Category Archives: Media Review

Choice of Robots (Video Game/Visual Novel)

Producer: Choice of Games

Author: Kevin Gold

My rating: 5 of 5

You may just be in postgraduate studies right now, crafting the initial designs for your first real robot, but you know your creations are destined for greatness. One way or the other, you’re going to impact the world. But will you be a humanitarian, training your robots to work with people and crafting them to be useful in the medical field? Or will you create robots that are useful for the military, regardless of the consequences? Or hey, your robots are intelligent enough, will you just give them their freedom and let them decide for themselves what sorts of beings they should become?

Okay, so first off, I’m hesitant to call Choice of Robots either a video game or a visual novel–but I don’t really have a good word for what it is other than those. This is an entirely text-based computer game, devoid of pictures or background music entirely. Sounds kind of boring, right? It’s totally not. This is an indie choices matter sort of game that is just fabulous, truly. It’s smart, for one thing; the writer has a Ph.D. in computer science, and it shows. It’s very well thought out and organized. The game is like a visual novel in that you read a block of text and are offered a variety of choices you can make based on that text. Your choices are meaningful, and even small choices can have a big impact on what happens later in the game. Choices also influence your stats (empathy, grace, autonomy, and military appeal for your robot, plus your own wealth and fame) as well as your relationships with various other characters. I can see this game as having a great deal of replay value due to the huge number of story paths available; I’ve played through it three times already, and have only unlocked a few of the possibilities. If you’re willing to look past the surface simplicity of such a purely text-based game, I think Choice of Robots is an excellent game, and I will be trying other games by this group.

Note: I played Choice of Robots through Steam, and you can find out more at the Steam store page or on the game’s credits page.

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The Visiting Prince (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: Emachinescat

FanFiction ID: 6965383/AO3 ID: 1263553

Status: Complete (17 chapters)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Rated T, mostly for whump/violence

Prince Arthur remembers Prince Edmund of Stafford as a narcissistic, violent prat from their time spent together as children . . . but then, he was the same back then, right? It’s been years since they’ve seen each other, and surely Edmund has grown up and changed, just like Arthur has. As their kingdoms come together to sign a new peace treaty, Arthur finds this assumption challenged strongly when Merlin comes to Prince Edmund’s unwelcome attention. Because of course, Merlin can’t keep his mouth shut, and Prince Edmund was never one to let a challenge to his authority go easily. Or at all.

Emachinescat is, without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite authors–whether it’s fanfic or original fiction–and Merlin fanfic is one of the areas where her writing most shines. She’s got this great balance of bromance and whump that’s just a treat to read, and the characters and their relationships are just spot-on. That’s definitely the case in The Visiting Prince, although it’s actually not one of my favorite Merlin fanfics. In this story, we are presented with an OC baddie that we can truly love to hate; he’s really quite awful. As such, a lot of the story is focused on suspense and whump, with Merlin, Arthur, and the rest being backed into some pretty tight corners and not being able to do much about it. Because the threat is political and social rather than magical, we don’t get to see the BAMFery that shines in other Merlin stories. Also, due to the tight situations our heroes are stuck in, there is a limit to the bromance we get–mostly only the first couple chapters and then right at the end of the story. But what bromance we’re given is exactly in character and a lot of fun to read. So yes, The Visiting Prince isn’t my favorite of Emachinescat’s stories, but it’s a solid, well-written story that is definitely an enjoyable read.

NOTE: You can find The Visiting Prince on FFNet at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6965383/1/The-Visiting-Prince or on AO3 at https://archiveofourown.org/works/1263553/chapters/2607037.

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Big Hero 6: The Series (Cartoon)

Disney Television Animation & Man of Action Studios

Status: Ongoing (currently 1 season/22 episodes)

My rating: 5 of 5

They didn’t set out to be heroes (well, except for maybe Fred). Certainly, after handling the mess with Callaghan, Hiro Hamada and his friends were more than ready to put away their super suits and dive into the challenges that “nerd school” presents them, especially with an intimidatingly impressive new dean at the school. But it seems there’s a new villain in San Fransokyo, and the Big Hero 6 team is needed. So Hiro, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, Go Go, Fred, and Baymax don their secret identities and work hard (and smart) to protect their city–while also facing the challenges of being students at a highly advanced university. Good thing they’ve got each other to rely on.

Big Hero 6 is one of my favorite movies, period, and it’s grown on me with each time I’ve watched it (several times at this point). Big Hero 6: The Series picks up where the movie left off, although it retcons the ending just a smidge to make it work better as a series. I really love that Disney chose to take this tack with the story as opposed to doing another movie; it works so much better for this particular story. All the things that I love from the movie are here–the amazing characters, the neat art style, the great blend of action and humor, and the emphasis on character and doing what’s right. But because of its being a series, it’s allowed to be its own thing and develop in its own way as well. For instance, the art maintains the lines and general style of the movie, but rather than being the CGI style of the movie, it’s more of a traditional 2D animation–it manages to be soft, detailed, and very attractive while still lending itself to the action and comedy elements well. This is a smart show in that the characters are smart and there’s a lot of science thrown in, but it’s certainly not a hard-science story; you’ve got villains who completely defy all known science, for instance, and even the science that’s used is always secondary to the story. And the storytelling and characterizations are where this series truly shines. You’ve got the same brilliant, lovable characters that we were introduced to in the movie, but here they’re allowed more time to be developed gradually in more different circumstances; they truly shine, and I love them. The stories themselves tend to be episodic while tying in to a bigger plot that gradually unfolds (I do recommend watching in order), with some episodes being more focused on handling villains and others dealing more with normal everyday life–school, friendships, making good choices, that sort of thing. Usually, there’s a good mix of both, though, with enough humor  to make me laugh aloud at least once per episode. As far as the intended audience, well, I enjoy it as an adult, but it’s rated TV-Y7, I believe, and I would feel completely comfortable letting my 4-year-old niece watch it. There’s some superhero action/violence, but they keep it pretty safe on the whole; no blood or anything like that. Definitely recommended, especially if you enjoyed the movie.

Developed by Mark McCorkle, Bob Schooley, & Nick Filippi/Directed by Stephen Heneveld, Ben Juwono, Kathleen Good, & Kenji Ono/Starring Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez, Khary Payton, Brooks Wheelan, & Maya Rudolph/Music by Adam Berry

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Solstice (Visual Novel)

Created by MoaCube

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In the far north, a city rests nestled safe in the perilous snow under a magically-created dome. It’s lauded as the Jewel of the North. But as the brash young doctor, Galen, and the mysterious young woman, Yani arrive on the last caravan to the city before the roads shut down for the winter, they find that all is not as it seems. For this is a city that keeps secrets, and those secrets may just spell the end of both the city and the lives of all its residents if Yani and Galen can’t get to the bottom of things before the winter solstice.

By the same creators as the visual novel Cinders, Solstice brings us a similar sort of visual novel. You’ve got a choose-your-own adventure sort of layout, with multiple story paths depending on the choices you make–definitely some replay value there. I haven’t managed to get all the endings myself, yet. The story is described as a “dystopian mystery thriller,” which is surprisingly accurate. You’re trying to uncover the dark secrets of the city and save it, while everyone is trying to keep secrets from you, with a limited amount of time before disaster strikes and everyone dies. It’s actually a quite well-written and interesting story, although definitely kind of dark. The characters are solid, varied, and interesting, including Galen and Yani–both of whom you get to play as at various points. I will caution that the themes and content of this game are a bit more mature, probably in the region of a T+, including murder, language, and some sexual content. As for the gameplay itself, it’s text-based–visual novel, so duh–with the written story overlaying illustration, and text-box choices that you click. The illustrations are quite detailed and attractive; a similar semi-realistic style to that used in Cinders, including small animations to make characters fidget and gesture and such. The music is also quite nice and suits the story well without being intrusive or excessively repetitive. Solstice is a visual novel that I would recommend and will likely replay at some point.

Note: I played this on Steam, and it can be found here. You can also find out more at the official MoaCube website here.

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A Phantom Marooned (Danny Phantom Fanfic)

Author: LordPugsy

FanFiction ID: 9820196

Status: Complete (19 chapters)

My rating: 4 of 5

Danny knew something was off when his entire English class won a fancy cruise–in a contest no one remembered ever entering. Unsurprisingly, it’s not long before things go horribly pear-shaped, leaving the class stranded alone on an island, all their technology fried, and non-native tropical animals dangerously near. Worse, Danny has lost half of his ghost powers due to some weird barrier surrounding the island. Now the class is going to have to work together to survive, and Danny is going to have to be the hero his friends know him to be . . . somehow without revealing his more famous alter ego to the rest of the class.

Okay, maybe the basic premise of this story isn’t the most original ever, but I found the execution of the story in A Phantom Marooned to be quite enjoyable. The character development is well done, allowing more optimism and less angst than a lot of DP stories I’ve read. The characters are a bit older–around sixteen at this point–and they’re allowed to grow as people while still operating within their root personalities. There’s a nice blend of adventure and suspense–lots of tension both from the situation and from Danny’s trying so hard to keep his secret–with a pleasant dash of romance thrown in–both between Danny and Sam, and unexpectedly but welcomely, between Tucker and Valerie. Plus plenty of BAMFery on Danny’s part, which is thoroughly satisfying. If you want a story where he gets to shine and actually be recognized for being amazing as Danny Fenton, not just as Danny Phantom, then this is your story. I will warn that, although the author has this rated as K+, it’s probably closer to a T, maybe a T+. There isn’t a lot of language, and the romance is kept remarkably innocent and sweet, but later in the story, the group runs into a very violent, crazy group of bad guys, and . . . lets just say there’s a lot of blood and whump at certain points. The writing itself is quite good; there are a few grammatical/word choice issues at times, but nothing too obnoxious, and certainly not enough to detract from how enjoyable the story is as a whole. Definitely recommended.

Note: You can find A Phantom Marooned at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9820196/1/A-Phantom-Marooned.

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Danny Phantom (2004-2007 Cartoon)

Billionfold Studios with Nickelodeon

Status: Complete (3 Seasons/53 Episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Fourteen-year-old Danny Fenton’s life gets a lot more interesting when an accident in his ghost-hunting parents’ lab transforms him into a half-ghost, a halfa as the other ghosts in Amity Park soon begin calling him. The change definitely comes with some cool powers–invisibility, intangibility, and the ability to sense when other ghosts are around, to name a few. But life isn’t all cool abilities and fun; Danny’s parents have built a portal into the Ghost Zone, the place where ghosts normally stay, and now the ghosts are spilling out and causing havoc all over town. And since his folks are well meaning but not exactly the most competent hunters ever, Danny finds himself in the position of being one of the only people who can do anything about Amity Park’s ghost problem. And with the help of his two best friends, techno-geek Tucker and goth-girl Sam, he sets out to do just that . . . which would be way easier if he didn’t have to also keep up with school, dodge bullies, and keep his ghost half a secret from his parents!

Danny Phantom is one of those cartoons that I kind of wish I had discovered as a kid because I’m pretty sure I would have loved it. As it is, watching this as an adult is still pretty cool. The show has a strong Nickelodeon vibe, which is something that I unfortunately can’t solidly define; it’s just something that you know when you see it. But seriously, while falling solidly into the cartoon category, Danny Phantom manages to be engaging and fun in a way that most cartoons just miss. The comic-inspired superhero storyline is a winner to start with–complete with “pow” splash panels in some of the action scenes, which I love. The concept itself is pretty interesting, and Danny makes a good protagonist; he’s powerful and responsible for the most part, but also learns and grows as he goes and has his fair share of failings. He’s remarkably human, despite the whole half-ghost thing. He has some fabulous friends as well; Tucker and Sam absolutely make the show, Sam and her badass good sense in particular. Fair warning for parents that this show does include a certain amount of disrespect for authority and authority figures being incompetent; it’s one of the few negative comments I have about the show, honestly. Still, for all their bumbling, the Fentons do have their moments, and they kind of grew on me over the course of the story. As for the story itself, it’s fairly episodic with each episode focusing on a particular conflict–many of them with Danny fighting ghosts, but some with school, friends, and other normal teenage life issues with ghosts being a background issue. I enjoyed the recurring cast of antagonists, especially the way many of them become almost frenemies–a force to be opposed, but with plenty of punning and a certain casualness to the whole endeavor. But despite its episodic nature, there’s a broader progressive storyline that develops over the course of the show, which I looooove. Visually, again, the cartoon is pretty Nickelodeon with a distinct angular sort of style. I really like the color scheme–lots of strong greens and purples. It’s one of those strange styles that just works and fits the story remarkably well. Also, the music is fabulous and fits the story amazingly! So yeah, I would recommend Danny Phantom for older kids and teenagers as well as a fun treat for adults.

Created by Butch Hartman/Developed by Steve Marmel/Music by Guy Moon/Starring David Kaufman, Grey DeLisle, Rickey D’Shon Collins, Colleen Villard, Rob Paulsen, Kath Soucie, & Martin Mull

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The Hollow (2018 Animated TV Series)

Slap Happy Cartoons with Netflix

Status: Complete (1 Season/10 Episodes)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Three teenagers find themselves waking up together in a doorless room with no memory of who they are or what their lives were like before that moment. An old typewriter on the floor and names written on pieces of paper in their pockets are their only clues–Adam, Mira, Kai. Accepting that these are their own names and that playing along with whatever “game” or “puzzle” is afoot is their only way to escape, the three begin working together, putting their skills to work in the series of ever-stranger situations they find themselves in. And they’ve got some pretty crazy skills to put to work, too! Which makes them have to wonder, who on earth are they? Because normal people can’t do the things they can do, and they’re freaking themselves out.

The Hollow is a show that I actually watched on recommendation from some family members, and while it’s not exactly what I would normally watch, I did enjoy it. But I feel like I can’t properly review it without totally spoiling it, and it’s one of those shows that you do not want to go into with spoilers. The mystery and watching it unfold is a huge part of the enjoyment of this story. And yes, mystery there is aplenty. The what-on-earth-is-going-on factor is on a level that nearly surpasses that of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and that’s saying something.  It’s such a strange mix of genres and themes that I never really felt like I knew what was going on, right up until the end where everything’s explained. It did kind of feel like some of those kids’ stories where each character has specific skills that are suited to specific tasks and everyone fits just so; I didn’t care for that so much, it’s just not my thing, but it does make more sense once you get the explanations. The characters were good, not great, but good. Normal, if you can consider teenagers with superpowers to be normal. They’re relatable, which given the situation they’re in and how you’re supposed to be getting into that, is what you really want. The art is interesting; an animation style somewhere between an American cartoon and, say, A Cat in Paris, at least in terms of the character design. I think the character designs felt a bit inconsistent between characters, like the styles switched somewhere in between them, but it worked in this context. Overall, for those who enjoy having their head messed with and watching an inexplicable mystery unfold, I would recommend The Hollow.

Created by Vito Viscomi/Directed by Josh Mepham & Greg Sullivan/Starring Adrian Petriw, Ashleigh Ball, & Connor Parnall

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