Category Archives: Reviews

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

Nine people have been kidnapped and chosen to participate in “The Nonary Game”. They have been given 9 hours to escape through 9 numbered doors on a sinking ship. To enter these doors the characters must split up into groups, adding up the numbers on their bracelets so the digital root is 9. Once a door has been opened, if their entry inside is not confirmed within 81 seconds, or if the entirety of the selected group does not enter, the bracelets will trigger bombs within their stomachs.

This game is truly one of a kind and immediately became one of my favourite games while playing it. It makes fantastic use of the Nintendo DS’s hardware and even its physical design. Gameplay is a mixture of Flash room escape games, the investigation parts of Ace Attorney, and the puzzles from Professor Layton. However, the storyline is where the game really draws you in. It is extremely complex, definitely hinging on convoluted (in the best sense possible, the same way the Metal Gear Solid series is convoluted). Everything is explained little by little and does indeed make sense at the very end. Most of your time is spent reading the story and dialogue as the game is primarily a visual novel. The writing is extremely well done, including many laugh out loud moments.

It’s genuinely intimidating to choose between doors because you have absolutely no idea what you’re going to find behind them. There are 6 unique endings, each with different events to make you question who your allies really are. Each playthrough you gain slightly more information about the characters and storyline, both from choosing different doors and the characters gaining new lines of dialogue. The game allows you to skip text you’ve already read which makes it much less daunting to replay the multiple times needed for the true ending. It’s not until the true ending you learn why the Nonary game is taking place and your kidnapper’s identity, which will leave you continually guessing prior to the finale.

The puzzles are challenging but not excruciatingly difficult. I felt the final puzzle was far too easy, the easiest in the entire game. For a game so heavily based upon the number 9, it’s surprising that this type of puzzle didn’t come up sooner. However, if you aren’t already familiar with how to solve it then it might prove more of a challenge.

Music is used very effectively throughout, the eeriest always used during cliffhangers and shocking revelations. It definitely adds to the mood already created with the storyline.

There is a demo of the game on its website, which is slightly different to the final game but identical in the style of gameplay. If you plan to play 999, then do not look up anything about the game on Wikipedia or Youtube as there are many spoilers.

Monster (2004)

vlcsnap-2016-03-15-21h55m34s757Kenzo Tenma is a skilled Japanese brain surgeon working in Germany. One night, a boy is rushed into hospital after being shot in the head. As he is about to operate, Tenma is called away to operate on the mayor instead. Though his superiors disagree, Tenma makes the decision to operate on the boy as he was brought in first. Meanwhile, the boy’s twin sister lies in a terrified trance in another hospital room, saying “kill him… kill him…” over and over. Tenma is demoted due to his decision costing the mayor’s life. He goes out to drown his sorrows and is woken up by the police at his door. His superiors are dead and he is the prime suspect. During all of this, both the twins disappear from the hospital.

vlcsnap-2016-03-16-21h46m24s102It isn’t until nine years later, after a number of serial killings, that the real suspect makes himself known. One of Tenma’s patients, a lock picker involved with the killings, runs away from the hospital. Tenma gives chase, but the patient is shot in front of him by a young man. The young man thanks Tenma for saving his life nine years ago and explains how he killed Tenma’s superiors. Tenma realises when he chose to operate on the boy over the mayor, he unknowingly saved a “monster”. He embarks on a mission to end Johan’s life and rectify his “mistake” of saving him.

The plot is interesting at first and especially in overall concept, but the episodes soon grow slow and repetitive. The show is drawn out over 74 episodes running at 24 minutes each, making the total runtime almost 30 hours. This could have definitely been cut in half, perhaps even quartered, which would have greatly improved the show.

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Tvlcsnap-2016-03-12-00h02m18s707he psychology aspect behind the plot was interesting, such as the brainwashing that took place at Kinderheim 511. This could have been greatly expanded upon as it was only shown through characters recalling their vague and questionable memories. The treatment of the children and who they were moulded into also wasn’t covered fully, especially with the character of Grimmer. After Tenma, he is the most interesting character yet his past is glossed over in flashbacks.

The character designs are very good with everybody looking distinct and semi-realistic. The colours used are a little desaturated which adds to the realistic feel. All of the writing in files and reports were in German or Czech, rather than Japanese, which was nice as it kept consistency to the setting and showed attention to detail.

Black Jack OVA (1993)

vlcsnap-2016-03-10-00h53m33s409Based off the manga of the same name, Black Jack follows the cases of the titular unlicensed doctor. His skill is unmatched, but his work comes with an extremely high fee. The person who recommended it to me said it was very similar to House, and after having watched Black Jack that is true. Both solve unusual cases that no other doctor has been able to cure. They are even advertised together in Japan.

As a child, Kurō Hazama was involved in an accident with an unexploded bomb, resulting in his limbs being blown off and the loss of his mother. The shock from the incident caused part of his hair to turn white and left him with many scars, giving him his unusual appearance. The surgeon who performed his operation inspired him to become a doctor himself. However, Hazama does this without a medical licence under the moniker of “Black Jack”.

vlcsnap-2016-03-10-01h44m48s788The art style is amazing with incredible attention to detail on background scenery and props. You can see there has been a lot of work put into every cel, even if it only appears for a few seconds. Unfortunately there are only 12 episodes, but each is 50 minutes long. The episodes are self contained with a focus on the symptoms and diagnostics of the patients’ conditions, with heavy usage of medical terms. Many of the conditions seem impossible initially but their cause is usually something more plausible and treatable.

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There are other series which expand upon the background story, but the feel of these are entirely different. They focus more on the interactions of the characters and are more light hearted and comedic. The 2004 series is an animated adaptation of the manga’s stories, with little time focused on the diagnosis of the patient. This is due to the conditions being more obvious with the cause shown (eg: hit by a car, fireworks accident, disability, etc). Unlike the other series, Young Black Jack has more of an ongoing storyline arc which follows Hazama at medical school in the late 1960’s. The storyline is a little more serious and includes events such as the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war.

Both 2004 and Young Black Jack are very different shows to the OVA despite having the same main character. If you go in expecting more of 1993, then you will be severely disappointed. The art styles in the newer series are also very different. The 2004 series looks much more “cartooney” and off model, even unfinished at times. As it follows the storyline of the manga, the art is similar to it. The style in Young Black Jack is much more consistent and polished, but looks completely different to everything prior.

Style comparison:

Dark Places (Film)

Contains spoilers for the film/book.

The film was a good adaptation of the book and remained true to the storyline. There was only one thing omitted – Libby did not steal Diondra’s lipstick. In the film she is still found guilty of Michelle’s murder, but the lipstick is never used as a plot point. In the book the lipstick was used to prove, with DNA, that it was Diondra’s blood on Michelle’s sheets.

The pacing of the film was better than in Gone Girl. It felt like the story was constantly moving along, whereas in Gone Girl it felt like it was dawdling a little.  At times the film attempted to be dramatic but it just came off as being funny.

The casting was poorly done, although Christina Hendricks was a good cast for Patty Day. However, the older Ben (Corey Stoll) was a terrible casting decision which was obvious from the trailer. The book states “His hair had turned a dark rust. He wore it long, sweeping his shoulders, tucked girlishly behind his ears.” (p.117) In the film, Ben is now bald with a dark haired beard.

Like the book, I was more interested in the events that happened in the 80’s rather than the present. The colour casting between the two time periods was interesting – the present day orange/yellow warm tones, and the 80’s a lot darker and grimy. It was also visually interesting how they offset Libby escaping as a child to her escaping as an adult.

The film did not explain the characters very well. With Libby, there was no explanation of why she was so nasty or the full extent of her need to make money. There was little development of the characters, particularly the sisters. Very little mention to Michelle’s diaries were made. The film made it easier to guess what was going to happen, but that said I did of course already know from reading the book. The end of the film didn’t really feel like a solid ending or conclusion, however it was the same ending as in the book.

Gone Girl, Sharp Objects, Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Initially the only reason I had an interest in Gone Girl was because I knew Trent Reznor worked on the soundtrack. I didn’t see the film when it first came out and knew very little about it until I got the book in December. Despite my questionable reasoning for buying it, it turned out to be an excellent decision and I had finished the book in 3 days. Then I rapidly went to see the very last screening at the cinema, and in the next few days I’d found copies of Flynn’s other two novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places.

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My favourite of the 3 was Gone Girl, followed by Sharp Objects then Dark Places. All of these books do not have a conventional “happy ending”. There is a common theme throughout Flynn’s work; every character has issues, especially the female ones. Some are misguided but some are outright insane.

Gone Girl
The plot is semi predicable; you know something is amiss, yet you cannot fully decide on a single theory. It’s cliché to say, but I did prefer the book over the film. With Flynn working alongside Fincher, the adaptation into film stayed very accurate to the book, only omitting a few background characters. However, the book explains the reasoning behind Amy’s actions a lot better, especially with Desi and her “stalker” friend (who doesn’t appear in the film).

Sharp Objects
One of the main plot lines is given away by the review quotes on the blurb! This was Flynn’s first work and is a lot shorter than Gone Girl; I read the entire book in a single day. There are a lot of underlying issues with the characters that all tie together, resulting a severely messed up family.

Dark Places
The plot was not predictable, however I wasn’t as invested the book. Perhaps I had just burned out from reading Flynn’s work so quickly, but I was more interested in Ben’s and Patty’s chapters and finding out how the family had been murdered, rather than the main character of Libby and the “Kill Club”.

The upcoming adaptations of Sharp Objects and Dark Places should be interesting, although I think they have got the casting of Dark Places wrong. I pictured Libby as something like Denise in the movie Can’t Hardly Wait, to which Charlize Theron is the complete opposite.

gone girl spines

Diary of a Chav

diary of a chav 3 250 editNow of course these books are very much aimed at a much younger age group, and I bought the first book as a joke, expecting it to be utter shash. Surprisingly, it was hilarious and I luckily managed to find the rest of the series within a few months.

The titular “chav”, Shiraz Bailey Wood, repeatedly finds herself in crazy situations, yet her actions and the way it is written make it still seem strangely believable. Situations include defrosting Christmas chipolatas with hair straighteners, auditioning her dog for a TV reality show, and her holiday to Ibiza; all of which end in disastrous humour. The series follows Shiraz’s journey through secondary school and the decisions she makes regarding her education, family and personal life.

What makes the humour is Shiraz, like fellow diarist Adrian Mole, is oblivious to the events occurring around her. The two characters/book series are quite comparable to each other, though Shiraz is hardly an “intellectual” like Adrian considers himself. And like Townsend, Dent draws from everyday situations and brings the humour from these. The Diary of a Chav books aren’t intended to be challenging literary epics, but they are seriously funny and would be appreciated by fans of the either the diary or humour genres.

#1 Trainers v. Tiaras – 50p
#2 Slinging the Bling – £1.25
#3 Too Cool for School – £1.50
#4 Ibiza Nights – 10p
#5 Fame and Fortune – 49p
#6 Keeping it Real – 99p

diary of a chav edit

The Simpsons Books

Nancy Cartwright – My Life as a 10 Year old Boy
Despite the title, there is actually rather little in this book about The Simpsons. Nancy writes a large portion of the book about her youth and family. The more interesting chapters are the ones she admits she had to ask somebody else to explain to her – how an episode of The Simpsons is created step by step. From the planning to voice acting to lip syncing the animation.

John Ortved – An Uncensored, Unauthorized History of The Simpsons
Rather than a true history, this book is 352 pages of quotes collected from other sources with the rare sentence to introduce the next series of quotes. The book also paints Matt Groening in a bad light due to his refusal to contribute to the book. However, I did find out some things I didn’t know about The Simpsons, particularly the production/writing side of the earlier seasons.

simpsons books

Policenauts

policenauts_02b-e1344878015505First of all, I have to give credit to everybody who worked on the English fan-translation of Policenauts. This game never got an official release outside of Japan and as I don’t know Japanese, it is very much a game I would have never been able to play. The English translation is incredibly well done and is definitely up to the standard of any official translation. They did a good job of adding colloquialisms to each character’s manner of speaking, but all the time it still felt true to the official translations of other Hideo Kojima games. A lot of work also went into the programming aspect of the translation, details of which can be found here.

The translation patch is available at the project’s site: http://policenauts.net/english/indext.html

Policenauts is true to the style of any of Kojima’s other games and is very, very verbose. The storyline is utterly engrossing and when I wasn’t playing this game, I was thinking about it constantly. I put somewhere around 15 hours into this game. Kojima does an excellent job of setting up the Policenauts world and it is very much believable despite being a little over the top by most conventional standards. There is a lot of backstory and lore which is generally explained through talking to other characters. For a detailed timeline of the events in the Policenauts universe see: http://policenauts.net/english/timeline.html

redwoodmeetPolicenauts deals with serious issues such as human organ trafficking, widespread drug dealing, and corrupt police forces, to name a few. There is a lot of content in this game which they would never be able to get away if they tried to release it today (mostly all the sexual harassment from Jonathan). I do prefer playing older games prior to this new obsession with censorship; seeing games uncensored in all regards and staying true to the original intentions of the creators, whatever those intentions may be.

Despite being a visual novel, there are a few segments of the game (the shooting and bomb defusal) in which you can actually make mistakes and get a game over. The bomb defusing part is a bit annoying but the characters breaking the fourth wall make it hilarious rather than rage inducing.

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Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers Audiobook

Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers is written by Doug Naylor and Rob Grant, the creators of Red Dwarf, so it remains faithful to the TV show. It elaborates on the backstory of the characters in the show. The audiobook is read by Chris Barrie, who plays Rimmer in the show. As we already know, Chris Barrie is an excellent impressionist, which really shines and adds to this audiobook, creating many laugh out loud moments.

I have never listened to an audiobook before, but Chris Barrie’s reading definitely made it engrossing to listen to. If you’ve already read the book or are a fan of the show, I would definitely recommend listening to the audiobook version too. I listened to this audiobook whilst working on my University projects. In a way I sort of looked forward to doing work as I knew I’d be able to listen to more of the book. There is an abridged version of the audio book, which I had unknowingly downloaded, but after noticing many cut lines I downloaded the unabridged version.

Here is a extract from the audiobook, in which Rimmer’s study habits for his long time nemesis – the astronavigation exam – are explained in detail.

Alpha Protocol

Alpha Protocol was a bit shorter than I expected it would be (10 hours), but for the price I paid – £1.50 in a Steam Sale – you can’t really complain about that. I understand some of the reasons people have said this is a bad game such as the bad AI. At times, an enemy walked right up in front of me, yet hadn’t “saw” me, so I was able to assassinate him quickly (which I shouldn’t have been able to). But I didn’t encounter this a lot, nor any other bugs, so in general this is a quite a good game.

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Despite this guy standing behind and looking RIGHT at me, he hadn’t “saw” me.

There are some options to customise your character (Mike), but they are quite limited and purely for visual effect. You can change things such as his hair, facial hair, and sunglasses. However the clothing customisations add body armour points and other stats, so it’s worth finding and picking up the piles of cash.

The hacking, alarm circuits and lock picking reminded me a bit of the honeycomb puzzles in Death by Degrees, however the puzzles in Alpha Protocol were a lot easier. There were a few problems with the mouse sensitivity which complicated the puzzles. It needed to be set very high as I could barely move the camera whilst playing, however on all sniper parts of the game the sensitivity of the mouse was far too oversensitive.

Some of the email dialogues were hilarious, and I found myself regularly checking the computer to see if I had any new emails. Also some of the in-game dialogue choices and how the NPC’s reacted were also funny, it’s definitely worth playing through the game again to see how my choices affect will the NPC’s opinion of me.

There were jumps in the timeline which made the storyline hard to understand and at the end of the game it didn’t feel like it had been explained why I had been fighting my enemies. But overall, I really enjoyed this game, I’m already planning my second playthrough in which I will choose to be really nasty to everybody to see how it influences the game.

Click to enlarge the below screenshots:

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