Tropico 5 is a delightful dictatorship simulator

The dictatorship sim Tropico 5 was another PS Plus offering, and one of my favourites so far.

I used to be obsessed with The Sims. Absolutely obsessed. I pored over every little detail of those guys’ lives – and I know that’s the whole point, but really.

And like Chuck Klosterman in his book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, I sometimes thought about how easy it was to be pure evil to these Sims, if you really fancied it. The ability to choose your own moral alignment was a relatively new feature in games back at the turn of the millennium, with limited work previously done by the likes of the Ultima games in exploring how the decisions you make can alter your path.

Making the tough choices is one of the biggest challenges you face in simulation games, which is why I really enjoyed playing Tropico 5.

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Humble beginnings

Your job is to build a dynasty of rulers on your very own tropical paradise. Starting off in the Colonial Era, you’re tasked with constructing the various facilities, residences and industrial buildings on each island, while improving citizens’ happiness and quality of life. On top of that it’s your responsibility to negotiate trade agreements with other nations, and best your political rivals through canny use of your natural resources.

Aside from the Tutorial there are three game types to play: the Campaign game is a full single-player narrative involving international intrigue, considerable strategy and all-out war. As you move through the different eras from Colonial times to the Modern Age you must suck up to the right people and prove your prowess as a fearless island ruler.

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The Mission (and I assume there was more than one available on the online store but hey ho) is a fun contained story involving the vital production of cheese, and your quest to defy the Crown in becoming the worldwide leader of said cheese production.

The Sandbox is the real test – and where it most closely resembles its forebears; Sim City, The Sims, Sim Hospital…anything with Sim in it basically. And just like these games, the tongue-in-cheek humour is one of Tropico 5’s most appealing features.

Making difficult decisions

But when you’re faced with some of the tough choices, that’s where things really get interesting. You can alternately piss off the Allies and the Axis; the USSR and the USA, even as far back as choosing what’s best for your citizens who are fiercely loyal to the King, or to the Revolutionary cause. When the King’s representative asks you on a whim to ship him all the milk you have available, rather than make it available for islanders, do you cut them off or risk the wrath of the Crown?

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There’s always a workaround for these things, but as your island grows more sophisticated the logistical and strategic solutions can be costlier, more inconvenient or simply a massive pain to try and organise. That’s where the real challenge lies, and aside from the odd arbitrary blip the makers of Tropico 5 have managed to strike a pretty good balance in most aspects of the game.

Before this instalment I wasn’t even aware of the series, but thanks to the PS Plus scheme (which has boosted the popularity of many a title), I’ve found what could be my new favourite strategy game.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to work out how to start a revolution.

Moneymaking Mobile Tap Games

Since I dedicated an entire post to reviewing AdVenture Capitalist – still the original and best for me – a few more moneymaking mobile app games have made their way onto my Galaxy S5. In the world of mobile gaming there seems to be quite the market for players to amass imaginary fortunes in a variety of ways.

Here in what’s becoming an ever-decreasing regularity of blog posts as of late (apologies!) I thought I’d take a look at a couple which have recently caught my eye.

Make It Rain – The Love of Money

This one’s actually been around for a couple of years now, and aside from the investment-based gameplay, its most endearing feature is the ability to make money by making that entirely classy motion of swiping dollar bills from your own fat stacks to ‘make it rain’ and watch the pixelated notes fly.

Make It Rain mobile game

Build up the value of your cash pile by investing in businesses, as well as increasing the value of your Bucket to add funds while you aren’t playing.

No doubt the game is fun – at first – and the thrill of ‘making it rain’ also lasts a lot longer than it really ought to. But there are a couple of non-negotiables here that do their very best to wreck the game experience.

First off, unlike AdVenture Capitalist, where you can start to see your imaginary purchases pay off over time and appreciate the finely-tuned systems, the equivalent effect in Make It Rain is rather off. I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment in watching my empire grow because there was no sense of achievement – it was just all about that swipe.

Secondly, and extremely annoyingly, the ads. The opportunity to double the earnings from your Bucket once you log back in is quite tempting, and the option to watch a video to do so is a small price to pay. But then there’s the regularity with which an advert just starts playing, for no reason at all. I know it’s a free game, but here there’s a definite sense of a cash grab, and it can be very off-putting,

Once I realised just how often this game-ruining experience would pop up, not even the mimed display of wealth could keep the game installed on my phone.

Bitcoin Billionaire

Bitcoin Billionaire struggles to stay quite as flashy as Make It Rain, but that’s as much down to the more 8-bit feel and more honest portrayal of making digital riches from the comfort of your modest surroundings as anything else.

bitcoin billionaire mobile game

But where the game succeeds, far more so than in Make It Rain, is in giving you much more control (as in – any control) as to where the ads pop up. If you want to benefit from a quick cash boost or get some help to mine the elusive Hyperbits, you can choose between running banner ads for 30 seconds, viewing a pop-up ad or watching videos. Given that choice, it’s still unlikely I’ll ever watch a video but I am grateful to have the option rather than have it play regardless.

But there’s the rub with freemium games – given the choice between a finely-balanced playing experience and the opportunity to simply lob ads in willy-nilly, the developers have got to know where an otherwise fine game just descends into an unplayable mess – and while the more modest  Bitcoin Billionaire succeeds, Make It Rain fails spectacularly.

For that reason I’d be far more likely to recommend the latter game, but when it comes down to it neither are really a patch on AdVenture Capitalist.

 

Machi Koro board game review

I’m still relatively new to any board game which doesn’t involve having a top hat or a small yappy-type dog as a playing piece, but when I saw Machi Koro in my local branch of Travelling Man I knew it would make a great birthday present for my lady.

She really enjoys all things cute and kawaii, so I knew instantly with this cover that I was onto a winner – provided the game was fun to play. And we weren’t disappointed.

Machi Koro board game review

Since its unveiling on Sunday morning I’ve had a couple of two-player and four-player games, and found it to be just as fun either way; unlike Adventure Time Fluxx (another gift for the birthday girl) where the contrasts with the original version mean it’ll be more fun with more players, playing just one opponent works just fine here in Machi Koro.

Objectives and gameplay

Your job as the newly-elected mayor is to build your small town into a thriving city by completing construction on four major projects – the Landmarks. This is done by earning money from a roll of the dice and collecting the resulting funds from the Establishments you already have. Once you’ve earned enough money to pay for the four projects, you’re the winner.

You start off with two Establishment Cards and three coins; roll the dice, take the actions as described on the card(s) with the number you’ve rolled and then choose which new facility (if any) you’d like to build. As you amass more properties, you’ll become wealthier through the income your properties generate, and with certain cards are even able to tax your opponents – and be taxed yourself.

Machi Koro board game

As you get to spend more on the bigger and better properties, you’ll find that certain Establishment Cards like the Shopping Mall can be very favourable, as they can potentially multiply your income each time you roll the right number.

Game design and mechanics

Machi Koro is a beautiful-looking card game; everything from the box art to each individual card looks fantastic, and I personally felt a surge of pride each time I looked down at my growing town. The game system is very well designed too; for my relative newcomer status everything was easy enough to grasp, although it can get a bit confusing when there’s a lot of money changing hands at once.

Most appealing in terms of strategy is that as the game begins, everybody starts at the same level; it’s just a matter of working out the most financially viable system in determining how you spend your income from the bank, and of course hoping that the dice are always in your favour.

There was just one small issue with the game mechanics of Machi Koro. The Establishment cards are numbered 1-12 and you need to ‘unlock’ the second dice by building the Train Station before you can get any benefit from the cards numbered 7-12. However, I’ve found on every single playthrough so far that I haven’t needed to use that second dice – in fact, barely anybody bothered on any of the games we played last weekend. It’s no big deal though – I’ll just experiment a little more next time I guess, and see how it affects my winning record.

To sum up, I’d definitely recommend Machi Koro to anyone who wants a game that’s fun and quick; at only 30 minutes playing time, it may prove a bit too filthy casual for some, but for people who are just dipping their toe in like myself, it’s proved to be time very well spent in city-building mode.

Adventure Time – Love Letter board game review

Been a busy weekend playing some board games with family over this Bank Holiday, as you do when the weather outside is decidedly non-seasonal.

The first one I’ll write about takes a popular card game and adds some fun flavour with a popular cartoon theme. Adventure Time Love Letter is for two to four players, all competing to win the heart of Princess Bubblegum by making sure she reads your letters to her.

Adventure Time Love Letter

Rules of Love Letter

The game is quite simple really; players draw from a deck of cards with values from 1 to 8. The Princess herself is number eight, while Guards occupy the bottom spot in the ranks. With one card in hand, draw another and decide which of the two actions on the card you wish to play; these can range from seeing another player’s hand to swapping cards with them.

Players can be knocked out of each round in various ways, if you lose a one-on-one battle to reveal the highest-ranked card or if another player is able to guess what card you’re holding. From a deck of only 16 cards and three placed face-up at the start of every round, it takes some deduction and logic to be able to deduce what other players have.

Or, if you’re like me, your opponents just have to possess the ability to read minds, because that’s what seemed to happen every other round!

Adventure Time Love Letter

When the deck of cards has all gone, players compare their last cards and the one with the highest value wins – they are the one who delivers that all-important love letter. Alternatively, the last player left standing after eliminations is the winner, and takes one of the fetching jewels which come with the game. There are 13 stones, so it’s the player who collects seven in a two-player game, five in a three-player game and four in a four-player encounter.

Love Letter game design

While I’m not a fan of the tendency to reskin a traditional game and pass it off as new – the likes of Star Wars and WoW-themed Monopoly being two that come to mind – this particular take on Love Letter does have some great features. The deck’s designs are fantastically well detailed, with cards of our favourites Finn and Jake, plus the likes of Lemongrab and Gunter joining the fray.

Adventure Time Love Letter game design

In terms of the game itself, as I’m fairly new to any type of board or card game beyond the old favourites like, ahem, Monopoly, I really enjoyed this game. It’s easy to learn and difficult to master, as all good games are, and even the relatively small deck takes some time to get on board with in terms of strategy.

I’d highly recommend the Adventure Time variation of Love Letter to any newbie board gamers who are looking for something new and fun to play, and am myself becoming more and more intrigued about what else is on offer out there. This is a great place to start.

Nintendo’s Miitomo is fantastic fun…for precisely two hours

It’s only been on the app store for a couple of weeks, but Nintendo’s Miitomo game is already racking up some fantastic engagement.

The Japanese titan’s first foray into the lucrative market of mobile gaming and microtransactions – aka cash for hats – is apparently drawing more than a quarter of a million dollars every week.

But more than that, the game itself has so far proven to be a fun and engaging hit, with four million monthly active users logging on to change their costumes, take photos with Mii friends and answer each other’s questions about their favourite meals and what they’re up to at the weekend.

It is a great game, but if my own experience with Miitomo is anything to go by, this surge of success may not last.

nintendo miitomo

Nintendo’s casual appeal

In terms of the game itself, and as you’d expect from the all-time masters of video gaming, Miitomo is a beautifully-designed and cleverly thought out game with plenty of fun to be had by its users.

I said as much when I logged in myself for the first time. I set up my little character, gave him a jaunty (free) hat and let him loose on the Questions board, to tell everyone how much I loved season two of Daredevil and how much I love pizza. (That really seemed to come up a lot. Is that their design flaw or mine?)

There was plenty to keep me coming back for a whole weekend – more friends to add through Twitter, Facebook and in person. The face-to-face add is a particularly excellent idea, as me and my friend found out at a wrestling show a couple of weeks ago.

nintendo miitomo

There are a few niggling issues with Miitomo – the Miitomo Drop, a seemingly enticing mini-game with unique clothing to be won, is a frustrating experience and not all that fun a game to play in the first place. And I was getting a few too many randoms trying to add me too – without the benefit of a Twitter account or Facebook page to display, I was hesitant to accept any invitations.

Regardless, I tapped on and enjoyed the whole playing experience for a few more days. But then I just stopped.

No real reason, really – and whenever the mood strikes me I’m still liable to get in there and see what funny in-jokes my friends are sharing as their Answers to certain confusing questions.

But there’s nothing else really to make me want to go back. All of which is fine – I’ve talked before about how I’m never going to pay money to get special features on mobile gaming, for a start – but I’m at a bit of a loss.

Maintaining the mobile hype

Mobile gaming is a tough one; even with the most attractive titles, once you’re through the initial frenzied gameplay there’s really nothing to keep you going without heavy investment of time and money – neither of which I’m inclined to put in to most mobile games.

I am sure that this isn’t something Nintendo are too worried about – they’ve got 3,999,999 much more hardcore users to take care of right now. But for filthy casuals like me that are too easily distracted – or simply not that attached to their mobile – the magic wore off a little too quickly. And maybe that’s something that Nintendo should worry about six months or a year down the line, especially if they see mobile gaming as a major route to revenue as they’ve indicated previously.

By all means, download a free copy and give it a go – it’s a fascinating experiment and there’s certainly enough of a novelty to it. But the appeal wore off for me quite quickly, and considering that mobile is more than a passing concern for Nintendo right now, the next few weeks can be very telling for their entire mobile strategy. That is, until that VR Pokemon game comes out, then I’m right back in there.

A plea from Alan Partridge to WWE – stop getting Wrestlemania wrong!

The biggest date in the sports entertainment calendar is under threat, as the WWE unleashes a card of absolute mehness for Wrestlemania 32.

There’s a scene in I’m Alan Partridge, where Alan’s assembled friends, employees and a surly ex-copper are trying to remember which Bond film is which. Confusion reigns before Alan shouts at everyone to “STOP GETTING BOND WRONG!”

stop getting bond wrong

This would form the base of the impassioned plea that I have for Vince McMahon and the other higher-ups at the WWE. STOP GETTING WRESTLEMANIA WRONG!

Hitting the big time

For the first ever Wrestlemania in 1985, the WWE had staked its whole future on making the original event work, with celebrity appearances from Muhammad Ali, Mr T and Liberace boosting the mainstream appeal alongside the very biggest names in pro wrestling. The headline bout of Wrestlemania I saw the tag team of WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan and Mr T defeated Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. While the bout was by no means a classic, it did deliver in the entertainment factor and in the grandeur that fans look for during the WWE’s flagship PPV event.

Which is why I’ve been tremendously disappointed by this year’s build to the big event. With the exception of one exciting, potentially very brutal match which could steal the show despite the WWE’s best efforts to derail it with dodgy booking, there’s not much to look forward to this year.

Because it goes without saying that Wrestlemania is the single biggest event in pro wrestling, it sometimes seems as if the WWE believe that the show will book itself. At a time when they can expect both hardcore fans and casual viewers to at least take an interest in the build-up – if not to shell out their £9.99 for the chance to see it – there’s been a disturbing lack of effort in building towards a must-see show.

And while in terms of financial gain, the company can already chalk it up in the win column, managing to keep the fans happy with a card of intrigue, excitement and action appears to be beyond them yet again.

Getting Bond wrong

We all know how much I love Dean Ambrose at this point, and his upcoming Street Fight against Brock Lesnar is my pick for best-built match. But there’s been a hint that the Wyatt Family will turn up to cost Lesnar the match with screwy work. This means the writers are blatantly ignoring the more valuable objective – organically turning Ambrose into a fully-fledged superstar with a commanding performance all of his own, win or lose.

Besides that, even as far back as the Royal Rumble, when we were given a Rumble match for the World Title rather than a challenger for the belt in the Wrestlemania main event, the WWE failed to predict the ramifications.

Without the momentum afforded to a Rumble winner and their talking up the Wrestlemania main event, it doesn’t look as if the title match will even be the main event – not when there’s a badly-built match between two part-timers to be had.

Here comes the money

I was as excited as anyone to see Shane McMahon back in the WWE, skipping down the aisle on Raw to challenge Vince for control of the company. But then I realised that we’ve been here so, so many times before.

shane mcmahon wrestlemania 32

Vince told Shane that he would be facing The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match at Wrestlemania – and aside from one of Shane’s standout diving elbows onto the Taker through an announce table, there’s been so little in the way of story, or logic, leading into this match. And while I’ve no doubt that Shane will relive his stuntman days of falling or diving off something high during the bout, that alone is not enough to keep my interest in the stipulation – let alone where Taker’s motivation to do Vince’s bidding has come from.

As if it weren’t bad enough that Wrestlemania 32 could be headlined by two middle-aged part-time performers, it’s even worse when you realise that only two of the six men featured in the top three matches are actually wrestling on WWE TV every week of the year.

I’m not especially looking forward to Roman Reigns vs Triple H for the World Title – neither man should be World champion – but keeping it out of the main event in favour of Taker/Shane shows you how little confidence the company has in touting their current storylines on what WWE calls the grandest stage of them all.

What else is there to look forward to? Aside from the sight of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn beating the crap out of each other – while five other men are involved in a ladder match for Owens’ IC title – not much. Maybe AJ Styles vs Jericho will provide something new…or maybe not, we’ve seen it many times already now.

All told, the idea that Wrestlemania sells itself can be a double-edged sword. While the brand is known worldwide and can expect to draw many new eyes to the current product, it’s the more loyal fans who have been made to suffer through yet another flat build and would be right to vent their frustrations at the expected outcomes by voting with their remote controls on Monday nights – and more importantly, their wallets.

The X-Files 2016: monsters good, conspiracies bad

Fourteen years on from the last meaningful contact we had with them, and iconic FBI Agents Mulder and Scully are back on the case for six new TV episodes promising intrigue, visual spectacle and – maybe, just maybe – some answers to the big questions of the overarching mythology of The X-Files.

Six brand new episodes later, and I’m still none the bloody wiser. But we’ll get to that.

the-truth-is-out-there

‘Monster of the week’ – big successes

The middle four episodes of the new seasons of The X-Files were at times gripping, action-packed and even hilarious. Episode two continued to give me a sinking feeling before we finally hit upon a trio of decent-to-good episodes of the ‘monster of the week’ variety which gave the show its original cult appeal back in the 1990s.

My favourite by far of the new run was ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’, an episode written in much the same tongue-in-cheek manner as was worthy of their finest funny moments during the original run – but critically, made to be fresh and funny for this new age of TV rather than tinged with the camp sense of irony which we got so used to back then.

Relying on the old formula of scepticism versus belief, this battle was turned upside down with a few choice reveals about the guest stars Rhys Darby and Kumail Nanjiani, and some fantastically funny interpretations of the evidence including some ridiculous testimony by Darby’s character that he’d seduced Agent Scully in his place of work.

If we’d been treated to a few more episodes like this, without the need to drag up the over-arcing storyline which began to bog The X-Files down in its own pretentiousness first time round, we could have chalked the whole thing down as a job well done. But…ugh.

Mulder and scully x files 2016

The mythology episodes – big disappointments

When The X-Files first aired on the BBC, the scheduling was…let’s call it inconsistent. Being pre-empted at the drop of a hat for an episode of Question Time or, say, the World Hat Dropping Championships, meant that it got difficult to keep up with events if the show aired elsewhere that week. The bulk of the one-off episodes and the odd injection of long-term plot was fine to miss every now and then, but over time it became apparent that you just couldn’t miss a single episode or you’d be stuffed trying to keep up.

And at that age, and with that scheduling, well…I was stuffed.

With only six episodes in the entire run, even with a Sky+ box that’s temperamental at the worst of times, I didn’t expect to be hard done by from the scheduling this time. Sadly, the producers of the show decided to give us that same sense of baffling treatment themselves in the way they tried to cram a full six episodes’ worth of mythology material into two – and failed badly.

Entire scenes whizzed by and left me none the wiser as to what the hell just happened. Logical, reasoned discussion gave way to frenzied declarations like “the other shoe is waiting to drop!” or “No one has the right or the ability to tamper with your DNA,” as if we’re supposed to be caught up on 12 years of evidence-gathering in 12 seconds. This is The X-Files; I’m prepared to suspend my disbelief for a few minutes until another plot thread comes in to tide me over, but during the two rushed episodes which made up ‘My Struggle’ I was left hanging for ages at a time without any reason or willingness to go with it.

I don’t want to spoil things but the plausibility which the programme spent nine and a bit seasons trying to make you doubt really came through in the final ten minutes, as Scully performed the job of a team of medical scientists alone, in seemingly ten minutes.

On the whole, the X-Files revival was an excellent trip down memory lane in all the houses that are still lit up fondly – the one-off mysteries – but failed spectacularly to turn the lights on elsewhere – the headache-inducing twists and turns of the mythology. Judging by that cliffhanger it looks like we could see Mulder and Scully (not to mention Miller and Einstein, the weird Mini-Me characters) again down the line – but Scully herself would be proud of my scepticism that the conspiracy plot will be worth the return.

 

Dean Ambrose could be a made man after Wrestlemania 32

While the WWE is busy driving the whole ‘Road To Wrestlemania’ thing into the ground with the Fastlane/Roadblock motif, I’m getting mildly nervous at the prospect that the only thing going into the ground is Dean Ambrose’s babyface cred.

Dean_Ambrose_durante_un_House_Show_di_gennaio_2015.jpg By Anton – WWE House Show – Garrett Coliseum – 1/10/15, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39931017

From being betrayed by his brother Seth Rollins, to the near-miss in their Ladder match for the title and even the Dusty Finish which had him ever-so-briefly crowned champion, Dean Ambrose has been edging closer to the big time – added to his great showing at the Royal Rumble 2016, fans are starting to get a bit edgy that his moment isn’t gonna come any time soon.

And that’s a real shame, because Dean Ambrose is over as hell. By coming so close and being denied so much, Ambrose earns the sympathy from the audience at large that’s been missing since Daniel Bryan got his own Wrestlemania moment two years ago. I’m not about to compare the two in terms of ring skill; Bryan is one of the best ever wrestlers to step between the ropes, while I see Ambrose more as a WWE Superstar than I do a wrestler – but a great one nonetheless. But while the focus of WWE programming is focused on someone else, there’s little chance for Ambrose to get his shot in – which could actually be beneficial in the long run.

Waiting for Roman

Times are few and far between that the Venn diagram of ‘crowd favourite’ and ‘Vince McMahon’s favourite’ have settled on the very same person – this has been the case for years. Ever since we had co-winners at the 1994 Royal Rumble, when Bret Hart was roundly cheered by fans, much more so than the backstage pick Lex Luger (and with good cause) has there been a battle for prominence on the card.

While we’ve (somewhat) patiently waited for the current holder of Vince’s brass ring, Roman Reigns, to get over, Dean Ambrose has more than ably settled in as the best friend and tag team partner to his Shield brother. And while Reigns has been given opportunity after opportunity (by storyline sworn enemies Authority figures Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, who aren’t fans of logic), it seemed like Ambrose made the most of the few opportunities he was given, among them the World title ladder match and Elimination Chamber title shot.

Roman_Reigns_November_2013

But despite all his various sidlings into main events, Reigns has simply not connected with the crowd in the way that Ambrose has just because a lot of fans don’t like to be told who they’re supposed to cheer for; something Reigns knows full well from when he came up against a previous McMahon-designated project, Batista, at the 2014 Rumble, and fell short.

Getting over

It’s one of the WWE Universe’s biggest bug-bears; the ongoing battle between the performers who go out every night and earn their reaction, and the pet projects who are seemingly unbeatable – which in itself creates no tension at all when it comes to the crunch. Ambrose has picked himself up from every defeat – including the recent loss of his Intercontinental title to Kevin Owens – dusted himself off and promised to do whatever it takes to get to the top.

That is how you get the babyface reactions. Just ask Steve Austin – you try, you fail, you get right back on the horse and try again. You don’t smirk, pump your fist and get yet another eye-rollingly easy win against ‘all’ the odds – this is the sort of booking that just makes your opponents look weak, no matter how many of them there are at once and what dumb name they give themselves.

Much as we can dream, Ambrose isn’t likely to pick up the WWE World Title with a win at Roadblock, but he’ll again come heartbreakingly close.

And at Wrestlemania, there’ll be a key moment coming in Ambrose’s career, once the dust settles on his Street Fight against Brock Lesnar. Whatever the result of this particular ‘slobberknocker’, Dean Ambrose’s character has been solidified such that he can become a made man within the WWE by making Lesnar work incredibly hard to beat him. He could even end up visibly earning Lesnar’s respect once their final trip to Suplex City has been arranged, on the grandest stage of them all – proving Ambrose’s resilience and finally getting him over the top as a guy worthy of grabbing the brass ring.

Nova 111 – a quirky delight of science

So I was in a branch of your friendly neighbourhood game retail shop earlier today, parting with an unreasonable amount of money for some Fallout 4 DLC – one day before the price rises to an even more unreasonable amount. As I emerged blinking into the cold street, I got a little warm glow from remembering the much cheaper and really fun experience I had in completing Nova 111.

nova111

Available as part of the February Playstation Plus package, Nova 111 can be best described as a turn-based space puzzle game – even though there are just as many real-time elements to it. You play as a quirky little little orange ship, navigating your way by turns through the remnants of an ambitious science experiment gone wrong, in a bid to rescue its stranded scientists.

Each level takes the form of a series of puzzles through which you must progress using a blend of turn-based and real-time action. Every move you take is a step closer to refilling your Science! Bar, with which you can use a variety of power-ups to phase through walls, fire energy blasts at enemies and even to temporarily freeze time.

As you progress through the game, each level throws up new and scarier enemies to test your newfound Science! skills and challenge your puzzling abilities, accompanied by Dr. Science who provides amusing commentaries on all his experiments with time and space.

Getting back to the Fallout 4 debacle of earlier today, it’s of real comfort to me to realise that, for every unreasonable amount of money I’m expected to shell out to sample more of a Triple A game which I’ve already paid for, that there are new and exciting things happening on a much smaller scale, with the likes of Nova 111 showing up on my monthly downloads and providing a really pleasant gaming experience that taxes my mind as much as it tickles my other senses, with neat graphics and some fantastically twinkly synth sound design.

Considering its relatively miniscule stature, Nova 111 comes across very well-polished and, short of the odd steep hike on the difficulty curve, extremely well-designed. I know I bought a Playstation 4 with visions of AAA titles like GTAV and Fallout 4 dancing in my head like visions of sugar plums, but I love that the very same console can bring me these little gems too.

Making Mixtapes For Girls

So this weekend I’ve been getting a music education. And by that I mean, I struck a deal with a colleague.

Apparently the deal was, she linked me to songs by Mariah Carey and Beyonce, and I died a little inside each time I pressed Play.

In return I got two of my best shots in – a boozy, depressed Alkaline Trio number and a downbeat but defiant Tom Waits effort.

This experience, along with a memory of a ridiculous bid to impress an ex-girlfriend that I remembered while out on a recent tune-filled stroll, has got me thinking about all those lengths I used to go to, to let the music do the talking for me.

Moe the simpsons declaring intentions

Everybody’s got their views on mixtapes – Rob from High Fidelity, Barney Stinson and his friend Not-Moby among others. But for all the tapes and CDs I made with romantic intentions, I still couldn’t resist including a couple of tracks that were more just ‘this is what I like, and you should like it too’. Not especially romantic, not especially friendly even – for every ‘nice waking up next to you’ there was a ‘this is a rock ‘n’ roll takeover’ that blurred the message somewhat.

But more than my insistence on enriching a special someone’s music experience with whatever I was listening to that month, comes the annoyance with myself for taking the lazy route. It may be that ‘all my favourite singers have stolen all of my best lines’, but looking back I wish I’d still exerted a little more energy in expressing my own true feelings.

VH1’s (hiding) behind the music

In everyday life just as in my life’s worth of mixtape-making, I have this awful habit of hiding behind pop culture, when I should just be expressing my raw feelings and emotions instead. Rather than making an accurate articulation of my hurt, or pride, or surprise, or affection, I immediately make a lateral move into an impression from that episode of Frasier where he bellows “I…am…WOUNDED!” instead of just saying it in my own voice. Instead of dealing with the feeling from my gut, I find myself reaching past it into my brain for an equivalent from TV or films because it’s easier not to admit it out loud.

But before that, I settled for the long and drawn-out efforts of filling up 74 or 90 minutes of CD or tape with a bunch of songs that said more about my likes than my feelings. That’s why, if you were the unlucky lady somewhere between 1998 and 2006, you were more likely to get Every Time I Die than Elvis – a generational thing, I can only suspect.

(Out of interest, how do young men and women make their intentions clear nowadays? A Spotify playlist doesn’t have the same done-it-myself level of care taken, and you can’t use all your different coloured pens to make a nice cover either.)

I was reminded of an early and embarrassing romantic gesture the other day; my head full of all that nonsense I mentioned up top, a song came on my iPod which made me remember one of the first albums I ever gave to a girl. Trust me, there’s nothing on here that makes you think what a romantic sod I could secretly be – I’ve checked.

But the fact of the matter is, she wasn’t particularly that type anyway, so even if I had dared to give her something that was of the more flowery variety than this post-hardcore classic, she’d have laughed me out of the room.

Back then, at the age of 17 or so, I was hardly likely to possess the emotional intelligence to say much beyond ‘thanks for paying attention to me, now can I see your boobs?’ (In fact, that could’ve been the title of the first mix I made.) I definitely didn’t have the confidence for it – talking to girls was never something for my Lurve CV – so in a way it was something of a rescue. To be able to hide behind someone else’s music to promote feelings that, if not genuinely shared by me, occupied a close enough space in my head that I didn’t feel like too much of a fraud for setting up shop next door.

While I’m glad that I don’t really need music now to tell someone how much I care for them, thinking about those CDs I used to burn in lieu of spoken affection does make me wish I’d tried a bit harder to express myself back then, so that maybe it wouldn’t be so much of an issue for me in the future.