Humble Book Review: The Colorado Kid

“It was that kind of story. The kind that’s like a sneeze which threatens but never quite arrives.”

That quote there, from The Colorado Kid itself, basically sums up my feelings for the book – slowly gaining momentum, but never reaching any kind of payoff.

The story revolves around two very old Maine men in the newspaper business – the founder and a long-time editor. They recall their most elusive mystery in their careers to a new but eager woman on the team. Slowly, we learn the circumstances leading up to the discovery of a lonely dead body on the beach of their small island decades ago – and how the evidence had lead to nothing but apparent impossibilities.

This is King’s first foray into using Hard Case Crime as a publisher, which is fairly different from his normal style. It’s more the ‘damsel in distress’ detective noir label which, to me at least, King was fumbling around in the dark with. When he did find his footing, it was on the steady ground of ‘human connections’, which he is much better at writing on.

However, I think dear King has been listening to the collective online grumbles regarding the opinion that he can write amazing books, but can’t write an ending to save himself.

Well, I imagine he said, halfway though writing this book, if people don’t think I can write endings at all, then I won’t even try!

And so that’s what he did. You’ll find no resolution, no happiness or sadness; just a case of literary blue balls as you realise the book has suddenly ran out of pages.

So I would have given it a lower rating (3/5), but you know what? I did read it all in a day – it had held my attention pretty well, so that must count for something.

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WOTH: Platinum #28 – Day of the Tentacle Remastered

1993 was a glorious year for video games. Doom was first released, becoming perhaps the most iconic FPS of the genre’s early days. Super Mario All-Stars was released, the collection of former Mario games that proved it was the only game you needed. The graphic adventure puzzle game Myst was also released, which turned out to be one of the best-selling PC games of all time.

But there was another little graphic adventure game released in 1993, by the not-so-small company LucasArts; Day of the Tentacle. It was brilliant – it had the jagged and quirky art style LucasArts was well known for, it had great moments of humour with multitudes of possible interactions, and the puzzles had a great level of challenge that would not frustrate you too much – after all, this was before the days that guides on the Internet were so prevalent.

21 years later, one of the lead developers of the original game (Tim Schafer) decided to remaster the entire game and release it on the PS4 and PS Vita under his current developer Double Fine Productions (the company behind Psychonauts, Broken Age, and Grim Fandango Remastered, just to name a few).

The story is deliciously absurd; a sentient tentacle, former created slave of a mad scientist, has drank toxic water, and now has the power of increased intelligence, self multiplication, and – ARMS! So the world looks like it is doomed. Luckily three friends – Bernard, Hoagie, and Laverne – are called to assist the scientist. The only way he thinks you can solve the problem is if you go back in time to yesterday to stop the tentacle, but unfortunately, the portaloo-time-machines malfunction! The three friends are split up into the past, present, and future, and must now work out how to reunite and also rid the future world of the tentacular takeover.

As a newbie to the game, I found the humour to be great and a little bit refreshing. So many terrible jokes thrown in the dialogue – just the way I like it. You’ll click on many different items in a room to see if you can interact with them, or you’ll try to use items from your inventory on the environment. But I didn’t find it to be too taxing, as for the most part, you can follow the very subtle hints you’re given to be able to solve the many abstract puzzles throughout. I won’t say there are no points of frustration but there are a few. Some are just so far out there, you might need to quit, and try again another time with a fresh mind.

I decided to do the first playthrough blind, to get the best experience, which admittedly took a while. Then, tried a couple more playthroughs to get the Platinum trophy, which was a little taxing. If you want to get the platinum much quicker, there are guides out there and you can get it in as little as 5 hours. Really, that’s not how a point-and-click puzzler is meant to be, so make sure you try much of it on your own, first.

Have you played Day of the Tentacle Remastered? What did you think? And what similar games would you suggest I take on next?

 

WOTH: Platinum #27 – Color Guardians

In my college days, I was utterly fixated on a certain little 2D running platformer by Gaijin Games, known as Bit.Trip Runner. In it, you ran endlessly to the right of the screen, dodging obstacles and gaps that relentlessly approached you. There was a deep rhythmic mechanic where you could time your moves to the 8-bit soundtrack, which got more and more intense as you progressed in a level.

Color Guardians is a similar running platformer, with a few new twists – instead of one lane to run along, you can move between 3 lanes to dodge obstacles. And instead of rhythm, the major mechanic is colour (yeah, there is a “u” in colour ya dang Americans). To successfully collect all of the coloured orbs in a level, you need to make sure you match one of the three available colours – which you can swap to at any time. The amount of orbs you collect will correspond to a certain rating out of three stars at the end.

Yeah, this is yet another game using the gamified 3-stars award system, like nearly every other game following Candy Crush. All games will use it soon… boy oh boy, I can’t wait until the new Civilisation game gives me a 3 star rating for talking to Gandhi about trade routes.

Regardless, you’ll pretty much get a base 2 stars every level, unless you get all of them, earning you a third. Lucky for you, the trophies in this game only require you to get at least 2 stars on every level! And maybe a 3 star rating on one or two, bit you can grab those on easier levels.

It’s a visually charming game, but not particularly challenging. There are 5 major areas with 10 levels and a boss battle in each, which you can get through pretty quickly. The boss battles are nearly all identical, so you’ll more likely get bored of repetition. That is, until the last boss encounter which seems like a massive difficulty spike for some reason!

It’s an okay game, and it’s largely unfair to compare it to Bit.Trip Runner, but it really does pale in comparison. I wouldn’t have picked it up if it weren’t one of the monthly free games with my Playstation Plus subscription. It’s saving grace for Trophy Hunters is that it is quite easy to obtain the platinum trophy – nothing really stands out as particularly difficult, other than having to defeat the final boss with each playable character.

Humble Book Review: From a Buick 8

On the outside, King’s From a Buick 8 might seem like a sequel or spiritual successor to Christine. But once you navigate through the chapters, you find that really there isn’t much in common at all, other than the picture of a car on the cover.

This novel follows the history of a collective secret kept by the troopers of Barracks D in Pennsylvania. Back in 1979, a man shrouded in mystery parked his Buick Roadmaster at a gas station, and was never seen again. The troopers impounded the car, but from the first moment they laid eyes on it, there was a deep sense of unfamiliarity – like this “thing” was a very poor imitation of a car at all, and not of this world. No sense of symmetry, made of materials never encountered, and with dashboard gauges that served no function.

Things only got more strange after it was left in a shed at the barracks, warranting the troopers to keep a watch over it, and to keep it hidden from the public. It had a tendency to produce inexplicable events, such as blinding light shows coming from inside the car, as well as spitting out otherworldly objects from it’s boot – and if things could come out, could others be drawn in to this other place?

It is told through a series of stories by the now older and wiser barracks, informing the son of one of the main troopers why his father was so invested in this secret. The boy can appear impatient and only wants answers, but often the troopers don’t have answers, only a weaving and mysterious narrative that brings them to the present day.

I did enjoy this novel, even though it’s one of his books that are so easily forgotten. The mystery of the Buick Roadmaster is grounded in reality – in the sense that the troopers could only react in fear and poor attempts at logic when these events took place. As it is written in a style of remembering the past, the action is few and far between, and perhaps doesn’t reach the heights like many of King’s other paranormal novels. But what it mainly does – recounting a collective secret of the unknown – it does well.

WOTH: Platinum #26 – The Deadly Tower of Monsters

Were you a fan of the early 70’s B-movie craze? The era when action and horror films were mostly showed in groups of three at the cinemas at super cheap prices?

Well I missed that boat (born too late), but I can experience a space opera B-movie in all it’s glory with The Deadly Tower of Monsters!

This is a very unique style of game – a top-down platform shooter, with vertical progression, all wrapped in the format of a DVD commentary from the director of the film – which is the game itself. In-game, you are controlling the main actor – Dick Starspeed (played by Jonathon Digby). You’ve crash landed on a foreign planet, ruled by a tyrannical emperor. Along the way, you will find allies whom you can also switch between as playable characters, allowing you to further climb the Deadly Tower of Monsters (insert dramatic booming voice here).

There is a great amount of satire and humour injected all throughout this game, poking fun at the antics on a typical B-movie set. The director commentating on the film/game will reveal trade secrets such as the horrible way the extras in monster suits were treated, or even how to save on the budget some “monsters” were simply dogs with vacuum cleaner attachments on their heads – and when said monsters are revealed to look exactly like that, it’s hilarious. Also, this film/game was set in the height of using stop-motion clay animation for those less anthropomorphic monsters, and watching the obvious stop motion dinosaurs lumber around is a brilliant touch. Even towards the end of the game, you can see birds bouncing around clearly tethered to strings to hold them up.

The controls are pretty standard for a twin-stick melee/shooter, with options to upgrade your weapons and character using collectibles scattered around the area. Again, there’s great satire in some of the weapons which are given fancy space-names, but are quite clearly just a car antenna or something mediocre. But hey, a tight budget is a tight budget!

Towards the end, when you find out more about the film, it takes an even greater turn, cranking up the meta-references to 11. It doesn’t just break the 4th wall, it blasts it with its space laser.

This was incredibly fun, and if you were lucky enough to grab it during it’s free month for Playstation Plus, it’s an added bonus! I would still pay $10 for it if it were on special, so keep an eye out for it.

Regarding platinum difficulty, it is actually pretty easy with a guide – but perhaps just cruise through and enjoy the ride for the first time. Even if you do that, you’ll find it only takes 6 hours to complete. Most of the trophies come from progressing through the game, and from the various collectibles on the map.

Definitely give this a go, even just for an amusing afternoon.

Humble Book Review: Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years is a fascinated read for anyone interested in human history, in how we have developed and spread as a species, and just how certain civilisations conquered others to arrive in the states that they are now.

Specifically, Jared Diamond attempts to answer a very important question; why was it that Eurasian civilisations were able to survive and conquer other nations, instead of the other way around? Presumably, 13,000 years ago, each of our human ancestor settlements across the globe were in the same position with respect to technology, so why was Eurasia successful? While answering this question, Diamond also refutes the controversial idea that Eurasian rule is due to any form of inherent advantage in Eurasian intellect, morals, or genetic superiority.

Tackling the aforementioned refutation is particularly important, as unfortunately, many people in well off societies seem to believe it.

Diamond quite successfully argues that rather than inherent advantages, gaps in power and technology stem from several opportunistic advantages in geography and environmental standings, which caused some positive feedback loops, resulting in auto-catalytic growth.

What started it all, was the slow migration from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies, roughly 13,000 years ago. From being able to domesticate various plants and animals, tribes could begin to stock surplus supplies, and provide for non-food producing members, such as chiefs, scribes, etc. Once you free up time to focus on non-food related activities, societies can begin to expand, giving rise to population booms.

With population booms come epidemics, which, over time, survivors develop a resistance to. When these disease-resistant members invade small tribes in other parts of the world who have never been exposed, the germs can decimate untouched bands and tribes, often well in advance of the invaders themselves.

Back to the question; why was Eurasia so fruitful and not another part of the world? This mainly rests on the abundance of domesticable plants and animals compared to other continents, and the fact that Eurasia lies on an east-west axis, as opposed to north-south like the Americas or Africa. With different latitudes, comes different suitability of crops. They could not expand north-south, due to snowy regions, unseasonable tropics, or harsh deserts. But they could expand east-west, which Eurasia could accommodate.

All of this is quite fascinating, and my modest summary simply cannot do it the proper justice. However, it seems that Diamond goes over some points laboriously, to really drive home a small point, or will revisit an answer several times. Either that, or it’s been a while since I’ve read such a long non-fiction book! But I guess it helps, I could sum up the book pretty well, as it was drilled into me.

This book was mentioned by the great Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, known for his book & online course Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I strongly advise you check out his work before this, as he sums up the agricultural section of humankind quite well – Guns, Germs, and Steel is a great knowledge addition to it.

WOTH: Platinum #25 – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Oh my, what an absolutely stunning game.

Before, I would have adamantly answered to anyone asking (please ask, nobody ever does) that my favourite RPG of all time was Dark Souls. Now, after completing the base game of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, that position is threatened. It is an incredibly crafted experience on an ambitious scale, which gets oh-so-many of the main RPG elements right, where other games always seem to falter on one or two points.

Let me begin with the set-up, if you’re unfamiliar with the franchise. You are Geralt, a salty old Witcher. In this old world of swords, sorcery, and scandal, the Witcher trade is a rare one. You hunt down and slay monsters of all types while accepting coin for your services; however the townsfolk consider Witchers as either a curiosity, or not too far removed from the very monsters they kill.

Geralt is on the trail of Ciri, a long lost friend who is more like a daughter to him. Along the way, he meets old friends associated with old flames, new and old foes to coerce, all while uncovering the prophecy of the Wild Hunt, which brings with them a new and bleak age of white frost.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is just how amazing the game looks. After the dream-like tutorial, you drop into the story at a campsite, get attacked by a few ghouls, then ride off to the nearest town while a magnificent sunrise pierces through the swaying trees. That’s the first thing of beauty that smacks you in the face – the amazing lighting. At times, when you are in the forest just having a chat with a hunter or concerned citizen, the shadows of individual tree leaves dance across your face – something I’ve not seen done so well in other games. The draw distance is far reaching, so anything you see you can get to. And the locations are incredibly varied – the quests will take you across sunlit fields, jagged city streets, ominous caverns, and windswept mountain peaks, all swashed with vibrant colour. Through all of these locations, dynamic weather plays a big part as well. If you stop to converse with someone in pouring rain, you wont look as you always do, rather your clothes will have that drenched look, adding another layer to the immersion.

And the quests – never before have I been so invested in all of the side quests! Usually, RPG side quests ask you to either fetch 20 flowers, or assassinate some big baddie in a cave while a slow but required companion follows you and gives away your position. Not here – the stories crafted in each and every mission feel unique, and the people feel like they actually existed before you arrived, and not just to wait for you alone to fetch them a teapot. Granted, there are a couple of quest tropes thrown in, but they are done a little tongue-in-cheek, aware of the cliche they are mimicking (looking at you, Princess the goat!).

The combat is actually quite refreshing, given the amount of content. Each of the different enemies you encounter will have some sort of weakness you can exploit with the Witcher signs, oils, and bombs at your disposal, along with your two standard swords – silver for monsters, steel for humans. Being able to dodge, counter, and fire crossbow bolts adds a great amount of variety, so you can craft a play style that suits you.

I also cannot forget to mention the brilliant game within a game; Gwent. This is a tabletop card game many people in Geralt’s world play, including himself. Although initially simple, there is quite a bit of strategy involved which only opens up further as you either buy cards from merchants, discover them as loot, or win them as prizes for challenging certain people. It’s so popular that it will soon be expanded and released as it’s own separate game outside of The Witcher, so look out for it!

Now, gushing aside, let’s talk platinum difficulty. It’s a massive game, and took me about 120+ hours to achieve the platinum trophy, across two playthroughs. I advise that you try to cover most of the trophies in your first playthrough on any difficulty,  being very conscious of collecting all the Gwent cards you come across. Having a guide for collecting them is paramount, as there are quite a few missable ones. Have a general guide handy for the remaining trophies, as there are other missable trophies. Many of them are just killing foes using x method, or completing Witcher contracts, so it shouldn’t be so bad. Then, after you’re mostly done, it’s best to have another playthrough on the toughest difficulty. The early stage of the game on this difficulty is quite frustrating, but there are guides to help you choose the most efficient character traits.

To wrap up, I had an incredible time, and the 120+ hours to obtain the platinum didn’t feel stretched out at all. I will certainly be investing in the two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine in the near future.