Neko Atsume: English Edition

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When I heard that a popular Japanese game about cats was being released in English, I immediately downloaded it. A game about collecting kitties is basically an embodiment of my childhood fantasies (especially having grown up with a mother allergic to cats).

As for the game itself? It has good points and less exciting points. The goal of the game is simple: buy and arrange food, toys, and furniture to attract cats. Collect them in a cat album. Be rewarded with fish that you can then use to buy more food, toys, and furniture . . . and attract MORE cats.

The Pros

The graphics are cute and colourful, and the mementos that the cats give you are endearing and weird (from small mittens to cicada skin). There’s decent variety in terms of the food types, toys, and furniture you can buy, and working your way up to the point where you can buy a room expansion can be addictive. The cats also sometimes show up in funny costumes or odd positions, which can be entertaining.

The Cons

I feel like I want more features like the mementos to feel like I’m getting something out of my relationship with the cats, adorable pixels that they are. It would be nice if, when you clicked on a cat, you could do more than just see its statslike maybe pet it or have it react in some way.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 fish

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Overall, the game is a fun and somewhat engaging time waster, but to maintain my attention the way I’d like it to, it would need something to make it more interactive and personal. I’ve been playing for a few months, but ever since I got the room expansion and the main items I wanted, the appeal has waned somewhat, and I usually only feed the cats every couple of days when I’m bored waiting for the subway. That said, maybe that’s all the game needs to be there for.

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Zombies in PEI?! Reviewing Unturned

Have you ever wondered how a zombie apocalypse would play out in PEI? Well, the answer you are seeking can be found in Unturned, a free-to-play sandbox survival game based in the Cradle of Confederation. The game offers a single-player mode, though I would highly recommend playing with friends on a hosted server or joining an open server because surviving the zombie apocalypse alone just isn’t as fun.

Zombie hoard at sunset.

Zombie hoard at sunset.

When you start playing, you’ll find your character naked in a random location on the island; then the long journey to find your non-zombie comrades among the undead hordes begins. There are a few elements in this game that help speed up this process. Firstly, there are a number of cars you can find which boost your travel time and have the added bonus of loud engines to alert fellow players of your presence. There are also a number of landmarks that make meeting up a little easier—so far, my group of friends has a good track record for managing to meet up at the aircraft control tower in the zombie-infested airport. Then it’s up to your group to scavenge for supplies: weapons, food, clothes et cetera. These supplies make it possible to create a home base equipped with sleeping bags or cots, which serve as future respawn points if one happens to be eaten by zombies.

Pondering the nature of respawn points.

Pondering the nature of respawn points.

The thing that makes Unturned really special is the attention to little details. For example, the cars you can find will eventually run out of gas, making it imperative to find a gas can and a town with a gas station to refuel.  It is also important to find canteens that can be used at the well so that there is a steady supply of drinking water. Though the graphics of the game are simple, the elements of survival are complicated and involve more forethought than “shoot the zombies”. The zombie killing is still an important aspect of the game, however, both for entertainment and to gain experience so that levels can be put into things such as endurance or marksmanship.

Out for a gas run.

Out for a gas run.

There is also the crafting side of the game that allows you to farm, make bandages using cloth and clothing, and create building supplies to build your own custom safe house. I personally like to be situated near a farm, but being situated near the water to watch the reflection of the moon can offer some poignant moments of philosophizing over the zombie apocalypse.

 

4 zombies out of 5

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-Steph

It’s You VS Cthulhu, A Review of Elder Signs: Omens

I have a love for cellphone games, board games, and Lovecraft lore, so lucky for me all these things come together in Elder Sign: Omens, an adaptation of the Elder Sign dice game (also a great game) with the feel of a true board game–it’s just much harder to lose the pieces.

To begin each game, you must choose which Lovecraftian boss to go up against, from Azathoth to Yog-Sothoth. Each boss has its own nefarious game mechanic and doom tracker (once that doom tracker is fulfilled, the game is over and the entire world is destroyed through some unspeakable horror). Your job is to play against the game and collect enough elder signs to seal away the Terror before it can be unleased. You do this by clearing the different locations on the map where quests and/or small-time Lovecraftian monsters appear. Sometimes otherworld adventures spring up where places like R’yleh open portals on the map. The only way to seal off these openings is to finish the accompanying quest. By completing these mini-quests, characters are able to collect items, money, and occasionally the extremely useful elder signs.

Boss choice: Hastur

Boss choice: Hastur

Each character has 6 dice, though this number can be bumped to 8 depending on the character’s items. Each monster and quest has a number of symbols attached to it, and you have to match these symbols to the required dice roll to vanquish monsters and complete quests. Sometimes, to successfully defeat a monster, and always when you fail a quest, a character must take a hit to their sanity and/or health. If either of these stats go to zero, the character either dies or is driven mad (and is therefore out of the game). You can play the game with 1-4 characters, so it’s easy to play solo or with friends. Personally, I would recommend playing as 4 characters even if you are playing alone–I find that’s how the game plays best.

Quest-hunting time.

Quest-hunting time.

The triumph of a successful role

The triumph of a successful role.

How difficult the game is depends on the difficulty level of the boss in question, and some are seemingly impossible to beat (I’m looking at you, Ithaqua). The fun of the game comes from how invested in the quests you become; there is nothing that can quite describe the triumph of a perfect roll that allows you to beat a particularly tough quest, or the despair when you can’t roll that one symbol you need. If you are a fan of Lovecraft or a fan of board games, this cellphone game really can’t be passed up. With the expansions and number of characters you can choose from, the replay value is high, and I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to pass time when waiting in a particularly long line.

The game retails for $4.42 on the Google Play store and has three expansion packs: The Call of Cthulhu, The Dark Pharaoh, and The Trail of Ithaqua.  Each expansion comes with new playable characters, new monsters, and a new game mechanic.

Five elder signs out of five.

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-Steph

Geek Collateral at Fan Expo

Hello, Geeks.

A couple of us from Geek Collateral dropped by Fan Expo in Toronto on the weekend (on Sunday, to be precise), decked out in costumes scrounged from thrift and dollar stores. Devin’s Doctor Krieger met up with Archer, Pam, and Charlene, while my weeping angel was surrounded by Doctor Who fans.

Here are a few shots from our day:

As you can see, the Whovian contingent was impressive. We heard there were two other Kriegers there on Sunday, but sadly Devin was deprived of the opportunity to clone bone. The adorable Supercat outside the Fan Expo venue was a nice end to our day and a testament to the fun spirit of the event.

Did you go to Fan Expo this year? We’d love to hear about costumes you spotted or who/what you dressed up as in the comments.

Don’t blink,
Sarah

6 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books You May Not Have Read but Should

Hello, Geeks.

I must admit that I am becoming a bit of a geek-lit hipster: I love Tolkien, Asimov, and Martin, but I also like reading things that are a little outside science fiction and fantasy’s standard fare. I’m not going to claim that these books are truly obscure; after all, they’re all good enough to deserve to be on this list, so they’ve all received some positive attention from critics and readers. Many of these authors have won awards, but I still find that I know too many people who haven’t read their work. For that reason, I decided to share some of my lesser-known favourites with you.

6 science fiction and fantasy books you might not have read but should

1. Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia C. McKillip

McKillip’s full-length novels have their charms, but I find that her writing style really shines in the short story format. Harrowing the Dragon is filled with odd characters, curious tales, and beautiful language. Some stories are set in traditional fantasy environments and others are more modern, but all evoke a sense of wonder. McKillip is also one of those quotable authors, the ones who create not only good stories but extraordinarily well-crafted sentences to tell them with. She can get a little sidetracked by her own elegance in her novels, but her short stories are taut and enchanting.

2. Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright

This is a sexy book, both in terms of its story, which is kind of wild, and its erotic undertones. It begins in a boarding school with only five students, all of whom discover that they have some sort of supernatural power, all of which draw from different paradigms (there’s some wacky scifi-fantasy philosophy thrown in for good measure). The students are essentially prisoners until they hatch a daring escape plan, kept from venturing beyond the grounds by school staff who are clearly more than they seem. This premise would be interesting enough on its own, but the story also has a dark and blatantly kinky element. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot of sexual energy involved whenever anyone gets tied up, and at least one love triangle. The book is also the first in a trilogy, so there’s more where all of that came from.

3. Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

This is not a light read in any sense, but it is a great one. Perdido Street Station is both physically heavy (my copy is 710 pages long) and thematically complex. Set in an economically and socially dystopian world, this steampunk masterpiece actually had me crying a few times. This was due to both the painful realities of said dystopian world and the magnificent characterisation that makes said painful realities more moving. The world of Perdido Street Station includes both magic (“thaumaturgy”) and steampunk technology, and it is described so well that you believe it’s all possible. The story has a number of key players, but events are set in motion by Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a somewhat rogue scientist, and his experiments on a grub that only eats a drug called “dreamshit”. His experiments spawn catastrophe in a city where the social order is already wrecking havoc on people’s ability to function. This is a dark, intense novel that manages to combine wickedly cool scifi and fantasy elements with a story that tackles issues of class and race so poignantly that you find yourself itching to single-handedly destroy corporate greed.

4. Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

The title of this book is misleading, as the cunning and disturbed kitchen-boy-turned-villain Steerpike is the true protagonist. This Gothic monstrosity is the beginning of a series (one which I will admit I have not finished–Peake unfortunately started to show signs of dementia around the time he was working on the third novel–but the first two books work well enough on their own and deserve to be read), most of which is set in Gormenghast. Gormenghast is a labyrinthine castle weighed down and held together by ritual and filled with mad, tragic characters. The daydreaming, Ophelia-esque Fuschia, the increasingly demented Lord Sepulchrave, and the rest of this truly bizarre cast are entrancing. The book feels longer than it is, but this is in part because of the luxurious language. Peake is poetic in his horror (perhaps at times too poetic), and anyone who loves Edgar Allan Poe or William Gibson’s writing style should give this book a try, if only to enjoy sentences like “This was the attic of her make-believe, where she would watch her mind’s companions advancing or retreating across the dusty floor.” The first two books were also made into a miniseries by the BBC starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers. This casting choice makes viewers far too sympathetic to Steerpike’s cause and far too enamoured with a character who is supposed to be something of a grotesque both physically and psychologically, so it’s best to read the books first to get a true sense of the character.

5. The Quantity Theory of Insanity by Will Self

Self’s book is a series of thought experiments made into clever, twisted stories. For example, the title story is based on the idea of there being only a certain amount of sanity to go around. Another story posits that the afterlife is set in a London suburb. It’s a weird, quirky little volume of short stories that, while driven by philosophical and psychological queries, is far from stuffy.

6. The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson Dargatz

You won’t find this one in the fantasy section–it’s generally considered “magic realism” and shelved with the capital-L Literature–but it has fantasical elements that are central to the events in the book. Most of these elements are connected with the Native trickster god, Coyote, and werewolves (if you need more than that to qualify something as fantasy, you’re too hardcore for me). The book has also been described as “Pacific Northwest Gothic” by the Boston Globe, and that fits the tone and plot well. It’s a dark story about a girl living with her impoverished and broken family in Shuswap Country, British Columbia. She is simultaneously discovering her sexuality; dealing with classism, sexism, ableism, and racism; enduring her abusive father; trying to untangle the truth behind local myths; and sneaking peaks at her mother’s recipe book, which sounds like a witch’s grimoire at times. The story is harsh, lyrical, and magical. Whatever types of books you usually read, you should give this one a chance.

These are some of my favourites–what about yours? Let us know which science fiction and fantasy books you love are being overlooked.

–Sarah