphere give it an overall middle grade vibe.

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