Quest of Dungeons (2014)

qofscreen

Despite its arguably ridiculously generic and at the same time quite nonsensical title, QoD is a short but neat lightweight roguelike that doesn’t attempt to cover the usual complexity of the genre, but still manages to be quite addictive. Choose one of four heroes (fighter, mage, assassin or shaman) and venture into the dungeon to do some monster killing.

The characters are all a bit imbalanced, as it is piss-poor easy to win on the hardest of the four difficulty levels with assassin (basically a ranger incl. unlimited ranged attack, which means you rarely get hit before you can kill something), but playing the fighter can be much more challenging (you always take damage and ranged sorcerers kill you fast). The mage is nearly as good as the assassin (ranged attacks based on slowly regenerating MP) and the Shaman has health regen and a neat magic attack that paralyzes enemies.

That said, while it’s easy to get into and even easier to play through, once you’ve done one playthrough you’ve seen it all. Despite the randomized level structure and treasure, it’s all just variations of the same template with not much true variety. But it’s fun for a short time.

Breath of Death VII (2011)

BreathofDeath

Western retro-jRPG styled after the 8-bit Dragon Quest games. Plot is pretty forgettable, despite an actually interesting setup concerning a world of undead after human civilization has vanished. It’s all played for laughs and as always with humor, if it’s not to your taste you prefer it to be over sooner than later. Thankfully the game isn’t all that long.

While it closely emulates the gameplay elements of Dragon Quest, including similar graphic tiles and user interface, it changes how the battle system works. Instead of being a mix of tactics and strategy, characters fully heal after each battle, which takes away strategic considerations like how to survive not just the next trash mob, but a number of them until you reach a safe resting place. Which makes the game a lot easier but also a lot faster-paced. The one slightly limited resource is MP, which also is replenished after each fight, but only a small number. But since brute force is enough for most trash mobs, it doesn’t make that much of a difference.

There also a gameplay mechanic that makes physical attacks and spells more deadly, based on a hit-counter (called combo), but I never really watched it all that carefully. Just spamming attacks and magic attacks is enough to get through the entire games without overthinking it.

The number of random battles is also capped in each dungeon and for the entire overworld (a cap for different zones of the overworld would have been better), though you can initiate new battles even after you’ve reached the cap. It’s a nice idea and works more or less as intended, to make random battles not as annoying as they were in those games of old, while still allowing the player to farm for EXP if he’s so inclined.

Dungeons are mostly long, winded and empty corridors with a few treasure chest. Honestly, jRPG dungeons were never very good to begin with and BoD doesn’t improve on the concept. They are pretty boring and finding your way through them and their many dead ends feels like an exercise in futility. Could have learned something from the randomized yet varied and great dungeon design from the better roguelikes or at least implemented some kind of fog of war to make exploration more fun, though this would have gone beyond the jRPG roots the game is copying.

Anyway, while it’s certainly not a great game, if you crave for any reason old Dragon Quest-style jRPGs, it’s a pretty good fit with some interesting and useful modernizations.

Man of Steel (2013)

ManofSteel

I’m not sure why most of the recent Marvel live action movies work, while none of the DC equivalents do. They really did try with Man of Steel and it has some amazing set pieces that should make for a great movie, but its so joyless to watch, so relentless in its attempt to make a superhero drama that it sucks out all the fun out of seeing superman on the big screen. I don’t want a goofy superman, but this veered too much in the other direction.

They get all the details right (more or less), his origin, the Daily Planet, they even got a Louis Lane that actually felt like she really filled the role and stood like an equal to Superman, and yet it doesn’t feel like they really captured Superman’s essential qualities here. It’s just emo-guy trying to live up to his dead father (both of them, both of them sacrificing themselves) and coming to terms with his alien nature and finding his place among humans. Which is all good stuff, but told in a tone that doesn’t concede that life can be both serious and hilariously silly at the same time. No, DC’s live action universe is beyond silly things. Only grave and momentous stuff.

Then Zod and the other evil Kryptonians arrive and things go boom. At least the action and mass destruction is well done. It’s not really a bad movie, just not very compelling or fun to watch.

Suspect Zero (2013)

SuspectZero

I’m not a fan of stories that have genuine anti-heroes as the POV. Not just guys who use mean means to get the right stuff done, but complete monsters that revel in death or destruction of others for their own solipsistic enjoyment with no bigger agenda than that.

There’s a story here, even a compelling twist, that makes the young serial killer’s search for the king of all killers sound slightly interesting, but the story is too short to really develop the idea into something more substantial. The POV anti-hero even has an arc with real character growth (realizing the depth of his monstrosity to some extend), though thankfully not redemption.

But the point still stands, it’s not really something I enjoy, even if it wasn’t as annoying as it could have been.

Sullivan’s Sluggers (2012)

Sullivan's Sluggers

The comic about a team of downtrodden baseball players fighting zombies in some backward town is more known for the attached kickstarter drama (the creator unwisely calculated international porto wrong, overprinted and then had no money to send the printed comic out to a lot of backers) than its content. I’ve always wondered if it was worth destroying a career over.

Kinda not. If this were a movie, I would say a weak B movie, maybe even a C title. It has one seemingly good gimmick and initially compelling art, probably the reason it was so successful on kickstarter, but beyond that there’s not a lot going on. The team arrives in town. They start a game, the monsters come out, everything goes to hell and they start dying until only a few are left, on both sides. Fifty pages in and knowing it would go on for a 150 more, I felt the whole thing had already outstayed its welcome.

I like me some good action and there’s a lot of it here, but all of it felt like a never ending call out to 80ties action movie coolness and those characters without any identity of its own. Instead of first establishing its own ensemble of likeable losers and then mowing them down, it felt like watching cheap and badly done copies of those guys I liked in better movies getting killed, which became tiresome really fast. Shoot, kick, flippant speech, blood and gore, monster and player dead. Repeat ad nauseaum for a long time.

There’s really not much substance to it, even on a simple actioner level and everything felt so halfhearted and boring. Even the art got more lazy as the comic went on.

The Colonel (2014)

thecolonel

Bite-sized story piece that bridges the gap between Blindsight and Echopraxia. Not exactly essential but well written and does what it sets out to do: acting as a primer for the later novel while reminding you of the strengths of the former and where it left things. Has inscrutable hive minds, power games and an old baseline human trying to do what he can to save both his son and the rest of us monkeys. The ending is pretty much left open and I expect Echopraxia to clear things up.

The Devil You Know (2006)

TheDevilYouKnow

1st in a urban fantasy series where the dead have risen in large numbers (mostly ghosts, some zombies, were-monsters are also explained via ghosts) and exorcists have risen as well to counter that development. Felix Castor is one of them, and while he tried to get out of the profession due to a botched job in his past, it’s the one thing he does best and he has to pay his bills after all. Compared to similar male-centric urban fantasy series, the focus is less on romance and more on noir style-tics and detective work. It feels a lot more down to earth and even with all the magic, it’s less about big fireballs being thrown around and more about learning where ghost have come from and how to make them leave.

The plot of the first part of the series is about a previously harmless ghost in library who suddenly becomes more vicious. And while this still seems pretty harmless all around, it leads Felix down some very dark corners. It’s rare that any of the deaths in an urban fantasy series feels as devastating and horrifying as the one that lies at the core of the entire mystery here and the true villain is entirely mundane and because of that feels more evil than if it had just been a big bad monster from some fairy tale.

Very intense overall and I like how the small difference make this one feel a bit different from other urban fantasy series.

JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time (2014)

JLA_Adventures-Trapped_in_Time

Another recent DC animated movie that is the complete opposite of most of their recent offerings. Violence is on the same level as the original animated DC universe, but together with all the gore and visual violence they also threw all the mature characterization and plotting overboard. What’s left is a simplistic and very short adventure that might appeal to some kids (those not smart enough to know they are getting fleeced), but lacks anything vital to make it more interesting for grown-ups.

Animation is so-so, still okay but nothing really as distinctive as the old animated universe or most of the well-drawn new movies. If the writing would have been a bit better, this could have been a keeper, but at this level it’s merely annoying (the most distinctive sign for bad writing is looking at how smart Lex Luthor talks and acts, that is always a good measure at whom things are targeted, the stupid or the smart kids).

Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014)

batmanAoA

The DC animated movies had an interesting trajectory since the days of the animated universe, from pretty harmless (limited amount of blood and violence, no gore) but mature content to extremely violent and gory movies that seem to swing from smart and mature to childish and stupid at a whim. Assault on Arkham, which is less a Batman and more a Suicide Squad movie with Batman as an important guest character, is an interesting mix, with a lot of violence and death, but drawn with very limited amounts of blood and next to no gore.

What makes it odd, because sometimes when characters die, the blood and gore is pretty good visual marker of how final an event is. Here, sometimes you’re not sure if someone died or just lost their head (like a lego or playmobile figure). Violence without blood and gore is still violence for violence sake and not better than the other DC animated movies who went full gore without needing to.

Content-wise it’s more on the mature side, with the Suicide Squad doing their usual thing and with the mission soon leaving the original mission parameters. I dislike how disposable all the characters actually were in the end and how little any of the villains cared about their team members, and while that just reinforced their bad nature, I found it a bit unrealistic, as humans are still humans and even among criminals not everyone is full-blooded sociopath.

Codex Born (2013)

CodexBorn

2nd in a urban fantasy series about magicians who can materialize any object from books, real and imaginary ones, and their organization that polices the magicians and magic creatures of the world. This time, an alliance of unlikely enemies (the father of a killed member, enemies from when the order was founded hundreds of years ago) is controlled by the creatures living inside magic itself, trying to destroy Gutenberg and his order for various unfathomable reasons.

Nearly as good as the first book, even if I dislike that due to the nature of the hidden enemies it ends similarly unresolved in that meta-plot regard (they are still there, still waiting to come out and destroy everything).

A lot of the book is focused on Lena, the fictional dryad brought to life and how she manages to circumnavigate the murky waters of her own mind, which is always bound to her closest friends and to some extend, due to the imperatives written down in her fictional source material (written as a fuck-puppet who enjoys it), not really her own. This was always the one aspect of the first book with the biggest potential for fail, but I think Hines managed it more or less.