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

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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.


Game review: Nioh for PC

Oh, my God, y’all. It’s taken me forever to get this review out even though I bought Nioh in freakin’ December of last year. I got well over a hundred and twenty hours into a first playthrough when the game broke my resolve to keep going, and I ended up beating all three Dark Souls games in the next two weeks. I never would have called any of that trilogy short before, but they’re practically minuscule compared to Nioh. That’s not a good thing.

I forced myself to start a second run, this time with a better idea of what kind of build I was aiming for, and another hundred and thirty-seven hours later, I reached the end credits. Does that mean I played everything? Nope, there’s still some end game missions I can’t do yet because they’re way above my current level, and there’s also several DLC additions I will eventually dig into as well. But at this point, I need a break from this game because it’s felt quite often like a job rather than something I do for fun.

You might think the problem is the game’s difficulty, but you’d be wrong. Aside from random cheap attacks (for instance, a monster appears from out of literal thin air and one-shots my character) I didn’t find most of the game to be too hard. Part of this has to do with my play style, in that I know there’s going to be ambushes, so I creep along with my guard up at every corner. I use my bow and rifle to snipe anything I see at a distance, and in general, I crawl at a snail’s pace to suss out the threats ahead of me long before they know I’m in their area. I’m sure it would be harder if I just ran at breakneck pace into every trap and ambush. But that’s not how I roll. I roll slowly, yo.

No, what I consider Nioh’s biggest flaw is the grind. For some of you, that’s actually a big draw, and if so, you do you. I’m okay with most games asking me to grind a bit to raise my level, but there’s four flavors of grind to this game, and all of them kinda suck. Continue reading


Netflix Nosedive: Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories

There comes a point in most evenings where my hands are too stiff to play games, or when my brain is a bit too far along the path to sleep for me to make snap decisions. It’s usually around this time that I swap from games to YouTube to watch cooking videos or something similar. I saw the trailers for Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories and felt that might be the perfect nightcap for a few nights. I was right, but now I’m curious to see everything set in this world.

The thing is, the Netflix series is actually part of a larger collection of movies, both theatrical releases and made-for-television, and a televisions series as well. All of them star Kaoru Kobayashi as the diner owner, known simply as Master to his patrons. This series was adapted from a manga written by Yaro Abe. I only recently learned all of this, and now I want very much to locate more of these stories because they’re so vivid and charming.

The premise of the series is simple enough. The Master runs a diner in Shinjuku from Midnight to 7 AM. Though The Master has a tiny menu, he has a policy of cooking whatever his patron request, provided he has the ingredients. Each episode features a different patron who requests a specific dish, which usually has some emotional significance to them. From that starting point, each episode blossoms and develops in ways that often defied my expectations. Continue reading


Game review: God Eater 3 for Steam

Oh my gosh, y’all. I don’t even know where to start gushing about this game. From the moment it first got announced, I was excited, but I said it needed to do two things to make me truly happy. One, it needed to get the story away from the Fenrir Far East branch and into some new territory; and two, it needed to fix the AI on companions so they weren’t such a problem in missions where the monsters got together in clusterfucks. (That’s a scientific term, by the by.) I am happy to report the team working on God Eater 3 did both of these things, and so much more.

When I first started the game, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the story, with my character’s crew being slaves viewed as subhumans, sent out to die by ungrateful masters. Taking place roughly ten years after the second game, the world has gone even farther down the drain, and in these desperate times, people began forcing orphans into the God Eater program. These new breeds of Adaptive God Eaters (AGEs) are viewed as more monster than human, and they are treated like disposable resources by the ports that imprison them.

Just a few missions into the main story, the crew is taken on by Hilda Enriquez, the owner of Port Chrysanthemum. Hilda is apparently one of the few port owners who feels like treating AGEs as people and equals, so she hires my character’s crew in a temporary capacity to help her deliver some precious cargo. The cargo turns out to be a humanoid Aragami, someone very much like Shio from the first game. At this point, I thought I knew what to expect from the story, and at every turn, I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. Continue reading


Netflix Nosedive (Binge, actually): The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy marks the first show that hubby and I binged, though that wasn’t the initial plan. We put the first episode on and sat down for lunch, and it was so good we just went into the second, and then the third. After that we were both racing to press the button to move to the next episode. Aside from pauses for bathroom breaks or to grab snacks between episodes, we were hooked. When the final episode ended and we looked up and realized it was bed time, neither of us had any regrets.

The Umbrella Academy is basically Uncanny X-Men, if the writers had dropped the metaphors for prejudice and admitted that Professor X was a child endangering bastard. Reginald Hargreaves is one such bastard, ill-equipped to handle raising children. But on a certain date, all around the world, 43 women give birth to babies despite not being pregnant the day before. Hargreaves buys seven, takes them to his place, and begins training six of them to be super heroes.

In the “present day,” Hargreaves has kicked the bucket, and the remaining members of the disbanded Umbrella Academy gather for a funeral. Luther, or Spaceboy, or Number 1, is the last remaining person still feeling loyal to their estranged father, and he suspects that Hargreaves did not die of natural causes. He has a hard time convincing the others, who mainly want to get in, say a few words over the old man’s ashes, and get back on with their disastrous lives. Continue reading


A Tale of Two Dragons…

This is going to be a shorter post, less a review and more of a brief comparison between two versions of the same game. I got Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen for my PC to record a YouTube playthrough with a warrior build, and I’d gone about a third of the way through the main story when I felt an urge to play as an assassin instead. Instead of swapping vocations in the middle of my planned run, I went downstairs to fire up the Xbox360 version and start a new assassin build there. In theory, the games should be quite similar, given that they’re both the Dark Arisen version.

Certainly, the lighting is similar, but on the PC I had the option of installing a shader mod to get rid of the nasty banding in the sky that becomes more noticeable in the moments after sunset and before sunrise. Both versions have problems with objects and characters popping in and out of the game world, but the PC version has somewhat better draw distances. (But only somewhat, as it’s still entirely possible to have a crew of monsters appear right in front of my party suddenly, or to stop moving and then a second later have an obstacle appear from thin air.)

However, there are some pretty big differences that improve the game for the PC version, stuff that apparently never got added as a patch for the older edition. The HD graphics actually work on the PC, for instance, looking much sharper even when close up. On the Xbox360, even after installing the HD graphics pack, the game looked hideous unless I sat way far away from the screen. It was jarring because the NPCs and enemies were fantastically detailed, but the world looked worse than Skyrim, which for a few years was my graphical low bar for Xbox360 game graphics. Continue reading


Netflix Nosedive: Penny Dreadful (Beware: MAJOR spoilers)

Before I begin, I want to apologize if this post is too long or rambly. Temperature shifts here in Pavia have rendered my brain somewhat useless, and I have trouble focusing. But we just finished watching this show, and if I don’t review it now I’ll forget all the finer points I feel need mentioning. But if you decide the review is too scattered or long for you to finish, I’m okay with that. In fact, for you, the early bailer, I will give you my final verdict now: 3 stars, a mixed bag of good, bad, and absolutely pathetic.

Let’s also get the spoiler warning out of the way because to unpack the hot mess that is Penny Dreadful, I’m going to have to spoil pretty much every story arc and character. I could in theory just write up a blurb of a review that spoiled nothing, but that blurb would leave you with the impression that I hated the show. The truth is that my feelings are more complicated, much like this series’ stretching attempts to make a grand unifying evil theory.

But I’ll be kind enough to put all the spoilers behind a page cut, so if you long to see this without knowing anything about it, bail out now. Continue reading


Netflix Nosedive: Kingdom

I am sick to death of zombies, and have been for a few years now. In films they’re the laziest monster, laying around for years without reaching an expiration date, yet always seeming to last just long enough to catch their victims. (Seriously, you want me to believe that 20 years after the pandemic infection event, there’s still armies of fresh corpses waiting to snack on four people? Oy.) In video games, they’re a programmer’s dream come true, since they barely need any AI or pathing coded in. Just fill a map with a hundred copy-pasta enemies and clock out. Problem solved.

More to the point, zombies in any medium just don’t scare me any more, I think because I’m over the hill and looking at a real death more squarely in its hollow skull sockets. Besides, if there ever really was a zombie apocalypse, I’m in lousy shape and would likely die in the first five minutes. I’m okay with that, and I’m making my peace with death rather than whistling past the graveyards. It’s just that now, it takes more than an shambling corpse to scare me. (Side note: killer sharks still seem to work on me for some reason I can’t explain.)

So what would it take to convince me to watch yet another zombie show? Turns out, adding political intrigue during the late Joseon period in Korea. Give me a scheming handsome prince with muddled but mostly good intentions, an evil young queen and her equally evil daddy, and suddenly I’m hooked like a catfish to stink bait. Despite being the centerpiece to this story, for me the zombies fall by the wayside under the weight of fascinating characters and even more intriguing political machinations. Continue reading


Netflix Nosedive: Aggretsuko

Oh, man…am I glad I started Aggretsuko late, because now I know there’s a second season coming, and that eases the torment of this show ending way too soon for my liking. That alone should tell you I loved this series. I’d seen in a couple other reviews that it was very melancholy, but that wasn’t my experience with it. I laughed until I hurt during most episodes except for the last and the Christmas Special (Which I’ll also cover in this review.)

Also, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can avoid spoilers for this one, so if you want to go into the show clean, just stop now.

Also, this is my first exposure to the cast, as I never saw the 100 one-minute episodes that originally set up the story. So any experts who note mistakes in my review, please, keep your snickering to respectable levels.

With that out of the way, Aggretsuko is a Sanrio show for adults. The main character is Retsuko, a red panda who works as an OL (office lady) for a big company. She’s part of the accounting department, and after five years working in the same dead end position, she’s a bundle of raw nerves that seek release through singing death metal. That’s the whole premise in a nutshell, and it’s what drew me in, the curiosity to see where that angle would go. Continue reading