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review 2017-10-21 22:41
Game/Interactive story review: Tacoma

 

I suppose you could call Tacoma an adventure game, although it more of an interactive story than a game. There are a few instances where you need to figure out people’s passcodes, but they’re so easy to figure out that they don’t really count as puzzles.

You play as Amy Ferrier, a contractor sent to Tacoma station by Venturis, the company that owns Tacoma. A short while ago an accident happened and the station, which had housed six human employees, one AI named ODIN, and a cat, is now abandoned. Your job is to explore the station and retrieve AI-recorded data and ODIN’s wetware.

The AI-recorded data takes the form of recordings that your augmented reality device allows you to see as though you’re glimpsing into the station’s past. All the characters are represented by colored silhouettes of themselves. You can rewind and fastforward in order to follow different people and occasionally access their emails and other files.

I can’t say too much about the story because it’s fairly simple and it’d be too easy to give everything away. The big question, as you’re playing, is what happened and whether anyone survived. Although you play as Amy, you aren’t privy to her thoughts. She knows more about the situation and what’s going on than you do, but it’s okay, because nothing in the game prevents you from taking as much time as you’d like in each area of the station. Just make sure you don’t leave a particular part of the station until you’ve done everything you want to do - I’m fairly certain you can’t go back or, if you can, AR data will no longer be accessible in that area.

As you travel through the station, you learn more about each of the characters: E.V., the station administrator; Clive, the operations specialist; Natali, the network specialist; Roberta (Bert), the mechanical engineer; Andrew, the botanist; and Sareh, the medic. You also get to see them interact with ODIN and, if you purchased the game through Steam, you can try to find the station cat in order to get one of the Steam achievements. I had fun trying to think of where the cat might decide to nap in each area, although I did worry that I'd end up witnessing its death. (Spoiler:

the cat makes it through just fine.)

(spoiler show)


The cast is diverse, both in terms of race and sexual orientation. As you look through their belongings (to whatever degree you’d like - I was curious and it didn’t feel too creepy, so I looked through every drawer and locker I could), you find out more about how they all got along and what their problems and issues were. My favorite character out of the bunch was probably Sareh, who had anxiety and panic attacks due to an event in her past, but who was still competent and professional despite that. I really liked her and ODIN’s interactions, even as I worried about ODIN being the only one she could confide in.

As someone who loves AI characters, I enjoyed ODIN and I loved the role he played in the story. I did find myself wishing for a bit more from him - players don’t get much of his perspective until the very end of the game.

Tacoma is very short. Even though I spent quite a bit of time exploring and looking at unimportant things like random packages, wrappers, and coffee mugs, I finished the whole thing (minus a few Steam achievements) in about four hours. That said, my biggest complaint about the game wasn’t the length, but rather how playing the game affected me physically.

When I first started, I couldn’t play for more than 20 minutes or so before developing headaches and nausea. I tried messing with the Gameplay and Graphics settings, turning off “head bob” and trying out different FOV settings, but it only seemed to help a little. The best solution I found was actually remembering to wear my glasses while playing. I don’t usually wear them at home and rarely wear them while watching TV or playing games, and it almost never causes a problem. In this case, though, it turns out they were vital. They never completely got rid of my headache and nausea problem, but without them I’d probably still be creeping my way through the game in 20-minute increments.

All in all, this was a simple and fairly short story told in a fascinating way. I loved getting to find out what happened in bits and pieces via AR data, files, notes, ads, and emails. Although I found myself wishing that the story had been a little bit more flexible and allowed for other endings, I was happy with the one ending players were given.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-10-09 04:31
The Dark Victorian: Risen by Elizabeth Watasin
The Dark Victorian: Risen Volume One - Elizabeth Watasin

The Dark Victorian: Risen is set in a steampunk London with magic and paranormal aspects. Jim, an agent of Prince Albert’s Secret Commission, is given a new partner: Artifice, a Quaker and artificial ghost (meaning that she can turn incorporeal at will). All agents of the Secret Commission were once criminals - they were executed and then brought back to life, bound into service, with no memory of who they once were. They are able to guess some things about their past selves, but that’s about it. It generally isn’t a good idea for them to find and communicate with people they once knew.

Artifice, who chooses to go by the name Art, and Jim begin investigating their first case, the disastrous reanimation of several corpses. The culprit started with animals but appears to have moved on to humans. In each instance, the corpses manage to kill someone before either being destroyed or escaping.

It took me a bit to get my bearings in this story. The Secret Commission wasn’t really a secret. Everyone seemed to know who and what they were, even if they weren’t always comfortable around them or happy about them. I also initially had the impression that Art was supposed to be an unusual sort of agent, but that didn’t seem to be the case either. She had special abilities, just like Jim, although hers were of a different sort, and she had the same limitations. Her primary oddity was that she was a Quaker, someone Jim would have thought would be unlikely to become an agent of the Secret Commission.

The world and setup were pretty interesting. Jim and Art each had their own abilities, and both were technically immortal as long as they consumed enough of whatever their particular bodies needed. Jim, a disembodied skull, could feed off of fire and smoke. Art needed raw seafood.

The story was a fairly simple one and would have worked fine in several urban fantasy and steampunk mystery series I can think of. The problem was that it was a bit buried. I understand that this is the first work in a series and is meant to whet readers’ appetite for more, but there were lots of details that were unnecessary for this particular story and could easily have been left out. As it was, it felt too large for its page count.

The pacing was a bit strange, too. Jim and Art would be chasing after the killer and investigating the murders, only to stop for a bit in order to make sure that Art was properly clothed. Okay, so she needed to be properly dressed for propriety’s sake, but it killed the flow of the story and made it easy to forget what the point of it all was. By the time one particular character made her second appearance, I had already forgotten who she was and why she might be important.

Despite my issues with this work, there's still a chance I'll continue on with this series. The second work is much longer and might therefore give everything more room to breathe - it’s possible that Watasin is one of those writers who does better with longer works than shorter ones. I wouldn’t mind seeing Jim and Art in action a bit more, and Art’s potential romances intrigue me, even as they worry me a bit. At this point she has two potential love interests: Manon, a “sapphic performer,” and Helia, Art’s lover in her past life. Both options are potential minefields for Art, Manon because she isn’t human and I suspect Art could end up wanting more from her than she’s willing and able to give, and Helia because of her curse.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-07-24 00:01
Visual novel review - Mermaid Splash! Passion Festival

 

Mermaid Splash! Passion Festival (MSPF) is a “pay what you want” f/f visual novel.

CiCi the mermaid has decided that she’s going to finally take part in the Passion Festival. There’s only one problem: although CiCi has many interests, she’s never really focused on one particular hobby. In order to make a good showing at the festival, she’ll need to pick an interest (martial arts, gardening, dance, or painting) and stick to it. Will she be able to hone her skills in time, and maybe even find love along the way?

When I first heard about this, it sounded like it could be my next Robo-Tea, cute, sweet, and relaxing. While I did end up liking the game overall, it didn’t quite turn out to be what I’d expected. Almost all of the character routes involved jealousy of some sort, usually creative jealousy. As a result, MSPF wasn’t quite as fluffy and relaxing as I’d hoped.

When I first started playing, I was worried that this would be a stat-building game like Roommates and similar visual novels. It wasn’t, despite the “plan out CiCi’s week” screen. Gameplay was pretty simple. The entire thing took place in the space of four weeks, and each week you could choose which hobby CiCi spent time working on and who she’d spend time with on the weekend. After you made your choice, it was time to sit back and read as CiCi interacted with one of her four friends - there were absolutely no decision points or conversation choices.

This threw me off a bit, because almost every route had a tense moment that made me feel like I’d done something wrong, even though there were no conversation options and therefore nothing I could have done differently. Angie the anglerfish responded badly to gentle criticism of her habit of never finishing her comics writing/illustrating projects. Delora the sea slug was upset when CiCi told her she should quit her day job and pursue her true passion. Bea the cuttlefish didn’t take well to being defeated in a practice bout. The only one who never got upset with CiCi was Maka the shark, which was a large part of the reason why I liked her route the best. Although CiCi and her friends made up on the weekend or at the start of the next week (if you were focused on one particular hobby and friend), I still found myself wishing there were dialogue options that could allow me to handle those conversations differently.

Although a single playthrough didn’t really take that long, I’m the sort that likes to try to get all of a visual novel’s endings unless I get emotionally invested to the point that hunting down the “bad” endings becomes too painful. In this respect, the game turned out to have far more to it than I originally realized. I hadn’t bothered to reread the product page, so I missed that there were 23 endings, 8 unlockable outfits (which had no effect on the story, but were cute), and 52 random events. The unlockable outfits were easy enough to get, and I didn’t have the patience to try to get all 52 random events, but I really, really wanted to get all 23 endings. This wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

Each playthrough usually resulted in two endings: the Passion Festival ending (how CiCi did in a particular Passion Festival event) and the romance ending (whether CiCi ended up in a romantic relationship with someone). Each of the four romance options also included “friendship” endings, which, sadly, I disliked. It wouldn’t have been hard to write these endings as true close friendships, but instead every single one of them included CiCi feeling like she’d missed out on something and thinking she’d have preferred her Passion Festival outing with her friend to be a date. It was a little depressing.

The gardening route was probably the biggest stretch for me. I found it hard to believe that CiCi could produce a prize-worthy specimen in only four weeks, even considering that it was a transplanted plant. Still, since I loved Maka so much I was willing to ignore that. I initially found her multiple rows of teeth to be more than a bit off-putting, but she was so cheerful and awkward that I ended up loving her anyway. I also enjoyed her romance ending: her choice of date activity was wonderful and very fitting. My second favorite route was probably martial arts and Bea, my third was dancing and Delora, and my least favorite was painting and Angie.

Bea was a little too prone to bragging for my tastes, but her story was one of the more interesting ones. CiCi struck me as being way too immature for someone like Delora to be happy with for long, and Angie’s route reminded me that it is often a bad idea for friends to critique each other’s creative works. It bothered me that, after Angie got mad at CiCi the first time she attempted to voice a bit of criticism, CiCi censored herself during a later scene and said that she wouldn’t change a thing about Angie’s work. I also worried about CiCi’s repeated insistence that she and Angie collaborate on a project - Angie didn’t seem to be completely on board but at the same time appeared to be unwilling to say so and, plus, I felt the two of them would be better off doing their own thing, artistically.

Art-wise, MSPF was absolutely wonderful. All the sprites were cute and pretty (although, if the product page hadn’t said that the characters were 24, 26, 35, and 43, I’d likely never have guessed it, since the sprites usually made them look much younger). The event art was great too, although I could tell it had been done by a different person, and I loved the pretty backgrounds. A couple routes seemed to reuse artwork more often than the others, but there was so much artwork packed into this game in general that I didn’t mind.

It was clear that a lot of work had been put into this. There were a few spots where I felt the writing could have been tweaked and the jealousy moments bugged me a little, but it was generally a fun and slick visual novel with lots for “ending hunters” to dig into. I was so proud of tracking down those final three endings! (Hint: the last ending can only be achieved after finding the other 22.) It’s too bad that the only romantic option I 100% enjoyed was Maka, but the others weren’t necessarily bad, just not my cup of tea.

Additional Comments:

 

- This probably counts as a spoiler since it isn't mentioned on the product page and doesn't come up until several weeks into CiCi's interactions with the character, but I feel I should mention that one of the romantic options is a trans woman, since this will probably be an appeal factor for some players/readers.

 

- Each character had their own dialogue sound effect, which I usually thought was a nice touch. Unfortunately, something about Bea's sound effect grated on my ears.

 

- I wish that the text colors had occasionally been a bit darker - sometimes the text was a little harder to read than it should have been.

 

I'll close with a screenshot of Maka being sweet, friendly, and helpful. She's the best. ♥

 

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-06-15 04:42
Princess Princess Ever After (graphic novel) by Katie O'Neill
Princess Princess Ever After - Katie O'Neill

When Princess Amira stops to save Princess Sadie from the tall tower she’s been imprisoned in, Sadie almost turns her away. So many others have tried to save her, but all have failed. However, Amira is enthusiastic, determined, and in possession of both a grappling hook and an incredibly strong cookie-loving unicorn.

That’s just the beginning of Amira and Sadie’s adventures. Along the way, they make some new friends, Amira learns more about being a hero, and Sadie finds the courage to face her sister and rule her kingdom.

I bought this because I heard it was a sweet f/f graphic novel. It was super cute, although a bit too short for my tastes. I wanted more pages devoted to Amira and Sadie getting to know each other - Sadie’s “I trust you” happened very early on and was a bit jarring. When the villain appeared and disappeared in the space of about a page, I started worrying that the pacing of this graphic novel just wasn’t going to work for me.

Thankfully, the story smoothed out after that. I really enjoyed Amira and Sadie’s encounters with the prince and the ogre, as well as the flashbacks to Amira and Sadie’s pasts. Amira and Sadie were cute together (complete with blushing, rose petals, and background roses!).

One thing I hadn’t realized until I started working on this review was that Princess Princess Ever After was originally published as a webcomic called Princess Princess, which is still available on Katie O’Neill’s website. I’ve clicked through it and there are some artwork changes between it and Princess Princess Ever After, some of which I liked and some of which I didn’t.

One thing I liked was that Sadie’s sister’s magic was changed from purple to black - it looks creepier in the print version. One thing I didn’t like was that the print version’s colors were slightly less bright than in the original web comic. Not only is this the sort of story that’s practically made for bright colors, some of the panels just weren’t as clear in the print version. Considering that this graphic novel had several black characters, a bit more attention should have been paid to whether they’d still show up okay in panels with darker backgrounds. The panels featuring Prince Taji were really dark - his skin color seemed to almost be the same shade as the wall behind him, resulting in him blending into the background too much. In the webcomic he was perfectly visible, and I could see that he actually had some shading.

The print version includes a 3-page epilogue that isn’t present in the original webcomic. I’m really glad that O’Neill added it. It doesn’t just serve as extra content for folks who’ve read the webcomic, it also makes it clear that, yes, Amira and Sadie are not only a couple, they also get a nice little happily ever after just like any other fairy tale couple.

This was a fluffy and sweet graphic novel about two different princesses becoming more capable in their own ways and falling in love in the process. I wish it were maybe twice as long and that the print version’s colors were a little brighter, but overall this was a good read.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-05-14 17:22
Review: Deep Deception by Cathy Pegau
Deep Deception - Cathy Pegau

A f/f sci-fi romance with a government mining agent and a not quite-criminial, not quite a law abider who wants to turn into a government informant so she can get her in-laws off her back and away from her kids. A seriously fun ride with an ending that was sensible and satisfying.

 

Nat is an agent who has been put on suspension following a bust that went bad and then turned into someone framing her for bribery. So she has two weeks of nothing to do but hope her union rep can figure out WTF is going on in the agency. Meanwhile, Gennie is desperate to get information gleaned from her dead husband's computer to the right agent so her in-laws will be investigated/too worried about the family business PR. Getting rid of her in-laws attention will allow her enough time and breathing space to get herself and her twins off planet and into a new life somewhere in the universe. Nat is her way in.

 

Nat and Gennie worked well together as investigators/sleuths as well as lovers. With some help from characters from the other books in the series, they not only uncover dirty business but also dirty government agents with some added twists such as migrant workers and natural resource preservation. The world building was detailed enough to get a real sense of another planet and how it works. I am looking forward to reading the other books in the series (this was book 3 in a trilogy); luckily, each book can be read as a stand-alone.

***********************************************************************************************

Read for Booklikes-opoly (fifth turn, part 1)

Pages: 208 Bank: $3.00

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